Category Archives: Mental Health

Ben Affleck: addiction superhero

I have to confess I am not a Ben Affleck fan. I tend to avoid movies that have him in it. However, right now I am giving him a standing ovation.

You may have seen his brief, but poignant Facebook statement about his recent stay in rehab. In case you missed it, here it is:

“I have completed treatment for alcohol addiction; something I’ve dealt with in the past and will continue to confront. I want to live life to the fullest and be the best father I can be. I want my kids to know there is no shame in getting help when you need it, and to be a source of strength for anyone out there who needs help but is afraid to take the first step. I’m lucky to have the love of my family and friends, including my co-parent, Jen, who has supported me and cared for our kids as I’ve done the work I set out to do. This was the first of many steps being taken towards a positive recovery”.

This may seem trivial, but what is amazing about his post, is how positive and how lacking in shame it is.

I’m so tired of the celebrity rock bottom/rehab/trite confession to Opera cycle. Addiction is a medical issue, a disease of the brain and a mental health problem. It is not a moral issue and we really need to stop treating it like one. This is not unlike other celebrities issuing statements to let people know have sought treatment for Lupus/breast cancer/Diabetes. But when it comes to addiction, celebrities are usually hounded and shamed into admitting they have an alcohol/drug problem. This has not been helpful to ordinary people who suffer from the same illness. Shame stops people seeking treatment when they need it. Hiding our disease in the myth of anonymity/secrecy keeps everyone sick. His honesty, straightforwardness and lack of shame, gives everyone else permission to do the same.
Ben Affleck has treated addiction like the disease it is, may others follow.

Latest Neurobiological Study Sets It Straight for Those Ready to Fight for Recovery

A guest post by Tyler Jacobson

With permission by

With permission by

Addiction is a very real issue that millions of Americans suffer from. Until recently, it’s been viewed as a willful decision to partake in drugs or activities that offer temporary joy at the expense of the user’s health, both mental and physical. Families suffer all over the country from the damage addiction causes.
A study focused on the disease model of addiction brings to light new information to help both current addicts, as well as prevent new addictions.

Addiction and the Brain
To understand how to stop addiction, we need to look at the three stages of addiction:
1. Binge and Intoxication
2. Withdrawal and Negative affect
3. Preoccupation and Anticipation

Binge and Intoxication
This stage builds the addiction and conditions the brain to associate certain environmental stimuli and dopamine reward triggers with the drug or activity. When the addiction is fed, a reward signal is sent through the brain and triggers associative learning. Over time and repeated uses, addicts will then find themselves associating a particular room or song with the drug, and thus the reward that comes with it.

Withdrawal and Negative Affect
In addition to rewiring the brain’s reward system, prolonged use and raised dopamine levels causes the brain to react to stress more frequently and in greater levels. This causes the neurotransmitters to release chemicals involved in stress response. This increase in dynorphin paired with the desensitization to dopamine over prolonged use changes the addict’s relationship with their addiction. Instead of partaking in order to feel the high, they instead begin taking it to escape the bad feelings that come with withdrawal. This leads to a confusing relationship where even when the addict doesn’t want to take the drug and knows they’ll feel bad after, continues to give in.

Preoccupation and Anticipation
As the reward system in the brain changes, so too does the function of the prefrontal cortical regions change. These regions are responsible for:
● Self-regulation
● Decision making
● The ability to weigh risk and reward
These changes in those regions of the brain weakens their ability to not only resist temptation but also interferes with the addict’s ability to remain strong after trying to stop the drug use. This is why, even addicts sincere in their want to stop, fall back into addiction.

The First Step is to Stop
Easier said than done, but when prevention methods fail, interventions must be used to cease the behavior causing and feeding the addiction. Because of the conditioning during the intoxication stages and the association with the people or places that they did the drug with, it’s important for addicts wishing to quit to cease all association with anything linked to the drug use in any way. No matter the good intentions, the weakened cortical regions can make even the best of intentions wear away and cause the addict to relapse.

Addiction is caused over prolonged use over a long period of time. Thus it can’t simply go away in an instant. An addict wishing to recover must take part in the treatments available through medication to assist the chemical imbalance in the brain as it heals, support groups and residential treatment for those also fighting addiction, and disassociation with anything that could cause a reoccurrence of use.
The message to take away from the study is a hopeful one. Recovery is possible. Through understanding the science of addiction, instead of blaming it on poor self-control to be demonized along with the addict, we can instead focus on the science of recovery.

Tyler Jacobson is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on: modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on:Twitter and LinkedIn

Source: New England Journal of Medicine

Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders among Substance Addicts

An informative guest post on mental health and addiction.

By: Trey Dyer

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Co-occurring disorders, the manifestation of a substance use disorder and mental illness simultaneously, are common among those struggling with addiction. Nearly six out of 10 people who have a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental illness. These mental illnesses come in many forms and levels of severity and include everything from simple depression or anxiety to schizophrenia or severe PTSD.

Five Frequently Co-Occurring Mental and Substance Use Disorders

1. Personality Disorders– Individuals with personality disorders often have high rates of substance addiction, as well as other mental disorders. There are three subtypes of personality disorders: Cluster A, Cluster B and Cluster C. Cluster A personality disorders include paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal disorders. Cluster B includes antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic disorders. And cluster C includes avoidant, dependent and obsessive compulsive disorders. Individuals with cluster C and cluster B personality disorders see the highest rates of substance use disorders, and individuals with antisocial personality disorder have the highest rate of substance addiction (82 percent). Individuals with cluster A personality disorders often struggle with hallucinogens and marijuana abuse. Because of the complexity of personality disorders and the often overlapping symptoms of multiple disorders, co-occurring personality disorders and substance use disorders are unique to each individual and must be treated based on an individual’s specific needs.

2. ADHD– Roughly 25 percent of adults who are treated for substance abuse also have ADHD, and an estimated 15 to 25 percent of adults who have substance abuse disorders also have ADHD. Over 20 percent of those with ADHD have a history of substance abuse. Additionally, people with ADHD are two to three times more likely to develop a substance addiction than those who do not. People with ADHD often use substances as a way to create stimuli to preoccupy their hyperactive minds or to replace a deficit of dopamine in their brains. Alcohol and marijuana are commonly abused by people with ADHD, but addictions to different substances and multiple substances are also common.

3. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder– Nearly one out of three individuals seeking substance abuse treatment suffers from PTSD. Additionally, about 45 percent of individuals with PTSD also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. Alcohol is the most widely abused substance among individuals with co-occurring substance use disorders and PTSD and is extremely common among military veterans and personnel.

4. Anxiety– One of the most commonly occurring disorders, anxiety is often accompanied by substance abuse. Almost 20 percent of individuals with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. Individuals with anxiety disorders often use substances as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms of anxiety.

5. Depression- About 121 million people suffer from some form of depression worldwide. In the U.S., depression affects nearly 14.8 million adults and is the leading cause of disability among people who are 15 to 44. Additionally 21 percent of individuals with depression have a co-occurring substance use disorder. As with other co-occurring mental illnesses, individuals use substances to relieve themselves of the symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with co-occurring disorders almost never exhibit symptoms mirroring the clinical definitions of their disorders because of the often overlapping multitude of symptoms caused by the co-occurring disorders. Recognizing and diagnosing the existence of co-occurring disorders in an individual can be extremely difficult; however, there are signs that can indicate the existence of co-occurring disorders. Some of these signs include:

• Employment or housing instability

• Difficulty managing money and expenses

• Legal problems or criminal activities

• Sexual deviance

• Frequent mood swings

• Self-care issues

• Social isolation

• Violent or suicidal behavior

• Cognitive impairment

If an individual is exhibiting any of these signs, it could be an indication that they are suffering from co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness. Finding the right treatment for the suffering individual could be the difference between living a healthy, productive life or a life of self-harm.

Treatment for People with Co-Occurring Disorders

Specialized treatment plans called dual recovery programs offer the best chance to reach recovery. Dual recovery programs feature integrated, simultaneous treatment for co-occurring disorders rather than treating each disorder separately. Simultaneously treating the co-occurring disorders gives individuals the greatest chances of overcoming each disorder and improving their lives.

Dual recovery programs are tailored to meet individuals’ specific needs depending on the severity and prior history of an individual’s co-occurring disorders. Each treatment plan varies from person to person, but commonly include substance detox, stabilizing an individual’s mental state, individual and group therapy, and a medication regimen. Dual recovery programs provide comprehensive and thorough measures to treat co-occurring disorders. Fortunately, many treatment centers offer dual recovery programs and may be able to help individuals uncover mental illnesses they did not realize they had.

About the Author

Trey Dyer is a writer and content creator for Using his writing and drawing from his own personal experience with drug addiction in his family, Trey hopes he can help provide the resources people struggling with drug addiction need to get clean.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Depression. Retrieved from

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved from

Australian Government, National Drug Strategy. (n.d.). Personality disorders and substance use. Retrieved from$File/m718.pdf

Berenz, E. Coffey, S. (2012). Treatment of Co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from (2016). Depression Statistics. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011, March). DrugFacts: Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007, June). Comorbid Drug Abuse and Mental Illness. Retrieved from

Onimette, P. (n.d.). Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans. Retrieved from

Suicide Saturday

In hindsight, trying to kill myself on a Saturday night of a 3-day weekend, wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. I hadn’t started the day thinking ‘I’m going to kill myself tonight.’ It just seemed the best idea I had a the time. Like most alcoholics I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t know how to live anymore.

Image courtesy of Naypong at

Image courtesy of Naypong at

The weekend had started out promising, I had a boyfriend (of 3 weeks) and we had plans, it was the summer and we were in London, so there was tons to do. But then unexpectedly (to me anyway)he dumped me. As usual, my neediness and insecurity had already worn him down and he was running for the hills. Which left me with three empty days to fill. I was terrified. I was in hiding from any friends I had left at this point. I just couldn’t face seeing them for fear they’d see what a pathetic failure I was. I wanted to be on my own but was also desperately lonely. I remember waking up on the Saturday morning and thinking ‘I have no idea what to do, how to fill my time.’

So I rationalized that it was perfectly fine to go and buy a bottle of wine, or two, at 10am on a Saturday morning. Then, in the afternoon I went and bought another and I think just laid on the coach watching ‘Friends’ re-runs feeling sorry for myself. Out of nowhere, the idea popped into my head, that I would just take all of my antidepressants because no one cared any way. (I had been mis-diagnosed with depression for years and had been on antidepressants since I was a teenager. I also ignored the advice that said don’t mix with alcohol, assuming these suggestions didn’t apply to me).

So I emptied them all out – there were maybe 30 or so – and I started swallowing them one by one. After I was done, I laid down on my bed and waited for something dramatic to happen. After an hour, when nothing had changed, I decided I really, really didn’t want to die so I called an ambulance.

Saturday night emergency room
I ended up in the emergency room at about 11pm on a Saturday night, which, by this point, was full of people who had injured themselves in some way whilst drunk, or who had gotten into a fight whilst drunk, or who had just passed out drunk. It was basically full of wailing, misbehaving drunks covered in blood. Exasperated nurses ran after them, trying fruitlessly to get them to sit back down so they could stitch them up.

It was mental. I was asked a few questions and was given this awful black tar stuff to drink. I was slightly disappointed as I thought they would at least pump my stomach, which would have been a bit more dramatic. I do remember there was a young lad in the bed next to me who had been glassed in a bar and I got to flirting chatting with him until a nurse told me off. They forgot about me for ages, then about 2am I was wheeled on to a ward. If you have ever been on a hospital ward you will know it’s impossible to sleep. By this point I was feeling pretty hung over and just wanted to go home and go to bed. So I did. I got dressed and left the hospital without telling anyone.

The next thing I knew, a friend (who I’d given as my next of kin) was banging on my door as the police had contacted them trying to find me. They were worried I’d gone to jump of a bridge somewhere.

I had, of course, not given a moment’s thought to the inconvenience I had put other people through.

That was my pathetic suicide attempt. It was never my serious intention to kill myself – it was just a desperate act by an alcoholic who simply didn’t know what to do next to make the pain go away. I think I carried on drinking for about another 18 months or so before I finally got sober. Not long after getting sober, I stopped feeling depressed (alcohol is a depressant – go figure!) and life just got brighter. Even though my attempt was half-hearted, I’m so bloody relieved I wasn’t successful, because my real life was waiting for me to show up.

Reach out – get help
They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The good news is, if you are feeling this way, there is help. There is someone you can talk to. The even better news is, with help, you can get better, and you won’t always feel this way. Please hang on in there until that happens.

And if you need help now call the national suicide prevention line.

Panic attacks – guest post

Joy Anderson has written a guest post about panic attacks. Thank you for joining in the conversation.

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Image courtesy of stockimages at

My partner has suffered from panic attacks for years. Driving down the highway one day he called me on the phone. He said, “…can you just please talk to me for a minute I’m having a panic attack.” I thought in that moment about my strong willed, strong minded. “together” man and it just didn’t make sense. What in the world is he panicking about??! My well adjusted, confident, emotionally stable man. So I set to trying to dissect, understand, explain, relate to and “fix” it for him. Ironically, this would typically be something a man would do for a woman and the result would be the woman saying, “I don’t want you to fix it I just want you to be there for me.” I had come from a “pull up your boot-straps” sort of family where no matter what you just kept going. Anything that bothered you, you were to just ignore it and move on. At the time that my beau was introducing me to the idea of panic I wasn’t in touch with my own inner panic, not yet. So for me I just thought he ought to be able to blow it off and get on with it. I wasn’t intentionally being insensitive I was just unfamiliar, uneducated and inexperienced. Years later, panic would surface for me in the most incapacitating way forcing me to not so much understand it but learn how to simply sit beside it, put my arm around it and wait there with it until the shaking subsided. At least that’s what it demanded of me.

PANIC is a feeling that you don’t want to get used to. It can creep up at the calmest of moments, completely out of nowhere like a rogue wave. It leaves you untenable, tousled and discombobulated wondering what the heck just happened. The very first time I experienced symptoms of panic I thought I was having a heart attack. My chest was tight, I was cold but sweating, my jaw hurt and I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out. I wondered for a fleeting second if I could get to the passing out part before actually tossing my cookies. I wound up in an E.R. with all sorts of monitors attached to me all over my body.

I was asked a series of questions to determine whether I’d ingested drugs or poison, been in an accident or sustained some other trauma and of course, I had nothing to report. Finally, after all physical origin had been omitted as a cause, I learned about this thing called Panic Disorder from a very kind psychiatry intern. “Oh, my boyfriend has that.” I told her. And now I had it too -I felt like such a hypocrite. Being the problem solver that I am wanting to eradicate any possibility of this ever happening again and striving to clearly understand why it happened to me at all, I asked, “So what now?” I surely didn’t want to go on medication. I mean I wasn’t “crazy.” I wasn’t some faint of heart, wilting lily, fall-apart-at-the-seams kind of gal. I mean, I had it together. I was tough and resilient! Ah, all these things I had been told that I was. I soon learned that these were all the narrow-minded, preconceived notions I had come to believe before I made it a point to become educated on the matter.

It was a real turning point in my recovery when I realized that I had this panic within me. It had been numbed for years with one substance or another and now it was time to get real about it. 2014 statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health report that In the US about 40 million people (3.1% of the population) are affected with some type of anxiety disorder with 6 million reporting panic disorder. This is an increase from 2.7% – 3.1% over a 10 year span. Women are more likely to be affected.

We live in a society where showing weakness is taboo and that to admit we struggle with depression or panic or whatever is somehow “less than.” We all have a tendency to judge what we are afraid of – what we don’t know. What I come to learn is that facing these demons, purposely taking the skeletons out of the closet, shaking them out, dressing them up and dancing around with them in the pale moonlight is the only way to overcome them – AND subsequently this is an act of courage and in no way weak. This applies to a lot of areas in addiction and recovery. Transformation simply cannot begin without an acknowledgement of what is. We learn to peel back the label of good or bad and we see that things just are. When this happens it becomes much easier to decide what needs to change and make a plan of how to go about making the changes.
In general, change is something that people have trouble with. In this case, my simply making the acknowledgement of what is bothering me as if to notice someone standing in the room, change happens. In clarity is change, in change is clarity. Eventually we find peace in recovery.

Whether an individual chooses to go address these things in a 30 day inpatient rehab program, an IOP (Intensive Out-Patient Program) , they go a medication route, or deal with panic through talk therapy, energy movement or a collaboration of all these things, that’s a personal choice. For some of us, Panic just is. It’s there on occasion whether we like it or not. By conscious awareness and mindful balance panic does not have to be a debilitating bugger in our lives. We have options and we are never alone.

Joy Anderson - dog lover, Cure fan and all round fabulous person.

Joy Anderson – dog lover, Cure fan and all round fabulous person.

Joy Anderson born in West Palm Beach, FL
My name comes from a friend my mother was visiting in the hospital when she was pregnant with me. The lady said to her, “This baby will be the joy of your life!” the rest is history.
I am a child of the 80’s: I miss Swatches, Rick Springfeld, The Cure, Van Halen – I could go on forever. There was no more awful era fashion-wise (think Miami Vice) and none more filled with great cheesy incredible stuff. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Beetlejuice….The music and the movies absolutely shaped me. Yes, I’m a geek. Where the lack of self, lack of confidence, increase in poor judgement came in I’ll never know. The goon of addiction hooked me one day and I was on board for years and years.
Not anymore – sober, happy, well employed using my skills and education to do what I do best write and network.

Panic attacks

Image courtesy of hyena reality at

Image courtesy of hyena reality at

It usually starts with a feeling of ice in my belly, then my heart begins to race and my breath becomes shallow. I move to a hyper-alert state convinced that something bad is going to happen at any minute. I look around terrified that someone is going to notice my panic, paranoid that everyone is thinking and whispering about me.
If you smile, laugh, frown, cough or speak I am convinced it is to do with me. Some kind of subliminal communication about how bad I am.
I have to get out. Now.
Don’t care where; don’t care what I have to say, I just have to get to get out of here. I stumble over bags, stammer excuses because I can hardly breath. I want to disappear, not draw more attention to myself, but I am clumsy and unfocused. There is an obstacle course to the door and it is miles away. If I don’t reach it in the next 5 seconds I will explode. The bad thing will happen.
I escape, I’m out. I know they all think I’m odd for leaving in that manner, but I don’t care. I’m safe now from their looks and thoughts. Relief floods my body, my breathing and heart rate return to normal. I feel ok, a bit silly even. Did I over-react? What was I so frightened of? It was just other people, I was enjoying myself until…
They always came from nowhere, with no rhyme or reason. One minute I would be at work/out with friends/at dinner/at a show/in a bar, I would be engaged, enjoying myself and then the cold feeling in my belly would come and I would know it was all over. I could never stop them once they started, I would say to myself, ‘it’s ok, be calm, you’re safe.’ But it didn’t matter. Panic would flood my body and all I could do was run. I only felt safe on my own, away from other people. Sometimes I could predict situations they would regularly happen in. Usually gatherings of people where it was hard for me to leave. I began to avoid those situations as much as possible and my world began to shrink. I craved connection but the possibility of connection was dangerous for me, I never knew when I was going to freak out. I always needed an exit plan, a legitimate excuse so if I had to run I wouldn’t look like too big a fool.

My panic attacks started when I was 17, I had my first when I was tripping on magic mushrooms. That triggered 6 months of drug-induced psychosis. I would hear and see things, I thought I was going mad and I couldn’t tell anyone what was wrong with me. I simply had no words to express what I was going through. Once the hallucinations stopped, the fear stayed as an unwelcome guest. Panic was my daily companion. I would have 10 to 15 panic attacks a day, getting to work, staying at work, going to the store, were all feats of endurance for me. Everyday I climbed a mountain. Everyday I would wake up hoping they would just go and I would be normal again. They lasted a decade and began petering out once I got sober. It’s been years since I’ve had one (thankyougodthankyou).

Panic attacks are the most lonely and isolating thing an alcoholic will go through and yet so many alcoholics suffer with them. They are very, very common and part of the beast. If you suffer from them I urge you to get help.
Which is why I had to write this, so you know you are not alone and know I am thinking of you, I’m thinking ‘be well my friend, I’m here for you.’

Recovery Rocks – Rick Bernhisel

Getting sober is hard, getting sober with bi-polar disorder is doubly hard. Like many people in recovery Rick Bernhisel bounced around trying to get help quitting alcohol, only to relapse because of manic episodes. Today he is sober and stable because of the spiritual program he works and the medication he takes. he blogs about his experiences at

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I knew relatively early on that I had a problem with alcohol. I had drank the fun out of drinking by the time I was twenty-eight which is when I attended my first Twelve Step meeting. But I was stubborn and considered myself the smartest person in the room. So there was no sponsor and no recovery. For the next fourteen years I was in and out of the rooms.

Those time that I did get sober (or dry) I frequently slipped into bipolar manic episodes that left me shame-filled and depressed on the backside. So after each bout of mania I once again sought solace in the bottle.

My last year drinking was really my bottom. I had one of two prayers. One was to win the lottery so I could reboot my life… that was prayed on my good days. The other was a prayer that I not wake up… that was one most days.

My last bender was like so many before. But when I came slinking home Sunday night to get ready for the workweek I couldn’t stop. For the next three days I got up to go to work, but was drinking heavily before I was scarcely a mile from home.

Though I had given up on Twelve Step recovery for the two years prior to my last bender, I dragged myself in to a meeting and this time I finally stayed.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

Foggy, but committed. I finally got humble enough to ask for help and got my first sponsor in fourteen years. He had been a habitual relapser who had finally got sober. That gave me hope. I just couldn’t identify with the people who got it the first time.

He stressed step work and we got right into it. I was writing out a fourth step when I was still pretty foggy. My sponsor just told me to keep praying that what needed to be one there would make it on there.

I was making a meeting every day and even though I struggled with comprehension, I read the literature every day.

In the past I was always so eager to share at meetings to show everyone just how well I was doing. This time was different. I kept pretty quiet and just tried to absorb what was being shared. I finally was released of the need to show off just how “healthy” I was.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Every aspect of my life has changed. I’m a contractor and I have found that at the end of contracts people want me back. I don’t disappear.

My two daughters want me around and I am a part of their lives and the lives of my grandchildren.

I remarried to a woman in recovery and we have a loving and supportive relationship. Well, that is almost always true but there was a time when I derailed that.

Four years into recovery I bought into the bull crap sometimes mentioned in the rooms about not needing psychiatric medications. If you trust God, trust Him to cure you… bla, bla, bla. I went off my medication for bipolar I and went bat turd crazy.

Fortunately I didn’t drink and I got back on meds after a little incarceration. I blog about the miracles that have happened coming out of that. It was a learning experience, but now I am pretty quick to let others who face a co-occurring disorder (addiction and mental health issues) to ignore the nonsense and stay on their meds.

I’ve found that the whole experience has enabled me to assist others with similar issues.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

“Get humble, ask for help.” I wasn’t a low bottom drunk. I had the house and cars and pool. I made better than average money. My paycheck and the title on my business card told me that I was better than. That attitude kept me sick for a long, long time.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I don’t have to do everything alone. I was raised with a Protestant work ethic by two depression-era parents. I thought it was up to me to fix all that was wrong in my life.

In some ways, that’s a good thing. But recovery is about the “We” not the “I.”

In those fourteen years that I was in and out I didn’t listen. I was too busy thinking up something clever to share instead of listening and learning.

Now I draw my strength and hope from others. Whether old timers with wisdom or newcomers who are just starting to have “aha” moments… I need others.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

My wife recently had to go through a lung transplant. For three months I got to be her primary caregiver as she regained her strength and learned to care for herself.

It got me out of selfish mode and was an enriching, bonding time like no other. If I had been drinking, I may have been there physically (or not) but definitely not there emotionally.

We are closer today than ever before.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

The root of my problem is self-centered fear. For that reason I particularly like: “Instead of telling my God how big my fears are, I tell my fears how big my God is.”

Life still happens. If I let up on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I can get into fear. When that happens I just have to remember to get quiet, look within and find that inner guide.

I also like what my wife frequently shares: “Keep sobriety your priority.” I see too many people who get “cured” and then let up on a program of spiritual action. That never ends well.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

For half my life I was always trying to “fill the void.” But no matter how much I drank, shopped, zoned out in front of the TV or what have you the emptiness was always there.

I don’t remember when it happened, but sometime during my second year I realized that I could be alone and quiet and not go crazy. I’m not talking about isolating–I did plenty of that when I was drinking—I am talking about quiet times with no digital distractions. The phone is off, the Kindle is off, the TV is off and I am just fine being me.

I’d be lying if I said the emptiness never returns. Sometime I let up on doing what works. But it happens with less frequency and I know what to do to get through it. It’s a much better way to live.

Robin Williams – an everyday tragedy

‘But he was so loved….’
That’s what I’ve heard them most since Robin Williams’s tragic passing. As well as ‘successful, respected, rich, he had everything…’
‘How could he kill himself?’
How indeed?
The question is not how could someone with ‘everything’ kill themselves but rather how can depression be that powerful? That in the face of mass adoration and high regard can someone feel so alone, that the only solution they can see to their pain, is to take their own life?
Because that’s what happened here, despite Robin Williams having ‘everything’ and clearly being loved and adored the world over, his depression was far more powerful.

Yep, depression is that powerful.

The details of his death have yet to emerge but it’s well documented that Mr. Williams was an alcoholic and addict who had achieved long periods of sobriety. He also admitted to recent relapses and struggles which he sought help for.
Alcoholism and depression often go hand in hand. Alcohol works as a depressant on the central nervous system and will therefore cause depression. For many people this is fleeting for others the depression takes hold.
In many ways this is a chicken and egg scenario; does depression cause the sufferer to drink or does drink cause the depression? Who knows and it really doesn’t matter. What matters are mental health problems like depression need to be treated very seriously.
If Robin Williams’s death can teach us anything it is that depression has enormous power. It is hard to comprehend that a man who had access to the best help possible still succumbed to it. Suicide is the last very desperate act of a desperate person. To be suicidal means to have an absence of hope, or any belief, or faith those things could get better. It is a very dark tunnel with no light.

My first feeling when hearing of someone committing suicide is to be angry. I’m angry at them for choosing such a drastic solution, I’m angry at the legacy they leave behind, I’m angry at how selfish and thoughtless it is. I’m angry at the pain they will cause their loved ones. I’m angry even though I know that the black wall of depression was so deep and so impenetrable that Robin Williams truly believed this was the best solution for everyone. When you are that far in the hole it’s very hard to consider the effect your actions may have on others.

It’s also a myth that celebrities suffer from addiction and alcoholism more than the average person. The only reason we think this, is because a celebrity death or downfall due to addiction is always publicized. I have had clients from all walks of life, teachers, bankers, and housewife’s. Addiction and mental health problems do not discriminate, it’s just that when a teacher from Idaho or a house-wife from Cambridge over-doses or kills themselves no one but their immediate family and friends knows about it But all across our country there are people secretly struggling with their own black hole. Some make it out, some don’t. The world is a much sadder place without all of them.

If you or someone you know is suicidal then please contact the national suicidal hotline on: 1800-273-8255

Guest Post – Surviving BiPolar disorder

I met a brilliant young man recently who humbled me with his story of recovery from BiPolar disorder. He had a really, really tough time in high school and constantly considered suicide. Unlike many, he was lucky enough to get the right help and is now flourishing at University. He really inspired me, which is why I asked him to write a guest post for my blog. Josh’s story is very powerful and worth reading – especially the last line….



“My name is Josh, I’m a freshman in high school and I am receiving treatment for suicidal thinking…”
The quote above is more or less the statement that I made at the end of April 2009. My first year of high school was ending in a couple weeks and I was sitting in a group counseling session in a psychiatric ward.
I hated my life and I wanted out. I was in a mental hospital surrounded by a bunch of strangers forced to participate in an activity I wanted no part of. I was angry and I needed to get out. Picture yourself in the middle of your worst nightmare with no power to change your surroundings and no guarantee that you’ll wake up and you’d be in my situation. It sucked; my life. I mean my life really sucked.

To give some context, I was 14 and scared out of my mind. My stomach was killing me and I was holding my arms across my belly desperate to lessen the pain, but painfully aware that nothing I could do would provide any relief. About 3 months earlier, I’d developed a terrible stomach pain that had gradually worsened with time. Doctors often use the 1-10 pain scale with 1 being “virtually pain-free” and 10 being “the worst pain you’ve ever felt” to ask patients to assess their own pain levels. I was at a 9 almost all the time, sometimes an 8 and sometimes a 10. I’d been to numerous doctors and specialists looking for answers and getting none. It wasn’t an ulcer, didn’t have to do with my dietary choices, wasn’t due to an illness, etc.
I was doubled over in pain most of the time. In the midst of frequenting the nurse’s office every day and crying myself to sleep every night, my grades started spiraling due to the missed class time and I became increasingly depressed. With around a month left in the school year my parents pulled me out of school. It was terrible. I was convinced I was going to die and that I’d be remembered in medical journals as the kid who died from a rare stomach disorder previously undiscovered. My world was falling apart from school (where I’d just sabotaged my bright future) to my physical state (where I was probably dying). The days were dark, painful and long; the future bleak and distant. I hated my life and wanted out, suicidal thoughts began to fester.

I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 8th grade and had been taking antidepressants as part of my treatment plan. I didn’t want to see a counselor despite my psychiatrist and my parents making me go. Finally, one long and exhausting night I had reached my breaking point and I realized that if I didn’t figure things out quickly I was going to kill myself. Something told me to go to my parents. I woke them up and requested that I be hospitalized before I did something to myself. That night I was checked into a psychiatric hospital. The following morning I was in my first ever session of group counseling.
I got out of in-patient after a (long) week and followed up with some time in out-patient care where I returned to the facility daily for a few hours as part of the readjustment process. I didn’t want to kill myself anymore, but I still hated my life. My stomach still hurt, I was still depressed, I was permanently stuck in counseling, I was even further behind in school, and I was embarrassed about my hospitalization.
Fast forward a few weeks and I was able to barely salvage my freshman year by finishing almost a month’s worth of schoolwork in a little over a week (I take very little credit for this comeback which was impossible without the herculean efforts of my grandma, my parents and a couple teachers that carried me most of the way). Gradually things improved and my stomach pain lessened, my GPA rebounded, I grew more comfortable in public, I found a more stable medication combination and I got my life under control. I got into a top-state school that was my first choice and life got better.

The road to my recovery was neither easy nor fast but it has been the greatest journey of my life. A lot of my depression stemmed from unhappiness with myself and an inability to process my emotions. I had tied up all of my personal value in my accomplishments and in others’ approval. This left me unprepared for failure and empty inside. Recovery for me was about learning to value myself. Valuing myself meant accepting my own humanity and moving on. I stopped lying to myself about being an unlovable, useless, failure and committed to being the best person I could be.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono

This past year was the best of my life and I expect next year will be even better. My past doesn’t haunt me anymore and my future is bright and exciting. I like my life and though I still feel depressed from time to time my bad days no longer outnumber the good (in fact they are quite rare) and I’ve discovered that I can change my mood when I’m not feeling my best. I have a mental illness but it doesn’t define or limit me anymore. The best part of all is that I feel more confident and content with myself than ever before and what used to control my life has no power over me anymore.
Your life is never beyond saving as long as you are alive.