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.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Why Stigma Exists

Stigma exists because we allow it to. I will get into who we is later. First, I would like to talk about the people who I thought would stigmatize me and how their reactions turned out to be. I had preconceived notions about various people in the community, organizations in the community, and the stigma they would treat me with.
I wanted to blame the media. They are really easy to put the blame on, because the media publishes the stories about the crazy stuff that is done by people. That said, they report the crazy stuff done by sober people and people who are under the influence of chemicals. They also publish positive things done by people in recovery. I know that to be a fact, because I have seen articles published in the paper and multiple news stories on television and radio about what my organization does.
I wanted to blame the court system. After all, they sent me to prison and they arrested me on multiple occasions. Surely, they would stigmatize me and hold my past against me. Instead, they refer people to me BECAUSE of my past. I counsel individuals through the court system because of my past and where I am today. Surely I can help someone get to where I am because I was able to get there myself.
I wanted to blame employers, because they would only see me for my past and due to my actions they would never hire me. I was unemployable and I knew this because I had heard so many other people in my situation complain. The truth is, I have never had a problem getting a job. For a while, I was working multiple jobs and they all knew that I was in recovery and that I was a convicted felon. They even let me handle money and gave me keys to their businesses.
I wanted to blame the police, because they would always find reasons to pull me over and then would treat me like a piece of garbage when I did. Instead, I found that they frequently get behind me and don’t pull me over. The times that I have been pulled over, they generally treat me as well as I treat them. Have I had bad experiences in the past? Yes, and I will probably have them in the future. I have also had bad experiences at restaurants, yet I don’t glare at one in disgust every time I drive by one. There are good and bad in all people and all organizations. That is just part of life.
I wanted to blame the judgmental people in the churches, because they never would forgive me and would always judge me based on my past drug use and criminal record. What I found was they did not. I have shared my testimony in many churches, talking about being abused as a child, my addiction, my criminal record and my recovery and they ask me to come back. Several churches have entrusted me with keys to their facilities.
I wanted to blame my family. Surely they would always see me as the unreliable person I was for 20 plus years. They knew me best and had to deal with me on occasion, and those occasions were never pleasant. Instead, I have found that my mother who would not trust me in her house unless she was there let me move in so that I could get back on my feet.  I was the first person not living in the same home as my sister she trusted to watch her daughter.
Instead, the more I have stepped out into the community talking openly about both my issues and my recover, the more I have been accepted. I wish I could say that about a lot of the recovery community at large. I am met with resistance from a lot of recovery organizations because of how vocal I am in the community. I am met with resistance when I try to do events that combine the recovery communities together under one event.
Stigma exists because the recovery community allows it to. We are largely non-vocal. Instead, we try our best to stay anonymous. I realize why we do this. I was once one of those people who never talked about my past. It was over and I did not want to talk about it. Yet that did not stop me from telling war stories and reliving good old days with people.
I felt safe speaking around people who had been were I had been and was fearful of talking to people about my past that had not lived it themselves. I created my own stigma, out of fear of being judged or looked down on by other people. I was consumed by rage and depression because of this. Of course, I would never admit the depression so it all came out in anger.
By judging other people because I thought they would judge me, I robbed many people of the experience I had gained from my past. I also never gave them an opportunity to prove me wrong. We have to reach a point in our lives where shame does not exist. A place where we like ourselves and realize that without us making the choices we made in our past we would not be the people we are today. The people we are today are strong, wise people who can deal hope to the hopeless and save lives!
Instead, we remain anonymous. We need to realize that anonymity protects the people we are in groups with, but that does not mean we have to stay anonymous ourselves. You can talk about your recovery as much as you want. You can fly your recovery flag EVERYWHERE you go. Be bold and proud. Remember to represent recovery well. That is our language, our dress, our attitudes…….in fact, everything about us reflects on other people in recovery.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, which means those who are loudest get the most attention. We need to make sure that we in recovery have a voice. That we use that voice to talk about the positive things we do today, then back that up by giving back to the community under the guise of a person who is in recovery. That way we can begin to reduce the stigma people see us with because we stop seeing ourselves as stigmatized.
Does stigma still exist? I can answer that with a resounding yes! Part of the problem, maybe even a majority of the problem we face today is of our own making. We have to find a voice. We have to educate our communities, make them aware of all the things people in recovery are capable of and do community service to give back to the communities we live in. That is a lot to put on one plate, but it must all be done.
That is where I find myself today. Wondering how I can begin making the portions on that plate smaller. I know that it can be done. I just have to figure out how I can primarily focus on stigma reduction through community education, service and awareness events. Part-time I can make a dent, full-time I could make a hole. If you have any suggestions, let me know. I am wide open to anything that can help me continue to make an impact!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I'll Never Use Again

I spent a majority of my life transitioning from one phase to the next in my spiritual walk. I have run the gamut from Jehovah’s Witness to atheist and back to a follower of Christ over the course of my life. I now know I will spend the rest of my life growing spiritually and never truly reaching the apex of my spiritual walk. I am perfectly okay with that. It is all about progress, not perfection.
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents went to church three times a week, and I went with them. Then I was molested by someone from my church, watched my father as his alcoholism progressed and witnessed my mother and father screaming at each other on the way to church then get out with fake smiles on their faces once we got there acting like we were the perfect family. By the time my mother left my dad and sent us to live with her father, I was lost and confused. My grandfather was an atheist, and he was also the most evil and abusive person I have ever met. My family leeched my hope and trust in anything from me.
I knew that I wanted to be nothing like any of them, so I became agnostic. There might or might not be something there, I was unsure. This is basically the flip flop option of spirituality. I refuse to commit to one side or the other, instead I balance on the fence with a precipice on either side I am unwilling to jump in to. Over time, I did commit to one side. I leaped headfirst into the atheist side. I could belittle others for their beliefs in that fairy tale they called religion. I felt that this side made me smarter, and if nothing I did really mattered that I could continue to live the life I wanted to.  After all, everything was random.
As an addict, I lacked concern for anything other than my next high or drunk. Anything that hindered that was my enemy. As an atheist, i lacked accountability. Those two combined for a perfect storm of problems for other people. 
I could manufacture and sell methamphetamine without really caring about its' impact on other people. I could seriously hurt people over tiny amounts of money (or for no reason at all) and not worry about any spiritual repercussions. I could steal from anyone, sleep with whoever I wanted to and leave them immediately after with no concerns other than legal ramifications.
Life was easy and uncomplicated. Unless the police caught me, I would never be held responsible for the things that I did. Even if they caught me, I would still never have to answer for EVERYTHING that I had done to people either intentionally or as collateral damage. My life was all about me.
I was a narcissistic hedonist. As long as I felt pleasure, it had to be right. After all, if this life was all there is, why should I not enjoy it? If it hurt someone else, that was not my fault. The law of the jungle applies, and only the strong survive. If you were weaker than me or had some kind of issue or instability, I could care less about you.
EASY PEASY LEMON SQUEEZY! Life was too short not to live it up. I grabbed onto the James Dean mantra, live life fast and leave a good looking corpse. Carpe Diem, seize the day. After all, I could be dead tomorrow. As my addiction progressed, that changed. In my depression, I began to wish I could die. Hopelessness grew. I attempted suicide, and would have been successful if my sister and had not found me unconscious in a pool of blood. I would use to the point of overdose. I would drink and drive. I have played Russian Roulette multiple times; just me, a revolver and a single bullet. I had promised my sister I would not commit suicide and I justified Russian Roulette because it was chance.
Then I reached a point of no return, a true rock bottom that I have talked about in several other blogs. After trying jail, house arrest, probation, prison, parole, inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, 12 step programs, sponsors, medication and abstinence I did not know what else to do. When I reached the bottom of my barrel, I tried something I had long before given up on, God. I prayed, and struck a deal with God that I immediately tried to renege on the next day. But I couldn’t and I didn’t. It stuck.
I know that not everyone has the same results that I did. I prayed one day and made a deal with God. He upheld his end and I have tried to uphold mine. I have not drank, used drugs, smoked cigarettes, had premarital sex or gotten into a fight outside of a ring since that prayer. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know that I don’t have to use today.
Over time I have removed using tomorrow from the table as well. I now that I have another relapse in me. We all do. I also know that I am unsure if, in fact quite certain that I don’t, have another recovery left in the tank. I am pretty positive that the next time I use will kill me. The only relapse I have had was for 7 years and I overdosed 3 times. I have died more times than I can count on one hand and I am pretty sure I am not a cat, so I could quite possibly be out of second (or 7th) chances. 

Today I have too much to live for. I have a wife, 2 beautiful children and an amazing life. Plus, I know the damage my addiction caused and I take responsibility for that. Because of me and my drugs, lives were lost. I don’t want to ever be a part of that process again. I am here to deal hope, not steal it. I am here to save lives, not take them. I have gone from dealing dope to dealing hope and I will never go back to the way I used to be because I love the person I have become!
I see the damage that I caused in the lives of others. I was like a tornado and I left a trail of chaos and carnage in my wake.  I see the anger that I began to possess and spew while I was an atheist. I have found that neither of those choices are good for me. They are both colors that I should leave out of my wardrobe because they are unflattering. I am not saying that all addicts and atheists are the same way, but I was. I cannot be a hope dealer while I am bitter, angry and hopeless. I cannot help others when I am not even able to help myself. I had to change. I found the 5 Pillars of Recovery worked for me, as did following the platinum rule.
The 5 Pillars of Recovery
1.       Higher Power – I found Jesus. Okay, not really. It was not that Jesus was lost, I was. I gave God a chance. I turned my will and my life over to God and things have just been better. I have had experiences in my life that have convinced me that God is real! I would say my sobriety and lifestyle are living proof that God exists!!
2.       Game Plan – I use both the Bible and the 12 steps to carve out a better life for myself.
3.       Meetings – I won’t lie, I attend a lot of them on occasion. Every week I attend my Celebrate Recovery home group and attend a small group. I am also known to go to AA and NA meetings as well. Find what works best for you and then go, consistently and regularly.
4.       Sponsor/Mentor - If you want to be able to apply the 12 steps and/or the Bible to your lives and achieve the best outcome, find someone you would like to be at the level of in 5 years. Ask them to teach you how they got there, and then apply what you learn.
5.       Accountability Partners – Meet with someone consistently who you give permission to call you out on things. They can help support you and you can help support them.
Platinum rule – Treat others the way you would want them to treat the person you care about the most. That means you treat people like you would want them to treat your mom, dad, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, best friend, etc. If you would not want someone to do something to someone you love and care about, than don’t do it to someone else.
Add the 5 Pillars and the platinum rule to your life, and don’t stop using them. This is not a temporary change, this is a life long lifestyle change! The reason I don’t go back to using drug/alcohol/sex/cigarettes/violence, etc is that I have made my recovery a priority. I do recovery oriented things on a daily basis, multiple times each day. You do not get good at anything by not doing it. Practice makes you good, and once you get good at something only practice keeps you doing it well. I will never settle for good. I want great, so I practice the 5 Pillars and apply the platinum rule to all that I do. Finally, I have found one more additive that has made my recovery strong.
Community service is the missing link in many a program. It is not absolutely necessary for recovery, but it will make your recovery that much stronger and enjoyable. It is the icing on the cake. Community service says, “I used to destroy resources, now I am one!” This leads to more self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth. It makes the foundation of your recovery that much stronger!
Finally, spread the message of hope and strength found in recovery with anyone and everyone you come into contact with! I call myself a hope dealer, and you can be one too. Recovery is amazing, and so are you. Recovery is not only a possibility, it is a guarantee if you apply the 5 Pillars and work them. Let people know it! Together we will transform lives by sharing recovery and chip away at the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery until it is gone!