A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

NAMI And Al-Anon

I'm sitting here watching through a window as a raccoon is systematically devouring a suet cake I left out for the birds a few hours ago. Ah, he or she just took off after inadvertently opening the suet cake holder. I haven't seen a raccoon in quite a while and it was a pleasure to spend 20 minutes watching him or her. I resisted going outside knowing that the animal is feral. It may look cute but it is not. Around here raccoon's can be rabid though I don't think this one was. That bear that I saw last September is most certainly out of hibernation and enjoying the excellent weather we've been having. There are some perks to living in the country.

Christina sent me an email about the support group she goes to for people who suffer from mental illness. I think the one she wrote about is a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) group and this got me thinking again about starting a group in my town. I went to the NAMI website and got some information on how to start a NAMI affiliate on the campus here. If I organized this I would become a mental health advocate. I sent an email to NAMI explaining my situation and asking if I could start an affiliate as an alumni instead of as a student. I found out from the information on the website that I would need a minimum of five organization members to start an affiliate. This is difficult for me since I don't know any students but my therapist and her husband are psychology professors at the university and perhaps they could help me or become members themselves (if that's permitted) or even both. My brother also knows some students and I might enlist his help as well. I have the whole summer to work on this but if all goes well then I should be able to organize a weekly meeting on campus by early September when the Fall semester starts. That would be excellent. I think this could be an opportunity to really help people in the community. Hopefully, NAMI will get back to me this week or next and I'll have a better idea of what all this will require. I also have to build a case for it to present to the university to see if they'd be willing to sponsor this. After the massacre at Virginia Tech perhaps now is a good time to ask them, a preventative measure.

(A few hours later)

I went to the Monday night Al-Anon meeting. I'm starting to feel more comfortable at meetings, more willing to share my story and give my perspective. Plus I like everyone in the group and it's nice just to be around them though I'm still not very good at socialising just after a meeting. I have to work on that. I do have most of the members telephone numbers and one woman who has been going to meetings faithfully for years gave me her email address when I asked for it. She's someone I'd like to get to know outside of the meeting. She's wise, honest and kind. If I felt I needed a sponsor, she'd be the one I'd ask.
I think I almost did once but didn't follow through with it. As far as I know, a sponsor is someone you can call when you're stressed out, someone who's well versed in practicing the 12 steps and who can help you, someone to go out with somewhere every week or so. Basically, a friend who's sharing her program with you. The other alternative is to just start calling someone you like in a meeting and gradually become friends with them regardless of the program. This is what several of the women have done in this group which helps to add a relaxed atmosphere. Ah, but I've never been brave enough to make a friend there. Making a friend is one of this year's goals. And, once again, in order to make a friend I have to make an effort to reach out and to share myself. This sunny Spring weather is getting to me. I feel as if I can actually begin to change for the better. I must take advantage of the rest of Spring and Summer and Fall and get busy. Hopefully next year's winter won't be quite as blue.

From one of the Al-Anon books, today's reading: "Al-Anon's main purpose is to help those who are living in an alcoholic situation. To this end we share experience, strength and hope with each other. What we don't do, and should not do, is to share one another's burdens, whether financial or emotional....This is not being helpful. We help best by inspiring people to think through and solve their own problems. Otherwise we deprive them of the opportunity to develop experience and strength from working things out for themselves."

Once several years ago while I was psychotic and not taking the meds I invited a young woman and her baby to live with me for a while. Her boyfriend was an alcoholic and sometimes he was a little rough with her. He also couldn't keep a job and they were very poor. I think she talked him into going to find work in another state while she stayed with me. Then she asked if a male friend could also stay at my house. I was naive enough to agree. Then she broke up with her boyfriend over the phone while he was in another state and started to sort of take over the house. I felt sorry for her boyfriend thinking this was kind of a dirty way to break up. He asked me to send him a couple of hundred dollars via Western Union so that he could return home. The pressure was so great on all sides that I entered into a psychotic break just as I was picking him up from the bus stop. Meanwhile the young woman got a job in another town and went to work and left the baby with me. I brought the baby (his baby) with me. Yes, I strapped her in securely in her car seat in the middle of the back seat but I was in no condition to take care of a baby or even drive a car by that point. I picked the boyfriend up planning to take him to my brother's house to stay (my brother was away) till things cooled down. The boyfriend seemed as psychotic as I did and I don't think he was too pleased with the part I involuntarily played in the whole drama. For a couple of hours we talked both of us very unhappy and sick. The baby began crying. She needed to be changed and fed. I knew I had to bring her back to my house where the young woman's "friend" (more like body guard) was who was not psychotic and could take care of her properly. So that's what I did. Soon after that in a blaze of psychotic anger I went back to my house and told the young women that she and her friend had to leave. I even pushed my fist against her face to emphasize the point, not a punch or a slap but still an act of violence. I was too far gone to really know what I was doing. After she and her friend left the house I installed the boyfriend in my house and went to stay in a hotel room for four nights while he worked through his feelings and while I went crazy. The young woman had me arrested because I hit her and then got an order of protection so that I would stay away from her. In retrospect I can see exactly why she did that, she was afraid I would bring her boyfriend to see her (he didn't have a car) and she was afraid of him. The reality was that I wanted nothing to do with her so the order of protection was more for her peace of mind than because I was a threat to her. (Later we would make amends and be friends again for a short while) After the four days in the hotel room I brought the boyfriend back to his hometown where a friend said he could stay. I gave him my guitar and maybe even some money. I haven't seen him since.

What's the moral of this story? First, take care of yourself first and foremost. Second, don't interfere in other people's problems because you could become part of the problem. Yes, be kind and supportive but don't let people use you. I guess having been in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic I initially felt protective of this young woman and her baby but this all took place soon after Brendan's death and in my psychosis I did begin to side with the boyfriend. I saw that the young woman was more capable of taking care of herself and her baby than I was of taking care of just myself. Soon after that I began taking the anti-psychotic med, for a time, then stopped again only to have another psychotic break (my last one). Then I committed to taking the meds and have for the last five and a half years.

There's a twelve step slogan that applies here: "Live and Learn"
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