Category Archives: Alternatives to Psychiatry and the Medical Model

Personal Reflections on Stanton Peele’s “Why We’re Losing the War on Addiction”

I quit booze almost 7 years ago and, for a time, bought into the idea that I was a so-called “alcoholic” and would be for the rest of my life, that I “had” a “condition” called “addiction” that lived in my body somewhere– in my genes, in my brain, in my metabolism… (I now see the great irony in this, as during those early years in which I was saying “Hi, I’m Laura and I’m an alcoholic…” on a daily basis, I was simultaneously rejecting all the labels put upon me by psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers under the guise of “mental health care”– those absurd words like “Bipolar” and “Borderline” and “Eating disordered”, which had effectively imprisoned me in a barely-there, hopeless existence of “life-long mental illness requiring life-long treatment”…)

Stanton Peele’s ‘Why We’re Losing the War on Addiction’ is an important, thought-provoking article. If you’ve struggled with booze or coke or pot or binge-eating or food-restricting or sex or shopping or video games or gambling or whatever other escapes you feel entirely enslaved by, YOU ARE NOT BROKEN. You are not “sick”. You are not “diseased”. There is nothing “wrong with” you. This is not something you’ll “have” for the rest of your life. It’s about a relationship to something– a substance, an activity, a behavior– that perhaps began as something useful (providing a nice, quick escape? Relief? Respite? A sense of belonging? A sense of self-worth? Confidence? Purpose? Energy? Motivation? Acceptability?) but eventually grew into something else.

For me, booze started out as my anti-suicide strategy: get drunk each night so that you don’t have to face the fact that your pathetic so-called “seriously mentally ill” life has been reduced to pills, shrinks, locked wards, loneliness, alienation, loss of agency, and hopelessness. That everything you once may have had going for you is gone now, and all you are is “sick”. Booze worked for a while… Until it didn’t. Until my relationship to the bottle became just another prison unto itself.

For a time, I thought this meant I had a new “sickness”– “alcoholism”. Now, I see how indoctrinated I still was into the notion that suffering and struggle and self-destruction means there must be something “wrong with” you.

It doesn’t.

It’s really hard to be alive in this world– fucked up things happen to us, we lose meaning and purpose, we’re hurt and lonely and lost and in pain, our bodies feel strange around us, the institutions and systems surrounding us destroy our spirits and make no sense to us, we feel awkward and anxious and insecure, we yearn for all the unmet needs and desperately try to break free from those burdens and chains we wish we didn’t have on our shoulders, we feel stuck, inauthentic, trapped in a life that feels like a stranger’s…

What on earth does this possibly have to do with a “disease”? It’s called being a sensitive, feeling, thinking, being human in an often-times fucked-up world. We end up turning to escape– whatever that may be– because it helps us endure another day. It can keep us alive, at least for a time, until it doesn’t any more, and life begins to fall apart.

Don’t get me wrong– the experiences that get labeled as “addiction” are very real, very debilitating, very frustrating, and very overwhelming. They can lead to prison, psych wards, and even, sometimes, death. However, as long as we think of them as merely “symptoms” of an “illness” or “disease” requiring professional or medical intervention, we are nothing more than powerless prisoners of a reductionist and entirely absurd medicalized ideology of what it means to be human.
I let go of the “alcoholic” label after I realized I’d been running away into the bottle because I had a desperate urge for CHANGE from my miserable, “seriously mentally ill” life. It dawned on me that maybe I had all I needed within me to reclaim my life, my life’s meaning, my life’s purpose, my physical health, my ability to be connected to myself and to the world, and my POWER. My beautiful, human power I’d been separated from the moment I began to think of myself as “sick” and “broken” and “diseased”. I realized I had the POWER to choose to live my life with intention as best I could, to treat my body like a temple, to treat others with respect and dignity, to hold myself accountable for my actions.

The self-destruction that had poured out of me for so many years as I poured psychiatric drugs and eventually gallons upon gallons of booze down my throat was not the byproduct of faulty brain-wiring. Nor was it “my fault”. It was, simply put, my best attempt at surviving the meaningless and disconnection that had taken over my life. And when I began to reconnect, to find meaning, to feel “a part of” once again, to re-inhabit my body, to reconnect with my human spirit, to feel my soul ignite once again, free from psychiatric labels, gradually the label “alcoholic” began to make me cringe until I literally couldn’t say it any more. I realized, “I am human”, and I decided then and there that I was done running away from life, from my pain, from myself. And I was done boxing myself into labels of any kind to make sense of who I was and how I fit (or didn’t fit) into society.

I realized, my pain and struggle and darkness are nothing to be afraid of.

I realized that only in learning how to “be with” myself could I truly be free.

I still don’t drink today, but it’s not because I “have an addiction” or even because I’m afraid of booze. I choose not to drink because I have no interest in running away any more– in numbing myself, or in creating a synthetic sense of happiness that’s inevitably going to dissipate by morning. I was labeled “broken” for long enough. I was disconnected long enough by psychoactive chemicals– mostly in the form of so-called “psychiatric medications”, but in the bottle, too– that coursed through my bloodstream day in, day out. I only have one life to live, and I’m finally ready to be with it. To feel it all, to be enveloped by my darkness sometimes, to be overwhelmed by the light, to face fear, to be in pain. I don’t need to run away any more.

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Listening to My Pain in Life Beyond the “Mental Health” Industry

On the days that are especially tough, like today—when I’m feeling weird or anxious or overly analytical about the seemingly smallest things; when my body aches and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still healing from psychiatric drugs or just because I slept wrong; when my mind is working hard to take me over, to riddle me with insecurity and doubt and questions about the future; when my instincts tell me to curl up in a ball and take a break from it all (which I often do, and boy does it help)—I remind myself that all of this, all of this struggle and tension and pressure and doubt, all of it exists because of the simple, beautiful reason that I am a human being living in a society bent on convincing me I can’t believe in myself.

Whether it’s the “Mental Health”-Industrial Complex—which encompasses far more than just Psychiatry and the Pharmaceutical Industry; it’s Psychology and Social Work and the whole Therapeutic Industry, too—or the “Beauty” Industry, or the Media Industry, or the Education Industry, these industries thrive by telling us stories about who we are, what we should become, what our bodies are worth, what our suffering means, and how to be “normal” (in other words, how to slip smoothly into the mainstream current of the status quo.) But more than that—they thrive not only because of these stories they tell, but because we believe so deeply in them. We believe so deeply in these stories because we’ve been trained to be terribly afraid of who we are, and especially of the dark sides that each and every one of us has.

When I let this reflection really wash over me and sink in, and sit listening to my pain in life beyond the “mental health” industry, I find that it opens up in me a kind of presence with myself that I could never access in all those years I spent as a mental patient. In fact, I had no idea it even existed. It’s the kind of presence that emerges when you let fall away all those stories you once believed in so deeply—that your struggle means there’s something wrong inside of you; that only therapy and drugs and behavior modification will fix your brokenness and make you fit back in; that you must rid yourself of the dark parts of who you are. Once those stories are crumpled at your feet, it’s just you, in this moment, as you are, free. Free from those stories. Free from those boxes, especially the bright, glistening ones that spew out promises of happiness and “functionality” if you only see that you’re a “sick” person needing to get “well”.

And it’s not that in this space of freedom the pain suddenly goes away—and that’s the whole point. I’ve learned since freeing myself from the “mental health system” that the purpose of life isn’t to be free from pain; it’s to believe in yourself in the midst of it, and to know in the deepest part of yourself that there’s a reason for the struggle that is meaningful and needs to be listened to..

When I listened to my pain today, it told me a great deal.  It told me:

–You spent fourteen years of your life trapped in a system of “care” that took away any authentic sense of yourself, and any connection to a life of rooting and connection and purpose. It destroyed your sexuality, your creativity, your physical health, and your hope. Of course you’re baffled about this thing called life some days… You’re only four years away from that prison. You’re still learning how to be in your body, in your mind, in this life.

–Even though it’s been 4.5 years since you got off all those psychiatric drugs, your entire body—not just your central nervous system—is still working hard to heal. You were on them through your adolescence and twenties—your most formative developmental years, for god’s sake. Be gentle with yourself.

–The further you move from a psychiatrized existence and the clearer your mind becomes, the more you’re realizing the depth and breadth of the crisis our humanity is in—financial, environmental, social, political, cultural. Why on earth would you feel anything other than anxiety, fear, sadness, and frustration about this unfolding awakening you’re having, and the powerlessness you feel in it? 

When I was a mental patient, I’d never have been able to sit with myself long enough to have these reflections—first off, I was so drugged I could barely even think or feel, and secondly, I was so terrified of my pain that my automatic reflex was to call my shrink or take a PRN of Seroquel or Klonopin. That was all I had… Pill bottles and paid professionals. Locked wards, too. Total dependence on the outside world to keep me “safe”, to keep me alive. I swallowed that story whole, and told it to myself for fourteen years.

Here I sit, on the other side of this writing, feeling more centered in myself than I was at the start. I’m still hurting, still afraid, still a bit baffled by just how overwhelming this post-Psychiatry existence can feel to me some days, but my heart is full of an aching recognition of beauty: I am alive, I am whole as I am, and I am connected to this world. My struggle is the evidence.

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Quitting Alcohol, Quitting Psychiatry

Five years ago today, while locked up on my last psych ward, I made the decision to give quitting alcohol a shot. By that time, booze had become the one and only reliable thing keeping me from killing myself: it made me stop caring—for a few hours at least—that my life with “serious and persistent mental illness” was as numb, empty, lonely, disconnected, and hopeless as it was… until it didn’t anymore, and there I was being kindly escorted by two security guards to the double-locked doors, where they offered me the “choice” of going “voluntarily” or “involuntarily.”

Choosing to give up alcohol gave me enough clarity of mind to realize I had no idea who I was on the five psychiatric drugs I’d been taking since I was a teenager. This realization (and the discovery of a book by Robert Whitaker) would soon spark in me the determination and courage necessary to come off all those “meds” and say goodbye to psychiatry, psychology, the rest of the “Mental Health” Industry, and, most importantly, a “Bipolar” identity. I am forever grateful for the unconditional love and support I received during the time it made sense to me to say, “Hi, I’m Laura and I’m an alcoholic”; though it’s been a few years since I identified with that label or with a twelve-step institution, I still choose not to drink today. This choice is entirely my power and agency at work—the power and agency that was stripped from me the moment my behaviors, emotions, and thoughts were medicalized into “symptoms” by “experts.” Never again will I turn myself over to any institution or ideology that tells me who I am and how I need to be in the world.

While I don’t know what the future holds for me, I do know that I spent enough of my past in a chemically induced haze thanks to a desperate fear of myself, an unlucky encounter with a psychiatrist’s gaze, and a handful of arbitrary words from the DSM. I also know that for the first time since early childhood, I have no interest in escaping the pain of my day-to-day life, or running away from myself. And as I continue to heal from “mental health treatment”, I know most of all that I have this newly discovered realm of my human being to explore, and that it feels way better than a case of Harpoon IPA ever did, now that I’m free from a psychiatrized existence.

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Digging for the Truth Behind the False Promises of Paxil and SSRI ‘Antidepressants’

Do you take Paxil or another SSRI because you have a diagnosis of ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’? I did for more than ten years, believing all along that I’d need these pills for the rest of my life if I was to ever stand a chance at peace of mind. I’m grateful that I was given the chance to hear honest, unbiased information about these drugs over four years ago so that I could finally, for the first time in my life, make a truly informed choice about this so-called “treatment”. I’m grateful that I began to question everything I’d been told by the doctors I’d turned to for so long.

While this information is far from new, I’m so glad to see that more and more media outlets are finally picking it up. I encourage you to give this article a read, and to continue digging into what the data *really* shows us about these pills beyond the industry-driven spin… especially if you or someone you care about takes a psychiatric drug. You have a right to know what you’re really putting in your body. We all do.