Six Years After Booze

Six years ago yesterday, I came to in a glass-walled observation room on a psychiatric unit of a hospital, faced with a choice: get myself out of there so I could kill myself, or make a change. A big change.

My life by that point had disintegrated into hopelessness, despair, alienation, and overwhelming emotional pain— most of this, I couldn’t see then, arising from my fourteen-year relationship to the mental health industry. Countless “professionals” had taught me to see myself as “sick”, as a broken brain with a lifelong need for “meds” and expert intervention who’d never be fully human. A life sentence of “serious and persistent mental illness”… what a perfect recipe for suicide, I now see.

Booze, by then, had become the one thing keeping me from killing myself—after all, drinking yourself into oblivion on a near-daily basis is a pretty effective way of forgetting that all you really are is a defective mental patient. But it also, as one might guess, had become a bit of a…. well… problem. And so on that morning in the psych unit, as I lay there wracked with a hangover and my typical morning-after despair, something deep within me—my human spirit, I now see—made me realize it was finally time for The Bottle and me to go our separate ways.

For a long time afterwards, I thought of myself as an “addict” or “alcoholic”. After all, I’d been indoctrinated into a labeled existence where every painful emotion or scary thought or problematic behavior could easily be defined as a “symptom” of something, whether that be “bipolar disorder”, “borderline personality disorder”, “major depression”, “eating disorder”, or “anxiety disorder”. So “alcoholic”? Totally, I was an alcoholic. Met the criteria to a T. Throw it right down there on the list. It would take me nearly three years—long after I’d left behind my mental patienthood—to realize I was still boxing myself into just another category of “other”.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of myself as an “addict” or “alcoholic”, and even longer since a psychiatric label has enslaved my identity. I still choose not to drink today, but it’s not because I think I “have a condition” or “am” some “illness”. It’s because I spent enough years saturated in psychoactive chemicals—most of them called “psychiatric medications”—and it feels pretty damn good today to just be. To be in my body, in my mind, in this world. Don’t get me wrong… To be can really hurt—holy hell, can it really hurt—but in life beyond the mental health industry, I know now that the hurt in being human is nothing to be gotten rid of, whether through a shrink or a pill bottle or a bottle of booze. It’s something to listen to, to explore, and to celebrate, because I’m alive. I’m fuckin’ alive.

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Recovering Myself: A talk about coming off psychiatric drugs and finding a way out of the mental health system

In November 2015, I traveled to Anchorage, Alaska thanks to the generosity and support of Jim Gottstein and the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights.  I met a bunch of really wonderful, inspiring people, including ex-patients, folks currently in the process of coming off psychiatric drugs, and family members of people who lost their lives to psychiatric treatment.  Here’s a video of my talk, Recovering Myself: A talk about journeying through the mental health system, in which I share some of my story and reflect on how I came off psychiatric drugs and left behind my psychiatric labels.

Reclaiming Humanity: Building a Post-Psychiatry, Post-“Mental Health” World

In November 2014, I was one of twelve plenary speakers at the annual conference of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry.  Here is a video of my talk, Reclaiming Humanity: Building a Post-Psychiatry, Post-“Mental Health” World, as well as a link to an interview I did with the conference organizer, David Cohen.

Say No

If you’re not already, listen to that voice inside of you that’s trying to say no. Nurture it, cultivate it, open up the blockages inside of you that are keeping you from releasing it into the world– NO!

We’re each born with the right to say it, but They trick us into giving it up, calling us non-compliant so often that we start to believe it ourselves. We stop trusting in ourselves. We forget ourselves.

Not only do you have the right to say no, but doing so might just save your life. It sure as hell saved mine.

A red door that apparently exists in Alberta, Canada.

A red door that apparently exists in Alberta, Canada.