How a Bipolar Addict Who Thought He Was Jesus Found God, Sanity and Sobriety

How a Bipolar Addict Who Thought He Was Jesus Found God, Sanity and Sobriety

Even though he grew up having everything he ever wanted and needed, something still deeply disturbed Chris Cole.

Chris was raised in a religious home. Believing God was good, he could not understand why so many people still suffered. For example, why did some children come from families with little money, while his had an abundance of it?

“One of my earliest memories of being uncomfortable as a child, was being embarrassed about how much money I had, or feeling like it wasn’t fair that I was privileged and others kids were not,” said Chris Cole, who just penned a memoir about being a bipolar alcoholic, The Body of Chris.

“Those things really weighed on me as a kid.”

Explanations of inequity by his parents usually centered on those who had little money being “lazy,” or their sorry state of affairs was explained as simply being God’s will.

Other less profound things bothered Cole too, the kinds of things that to some degree bother a lot of boys and young men. Chris didn’t like being a little overweight. In fact, he hated it. Yet Chris pretended to carry his extra weight like a badge of honor in his elementary school years.

By the time he had grown into adolescence, he had decided to take his overweight body into his own hands and obsessively work out to get incredibly ripped, often using dangerous weight loss stimulants.

Right before college, he decided even that wasn’t enough, and he had liposuction.

Pretending at first not to be bothered by his extra pounds, he would go to extremes to get rid of it. He drank booze or gorged himself with food to lessen the pain he felt from the strictness in his home, all the while living a life so privileged that it became torturous for him. Finally, he caved completely to harmful societal ideas that equate a beautiful body with happiness or lots of money with a lack of trouble. Cole slowly lost grip on reality and his own identity.

Between his heavy drinking and a mental illness that he hadn’t yet come to grips with, he had a horrible psychotic episode his sophomore year of college. In the lobby of his dormitory, he came to believe he was the second coming of Christ and attempted to perform miracles. He ended up in the mental ward of a hospital.

But how did it happen? What went wrong? And how can others spot themselves careening outside the boundaries of reality and find help?

Mysticism, Privilege and Boredom Added Up to Trouble

“I had a lot of magical thinking and religious thinking as a kid. That sort of shaped how I viewed the world and added to the confusion,” Cole explained. “I was looking for more concrete answers about why the world was unfair. Was it really God or laziness?”

And when it came to his own problems—being uncomfortable with his body, being picked last for sports and even becoming aware that he had problems indulging in food and drink—these issues appeared to pale in comparison next to problems other people faced, like racism and poverty.

“Because of my privileged state, I added on the weight of the world in my mind because everything seemed so unfair,” Cole said. “So my struggle seemed very invalid to me. I couldn’t blame it on anything.”

So he never talked about it. Instead, Cole acted out when he could, gorging himself at sleepovers with friends (he had to adhere to a strict diet at home). Eventually, being “bad” with food was replaced by the thrill of experimenting with alcohol, even before the age of 13.

Not only did food and booze numb normal adolescent anxieties about body image, but the idea of sneaking added a sense of thrill to a sheltered life. By high school, the rich kid’s thrill-seeking had progressed to stealing parents’ pain pills, buying pot from older kids and whatever other trouble he and his friends could find.

“We’d go garage hopping, hunting in the middle of the night for bottles of alcohol left in open carports,” Cole writes in his book. “We made pipes out of Coke cans and apples so we could smoke weed without having to keep track of paraphernalia.”

Then, like so many who abuse alcohol, Cole met up with the law when he totaled his dad’s truck while drunk. In the book, he writes,

“The other driver started fretting about how he couldn’t get another ticket, so I figured he’d been speeding. I told him not to worry, that my dad was a successful surgeon and could buy him a new car, so long as the cops didn’t get involved. I hated that I was saying this, but it was the best reason my intoxicated mind could come up with to try to get him to keep the police out of it.”

But the crime did catch up with Cole. And so did his drinking. By college, and particularly during fraternity hazing, Cole began to drink until he blacked out.

And then it happened. He told people he was Jesus and tried to perform miracles in his college dorm.

“Not only did different things affirm delusions and synchronicities, but with everybody’s story it was almost as if everything was falling into alignment to give this thing momentum,” Cole said. “I think that has to do with the way the brain is connecting with stimulus. Every little thing is incredibly meaningful.”

More Psychosis and Substance Abuse, then Finally Self-Acceptance

After describing additional blackouts from drugs/alcohol and even more psychotic episodes, Cole’s book ends with him eventually understanding that he was both an addict/alcoholic and mentally ill. Too often, he would think it was just one or the other. And with his weight acting as his primary trigger for depression, the idea of going on psychotropic medication was completely out of the question to him for many years.

He would get the medication then dump it in the trash. He would tell doctors he was taking it when he wasn’t really.

“I equated psychotropic medication with months of lethargy, depression and rapid weight gain,” Cole said. “Not only that, but psychotropic medication was for bipolar patients, and after years of pharmaceutical-free living, I knew God had healed me of my afflictions.”

He said he had problems in recovery with only a 12-Step program as his support, because he was trying to use the 12 Steps to manage his mental illness too.

“The 12 Steps work really well for the people they work for. But I needed clinical counseling too.”

Cole said now he has come to recognize certain triggers of his mental illness and to seek extra help.

“During times of stabilization, and I still do this a lot, I think, ‘I’ve been stable once, I’ll be stable again,'” Cole said.

But now he catches himself before things get out of control.

“If I start to feel like I’m the only one that understands anything, whether it’s spirituality or seeing things a certain way, or if I feel like I am being isolated intellectually in some way, that’s a real sign that I’m getting into a manic state,” Cole said.

“If I find myself being critical of my body or wanting to go on a diet, that kind of lets me know I’m not in a real stable place. When I look back on my life and when I needed help, so much of my body’s insecurity was pathological, and I didn’t know it, and I wasn’t talking to people about it.”

Today Cole works as a life coach. He is under the care of a psychiatrist and takes medication as directed.

He said he now has a healthy relationship with God that leans more toward the spiritual than religious side.
Cole said he shared his story hoping it would inspire others with mental illness to recognize it and seek help.

“The hardest part of recovery was acceptance, and that acceptance was directly related to whether or not I believed health was possible. Today I can promise: Recovery is possible, but perfection is an illusion. Even though I live a life of general stability, I am never far from professionals trained to assist me in survival through the intricate nuances of recovery from mental illness.”

Bibliography

Cole, C. (2015). The Body of Chris: A Memoir of Obsession, Addiction, and Madness. San Francisco: Inkshares

Written by David Heitz