Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Enduring Addiction and Embracing Recovery

“What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt”
Hurt – Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails

Addiction has been in existence since the dawn of time. Once human beings found something that feels good and changes the way they experience life it was a done deal. Mind you, not everyone is prone to addiction to the traditional things like, you know, drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or gambling, but I truly believe that we all deal with some kind of attachment to something.

For some it can be exhibited in our relationship to money, material things, people, or even exercise (which is commonly believed to be healthy but it too can be taken to an extreme). Whatever it may be, if we are to grow spiritually, we must face these things square in the eye. My experience in my recovery program has made me do this. I acknowledge that despite how long I may be drug-free I still need to address addiction as the condition. The substances/behaviors are merely a symptom.

For many individuals who live with the hurt of addiction, this vicious cycle began early in life, many times due to some kind of trauma. In trauma informed care the question goes from, “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

While I never endured any physical or emotional trauma as a child I still question whether my early childhood experiences are at the root of my addiction. I was adopted at the age of six months and prior to this time I was in foster care. I know very little, if anything, about this experience. But I do wonder if I received the appropriate level of care at such a young age.

Also, I was a latchkey kid. From kindergarten through all my school years I came home to an empty house. This would be grounds for a call to Child Protective Services these days but at the time it was seemingly normal. Now I’m not placing blame on my parents but it simply gets me thinking about whether this may have contributed to my addiction issues later in my life. That would take a great deal of inner work to determine. In my recovery I’ve examined these experiences and believe that there may be some credence to this argument.

Then there’s the physiological element of addiction. As I stated, I was adopted therefore I have no true knowledge of substance use (or mental health) disorders in my family tree. Research has shown that addiction can have a hereditary link so even if there is no environmental cause there can be a genetic component.

But, as the old saying goes, “It is what it is,” and I have to deal with the problem at hand no matter where it comes from. For me, the solution is spiritual in nature. I have come to believe that addiction can be addressed through spiritual means. Now before you jump all over my case and say that addiction can’t just be “prayed away” let me share with you my belief.

If I truly believe that it is through developing a relationship with a Higher Power that I can overcome my addiction then I need to certainly do more than just pray. Recovery is hard work. It means asking for help – from people as well as God. After all, I believe that God often works through people. I have been fortunate and blessed to have many people guide me on my spiritual path. My family, friends, faith and recovery support system have been an invaluable part of what has become a life I once could only dream about. But there are also things in life that cannot be explained in human terms. “Why is this person now in my life?” or “”How did I happen to be in the right place at the right time?”

But what about you? What are your attachments? And how do you deal with them? This is the $64,000 question. If it were that easy then addiction would not even exist. And despite all of the ways that we are trying to manage addiction these days we are still in a crisis.

It is my fervent hope that we will someday find a cure for addiction but I truly don’t think it’s that simple. Until a person addresses the underlying root cause for their addiction then it’s simply like placing a band-aid on a gaping wound. The possibility for relapse will always be there. For all we know we may never find a cure, but addiction can be arrested and recovery is then possible.

It is possible to endure the pain of addiction and embrace the process of recovery. Faith, support (whether it be through formal treatment or social means), and being honest, open-minded and willing to try a new way of living can make a new way of life possible. Recovery is real.

Be well.

as performed by the late Johnny Cash

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Time Flies (A Thanksgiving Story)

(note - the names of the individuals in this story have been changed to protect their privacy)

It was Thanksgiving Eve 1984. I was in the midst of a full-blown manic episode – delusions and everything. I had walked to my friends Joanne and Frank's place in the Elmwood Village in Buffalo. When I arrived my then my then girlfriend Laurie was there. I asked if I could take Joanne and Frank’s pet Doberman Sally out for a walk (I actually don’t recall if I asked for permission). It was mid-afternoon.

From there I walked with Sally to North Buffalo, up and down the side streets, all the while thinking that she and I were communicating telepathically (did I say I was delusional?). The air was crisp and clear; the sky sunny and cloudless. I was having a great time.

We then went on to Buffalo’s Delaware Park where foolishly I proceeded to let Sensi off her leash. Mind you, I had been around Sally enough to be able to give her commands that she would obey (not telepathically however). This still didn’t convince the guy who saw her loose and screamed at me. In retrospect I suppose if I saw a loose Doberman I’d scream too.

It eventually became dark, and sometime around 7 pm we made our way back to  and Tony’s apartment. When I knocked on the door Joanne answered and was so relieved that we had made it back. I remember that Sally was so tired that she immediately crashed on the floor. The Buffalo Sabres game was on TV.

The evening went on and eventually it was time for me to return home. I was still living with my parents. Joanne drove me there. When we arrived my parents were already in bed. There was a strong aroma of chittlins (a Southern dish that even today I can’t stand).

Nancy left and I went to my bedroom. Sleep did not come easy as my mania was in full gear. I don’t even know if I slept at all. Eventually at around sunbreak I decided I would walk to Toronto to the on-air studios of CFNY-FM (The Spirit of Radio). I had it my mind that I would show up there and see if I could get a job. At the time I was a Broadcasting major at Buffalo State College. I loved radio. So I laced up my shoes, put on my coat and started on my way.

But something happened after I started my trek. I quickly changed my mind and decided to walk to my friends Hank and Freda’s house. They lived about 4 miles away in North Buffalo. Record albums in hand I made my way there. When I arrived it had to be around 8 am; early enough that Hank and Freda were still asleep but their son Kenny was up and let me into the house. I proceeded to make my way to the living room but would not speak. I was under the delusion that I could not communicate my plan. Kenny had an early version of a video game that was basically designed to simulate shooting down things of some sort. So I sat down and set out to save the free world from international invaders.

Eventually Hank and Freda arose and came downstairs. I still wouldn’t speak. Now, they both knew my history so they knew something was up. But they let me stay there even until their Thanksgiving meal which was, interestingly enough, lasagna. They had invited a friend who I’m sure was wondering, “What the hell is going on with this guy?”

Now comes the fun part. After dinner Hank called my Dad who came over and they both proceeded to take me to Buffalo Psychiatric Center where I had been hospitalized twice before. When we arrived we were greeted by a security officer. This is where divine intervention steps in. For whatever reason, that I will never know, I was not allowed to be admitted there. So they then took me to the Buffalo General Hospital Community Mental Health Center where I was admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit.

While this experience was 32 years ago, I remember so much of it vividly. It’s like it was yesterday. I find it fascinating how some events or our lives can be so easily remembered whereas others can be hidden away for an eternity. One thing I do know that despite my flight of fancy I believe that my Higher Power was looking out for my wellbeing. So many things could have gone wrong. I could have lost Sallyi. I could have tried to make it to the Peace Bridge only to be held by Customs Officials. I could have been admitted to BPC where my fate would have been incredibly worse than it had been at Buffalo General. I also could have been shunned by Joanne, Frank, Hank and Freda. Somehow they found it in their hearts to help me when I really needed it.

This story brings tears to my eyes when I realize that over the course of my life so many things have happened that cannot be explained through conventional wisdom. So many so-called twists of fate or “coincidences” that defy description. I’ve chosen to believe that the God of my understanding helped me through these times in order to do what I do today.

Therefore, in this season of Thanksgiving, I have to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have served as guideposts on my journey. You do not know how much it means to me.

Be well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trusting the Process of Recovery

I was 23 years old and my future was uncertain. I had endured a variety of treatments for my Bipolar Disorder, none of which had provided any significant relief for my condition. I was in despair, with the realization that I could potentially be affected in such a significant way that I would be unable to hold down a job, not to mention have a family or any other semblance of the so-called “American Dream.”
At that time I was in the Erie County Medical Center psychiatric unit; a scary place indeed. It was one of the several times I had been hospitalized there. During one of these stays an older gentleman completed suicide. This simply served to create more fear in my mind.
Little did I realize it at the time, but I had an innate ability to trust the process of recovery. What I mean by this is that I was able to develop a sense of hope that then translated into faith. This feeling came from the belief that God could intervene in my life as I had seen this happen with others. If hope is the spark, then faith is the fire.

This faith meant trusting that God had my back. This meant that I had to believe that God would provide me with the strength to move forward. This meant that God would put the people in my life who could help guide me to a better way of life. This meant that I could find a way to end my suffering and go on to have a better quality of life.
And slowly, but surely I saw this beginning to manifest in my life. Some would call it luck or that I had just worked hard enough to create the positive changes in my life. But I know better than that. There have been so many “Godincidences” in my life that just can’t be explained in simple terms.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I believe that this is what trusting the process is about. It’s easy to look at our past and make some kind of sense of how we ended up where we are but it can also be an indicator of where we want to go, including the choices we make.
In the course of my life I’ve had to rely on my faith to get through life’s ups and downs. And life hasn’t been easy (and whose is?). It could have been so simple to settle for just getting by but I had to believe that I could go further than even I thought was possible. The process of recovery, whether it be from addiction or a mental health challenge, takes a considerable amount of patience, persistence, hard work, and trust (faith).

In many respects, trusting the process of recovery can be a frightening prospect. So many people struggle every day. “So why should I believe that it can work for me?” you may ask. Simply stated, I believe that we all have the ability to go beyond where we currently are at. Mind you, not everyone will have exactly the life they may have had before, but with the ingredients I mentioned previously, this thing called recovery can actually happen.

Trusting the process also means believing that there are people who can help us along the way. After all, as I always say, “Recovery is not a solo sport.” It requires that we humble ourselves enough to be able to ask for help. “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” This has been one of the primary strengths of my own recovery. I learned a long time ago that I needed people to help me to manage my life in a healthy manner. Whether it be with family, friends, support groups, or faith communities, we can all use a little help along the way.

So what do you say? Do you trust the process? How has doing so helped you in your recovery? Feel free to leave a comment.

Be well!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Blessed Assurance

"This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my savior all the day long."

Frances J. Crosby, 1873 

Living with addiction and/or mental illness can be distressful to say the least. For those, like myself, who have had to battle any different type of brain disorder, there can be a constant ebb and flow of symptoms. These indicators can create an internal discord in one’s ability to work or go to school, carry out daily activities, or engage in satisfying relationships (this is the generalized definition of a mental health or substance use disorder).  

As for myself, the path to wellness has not been linear. Early on I was on a straight trajectory to a lifetime through the revolving door of institutionalization. I was incapable of doing any of the things that my peers were accomplishing, and this hurt. I recall that I did not attend my ten year high school reunion because I was ashamed of how my life did not match the one that so many of my classmates had. Despite the fact that I had been clean for three years, I still felt like I had to play “catch up.” 

But slowly but surely I began to gain traction and my life improved. I attribute this to the strong spiritual foundation I had developed through my church and addiction recovery groups I attended. This connection proved to be vital during the ensuing years as I traversed the landscape of adult responsibility. But it was working. I began to become more confident with the assurance that God was working in my life.  

One such example was when I obtained my first “real” job in 1992 working as an alcoholism counselor at the same community health center in Buffalo General Hospital where I had been hospitalized eleven years prior. I was green, wet behind the ears, whatever you want to call it. In many ways I was very uncertain about my abilities but I was given the opportunity to prove myself. During the time I worked there I began to develop the skills I needed to grow into the professional I had always aspired to become. 

Looking back I have come to believe that my employment at BGH was not a coincidence. I had come full circle. The fact that I was working alone was remarkable considering my condition just five years prior. This is one example of the incredible potential that we have as people who have often thought to be incapable of any significant accomplishments.  

But here’s the thing. I leaned heavily on my faith to get me through the periods of doubt and uncertainty. And I still carry this faith with me today. I have been consistently challenged to go outside my comfort zone and stretch beyond my self-perceived limitations. This, in turn, has given me the sense that I can do things that at one time would have been impossible. 

Mind you, it’s not all about faith. Recovery is hard work. Real hard work. But with the proper combination of treatment (which is different for everyone), persistence, and grit, it’s possible to go further than we think we can. As I always say, “NEVER GIVE UP!!!”

Admittedly there are some who struggle incredibly and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge this. Severe disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and major depressive disorder can be debilitating. So for those who this pertains to, simple relief from symptoms is what can be achieved. But I still believe this is possible with the proper care.

Through my faith I am assured that with the help of God I can get better. While this is a lifelong process, I know that I can become the person that God has intended me to be. Like a good friend says, I just have to “try harder.”  

Be Well!

 Shirley Caesar
"Blessed Assurance"