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A “Strong Suggestion” Killed my Friend

The stigma associated with mental illness is a terrific one.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. I have battled both anorexia and bulimia and participated in other self-injurious behaviors over the years…even in sobriety. It wasn’t until I got sober that I was given proper diagnoses, mainly because I was “self-medicating.”

Many of us have what the professionals will call a “dual diagnosis,” meaning that we have both a mental illness and substance abuse issues.

I have met many people over the years that have similar stories to mine, and others that suffer with much more serious afflictions.

Years ago I had a friend named Paul that had a psychotic disorder. When he got sober he did so with the help of a 12-step program. He struggled for a bit, but eventually found a routine that suited him and weeks turned into months.

He found a sponsor and jumped into action with both feet to make the changes necessary to recover from his alcoholism. He seemed to be doing well for quite a while.

One day I saw Paul at our favorite coffee shop and he didn’t look like himself. He was pale and appeared frazzled. His eyes were not as bright as they had been the last time I had seen him. I sat with him a while in hopes that he would feel comfortable telling me what was going on.

Paul told me that his sponsor had suggested that he was not completely sober. This confused me because he had just weeks before showed me his six-month chip, celebrating “half a cake!!” He told me of his sponsor’s concern regarding his choice to take medication for his mental illness. He told me he was taking himself off of them because he wanted to be “totally sober”. He did not want to depend on any kind of substance and was sure that with all he had learned about himself, he would be okay.

He was dead within a year.

He was sober when he died, but the voices got the better of him.

I tell this story in hopes that people will understand the dangers of giving out medical advice without a medical license. I also hope that those who do suffer or live with mental illness understand that whatever medication choices they make with the guidance of a physician do not have to be discussed outside of that relationship.

If you wish to discontinue a medication, please discuss it with your doctor and do so only under his or her supervision. 

We all have the desire to be accepted, no matter what route we choose to recovery. Mental illness is not a game. It is not a choice or a switch that can be turned on and off at will.

I beg of you to be careful with your words and your judgment of people who may have problems that you do not understand.

We are given the opportunity to offer our experiences to others that may identify, and grow with the knowledge that they are not alone in their fight. We can give support even if we don’t have experience to offer.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what that is like, but I can surely put you in touch with someone that can help.”

There are many resources available and stories like Paul’s don’t have to end in tragedy.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please educate yourself with the facts and find support. Please visit our Resource Page, or send an email sobermommies@sobermomies.com if you don’t see what you’re looking for.

Please don’t give up. As long as we are breathing, there is hope.

Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.

Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me. 

8 Comments on “A “Strong Suggestion” Killed my Friend

    • It is awful, but I don’t necessarily blame the sponsor. There is often much misrepresented information that rolls down in self-help programs. Plus, there is a lot of ignorance surrounding mental illness in our society and not enough people asking questions and gaining knowledge before offering “advice.”

  1. What a really sad story. It absolutely breaks my heart. The sponsor did not know what they were doing because the literature of the 12 step program clearly states that they are not psychiatrists or doctors and if that avenue is needed it must be pursued. About a year ago, I was about 2 yrs sober I decided without consulting anyone that I wanted to be a 100% sober and cease taking my anti depressants. I almost lost the plot. I was advised by my sponsor and many in the program that I needed to get on my pills ASAP and that depression is not a weakness but an illness. I have mental issues and I am a recovering alcoholic. These two diseases have different treatments. You cannot treat the one at the expense of the other.

    • Absolutely, Elle!! I’m so glad that your sponsor and friends were understanding and supported you!! Thank you so much for sharing your story here! I know that this unfortunate tragedy was not the fault of the 12-step program OR the sponsor. It was due to passed down misinformation and ignorance. It is okay to question and challenge a suggestion and its reasoning, no matter where it comes from.

      I’m so glad you’re here. XOXO

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  3. Am in recovery to and 12 streps work and going to meeting everyday doing inventory and helping other god first then my recovery second am 2 years clean

  4. I had a similar situation. I am no longer part of AA partly because of it. My sponsor said she would not work with me because of the medication I was taking. So she no longer answered my calls. I am now following the rational recovery program SMART. That is awful about your friend Paul, Julie. I am pained by stories like this.

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