The title ‘Living between the Poles’ is fitting for my story because it describes my decades-long struggle to try and live peacefully between the poles of full-blown mania and debilitating depression for the first half of my life. At age 25 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1. And now at age 55, I have lived the last 15 years stable on meds at the “therapeutic lithium level” and I have 3.3 years of sobriety without alcohol. Since I’m also an alcoholic, I have a dual diagnosis.
I have been happily married to my best friend for 19 years and we have 3 teenagers, a girl (16) and 2 boys, ages 15 and 13. I’m originally California native but we live now in the Puget Sound in Western Washington. It’s where we both work
I must tell you don’t quit before the miracle and never give up on loving yourself.
With bipolar disorder type 1 I’ve had to go through decades of recovery to learn how to keep it simple and to follow and keep a simple routine of daily self-care to keep loving on me so then I’ll have it to give my family. I had to learn the hard way by abusing alcohol with and without taking my meds. I had to go thru countless hospital stays before I learned to be teachable and accept that I could no longer drink alcohol. I’ve had to learn again and again that I can’t drink alcohol no matter what.
I was born in the Summer of 1963. At 4 years old my 3 brothers and I were taken by Child Protective Services in LA county and placed in foster homes because my parents were found to be “unfit” to care for us. My father who was a decorated Korean War Veteran was a chronic alcoholic who couldn’t keep a job and my mother was a go-go dancer/stripper who abandoned her kids and we later were told she had bipolar disorder. We were living on welfare in a little pink house that my mother hand-painted herself near the Redondo Beach pier in southern California. That pink house is where it all began. This would be the last time we all lived under the same roof as a family.
Living in foster homes from age 4 till I was on my own at 18. I not only had abandonment issues and childhood PTSD, I had trouble feeling loved by anyone including myself. I’ll spare you the horrific details in how my brother and I were abused for 7 long years by Mr. & Mrs. Smith during the 1970’s in a foster home in Pomona, CA. In fact it wasn’t until I told my school that she beat us and one morning I ran to school with a swollen shut eye from being hit with a fullI tall unopened Hamms beer can thrown at me because I refused to pick up records off the floor, a mess I didn’t make and I didn’t want to be late for school so my foster mother threw her beer and hit me in the eye. They drank a case of beer each day.
So I grew up in 7 different foster homes from age 5 till I was on my own at the age of 18, which I turned 2 weeks after I graduated from high school. Several foster homes were physically and emotionally abusive to both my younger brother and I. We survived the abuse for 7 years. We lived in the House of Horrors foster home in Pomona, CA from age 6 to age 13.
During this time I started throwing up my food in secret and developed the eating disorder bulimia which consumed my teenage years thru my mid thirties. It wasn’t until my mid 30’s that I got stabilized on Lithium and other meds that I gradually began recovering from bulimia. It took alot of years struggling thru it without meds and drinking alcohol. My mania was at its peak during these years. After a 28 day stay in an inpatient hospital for alcoholism, bulimia and bipolar disorder type 1 I started going to AA meetings and I quickly learned what it meant to be someone with a dual diagnosis. I was overwhelmed with myself and fell into a deep depression which ended me back into the hospital for a different mix of psychiatric meds to try. This cycle of in and out of hospitals started at age 23 until I got on the current meds at age 38 which is Lithium, Geodon, Prozac and Buspar.
In my early 20’s I first went to counseling at UC Irvine counseling center and began both individual and group therapy as well. I went to counseling all thru my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Now in my 50’s I still have therapy with my psychiatrist and behavioral therapist separately.
From the very start, I immersed myself in my recovery because I didn’t want to die from bulimia and alcoholism at 24 so i was hospitalized for the first time. It was a 12 step inpatient program in Southern CA. I was in a great deal of emotional pain from years of foster care/abuse that came to light including being sexually molested in that foster home. As much pain that I knew this change I needed to go thru in recovery was going to happen first by going to daily AA meetings for years along with ANAD eating disorder groups and other spiritual women’s support groups in Laguna Beach, CA where I first got sober and when I graduated from UC Irvine in the Summer of 1987 with a BA in political science.
Now as a mother and wife for almost 20 years, I feel some real gratitude to my younger self who had a drive to earn a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and try to get a better understanding of how the world works. But my greatest wish was to have a family of my own and that has come true with many blessings especially because I am sober, and for that I am truly grateful. All in all, I have nothing if I don’t have recovery.
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