Faith

July 7, 2006

Faith

by

Ted Burnett

I am not sure where I stand with regards to my faith. That is because of my bipolar experience several years ago (2002-2003). It was an extremely painful situation. It shook me to my core including my faith. In April 2002, while getting married, I flipped into mania. That July, I was checked into the psych unit at Mobile Infirmary for the first time in my life. I refused medication believing that this crisis would pass.

Within the one year, I went manic again on two different occasions and had to be involuntarily committed. I spent a total of eight weeks in captivity in four different facilities in Florida and Mobile (AL) during that time period, the last being a two week stint at Searcy State Hosiptal (AL). Each time, I was stripped of my car keys, cell phone, and wallet. I felt naked, powerless and alone. There was no way to communicate to the outside world except by pay phone and the phone numbers I could remember. Thank goodness for the old 1-800-Call AT&T television commercials. That came in real handy.

During the manic episodes, I did and said a number of things that were out of my character, after many years living sober. At the time, I was employed as a young insurance agent handling and calling on some of the larger locally owned businesses in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. I was a junior member of a private city club and sat on the board of a local treatment center for drugs and alcohol. The disease does not care about one’s standing in the community. This was very humiliating and shameful. It felt like a fall from grace.

Once the gravity of the situation set in I went into a serious depression for the next two and half years including having periods of suicidal ideation. I had a plan but not the guts. I was full of guilt and shame. I cussed God repeatedly. I now knew how my father must have felt when he came back from Vietnam. He had his demons and now I had mine. The difference in the two situations was I was going to get help and start talking about what I had just been through. There would be no personal secrets.

After leaving Mount Vernon (AL) in July 2003, I returned to AA, where I had spent the prior 13 years in recovery. I began seeing my psychiatrist and started picking up the pieces of my life. I lost my job and my cell phone went silent. Only one of my friends regularly checked up on me after getting out of the hospital. I spent the next six months pretty sedated, sleeping for 10-12 hours during the night. I returned to work at a new company in February 2004 but after 9 months it did not work out. The depression was driving me crazy during this time and finally the shrink agreed to set me up with her counselor. I met with Stephanie, a social worker, for over a year but the progress seemed slow. I spent many sessions talking a lot about how bad I felt.

The breakthrough came in January of this year, I had a spiritual experience and was able to let go of many of the shameful feelings I had been holding on to for the last 3 years. Now, I can forgive myself for what happened while I was sick. The fever broke and the depression lifted.

Today, I feel like a first time farmer who just invested a lot of time in the field, plowing, planting, and watering the seeds in the ground. Wanting to know what is going to come up? Is that faith? The first thing that has come up is we started an AA meeting for alcoholics who also have a mental illness. We have been meeting since March, every Sunday night. The group is called Nuts About Sobriety. We get a lot of laughs from others in recovery about our name. It has been very cathartic for me to be able to share my experience with other alcoholics in recovery from both their addiction from alcohol and their mental illness. We have our own little community of those who don’t drink, have a shrink and take meds. We laugh!

Since getting out of the Searcy, I have found that many in AA, much like myself before the mania, do not understand the use of medication and mental illness. I hope that this group can be a resource for AA and the community.

So many alcoholics with a mental illness come out of the Infirmary, Baypoint and Searcy receiving only medication for the illness but not addressing any of their mental, emotional, spiritual issues that go along with their disorder. I received no psychotherapy in any of the four facilities that I vacationed at during those eight weeks. Places like these are hopeless and scary.

I met with the Probate Judge, in March, and shared with him my experience having gone through his court in 2003 for involuntary commitment and my trip through Baypoint Hospital to Searcy. The Probate Court has a high recidivism rate of people who quit taking their meds, getting into trouble and ending up back in his court. I suggested that he send them to our meeting. He said he would have his lawyer look into whether his court could.

The good news was that my wife, Lisa, and my mother were supportive of me throughout the whole ordeal. Since getting out of the hospital, I never have once felt like Lisa has held my manic behavior against me even though it caused great damage to the relationships within her family. She is a very loving and loyal person. I love her for that. We have just celebrated our fourth anniversary however, I am not sure we will make to the fifth. The events of the last four have been difficult on both of us. I believe it was a miracle we made it to our 2nd one. I am now bracing for this fallout.

To get to the point, I am mad at God! The first chance I have to sit down and meet with him; he is going to hear an ear full from me. My wife and I were robbed of a honeymoon phase in our new marriage. She had to put up with a lot of crazy behavior in that first year and a lot of depression since. We both deserve better. Yes, I am mad at God. My in-laws have rejected me, I have little or no relationship with any of them, a brother-in-law won’t even let me in his house. They say they have moved on but I don’t believe them, if so why the lack of communication? A neighbor across the street continues to be mad and will not speak to me. A childhood classmate, customer and regular lunch partner before my trip to Searcy has never called me once since. I have made amends to most everyone for my actions.

I found in this grief process that I mourned the death of a “sane” life and the start of a new one where you are now labeled “mentally ill.” This has been a very humbling experience. I hope my story can provide help and understanding to others with mental illness and their families. Maybe the only life I will ever save is mine. My mother recently told me “we are here either to serve or be served.”

I continue watering and weeding my fields waiting to see what is going to grow. Is that faith?

Copyright 2006, 2010 All Rights Reserved. “Faith” by Ted Burnett

I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: www.thesageofmobile.com