In August, after completing my last email blast of “Dear Senator Nelson (The day our democracy died.), I began adding more faculty due impart to this particular piece. While I didn’t get a lot of feedback from this audience, I did get a few positive comments from friends. More importantly, I really liked this “time-sensitive” essay and I decided to use it along with my other essay, “Corporate consciousness v 2011”, to serve as an introduction to my work.
I added faculty teaching at the following top schools – the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the University of Chicago School of Law, Columbia Business School, New York University Stern School of Business, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, the University of Virginia School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
N > 9,630
The following essay is my reply to an email that I received from The Bazelon Center’s (for Mental Health Law) Executive Director Dr. Robert Bernstein. Based in Washington, DC, this non-profit organization advocates on behalf of the mentally ill by lobbying Congress and through the use of litigation throughout the nation’s court system. In late August, they sent out an email to all those on their mailing list asking for us to comment and vote on a proposed definition for “Recovery” from mental health and substance abuse disorders.
After reading the executive director’s definition and disagreeing with it, I wrote to him and to the Board of Trustees. Rather than simply leave it at “I’m right and he’s wrong”, I felt the need to and took the liberty of providing several pages worth of personal background, in order, to convey my experience and expertise on these two subjects. I hope my personal experience and insights come through to you. It was not my original intent to write a long essay, but it just unfolded this way. The email (or letter) is a lengthy eighteen pages long. I ask for your time and patience, as you read it. Surely, I must have broken the entire list of do’s and don’ts when writing business correspondence from etiquette to length, but don’t the greats always do this?
Disclosure – My comments on the following subject are long overdue and I apologize for not addressing this sooner. In the course of writing this commentary, it triggered this thought and my desire to express it to you, now. Seeing that spirituality is an integral part of my life, how I choose to live on a daily basis and my message to you, please know that whenever I mention “God”, “our Creator”, “my Higher Power”… know that I am speaking only for myself and not for anyone else in this group. I assume nothing.
I have a still developing concept of Him/Her and I respect your right to have your own notion. To me, there’s no better example of freedom than to allow oneself and all others the right to define God as each one of us sees fit and to live one’s life, accordingly. Unfortunately, I don’t think most individuals born into this world are given this critical birthright. With a global audience from many different countries, cultures, languages and religions, I could never speak for anyone else. So, I won’t even try to. If what I write resonates with you, that’s great.
See attachment – The Bazelon Center’s President and CEO and its Board of Trustees (begins on page 3)
To: The Bazelon Center’s Exec. Director Robert Bernstein, PhD and its Board of Trustees,
On Thursday (August 25, 2011), I received the latest mass email put out by your organization. I’ve been on Bazelon’s mailing list, since December 2006. My interest in your cause stems from having a mental illness. In 2002, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder on the heels of my wedding and honeymoon, that’s no joke! One year later, after enduring several trips to jail followed by stays in mental institutions, I finally got “with the program” and I began complying with the doctor’s orders. To date, I’ve had only one more episode and hospitalization since when my marriage fell apart, four years later.
In 2007, now separated and on my way to being divorced, I sat down and wrote out a 50k-word rough draft of my five-year odyssey of mania, marriage, death and rebirth before putting it down. At the time, I was thirty-six years old, unemployed, but feeling happy and free. I soon turned my attention to producing commentaries on political, social and spiritual matters, an innate interest of mine. Over the past 4-½ years, I’ve written extensively about my life and, specifically, on my mental illness experience – the series of events leading up to and following each of my manic and psychotic episode, as well as, the employment, financial and social fallout that I continue to feel to this very day.
My breakdown wasn’t simply a case of family history or genetics finally kicking in, but instead it was about having a corrupt belief system built on a diagnosed learning disability, as a child, where the playing field was anything, but level. I was reminded of this daily in my performance, first in school and later at work, for over thirty years. I was outclassed and outshined by many. With no relief, it became too much to bare. The institutions of family, religion, school and our society had long defined who I was while coloring the world that I was living in. My compass was unknowingly broken and it was sending me careening off course. With boredom, failure, frustration and procrastination as companions, making any real progress in life was unnoticeable thus an inner storm was brewing. It would make landfall, of all times, during the week of my wedding when numerous pressures and stressors of the event and my changing life converged swamping my boat.
Over the course of my young life, my dyslexia has caused me untold amounts of embarrassment, frustration, grief, self-hate and much suffering. As the saying goes about dyslexia, “Easy tasks are hard and hard tasks are easy.” This neurological development issue combined with the required learning of “the printed word” in an artificial environment, with its fixed timetables for learning, known as Catholic schools quickly instilled great fear within me from head to toe. Much needed self-esteem and confidence, a requirement for personal and professional success, were literally stripped from me before I had even finished elementary school. I’m not alone in this experience, it’s quite pervasive. Public speaking and writing proved extremely difficult to conquer and produced ongoing terror including nightmares.
As a fearful teenager, I tried to drown my pain and suffering with cold cans of beer, at high school parties, before my mind eventually gave way to thoughts of suicide. It was no way to start one’s adult life, but that’s exactly how I was entering this new world. While the handicap was real, the conclusions drawn by me and by many others about my abilities and my future success turned out to be all wrong. My parents believed in me in spite of, both, the obvious academic evidence and then my faulting career, I guess that’s blind love for you or something like that.
At the same time that my breakdown occurred, at the age of 32, I also experienced an unexpected breakthrough that briefly revealed itself in the form of exceptional thinking and creative writing while manic, in 2002 and again in ‘03. I began writing for the first time, ever, on some rather historic events. Sensing a change in brain function, I took an online IQ test that resulted in a score of 142. An earlier administered test taken during my teens measured my IQ at or near a more modest 100. The intellectual playing field that had long been to my disadvantage (which I never understood why) now swung wildly in my favor, for all to see.
However, nobody believed in my new talents including my new bride. My insistence that this change was real only confirmed everyone’s belief in my insanity; it was a real Catch-22. Regardless of what they thought, for the first time in my life, in my career this writing “thing” just felt right when everything else never did. I never forgot or dismissed these feelings or this experience as a crazy thought. It would prove crucial, later on. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Don’t listen to friends when the Friend inside you says ‘Do this!'”
All interest in selling commercial insurance went straight “out the window”. I took a leave of absence from my job to try my hand at writing. However, without anyone’s affirmation, direction or help in getting me started, it soon became a losing cause. As fast as the talent appeared, it quickly vanished. Transiting from “a lost” corporate soul to a full-time writer took several more years of living to figure out. This included experiencing this false start before crawling back to the corporate world and begging for my job back. Finally, out of desperation, I took a dreaded trip through graduate school (2005-06) which came to an abrupt halt following my last manic episode. With that door slammed shut, I moved on and I began this new life (2007). With nothing left to lose, I tried my hand at writing, once more.
What I’ve learned from my dyslexia, in terms of thinking and writing, is that it got fowled up at very early age by, either, my slower development or by a combination of man’s artificial and godless institutions that literally crush the individual spirit. The flow of ideas and the ability to easily express them encountered a logjam, a dam which turned a natural stream (of consciousness) into a backed up lake for over thirty years. I was a mute taking in the world, but never getting to express it. What should have been the process of potential energy (ideas) being easily transferred into kinetic (works of art, literature…) instead it had broken down. Clarity, vision, productivity was exchanged for confusion, frustration, procrastination, self-hate, self-destruction, destruction and boredom.
Beyond the diagnosis, I never understood the depths of the problem, its strengths and weaknesses and how to compensate for it. Nobody at home, at school or at work imparted any insight or wisdom to me during my struggle because they didn’t understand it, either. So, I just suffered while trudging toward through life until my breakthrough. In hindsight, mental illness expressed through negative thoughts and behavior had already manifested itself in my childhood, the inability to identify my talents and skills and apply them to excel or just survive created instability – in my performance at school, in my attitude and behavior, in my career, my finances and how I related to and was perceived by family, friends and by society. I wouldn’t wish this plague on anyone.
One, either, gets tough, dies or can plan on spending the rest of their life in and out of jails, prisons or mental institutions. Life is full of cues and one has to learn to start reading them in order to successfully navigate through life, through problems and out of crises. They can be verbal cues, non-verbal and/or visual, one’s own feelings and intuition or through using one’s senses. Dyslexics learn to survive by reading people and things other than just text, alone.
Facing this learning disability, this reality, this daily gantlet while in school was impossible for my ego and spirit to endure; it demanded a constant state of escape, like, daydreaming or taking a “drug” to cope. The seriousness of these emotional and spiritual issues must be expressed in a healthy way, they must be released, immediately, or they will surely come out in an inappropriate form of sickness – criminal/sexual/psychological/mental and/or a physical disease, illness or injury.
These events play out everyday and all daylong in hospital emergency rooms, in the waiting rooms at doctor’s offices, in the principal’s office, in psychiatric facilities and in our jails, but the symptoms are frequently labeled as the problem when they’re really not. We continue to outlaw (legislate) many of these symptoms while medicine obsesses with curing them, education grades them, religion condemns them and the judicial system punishes them while the root cause is completely ignored. So, for all the time, money and energy that have been spent nothing has truly changed except on the surface. The warts are gone.
Now, well into my thirties with talents, I found myself playing catch up as my community and the world had already dismissed me. My career never got started, was it already over? I recalled the good feelings that I had towards writing. What started out as my second attempt to a small audience of family and friends that were getting my monthly essays via email, now, exceeds 9,000 contacts including over 8,000 university presidents and professors teaching at some seventy colleges and universities, in ten countries.
To my pleasant surprise while preparing this email I reviewed your, The Bazelon Center’s, website and the names of your twenty-three active Board of Trustees, I discovered that six are members of my audience. Their names are – Penn Law Professor Anita L. Allen (new), Yale Law Professor Robert A. Burt, Mr. Kenneth R. Feinberg (Adjunct Professor with Columbia Law School), Harvard Law Dean and Professor Martha L. Minow, Penn Law Professor Stephen Morse (new) and USC Law Professor Elyn R. Saks.
The older audience members can attest to the quality of my work as an American thought leader on the subjects of individual, organizational and societal development and health and the role that integrity, dignity and sanity plays as it relates to reality, as it relates to spirituality. Born out of necessity, I have twenty-two years of experience doing pioneering research as my own “lab rat” trying to live an honest life by facing and embracing reality while slowly and, at times, suddenly and unexpectedly having my belief system smashed by this crazy and fearful world of ours. Of course, I’m not the only lab rat that’s been under my watchful eye and living in my world-sized laboratory. Today, I have well over 9,000 that I keep tabs on including all of you. Some are under a microscope while I watch most from afar.
My first original thought occurred during my first year of writing (2007) and I’ve never taken the time to explain it to anyone nor have I written about it until now. My experience with getting sober, at the age of 18 (1989), was life-altering and life-saving. It will go down as the best decision that I’ve ever made in my life. All the good things that have followed came from having the courage to quit drinking and to live a more spiritual life. My first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting named “Young Adults”, which met on Tuesday and Friday nights, was made up of teenagers and twenty-somethings (college students, etc.). The group met in the back of a Presbyterian church in my hometown’s (Mobile, AL) prominent community.
Walking through the set of double doors of the activity center, with my ride and a classmate, was frightening, as most anyone attending their first AA meeting will tell you. Confronting the unknown or giving up the known, your drug of choice and the lifestyle produces sheer terror. Many in desperation who show up for their first meeting can’t muster the courage to step out of their car and walk inside. They soon get “cold feet” and drive off with the intention of returning another day. Do they? Some do.
To my surprise I found those in attendance, my peers, not to be cold and hostile, but instead to be warm and welcoming. I saw a lot of smiles and I heard a lot of laughter. It was refreshing. I quickly recognized several faces in attendance, from years past. I, immediately, knew that I was in the right place. I was at home. I hadn’t laughed in a long time. In the previous year, I found myself so angry and unhappy, but until I reached the point of desperation, the point of “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” I simply wouldn’t ask for this free help. That’s the inflated ego for you. Sometimes you have to reach the point where you wake up and find yourself hanging on the side of a cliff before you learn to trust and “let go”. It’s scary because it requires real faith. That’s often how a new life, a rebirth begins.
I would spend the next twenty-one years attending AA meetings, with few interruptions, while living throughout the southeast U.S., in my hometown, while off at college in Montgomery, AL and Auburn, AL before working briefly in Tampa, FL, Washington, DC, Atlanta, GA before returning home to Mobile (1999) until recently while living and writing on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, for the past four years. I’ve met a lot of people in that time. What’s struck me over the years, having had such a positive experience, is how many suffering alcoholics and addicts walk into the “rooms of recovery” only to walk right back out into the waiting hell that they’ve been living in. It’s, both, mindboggling and tragic. Some come back, many bounce in and out of AA for years while others never return.
Alcoholics Anonymous is an anonymous fellowship of men and women made up of every segment of the U.S. population, and probably the entire world’s. No one is excluded. I see it as the closest thing to humanity’s natural world with all the recovery and insanity, with all the health and sickness occurring simultaneously in different degrees while being expressed in many different forms. It’s not the kind of social club that you want to be a member of, if you’re looking to hang out with only “your kind”.
Stay around long enough and you’re going to meet every type of person that you can think of. It’s a microcosm of our world, because alcoholism a worldwide problem. Because of AA’s anonymous nature few records are kept except at the meeting level where names, phone numbers and/or sobriety dates might be kept for the meeting’s sake – to function.
During the mid-1990’s, AA World Services did an informal survey of its meetings to gather some basic information regarding group size, the gender, age, length of sobriety…of its members. The “average” length of sobriety was five years while the longest period of continual sobriety exceeded forty years. The two most troubling statistics to come out of this survey pertained to the success rate of AA or of its members. AA’s critics crowed about it. The first stat stated that after just one year in AA those still attending meetings and in sobriety was only 5% and after five years it was estimated to be only 1%. Both, the five and one percents are large numbers in terms of overall membership in the U.S. (1m) and the around world (1m), but AA sounded horrible in terms being the cure for, both, alcoholism and drug addiction.
During the 1980’s, drug and alcohol treatment centers sprung up everywhere fueled by health insurance industry covering the cost of rehab. These facilities became mills churning out every troubled kid and adult, alike, before sending them off to AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous)…meetings. Our group, “Young Adults”, with 30 or more kids was clearly benefitting from this effect. If the first rehab stint didn’t work well then send them off to another one was the conventional wisdom and insurance kept paying until they saw their own statistics on the high cost of treatment and the low success rates. Overnight, insurance coverage for alcoholism and drug addiction dried up.
As a result, many rehabs went bust, during the late 80’s, and so did groups like “Young Adults” sometime later. The thinking among most advocates of recovery and treatment centers has been ever since that treatment works and that we simply need insurance to continue paying until some tipping point is reached within the recovery community and at this point the recovery statistics would drastically improve, so the thinking went. For eighteen years, I subscribed to this line, but in all that time the policy of health insurers had never once changed. Nor has AA performance. Everyone involved failed to understand the problem in its true perspective until one day when it dawned on me.
One of my early audience members, and not necessarily by his choice, was “Joe W.” a longtime member of AA (1970’s), a strong advocate of treatment and one of our community’s wealthier individuals. I’ve known him for thirty years. My father first met him in AA, if not before while they were both held up in the same bars drinking. Now sober, Joe would later back my father in what would become a failed construction business that ruined their friendship. Over the years, Joe has sat on, both, local and national boards advocating awareness, education and treatment while lobbying Washington to pass a law requiring health insurers to cover treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. It never happened.
In 1996, Joe and second wife hosted and what would become an annual luncheon to “celebrate recovery” where “celebrities in recovery” are flown into Mobile to tell their story of addiction and recovery to some 800 community leaders and all those enjoying the benefits of recovery. In its fifteen year history, some of the past speakers include composer, musician and songwriter Paul Williams, singer Judy Collins, Three Dog Night’s front man Chuck Negron, Steve Ford, Susan Ford Bales, (the son and daughter of President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford), Christopher Kennedy Lawford (son of Peter Lawford and nephew of JFK), actor Louis Gossett, Jr., actor John Larroquette, singer Larry Gatlin, singer and songwriter Mac Davis just to name a few.
It’s a moving experience and it wouldn’t have materialized without Joe’s strong leadership and his position in our community. Joe, his wife, their many volunteers and sponsors have taken steps to bring attention to recovery while reducing the personal suffering, the public stigma and taboo nature of alcoholism and drug addiction, in our community.
I’ve maintained a relationship, off and on, with Joe, who’s now in his 70’s, even after my father’s bankrupted construction company lighted his pockets quite a bit, he filed a lawsuit to recover his losses and my father relapsed. During the 1990’s and while I was in college, Joe’s friendship was an important relationship for me and I paid him numerous visits to his office when home from school.
When my father died in 1998, from chronic alcoholism, Joe and his wife arrived at the funeral home even before my family did to pay their respects. This was quite a surprise and speaks to the bonds formed in AA and Ala-non (a support group for family and friends of alcoholics). They weren’t the only old friends to turn out for the wake and the funeral from their old AA meeting, “Happy Hour”. Originally, the group was made up of the city’s blue bloods and all those wanting to be one. Most had not seen or spoken to my father in eight or nine years. Their presence meant a lot to, both, my mother and me.
In 2007, Joe was on my short list of influential Mobilians that I began hand delivering my first essays to. Upon emailing the piece, I would drive over to his office, unannounced, toting a signed copy. Sometimes, he would see me and other times he didn’t. I soon began to feel some uneasiness in stopping by maybe because of what I was, either, writing about (my new politics) or because of my mental illness diagnosis. I didn’t really know. I just began to pick up on a cool vibe. In the AA community, news about the welfare of its members travels fast. I’m sure that he had heard stories regarding my mania over the years.
At the time, he was one of the big dogs in my small audience long before I had any faculty at Harvard to point to. Any fear that I might have felt crawling up in my neck on the ride over was just pushed downward before walking through the front door of his office. On what would turn out to be my last visit to his office, I handed over the essay before he abruptly announced that he was headed out for a meeting. His attitude towards recovery and the role that insurance should play had not changed, in 30 years. Mine was about to.
I left his office thinking about our life-changing experiences with AA, its dismal statistics before finally considering the health insurers and seeing health care in a broader sense as it related to the success rates of other diseases, illnesses and injuries. I began to ask, were treatment centers and AA the complete formula in getting drunks sober? Well, it had worked for me, Joe and many others. Was something missing from our argument? A broken bone came to mind and health care’s success rate in resetting a bone so that it can heal properly; I figured it must be at or near 100%. How about other injuries, illnesses that have high cure rates, what about cancers with 60, 70% or higher rates of remission? Now, recovery from alcoholism and addiction looked pathetic in this new light.
For the first time, I saw the insurers’ point of view on this issue. Why is addiction’s recovery rate so low? How does society look at a broken arm or leg versus alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness? Is there a stigma with limping around in a cast or having an arm in a sling – probably not because most people can relate to this experience, in some way, and we often feel empathy for them. We may offer to assist by holding the door open or by carry something for them. It’s usually viewed as a temporary disability. Even a cancer diagnosis and its treatment are now seen by medicine and society as acceptable and mainstream.
These are physical injuries and diseases unlike alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness which are injuries of the mind, heart and soul. It’s a much harder and more complex problem to cure because no two patients have the same set of troubles. Made worse is the poor understanding among even the experts in the mental health field, health care and the public, in general. This society which sticks mostly to talking about the addictive subjects of politics, religion and the weather rarely displays a deeper well. Until this is confronted, mental illness at all levels of our society will remain pervasive and recovery rates for these illnesses will remain in the cellar.
Individuals with broken bones are typically not judged in the same light as someone with a drinking problem, as a Crystal meth addict or a mother who’s locked up in her bedroom suffering from major depression. So, if society is just as sick, where’s an alcoholic, an addict or the mentally ill to go to get better – to have their emotional and spiritual health restored to wholeness – do they return home to live with their dysfunctional family, do they hangout with their drinking buddies, do they go to church, do they move to Alaska’s wilderness or live alone in the desert? Sickness is everywhere – it’s everywhere that people deny their personal truth, where they live a lie and keep lots of secrets. Maturation stagnates across the board while the alcoholic, the addict and the mentally ill are labeled and serve as society’s scapegoat. This produces a hell in the form of bondage, insanity and unhappiness for all while this society speaks in unison of “freedom” and “democracy”. So, whose crazy – everyone? If the animal kingdom lived the same way that corrupt humans do, they would all be extinct by now.
Recovery requires truth and transparency to live a free, happy and sane life. These personal and social cancers must be recognized before it can be addressed. The problem is so enormous that we’re facing a crisis. The economy, homelessness, joblessness, political instability, the deficit and the national debt are merely symptoms. We’re trying to cure these political and social symptoms and not the problematic cause. Uprooting the tumor just might kill some of us. We have way too many inflated egos, in high places, with little heart or soul for themselves much less for the rest of us. “Pride comes before a fall.”
We lack the necessary understanding to solve our problems or to admit what we’ve been doing as a government and as a society is all wrong. I would like to shake hand of the President of the United States who first utters those words. It would take a great man or woman to finally see and speak what has become so painfully obvious to me. Our way of life has cost us our humanity, our relationship with God and it shows. Washington doesn’t get it, they don’t want to and thus they never will. This is what I know to be true.
My original reply to The Bazelon Center
What triggered my reply to your email, The Bazelon Center, was your request for me to take some action. Bazelon was seeking support for your definition of the term “Recovery” over The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) own version by commenting and voting on-line. SAMHSA was seeking input on a proposed definition of “recovery” from mental health and substance abuse disorders. What caught my immediate attention was reading the word “Recovery” in the email’s subject line, I first thought of its application in context to my own twenty-two years of recovery from alcoholism, not so much in terms of mental illness.
With over two decades of recovery from alcoholism, I know what recovery is and isn’t. I’ve been around a lot of alcoholics and addicts, in all these years, many are still in recovery while others are actively using. Some have died clean and sober while a few are dead from acts of homicide and suicide. The names and faces of many quickly come to mind while the names of most others have long been forgotten. I know my story and I’ve heard theirs. I have a family history of alcoholism on both sides of my family going back, at least, three generations.
As an only child, I watched the slow death of my beloved father who was very bright man, but a troubled Vietnam Veteran, who in confusion and great frustration gave up on life at the age of 43 (1988), however he didn’t die until age 53, from this demoralizing disease. In the same breath, recovery was happening in my family, in my home among two different generations – first, my mother, as an adult child of an alcoholic and as a spouse, and then me, as an adult child…and as an alcoholic. I know that this form of recovery (spirituality) can and does work. I’m living proof of it, as well as, I’m a witness to, both, the world’s sanity and insanity.
After nine years of learning to live successfully with bipolar disorder, my understanding of recovery has only broadened on a personal, family, organizational and societal level. My quest to find and associate with healthier individuals (authentic and sane), their families and workplaces, during my twenties and thirties, who were not necessary affiliated with “the rooms of recovery” (AA, Ala-non, etc.) or engaged in some type of spiritual practice, to my amazement, I found that they simply don’t exist. I, now, understand why. In America, dysfunction and insanity are the norm and the society’s insanity extends well beyond the tightly-defined definitions for alcoholism, addiction and mental illness.
Everyone who grows up in America has their own concept of God, all things good, faith, freedom, happiness, health, humanity, life and spirit stripped out of them by our very secular institutions of family, church, school, government (our so-called democracy) and this society’s slowly disintegrating values. To survive, we all became egomaniacs in our own controlling and manipulating ways. We’re always asking, “What’s in it for me?” We grow up as emotional and spiritual cripples, which manifests itself in mental health and physical health problems – the symptoms of which present themselves in the many different forms of insanity and addiction.
It’s at the heart of America’s health care crisis that’s playing itself out in the current health care reform act, otherwise known as, Obamacare and the many lawsuits challenging it’s legitimacy in federal court. Our out-of-control health care costs, limited coverage and access are merely symptoms of this much deeper emotional and spiritual problem. Cost, coverage and access are not the root cause of this crisis, but who’s listening to me?
From 1999-2002, I sat on the board of directors of a small non-profit drug and alcohol treatment center in my community. If there was only one thing that I took away from this experience it was how this facility came into being. The Shoulder’s Founder, and Emeritus Director, is a local orthopedic surgeon and a Christian man. Once a week, Dr. Fellers met with a group of men in prayer, at his office, before the start of the workday. On one occasion, he brought to the group a problem he was struggling with at work. Some of his patients came to him with more than just broken bones; they also came to him with broken minds.
The good doctor told his prayer group that he could fix their bones, but he couldn’t do anything about their psyches. For the doctor, re-setting the bones was the easy part, but he felt helpless over what to do about their addictions, about their insanity, how best to heal their minds and hearts or how to re-ignite their spirits. He’s not alone in this struggle. So is our society, so are our leaders. With no clear understanding of the problem and a forty-year failed drug war to show for it, we’ve learned to just ignore it by wearing our blinders, we ignore the addicts and their families and thus we ignore the pain and suffering of everyone. This “educated” society has turned sickness into criminal behavior and we just chosen to incarcerate them. Is this strategy working – no? Do we care – no, because it’s not one of us or a family member suffering in these soulless correctional facilities?
Ultimately, the group’s prayers gave birth to The Shoulder, which opened its doors, in 1988. The treatment center has always struggled to keep its doors open not out of lack of a demand, but out of the health care system’s (insurance) desire to no longer pay. When people get clean and sober, personal and social violence drops and it’s bad for our economy – it’s bad for law enforcement and emergency medical technicians jobs, it’s bad for the wallets of doctors, hospitals, big insurance, big pharma, it’s bad for the legal profession, for the judicial and penal systems, for mortuary industry that are all feeding off this insanity. It’s become big business.
If you want the largest economy in the world, the largest fighting force in the world and plenty of domestic (family, political and social violence) then you need lots of insanity to fuel it. You need a disturbed society that knows only emptiness, loneliness and unhappiness. America has this in spades and our advertisers and marketers (on NYC’s Madison Ave. – our “drug” pushers) know it! Cure this insanity and our economy drastically shrinks, buying contracts in a healthy and natural way. We will strike a balance and America’s role, in the world, will change for the better.
We’re putting all our time, energy and money in maintaining beauty and repairing broken bones (the easy stuff, but it’s also the expensive stuff) while little is ever spent in eradicating the insanity by encouraging the development of personal relationships with God, as you understood Him/Her, expressing one’s personal truth or seeing the value of being in touch with and expressing one’s own emotions. We’ve anesthetized ourselves to the point that we no longer feel pain while we all suffer. This country is in a crisis, it’s drowning in its own waste, but does anyone see this, does anyone feel its pain or hear its cries – no? Our health care crisis is merely a symptom of society’s emotional and spiritual void. Address these pent up feelings of anger, emptiness, fear, hurt, loneliness, God’s absence and the heavy demands put on the health care system will begin to diminish. Here’s how the late Father Anthony de Mello, SJ describes “waking up”,
“…when you’re on the verge of going insane, raving mad, you’re about to become either a psychotic or a mystic. That’s what the mystic is, the opposite of the lunatic. Do you know one sign that you’ve woken up? It’s when you are asking yourself, “Am I crazy, or are all of them crazy”? It really is.
Because we are crazy. The whole world is crazy. Certifiable lunatics! The only reason we’re not locked up in an institution is that there are so many of us. So we’re crazy. We’re living on crazy ideas about love, about relationships, about happiness, about joy, about everything. We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong! Every new idea, every great idea, when it first began was in a minority of one…
Following my last manic and psychotic episode, in the fall of 2006, I was facing a divorce, I had just endured my third arrest, where I was kindly assaulted in jail by a corrections officer who broke my two front teeth and busted open my chin, followed by another hospitalization. I was soon kicked out of graduate school, my old classmates and friends had long stopped calling me and the neighbors hated me. I had no career, no job and no income. While searching for answers, I picked up my mother’s copy of Fr. Anthony de Mello’s book, Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, for some unknown reason, and I took it home with me to read.
de Mello’s above passage and many others validated my life and my bipolar disorder experience unlike anything that was ever said to me by any of the mental health professionals that I had came into contact with. This man-made system is hopeless because it’s dead. They’ll offer you all the drugs you want, but no one ever mentions God. No pill, no “drug” will ever supplant our Creator, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Don’t we worship money, but it’s no substitute? We’ve marginalized God with these secular institutions and we wonder why things no longer work in America and in many parts of the world.
Not one of my licensed psychiatrists, nurses or counselors ever expressed to me, during any of my hospitalizations or office visits, which included a four-year depression while frequently entertaining suicidal thoughts, that “I was on the right road and that one day I would look back on this experience with much gratitude”. No one addressed the following question that now confronted me, “Am I crazy, or are all of them crazy (this society)”? Tony de Mello had already answered it for me.
All of my prior life experiences, both, the good ones and the bad had prepared me – as the student – to be open and ready to hear my new teacher and sage (de Mello) speak. He said what no one else could because he too had already woken up to this crazy world, to reality. He speaks the truth (or, at least, de Mello points out what some of the obstacles are to seeing the truth). Now, I was waking up. I saw myself as, both, the mystic and the lunatic, but now I understood why.
This would turn out to be the most transforming experience of my life. No longer was I a mistake, a freak or a victim. No longer was I holding on for dear life to society’s bottom hung while looking up and seeking its approval. A weakness instantly became a great strength. I was no longer standing at the bottom of the ladder, but instead I stood at the top. Finally, I had a complete story to tell, I had a message to share. At times, I’ve asked for my audience’s help, I’ve sought their understanding while explaining to them how the world works. On that day, I recovered from, both, alcoholism and mental illness. However, in the material sense, I was no closer to meeting your definition of “Recovery”, but does it even matter? While the remainder of my journey is unscripted and untold that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to stand on a mountaintop and shout out to the world, “Checkmate!”
Like a nine lb. iron ball, I was shot out of a canon and into a new dimension. Due to the ball and chains carried righteously by so many, few will ever arrive at this heaven on earth – where “all is well”, in spite of the world being a complete mess. Anthony de Mello calls it a strange paradox. It’s to have an awareness of the state of the world, but to no longer sweat over it. I can talk about it, I can write about it, but I can also divorce myself from it and go have a long lunch, take a nap or go watch the setting sun with friends, every evening, sitting on the city’s pier. As de Mello puts it, “When you awaken, when you understand, when you see, the world becomes right.”
How I see mental illness has changed as I’ve matured, both, emotionally and spiritually, over the past two decades. I no longer see it as being just a diagnosis of the wretched few, as many in the mental health profession and in society would love to believe, but instead it touches the lives of every American including our many leaders. No one is excluded!
I read Bazelon’s Executive Director Dr. Robert Bernstein’s arbitrary and very materialistic comments on his proposed definition of “recovery” and I couldn’t disagree with it more. It conveniently excludes or carves out the masses and their insane lifestyle, this organization and its board from the definition by making it the measuring stick of recovery. It reads…
“The definition of recovery must include concrete system changes needed to make recovery possible.
What appears to be missing from the proposed definition is a statement that “recovery” (as opposed to the process of recovery) means “living like people without a mental illness live, the core elements of which are having your own place to live, a job, and a partner and/or family”.
In many cases, this may be an unattainable, and more importantly, it maybe an irrelevant goal that your organization is pushing when it fails to see the problem in its true perspective. You’re arguing that anyone with a mental illness who lives below this threshold isn’t “recovered”. What if that definition or its underlying belief is all wrong? Have you ever thought of that? What if you’re wrong about your understanding of mental illness, its root cause and the difference between the actual problem and what’s merely a symptom of the problem? Can this organization even distinguish between the two?
What if your position isn’t offering up an honest solution, but instead you’re perpetuating the problem of social intolerance, out of convenience, dishonesty and/or ignorance? The Bazelon Center is supposed to be a leader in advocacy for the mentally ill, but what if your organization is actually committing malpractice or at the very least, hypocrisy? Your questionable mission states…
“For over three decades, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has fought for the rights and dignity of people with mental disabilities. We work to fully integrate people with mental disabilities into our society, by protecting their right to self-determination and securing their access to needed services. We pursue our goals though policy advocacy, litigation, and public education.”
With the collective wisdom of its name sake, its thirty (+) year history, its current staff and the board of trustees that includes numerous physicians and professors of psychiatry and law, you’ve failed to figure out what I’ve concluded in my twenty-two year journey. You’ve failed to see that our entire society is insane. Look no further than the current economic, employment, housing (nationwide foreclosures), homelessness, military (two winless wars), political, social and the spiritual crisis facing our bankrupt nation, from sea to shining sea. Your theoretical definition of “recovery” fails to reflect the reality facing America, today. Your definition might as well be thrown in the back of someone’s desk drawer, as written. It’s useless, for now.
Unbeknownst to you, you’re actually contributing to mental illnesses’ stigma and taboo nature in our artificial and very dysfunctional society. Your inability to recognize the truth, to recognize this reality is proof of your own insanity. With this approach, The Bazelon Center never has to worry about “going out-of-business” because the real cure, social acceptance, will never arrive, at this rate. Reaching your goal will always be just around the corner, if you can only raise a few more dollars. Crossing this finish line will never happen.
This is criminal, but it’s typical of how most charities and non-profits operate. “Saving the bureaucracy” at all cost – by never living in reality, by never pursuing the truth and thus by never eradicating the root cause. Everyone suffers for the sake of the agency and nothing is ever learned. Your mission is in direct conflict with the basic acceptance of everyone regardless of one’s current disabilities or labels while rejecting humanity as it was created and orchestrated by God.
Should the definition for crippled people be “living like” people without impairments? Should the definition for African-Americans be “living like” people without colored skin? That’s ridiculous, but that’s exactly what you’re saying. Maybe the mentally ill ought to develop a definition that “we” can live with today, right now, and not have some foolish organization define it for us to satisfy their egos and this crazy world. Your email has made me mad. I intend to share this email with my entire audience. I hope it brings attention and honest change to The Bazelon Center, to its leadership and to the board of trustees. Some self-reflection by this organization is warranted. How can your organization be above the humiliation felt by all those with this illness?
I didn’t earn it, I didn’t deserve it, but I think you have. The mentally ill know all about its stigma, the stinging rejection felt and the misunderstanding at the hands of the mental health profession, this society and by organizations, like yours, claiming to represent us and our interests at Washington’s finest cocktail parties and fundraisers. You’re just another leech in the field of mental illness and in our society.
What’s needed is a paradigm shift in thinking about mental illness, the mentally ill and our society, but it will only come about from looking at the problem differently with great courage and honesty. The Bazelon Center’s worldview is obsolete. It’s time for a sea change. By easily reframing the debate, the mentally ill don’t have to achieve any of your measurements to become “whole” when our entire society can easily be defined as mentally ill, based on its own reported actions.
It puts everyone on the same humble plane because we’re all crazy. Argue this point, this truth and then everyone you know can be slapped with this same label and we can all begin to be a part of the solution. I bet you don’t like being called crazy, but you really are. You care about what other Washingtonians and your colleagues think of you, you care about your reputation and that dictates what you tell the world – something less than the inconvenient truth. This is a symptom of neurosis and a sure sign that you’re well on your way to going “nuts”. I can prove all the above.
The proposed definition should be revised to make clear that people will be able to achieve “recovery” in this sense, which is readily feasible with current technologies promoted by SAMHSA, including scattered site supported housing, supported employment, assertive community treatment (ACT) and peer support. In addition, the proposed definition must include the explicit expectation that service systems will be re-oriented to enable individuals to live in their own place, have a job, and have a partner and/or family.
These elements are critical to make recovery a meaningful concept rooted in concrete expectations about what is needed to afford individuals with mental illnesses the opportunity to live full lives as members of their communities, consistent with the ADA’s integration mandate and the Olmstead decision. Without these elements, the proposed definition of recovery would enable service systems to continue treating individuals with mental illnesses living much as they have in the past, without providing the chance to live the same way that the rest of us do. The definition of recovery cannot be one that permits these individuals to remain dependent while “working on” a recovery that public service systems can and should put in their reach. Recovery must encompass more than a set of slogans about hope, respect, relationships and purpose. It must include the specific expectations above that are necessary to make these concepts meaningful.”
The above is a definition written about individuals who’ve fallen out of society, who’ve fallen through the cracks and they’ll never return to this fabricated world. If given the truth about the insanity of our culture, they have a chance to break free and go in a different direction by marching to the beat of their own drum, in freedom and happiness. They have a chance to discover their talents and to find purpose while a dumbfounded world sits back and looks on. That can really happen because it happened to me. What was once the worst thing that ever happened to me became the best thing that ever happened to me? It’s a reminder that we really don’t know what’s good for us.
History is full of crazy people with genius talents who lived in way that validated their own authenticity and values, their talents while the masses compromise themselves by banging on the community drum like programmed robots and zombies. That’s what’s going on in America, today. All these “sane” people are sweating over their job security, their home values, their marriages, their retirement plans and Wall Street, the politics in Washington. I’ve been “committed” by judges and diagnosed by doctors. Today, I could care less about what the masses are so worry about. What’s crazy is American politics, capitalism, Christianity, democracy, Judaism, Islam, the legal system, public education, Wall Street, war…
I live free while all of you live in fear, in bondage. Now, who’s the sane one here? Dr. Bernstein is troubled with mental illness because he doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t understand himself. Ever spent a night locked up in jail or a week in a psych ward? Have you ever loss your job, your marriage, your reputation or all your friends due to an illness that was beyond your control? You never will understand it until you spot your own cancer, your own insanity. This society is every bit as crazy as the nuts seeing their psychiatrists, those picking up their medications at the pharmacy, who live in group homes or alone in an apartment, who sit in jails or sleep in mental institutions.
The only difference is we take our medication while the rest of you need to! You’re in deep denial. The mentally ill are always the last to know. Accept yourself and you’ll naturally come accept us. Keep rejecting yourself and you’ll never accept us. Isn’t that the basic problem? The problem of mental illness resides within you and not within me. It never has. If you want me to change to fit your concept of recovery, I say you change first and then we’ll talk. You be the example you want the rest of us to follow, otherwise your talk is cheap.
Robert Bernstein, PhD
President and CEO
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
“The Bazelon Center envisions an America where people who have mental disabilities exercise their own life choices.”
VOTE for Bazelon Center’s Comments on “Recovery” – DEADLINE FRIDAY (Midnight EST)
UPDATED Alert — August 25, 2011 –The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) seeks comments on a proposed definition of “recovery” from mental health and substance abuse disorders. The comment period was extremely short and ends at midnight eastern time THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 26th. Now we need your support!
Please VOTE for Bazelon’s Comments Here: http://bit.ly/BazelonRecoveryDef
Tell SAMHSA the definition of recovery must include concrete steps toward service system changes that are necessary to make recovery possible.
Comments Submitted by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law:
The definition of recovery must include concrete system changes needed to make recovery possible.
What appears to be missing from the proposed definition is a statement that “recovery” (as opposed to the process of recovery) means living like people without a mental illness live, the core elements of which are having your own place to live, a job, and a partner and/or family. The proposed definition should be revised to make clear that people will be able to achieve “recovery” in this sense, which is readily feasible with current technologies promoted by SAMHSA, including scattered site supported housing, supported employment, assertive community treatment (ACT) and peer support. In addition, the proposed definition must include the explicit expectation that service systems will be re-oriented to enable individuals to live in their own place, have a job, and have a partner and/or family.
These elements are critical to make recovery a meaningful concept rooted in concrete expectations about what is needed to afford individuals with mental illnesses the opportunity to live full lives as members of their communities, consistent with the ADA’s integration mandate and the Olmstead decision. Without these elements, the proposed definition of recovery would enable service systems to continue treating individuals with mental illnesses living much as they have in the past, without providing the chance to live the same way that the rest of us do. The definition of recovery cannot be one that permits these individuals to remain dependent while “working on” a recovery that public service systems can and should put in their reach. Recovery must encompass more than a set of slogans about hope, respect, relationships and purpose. It must include the specific expectations above that are necessary to make these concepts meaningful.
SAMHSA Proposed Definition:
Recovery from mental health and substance abuse disorders is defined as “a process of change through which individuals work to improve their own health and wellbeing, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential.” SAMHSA also describes four dimensions of recovery (health, home, purpose, and community) and ten guiding principles that support recovery (recovery is person-driven; it occurs through many pathways; it is holistic; it is supported by peers and allies; it is supported through relationships and social networks; it is culturally-based and influenced; it is supported by addressing trauma; it involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility; it is based on respect; and it emerges from hope). More detail on these principles is available at the link above.
Support Bazelon’s Comments Here: http://bit.ly/BazelonRecoveryDef
For the past four years, I’ve been receiving the mass emails from The (Judge David L.) Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. My impression of your organization based on these emails alone is a negative one. It’s mostly about asking me to take some sort of action like calling my representatives in Congress or to give money to this cause. More times then not I don’t even bother to stop and read these emails, anymore. They often lack substance. In preparing this email, I paid a visit to The Center’s website to collect the names and email address of the senior staff, as well as, the board of trustees.
I found that only two staffers even have their email addresses made public on their bios, Dominic Holt, the Communications Director, and Clay Braswell, the Development Director – the Spin Doctor and the Money Man. All communications to the Executive Director Robert Bernstein, PhD. and a rest of senior staffers must go through the center’s general mailbox. Whether your email actually gets into the intended hands is a mystery.
This configuration is revealing and it shows a true disconnect by the center’s leadership. The communication is one-way (outbound) and not two-way. There’s an appearance and maybe a reality of not wanting to be bothered by the little people that you’re suppose to be serving.
As a political and social writer, I’ve been sharing my commentaries for the past year with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev among other heads of state. It’s actually easier to communicate with President Medvedev by email and I can attach my essays on his official webpage, http://eng.letters.kremlin.ru/, than it is to write to The Bazelon Center’s executive director. Something is wrong with this picture given that it’s 2011 and that the technology isn’t the issue, it’s another mindset problem.
After reviewing the board of trustees, which includes many doctors and lawyers, only one person, Harvey Rosenthal, appears to have a diagnosis of mental illness and has been hospitalized for it, at the age of 19, among the twenty-three active trustees. He is “the executive director of the New York State Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services and chair of the state’s Mental Health Action Network, he speaks out statewide and nationally for the rights of psychiatric disabilities…” Mr. Rosenthal is a twenty-year advocate of the cause.
Another, Jacki McKinney, M.S.W., is “a survivor of trauma, addiction, homelessness and the psychiatric and justice systems”. Ms. McKinney is “a family advocate specializing in issues affecting African women and their children”. The last trustee, Cynthia M. Stinger, is “a parent whose teenage son has multiple disabilities”.
The remaining twenty are highly educated, but lack any personal experience or connection with the illness. This board is out of balance. If anything the makeup of the board should reflect and/or exceed the definition that Dr. Bernstein seeks to have adopted by SAMSHA. Bazelon currently fails this test. There are plenty of high functioning professions from many different fields, with mental illness, that are more passionate, more understanding of the issues involved because it’s so damn personal to them and to me. We all have “some skin in the game”, its time for Bazelon’s leadership and its board to reflect this, as well.
Note – The following Bazelon Trustees whose email addresses were not available at the time of this reply are – Dana Bazelon, Eileen A. Bazelon, Jacqueline Dryfoos, Terri Langston, Jacki McKinney, Rhonda Robinson-Beale, W. Allen Schaffer, David Schapiro, Cynthia M. Stinger, Martin Tolchin and Sally Zinman.
Source: The Bazelon Center – Board of Trustees
de Mello, SJ Anthony, Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. Copyright © 1990
Copyright © 2011. All Rights Reserved. “To: The Bazelon Center’s Exec. Director and its Board of Trustees” by Ted Burnett.
My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com. My biography can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.