The Spiral

I have recently had what some might call, a spiritual awakening. A series of strange occurrences took place which left me with more questions. Questions like, why me, why now, why this?

I asked someone who I admire and look up to, and they said, “why not you?”.

It’s obvious by looking at our world’s history that the way we have been looking at mental illness and addiction isn’t working. We have proof of that.

The “war on drugs” isn’t working, that’s  obvious because we are more addicted. There are more people suffering, more  families torn apart, more incarceration, more overdose and death since we imposed the war on drugs.

Mental illness goes along with the drug problem because the two often go hand in hand. Now we have also imposed the logic of the war on drugs into our relationships and daily lives and as a result, we are becoming more and more disconnected.

I heard recently that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection. Humans are social by nature, and when we don’t have healthy connections to each other, we form bonds with other things and sometimes those things aren’t healthy attachments. This form of connecting doesn’t stop at drug use; there are other forms like pornography, television, cellphones, along with various obsessive-compulsive behaviors people seem to get addicted to i.e. gambling, exercising, or cleaning.

I saw a Ted Talk recently about this exact issue. Johann Hari explains quite elegantly, that everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. He talks about the addicts in his life that he loves, and about how although it’s difficult, that he told them he wanted to deepen the connection with them. He told them he loves them whether they are using or not and if they needed him, he would sit with them so they aren’t alone.

Beautiful.

I first saw that Ted Talk in December 2019 with Jason and I knew it was something special. I believe that not only is everything we think we know about addiction wrong, but some of what we think we know about mental illness is wrong as well.

There has been so much progress in mental health over the past 50 years and we are definitely doing better; I’m not discounting all of that hard work and discovery. However, I can’t help but be bothered by a few important things.

When I was a little girl, mental illness showed itself for the first time in me through obsessive compulsive behavior. I washed my hands… ALOT. My mom freaked out. She has a degree in psychology, plus we have severe mental illness in our family genetics, so her first thought was, something is wrong with my baby.

My mom took me to see a psychiatrist who said it was no big deal. He said to buy me soap for sensitive skin and hand lotion and to tell me if I was going to wash my hands like that, then to use the special soap and lotion, and eventually I would stop, which I did. Seemed like solid advice to me…

I started thinking about the times we are in now and how although we are more aware of mental health issues, I’m concerned with the type of care people are receiving, and if it’s the best course of action to get the best possible outcome.

Sometimes, there is an actual imbalance in the brain, and medications are in fact needed. It has also been studied that trauma may in fact also lead to a change in our brain chemistry. The thing that frustrates me is that although sometimes medication is needed, its leaned on as a cure, when medication only suppresses symptoms. As of now, there is no cure for mental illness. We are left with symptoms we still have little understanding of.

I have been plagued with various mental illness symptoms varying in severity throughout my entire life.

Nothing really works. When it does work, it’s always short-lived. This brings me to think again, about human connections; and the fact that we are a more disconnected society than we have ever been, while problems with mental illness as well as addiction is on the rise.

I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Since I was given several mental health diagnosis, I have been looked at as crazy, over-emotional, spontaneous, anxious, the list goes on and on. What I need people to understand, is that when I began focusing on connecting with people on a soul level, many of my symptoms faded, some disappeared, and others became more manageable. I began to see my so-called problems and issues as a gift I have been given and began focusing my attention less on suppressing my symptoms, and more on how to tune in and listen. The results have been magical. I have been better equipped at facing whatever is making me feel uncomfortable, and finding ways to let it work for me, not against me.

I think a lot of this is well known to an extent, just not much is being done to improve our current system. With the expanding need for mental health and addiction services, people are often all put into the same categories, misdiagnosed, and given medication. When these approaches don’t work, the patient goes off of their meds, sometimes has psychotic episodes, hospitalized, stabilized, then they are expected to go right back into the system that failed them. That scenario is also a very mild one compared to how much pain and turmoil some mental breaks can cause so many people involved, not just the person in distress, but their loved ones, coworkers, medical professionals, police officers, teachers, etc.

I think it’s past time to try new approaches to these problems and see if something else works. I have a few ideas I plan to talk about in the future. Until then I just want people to start thinking about how our approach so far doesn’t work. I want people to think about what it is that makes them feel good, important, more alive. I think we need to start embracing that there are many different types of humans, each with unique gifts. Possibly, instead of suppressing what we obviously just don’t understand, why not try embracing these gifts, and focus more on social interaction, coping, and healing.

Just a thought…

A Break

You may have noticed I’ve taken a break from writing, you may have not noticed at all. I had to put it down for a minute because every thought I had was about Jason. I have been thinking a lot and you know what? I’m fucking pissed. Instead of telling you all the reasons I’m pissed, I’m going to tell you how I’m getting through, how I’m coping with the mess he has continued to put me in, although he is a world away. The fact is that Jason knew I would be ok, even though I didn’t know it.

It turns out, I’m a fucking fighter. This experience is not getting the best of me. I started this website to cope with my husband’s suicide and I’m continuing this website now because I have a job to do.

Since Jason’s death, I have talked to many people with legal issues. Everything from drug charges, extensive jail or prison time, as well as life threatening illnesses. Everyone I have talked to has something in common.

Their problems all stem from trauma.

This system we have in the United States isn’t working. Not only does it not work, it’s further stigmatizing mental illness and addiction. This problem is so severe, that as a society we’re oblivious to the fact that lives are being derailed and families are being torn apart right in front of us, and we don’t care.

People that do not understand the complexity within illnesses of the mind are content because the “bad guys” are in jail or prison. Why aren’t we looking at the situations which put these often good people in these situations in the first place?

There is something terribly wrong when we refuse to take trauma into account when we judge people addicted to substances, in prison or jail, and mentally ill. After people serve time in prison they are “thrown to the wolves”, so to speak. Sure, they have their freedom, but do they really?

NO!

Basic needs are food and shelter, and money with which to obtain these things. I have a really hard time finding a decent place to live that accepts section 8, but when I imagine the struggles of someone fresh out of lock-up, I feel like an asshole for complaining about that.

I’m going to break it down.

First, when someone gets out of prison, they need a place to stay. An ex-convict can forget about section 8. Not only can you not get a section 8 voucher with a felony, most apartment complexes and home owners won’t even rent to a felon anyway. So they better hope they have someones couch to crash on.

Once this person has found a place, safe or otherwise, they need cash flow and badly. Have you ever tried getting a job worth a damn with a felony record hanging over your head?a I hear it’s a bitch.

Most of our jails and prisons are full of folks with non violent charges. Mostly drug related. Most of the time, the drugs started as a coping mechanism to handle their lives and the trauma they have faced. They just wanted to feel differently.

Instead of treating the trauma, we punish them for the superficial things which are only visible on the surface. Using drugs, selling drugs, petty theft, prostitution, etc. What we need to be educated about, and take action on, are the events which led to these things in the first place.

So now we have this person, who served their time without treatment for the actual problem, they more than likely can’t find a decent place to live or work, and they continue to not receive help for underlying issues they are plagued with.

Ray Charles could see what will happen to these people, and it’s society’s fault. They often end up right back in the lifestyle which got them put in prison in the first place. How else are they supposed to survive?

This system is totally fucked up.

We aren’t understanding or compassionate either. I have heard things like, “Well, why didn’t they learn from the last time they got caught up?” That is such an unfair question. Learning is not the issue. Most of the time, they don’t even want to do this shit! They simply have no choice but to go back to what paid the bills before. Before you know it, they are deep in this culture of backstabbers and thieves, all trying to survive. Meanwhile, families are angry and resentful, often alienating the person needing love and support more than anything in the world.

With all of this being said, I think my job is to advocate. The existing system isn’t working, and good people aren’t getting the help they need. They are judged, and then given enough rope to hang themselves.

Fuck that.

Something has got to give. There needs to be programs in place with possible incentives to stay on the straight and narrow. You can’t say, “Ok, now live right and don’t break the law. Also, you can’t vote, but you better find a job and pay taxes! Oh no, you can’t live there! You have to live in squalor and deal with a slum lord in the worst part of town. You know, where all your former associates are. Oh, but stay away from them.”

It’s ridiculous.

I have to do my part to change this deeply flawed system because it’s the right thing to do. I’ll start by finding like-minded folks and educating myself about the programs that are available, no matter how flawed.

Here we go…

Yes, It’s Me, Sarah & This Is Not Spam

It came to my attention recently, some people think that I’m posting spam, and then don’t read my posts or share the information I’m posting on social media. I get it. Those who really know me, don’t see me as a person to promote a cause or be particularly political in any way. That’s changed because I have changed…

I found the picture I added to this post, and it reminded me of my husband Keith. His stomach looked exactly like that after a suicide attempt where he stabbed himself so deep, that he punctured his intestines.

The night he stabbed himself we were at home watching Perry Mason, a part of our nightly ritual. At commercial, he got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen. I assumed he was after his favorite night time snacks, bread and peanut butter, but he returned empty handed and sat back on the couch.

The show continued and I happened to glance over to the couch where Keith was sitting, and to my horror, discovered his white t-shirt soaked in blood. There was so much blood gushing from the wound that it was pooling in the creases of his shirt and jeans.

I didn’t have time to panic. I grabbed a towel, applied pressure to the wound and called 911. I continued applying pressure to his stomach until the ambulance arrived, crying and trying to get Keith to talk to me. He said nothing. He just kept watching Perry Mason. Only after the ambulance left with him, did I notice the long, blood covered knife lying on the kitchen counter, and drops of blood on the tile floor. 

After his surgery, his stomach looked just like the featured photo in this post. That incident was his first suicide attempt during our marriage. I did not handle it well. I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. I have issues with mental illness and have had a suicide attempt myself, so you would think I would know exactly what he needed. 

I didn’t. 

The timeline around my suicide attempt is very blurry, and I don’t remember the actual attempt at all, just a fuzzy ambulance ride, and the horrible 2 weeks away from home. I do remember feeling so alone, although the word “alone” doesn’t give the feeling justice. 

The “alone” I was feeling, was like a panic rising up inside of me, akin to how I imagine someone might feel if they were awake during a surgical procedure, but paralyzed, unable to talk or tell anyone they were awake. Once the first incision was made, you found not only were you awake, but felt everything. Then you were screaming, yet no sound emerged. 

That is the “alone” feeling which makes suicide seem like the only option.

Keith made a second suicide attempt. I came home one evening and found him on the living room floor. He had stabbed himself in the stomach again, only that time, he inserted the knife 5 times. 

I handled his second attempt much better than the first, hardly leaving his side unless I had to eat or go to the bathroom. 

Following his release from the hospital, he was placed in an inpatient facility for a few weeks. He jumped off a bridge 7 months later…

I have to live with the fact that Keith is gone forever. Living with the loss of a spouse, or anyone really, is so incredibly difficult. Suicide adds something to the loss that doesn’t make the loss worse than others, just very different. 

Keith had support, love, understanding, and his family by his side no matter what, and still lost his battle. 

I am realistic in knowing suicide, mental illness and addiction can not be eradicated. However, with the most up to date information we have about the effects of trauma during a lifespan, and the reality of mental illness and addiction; I feel it’s incredibly important for those of us who are capable, to speak out about our experiences, to help put an end to the stigma attached to mental illness and addiction. So many people are suffering in silence and dying. 

I have been through the unimaginable in my life, and all while battling mental illness and addiction. It’s hard. The way we look at these illnesses as a society is wrong, and people are dying, going to prison unnecessarily, and families are being torn apart. 

So, no, this is not spam. This is the reality many of us live and the more that is said out loud about mental illness, addiction, and what these illnesses truly are, the more we evolve in mind and spirit. 

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