Monday, December 8, 2014

No More Burning Bridges

A couple of people talked to me about the damage I am doing without realizing it. Sometimes I burned bridges and others times I simply put my foot in my mouth by speaking about things as candidly as I do that I am not an expert on. In fact, on occasion I speak on things that I have no idea about because my experiences have not given me the insight I need to talk on the subject. That in turn has made me sound ignorant, ill-informed and even offensive at times.

Due to this, I will try to keep my opinions centered on the things I know best. They are recovery, addiction, mental health issues, trauma, treatment,  parenting, weight struggles, my personal faith, positive ways to impact the communities we live in, stigma faced by people who struggle due to past addictions, mental health issues, trauma and criminality and how to overcome all of those things.

I need to do this for multiple reasons. We are filing the 501c3 paperwork for Better Life in Recovery and forming the board of directors next year. We are also planning to host 24 Better Life in Recovery events that will require many sponsors and volunteers. I need to build connections with the community, and tackling issues outside of my scope of expertise and passion is detrimental to me successfully attaining my immediate and future goals.  I need to stay focused, because  Better Life in Recovery has a lot of things coming up in the future. 

From now on, my blog Spiritual Spackle will contain blogs that address all of the areas I am passionate about. Better Life in Recovery is a new blog starting the first of the year. It will address stigma, stigma reduction, addiction, recovery, mental health issues and positive ways to impact the communities we live in as well as what I have learned through my personal recovery in 500 words or less. Sometime next year I will be starting a Better Life in Recovery podcast that will mimic what I address in the Better Life in Recovery blog

My posts on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter will follow this same plan, adding random things about my family and everything involving Chicago sporting events (other than the White Sox because they reduced the amount of Cubs games I see on WGN so they are dead to me). 

In making changes to what I speak about and adding more outreaches both on social networks and publicly, my hope is to continue making an impact on the communities I truly care about without alienating people along the way. I know the more people I turn off by speaking of things I have no knowledge of, the less impact I and by proxy Better Life in Recovery will have. If there are fewer  people listening, than the impact we have  on our communities is smaller and easier to ignore.

For those who had open and honest conversations with me, I appreciate your candor and hope I can use the feedback I received to have a far greater impact on the communities my heart leads me to reach out to. I want to unite people, not increase the divide that already exists between us. My goal is to afford Better Life in Recovery the opportunity to reach more people each and every day while becoming a force for the sharing of long-term recovery and the eradication of stigma.

In order to meet this endeavor, I will remain as extroverted and animated as I always have been. The difference will be a sharper focus, which will help both me and Better Life in Recovery get more things accomplished. Look forward to the upcoming year, hope you are able to join with us as we continue to share hope and reduce stigma while trumpeting a simple truth, THERE IS A BETTER LIFE IN RECOVERY!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Putting Your Best Foot Forward in Recovery

What does putting your best foot forward mean?

It means you lead with your strongest selling point, your strengths. If I am applying for a job, that means my resume leads with my positives. If I am interviewing, I talk about my accomplishments. I steer the focus away from my deficits and towards my strengths. I also avoid buzz words that could leave a negative lasting impression on the person I am talking to.

Someone who does this well would be Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has filed bankruptcy 4 times. When he meets someone in the community, how do you think he refers to himself? “Hi, my name is Donald and I am a businessman who has filed bankruptcy 4 times.” Of course not, he refers to himself by his successes. When people think of him they think of his successful properties and TV show.

What does this have to do with recovery?


“I’m David, and I’m a grateful recovering addict” is how I used to introduce myself. I stopped because it never felt right, and it did nothing to reduce the stigma the community leveraged against me which I felt personally. All the general public heard me say was ADDICT! They visualized a junkie and the conversation was over.
When I said recovering alcoholic, they heard recovering Alcoholic!! They picture me passed out in an alley snuggling a bottle of Ripple. To avoid this, I started introducing myself as, “David, and I’m in recovery.” I was fine with this for the last 5 years.

Recently I watched The Anonymous People. They talked about recovery language and it resonated with me. It reinforced how I felt and what I have been telling clients the past several years. They also added to it. You start with an introduction, add that you are in long-term recovery and define what long-term recovery means to you. Then you talk about an accomplishment from your recovery.

This is a great elevator speech, and allows you to answer any questions they might have and leave a lasting impression all at the same time. So in closing, I ask  you, which sounds better? Which leaves a better impression? Which of these introductions will you use?

1.      Hi, my name is David and I’m a grateful recovering addict and alcoholic.
2.      Hi, my name is David and I’m in recovery?
3.      Hi, my name is David and I’m in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I have not used drugs or alcohol since January 31st of 2009, and because of that I have been able to do start an organization called Better Life in Recovery whose mission is Transforming Lives with Recovery. If you have a minute I would love to talk to you about it.

For me, I rather enjoy the 3rd one and will continue to use it. After all, I would rather put my best foot forward and lead with my positives!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Write Up about Better Life in Recovery from Addiction Professional Magazine's November/December 2014 Issue by Gary Enos

In his role as an addiction counselor, David Stoecker figures he can have an impact on possibly around 100 people a year. As director of the community organization Better Life in Recovery (BLIR) in Springfield, Mo., Stoecker is looking to influence the lives and thoughts of thousands.

The community events that BLIR sponsors might seem modest when looked at in isolation, but Stoecker sees them as building local traditions and putting a public face on recovery. Maybe a river cleanup event will strengthen a recovering person's resolve to continue to give back in her daily life. Maybe seeing an elected leader throw out the first pitch before hundreds of recovering individuals at a ceremony preceding a minor-league baseball game will give a fan in the stands some pause to think about how substance abuse affects his world.

“The idea for BLIR started on a bike ride with my wife,” recalls Stoecker, 42. “I felt that I wasn't doing enough, but I wasn't sure what to do.”

He started the effort four years ago, around a year into his own recovery. “I was kind of letting things come to me at first,” he says. He knows exactly the moment when it became clear that he needed to turn up the intensity on his work in recovery advocacy: It happened when he read online comments posted by ordinary citizens reacting to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“They disgusted me,” Stoecker says of the postings. “People were saying things like, 'See, these people never get better,' and 'Who cares? It's just another junkie.'”
Uncovering opportunities
Stoecker has recruited subcommittees to work on extending BLIR's mission, which its website describes as an effort “to deal hope and decimate stigma” surrounding addiction through educational and awareness events. The momentum for bringing on more assistance started when around three dozen local treatment and recovery leaders accepted his invitation to a meeting to discuss ways to change the language around addiction and recovery in Springfield. At that meeting he shared data about relapse, and his own resolve that the community could do better.

BLIR, which two years ago became a nonprofit organization, has been seeking closer partnerships with community entities such as the Springfield public schools. A group of people in recovery recently completed playground restoration work for the schools. Stoecker has even visited his 7-year-old's elementary school class, but he'd like the chance to speak before state legislators soon as well.

“We're reducing lengths of residential stay in Missouri,” he says. “We're going to create a revolving door and keep people mired in their addiction.”

Stoecker's wife is a videographer and has assisted in raising BLIR's visibility. Stoecker is also featured in a public service announcement that is frequently broadcast locally, and he is working on a documentary for which he is seeking grant funding, with the goal of being able to show the film in local schools. He says the organization that employs him as a counselor, Alternative Opportunities Treatment Services, has strongly supported his efforts in the greater community.

“Community awareness and education, that's really my passion,” he says. “Fighting stigma head-on.”

Gave faith a chance
Stoecker, who grew up in Illinois, says he had started using substances by 7th grade. Moving to Missouri in part to escape the drug culture, he instead became introduced to methamphetamine and dropped out of high school during his senior year.

“I was in and out of jail,” he says. “I turned 21 in prison. I would end up getting my GED in prison.”
Stoecker experienced his own revolving door of treatment stays and life in the community, usually with little recovery support during periods at home. He had been abused during childhood and considered himself agnostic, but would later experience a shift toward the spiritual.

“I figured I had tried everything else, so I would give God a chance,” he says. “When I focused on recovery and faith, I never looked back.”

He attends 12-Step meetings at least once a week, usually gravitating to those that his counseling patients are unlikely to select.

Participation in BLIR events continues to grow, with 300 people involved in the ballpark event in Springfield in late August and 125 people running in a 5 and 10K event in town the following week. Stoecker is no longer willing to wait patiently for a community response to develop. “This all made me realize I couldn't sit back,” he says. “I had to be proactive.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reducing Stigma in Your Community

How do you reduce stigma? We have so much of it to battle, and it has existed for so long at times it seems insurmountable. After all, the attention is almost always focused on the negatives. We hear about celebrities dying of overdoses and their public behavior when they are intoxicated. The news is always splashed with stories about the drunk driver involved in the fatal accident, with reporters saying, “Authorities think drugs or alcohol may have been involved.”

According to the medical profession, alcoholism has been a disease since . In 1808 Benjamin Rush said, “My observations authorize me to say, that persons who have been addicted to them, should abstain from them suddenly and entirely, “Taste not, handle not, touch not' should be inscribed upon every vessel that contains spirits in the house of a man, who wishes to be cured of habits of intemperance.” He went on to say, "habitual drunkenness should be regarded not as a bad habit but as a disease"

In 1987 the AMA said, "drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice." They went on to add coding to the ICD under both medical and psychiatric sections.  Alcohol and drug use has been identified as being a disease because it has biological, neurological, genetic and environmental origins and causes changes to our brains.

Yet we face the stigma because people say it was our choice to use. That may be true, but a lot of people have various health issues; diseases that they have control over.  Immediately coming to my mind is: lung cancer, obesity and diabetes. When someone survives lung cancer, even though they attributed to it be smoking for years, his victory over cancer is celebrated. When someone is in the middle of a crisis because of their diabetes, people rush to help them. I have never heard anyone say, “Who cares, they did it to themselves” even though that might be an accurate statement.

Most people struggling with a disease are surrounded by their friends, and praised for the efforts they are making. They are met with love, understanding, encouragement, compassion and empathy. Not so for most of us who struggle with the disease of addiction. We are met with apathy and occasionally sympathy. We are looked down on frequently when we visit emergency rooms and urgent cares. Something has to change, and here are examples just from this year:

·         I had people not buy tickets to the Recovery Day at Hammons Field because they were worried the parents of their kids friends might be at the game, “If they were to see me with the recovery group and find out about my past I am afraid they wouldn’t let their kids play with mine.

·         When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, the comments on social media were horrible, “Who cares, just another dead junkie” and “He was sober for a while and relapsed. These people never get better.”

·         When Hallie was murdered, “Who ever did that had to be taking something,” This implies that drugs and alcohol are the cause of evil in our world. Evil is evil, no matter.

We have a lot of changes we need to make in order to combat the stigma that exists. Here is what we have been trying locally. We still have a lot more to do, but we had a great start and things will only be getting bigger based on what follows.
In 2013 we had a couple of events:
1.       River Clean Up float trip that 5 people went on. We met in the morning, floated, then left.
2.       BBQ for Recovery Month that was attended by around 100 people.  We had hot dogs and games and gave away about $1,000 worth of stuff.
3.       Baseball game attended by 15 people in recovery.

In 2014 we grew and accomplished more:
1.       River clean up that was attended by 75 people. We got there in the afternoon for live music, BBQ, prizes and 3 speakers from 3 different fellowships. We had a speaker from AA, NA and Celebrate Recovery then we finished the night with smores and a camp out. The following morning we had a pancake breakfast and floated and cleaned up the river followed by more prizes.  The cost was only $20 a person!
2.       5K/10K Recovery Run and Family Friendly BBQ. We had 125 people register to run, then after the run had BBQ chicken and sides, bounce houses, temporary tattoos, face painting, free massages from massage therapists, adjustments from a chiropractor not to mention door prizes. The cost was 30 for the 5K, 40 for the 10K and the BBQ was open to the public and it was free! Senator Dixon presented a proclamation for recovery month from the state and Councilman Compton presented a proclamation from the city of Springfield!
3.       We had recovery day at Hammons Field that was attended by 300 people who were either in recovery, worked with people in recovery or loved someone in recovery. State Rep Eric Burlison came and threw out the first pitch to support us while we had a parade around the field that had come out to support recovery day.
4.       We partnered with Springfield Public Schools and painted 2 elementary school play grounds over the summer.
5.       I presented at the annual Voice and Choice Conference about what BLiR was doing locally and  how it could be duplicated by other people in other areas.
6.       We have partnered with SoBear, which is a sober collegiate community at Missouri State, and are screening “The Anonymous People” next Monday at 6 followed by a panel discussion with door prizes including an iPad and a $100 Visa gift card.
7.       We will be featured in Addiction Professional Magazine, I made a recovery PSA with KY3, Ozark Journal did a piece on BLiR and BLiR was on KY3 news twice and KOLR10 once. 

I cannot wait to see what is coming next year, as there are talks of starting a community garden and a stream team. BLiR will be attempting to do 24 education, awareness and service projects in 2015! I am in the middle of writing the 501c3 paperwork so it can get filed and we will be forming a board. We are busy and it will only be getting better, but WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!

If this is something that interests you or you can do, we will take all the help we can get. Whether it is donating time, money, experience, writing grants, volunteering, becoming a founding board member or just enjoying the events when we have them contact me and I will add you to the mailing list. Together we WILL reduce stigma while celebrating people who are in long-term recovery!!!

If you are in the Springfield, MO area and are wondering what we are doing, come by Plaster Student Union at Missouri State University at 6 P.M. tonight and see the documentary that is getting people excited about recovery. Admission is free and open to the public. Door prizes include an iPad and a $100 Visa gift card. Stay after the screening for a panel discussion and an opportunity to ask any questions you may have!

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Used to be an Addict.............

Everyone wants a magical cure, especially addicts. That is the dream. We as addicts want not only a cure, but we want it quick and easy. After all, it I could be cured from my addiction than I could once again be just like everybody else. I could be normal. That would be amazing.

That is the promise from Passages, will locations in Malibu and Ventura. Their trademarked slogan is "At Passages - Addiction Ends Here." How comforting that must be, to know that all I have to do is go to one of their places and my addiction will end. How can Passages make such a lofty claim? Because Pax has been clean now for over a decade and was helped by his father Chris, who did self-help seminars to make people successful.

Based off of the experiences that Pax Prentiss and his father had with the addiction Pax struggled with, they have figured it out for everyone. I guess that when it comes to recovery, one size fits all. That is so good to know, that what works for one person can be "guaranteed" to help everyone else. Because of that, they claim to do treatment different from everyone else.

For starters, they have a cure for something that is not a disease. Passages states that after all of their research they have discovered that the entire medical and psychiatric field is wrong. Addiction is not a disease. Since it is not a disease, they have a cure. Unfortunately, all of the research I have read has stated that addiction is a brain disease. They base that off of the changes that occur in the brain chemistry and wiring using that pesky scientific model and research that can be duplicated.

Next, they claim that the 12 steps are antiquated, much like the disease model of addiction. Passages Malibu claims to have cured thousands. of people. The antiquated 12 steps, on the other hand, have helped millions find long-term recovery. I guess that you can make any claim that you want, warranted you are not asked to provide any research to back it  up.

I want to add that I don't disbelieve all of what Passages says and does. They use psychotherapy, or one-on-one individual counseling, as the core of their practice. I fully believe in that. Use evidence-based practices to treat the disease of addiction. They also state that the drug/alcohol is not the problem. Instead, there is another issue that drugs/alcohol are used to numb and escape from. I also agree with that.

In fact, that is the reason why people who go to 12 step meetings are expected to get a sponsor and work the steps with that sponsor. That is why all treatment providers that I know of do co-occurring, trauma, CBT, Adlerian, Gestalt, Psychoanalytic, Family and narrative therapies with their clients. These methods are all used to work  through the "why" of our use. It has been that way since the inception of the 12 steps Passages makes it sound like they invented it, but it has been done for quit some time now.

They also stress exercise, watching what you eat, meditating and taking better care of yourself. This is vastly important, because most of us while our addiction is active don't take very good care of ourselves at all. Add the anxiety, depression and trauma that most of us deal with and you have a perfect storm for unhealthy physical habits to kick in.

Passages is also big on activities such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Ropes, hiking and team sports that are obviously done all by yourself, because they don't believe in group therapy according to their website. I agree with all of these as viable modes of treatment, but all of these sound like what other places call group therapy. Why do other places call it group therapy? Because it is a form of therapy and it is done with other people, ie a group. Hard to have team building without a team.

Group therapy also allows you to find support and build accountability partners. The 12 step support meetings allow for us to do the same thing. Yet, according to the Passages website these are outdated and don't work. I personally swear by them, and I have met thousands of other people who have used them to find and keep long-term recovery. Many of them I have met have been clean and sober since before Passages started. Guess I should tell them the method they have used to attain multiple decades of sobriety isn't effective.  

The price tag of Passages is amazing. Last I looked it was about $65,000 at Malibu and $40,000 at Ventura..................a month!!!! Chris Prentice is good at making money, and he found a new hustle his son could enjoy so that he would no longer feel the need to hustle on the streets. Instead, they found a legal hustle that leads to the death and destruction of others. That scares me!

For as much as Passages says they are interested in helping others, they set many up for relapse if not death. You see, if I am cured, than I can use again. End of discussion. If I discover why I drink and/or drug by working through my past problems, than I can now drink and drug again without a problem. That will lead to relapse, and the next relapse someone has could very well be the one that kills them.

You see, I have worked through the abuse of my childhood and multiple other intense traumas. I have worked through the memory of dying more times than I can count on one hand, gong to jail umpteen times and finally going to prison. I have forgiven and accepted all that I have done in the past because it makes me the person I am today. I define myself today not by  my addiction, but by my recovery.

That said, I never want to forget my past. Not only did it make me the person I am today, it gave me knowledge of my limitations. I have a disease that makes me unable to use drugs and alcohol like "normal" people. I will always have that inability. Some call it an allergy, but based on science it is a disease and it has no known cure. However, I have found that through the 5 Pillars it can be managed!

The 5 Pillars
  1.  Higher Power - Find something bigger than yourself that can give you acceptance, love, respect, forgiveness and validation. The only thing I have found that works for me is Christ. I have seen others use the fellowship. 
  2. Meetings - Find a place where you can get support and feedback from peers. I get the most hope from speaker meetings and Celebrate Recovery testimony nights. 
  3. 12 Steps - Find a game plan to change the way you live your life. I use both the 12 steps and the Bible, as they compliment each other in many ways and both lead me to a richer and more fulfilling life. 
  4. Sponsor/Mentor -  Find someone who has the life  you would like to have in 5 years and ask them to teach you how they got there. This is the person who will help you apply the 12 steps, kind of like a coach teaching you a game plan for success.
  5. Accountability Partners - Find people who you can depend on who are not afraid to call you out when you are falling short, support you when you are struggling and encourage you when things are going well 
There is one thing I would add to the 5 pillars that many people are missing, and it makes all of the difference, community service. Community service puts us back into the communities we live in, and instead of taking them for all they can give us we instead are giving all that we can back. It helps us reengage with our community and once again feel a part of it. Service work is very important for my sobriety, community service is vital for my recovery. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Day (A Poem)

One day I saw a falling star
Remembered that I had a wish
To be with you til my dying day
While I'm away to be missed

For you to think of me while I'm gone
Missing me more every minute
Thinking how lonely life is
Without me there to be in it

Than I remembered dreams are for kids
I've never had one that came true
I shook my head wiped away a tear
Tried to sleep but thought only of you

This was my mindset when I was younger. I lamented the past and dreamed of what might have been. This poem was written about the girl I left behind. Her name was Britt. I lived in Illinois and realized that I was not good for her. She is a major reason I moved my senior year to Missouri. I was afraid that I would corrupt her. Moving broke my heart, so I wrote this poem.

I did not realize then that many years later she would have a beautiful family and so would I. Neither of us would have the families we have if things had not played out the way they did 25 years ago. I learned a lot from that. Today I live with no regrets from my past, no thoughts of what might have been because life has taught me a lesson that I would love to pass on to you.

Things don't always work out the way we want them to, but they always work out the way the are supposed to. Every time I look at my wife, my son and my daughter I thank God for that!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Meth Takes One More..........

17 years ago, I met a sweet, innocent 18 year old fresh off the farm from Arkansas. She was from a town of about 100 people. She was raised with a strong work ethic, and a strong faith. Her family was church of Christ and they were pillars of their church. She was a really good kid. When she walked into Mesquite Charlie's, which was the restaurant I was currently the server manager and trainer for, she was like a shiny toy I wanted to make mine.

I was 25, had been out of prison for a couple of years, and was an alcoholic/addict involved in the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine. I was a functioning addict, if you want to call how I was living my life functioning. I worked 80 hour weeks a week. I worked open to close doubles 6 days a week and trained new servers as they came into work. I would wake up Tuesday morning with a shot of meth, go to work and not sleep again until Monday morning. I slept a day a week.

That was the person I was when she met me. She did not see that. After all, I was a chameleon from years of practice. I had learned how to read people from a very young age, and I took her inventory as soon as I met her. She was a little shy but extroverted and had pretty low self-esteem. All I had to do was show her positive attention and tell her she was pretty and she was as good as mine.

Everyone at work was told that she was mine, so she was treated with a "hands off" approach from the people we worked with. They listened to me, because I was the person who supplied most of them with speed and weed. She made it through the training class and was my star pupil.At Mesquite Charlie's, we were given call names. Mine was Desperado, and her call name after she passed the training class was Santa Fe.We went on our first date the day she graduated the training class.

Needless to say, our lifestyles were polar opposites. She was small town and I was big town at the time. She was a small fish in a small pond and I was a big fish in a bigger pond. Everywhere I took her, people knew  me. Every party we went to, people sucked up to me. That tends to happen when you make a lot of money and always have a pocket full of dope with access to all the other drugs people could possibly want.

I made drugs and the addict's lifestyle look very attractive, and she bit. It started slowly, with a couple of wine coolers. From there she moved up to marijuana, and then ecstasy. She enjoyed everything she ever tried. After being told how horrible and evil drugs were her whole life, she was finding them to be quite pleasurable. The hook was in.

She was a really good server, but wanted to be able to work the hours I did so she could make more money. It was impossible to work the way I did without meth, so about a month after working at Mesquite's she tried meth for the first time. As soon as she took her first line, I knew she was like me. I saw her eyes go glaze over and that smile of pure joy play across her face. She was hooked from that first bump.

For the next couple of years, we remained a couple. She went from snorting to smoking it while she was with me. Although I was shooting it at the time, I  never let her know it. I did not want her to ever get introduced to the needle. Back then, that was one of my last vestiges of humanity. If you had never shot up, I would not be the person to do it for you. I also put out the word that if anyone gave her a shot of dope, they would never get dope from me or any of the guys slinging dope for me.

We had our problems, that much is certain. I broke up with her twice before the final time. She met another dope cook, who happened to give her that first shot of dope during our first breakup. I still would not let her shoot up around me. I knew what shooting meth had done to me, and I didn't want it to happen to her. The damage was already done. Shooting dope changed her.

She got violent after her first shot of dope. I can still remember the first time she got violent with me. I pride myself on never having hit a girl, and she punched me. I was spun out, and I laughed at her. She punched me again, and I laughed again. She reached up and yanked my ear ring out. I looked at my shoulder, saw the blood flowing down it, and froze. I knew that if I moved I might hit her, so I just locked up.

That infuriated her, and she started screaming and punching me. One of our friends was walking by and heard the commotion. He had my sister who lived down the hallway unlock the door, thinking I was hurting Santa Fe. They walked in to find me covered in blood from my ear and my  nose with her still screaming and punching me.

There were other times, I would be sitting on the floor playing games and she would be on the bed coloring. I would be so zoned into the game I would not hear her talk to me, and she would kick me in the back of the head.She would fly off of the handle and start yelling about the littlest things, always starting fights with me. She started hanging out with the dope cooks I had nothing to do with because of their moral standards. These were the 30 year old guys who would give a 14 year old her first shot just so they could get their hooks in.

That was the person meth turned her into. I watched her change in front of my eyes. She went from one of the sweetest people I had ever met to a girl that was angry and trusted almost no one.

I did nothing about it. I could have cared less, honestly. I egged it on. The night that she ripped out my ear ring Santa Fe went down to Brian's apartment with Brian and my sister. They talked to her for several hours to calm her down. I slept with our next door neighbor, who Santa Fe was friends with.

The last time I broke up with her, I wanted it to stick. I slept with the person Santa Fe cared most about in the world, her sister. Santa Fe then promptly hooked up with one of the kids who I had slinging my dope, and just like that she was out of my life. When I broke up, I liked clean breaks. Generally I would make sure that I did something that guaranteed they would be out of my life for good. I still saw her boyfriend on occasion, as well as her sister, but she was gone and soon forgotten.

That was, until this Saturday.I was contacted by one of my friends from back in the day with some news. Santa Fe was dead. She had died due to complications from an infection from IV drug use. She had gotten that infection from  her husband, who was the kid who used to sling dope for me years back. He also is deceased from the same infection. I guess that they had gotten married, and it had been chaotically every after. That is what drugs will do to your life.

They left behind 4 children, from the ages of 2-10 years old. What is sad is that the children may actually be better off without them, if they were unable to find their way out of addiction. At least the kids have good grandparents to live with that will allow them to stay together, from what I hear.

What I am reminded of  now is how our choices have long lasting effects. That, and there are two ways to live our lives once we get sober: abstinence and recovery. I chose recovery, and I will explain what that means.

As I reminisce on Santa Fe's life, I am reminded that if not for me she would not have been introduced to meth and the dealer's lifestyle. I have talked to multiple people, and they all tell me the same thing, "It's not your fault." That is then followed by several other statements, "If not you it would have been someone else" or "She made her bed" or "It was the disease, not you that caused you to make the choices you did back then." I abhor all of those statements, so I will address each of them in turn.

  1. If not you it would have been someone else - That might be true, but the fact is that she did get her start from me. It wasn't someone else, it was me. She got her first taste of the lifestyle from me She get her first taste of drugs from me. She met her husband through me. I turned her out, and the drugs turned her into someone she never was.  
  2. She made her bed - Her choices were all hers, and I can agree with that. My choices, however, were also mine. I chose to introduce her to the drug that would ultimately be her downfall. If she is responsible for her choices I should be held responsible for mine. 
  3. It was the disease, not you that caused you to make the choices you did back then - I can't blame it on the disease. I know a lot of addicts that did not make the same horrific choices that I did back then. I ruined people's lives, and I knew what I was doing. I knew that once I got my hooks on someone they were seldom the same, and I chose to do it anyway.
Ultimately, I have found that holding myself accountable for my choices and actions is the reason I stay sober. I have what I consider to be great recovery for a completely different reason. I have made my life a living amends because I hold myself accountable for the collateral damage my past choices and actions have incurred. Because of that, my recovery is fierce. I refuse to go back out and use again because I don't want to hurt myself, the people who care about me, other people and the people that care about them. 

One of the best things about recovery is that you get your feelings back. One of the worst things about recovery get your feelings back. I am glad that I feel, and no one is going to take that away from me. Although everyone ultimately makes their own choices, I also made all of mine. Because of the damage those choices made both in my life and the lives of so many others, I care about outcomes now. I have a heart. 

I have a heart for the addict who still struggles, the person who has just started using but is not an addict yet, the individual who has yet to use but will as well as the former addict who faces stigma every day. I know the choices we make today come back to haunt us. I made a decision 17 years ago and today 4 children don't have a mother or father because of the damage that decision caused. 

Will I beat myself up about it forever. No, but I did for a day. Then I remembered that the louder my message of hope, the more people will avoid the dangers of drug use. When they say, "Not even once" they are not kidding. Drugs take no prisoners. In my addiction, I did not make friends; I took hostages. I will never live my life that way again. 

I know firsthand the dangers of addiction. I have been in and out of jails and prison, died more times than I can count on one hand just to be brought back. I also know secondhand the dangers of addiction. I have lost more friends than I can count on my fingers and toes either to addiction or the violence that comes from the addict's lifestyle. Because of that, my voice guiding people towards a different lifestyle is loud. I am tired of losing people I cared about to this disease millions of us share. 

If you have started using, there is still hope. I am living proof! There truly is a BETTER LIFE IN RECOVERY. Join me and BLiR as we share the dangers of drug use and the victories of recovery. We are TRANSFORMING LIVES THROUGH RECOVERY!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Not Feeling Well, but Your Life Can Be Better (Just follow these 8 steps)

My blogs generally go out on Mondays, and this Monday I could not sent out an email, as I could not type. My fingers, wrists, elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle and neck were all sore. Most of those joints were also swollen and the pain was actually pretty intense. It was bad enough that I went to urgent care yesterday, were I got to spend about 5 hours of my life.

I could insert joke about urgent here, but they were really busy and they got me back to a room pretty quickly. Then they sent me to a lab so they could draw 5 vials of blood from me for testing. Some of those tests we got back quickly, one we will not get back until today and the others we will get back in a week or so.

What we found is that I had pain in multiple joints and swelling in my hands and wrists. I had a low white blood cell count, elevated sedimentation rate, elevated liver enzymes and low globulin. Another test showed that I was normal for Rheumatoid arthritis, but my doctor said that could happen and me still have it. Finally, I get the connective tissue diseases results back today and the tick studies will be back in up to a week.

What I know is that I have a doctor from rheumatology I will be seeing, as soon as they call to set up the appointment. I have a follow up with a PCP (this stands for Primary Care Physician, not the drug phencyclidine) once his office calls to set it up. The doctor is leaning towards either a tick bite or rheumatoid arthritis at this point with the test results he has seen so far.

I also have a procedure next Friday for my internal problems I have been struggling with. None of this is said to concern you, but at the age of 42 I am pretty certain that I would not be having a lot of the issues that I am currently having if not for 2 plus decades of substance abuse and my lack of consistency with a healthy diet and exercise currently.

So, if you have not yet done drugs I encourage you not to. I had to get all fake teeth put in at 30 due to rotting all of my teeth out from my methamphetamine use. I have horrible internal issues that act up most times I eat anything. I have a son and daughter that I might or might not get to see grow up, because of all of the damage I have done to my body.

If you are doing drugs, I encourage you to quit now. Most of my old running buddies are either dead or in prison for 10 year plus sentences. I am working and get to spend time with my wife and children and play at the park with them. Trust me; this recovery thing is everything they tell you it is. There is a better life in recovery, and I am living proof!

There are some requirements to recovery, and I would say that everyone can benefit from them whether they struggle with addictions or not. Here are 8 of my requirements to living a better life. I start with my 5 Pillars and add a few more:
  1. Higher Power – Find something bigger than you that gives you validation, forgiveness, compassion and love. I use Jesus, others use their home group. Find what works best for you and latch onto it!
  2. Sponsor/Mentor – Find someone whose life you would like to have in 5 years (family life, finances, spirituality, faith, sobriety, etc.) and ask them to help guide you in that pursuit.
  3. Accountability Partners - Find people with similar goals, for themselves and for you, and give them permission to call you out. This could be people you work with, live with, go to church with, go to meetings with or just meet once a week for coffee.
  4. 12 Steps/Biblical - Find a plan that can guide you in the way you want to live your life and just do it. I wholly believe in the 12 steps and have seen people use them for so much more than just drug/alcohol addiction. I have seen them used to work through depression, anxiety, eating issues, divorce, pornography, codependency and a lot more. They can cure your hurts, habits and hang-ups.
  5. Meetings/Groups – Find groups of people with similar struggles who are trying to overcome them. If you cannot find a group that fits your bill, than start one. These can be anything from Alcoholics Anonymous to Celebrate Recovery to Support groups for survivors of cancer or suicide to small groups that give education on having a happy home life and everything in between.
  6. Drop the Zeroes – If you have friends that are not trying to better their lives, and they don’t support you bettering yours than lose them. You are either for me or against me, there is no middle ground. This is no different than a team letting players go to insure it can be successful. Stick with the winners and win with the people who stick around, keep coming back and consistently do and say the right thing.
  7. Meditation/Prayer – When life is going great or it is going poorly, these two will always make the day better. Focus on positive things in your life, express your gratitude and ask to do and be more! 
  8. Community Service - Give back to the community you live in by getting involved in something that focuses on making your community better. Service work is vital, but community service work is so much more fulfilling. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and I actually felt that I was a part of my community again. Try it and you will see what I mean!

There is a lot more, but this is a great start. I have never seen someone who committed themselves to these 8 things fail in their sobriety. It is just too hard to find time to mess up. Put the same amount of effort you put into your addiction into your recovery and watch it GROW!!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wrapping Up Recovery Month

September was Recovery Month. It was a momentous one, too, as it was the 25thanniversary of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) very first declaration of Recovery Month. This was also the month Better Life in Recovery (BLiR) decided to really roll out and begin trying to tackle stigma and ignorance head on.
Don’t get me wrong, BLiR has done several events already. BLiR did an outreach in Ash Grove for the youth and community warning of the dangers of addiction and wonders of recovery. There was also the Back to School Bash at New Life Church, which reached over 100 youth and adults. This year was different, this year was bigger.
In January, multiple organizations and individuals joined BLiR because they too shared the same vision. The vision was to deal hope and decimate stigma surrounding addictions and mental health issues through community service, education and awareness events that celebrate people in long-term recovery. That first meeting, several committees were formed and the ball started rolling.
We opted to have 4 subcommittees. Each subcommittee would have their own leader, who would ultimately report to the founder of director of BLiR. We decided on 3 events and an ongoing service arm:
1.       Recovery Day at Hammon’s Field  
2.       Getting Dirty for Staying Clean 5K/10K Trail Run and Family Fun BBQ
3.       Getting Dirty for Staying Clean Float and River Clean Up
4.        Community Service events
After finishing the last recovery event, I have learned several things. For starters, dream big. We sold 300 tickets to the ball game. State Representative Eric Burlison showed up and threw out the first pitch of the game to support us. We had 125 people register to run the 5K/10K. We just finished the campout and had 75 people join us. We had a proclamation for recovery month presented by Senator Bob Dixon for the State of Missouri and another presented by Councilman Jerry Compton for the City of Springfield. For Springfield, it was the first time that the proclamation had been made!
We found some amazing sponsors who contributed goods that made the events successful. We received food, drinks, paper supplies and prizes for giveaways. We sold naming rights and various other things at the race, and we made some great partners in the community. Now we meet in two weeks,on Saturday October 11th at 1. The location as it stands is the Champion Center and I am super excited for it.
The next meeting we have there will be discussions about what we plan for next year. We will talk about what went right and how we can make it even better next year. We will also talk about the things that did not go as planned and that we were not prepared for so that we can learn from them. We will discuss what events we want to do next year and begin planning.
I am most excited about the prospect of writing the paperwork for BLiR to become a 501c3 and forming a board of directors. We have had a great foundation laid this year, and I would argue that all of our events were very successful. There were some learning experiences, but those are growing pains that are expected this early in the life of an organization.
Personally, I am exhausted. This is a run down of my last 30 days:
1.       August 29th: Recovery Day at Hammon’s Field
2.       August 30th: Race Walkthrough at Rutledge Wilson Farm Park and meeting on float trip
3.       September 5th: Set up for the 5K
4.       September 6th: The 1st Annual Getting Dirty for Staying Clean 5K/10K Trail Run and BBQ
5.       September 12th: Taught a lesson on recovery at Glendale Christian Church for Celebrate Recovery
6.       September 13th: Emceed and helped set up and break down for the 4th Annual Recovery Outreach in the Ozarks
7.       September 14th: Shared my testimony at the Church at the Center’s Kids Festival and Benefit Concert
8.       September 25th: Final Float Meeting
9.       September 26th: Shared my testimony for the Say NO to Drugs Virginia state campaign
10.   September 27th-28th: Set up, Camp out and Float Trip then break down
When I say breakdown, I don’t mean psychologically, but today I am feeling shot. I am tired, because on top of all of this I have a wife and 2 children, a full time job and a lot of people that I meet with and talk to who are struggling on a weekly basis outside of work. I have learned several lessons, but I think that I will share those later.
Today, I just want to say that I am grateful for a wife, friends, coworkers and recovery community that support what I do! I am blessed beyond belief and as well as we did this year, I can’t imagine what next year will look like!!
Last but not least, if getting involved with BLiR sounds interesting to you, send me your email address. I will make sure you are added to the email blasts that go out several times a month! If you have not hoped on the train yet, you might want to hop on board now before we leave the station for another amazing year!

Monday, September 22, 2014

You Think You High but You're Really Getting Low

I was listening to LeCrae’s song Blow Your High yesterday and there is part of his chorus that always catches my ear because of its’ truth, “You think you high but you really getting low.” Every time I hear that I am reminded of my own past, and the reality of addiction. I loved the way it felt when I first used, but by the end I hated it so much but could not quit. When I first used, bad things in life had happened to me. By the end, I was the bad thing that had happened to other people.
My first use was with a group of kids, and I instantly felt a connection to them. It was incredible. I had never really felt like I belonged anywhere and suddenly I was part of a group. All of the painful things I had been through and all the stress I felt instantly melted away.  I had always heard how horrible drugs were in school, and I knew that they had lied to me the first time I tried them.
Drugs were not horrible. In fact, they were quite the opposite. For once, I did not have to put up walls to hide my feelings from others. I could let them see how I really felt. I laughed, I lived and I loved constantly. I was using drugs, and the more I used the better I felt. The better I felt, the more social I became.  I was the life of the party, the center of attention. It felt great and I loved it.
At this point in my life, I was flying high. I was in Junior High and then High School, using to escape my past and create a new reality. I was having fun, acting crazy outside of school and doing pretty well inside of it. I was happy, but only because I was not dealing with life’s problems. In addiction things are often not as they appear.
I went from a stoner in junior high while I was living in Highland to a partying prep when I moved to Eldorado for high school. My junior year I began to get into trouble, drinking too much liquor and smoking too much marijuana. I moved to Hollister for my senior year and was introduced to methamphetamine. It was by far the best thing I had ever done.
To this day, I have never felt anything that compares to the rush I got from doing meth. It was AWESOME!!!! It made me feel so great. I felt so great that I wanted that feeling all of the time. In my previous addiction I would sometimes skip classes so that I could get high. I would get drunk every weekend, several times. But I still had a semblance of a life. With meth, everything faded but the drug.
In my previous use, I vandalized and swiped money and credit cards from my dad. I kept my grades up and I was a prep at school. With meth, I dropped out of school and started stealing so that I could afford to continue using. From there I started dealing meth and marijuana so that I could continue to use meth.
I was in and out of jail 15 or 20 times. I eventually wound up in prison, where I turned 21. I was on probation, parole, in jail or in prison from 17 until I was 29. I hurt people I considered friends: physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually and spiritually. I stole from people, a lot. I introduced people to methamphetamine and the drug lifestyle. Many of those people are either in prison or dead.
Mister social, with tons of friends at the parties every night, ended up unconscious in a pool full of my own blood after slashing my wrists. Luckily, someone found me before it was too late. The guy who always had parties at his house, ended up all alone locked up in his room with a  needle in his arm while everyone else partied because I didn’t want them to know I was shooting up. Then I only started hanging out with other people who shot up.  
I was no longer doing drugs, the drugs were doing me. I was no longer using to have fun, I was using just to feel less bad. That is the lie many who have never struggled with addiction believe, that we use because we are having fun and life is amazing. The truth is, we often start using to escape life and end up addicted because we can no longer function without it.
I needed drugs to get out of bed. I needed drugs to think. I was sluggish; operating at less than 50 percent and when I used it would lift me to 75 percent. I never felt great, I always felt bad. Using allowed me to feel less bad. Depression that I had once been able to escape and numb from returned and was even worse. Not feeling like I fit in was replaced by social acceptance and that in turn was replaced by paranoia and lack of trust for everybody.
What had started out as freeing in the end became my prison! LeCrae’s lyrics remind me of a saying I heard once at an NA meeting, “Drugs gave me wings, then they took my sky away.” That was the reality of drugs. I have seen that occur not only in my life, but in the lives of countless others. We continually make choices that we swore we would never make and cross lines we never imagined we would cross.
In order to avoid this, don’t use. If you are using, stop. Although this is easier said than done, it is not only  a possibility but a reality if you apply the 5 Pillars of Recovery to your life:
1.       Higher Power: Find something that gives you hope, validation, forgiveness and more. I found that through Jesus Christ, others have found it through the fellowship. Find something bigger than you!
2.       Meetings: Find a community of people who have struggled as you are struggling and have overcome it. This is another great place to gain strength, experience and hope. Some use AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, Rational Recovery, small groups or an amalgam of the above.
3.       12 Steps: Find a game plan that will help you live your life better. I have found both the 12 Steps and the book of James have been great advice on how to remain sober while building a great foundation for my life as long as I apply them in my life and then follow them daily.
4.       Sponsor/Mentor: Find someone whose life you would like to have in 5 years and ask them to help you get there. If you are working the 12 steps, find someone who has applied them to their lives successfully and have them help you work through them.
5.       Accountability Partners: Put people in your life that will support your future goals and hold you accountable. They have permission to call you out and to support you, through the good and the bad and they are not afraid to do it.
So in closing, although drugs and alcohol may make you feel great at first, for many there are negative consequences down the road. When those occur, there is a solution that can help you get your life back on track and the 5 Pillars of Recovery are a great place to start. I have never seen someone who was actively engaging in all 5 who went back out and stayed there! Never forget, there is a better life in recovery!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Evil Exists

I had a gun to her head. She had turned me over to the police, made a deal with them so that she could get out of trouble. A week previous, I had come home after doing a burn (making a batch of methamphetamine) with several ounces of meth and took a shower. When I got out of the shower, there were people in my house tearing it apart that identified themselves as police. She had let them in to search. They found the meth I had brought home and arrested me.
When you get arrested, you eventually get out. I got out sooner than she thought I would. They held me for 24 hours and then let me go. She was still there when I showed up at home. I went straight to a stash spot they had not uncovered, grabbed my gun, chambered a round and grabbed her by the hair. I pushed her to the ground while putting my gun to the back of her head.
Time stopped. It was like a slow motion scene in a movie. She started crying, telling me she was sorry.  “I didn’t want to tell on you. They pulled me over with drugs and were going to put me in jail. I didn’t have a choice.” My companion was screaming at me as well, “Pull the trigger, coward. Don’t get scared now. You HAVE to do this.”
At that moment, I only knew a few things. One, I was about to make a choice I could never take back. I prided myself on never hitting a girl, and I was preparing to take one’s life. Second, although I was not sure I wanted to kill her, I knew my companion wanted me to pull the trigger and put her out of her misery. Finally, I knew that my companion was evil beyond anyone or thing I had ever met.
My companion always wanted me to hurt either myself or other people. He was there a lot in the shadows, but he only came around when things were getting ready to turn bad. He would encourage me to do the absolute worst thing. If I was going to collect money, he would remind me to take my gun. If I was in a fight, his would be the voice telling me not to quit punching and kicking long after the fight was over. If I was in a house of people I didn’t know, he would whisper in my ear, “They want to kill you. They are going to kill you. You should get them first.”
If I was thinking about quitting drugs, he would show up and remind me of all the times I had tried to quit and failed. “You have been using for over half your life. You’re never going to be able to quit. This is the only thing you are good at. You are not a quitter. DO IT! You know you want to get high. You can’t live without it.”
This time, my companion was not giving up. He was screaming at me, “Pull the trigger, coward. She tried to take your freedom away.” I turned to look at where the voice was coming from and saw my companion. He was a figure blacker than black. He was standing right behind me, darker than any shadow could possibly be. He was not all smooth lines, but his outline was jagged and rough.
I could never make out any features of his face, as his face was always dark and cloaked in shadow. The most remarkable thing about him was his eyes. They were pulsating, red eyes that burned into me every time he looked at me. The scariest thing was not the eyes, or even him being beside me in my ear but his voice. He never spoke, he shrieked and screamed and yelled. Even his whispers oozed with rage and hate.
People have asked me if he was just a shadow person. He had started out that way. Shadow people are there when you have been up too long. They come out of trees, around corners, run by you so fast you can only catch a glimpse. When you look, the figure fades away, blends in or is gone. You’re mind is unable to explain what you see, so it explains them away to something you can understand.
I was an atheist when my companion was still a shadow person, and did not believe in spirits. I rationalized what I was seeing. I would tell myself it was the wind blowing a branch, or the fact I had been up for a week and had psychosis. Sometimes I thought maybe it was the police watching me, waiting to arrest me. That is the reason so many people think they are being watched when they are not. The shadow people become COMET or DEA to them. That is what they were to me. The problem was, they seemed real and I shared the visions with other people who were with me.
If I was alone I only saw him. When I was by myself, it was just the solitary shadow man. I have talked to some people who saw groups when they are alone. Not me, I generally saw just one. When around other needle freaks, I would see more than just one. They would stand around in a group, almost like they were talking. Maybe our demons were comparing notes or sharing new ways to get us to do things we didn’t want to.
I would explain it away as a group hallucination, telling myself it was sleep deprivation or my mind playing tricks on me. Over time I started seeing him constantly in the shadows, or out of the corner of my eye. The bad part was that I was starting to see him when I was not high. He was always there lurking.
That was how it began for me, with my shadow man. Then I started to hear whispers that I could not quite make out. That advanced to the voice actually speaking to me, telling me what to do. At first the voice was harmless, encouraging my drug use and validating what I was thinking on occasion when I would think out loud. Then it began to tell me to do horrible things, to myself and to others. It was no longer a whisper, it was a scream.  Yelling and nagging at me to do things.
Then one day it appeared before me. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and when I turned to look, it was still there in the shadows watching me. From that day on he would randomly appear next to me, often at the times I was at my weakest, angriest or highest. Always egging me on, encouraging me to do the worst possible thing to either myself or other people.
There were times, like when I was contemplating not using after waking up Sunday, he would show up and remind me that I had never been able to quit and would never be able to. Today I was angry, and it was telling me to do what a part of me wanted and another part of me did not. It was telling me to pull the trigger. I was seriously thinking about it.
I started trying to reason with my companion, “I can’t pull the trigger. I really don’t want to do this.” My girlfriend started talking back to me, thinking that I was talking to her, “Then put the gun down, David. I know you don’t want to shoot me.”  I pulled her head back and started laughing in her face as I told her I wasn’t talking to her. “Who are you talking to then,” she asked? “The demon standing behind me, can’t you see him? He wants me to kill you and part of me wants to kill you as well.”
I am not sure if he showed himself to her or if the craziness of what I said scared her but as she looked behind me her face turned to sheer terror and she started screaming. Not yelling at me like she had been, trying to plead with me. There were no words, just a shrill keening. Her face froze as her eyes went wide.
I had never seen such an intense look of terror before.  The gun to her head had not caused that look of fear, but either her seeing my companion or the insanity she saw in me scared her to death. I took the gun away from her head and pulled her off her knees. “You have one hour to get your stuff and go. You have until tomorrow to be gone. You are going to leave state and go back home. I never want to see you again, or it will be a bad deal,” I told her.
She did not speak. All she did was nod and run out the door. I never saw or heard from her again. She lived with me and she left all of her stuff with me. She left her clothes, make up, purse, everything. She left it all and disappeared.
Looking back now, I hope she made it home and out of her addiction. I pray she is somewhere clean and sober, living a better life in recovery. If you are reading this, and you know who you are, I hope that you can forgive me. You are just one of the people I met in my addiction whose life I wrecked. 
When my shadow person stopped being a shadow person lurking about and started talking to me and had taken form, I stopped being an atheist. I knew that my companion was evil and that he was a spirit. He made me an agnostic, because if he existed than surely other spirits did as well. Or was it all from my imagination and random misfiring neurons in my brain? Was it the drugs working on my brain? Even when I was not high, I still had drugs in my system so it could have been that as well.
I have thought about it for years. I have talked to many other addicts who have shared the same experience that I have with my companion. Due to so many others having very similar if not the same stories, I have come to believe that my companion was a demon, and that when I was using drugs I opened myself up to forces that were evil beyond comprehension.
What is even scarier is the period of my life from 1994 – 2001 and how little memory I have of that 7 years. I almost wonder if I wasn’t possessed for large parts of that time, or if the memories just didn’t form because of all the drugs I was using and the lack of sleep I experienced. I have come to a place where I hold on to a few things about this time in my life so that I can function today:
1.      I know that evil exists and at one period in my life I made very evil choices
2.      I know that nothing good lived in me during my addiction and that all people are capable of doing things they never would believe they would do
3.      I know I am no longer the person I was in my addiction, for I have found a better life in recovery
4.      I know that I have made my life a living amends so that I can help rebuild other people’s lives today instead of destroying them like I once did
5.      I know I believe in a Higher Power I call Jesus that has freed me from my addiction and supports, encourages and guides me in all that I do today

This is actually the rough draft of the first chapter of the book I am writing. I am open to feedback. It is a little rough, but I feel that it gives people an idea of how far down I had gotten in my addiction. I also would ask that if you have had similar experiences or thoughts on what I experiences that you leave comments as I would be very interested in hearing what you have to say.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Healed People Heal People

I am sure you know the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.”  That saying means that when people are hurting, they tend to lash out and hurt others. It may be unintentional, like snapping on someone you love as soon as you get home after a long day of your boss jumping all over you like he was a 10 year old in a bounce house. It could be more intentional, you are getting abused at home by your dad so you go to school and bully kids weaker than you so that you can feel power.
If hurt people hurt people, then the opposite is true as well. Healed people heal people. Once I have overcome something, I have a unique insight into what I went through that most people don’t have. For example, I spent 25 years of my life in addiction. I have now been clean and sober for over 5 years. I know what it takes to get clean and stay that way. I can share what has helped me, what I have seen help others as well as the science that has validated some forms of treatment to be evidence-based practices.
I have several close friends, that have been diagnosed with cancer and after treatment are now either cancer-free or in remission. They have unique perspectives that I lack. One, they have been diagnosed with cancer. I have no idea what that feels like, to be diagnosed with cancer. I have never had cancer, so although I can have empathy and support someone who has cancer, my friends come from a place of wisdom that I don’t have. Second, that they have overcome that cancer through treatment. They are living proof that surviving a cancer diagnosis is not only possible, but a reality because they have first hand knowledge. They can help people that I cannot because of having lived through cancer.
Everybody has been through something. We all have been hurt in one way or another. It could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, feeling fat, being told we are worthless, being bullied, depression, cancer, child of an alcoholic/addict, grief and loss, etc. I am sure you get the idea, there are a lot of ways life hurts us. Life puts holes in our souls.
Once those holes are placed, many of us use something to escape, numb or forget the hole is there. Food, sex, money, cutting, power, alcohol and other drugs are a few of the things we use as band-aids to numb/escape our past. These bandages don’t heal the problem, they just cover them up. They are still festering underneath and more issues are being added to it.  
Fortunately, some of us figured out how to stop covering the problem up. We have learned what it takes to fix the problem. Once we have learned how to deal with the holes instead of running from them, we have unique wisdom that only someone who has gone through what we have gone through has. Once we have that wisdom, we can impart it to others. That is all part of what I call my garbage theory, which you can read about here:
Many people live with regrets about their past choices and things that have happened to them. I have learned to embrace mine. I am not defined by them, but instead I define myself by my recovery. I realize that all those events led me to be the person I am today. The person I am today helps people, and if it was not for everything I have been through, I would not be as effective in doing that.
The same is true for you. Everyone has survived or lived through something that had an impact on them. Never forget that the past has made you who you are, and the person you are today is awesome and will only get better with time. To quote a dead jazz singer, “My God don’t make no junk.” You are not junk, and there is no reason to let your past issues define you. My past did not defeat me, instead it made me stronger and wiser than I ever would have been without it. The same is true for you!  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Shame and Fear

Shame and fear kept me trapped. I was molested from one of my earliest memories until I was in 4th grade and we moved. It was by a baby sitter that my parents used. I was confused and ashamed while it happened. I was told I was dirty and nasty while it happened. I heard my mom talking about people touching little kids and how they were disgusting to my dad, and I thought she meant the kids so I never spoke up. I was afraid my mom and dad would think I was disgusting. I could not tell my friends, for fear they would judge me. I did not feel like I fit in with them anyway, because of the abuse. That shame and fear led me to addiction, because it numbed me. I could escape the abuse, and when I was with other people doing drugs, I felt like I fit in.

I never spoke about the abuse for the first 5 years I shared my story, because I was still ashamed and fearful of what people would think. I was never afraid to talk about my addiction and mental health issues. I have been talking about being an addict in front of classrooms of my peers since my sophomore year in college. It was for a current issues criminology class and a couple of sociology classes that sometimes had as many as 150 kids that I was currently going to school with. I talked about it at work, and never feared for my job. I talked about my addiction and bipolar disorder in front of the 700 people who attended my church, and was accepted and embraced for doing it.

I could even talk about the physical abuse from my grandpa when I was in the 5th and 6th grade and lived with him. I thought when I was younger he did it because he knew about me being a disgusting boy with my babysitter. I could even talk about that, without being fearful of being judged or seen as less than. But it took me years to admit the sexual abuse to anyone.

Now that I am trying to combat the stigma faced my people who struggle with addictions and mental health problems, I am running into something I was not prepared for. I should have been ready for it, because of how I once was ashamed to admit and fearful people would judge me because of being molested as a child. I guess have been sharing my story for so long that the possible stigma is no longer a concern. In fact, when I talk about it I generally have at least one person come forward after and admit that they had been molested and I was the first person they were telling.

Because of that, I was surprised by the number of people who don’t want to be involved with some of the recovery events. I was not ready for the number of people who would be unwilling to identify themselves as people with addiction and mental health struggles. Even though they are now in recovery, and that is what we are celebrating through all of the Better Life in Recovery (BLiR) events, they still are fearful of identifying themselves. They still walk with shame about the choices they made in their past and how it could impact their lives today if anyone were to find out.

“If my coworkers see me, I might not have a job tomorrow”

“What if my children’s friends’ parents are there? They may never let their kids come over again. They might not even let their kids be friends with my kids at all.”

That is still the fear we walk around with. It amazes me. Addiction is seen differently from just about every other disability and disease. The reasons for this range due to the perception of people with disabilities such as addictions and mental health issues: they never get better and they did it to themselves are the two most frequent reasons I have personally encountered. When someone has lung cancer and is in the hospital, even if they smoked two packs of non-filtered cigarettes for 30 years, I have yet to hear someone say, “So what, he did it to himself.” When someone has Parkinson’s I never hear someone say, “Who cares, you know THOSE PEOPLE never get better.”

There is a difference between the two. For starters, most other disabilities have great supporters. They have advocates who speak out for them. Most disabilities get more money budgeted at the state and federal levels each year, while prevention/recovery gets less and less. They have foundations that pour a lot of money into research, and they have frequent fundraisers that get MILLIONS OF DOLLARS donated for research.  Try holding a recovery telethon on television and see what the outcome is. I can promise it will pale in comparison to the other ones that are on television. It will also have a lot less celebrities come forward to support it.  

Then there are the judgmental attitudes; they make people fear being open and honest. That is why BLiR was created. For starters, we will try to bring in a functional prevention program into schools. Secondly, we will give people a forum to share their recovery so that others may get an idea not just about the truth and science behind addiction but the power of recovery. We will educate communities on the reality of recovery and how amazing it is. We will give people opportunities to be proud of the hard work they have invested in their recovery through advocacy and awareness events that celebrate people in long-term recovery.

That is how we change the conversation. That is how we remove fear and shame, that is how we decimate stigma BLiR style. In order to do that, we need to begin looking at funding ideas. I personally have no idea what that is going to look like. I do know that we will be putting together a Kickstarter project as well as a fundraiser in October that will attempt to raise the capital we need to finish the documentary we are currently working on. Once the documentary is completed we will then begin screening the documentary and having forums that discuss recovery. From there we will put together the program that will bring the documentary into schools and colleges so that we can discuss the dangers of addictions and the power of recovery.

If contributing either money or donations for silent auctions is something that you could do, please contact me. If you know other people who are passionate about challenging the stigma that exists or interested in prevention efforts for our youth, forward this to them. I have attached a trailer of the first several people we have interviewed for the documentary so that you can see what we are going to be doing. The money will be used to complete the documentary (travel expenses to collect more stories, video fees, editing fees, etc.), legal fees, music licensing fees, promotion, build the program to take it into schools, etc. As we get closer to October, I will know more about what we will be doing. We will be forming our nonprofit and kicking into overdrive for fundraising so that we can make our projects a reality. I can promise that October will have a fundraiser with a silent auction and we will kick off of a kickstarter campaign. The details will be coming out on facebook and in my blogs as we get closer to the events. Thank you so much for any help you can provide me.