Mind Games

Sobriety Cured My Depression

I thought self-medication was a solution, not part of the problem

Carly Schwartz
Human Parts
Published in
10 min readApr 1, 2020


A sepia-toned picture of an alcohol bottle.
Photo: Zimt Vogel/Flickr

II dip my oar into the water and push my kayak away from the dock. I can see Evan and Cassy ahead of me, threatening to capsize each other and giggling. Beyond them, the San Rafael Bridge cuts the skyline in half: bulbous hilltops on the bottom, speckled clouds on top. The sun heats my arms as I glide toward my friends.

It’s one of those days people go on vacation for. But this is no vacation. We’re strictly instructed to paddle out only as far as the bridge. After 90 exact minutes, we must be back at the dock. Once we unload, the seven of us will pile back into our counselor’s minivan — the “druggy buggy” as we affectionately call it — and ascend the spiraled road up to Bayside Marin Treatment Center.

Our counselor will sign our worksheets, indicating our successful participation in “sober fun day,” and we’ll trudge up to the dining hall for lunch. That afternoon? Therapy, followed by group therapy, more therapy, and a 12-step meeting.

I’m not thinking about any of that, though, as I make my way over to Evan and Cassy. Evan grabs the side of my boat and jiggles it.

“Dare you not to fall in!”

As my kayak jostles back and forth, I can’t help but laugh. I’m in hysterics by the time my body tumbles over the edge and I plunge into the frigid river. My skin molecules shatter. I squeal and catch my breath and flap my hands, spraying water everywhere. I can’t remember the last time I felt this alive, this present, this carefree.

At least, I can’t remember a time when drugs and alcohol weren’t involved.

When I was 31 years old, I became severely depressed. I’ve dealt with depression to varying degrees my entire adult life, but this was nothing like what I’d experienced before: a few days in bed here, a bout of low self-esteem there. This was the Godzilla of depressions, gripping my fragile mind with one hand while destroying everything in its path with the other.

I spent all my time lying down, emerging only to visit my office, where simple tasks like typing out an email felt impossible. I felt it in my entire body, limbs like…