Welcome to the Hope Shot where I will explore mental health and addiction recovery from the perspective of the eight dimensions of wellness - Mental, Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, Social, Vocational, Occupational and Financial. It is my personal belief that every person has an incredible potential to grow in each of these areas. The key is understanding how to tap into it and realize one's goals.
"O that I might have my request,
and that God would grant my desire;
that it would please God to crush me,
that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!
This would be my consolation;
I would even exult in pain unsparing;
for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
6 v 8-10
When I think back on the days of the past when I was in the
throes of active addiction and suffering terribly from bipolar disorder I often
felt tortured by the madness I endured. The mania I had was often short-lived
and was accompanied by delusional thinking that resulted in grandiose messianic
beliefs. The crash that followed was in many ways just as debilitating.
Depression and hopelessness led to thoughts of suicide. There were occasions
where I could not bear living this way, only wishing for a way out. Death
seemed like the best option.
But despite all of the pain endured I never turned my back
on my Higher Power. And God never turned God’s back on me. I’ve heard many
stories of people who have either blamed God due to their unfortunate circumstances
of being cursed with such afflictions and have thus denied God’s existence.
In the biblical Book of Job, the story is about someone who
endures trial after trial, and was tested by God who allowed Satan to attack
him. Through Job’s trials, all is lost including his health, his wife even
tells him to curse God and commit suicide, but he remains strong and faithful, “Through
all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.” (1:22).
I chose (and sill choose) to believe otherwise. In my
darkest times I recall praying to have my suffering relieved. Now, this could have
something to do with my religious upbringing. But I now believe that I needed
prayer to alleviate my mental and emotional pain. Prayer was the starting point
I recall the two times I was hospitalized at the Buffalo
Psychiatric Center. The conditions were very difficult to endure. The other
patients suffered from a wide variety of severe mental disorders. I was
uncertain what the future would hold for me. Would I remain in this institution
for years like some of the others?
There was one particular young man who I recall was dealing
with persistent psychosis. He would walk around the day room spelling his name.
That’s it. I asked one of the aides what had happened to him and the aide
responded that the patient had “taken too much acid.” This alarmed me,
considering that I had dabbled in psychedelics myself in the past.
So when I was there I would pray. Hard. Some would call
them “foxhole prayers,” but it was more than that. I sincerely wanted to be
relieved from my condition.
I was eventually discharged and was, by the grace of God,
able to return to school. But this was not the end of the line for my BP
symptoms. I continued to abuse substances and had more hospitalizations at the
Erie County Medical Center. It was a very confusing time for me. I struggled
with my illness but I did not lose faith. And I did not blame God.
One of the primary characteristics of my journey to mental
wellness has been patience and persistence. Mind you, like I said, I had times
of doubt however I never gave up. I attribute this to a combination of belief
in God, a viable support system, hard work, and being willing to step out of my
comfort zone. Slowly but surely I began to see results.
When I eventually stopped using substances in 1988 my
symptoms subsided considerably. I still had to endure two more hospitalizations
(in 1989 and 1995) but I was able to achieve the life I had always prayed for. Since
that last episode I have not had to endure any further significant mental
In the end, I believe that our lives, whether they be intertwined
with mental illness, addiction, or not, can be enhanced by our relationship
with the God of our understanding. It is through this relationship that we are
able to endure the pain and struggle life brings. This is what perseverance is
I’ve had many experiences in my life when things that
happened, not by my own doing, resulted in fortuitous consequences. Some would
call these instance fate; others destiny; and yet others coincidence. But to me
these were examples of God working in my life.
One of the most obvious examples (at least to me) was how I
met my wife Suzy. Back in my college days in the mid-80’s I had a couple of
close friends, Dan and Mark, with whom I used to hang out with all the time.
Much of our relationship revolved around music, whether it be listening to the
latest album from Level 42 (Running in the Family) or Peter Gabriel (So) or going
to shows at the University at Buffalo Springfest and other venues.
Mark moved to California in the late ‘80’s and met his wife.
In 1992, Mark’s sister was hosting a party for Mark, his wife, and their infant
son. Dan invited me and I didn’t hesitate to accept. Dan also invited Suzy. She
and Mark were lifelong friends having met when they lived in the same
neighborhood when they were little kids.
Mark’s sister lived in a small town about 20 miles or so
East of Buffalo. This was before GPS so I’m amazed I even found her home. It
was the day before Memorial Day and I just planned on going to say a quick
hello and then leave.
When I arrived, I walked into the house and was greeted by
Mark’s mother Mary Ellen. She immediately introduced me to Suzy. The ironic
thing is that, for whatever reason, Dan wasn’t there. If he had been I probably
never would have spent any time talking to Suzy. To add to this, Suzy drove the
entire way from North Buffalo on a donut spare.
We began to make small talk and she asked what I did for a
living. I was actually having a job interview for a counseling position at the
Buffalo General Hospital Alcoholism Clinic in two days so I said “I’m and
“That’s interesting she replied, my father is a
psychiatrist.” I then told her that I had the interview scheduled and she
informed me that she was the Human Resources/Operations Manager for a local
retail department store. I proceeded to ask for some interview tips. And with
that the relationship began. I can’t recall exactly how long we spoke but
suffice it to say it was a considerable amount of time. And the rest, as they
say, is history. 24-plus years later we still love talking to each other.
And that, in my eyes, is how it works. God is manifested in
so many ways in our lives through our relationships with others. Have you ever
had something happen that involves someone else and your life takes a new
direction? I believe that the people in our lives are here (or were) for a
reason. Of course, it’s easier to look backwards and connect the dots. But it
is also possible to open up our minds to the possibility that right now the
people in our lives are here to walk with us on life’s journey and it’s not
meant to be walked alone.
The components in the wellness equation can often overlap.
I believe this to be the case for that of the social and spiritual areas, whether
it be more formally, like one’s worship community, or simply through the
relationships we have with others in a broader spiritual context, God is
present in all these relationships. The key is being aware of how God is
working in these connections.
The concept of social capital reinforces this importance. The broader and more
healthy our relationships the better our quality of life. It is through these
associations that we are able to live life more fully. And in the same respect,
these associations can help manifest God’s presence in our lives.
Think about your life and the people who have been present.
There is something to be learned in each one of these relationships. These
lessons can be bitter, sweet, or a combination of both. But in the end we can
take something away from them to help us grow to become the person that God
wants us to be.
As I’ve said, I’ve had many experiences that contribute to
my beliefs and I cannot deny God’s presence in these moments. They have, and continue,
to help me grow and feel the movement of the Spirit. And for this I am
“Fortune smiled upon me in my hour of need
I was naked and you came with clothes for me
After years of broken homes, broken hearts and broken dreams
Someone's smiled upon me in my hour of need”
I often ask myself this question. My journey of recovery
began on January 17, 1988 when I attended my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Up until this
time my life was a series of out of control circumstances precipitated by a
diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and a co-occurring addiction disorder.
My life with addiction began in high school in Amherst, New
York ( a suburb of Buffalo) when I would drink (episodically) to excess. This
led to illicit drug use once I got into college in 1981. My experience with
Bipolar Disorder began in my freshman year at General Motors Institute (GMI) in
Flint, Michigan. I had a major psychotic episode that resulted with me becoming
catatonic and unresponsive. My parents came to Flint, gathered me up, and
brought me back home.
The next several years that followed were a series of mind
and mood numbing experiences. Alcohol and drug use was accompanied by the
features of mania, depression, and subsequent hospitalizations.
Throughout this period I somehow managed to continue my
education, albeit periodically interrupted by almost annual visits to some of
Buffalo’s finest mental health institutions including (the demolished Buffalo
General Hospital Community Mental Health Center, also known as 80 Goodrich),
the Erie County Medical Center, and the infamous Buffalo Psychiatric Center. I endured countless medication treatments and even ECT.
Yes, these were challenging times. But alas, by the grace of God I earned my
Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting in 1987.
I had also been in outpatient treatment, first with private
psychiatrists and then linked with Horizon Health Services, the area’s largest
mental health and addiction service provider. I had managed to land a job at
Select Sound Recording Studios as an engineering technician, and was introduced
to the world of music production.
While at Select Sound I was being seen by a therapist at
Horizon named Dick Heffron. Dick was a post-Vietnam era vet who happened to be
in recovery from alcoholism. He had a profound way of connecting with me. He
could also see through me and where I was headed. At a life-changing session on
January 13, 1988 he gave me an ultimatum: either to rehab, go to a Narcotics
Anonymous meeting, or end up back in the hospital. Well needless to say, I took
the path of least resistance and went to the meeting.
It was on Friday, January 15 (MLK’s birthday – “Free at
last!). I went under the influence of half the joint I had smoked and I was
nervous. But I recall a woman standing up and getting her 30-day clean key tag.
And I said to myself, “If she can do it, so can I!” And thus began my recovery
In the time since I returned to school and became a
Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor. I worked for six years
in the field and during that time I earned my Master’s in Student Personnel Administration
from SUNY Buffalo. I then entered the world of higher education and spent 12
years primarily in the area of college admissions.
But during the end of this period I began to have the
desire to share my recovery story. I ended up connecting with several
individuals from the local mental health community. I even wrote a piece for
the Buffalo News that focused on the stigma associated with mental illness and
served as a public “coming out” about my Bipolar condition. In retrospect I was
quite naïve about the whole thing. If I were to do it all over again I may have
been more cautious. But I guess it’s too late for that.
This work catapulted me into the world of mental health. I
began to facilitate a group at Horizon Health Services and was eventually hired
full-time to work in a day program for individuals with serious mental illness.
This opportunity taught me so much about mental illness but more than anything
I gained a profound sense of empathy for those living with mental disorders.
In the over 2 ½ years since I’ve been in my current position I have had an
incredibly satisfying experience working in the community. I get a chance to
teach others about mental health as well as serve as a voice for those who so
often go unheard.
I’ve been a blogger for the last six years, first for
Healthyplace.com and then, most recently, for BP magazine. I enjoy writing and sharing
my experience strength and hope. Hence the name of this blog.
So join me, won’t you, as I explore recovery, wellness, and