To be locked away and still to think you’re free.
– Ronnie James Dio
A year ago today, I got off of the last of my medications. My 27-year medication odyssey had ended. When I celebrated my Victory over Meds Day on October 12th, 2013, I really had no idea what my post-medication life would look like. Naturally, my psychiatrist, whose advice I had so deliberately ignored, warned me that my Bipolar Disorder would come back with a vengeance now that it wasn’t being held in check by medications. Even though I felt exuberant, a large part of me still feared living without the safety blanket and the escape hatch that medications had provided me for most for my life. What would become of the wild emotional gyrations I had become so accustomed to? I was scared. And I know my wife and children were frightened as well.
This last year, free of meds, has been the most peaceful, purposeful, and rewarding year of my life, by far. I no longer feel enslaved. I no longer feel compromised. I no longer feel diminished or disabled. And the longer I remain asymptomatic, the less fearful I am that mania, depression, anxiety, or insomnia will reappear.
But this freedom has not come without great effort: I remain wholly dedicated to a lifestyle and a mindset that is conducive to my physical, emotional, and mental health. In order to maintain and expand upon the med-free beachhead that I established at the Alternative to Meds Center (ATMC), I have had to ask myself constantly: Is what I’m doing right now, is what I’m thinking right now, is what I’m eating right now, is what I’m saying right now, and, is what I’m reading right now contributing to my mental and physical health? In order to answer “yes” to each question in this internal checklist, I have had to remain vigilant and, even, ruthless.
I attribute the success I’ve had living without medications this past year to several practical adjustments I’ve made to both my thinking and my behavior.
For one, as the internal checklist above indicates, I now focus both on my own responsibility and on my own role in the ongoing reclamation of my life. Gone are the days when I looked to doctors or other authority figures to assign the blame for my condition. It is I who must release myself from anger, fear, and resentment. It is I who must order my thoughts and actions. I realize that depending on medications or any outside influence to do these things for me is futile, costly, and counterproductive.
Furthermore, I have created a support network of holistic practitioners, ATMC alumni, and other like-minded people who inspire and empower me to stay on the med-free course. I often communicate with people who feel threatened by either the virtual or the actual communities that they allow themselves to be a part of. We often ignore the power that we ourselves have to choose whom we associate with. The people I see, chat with online, or speak to everyday are integral to my continued recovery.
I also engage in a purposeful calling. The work I do supporting others through my writing, lectures, or in-person care serves to inspire me. We can choose how we spend our work energy. No amount of money is worth going back to a work environment that may have provided me with an appealing livelihood but that also drove me to drink and take pills. Ordering my workday around tasks that reinforce my healthy lifestyle choices goes far to sustain my sobriety.
Speaking of healthy lifestyle choices, very little of my daily behavior differs from the habits I engaged in during my in-patient stay: I eat the same supplements I did while in residence at ATMC. I have continued the same sauna protocol using the same chelators and conjugators, albeit at a more measured pace. With few exceptions, I eat the same gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, lactose-free, caffeine-free diet that I did while at the center. And, I continue with energy work and counseling just as I did at ATMC. I also use the same toxin-free household and hygiene products I started using in treatment. People complain that it is far too costly to maintain such a lifestyle. But when I consider the costs of the alternative: medications, hospital visits, and lost productivity – not to mention the physical and mental anguish associated with a dependency on medications – the lifestyle I now lead is FAR less expensive.
I try to observe and learn from uncomfortable emotions rather than to escape from them. For most of my life, I took something when I felt sad, anxious, or lethargic. Now, I accept that each emotion, especially disquieting ones, can help me grow both my capacity and my understanding. I have shifted from asking myself: How do I stop feeling this way? To: Why do I feel this way? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t let any of my emotions flare into the extreme range of the spectrum. But I also don’t expect or want to be devoid of challenging emotions either.
Furthermore, I go at my own pace. I don’t allow outside pressures or other people’s expectations to dictate the pace of my progress. You are both the Minister of Health and the Minster of Labor in your one-person country. Sure, my wife or my children may want me to work more, but I remind them that I have a full-time job: staying healthy. There are times when I too want to speed up and do more, but thankfully my head pain flares up when I over-extend myself, which keeps my exuberance in check. My capacity increases incrementally, and I am okay with that, even if others aren’t.
That’s not to say that I haven’t had setbacks. I would be surprised and not a little bit frightened if I hadn’t. When I feel too anxious, I take calming supplements or pour myself a tension-taming tincture instead of popping an Ativan. When I am in too much pain, I practice breathing techniques or do some Qi Kong instead of taking a Percocet. And, when I feel very sad, I serve someone instead of turning to Cymbalta or Trazodone. If we practice healthy lifestyle choices we can live peaceful, medication-free lives.
Here’s to many more med-free anniversaries for us all!