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What comes first? Depression or Addiction?

My husband has an addiction.  Addiction…  Scary word huh, Judgemental or Misunderstood?

Addiction:/ noun / the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity.

There is still a stigma around mental health, I also believe that the word addiction makes people uncomfortable, yet quite often they come hand in hand with each other, two peas in a pod, feeding off each other creating the monster inside you bigger than you can keep a leach on. 

But what comes first?  Do you become addicted to a substance or activity which creates the sense of shame, guilt and failure or is it your mental state that leads you to a substance or activity abuse to escape the overwhelming stresses in your mind, no matter which one starts first they both create the circle you get stuck in.

Addictions affect the brains functions and those who develop an addiction may not even be aware that their actions and behaviour is causing problems for themselves or others around them.  There is no one cause of addiction, and everyone’s story is different and just as valuable as the next person.

That brings me to talk about my husband Shane.  Shane started playing at our local football club in 2001. All the hard work that went into training and playing football was paid off by winning Grand Finals and the love of the culture that goes with footy clubs; making life long mates, celebrating and A LOT of drinking, yet being involved in the football club is what kept him going each week.

After a few years, this all began spiralling out of control, and with no help he didn’t realise the direction he was taking, nor did anyone else at this stage.  On the outside he seemed fine, he was at the top of his game at football, training during the week and socialising on weekends. Yet on the inside he was starting to self-destruct, even just getting up for work each day he was terrified about how he felt and hated it.

He was addicted to the rush that football gave him, the place he felt worthy, the place he felt at ease, but once it was at its peak, he needed more, he needed more things to do to keep his mind from walking the plank when he wasn’t distracted with his football.

In comes gambling, his new addiction.  At first like everyone else, it was just a bit here, a bit there, but then it consumed him.  Gambling filled the gaps between football, concentrating on gambling and getting a win was his new rush, and he didn’t have to think about all the life stresses he had going on, just kept pushing them away, he didn’t have time to think about them, gambling stole all his time.  Mid 2000’s came with some bad decisions, gambling came first, before everyone, including his family, his closest mates and his beloved football club.   Everything then became unstuck, he was rock bottom and nowhere to hide.  Some people through the club saw him as a selfish liar, they belittled and threatened him which made him worse, no-one could punish him more than he was already punishing himself.  So, the only way he knew to escape that – yep kept gambling, but he tried to do without anyone knowing, these habits came and went for the next 10 years.

The lies, the sneaking around to put a bet on without anyone knowing, getting up in the middle of the night to check race results changed the person we all knew and loved.  His sister, his closest mates and me his wife, saw through all of this, we knew Shane wasn’t doing this to upset us, he was escaping himself, he was just using gambling to absorb his feeling and consciousness.  We stuck by his side, made some major lifestyle changes which helped him come back from the flip side.

Once again football was his focus and addiction, never missed training, never missed a game until it came time to hang up his boots, physically he was ready too, mentally he was not. 

It is what he knew, it was routine, training 2 nights a week, game day on Saturdays and recovery on Sundays.  We all loved it, including me and our kids.  In 16 years of football, Shane made a lot of achievements played in 7 Grand Finals (won 4), played many interleague games and represented in the all Victorian team, this ‘football life’ is all we knew.

Shane kept himself busy at first, but then then depression worked its way back into his everyday life, what on earth do you do with all this time that use to consume more than half of your week!  He couldn’t work, hardly spoke a word, totally avoided friends so he didn’t have to talk to them, had a short fuse and yelled at the drop of a hat and was hiding in his own shadow.  So, another addiction came in... Drinking.  Shane was drinking to protect himself from some major life challenges that he felt he couldn’t escape.  A few drinks at night and he’d relax, we would all see the funny happy chatty bloke that had been hiding all day in his depression and anxiety.  Every day was on repeat. 

I wasn’t that person to get angry, once again, he wasn’t doing it to upset everyone else, I knew yelling and arguing with him would only make him worse.  I went the other way, showed him support and understanding. It sure did take a few goes but eventually one day he came to me and said, “I don’t want to be this person anymore”.  I got him onto the BeyondBlue website and I left him to do some reading and the online questionaries and it was at this point he could see that he needed help, more than what I could do for him. 

Shane went to our trusted family doctor and is currently on medication to lift his serotonin levels.  Life style changes are also a MUST, medication does not fix depression and anxiety, it just assists you to get where you want to be… Happy and functioning on a day to day level again. You must want to get better, no one can tell you to snap out of it.  You need to want to do it. You can do it and you’ll be surprised with how much support you get to climb out the dark hole you feel stuck in.

There are many different roads to recovery, so you must find the one that works best for you.  If you don’t where to start, ask, please don’t be afraid, we have been there, and now we are happy, and taking life challenges head on.  The tough days can still come and go, we just don’t stay there too long.

Thanks Shane for letting me voice some of your experiences, I know you want to help others by telling the world this, especially those who believe that they can’t do it.  Get help, get help today.