Dancing on the Dark Side Of the Moon

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“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.  I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train.  I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.  A second’s action would end everything.  A few drops of desperation.”  – Winston Churchill

By Darin Barry

When I am in the labyrinth of bipolar depression, I am always reminded “it gets better” by therapists, psychiatrists, and loved ones. I call it a labyrinth because I am blinded with despair, murky, and unquiet thought, and I have many paths I can go down in trying to find my way back when in the midst of severe depression.  A wrong turn can often mean death to someone like me who suffers from bipolar one. Fifteen-percent of us, and thirty times more than the general population without psychiatric disorders, do end up taking our own lives.  Saying “it gets better” might seem sort of cheap, or at least overly simple, in terms of what to say to in attempting to coax someone out of suicidal thinking, but I can tell you from experience that it is not. Neither are the words “I care about you”, or “I love you.”

Bipolar depression is the biggest, and most dangerous enemy I have in life. It’s cunning, baffling, mysterious, powerful, and tells me lies when I am most vulnerable—lies that tell me I am without hope, without love, and living a life without meaning, or purpose. I have lived with bipolar disorder throughout my life, with symptoms manifesting strongly in my mid-twenties. Suicide attempts happened. The first time, my father saved me after a friend tipped him off that I may be in trouble. Dad burst through my bedroom door after I had not answered his knocking, and he found me weak, and trembling in a pool of blood. There would be other times, but each time I lived through a major depressive episode someone would reinforce the truth that “it gets better.”  It gets better is a truth that it’s extraordinarily hard to believe when my mind and body are betraying me. But Dad said it would, and told me he loved me when he left me with a sheriff deputy guarding my side in the E.R. all those years ago. He also said that God wasn’t finished with me yet. So with his love, and with me borrowing his faith, I carried on.

A lot of my behaviors were chalked up to drinking in my late twenties, and thirties. A lot of my behaviors where chalked up to environmental stressors as well.  After my first alcohol rehab, I lived with a serial killer’s family during his murder trail. One of Cary Stayners’ family members, my good friend Dana, brought me into the family fold working, and living with her in Mariposa, California the early part of the oughts. When Cary was sentenced to death, the Stainer family collapsed and so did I. I started drinking hard, and eventually hopped on my motorcycle heading north towards my hometown in the Lake Tahoe region of California. I did get sober again shortly after moving to Denver, Colorado. It was only by being sober a number of years, that the diagnosis of bipolar 1 was made.

For me, the 2000’s were a decade of concentrated tragedy. I was a mortician in Denver, Colorado when I found myself embroiled in a national funeral parlor scandal that brought news trucks waiting outside my house. I had a friend with H.I.V. related dementia froze to death on his way over to see me one night. I had no clue he had planned on coming over. My dear friend Mary bled out from alcoholism in my apartment. I found my brother dead on the toilet from a heroine overdose. My father succumbed to  Alzheimers, and my Mom died in my arms.

Of course, bipolar disorder has it’s other half of the story called mania. Being manic, quite frankly, although it can be just as dangerous as depression, is fun. Well, until it turns to rage it’s fun. Super creative moments come from it. The oughts were not totally terrible. Me and my little brother Gordon opened up a coffee shop and pub in Portland, Oregon. The Brews Brothers, our shoppe’s name, was a huge success. Gordon, and I did a 700 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I landed a wonderful job as national field organizer for Rachel Maddow’s favorite activist group from the decade satirically named “Billionaires for Bush.” I had begun a strange hobby of appearing in television and film as a background actor, most often, and notably in Grimm, Portlandia, and The Librarians. I manically wrote and recorded a music C.D. playing everything except guitar. My photographs were published in a coffee table book. And, last but not least, I grew some amazing pot for fun and profit.

A relapse with alcoholism in 2015 didn’t stop until February of 2017, ending with me being jobless, homeless, and facing charges for driving under the influence. My recovery over the last year is another story; a wonderful story.

Through most of those years, I had experienced depressive episodes of various depths. Medication, counseling, education, support, and the beacon of hope that the notion of “it gets better” imparts, I got though most of my depressive episodes relatively unscathed, although, sometimes it took a long while to fully recover. I had learned to stay on top of my mental illness.

But today, at 51, I am picking up the pieces yet again. A few weeks back, I quietly entered my bedroom for the evening, and downed a whole bottle of prescription Lunesta, a sleep aid. It was all smiles that evening, I left people believing I was doing just great. But weeks had gone buy without me experiencing any real joy at all. My synthesizers were dusty, I had not written anything in months, it was absolute torture to socialize with even my closest of friends. The thing I looked forward to most, was when I could go home, close my bedroom door, shut the world out, not answer my phone, and be in the company of my cat, and sleep. I slept a ridiculous amount of time. Whenever I could. That night I decided to sleep permanently. I didn’t warn anyone. I didn’t ask for help. I just downed a bottle of sleeping pills, held Isabella, my cat, close, and closed my eyes for hopefully the last time. It was eerily spontaneous. It took seconds to get the idea, and to down the pills.

It was still dark when I woke up with a great pain in my throat. Barf was all over my chest, and the side of my pillow. I was experiencing a headache like no other I had ever had. Isabella was fully awake and sitting next to me wanting food. I momentarily felt guilty because I had made no provisions for her care after I died. “It gets better”. I knew this. I decided that I would get help when I felt good enough to move my body.

It wouldn’t be until about 48 hours later that I felt good enough to take action. I called my behavioral health case manager Fred. I told him that I needed to see my therapist and that I would also need to see my general practitioner. He picked me up and delivered me to both. At my physical doctors office, she directed staff to take me up to a wing of our local hospital called the Crisis Stabilization Unit. I have been no stranger to the C.S.U. over the years. It was usually comforting, but that day, I was just numb. A nurse there, Casey, is someone I always feel comforted by, but that day I didn’t care to even chat with him. In fact, when it was quiet, I just decided to bolt and just finish the job. Perhaps if I downed pills with alcohol, that would be the trick. I was on my way to do just that, when a police officer pulled onto the sidewalk behind me while I was walking down the street towards a grocery store to get the ingredients for a comfortable suicide. He kept me from going to the store, and gave me a ride back to the hospital. I no longer had my rights, I had been put on what is called a 5150. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I really didn’t want to be chased around. I just surrendered to the whole idea that I was going to be committed to a psychiatric facility for a few days. I was relieved. I was just tired of my own ideas and plans. I felt safe.

Monday rolled around, and an ambulance came to transport me to Telecare Eldorado County Psychiatric Health Facility, some two counties south of my own. It is some strange California State law that dictates an ambulance must transport behavioral health patients to a psychiatric hospital. It feels demeaning, and unnecessary, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything anymore. Chad, the friendly EMT was a baby, probably barely in his twenties. During the course of taking my vitals, somewhere he had stated that he had always wanted to be an EMT. Another nerve was struck.

“I have never known what I was supposed to be doing.” I interrupted.

He asked me to clarify, and I basically said I was envious of people who were in step; those who to follow the classic 1950’s blueprint for living—get awesome grades in high school, marry your sweetheart, go to college, get a job that you are going to stay in for the rest of your working days, have kids, buy a two story house by the time you’re thirty, bank enough doe for retirement, and have grown kids that will hopefully take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself, drive a car, have money, and then leave some to your loved ones.

“I have been an abject failure in life. I change my direction every other year. I’m 51, only been sober for one year. I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.”

This would be a common theme during my ten day stay at the psychiatric hospital. I had, and still do have, to a degree,  a plethora of self-deprecating thoughts that include the words like “should have”,” should be”, “supposed to be”, “could be”, “have to be”, and “must”.

The psychiatrist asked, “Do you know why you are in our hospital Mr. Barry?”

“Because I downed a bottle of Lunesta in a failed attempt to end my life.  I am broken, and don’t know if I can be fixed this time. I don’t know if I want to be fixed.” I answer Dr. Singh. Then I add “I don’t know why you folks want to fix people that don’t want to be fixed. When I am out of here, the first thing I want to do is go buy some nighty-night pills, and maybe a bottle of Fireball to down it with. So, yeah, I can go through this time I have to be here— I can go through the motions, I can say all the right things,  I can be very patient. And when I am released, I will follow through.”

“So you still want to hurt yourself?”, Dr. Singh Asks.

“I don’t want it to hurt, I want to die painlessly. I suppose real men jump off bridges, or shoot themselves, but I fear becoming paralyzed, or end up in some vegetive state should those methods fail.”

“Darin, that is why you are here. We don’t want you to die. You live with bipolar disorder. You are deeply depressed, and you have been before, and you have emerged from it to see a new day once your depression has passed. Were you not grateful that you didn’t hurt yourself  when you cycled through depression in the past? You have to know by now that this is your mental illness talking. What is different this time?”

He has me on this one.  Briefly.  Dr. Singh continues; “Who are you closest to in your world?”

“Isabella Rossellini. And my brother, Gordon. Not necessarily in that order if there is one.”

“Isabella Rossellini, the actress?” he asks.

“No, Isabella Rossellini my cat. She’s a Snowshoe Siamese.”

Doc Singh half smiles, and his expressive eyes communicate a message of relief. Perhaps he is relieved I’m not completely delusional. I don’t know.

“So Doc, next you are going to ask me; Wouldn’t your Brother and your cat miss you? To which I would answer; They are both good looking, charismatic beings. Their type will always be ok. No, I am here because I was 5150ed. A cop drove me to the hospital back in Grass Valley, and then I was transferred here, to this psychiatric hospital. I was driven up by an EMT I envied, and admired. He was a twenty-something, new-on-the-job cop. He probably knew what he wanted to do since he was in eighth grade, maybe younger. He probably never got into too much trouble in high school. He got good grades because he could focus. He did everything his parents expected him to do because he knew they knew best. He never missed any starting guns like I had and could finish everything he started.” I said, with resolve. 

I saw the good Dr. Singh daily during my stay, even on weekends; the guy never seemed to take a day off.  Every day I opened up a little more.

I revisited the subjects of feeling like a failure, of having missed the starting guns, of having missed whole races for that matter, of not being like my friends who I view as successful.

He started talking of famous bipolar people who didn’t live in expected norms, of people like author Jack Kerouac.

“What if he were normal?” asked Dr. Singh.

“Well, we wouldn’t have On the Road?” I answered.

“What if Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe were not manic depressive as you are?”

“Ok, I have looked up famous bipolar people in searches, I get it.”

“Do you? Because you give license to all these people who have lived with your illness to be eccentric, and weird, but you won’t give yourself permission to be different.” Dr. Singh looked almost angry.

“Well, normal people don’t find themselves homeless, or rehabs. They enjoy stability. I want that.” I was defiant.

“Darin, most people would rather be certain they’re miserable that to risk being happy. At least you have made the effort to explore being happy, and you know what? If you keep trying, you are going to live a happy man, even if you do think out of the box.”

So those were some underlying demons I had, and still to a degree have now as I recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind.

My medication of three years, Lamictal, had simply stopped working for me. Dr. Singh said that the slow slip into my depressive episode was the gradual tolerance that my body was beginning to have with the medication. I was switched to Geodon, and in days, I could feel myself climbing back up into some peace and clarity.

I got a new roommate towards the end of my stay. He was a very young guy distraught over the loss of a girlfriend. We became friends, and are chatting on Facebook as I write this. When he told me how he felt for the first time, I said, “It gets better.”

Back in my hometown of Nevada City, California, I was greeted by several people who care deeply for me. I am homeless, but I am fortunate enough to have a couple of friends who are hosting me of a few days, and then it’s on to couch suffering for a while. I just landed a new job as a peer support specialist. I am very grateful.

My brother called last night from New Orleans. I told him I would be starting a new job, and then I when I’ve received a few paychecks, I would put money down on a used van from a local car dealership, and me and Isabella will live in that until as I am through with school. I told him I was going to have flexible solar panels on the top to power a heater, and an air conditioner in summer, and my musical instruments.  He got excited for me, and said there’s a movement of young people doing just that. Then he said, “Thinking out of the box: That’s my big brother, and that’s why I love you so much. I wouldn’t want you to be anyone else.”

I am grateful to be living. It did get better.

“When I grow up, I want to be a monster.” Part I

By Darin Barry

At age five, I wanted to grow up to be a monster, like Dracula, or Frankenstein. So I grew up to be a monster.  I then aspired to be a CIA agent. I was eight. That never happened. At twelve, I wanted to grow up to be in the movies. That happened. At seventeen, I wanted to be a veterinarian. That sorta happened; I became a certified veterinary assistant. When I was eighteen, I remember telling my Mom that by the time I was thirty, I would be a millionaire and drive a Jaguar. But when I actually did turn thirty, I had moved back in with Mom, and all I really accomplished in the span of my twenties was several failed attempts at various careers, and all I was truly professional at was drinking. I also had started to show signs of bipolar disorder in my early twenties, but my behavior, and failures were always chalked up to my alcoholism.

I put the plug in the jug for the first time at 32. That’s when life began to get interesting. I became a bartender, and server at a restaurant in Mariposa, California. I lived with, and worked for the Stayner family, who were known nationally for a couple of tragic reasons; their youngest son was kidnapped, and the eldest was a serial killer. During that time, Cary Stayner’s murder trial was going on a couple of miles from where I lived. As Lloyd Bridges famously said in the movie Airplane, “It looks like I picked a terrible time to quit drinking.” One day, drunk and disheartened, I ran away from it all, and rode my motorcycle up Highway 49 towards home, Nevada City, California. Yet again.

Then I moved to Colorado after I had, once again,  stopped drinking, and became a mortician. I didn’t see that in my future when I was a kid. Colorado was the only state in the nation that had no licensure in the funeral industry. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that pulled me into becoming a funeral director, and mortician. That is a novella in itself, and too lengthy, and irrelevant to the story I tell now. But I will tell you this; I was a Walgreens manager at the time I got hired as a funeral director, and I got the job in a Yahoo chatroom basically because I looked good in a suit. I had no desire at the time, nor the experience to become a mortician. But the starting salary of $60,000 a year, clothing allowance, and expense account, took me away from creating Chia Pet displays to embalming, and cremating people overnight. I even had my name on the door of the Boulder Mortuary: Darin Barry – Funeral Director – Manager.

It didn’t end well. I ended up being a whistle blower, going to the district attorney with serious complaints about egregious practices, and criminal negligence committed by my employers. I ended up on national news. Stunningly, the victims had no recourse as there were no consumer protections in Colorado to protect them from the funeral industry. Years later I would help to write new legislation with a Colorado legislator to regulate the state’s funeral industry. An accomplishment for which I was proud. And I got through it all still sober. I was proud of that too.

I had a brief stint as a counselor for at-risk kids in New Hampshire. I never saw that career for myself either when I was young.

Then, in Portland, Oregon, me and my little brother opened up a coffee shop, The Brews Brothers. I do remember fantasizing about being a business owner when I was a kid. I had arrived. I loved that new career. I loved the culture in Portland. We were hugely successful. Sadly, we had decided to sell when our parents began to fail. We moved back in with them, this time for unselfish reasons: to take care of them until they passed.

Shortly after my Mom died in my arms, my bipolar disorder threw me into the lowest of the lows, and I ended up hospitalized for depression. Manic highs would also send me off to mental wards. I had been struggling for five years to overcome my mental illness, trying different cocktails of medications with the goal of stability.

I had alienated, and distanced myself from all my siblings. My mania always ended in periods of rage – I was an insufferable monster during those times. My childhood dream came true. I was a monster wreaking havoc in other people’s lives.

  

I moved back to Portland where I got into the television industry. I started from the bottom again, getting principal background actor gigs in Grimm, Portlandia, The Librarians, and a Jeep commercial. One happy afternoon, I walked into a hipster bar in the Alberta Arts District and ordered a scotch. And then another. Grandiosity set in, and I had convinced a production company over the phone that I had the skills, and experience to become an assistant director; a profession that isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It was a huge opportunity. I slept in the next day missing my chance completely, and I had a terrific hangover. A month later,  I got kicked out of my apartment too.

I moved back to Nevada City, broke. I lived with a friend for few years growing pot for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Then, something happened that I never possibly could have imagined as a kid. I became a hopeless alcoholic. My mental illness was also off the hook. I don’t know how I got a job at a local natural foods Co-Op, but I did. Then of course, I lost that.

Then, yet another career of sorts I never saw coming as a kid developed quite naturally. I became a homeless.

After several nights staying in my car, I answered a friends message on Facebook inviting me to come stay at her restaurant in nearby Camptonville, California. I lived above a bar; a fantastic place for a practicing alkie. Soon after, I moved out to their fifth-wheel trailer on the property, where I could drink with impunity. Nobody would bother me with seemingly self-righteous warnings, and concern. I drank the winter away in that cold-as-ice trailer. The bar had become lowered; it was ok for me to be homeless, drinking away in a trailer in the boonies. Once a week, I would drive drunk into nearby Grass Valley to attend class. I had hopes to become a peer support specialist; something my psychiatrist, and my therapist had set up.

One icy night in November of 2016, I fell off a porch while drunk off my ass, and broke both my wrists, and damaged my shoulder so badly that months later, surgery would be required to correct it. Another lowering of the bar occurred that night. It was ok to be a homeless drunk, and to severely injure myself while drunk. I was ok with that.

I was a shaky, sweaty, anxiety ridden mess without my booze at this point in my life. I had graduated to 1.75 liters a day of cheap vodka that I would run to the store to purchase, every morning, as soon as it opened. I never let myself become a shaky, sweaty, anxiety ridden mess. I needed to drink to keep that at bay. When you are an alcoholic of my variety, you know, or have known, what it like to NEED a drink. And at that point, it becomes vital: to withdraw without professional help is deadly. This was another lowering of the bar. I was ok drinking the party size bottle of vodka every day, over a twenty-four hour period.

Then yet another lowering of the bar occurred. On another icy night, this time in February of 2017, I slid my car into a ditch on my way to get vodka. I got a D.U.I, and was arrested. I spent the night in jail in Yuba County. When I was released early the next morning, I promptly found myself ordering long island ice teas at the closest bar I could find, a dive called The Silver Dollar Saloon. So I totaled my car, I got arrested and charged, and I was ok with that.

I moved into town, leaving my belongings behind to pick up on another day. I couched surfed at friend’s homes until I was asked to leave, one by one. I still managed to attend class once a week, although I was stinking drunk. My instructor took pity on me, and even thought it was charming when I broke into song during class singing Depeche Mode songs.

I was taken in by my friend Jen, who was the crisis worker answering phone calls for those who were suicidal, days after my arrest. During the last few days in February, I walked into a convenience store near Jens’ home, and collapsed. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed for seven days, being treated for alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, heart monitoring, and severe chemical imbalances.

On day four, while connected to and I.V, and machines that go “ping,” my first moments of clarity began to shine through. Everything changed. A stranger who had been following my journaling on Facebook came to visit me in my hospital room, telling his own tale of drug and alcohol use, his own experiences with mental illness, and his eventual recovery. He offered something I didn’t have, and something I desperately wanted: hope.

I had lowered the bar, digging to the lowest depths of the earth, almost to the molten core of the Earth, before my rock bottom was reached. I was in a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, and hope come from a total stranger. I was an atheist. I had long tossed off what I viewed as the constraints, and judgements of organized religion. But in retrospect, I believe this was divine intervention. It was a spiritual experience, not from any deity of a religion I knew, but of something undefinable. And I’m not holding the man who brought me hope up to the pedestal of divinity, but I did dub him my guardian angel.

Months went by. I had been through a 28 day drug and alcohol program, where I discovered a promise of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body through the beginnings of work in a twelve step program. I had been given a place to live. I was given employment. I was given continued support. All from my “guardian angel.”

I had shoulder surgery in Spring of 2017. The recovery time allowed me to focus on doing my work in completing the twelve steps that I had dove head first into working. More clarity came to me as the time passed. I began to develop renewed interest in talents I had laid down for years: music, art, photography, and writing. I had begun to volunteer for homeless organizations, and spoke about my experience, strength and hope at institutions. I had graduated from my peer support specialist class, earning my certification. I earned my 90 day sobriety chip in June. I became the secretary (host) of the Young People’s Meeting within the twelve step program that kept me sober.  I had regained the trust of friends I thought I had lost, and made a host of new friends.

July came with the sunflowers I helped plant reaching 15 feet tall. It was then suggested that I was a good fit to become manager of clean and sober house in downtown Nevada City. I felt it was time to move on from beneath the wings of my guardian angel.

I hung my peer support specialist diploma on the wall of the house I began managing. Yet, another position that I never could have seen coming. Just a half a year earlier,  there could be not be a way I could see myself in the future as being a peer support specialist, and manager of a home supporting those who were formerly homeless, with co-occurring disorders. I would have been extremely focused on getting my next bottle of vodka, and that is all there was to my life back then. Now I am service to others in one of the most unselfish ways I have ever had to pleasure to know. Who would have thought?

I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Although, I will never be cured, I get to remain recovered from that state, so long as I seek to stay spiritually fit. This is something I have gained from the Big Book of the twelve step program that saved my life. I haven’t found God. I seek him. Daily. I do not believe for a second I could have got sober, and remained sober without the intervention of the God of my own understanding.

When the sun rises in the mornings, and if  I am awake to see it, I see something new. I see the sunlight of the Spirit. But with or without seeing the sunrise, I am constantly bathed in the sunlight of the Spirit. I feel eternally grateful to be able to pass what I have been given, to those who still suffer. I feel grateful to be able to bare hope to those who feel they have none; to those lost, and alone, and afraid.

When I think back to what I wanted to be when I grew up, none of it seems silly in retrospect. I thought those silly career choices would make me happy, and after all, that was the ultimate goal. It took exploration, and fruition of many of those fantasies I had as a kid to discover that, ultimately, those particular paths wouldn’t bring me happiness. Self-seeking has wrought for me grief like only other alcoholics know. This may seem crazy to those who are non-alcoholics, but I am grateful to every drop of alcohol that got me to this point where I am today. To work with others who suffer, to see the light come back in their eyes, is like having a front row seat to watch God work – it’s a joy I’ve never known until now.

A Front Row Seat to Watch God Work; My Path from Hopeless Alcoholic to Recovery and Happiness.

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I used to be homeless. Now I’m not. 

I used to be a practicing alcoholic. Now I’m not.

I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. That doesn’t mean I am cured of my alcoholism. It means exactly as I have declared; that I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I have hope, clarity, and a body on the mend. I stay sober by helping other alcoholics to find hope – showing them the way out of misery, insanity, and some from the brink of jails, institutions, and death. I give away what has been so freely given to me. This is how I stay sober.

Five months ago, I was hopeless. I was absolutely shipwrecked on the island of despair. I was in a deep depression, drinking around the clock, and had lost everything. The tattered remains of my life, my soul, and dignity had landed on the bed in a hospital room, with nowhere for me to go. What remained of my life had nearly fizzled out on the floor of a convenience store where I had collapsed unconscious on the floor, bringing frenzied paramedics, and an ambulance days before. For seven days I was treated for extremely high blood pressure, alcohol poisoning and withdrawal, severe dehydration, and monitored for what physicians thought might be an eminent cardiac event. My once shapely, extremely fit body, had deteriorated to a sucked up mess.

After delusion brought about by alcohol withdrawal, and a body loaded with sedatives, had subsided, I had no longer believed I staying at a hotel. I had rising clarity, and clarity had been one of the things that eluded me for several months. The reality that I was hooked up to machines, and an I.V., laying ill at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, California hit me like a ton of bricks.

About a month earlier, I had decided I wanted to die. I had reached out on social media, FaceBook, and specifically a group within the site dedicated to serving the locals of the county I live in Northern California, asking for someone to care for my cat, Isabella, should I spontaneously go through with carrying out the act of suicide.

Laying in the hospital bed, I decided to reach out to loved ones, on the same site I had posted that grim plea, that call for help, to let them know where I was. I had become such a tornado in my loved ones lives, and all who were around me during the last year of my drinking, I wasn’t sure if I was still loved by anyone.

A day later, still mentally cloudy, but experiencing more clarity than I had for a long time, a man walked into my hospital room who would become to be known as my guardian angel. He was a complete stranger. He only knew me through my posts on Facebook, in a group called Nevada County Peeps which has a membership great in numbers. He was warm and friendly. He offered up his own story of struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. He said there was hope if I had the desire to stop drinking, and wanted a new life. I did. And I once again felt hope. He became active at once, hooking me up with aid provided by the county’s behavioral health programs, and a drug and alcohol treatment program, and provided me with guidance with the skills he gained through his education in peer support counseling; ironically a certification I had been in school with, and graduated from. I just didn’t know how to help myself with those same skills. Clearly he knew how to help me.

After spending a few days in a mental health facility for evaluation and treatment, and a medication adjustment to treat my bipolar 1 disorder, I found myself in a drug and alcohol program in Marysville, California called Pathways. There, I learned about addiction, and was supported by caring counselors and peers. It was then, through outside meetings, I was introduced to a twelve step program, and it’s accompanying text that outlined the steps I needed to follow in order to achieve continued sobriety. The book mirrored every aspect of my experience that I knew as an alcoholic. It spoke to me – I could relate. It was a blue print for a new way of life I was about to be rocketed into. It outlined a solution that had eluded me.

My guardian angel, the man who came to visit me during my hospital stay, had remained in contact during my 30 day treatment in Pathways. When I had successfully completed the program, he found me at a temporary shelter for those going through mental illness crises, or those suddenly homeless, called the Insight Respite House in Grass Valley. There another miracle, the first being getting sober, occurred. He offered me housing in a clean and sober house, and a job. I couldn’t believe the kindness of this man who showed me that there was hope in a new life.

While at that house, I was able to undergo surgery to repair a shoulder injury I sustained while drinking months before I got sober. I was laid up for ten weeks, and in a device that kept my arm stationary. I also had to sleep upright. I was cared for by members of the house I lived in as well as good friends in the community. Weeks later I would move.

I became a manager for a new clean and sober house in Nevada City, California, owned by the same organization of the house I had lived in after my treatment, The Co-Living Network. Today, I help others who are homeless, addicted, and going through mental health issues. I am a peer counselor, coach, and mentor in the house, and I love every minute of it. Helping others provides me some of the greatest joy I have ever known.

I have also worked the steps in the twelve step program that brings me continued sobriety, and secretary a young people meeting of that program in Grass Valley. I speak often about what keeps me sober as the chair person in meetings outside my homegrown, and at institutions. I have been interviewed on radios shows, and soon to be interviewed by a television news station where I will talk about the model for living I am a part of forming with the Co-Living Network.

A lot of people in the midst of their addictions express a yearning for their life back. For me, that notion is crazy. Who would want to return to a life that brought them to the very misery they seek to escape from? I enjoy a new, bigger, better way of living today. I get to bring my experience, strength and hope to those who are suffering, and want to achieve sobriety and continued sobriety. I get to work with those seemingly hopeless individuals and watch the light return to their eyes. I get to have a front row seat to watch God work.

The Many Layers of Homelessness

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Last week I volunteered at a local homeless shelter cooking and serving dinner to the residents. Earlier in the week I had attended a meeting for a local organization, Sierra Roots, where before the photoshoots took place for volunteers, we served lunch for the local homeless. What I noticed is that there were people there whom I observed on the streets a decade earlier; people who were getting drunk, and/or using drugs, creating public nuisances, or whom I saw being hauled off by the local police in public parks, and the Streets of Nevada City and Grass Valley. These homeless men and women, many of whom can also be seen panhandling outside businesses, and along the sidewalks are the faces that we often associate most with homelessness. However, in my experience in working with the homeless, particularly those in shelters, I’ve encountered many faces we can’t put to the stereotypical branding of the homeless. I’ve met the newly unemployed, families with children, the gravely disabled, seniors, teenagers, traumatized victims of crimes including human trafficking, over the years I have been observing homeless people and families. Quite frankly there are people who want to be homeless. And then there are those who don’t. I’m addressing the needs of the latter.   I personally am formerly homeless having suffered from mental illness, addiction, and job loss.  I didn’t want to be homeless.

Many if not most Americans are only two paychecks away from being homeless. Our economy forces many families to live hand-to-mouth. Downsizing, jobs that relocate to foreign countries, businesses that go bankrupt, businesses that pay their c.e.o.’s exorbitant salaries while underpaying their base workers all contribute to the problem of homelessness, as does greedy medical insurance companies and big pharma.

In dining with the homeless during one of my volunteer shifts, I met a family who was very low income who were displaced because their landlord decided to sell their home and the family has no funds for first, last, and deposit towards a new rental, and yet another individual who lost his place to live because his landlord decided to turn his studio over the garage into an airbnb. Again, these folks were only two paychecks from being homeless.

The prevalent services to the homeless lack depth. We aren’t simultaneously treating mental illness and co-occurring addiction disorder. We lack follow-up. We aren’t making sure those who need medications are receiving them or taking them properly. We aren’t issuing temporary passes on public transportation to get them to work, pharmacies, medical, psychiatric, social services, and work.  We are lacking, or limited in the areas of vocational training.  We are lacking in facilities for them to bathe even.  Some non-profit organizations, and cities have addressed these issues, while there remains a majority that do not.  All we seem to be doing on the large scale is feeding them or throwing money their way without looking at the bigger problems or providing a path to a permanent solution.

Giving help, providing meals, money, and medical services isn’t a bad thing at all, we just don’t realize that those things are not the broader overhaul badly needed to provide the means for the homeless to become self-sufficient. If we invest in the broader picture of solution, we will save money in the long run, improve our economy, and can feel good in helping our fellow human beings.

(About the photo: Homeless man in San Francisco, Canon Rebel 35mm, Kodak Portra 800, f8)

Suicide Is Not For Me

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Before I got sober, I contemplated suicide. It was crazy. I was crazy. Now, I can’t believe I ever actually tried to end my life, but I did. As it’s said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I don’t want the permanent solution these days. I’m in my right head. The idea brings a rightfully so terror in my mind theses days, and it took some counseling, sobriety, and a great deal of inward reflection to rid myself of suicidal ideation.

While going through deep bipolar depression, and in the midst of my alcohol addiction, is when the ideas were strongest in my troubled mind. The ideas were potent and powerful. They were overwhelming. They led me to the edge, quite literally.

I was in my mid twenties and distraught over a relationship gone south. The end of the relationship was to me at the time, infinitely too big for me to handle on life’s terms. And so I sat, on the edge of the window of my San Francisco apartment looking down onto O’Farrell Street eleven stories below. The thoughts of unworthiness, hopelessness, and loneliness raced through my mind, and were in a collision course with my residual sanity. My legs dangled out the window, and I had pretty much worked up the nerve to jump out. The situation reminded me when I was a teenager at the edge of a high rock at the South Yuba River in my hometown in California, feeling the peer pressure to jump off into the water one hot summers day. When I worked up the nerve, the spontaneity of it surprised even me, I just suddenly jumped, seemingly without self will, and found myself submerged in cool water before I knew it. I told myself to just do the same thing on that ledge of my San Francisco high rise that day – just find the courage to jump, and soon all my pain would be over. I thought spontaneity would take my life at any moment. I would be free.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a small puff ball was ambling towards me. It was the new kitten I had rescued on Haight Street from an animal rescue group. “Alice GET DOWN!” Alice was unsteady on the ledge. I crawled back into the apartment and coaxed her back down. I shut the window, sat on the floor cuddling the kitten, and just wept for a really long time. Then I could hear keys jingling and the door unlocking. I collected myself.

“Woha. Are you ok?”, Lisa, my roommate asked.

“Yeah.”, I weakly replied while getting up from the floor to run to the bathroom. My stomach was tight. “Just a little sick.” I wasn’t lying. I threw up in the bathroom. Nerves.

I had been up all night. I was weak and tired. I grabbed Alice, went to bed, and slept soundly for many hours.

It wasn’t the first time. My Father drove me to the hospital, racing through red lights of busy intersections after he found me in a bloody pool when I had slashed my wrists the I-mean-business way; up and down, and sideways. I was in my early twenties. I don’t even remember what was the triggering point of that attempt. The horror of a hospital stay, many psychiatric interviews, a five day stay at a mental ward in Placerville, California, and dealing with the tattered remains of my self esteem are indelibly stamped in my head.

February of 2017, I found myself once again thinking my life wasn’t worth living. I sat in a fifth wheel trailer, drinking alone. I lived with friends, who owned a bar and restaurant, and lived upstairs from it. I started drinking in the bar one night, Burgee Dave’s at the Mayo in Camptonville, California, when my friend Sandy, one of the owners, asked if there was something wrong with me, and added that she was concerned about my drinking. So, I had retreated to the fifth wheel where I could drink alone, undisturbed, without judgement. I drank a liter of vodka on top of my antidepressant and mood stabilization medications. I was then out of vodka. I decided to run to the  neighboring community to get more. I was going to take more of my medication and add a bottle of valium to get some permanent sleep. While on the way there, I ran my car into a ditch and totaled it. The CHP arrived, gave me a field test for alcohol, which I failed. I was handcuffed, fingerprinted, thrown in the drunk tank, and slapped with a D.U.I. As terrible as a D.U.I, and the wrecking of my car sounds, I am lucky to be alive. For that I am grateful.

People are trained to look for warning signs in those about to carry out the act of suicide, but those who really are planing to do it, are pretty clever. I tried to put on a much different face amongst my friends and the community I lived in. Nobody, not even my therapist, could have known that I was planning such a thing. I hid it well.

Bipolar depression, and hardcore alcoholism were once again the monkeys on my back, pulling at my hair, while pounding on my back trying to end my life.

I got help, but if was purely by accident. If left to my own devices, I’d probably be dead. I was pretty downtrodden that I was homeless for months, couch surfing from place to place, spending a few nights in my car, all the while telling people I had a permanent place of residence. I thought about these things as I laid in my hospital bed. Days before I found myself in the hospital, I had stayed with my former roommate, Jen in Grass Valley, California and then collapsed at a service station before I could say “help.” I had alcohol poisoning after drinking 1.75 liters of vodka for days on end prior. I had to be detoxed over a period of five days.

During my hospital stay, with and IV in my arm, and oxygen under my nose, I had moments of clarity. I realized how much alcohol had played a part in my suicidal ideations. It had to go. I opened up my laptop and shared with friends and the community that I had bad thoughts in my head and I had a problem with drinking. A stranger who found me on Facebook, came to my aid with a powerful message. He shared his story. It was not unlike mine. He went out and took care of things I was worried about, arranged for a county social service worker, alerted  behavioral health, and had arranged for my stay at a drug and alcohol treatment center. The stranger had done all that. I dubbed him my guardian angel.

Today, I am 42 days sober and happier than I have been in a long time. Me and my cat, Isabella, have a permanent place to live, I have a job, a huge support network, in a twelve step program, and live happily, joyously, and free. I have a newfound spirituality. The monkeys are off my back, but as I have said before, they lurk in the shadows waiting for me to let my guard down. I must remain forever vigilant. I have to think about those I love; those I would leave grieving for their lifetimes should I choose to exit this plane in such a horrific manner. I’ve seen what suicide does to those who are left behind, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone; especially my little brother Gordon. As long as I can keep the plug in the jug, me, those who love me, and Isabella can live happily ever after.

(About the photo: I shot this using 20 year old Chinese made film. The numbers are the film back of the camera that have been burned into the film by decaying chemicals. Shot with a Diana at F11. )

Me and the Ex-Con are Sober

4685438101_152585e460_b (2)Today, I have 30 days of sobriety. I just returned from alcohol rehab at Pathways in Marysville, California. I have a shiny new coin with Pathways logo on it, and the serenity prayer on the reverse. Pathways give these coins to clients on successful completion of the program. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot to me. I met some of the finest people I have ever met in my life down there – people who ordinarily would not mix but share one thing in common; we are all alcoholics. I lived with my peers in alcoholism for 24 hours a day over 21 days. All of them, ten in all, have become some of the finest friends I’ve ever had. It was hard to fight back tears for everyone involved in my exit ceremony. It was a hug fest.

One of my peers who was of the greatest inspiration for me was an ex-con, who, for purposes of anonymity, I will call James. Under the three strikes law years ago, James was sentenced to life for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. Then California passed a proposition overturning three strikes and James was set free. Meanwhile 22 years went by. Yeah, this guy spent 22 years in upper levels prisons for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. James had racked up over ten years of sobriety being in Jail where one can still get homemade liquor and drugs from the outside. When he was released, he went immediately to rehab to reinforce his abstinence so he would never be sent back to prison for parole violation for drinking or drugging. Today he is 56.

I was afraid of him at first, he’s full of muscles, and covered with prison tattoos. But he quickly showed his vulnerable side and was always smiling and joking with me. He is not an angry person, but a grateful person. We would go outside under the sun and lift weights in our spare time. He was determined to make a muscle man out of me. He was determined to stay sober. He didn’t read all that well, so I helped him study the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. We picked each other up often.

But it wasn’t just the love of my peers at Pathways that kept me going. It takes a village sometimes, and man do we have a village. I was informed that throngs of support came my way via Facebook while I was in Rehab. When I opened my account up, it was filled with hundreds of kind hearted messages from the Nevada County Peeps page serving Nevada County, California residents, most I didn’t know. Some amazing strangers showed up to support and encourage while I was in the hospital detoxing at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. They knew me only from my posts on Facebook. This speaks volumes for our spirit in the Gold Country.

Desperately Seeking God

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I had trouble with the God thing. You see, in my twelve-step program of alcohol recovery, seeking a power greater than myself is vital. This is the second step; “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This was a stumbling block. I am a logical pragmatic person and I just don’t buy into, nor can stomach organized religion. I take my recovery very seriously, so this God question took many days of pondering and soul searching. Then, in my Big Book of my twelve-step program, I stumbled on the words that read something like: we only have to believe in the God of our own understanding, that is, our own conception of God to begin our recovery. And we don’t have to “find God”, we only have to seek him. This is the only thing we need to do to form a foundation for spiritual growth necessary for recovery. That I could stomach.

I am Native American. I lived on Tulle River Indian reservation near Porterville, California, the summer of 2002. I am Miwok, native to the Yosemite State Park area. They believe in an all encompassing Great Spirit, or Grandfather if you will, that is pure energy present in everyone, every animal, and every thing. This is not in collusion with my scientific mind. I believe in the pure energy that is present throughout the universe down to the smallest atomic sub-particle. I had found my higher power.

This lead me to the third-step; ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” The third step was easy for me because I no longer wanted to carry my big load of baggage with me wherever I went, nor could I. It’s all in the hands of the Great Spirit now. Having done this, I have found inner peace. I can begin to live now, walking in the sunlight of the Great Spirit whom I only have to seek.

We’re No Longer Homeless

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Yesterday, Isabella and I got a home. We are no longer homeless. I started a new job yesterday too. I have so much to be grateful for receiving. I have the bottomless support of the community I live in. I have people in my life who love me; people who have given of themselves through kind actions. For this, I’m grateful.

Today is day 35 of continued sobriety. I am grateful. I grow stronger in both mind and body every day.

When I was detoxing from alcohol poisoning at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital for five days, a man came to see me. I was a shaking, vomiting, unlovely creature. He was completely unknown to me. When I asked him who he was, he answered he found me through my Facebook posts. He said he felt that faith without works is dead, and he wanted to go beyond thoughts and prayers by helping me anyway he could. I called him my guardian angel. His name is William W.

William quickly got to work for me, making phone calls setting me up with drug and alcohol program. He tidied up loose ends that were impossible for me to accomplish in my state, things that were causing me great worry. He plugged me into county resources. He ran around town, and took the time to do things I couldn’t do myself, nor even knew I needed. He is the most giving, selfless man I’ve ever met in my life. For him, I am grateful.

When I was in rehab, William was still acting behind the scenes taking care of my needs. He called my counselors and case worker, Fred, to both see how I was doing, and to arrange aftercare for my 21 day program. When I graduated from Pathways, a drug and alcohol residential treatment facility, William came to my aid once again, coming to see me at Insight Respite home, a temporary shelter for people in crisis, with an offer of a place to live, employment, and even offered to help me replace the vehicle I had totaled, and accident that landed me a D.U.I.

I had turned my will and my life over to the Great Spirit weeks ago. It is He, who is in everyone, and everything, that brought me to the happy, joyous, freedom I am enjoying today. I had found my Higher Power during a desperate time. For this, I am grateful.

Living on the Ceiling

Under the Bridge

I walked around angry and sad for years. I walked around with a monkey on my back that was tugging at my hair, pounding on my back, and blocking me from the sunlight of the Great Spirit. The monkey was vodka. Vodka was also my God. I worshipped vodka around the clock.

I had another monkey on my back that occasionally caused me to be either deeply depressed, or highly manic. The two monkeys are evil twins, although not identical. This second monkey is named manic-depression, or what is now known as bipolar disorder.

Today I am 39 days sober. And of my manic depression, I am symptom free. The monkeys are off my back and hiding somewhere in the darkness waiting for me to let down my guard. Psychiatrists have named the twin monkeys Bipolar 1 with Co-occurring Substance Abuse Disorder. I am the type of alcoholic that the Big Book of a twelve-step program I am working reads “There is the manic-depressive type, who is, perhaps, the least understood by his friends, and about whom a whole chapter could be written.”

When I would have bipolar episodes of either mania or depression, I would often self-medicate with booze when prescribed medications failed me. Alcohol could mask or exacerbate the symptoms. I’d often lie to my psychiatrist when he asked if I used alcohol, causing him to scratch his head in wonder as to why medications were not working.

Manic-depression and alcoholism have amassed much havoc in my life. I was a tornado in the lives of others as well. I had lost jobs, friends, vehicles, family and a whole lot of dignity. By the time December of last year rolled around, I was homeless too. My drinking entailed swallowing 1.75 liters of vodka over a 24 hour period.

I was lost, alone, and afraid.

I had crashed my last vehicle into a ditch in Camptonville, California and was arrested for a D.U.I. After I got out of jail the next morning, I went straight to a bar and spent the afternoon throwing back long island ice teas, then straight Stolli. I was soon, mercifully, hammered again.

I spent months couch-surfing at the homes of friends. Then, when I felt my welcome was wearing thin, I’d resort to staying with other practicing alcoholics and addicts where I wouldn’t stay long because no one cared. Finally, a friend, a good friend, my ex-roommate Jen, offered her home up for a few days. She was shocked over how much I was drinking. She left me alone one morning and I slugged back nearly half of a 1.75 bottle of vodka in record time for me, and ended up having great pain in my chest. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I thought that maybe another drink would take away the delirium tremors, but the pain was new and different for me. I stumbled across the street to a Chevron on South Auburn Street in Grass Valley, California where I had collapsed before I could even utter the word help. I found myself next at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, admitted to a room, with and I.V. in my arm, and oxygen under my nose. I would stay there for five more days before a living guardian angel, William W, arranged for a bed in a treatment facility for me.

When I entered the treatment center’s, door, Pathways in Marysville, California, the first person I ran into was a homeless person from back in Nevada City, California who looked pretty good for himself. This man, who I will call Bob, was arrested 156 times for being drunk in public. He was arrested in front of me at least twice. He was the cause of public nuisance over and over, and could be seen panhandling for booze outside Bonanza Market as soon as the store opened every morning. My own cousins took him in once, and after a few weeks, had to ask Bob to leave as he was drunk all the time. Bob made no attempt to quit.

I was in disbelief when I ran into him in treatment. I was happy to see him sober! I was so happy to see him looking great and speaking with coherency. I thought him an intelligent man – a kind man, a well mannered man.

Fast forward to last night, day 38 of my sobriety. I was volunteering at a warming shelter for the homeless in downtown Nevada City. The temperature outside was in the low 30’s and the skies had begun spitting out snow. Our curfew is 10:00 P.M. and I had begun to lock the doors, and dim the lights. Then, someone knocked on the door. I was horrified to find Bob outside, dripping wet, and stinking of booze. What had happened? I was instantly depressed. I had such high hopes for Bob. But I knew this was the vicious cycle of the chronically homeless.

When we were in rehab, I had shared with Bob that I suffered from a mental illness, and he relayed that he did as well. He suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. When I had begun to feel symptoms of my own illness begin to manifest, I asked the treatment center’s doctor for a medication adjustment. I was told that I needed to focus on my sobriety and to talk with my doctor after I graduated from treatment.

It is clear how Bob fell through the cracks of the system. Currently there are very few alcohol and drug treatment centers that treat both addiction and mental illness at the same time. I feel that residential drug and alcohol treatment programs should be denied of any state funds unless they offer treatment for co-occurring mental illness as well. It’s a what-comes-first, the chicken-or-the-egg situation. Does mental illness cause alcoholism, or does alcoholism make mental illness worse? They go hand in hand, and it’s not rare at all for people to suffer from both, in fact, its common.

Today, I walk around with a heavy heart, and angry thoughts even though as an alcoholic I can’t afford resentments now, or ever. For Bob, I’m hoping for the best but expecting the worse; jails, institutions, and death. Today, I only ask one thing of the Great Spirit; to save Bob. The Great Spirit can move mountains, but unfortunately, he will still expect Bob to show up with a shovel. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.