Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Keeping My Chin Up (I'm Still Here)

Since my last post, I've stayed sober (and relatively sane), let my Certified Peer Specialist certification lapse, gotten a job in a plastics factory as an inspector, re-connected with my therapist and begun work on discovering those subconscious tidbits that continually trip me up, successfully completed treatment, and moved into sober living.  Other than that, it's been kind of slow.

Today I'm going to write about what's foremost in my mind, which isn't (at this point, anyway) a happy topic. I like to put things nicely, but I don't know how in this instance - so, here it is: there has been a lot of relapse and death around me lately.  First, my roommate from the halfway house moved into sober living - we were going to be roommates there as well - and he relapsed in a big way about the time I was moving into sober living. He's not doing well. Some other people with whom I shared the treatment journey have relapsed as well. Two people I know in recovery have passed recently. I also found out one of my cousins' sons passed away two years ago at age 25. I didn't know him, but it's one of those things that makes me wonder and makes me sad. And I found out today from the person with whom I've been riding to work that their oldest child died some years ago from a heroin overdose. And then today at work, the person I was working with today told me that his sister passed away 2 weeks ago, and my coworker is now raising their niece and nephew, and they found out today that a friend of theirs died by suicide two days ago.

It's sad. I feel sad about all the suffering going on. I also feel a bit dismayed - what the heck is going on? There have been a lot of deaths this past year by suicide and relapse. When I was still sick, in my active addiction and depression, I used this as an excuse to not get better. I was giving up. Now I recognize it as a part of the territory I'm in - I know a lot of people in recovery from addiction and a fair number of people living with mental health conditions. What's happening now is, unfortunately, not all that unusual; I'm simply acutely aware of it right now, 'it' being people suffering and sometimes dying.

My response today was to get a little down in the dumps about it all. Writing about it helps; talking to the right person about it would help, too, except that I don't have phone service again until the day after tomorrow and it's a bit difficult to get hold of the person with whom I'd like to talk. But whatever. My overall response is one of gratitude. I look at each individual that has relapsed and each individual that has passed away and say, "That could have been me." My gratitude is that I am still here to enjoy this life and contribute what I can. 

And then I focus on the living. I've been told, and I believe, that 'Why?' isn't a spiritual question - that when I ask 'Why?', I'm not looking for a reason, I'm looking for an argument. I can't do anything for those that have passed on. I can do little for those who have relapsed until they become ready again to get back into recovery. I can do a lot for the survivors.

I listen, and, when warranted, I share my experience. No, I can't bring your loved one back to life, nor can I make anyone recover. But I can listen and let you share your sadness, hurt, grief, and dismay with me. I can make myself available so your pain might ease for just a bit. I don't like the subjects of grief and loss and relapse anymore than most people; but I am equipped to walk with someone a little bit so that they aren't completely alone in their suffering. I can even give a little hope around the possibility that things will get better, because I've been where their loved one has been and I'm getting better. Recovery is possible so long as we're still breathing.

One thing I know today and pretty much accept is that I can't feel the joy of life if I avoid the suffering. I don't like that fact, but it seems to be true, so I work on accepting it. This means when suffering comes from my own thoughts and actions, I endeavor to embrace it, so I can learn from it and let it go. If I try to escape or avoid it, it just comes at me from a different route. Today I'd rather face stuff head-on. And I don't attempt to avoid the real suffering of others either. I figure that if it comes to me, it must be mine to deal with in some way, through listening, sharing, and prayer. 

Through it all, I'm still here, and I'm in a good place - I'm sane and sober, I've got everything I need materially today, and I have purpose. I can't tell you what next week will look like, but I can say that if I continue to do what's mine in front of me to do, I'll still be doing well.  And I'm grateful today for the journey.

By the way, thank you to Anonymous for the comment on my last post - I really appreciate it! And if anyone else feels like commenting, please do so.



Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Firm Footing

Living in a community (halfway house) with 10 or 11 other men in early recovery is an excellent opportunity - it's an opportunity to learn how to get along with other men without the use of mind-altering chemicals, how to develop healthy friendships, and how to express oneself in a healthy way. It's also an opportunity to experiment with different recovery strategies and find out what works and what doesn't work.

Although relapse isn't mandatory, it often takes more than one treatment for a person living with addiction and/or a mental health condition to attain and maintain a recovery that lasts. My observation and my experience is that a real surrender and a real desire to change from the inside out is necessary to begin building a recovery that works and a recovery that lasts. 

As you might have guessed from previous posts, I know a bit about what a good recovery looks like. Knowing this has not been sufficient to keep me in recovery. Even working in the field of recovery has not kept me in recovery.  So the question for me is, "What's it going to take?"

Good question. I'm not going to speak to anyone else's experience, as I've yet to meet anybody whose specific program of recovery works for me in the long run.  I've tried to mimic and be like others, and it just doesn't work. I can say that the basics that work for most people work for me - honesty, openmindedness, willingness, spirituality, connection, and being of service. But it seems I've had to experience what doesn't work before I get to experience what does.

Some years ago I theorized that if a person had a healthy self-esteem and a good outlook on life, then that person probably wouldn't want to poison themselves with alcohol or other substances, or to put his/her life in danger. Now, that's not to say that a person with those attributes would not acquire the disease of addiction or a mental health condition; there are plenty of cases of sound-minded people who have experienced these things. What I am saying is that a person with those attributes who found themselves in the throes of addiction or mental illness could, with proper support and education, find their way to a healthy recovery.

Quite recently I've come to discover that there are things going on in my subconscious mind that inform how I feel sometimes and, ultimately, how I behave. We all have that; it's part of being human. However, I seem to have issues that I am unable to identify at this time, and these issues affect the way I feel about myself. Additionally, these issues cause me to sabotage myself and make me a danger to myself. I am unable as of this writing to deal with them on a conscious level, so I will be seeking more professional help in delving deeper so that I can bring this stuff up and get it taken care of.

Because of large blank spots in my memory, I've always known that I must have some stuff to work on. I've tried to work on it myself through prayer and meditation, and reading different self-help type materials. I know it's there, yet I haven't wanted to ask anyone to help me dig it up. These issues, whatever they are, are keeping me from being the person I know I can be.

Surrender in the sense of mental health conditions and addiction means that I acknowledge and accept that I have done everything that I can do on my own to control or get rid of the problem, and I am ready to accept, without reservation, someone else's ideas and suggestions. 

This is where I'm at - I surrender. I'm tired of the struggle, and I admit defeat. 

Those in recovery from addiction know that this is the point at which a person can begin recovery. I know I must give everything over, even that of which I am unaware, to a Power greater than myself in order to begin full recovery. Fortunately, I know my Higher Power works through capable and talented caregivers, as well as experienced peers in recovery, and I am now ready to take my life to the next level with the help of those around me.

As mentioned in a previous post, my recovery is a journey of self discovery, and I am committed to sharing what I discover along the way. I will continue to utilize this blog to share what I learn about myself in my recovery.



Friday, July 5, 2019

Back from the Far Country

As both of you probably know, I've been in the Far Country for the past several months doing research. I am back now and I can faithfully report that addiction and mental illness still suck.

I am currently residing at a residential transitional addiction treatment facility (halfway house) somewhere in Wisconsin, and I seem to be back on the recovery side of the tracks. What that means for me is that I am drug and alcohol free and am not currently experiencing symptoms of depression. That's the clinical side of it.

On the mental/emotional side of it, I am working on acceptance and on finding out what it's going to take to keep me on the recovery side of things for good.

I've been at the halfway house now since May 15th, and sober since May 9th. I will remain at the halfway house until August 13th or 14th, and then probably go on to a sober living facility.

I'm going to keep this post short...I just wanted to let my two readers know that I'm back, and I will continue posting. Thank you for keeping me in your prayers, and thank you for reading!



Sunday, April 7, 2019

Suddenly Stigma

The subject of stigma is dealt with often by people in recovery from mental health conditions and addiction/alcoholism. One of the bars to recovery is stigma; stigma keeps people from asking for help, or even admitting and accepting that they have a condition that needs attention. People can become afraid of the 'mental illness' label or the addict label to the point that they try to shove the condition under the rug. Mental illness and addiction don't go away, however, simply by ignoring the conditions. Eventually symptoms of the conditions arise, quite against the will of the person living with the condition.

When I entered into recovery from all my conditions four years ago, I wasn't concerned with who knew about my conditions - they had consumed me, so there was no pretense that I was not affected by alcoholism and major depressive disorder. Then I began working in the fields of addiction and mental health, so it still didn't matter; in fact, recovery became my identity (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). There was a problem with this, however, that I didn't realize until recently - I didn't have empathy with others who struggled with stigma. I wasn't experiencing stigma enough to really be able to relate and help others who were experiencing stigma.

That all changed once I got a job in the GP (general population). Suddenly I found myself surrounded by people who may or may not be sympathetic to my situation. Suddenly I found myself covering up and actually lying about my life when someone I work with was asking me questions about me. Suddenly I found myself being affected by stigma - it was causing me to behave in a manner contrary to my principles, which are about openness, honesty and authenticity. Suddenly I became empathetic with others who struggle with the same thing, and suddenly I felt a lot of admiration for those who are able to come out of the closet, so to speak, and damn the consequences. 

I need to point out here that the stigma I'm experiencing so far is self-induced. I didn't walk into my new job and find people who don't understand mental illness and addiction - my stigma comes from my own fear and my own projections onto others about how they're going to think about me. So in a way, I can't empathize with those who have been discriminated against one way or another for having a mental health condition or an addiction; I can only empathize with those of us who walk around in fear about being discovered.

I've already gotten a dose of closed-mindedness from one person with whom I closely work regarding alcoholism - this person, through their voluntary sharing, has let me know they think alcoholism and addiction are a choice that can easily be managed by willpower whenever the person chooses to do so. This person has also shared with me much of their family history. Actually, they've volunteered a whole bunch of information that I think I could do without hearing. 

Contrary to what I do in this blog, I don't walk around freely  advertising my experience and thoughts regarding spirituality, mental health, and alcoholism. I would like to be open enough in real life to be a resource for those who may be affected by their own or someone else's mental health condition or addiction. I was fairly open in last GP job, and I was able to offer resources to my co-workers and create some bonding.

I've got a couple of choices. Since most folks at work don't advertise their conditions (almost everybody has something), I can choose to not talk about my mental health and substance use conditions and, when asked, say "I don't feel comfortable talking about this." The other choice would be, when asked, to be truthful about my experience, and let others feel about me the way they feel about me.

I'll choose the latter, for a couple of reasons: one, I can't go on lying about myself and expect to stay in recovery. Authenticity, though sometimes uncomfortable, is essential to my well-being. Two, stigma is battled by changing one mind at a time. My example of recovery coupled with my honesty can show someone that people with mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders do recover. As a bonus, I may be able to help someone else in a similar situation. 

Eradicating stigma must start, I believe, with those of us who have been affected by a mental health condition, either from living with it or having an affected loved one. Part of my purpose, I suppose, is to help eradicate stigma (and not add to it) - otherwise, my experience in the trenches is for naught.

I will definitely be writing more about this as I am now committed to 'coming out' if and when the opportunity arises. I'll let you know what happens!



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Am I Legitimate?

Yes, my parents were married when I was born. In the not-so-old days, if one's parents were not married by the time one was born, one was considered 'illegitimate' or a bastard, which meant one was not heir to one's father's estate or title. Curiously enough, I found the followiing in Wikipedia regarding illegitimacy: "In Scots law, the terminology of natural son or natural daughter has the same implications. The prefix "Fitz-" added to a surname (e.g., FitzRoy) sometimes denoted that the child's parents were not married at the time of birth." So you may legitimately say of your neighbor, "That bastard Fitzsimmons!" At any rate, legitimacy is not really an issue as much as it used to be, but there was a stigma to being born to a single mom.

When I was released from prison for the last time in 2002, I had no ID except for my prison ID, and I had no keys. When I was able to procure a legitimate Wisconsin ID, I felt more legitimate. This ID says legally who I am, and allows me to do things like buy liquor, gamble, and fly in an airplane. (Note that only one of those things is good for me to do). When I received the key to the apartment that the DOC (Department of Corrections) had provided for me, I felt more legitimate. The key meant that I had a place, that I wasn't homeless. 

I write about this because I used to feel like I didn't belong most of the time. This feeling of not belonging is a symptom shared by many who live with alcoholism/addiction and depression and other mental illnesses. I've heard from many who share that early on, before the onset of their illness, they felt like they didn't belong. I felt foreign in my family, I felt foreign in kindergarten, I felt foreign growing up and into much of my adulthood, and I can still feel foreign, or what I call illegitimate, today.

You see, currently I'm homeless, but not really. I'm in a state of limbo. I don't have my own place to live, so I sleep at the shelter (the Salvation Army in Waukesha, which is the best shelter I've ever slept in, and I've experienced a number of shelters across the United States), but I'm not really homeless because I have the keys to my girlfriend's apartment (I'm here right now) and I have permission to come and go as I please (so long as I'm sober). I have a job to go to. I can vote in the upcoming election. I can drive a car (sort of - my license was suspended, and now it's valid, but it could be suspended again in the near future; it's complicated).

See all qualifiers in the preceding paragraph? Those are qualifiers to my current life; however, they aren't qualifiers to my existence, or to my legitimacy. I exist, therefore I am. My stance on humanity is that if I can see you, touch you, smell you, and feel you, and you look pretty much like a human being, you exist, and you are; therefore, you are legitimate. It doesn't matter if your parents are married, or if you have a place to stay, or if you have a job. If you are, you are a child of God, and you get treated that way. 

However, I have a hard time sometimes applying that policy to myself. I want to feel, in a deep-down way, that I belong, that I am 'legit', no matter what - that I am because I am, and that is enough. Job or no job, girlfriend or no girlfriend, home or no home, swelling bank account or no account, I deserve to be here because I am here.

Did you know that as Children of God (or of Source or of the Universe or whatever works) that we are heirs to all that God or the Universe has? That we are intrinsically a part of the Universe, and nothing and nobody can take that away from us? We are because we are, and it can be no other way.

Yet the mind, or, more accurately, the ego, tells me I'm not, that I'm different, that I'm somehow less than if I don't have things like a job and a 'valid' place to live, a partner, nice clothes, etc. Even when I have those things, I can feel less than.

I think we're born knowing who we really are. I think we forget along the way, or we're taught differently. I think along the way we get taught conditional love, and get it confused with Unconditional Love. 

When I was in prison, I had a couple of guys threaten my life. I stood up to them and told them to go ahead and try to kill me, because that's what you have to do in prison. Obviously they didn't. Nowadays the only guy I have to be wary of is me! I would like to get to the point where I don't make choices or take actions that are harmful to me. I don't even want the harmful thoughts. 

That's it - it's fairly simple, really. I want to think and behave from a place of Unconditional Love toward myself and others. But since I learned one incident or one word at a time that I was unworthy, I must work back toward knowing who I really am one word and one action at a time, and I must be forgiving of my mistakes. I learned who I am from people who had no idea who they really were; now I must relearn from the Power greater than myself. Day in and day out, this must be my priority over all else - is my thinking and my behavior coming from a place of Unconditional Love, and if not, how do I move it into alignment with Unconditional Love?

It looks like I'll have enough things to keep me busy for a lifetime!



Saturday, March 23, 2019

A New Chapter

"...I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

A blank page. That's what is in front of me, and that's good news, since I can write whatever I want to write on it. It's a difficult concept to grasp, however - the fact that each and every day we have the choice to create whatever kind of day we choose.

Humans, at least American humans, get so hell-bent on obtaining a false sense of security. Living free is scary, so let's find the proper mate, the proper job, the proper home, and the proper insurance policy so that we can live out our lives as absolutely comfortably as possible. Life, however, has a tendency to throw a wrench in our works - a diagnosis, a new invention that makes our profession obsolete, a tornado or hurricane, or any number of 'unforeseen circumstances' can turn our comfortable, secure, serene world upside down. What then?

Time for a new chapter.

I'm fortunate that no man-made or natural disaster can match the catastrophes I create for myself. I'm currently homeless again, and it's not that I didn't see that train coming down the tracks. I have been unable, since October, 2018, of bringing myself to securing a regular source of income (getting a job), so it was just a matter of time, and the time was March 10th. Fortunately, this homeless gig isn't a new thing for me, and I haven't lost all my material possessions. I do believe this homelessness will motivate me more toward getting another job (in other words, it's not the market, it's me). I've also got more people supporting me than I've ever had before, and that counts for a lot. There are many who experience homelessness without having any moral support to help them through it. I've been there, and that sucks. I've got people to turn to, and even ways to make make a little cash until I get 'back on my feet'. (Where am I now, on my ass?)

Besides graduating high school and getting married twice, I've yet to, in this lifetime, start new chapters without creating some sort of catastrophe. It's not that catastrophes bother me much anymore; however, now that I'm no longer going through life alone, my catastrophes affect the people who love and care for me, and that bothers me. So, it behooves me to get this worked out as quickly as I can so I'm not stressing out my loved ones. I'd like to learn how to start new chapters more gracefully.

When I look at life as a series of catastrophes, it is a series of catastrophes. When I look at life as an adventure, filled with situations that test what I'm made of and stretch my self-made boundaries, then that is what life becomes. Everything is how I look at it. Last night was my first night in the shelter, and I was surprised at how accepting I was. Because it's still kind of cold, the shelter is overflowing, and a dozen or so of us ended up sleeping on army cots next to each other in the open spaces. Not fun, but it was ok, and I was grateful to be indoors. It's still a good motivator for me to do what I can do to become a bit more stable. I'd love to retire, but I'm not at that age yet, so I guess I'll work for a few more years.

As far as the mental health and sobriety goes, that always will be a daily process, and that's where my blank page starts - what am I going to do today to enhance my recovery? For without my recovery, I've got nothing. I'd be on the streets.

So I will continue to post about what I find along the way as I make this journey. Until then...



Sunday, February 17, 2019

Do Not Ask For Whom The Bell Tolls

I found out today that a man I knew lost his life to his mental health condition. He passed away a week ago after threatening a police officer who was questioning him. He threatened him with a knife and the police officer shot him.

I feel a lot of sadness right now - I'm sad for the man who lost his life, and I'm sad for the police officer. I'm sad for the community, because the community lost a good man who made a bad choice in a moment of stress. I'm sad for me because that could have been me, or could be me some day. 

Our community has one of the best trained Crisis Intervention police forces around. Crisis Intervention Training allows police officers alternatives to deadly force when confronting citizens who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis. This community is a safe community, yet we're not immune to tragedy. I was not there, so I do not know how it all went down; all I know is that an officer was threatened by a man with a knife, and the officer protected himself. 

We're all presented with possibilities each day. Stuff happens. A police officer in our community went to talk with my friend regarding a legal issue, things got out of hand, and my friend lost his life. That quick. 

It's a reminder. It's a reminder not to take my health or anyone else's mental health for granted. Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia all have their dark symptoms, and, more often than I'd like, the result is loss of life. One of the aspects of mental health conditions is that the symptoms of a mental health condition rarely affect only the sufferer - they affect the people close to the person living with the condition, and sometimes they affect the community. In this case, the community lost a much loved individual, and a police officer has to live with a death on his/her hands. 

Please know that most often people with mental health conditions are not violent towards others, and that mental health conditions are treatable. It takes education and understanding as well as compassion.

I write this to bring awareness to whomever reads this about mental health conditions. They exist, and people live with them. Often, we are unaware that someone we know lives with a mental health condition - when we are in recovery, our symptoms don't show up in a way that is remarkable, so people may not know we are living with a life-threatening illness. Sometimes it's a surprise when someone we know begins behaving out of character or engages in self-destructive behavior. It is often scary. 

I hope his death was not in vain. There is good that comes from every tragedy, and if a person suffering with a mental health condition can get appropriate treatment and live, then this gentleman's death was not in vain. But he will be missed for all he did for his community. Rest in peace.