We are taking action: Our Part in the Solution to Homelessness.

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By Darin Barry

I am the house manager serving people who were formerly homeless, suffer from mental illnesses, and who have co-occurring addiction disorder. I am also one of the formative co-founders of the CoLiving Network in Nevada City. We, The CoLiving Network, are taking action. We have purchased a large piece of property in downtown Nevada City with a big house. We have big plans for the property, but in the house, I currently have ten members of our co-living program, all of them formerly homeless, who now have a place to call home. I’ve chosen people who were chased from park benches were they were sleeping, those who staying at the Hospitality House (local shelter), or were staying at the shelter in Auburn, as well as recent graduate of a drug and alcohol program who had no place to go. All of them have co-occurring (formerly termed “dual diagnosis) disorders. The local homeless population has a large proportion of individual who suffer from both mental illness and addiction. It is best that both disorders be treated at the same time. Both disorders are addressed here by certified Peer Support Specialists who live in the house, I being one of them. As well, we have volunteer mental health professionals who volunteer their time helping the house at large; helping to help themselves with coping skills and how to live with their challenges. We have a high focus on addiction disorders. We provide a clean and sober environment with zero tolerance, which makes our residents comfortable and safe. We provide assistance with clothing, placing them with employment opportunities, helping to set them up with medical, dental, and behavioral health programs. We help them to create goals for themselves leading to self-sufficiency. The most important part of these components is helping them help themselves, and others.

Now let’s talk about affordability: TRUE affordability in downtown Nevada City where the rents are ridiculous – we have dorm style rooms for $175, we have private rooms for $275. We have members of our program pay rent to get them used to the expectations in the real world when they are ready to leave the house. We are a rung in the ladder towards self-sufficiency. Even when our house members graduate from our program, they are welcome to still be a part of it by working in the network and attending our Monday night group to offer others support and receive support themselves.

Aside from the CoLiving Networks co-living opportunities in four locations, we have plans for our residents to be involved in building, and participating in our proposed tiny cottages that we are planning to build on our two acre plus property. The tiny cottages will house one to two people per cottage with a center nexus building, or mobile unit where a kitchen and meeting space will be provided to serve the newly formed community. We call this community Homeward Bound University. It is the first rung in the ladder towards self sufficiency. A huge enphasis will be placed on teaching life skills, and coaching to get them on their feet – to get them to a place in their heads where they are ready to take the next opportunity to climb the ladder within our Network. We are going ahead and building this. What might stand in our way, is the City. If the City stands in our way of us creating the ADU unit community, we will be temporarily set back, but we are not going to back down. We are helping the homeless with no government funds.

We have also purchased the former Pic and Pan market to build our CoLiving Network Co-op. It will be built by the Network participants who will have an opportunity to be entrepreneurs within the co-op space. We have already pulled the permit to go for the with our exciting new Co-op opportunity in downtown Grass Valley.

Action is what is needed and we are doing it. We are pulling people off the streets, in shelters, recent graduates from recovery centers and giving them a place they can call home. Our participants are those who are ready to take the steps they need to learn to be on their own.

Our part of the spectrum of the homeless issue is not for the chronic, and severely mentally disabled – that is out of our slice of the pie, out of our scope. There are other organizations within the Nevada County community better prepared than us to properly serve those individuals.

But for the homeless who are ready to help themselves and others, we offer not just housing, but a home. Our model is working. Everyone in the house now has jobs. We bring in people to speak in our group on Monday nights to teach life skills such as money management, employment preparedness with the goal of obtaining employment that is not considered under-employment, effective communication and listening skills, anger management, drug and alcohol support, etc.

At our Monday Night Group is where people learn to live with others and to interact with others, identify their challenges, and learn how to trust others for support, and in return to give it. The house in return is harmonious. Everyone has learned to be honest and open with their own personal challenges, and has learned to support one another.

For those who actively play a leading role in working on the homeless solution, I can invite one or two of you to attend our Monday Night Group throughout the year. Contact me, and I will schedule you in.

Being the house manager, and group facilitator, and peer support specialist for our home in Nevada City has been one of the greatest bright spots in my life. I was formerly homeless, and alcohol addicted myself. I have had a fierce battle with bipolar 1. I know what hopelessness feels like. Having recovered from a seemingness hopeless state of mind and body, I am now able to focus my attention towards others. To see the lights go on in a lonely, terrified, depressed, confused person who used to know only the streets and the bottle, or drugs, is an experience that no-one should miss. You wouldn’t want to. Its like having a front row seat to watch God work.

Hope is a vital gift when people feel like there is none. I am glad to be part of The CoLiving Network that is offering that great gift.

Sobriety, Having a Home, and Hope: Giving Back What Has Been So Freely Given to Me

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By Darin Barry

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I didn’t know how to love. I was alone. At least I thought I was. I was lost. I was afraid. I was a taker, who was always looking for others to put a band-aid on my problems. I was a tornado in other people’s lives. And I drowned it all out seeking comfort in 1.75 liters of vodka a day. My life had become unmanageable.

I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 when I was 39. At that time, I had been sober for five years so my actions, my moods, and my emotions could not be blamed on alcohol. Trial and error with medications to find the right combination that would work for me was frustrating – all I wanted to be was like other people. I hated myself, and would often feel a lot of guilt and remorse after a manic episode. Years would pass with me, and those close to me, suffering through my illness with seemingly no hope. After many hospitalizations, countless sessions with psychiatrists and therapists, I had reached a place in my life where my illness could be managed. But along the way, I thought allowing alcohol back in my life could help manage my symptoms even better. I was self-medicating, and that road led me to the darkest places I have ever experienced. I lost everything. I lost everyone. I was homeless. So I made plans. I had asked strangers, anyone who would listen on social media, to take my beloved Isabella, my cat,  because I was going to check out of life for good. I was going to take all my medications at once, and go to sleep permanently. My life had become unlivable.

But the Universe, or what many people call God, had other plans. The swill of medications and alcohol came up violently from my stomach during that snowy night in the winter of 2017. I stood outside in the frigid air in the three o’clock hour of morning heaving my guts out. I was in Camptonville, California, out in the middle of nowhere because I had no other place to go. My life was nowhere. I went back inside the trailer I was staying in feeling like I was going to die, and passed out. Then morning came. I was a shaky mess, and needed a drink. I was drinking within a minute of my eyes opening. In the coming few days, I would total my car on the ice covered roads of Camptonville, and receive a D.U.I. and a night in jail. Several days later, I would collapse in a convenience store in Grass Valley, California, and be taken, unconscious, to the local hospital where I was admitted for seven days. I had acute alcohol poisoning and withdrawal symptoms, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, cardiac symptoms, alarming body chemistry, and delirium tremens. I would have died without medical help. There, in that hospital, I had reached my rock bottom.

The first couple of days were filled with hallucinations. I thought I was in a hotel at one point, and got up from bed, my I.V. ripping from my body, causing a bloody mess, and went to the nurses station thinking it was the hotel concierge, and asked for a room service menu. Friends and family members were there, I thought, to bring me clothes for a wedding. On the third day, I had clarity. Then hope walked through the door of my hospital room when I had no hope.

The man who came through the door had been following my story on social media, about wanting to re-home Isabella, and decided to take action by offering hope. He told me his story of recovery from the same hopeless state of mind and body that I had been in for a while. He took part in arranging for me to get into a residential drug and alcohol program upon discharge from the hospital.

All I was concerned about was the well being of my cat at the time. I had little concern about my own well being, although I wanted to finish school. This man took care of those loose ends and many more. He was being of great service to me. That stranger gave selflessly to me, doing things for me that I could not do for myself.

In the treatment center I was living in, I didn’t find a lot of teachings about sobriety that actually spoke to me. I rolled my eyes a lot during group. But, good people with good intentions nurtured my new sobriety. They held me accountable, and being a closed facility ensured I wouldn’t have access to alcohol. I couldn’t have people I knew phone in, and I wasn’t able to phone out, except for the “guardian angel” who had given me hope – . I was able to focus on my sobriety, and take a long hard look at the way my life had been going.

At Pathways, the treatment center in which I lived, we went to twelve step meetings away from the campus. It was at my first twelve step meeting that I heard a man use the word “recover.” This was counter to the teachings I had been taught in the drug and alcohol center where phrases like “stay away from people, places, and things” that had anything to do with alcohol – that we will never recover. I asked a gentleman at the twelve step meeting about that.

“I thought we never recover, and I’ve heard that word a few times.”

“Yes, we recover.”, he said.

“I thought we would never be cured, that we are always recovering.”

“No, we recover. We will never be cured, that is true, but we do recover from a seeming hopeless state of mind and body. You will find the word “recovered” used seventeen times in the volume of this book. Read the first 164 pages and call me.”

He gave me the text of the twelve step program, and I read it that night. It told of the authors alcoholism, the alcoholism of others, and how they recovered from it. My new found hope was honed by a whole chapter devoted to a solution aptly named, “There is a Solution.” I had new faith in hope. In a nutshell, I was given a program of recovery that involved cleaning house, trusting God, and working with others. The recovery center allowed calls in and out for twelve step sponsors. I called him.

Upon graduating from the program, I stayed in a temporary housing program in Nevada County, California called the Insight Respite Center that was a peer support program. My guardian angel who helped me so much after my near death experience, found me once again and offered a place to live, and a job.

My life was like a country song in reverse at that point; the dog came back, I got the truck back, I got the people in my life back, I got employment back, I gained a home, and I stopped drinking. (Although in my case, the cat came back, and I never had a truck.) But I didn’t get my life back, and that is a good thing. Why would I want the life back that brought me such misery? No, what I received was a blueprint for a different life; a new life. I came to know what it was like to be happy, joyous and free.

After establishing a new home, and getting on my feet, I went through the steps of a twelve step program with my current sponsor Justin. I also, through doing a lot of make-up, and going through tutoring, was able to graduate from school and earned my certification as a peer support specialist. The light came back into my eyes, and those around me at the time took note.

I was and am someone new. I was in touch with the God of my understanding. Fear, frustration, and anger were gone from my life. Problems that used to baffle me were easily addressed by my newfound clarity. I had mended the relationships with friends and loved ones I had tossed to the side in the midst of my drinking.

I had begun to focus on others. I found great happiness when I helped a man in the same desperation I had lived through by sharing with him my story of hopelessness, and then the solution I found. I wanted to experience those moments over and over again. Watching the lights come back on in a drunks eyes is like having a front row seat to watching God work, and I wanted to experience that over and over again. Through helping others, I had learned to love others. And this new knowledge, of being able to truly love others by selflessly giving myself to them, was extended to all of those around me – not exclusively to other alcoholics. My loved ones where happy to have a new Darin in their lives.

And what have I done with my new life so far in my newfound happiness? I give back to others what has been so freely given to me – that is the root of my newfound happiness. In the program I strive to be of service to other alcoholics through sponsorship, through being the facilitator of a weekly meeting, being the speaker at drug and alcohol programs, and through journalizing my experience, strength, and hope in social media, press, and radio (I still keep the identity of the twelve step program anonymous*).

In the realm of behavioral health, I have become an active part of the homelessness solution by becoming the house manager, and peer support specialist, in a clean and sober, dual diagnosis house for the formerly homeless. This experience has been one of the most rewarding of all in my lifetime. The house is a newly formed residence I co-created with a with an amazing social entrepreneur who is devoted to helping the homeless. I formed the house culture by writing, and facilitating the weekly house group where house members come together to learn how to support each other, and how to help themselves. I invite guest speakers to teach life skills, or to offer support with addictive behaviors. I’ve had the pleasure in watching the formerly homeless, addicted men and women, with behavioral health disorders, gain self esteem and better their lives while helping their peers. I have assisted them in finding employment, in obtaining clothes for job interviews, led them to clarify their goals and helping them towards the fruition of those goals. I’ve helped to set them up with behavioral help professionals, and medical and dental services. I go to food banks, and fill up multiple vehicles with groceries to fill the kitchen of a ten member household. I seek and obtain donations that our program members need to succeed, like a computer for job searches. We as a household are giving those who come into our fold, the next rung in the ladder to self sufficiency  And I, and the other house members, don’t just give them housing, we give them a place to call home.

Helping others has become the bright spot in my life. I have gained a host of friends, and enjoy their fellowship. I have come to know a new joy. The congratulations for my fulfillment of happiness, goes to my Higher Power, the God of my own understanding – the one who I only had to seek, not find in order to recover. I am leery of those who claim to have found God. I never had to find God to recover because he found me.

These days I see God in everything and everyone. I see God in those who have supported me by helping to pull me out of the deep abyss of despair. I see God in those I have the pleasure to help.

An old friend of mine who lived in my hometown, Roger Hodgson, formerly of the band Supertramp, wrote the lyrics “See the man with the lonely eyes, take his hand, you’ll be surprised.”

I get that now. 

* The traditions of the twelve step program that gave me the gift of sobriety dictate what we be anonymous about it at the level of press, radio, and films. That doesn’t prevent one from contacting me to find out what that program is. If you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism, please do.

Setting Boundaries With Those Living With Mental Illness.

 

 

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When I was first diagnosed with my mental illness, bipolar 1, over ten years ago, my friends and family stopped treating me like I was on an even playing field with them. They treated me like a victim, with all the care, sympathy, empathy, and patience that moral, loving folks give freely to a victim. In response, I acted like a victim. I was given carte blanche to act out impulsively, and permission to treat others with disrespect, or in an unkind manner. It was quickly dismissed or forgiven when I pulled an act of great irresponsibility. The seed for self-centeredness was already planted with my co-occurring illness of addiction early in my life. Being without boundaries that my loved ones could have drawn for themselves in helping me cope with my mental illness, my self-centeredness grew to be a tornado in their lives, and often to those who were simply in striking distance to me.

The first few years after my diagnoses in particular were some of the hardest times for my friends and loved ones. During, or more often towards the peak of my manic episodes, extraordinary rage would set in. Dangerous rage. It was rage during a manic episode that led me to pull a man out of his car in the parking lot of a strip mall and beat the crap out of him in broad daylight. My parents had to come bail their 39 year old man-baby out of jail. My Mother and Father were the kindest, most loving as parents come. But, their mentality ill son didn’t come with an owners manual.

My Mother waiting outside the jail where I was being held in Placer County, California, had these questions for me when I was released, “Are you taking your medications properly? Are you hungry? Did you get hurt? Do you need to see your psychiatrist again?”  She didn’t ask if I had hurt anyone, nor if I owned my own actions, or what was my plan to change my behavior so I wouldn’t be harming anyone with violence in the future. I was her baby, her victim. And that’s all there was to that.

My alcoholism had masked the symptoms of my mental illness for the first couple of decades of typical onset. I was guilty of many a debacle. I drank in my teens, and twenties to the extent that drinking became my identity. To my friends, I was funny, often outrageous, a crusader vigilante who punched those in the face who deserved it. My parents had viewed my drinking as just being a party drinker, or a heavy drinker – there was no way their son could be an alcoholic, after all, in no way did I resemble the unkempt, “long haired”, drug using offspring of some of their friends. My loving folks were in denial. They loved me nearly to death. At the end of the Nineties, I found myself living under their roof again being weened off alcohol by my Father who didn’t drink himself, to keep me from extremely dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Then I got sober. My parents once again provided me with financial assistance, a new car, and a renewed optimism that my life would get back on track. I don’t know how many times they had given me that same opportunity before. They never even asked what would be different that time. They had been walked all over. They had been taken advantage of. They had been lied to so many times that they didn’t even care about wether I was telling them the truth anymore or not.  My happiness was more important than themselves to them. My self centeredness was rewarded lavishly. 

I moved all over the country. Mental illness started to come into question, and actually, in retrospect, to become obvious with alcohol being out of the picture. I suffered from delusions both at work, and with my relationships with friends, often leading to the severance of both.  I had many unhealthy, hurtful-to-others coping mechanisms when I didn’t get my way. In my playbook was the game of “I’m not talking to you anymore”, the game of “How far will micro aggressions work to get people persuaded to do my will”, the game of “It’s all your fault”, and “let’s play passive aggressive until it no longer works for me.” If all else failed, I’d just write my friends and loved ones off. All of these sorts of behaviors stopped working for most people when they were four, maybe five years old. But because so many people in my life failed to set their own boundaries, I got away with those behaviors well into adulthood. So many people who greatly cared for me had no idea what a master manipulator I was. Some did. I have no idea why they stood by me.

The person I was, and still am closest to in my world, my brother Gordon, was the first person to strongly set clear and definitive boundaries with consequences for my behavior that was the impetus of change, personal growth, healing and progress for me. That was over eight years ago. It was hard for him. I just finished yelling at him at that time. I was shaking in rage. He tearfully said, “You make it really hard for me to love you, but I do. If you don’t comply with taking your meds, or refuse to see your therapist and apply what you get from him to your life, if you continue to blame your behaviors on your illness, I will have to withdraw from your life. These are things I will not negotiate with you.” The thought of losing him hit me like a ton of bricks. Someone I loved more than anything, or anyone had just stood up to me and called me on my behavior. I had even agreed to go to family counseling with him.

Gordon wasn’t always so strong. In his teens, he idolized me. I was his big brother who did big things, exciting things like work in the motion picture and television industry, a musician and recording artist, and strangely became a mortician; someone he never wanted to be in bad standing with. He was always wanting to go with me wherever I went. If he did ANYTHING that didn’t meet my wants and needs, my disapproval and manipulations would cause him to hang his head low. He began to suffer deep depression in his early twenties. He began seeing a therapist. It was then he learned that he was a caregiver whose self imposed job of keeping me happy had been taking a terrible tole on him. It was there, in therapy, and by going to Al-Anon meetings to better understand me, that he was educated and helped to implement boundary setting. Thank God for that.

People like Gordon, people who have dedicated so much to those they care about who suffer from mental illness, often surpass their limits before they realize it sometimes. Caregivers who have surpassed their limits will notice that their patience and energy has diminished. Once this sets in, and they continue to surpass their limits, anxiety, fragility, anger, anxiety, and depression can take over a caregiver’s life.

If you are a caregiver, or support provider to a loved one, or a friend living with mental illness, you have got to take some time to do some personal inventory, to look inside yourself and assess just how much peace you have with yourself. You have the right to be happy. You have the right to take care of yourself and exercise responsibility for your own well being. Setting boundaries will feel counterintuitive to you. But, it must be done, both for the person you support, and for yourself. It is not a single event, drawing boundaries is a process.

As a person living with mental illness, and someone who has become stable, self-aware, reunited with sobriety, and a contributor to his community instead of a detriment to it, I can say that my healing wouldn’t have been possible without my primary caregiver, in my case my brother, taking the initiative to help himself by setting limits.

Where would my brother be today if he didn’t established boundaries with me? Instead of going to college, instead of having a fulfilling career as a cruise ship musician while enjoying exotic ports of call, instead of making new friends, instead of maturing naturally from his own trial and error experiences, he would have been hovering around me, taking abuse, verbally and mentally, while slowly dying inside. Where would I be if my caregiver, my brother, had not have drawn the line? I would probably be wallowing in victim mode, never taking responsibility for my mental health, or owning my bad behaviors. I would have never pursued healing, and becoming self aware, and I certainly wouldn’t be of service to others. I would never have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Today we both have value. We both know happiness. We both have hope for the future. We have a better relationship than ever.

It is helpful to remember the acronym F.O.G. That is something you want to rid your life of when you are about to set healthy limits – fear, obligation, and guilt – F.O.G.  Again, you have the right to be happy and not be constrained by the expectations of the mentally ill person in your life. You have the right to be free of F.OG. For your sake, and the one you are caring for sake, do not tolerate the relationship if it is abusive. Trust your own opinions, feelings, and intuitions and do not excuse your loved one’s bad behaviors otherwise your will set your boundaries further, and further back, probably to square one.

Do not let yourself be convinced by the person you are setting limits with that your feelings don’t matter. Your feelings are yours, and you need them. Mentally ill people can have great powers of persuasion. They can make you feel self doubt, and lead you to not even trust your own perceptions or yourself.

Explain your feelings with him or her. Do not excuse them from your limits you set, or be led to change your mind. By explaining what you have to do, you have set the first stepping stone to a better relationship for both of you.

Do not let them make you feel guilty for the boundaries, and consequences you have outlined. You will lose respect if you back down, and you don’t want to do this. The limits you set are as important to you loved one as it is to you, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first. Like I stated, it will feel counterintuitive. Be strong. If they break your boundaries, that person has made a choice. It is up to you to enforce the consequences of that choice.

Professional support. Get it. It’s something that is well worth the time and investment to both of you. Learn what you need from it, then learn how to be your own professional – your own best advocate. Sooner or later the reward will be that your loved one learns from your boundaries freeing up the possibility of working together towards growing and healing. It is then a real relationship can begin to develop.

Do continue to have compassion for your mentally ill loved one. Do continue to seek professional help, and demand compliance of your loved one towards it. Do continue to be an advocate for him or her, but not at the expense of your own needs, health, and inner peace.

Setting boundaries is crucial, if not vital, for both of you.

I am eternally grateful that someone I care deeply for set boundaries with me.