Talking About ADHD

We Are Everywhere

Sharing his diagnosis of attention deficit shows one man an empowering truth: “I am not alone.”

You know when you buy a new kind of car and suddenly start seeing them everywhere you drive? Or when you become a new parent, it seems like babies are everywhere? I relate to that phenomenon in a new way lately. Actually, in two new ways.

First, I’m amazed at all the people I run across in social situations who don’t drink. Who would have guessed? Before I got sober, I couldn’t have imagined that anyone could go to a BBQ and not be drinking. I also notice other “friends of Bill W.” — a sly way of identifying another member of Alcoholics Anonymous by way of one of its founders, Bill Wilson — all over the place. There’s the guy in front of me at a baseball game with the serenity prayer tattooed on his arm or the guy giving a presentation on real estate transactions who laces his talk with recovery sayings (“just sick and tired of being sick and tired”).

But also, my journey as an adult diagnosed with ADHD has opened my eyes to the prevalence of it all around me. Early on, I shared what I was learning about attention deficit with a friend. He recognized some of the tell-tale marks — inability to complete a to-do list, disorganization, restlessness — in his life. He went to his doctor and got diagnosed.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD?]

A year ago, a woman sharing at an AA meeting referenced “dual diagnosis” to refer to her understanding of herself as an alcoholic with ADHD. I approached her after the meeting and we talked about how ADHD likely affected our addictions and impacts our recovery. “It helps to address the ADHD,” she said, “so I don’t set myself up for failure in trying to work a recovery program without addressing a crucial fact about myself that makes it difficult to make it through a list of steps, even twelve of them.”

A few weeks ago, I shared at a meeting that I was starting medication for ADHD. Afterwards, a guy came up and told me I was making a really good choice. He had been on medication for ADHD for years and it had made a dramatic difference in his life. He told me about how his career trajectory changed dramatically, going from being a job-hopper to instead getting promotions.

For me, when I notice how many other people are driving the kind of car I’m driving, it affirms my choice. When I saw other sleep-deprived young parents savoring the joy of those early years, I felt like I could relate and was in some form of a community. The program of AA works to help people stay sober because of its community and the realization every newcomer has if they get it: that they are not alone. The interactions I’ve had with adults with ADHD have been similarly encouraging. I realize I’m not the only one whose head is wired this way. I’m not the only one who went years, and decades, without realizing there was a name for the way my head works. It helps me accept myself and know I’m not alone.