Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How Did I Get Here?

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 journey.

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 na├»ve 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.

I was given the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association of Erie County and was eventually hired as the Director of Community Advocacy for the Erie MHA and Compeer of Greater Buffalo.

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 everything in-between.



5 comments:

  1. Great first blog, Karl. Honesty and the persistence to keep on keeping on until you have found a path for yourself in recovery is worth reporting. And you are committed to find ways to share your experience, to be a role model for others who are looking for such a path for themselves, as well as to be a teacher. As the saying goes, "You are blessed to be a blessing to others." Alan

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    1. Thank you Alan. I appreciate your kind words.

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  2. Great way to begin your new blog! It takes me back to those days fearing for your life and knowing the only thing I could do was support your parents pray you through them. I am so proud of what you have accomplished and the Karl I always knew was in there!

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  3. Karl, your friendship and insight and courage in sharing your stories has made me so happy to see you move into this new effort. I referred friends and family, and sometimes strangers who needed it. Now there is a new place to see your work. Love you so for all you are and have done for others. Praise God!

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  4. Karl, your friendship and insight and courage in sharing your stories has made me so happy to see you move into this new effort. I referred friends and family, and sometimes strangers who needed it. Now there is a new place to see your work. Love you so for all you are and have done for others. Praise God!

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