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Here are books that have made a difference and are worth sharing.

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 This is all my personal opinion and should be regarded as such. I don't claim to be an authority on anything. This post is purely an observation. As an addict. It's been my experience that most addicts have more than one addiction. For myself I am a drug addict in recovery, food addict in recovery, and a co-dependent addict definitely in recovery. While I was still using I was definitely addicted to another person. In retrospect my reason for being so compelled to be with a person who was so selfish and cruel and manipulative, it definitely was a harm to me but I stayed because he was able to hit me or rather inject me with meth. That was my main reason for not being strong enough to break away from him, but it was obviously an unhealthy relationship. My family couldn't stand him and knew he was harmful to me. They suspected and we're correct in their belief that he would hurt me. He did raise his hands to me. One time even hitting me so hard that I flew backward and hit the door jamb and busted my head wide open. I had to make a trip to the emergency room to have it glued back together. He wouldn't let me go to the emergency room with my daughter but insisted he go himself as protection against me telling the emergency room staff, that he was the cause of my injuries. On another occasion he choked me so badly that after I had laid down and slept a couple of hours I woke up choking because I couldn't swallow because my throat had swollen almost completely shut. When I woke him up to tell him I couldn't breathe he refused to let me leave to go to the emergency room because he knew I had already been in the past and it would look badly on him. 

This wasn't my first abusive relationship I had been in one when I was 18 years old. I was married to a 31 year old bull rider with two bad marriages behind him. He was incredibly abusive. I've been choked out. I've had nose and ribs broken. I've had both eyes blacked. He was easily much more experienced than I in everything about life. For a little Baptist girl not even out of high school, his knowledge of and experience in sexual things, was far superior to my knowledge. It was almost as though he was a teacher and I was a student. It was four marriages later before I realized my codependent tendency. Now many years later I've been marked by my relationships. As a result I find myself most content by myself and not looking to another person to find my happiness. I've had to learn that my happiness comes from me and the choices I make. No one can make me happy. That's my responsibility. I only have one marriage that I don't regret. That's someone where I conceived both my children. He was good to me we just had issues where it affected our day to day raising of our children. It was also during that marriage that I became a regular IV drug user. My husband and I got into it together. We also began selling it together to pay for our habits when we realized we couldn't afford it just for recreational use. 

I am also food addict. When I wasn't in a relationship I began to eat for comfort. My weight ballooned up to 330lbs before I realized that I had an eating disorder. I think eating disorders are far underrated as a problem in this country. We are an obese nation with children growing up to be overweight adults after watching their parents overeat. During the time when my weight begin to skyrocket, I was but I term a nocturnal eater. During the night I would get up find my way to the kitchen and eat primarily junk food, sweets, chocolate, pudding. I would frequently wake in the morning surrounded by brownie wrappers or crumbs on my bed. Much of the time with no memory of having woke up. It's difficult to control your weight when you cant control your eating. In fact I suppose as far as addiction goes my food addiction it's a one that I still struggle with today. I've got my weight down somewhat but I could stand to lose more. My codependency and my meth addiction are now kept in control with my faith and a good counselor/fellow addict who happens to be an LCDC now disabled. Love you Suzanne. Everybody needs a go to. I'm blessed to have mine.

I want to write this to say that I'm not just a meth addict,  I'm an addict. That label covers a multitude of sins. By my nature I've spent my life struggling with several different issues. I hope to be more relatable with this revelation. God bless you all in your struggles. 

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My mom was a single mother.  I don't necessarily think this was a bad thing. I was born in the 60's, and while it appeared my mom was pretty self-sufficient, where I lived in the working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn it was considered a faux pas to give birth to a child out of wedlock. My mom knew this and she found a guy who was willing to be listed as the father on my birth certificate. I didn't know this at the time, but my mom had been married two times before I was born.  During her life she was married a total of nine times.  Nope, that's not a misprint.  Nine times. 

My mom was also a consummate artist.  She was also profoundly mentally ill.  Her mental illness informed her art and her art informed her mental illness. Knowing my mom as well as I did it makes sense that she used art as a distraction.  It also makes sense that she was married nine times. As her internal world was so chaotic I sense she was looking for outside stimuli to quell the madness she felt on the inside as well as receive some kind of validation that she was okay. During the time my mom was a professional artist her work appeared in over 200 shows.  She worked in various mediums (plaster, ceramics, sculpture, pottery, pen and ink, etc) but her best work was done in either oil or acrylic.  Today, artists would mount their work between two pieces of clear Lexan or Lucite.  My mother's work was mounted between two large pieces of glass, held together by large machine bolts/screws. Felt washers were used on ether side of the washer and bolt and in-between the pieces of glass. The pieces of glass came shipped to our Brownstone pre-drilled.  My mom tried various methods to mount her work, but she seemed to be fond of threading the holes in the glass with climbing rope and using a fisherman's knot connected to some bolts mounted on the ceiling. Not only was she a consummate artist, she prided herself on making sure her art was mounted in a way that could keep her work safe. People would come from across the globe to attend her shows and buy her work.  I was proud of my mom and I never tired of people telling me that my mom was amazing.

As a kid I remember hoping that the constant adulation my mom received about her art would be sufficient to quell the near-constant distress she felt with her various mental health issues.  As a kid I remember feeling powerless to help my mom.  When my mother took her medication she was at ease in the world: her world made sense, and there was a sense of order in the Universe.  When my mom took her medication I felt connected to her.  When she kept to her medication schedule my friend's weren't scared of her.   My mother was also trained as a mental health therapist.  When she took her medication she had amazing clinical insight. When she didn't take her meds, the police were always there.  I'm not sure exactly how many times I visited her in the hospital. The diagnosis was always the same:

 - Paranoid Schizophrenia with depressed features
 - Narcissistic Personality Disorder
 - Borderline Personality Disorder
 - Sociopathic personality Disturbance, or what is known today as Antisocial Personality Disorder

My grandmother was a social worker and my mom was a therapist.  It's not surprising that I was drawn to working in the mental health field.  After reviewing my mom's hospital records I'm not sure that the last three mental health diagnoses were accurate, however, I am absolutely convinced she suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia.  She had command hallucinations which convinced her I was the spawn of Satan and that the only way to save the world was to end my life.  During her last hospital stay the entire team met with me and my grandparents and they disclosed my mother's plans to end my life.  There were enough clues along the way but nothing extreme enough had happened which prompted the state or my grandparents to remove me from my mother's care. I came to live with my grandparents but was extremely sad as I felt like I was abandoning my mom.

Have you seen A Beautiful Mind ? It's an amazing film that does a wonderful job of illustrating mental illness, specifically paranoid schizophrenia and delusional episodes. While I have never met John Nash nor do I know anyone who knows him, I can relate to how his wife felt living with someone who was profoundly mentally ill. Unlike John Nash, my mom was never compelled to create a room full of chaos.  She kept most of her delusions in well over 600 scrapbooks.  My mom was obsessed with numbers, colors, shapes and abstract information.  If she saw the number 5 on TV, she would collect five objects that represented that number.  If the numbers on TV were a certain color, she would collect pieces of paper in that color: the word 'White' would become part of her delusion and she would collect a large number of objects that were white.  As 'White' has five letters she would fixate on the number five.  Much like someone with OCD engages in the compulsion to relieve the distress, my mom was compelled to focus on her delusions to feel safe.  After I was sent to live with my grandparents I inherited all of my mom's scrapbooks.  I tried looking through them to see if I could gain any insight as to how my mom lived her life and navigated her world.  After paging through many of the scrapbooks my grandmother sat beside me, placed her hand on mine and encouraged me to stop.  "Todd, even your mom doesn't understand why she does what she does".  My grandmother was right.  I was simply trying to find a way to be closer to my mom.  I wanted to help her.  I felt powerless. 

Growing up with my mom and living with grandparents that survived a genocide certainly shaped how I view mental illness and the work with my patients. 

I'm not a huge fan of labels.  My experience is that when you label something not only do you need to overcome the affliction, you also need to overcome the label. I certainly understand why a label or a DSM code is applied in a mental health setting: they create a sense of commonality with other clinicians, they act as a gateway for billing practices, they offer a common language when writing reports or letters, and when clients do not behave in a clinical setting the clinician can blame the patient versus take responsibility for their inability to make any progress with their client. Unfortunately, labels also tend to marginalize clients, especially people who are poor or low-income. People with greater financial resources tend to have less social problems.  Clients without the aid of financial support tend to be at the behest of agencies which are overloaded and they often are only willing to apply a label to make quick work of a new admit. As I've worked as a clinician in a variety of agencies and with clients on either side of the financial spectrum, I'm convinced this point-of-view is accurate. I'm also embarrassed to admit that early in my clinical career I was entirely too generous with the application of labels on a host of clients.  I'm reminded of many assessments and letters and documents that were rife with the misapplication of whatever diagnostic assessment impressed me at the time. I'm grateful that I have grown as a clinician and have grown past the need to both marginalize and stigmatize clients seeking help.  

I have suffered with depression for most of my life.  Meds don't seem to work.  I am sure that if meds worked I'd still be taking them. The only thing that seems to help is therapy and exercise. I think of mental illness as being on a spectrum, and I'm certain that if most people peeked at the DSM 5 they could probably identify with some of the characteristics of any of the diagnostic criteria.  Chronic mental illness is a bit different.  I think of chronic mental illness like a radio station: most people who are not mentally ill have the ability to tune into one station; my mother lacked this ability.  Attendant to illness of Schizophrenia belies disorganized thoughts.  I'm not sure my mom ever felt normal or had the ability to have coherent and cogent thoughts.  Most literature suggests that symptoms of Schizophrenia manifests before the age of 19. While I never had the opportunity to meet any of her family, I have heard enough of her background to determine that my mom suffered from early-onset Schizophrenia.  She likely heard voices and suffered with hallunications and delusions while she was in Kindergarten.  

As hard as it was for me to accept my mom's mental illness, I am absolutely certain it was just as hard for her to accept that her brain did not function as a normal human being, whatever normal is.  I saw a great bumper sticker that said normal is a setting on a washing machine. I think that is pretty spot-on.  My mom represented two extremes of a great mind: a tormented human being in her own thought prison and a fantastically talented artist with the capacity to produce great, original work in various mediums which were lauded by art critics throughout the US and the rest of the world.  The people who knew my mom suggested she was a great artist and a consummate therapist.  I think they were right.

When I was a kid I used to believe that my mom ruined my childhood.  I blamed her for creating so much chaos in my life.  I assumed she did this intentionally. I grew up in an environment of catastrophic violence.  Whenever I had a hard time I'd point to my mom: I never developed the coping skills needed for a decent life, I developed PTSD because of my mom and her poor choices, I attracted women who weren't good for me as I had a poor role model.  While this could be great fodder for a therapy visit, it's also a fantastic way to stay 'stuck'.  

Here's what I know and believe to be true: my mom did the best she could with what she had.  She was incapacitated and couldn't have functioned any other way.  She was living with a disease that affected the way she behaved and thought about people and the world at large. While my mom was sufficiently impacted with mental illness, she had some sense that she couldn't care for me and let my grandparents raise me.  In her mental fugue she had enough clarity to make a decision for my own well-being.  

My mom also valued education (she possessed a few graduate degrees) and insisted I followed-through with my own education.  She valued self-sufficiency and would remind me that I had the fortitude and capacity to survive.  While I lived with her pain and confusion, this experience has remained a catalyst for my friends, sponsees, and clients: when people talk to me I'm not shaken by their disclosures.  Being able to listen to the pain of another person without flinching is a very concrete experience that allows me to witness humanity.  I'm also keenly aware that my mom had wanted to take her own life on several occasions. Had she done that I wouldn't be here.  Because of my mom I had an amazing relationship with my grandparents that would have never been possible had my mom been born without any kind of mental illness.

I was able to meet with my mom before she died.  I got to visit her in Hospice.  She told me to never relent, come from a place of hope, strive, to grow, evolve, and make a noise big enough that the world would take notice.  I suspect that was her final gift to me.  

Was I affected by my mom's mental illness? Certainly.  Do I have more work to do?  Absolutely.  While I can focus on what I didn't get and be upset that there are places in my life that feel incomplete, I am left with a striking revelation: there are gifts in the darkness.

However you choose to deal with your own distress, good luck on your path. 


Posted by on in Recommended Reading

In gratitude for the honor of being selected as September's featured expert, I will be randomly posting some chapters from Sustainable Recovery. 




Posted by on in Recommended Reading



In gratitude for the honor of being selected as September's featured expert, I will be randomly posting some chapters from Sustainable Recovery. 


Posted by on in Recommended Reading

Have you ever shown up to a family function only to leave as a much younger version of yourself?  I sure have.

When out-of-town family members come for a visit there’s always a get-together. Maybe two. I arrive feeling connected and collected but then something happens and suddenly I’m a wobbly teenager lacking the sense of self-confidence I carried through the front door.

This type of mystical age transformation is not new and something I’ve tried to better understand about myself over the past several years.

In the early stages of recovery many suggested I take a good look at who I am from the inside out. Soon what once made sense didn’t and what didn’t make sense started to. One of the more challenging concepts to accept was that most who battle addiction stop growing emotionally when they first feel a positive jolt from using the drug or behavior of choice.

I felt insulted by even the suggestion this could apply to me. I was a grown woman, successful in the eyes of many in my profession. I’d managed multi-million dollar pieces of business, got married, bought a house, invested in the stock market, and traveled the world. Now I’m to believe that because I started drinking and investigating ways to attain a body not meant for me at 13 I’m emotionally stuck at that age? I don’t think so.


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