It is no secret that my days 15 years ago were comprised of needles, vodka, knives, blood, vomit, powder, pills, and self-destructive behavior. It is all a blur, but I know that sometime soon (15 years ago) I almost died and became handicapable. As I reflect on my life tonight, I can honestly say I’d change nothing. Indeed, I am supremely happy with my life. No, I don’t have a great deal of material possessions, but I am supremely content within; something I lacked for much of my life. If I tell you something it is this: you’re alive; if anything be grateful for that. We so often chase that which is elusive; feel inadequate and never enough. You ARE enough! Don’t sell yourself short 🙂 To my friends struggling: you are not broken; maybe scratched, but you’re worth salvaging! I am not special; if I can come from THAT, trust that ANYONE can! Whatever you do, believe and have faith that anything is possible!
In early November of 2003, I had reached my lowest point and attempted suicide by overdosing on drugs and alcohol; I awoke from a coma about a week later. Unable to move or make noise, I found myself as one sees a newborn baby. I was extremely anorexic and malnourished; I was also very addicted to drugs and alcohol. What strikes me now as no coincidence is this: my family was holding vigil over Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria when I came back to life.
My life had completely taken a downward spiral since my days as a glowing college philosophy student. My dream of becoming a professor had been replaced by the hellish torture of alcoholism, drug addiction, and an eating disorder. While in school, I modeled myself after the great philosophers and truly thought the greatest thoughts were derived from the use of some sort of substance. I imagined myself holding council with the greats in absinthe bars across Europe and sharing my brilliant two cents with those around me. As an adolescent, I was an avid athlete and won many scholastic awards; I graduated ahead of my class and the future was in my hands. My addictions had other plans: a dentist’s daughter, private school and university taught, I often found myself homeless and at the end of my addiction, living to drink and drug. My dreams had been replaced by nightmares and it all came to fruition that bleak November night. No longer could did I care about my mental or physical health; I was physically addicted and drinking to live. How dark it is before the dawn!
Upon overdosing I found myself in a coma on life support; unable to breath on my own, my systems were shutting down. Recently, I found out that one night, they prepared my family for the worst. It is very important for posterity’s sake that one takes into account what atrocious shape I was in, as you may find the later portion of my story rather uplifting. After awakening, my living nightmare began, I had cut off the oxygen supply to my brain and was unable to move or make noise, due to the large holes now in my cerebellum. I wish I could say that was an a-ha moment, an awakening of sorts; sadly it was not. I did not drink, drug, or practice my eating disorder for three years, as I was physically unable and due to mobility issues had moved back home with my mother (my father committed suicide in 2001). After three years, I was walking with a walker, and ready to live on my own again… so I thought. By 2007, I had destroyed what little progress I had made; I was once again drinking and practicing the eating disorder, only this time I was severely disabled. In the spring, I found myself, once again, in a psych ward. Guardianship was relinquished to my mother; I know not why, but all of a sudden a switch flipped on inside of me and I decided then and there I would “get better”, so to speak.
I remembered the philosophical teachings of Epictetus, how one creates their own circumstances and of the great psychologist Viktor Frankl who claimed that “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” I began inpatient hospitalization to nourish my body and uncloud my mind. Once I was well enough, I began working with a nutritionist and attending support groups; I abstained from alcohol and drugs, but faltered with the eating disorder. Honestly, it was difficult to let go of all of my unhealthy habits. Resisting drugs and alcohol, I remained sober for 3.5 years. On December 14th of 2013 I, again, drank; that is an important date for me; that is the day I took my life back. I decided enough is enough and all but wore out my copies of my motivating philosophical books. The next few months found me sober, quitting smoking, halting the eating disorder, becoming vegetarian, and obtaining a gym membership. It’s truly amazing as to the things we can do when we apply ourselves! All this while, I’ve held onto the notion that there is reason for one’s suffering; if anything, it is to share hope with those who may well be fighting their own battles. For the first time in 20 years, I myself began to see hope. I sought refuge in the works of William James and studied Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”. These works led me to believe there was an immutable sense underlying all; it was not up to me to figure my life out, but I could, indeed, live to show others that hope is for all, not simply the worthy.
In 2014, I was doing so well all around that I set a new goal for myself: to go back to school to be a personal trainer. You must remember that from 2003-2004 I could barely move; so this was a lofty goal. I gained my certification on the first try, joining only 10% of my class; next up, find employment. Believe it or not, I applied at gyms and health and nutrition stores. I secured a position in a health store and took the paratransit bus to work; I remembered stories from my childhood: these helped me overcome adversity. Aesop’s Fables, morals, and abstractions guided me through troubled waters. CS Lewis is another favorite who I studied intensely, not for his religious, but philosophical teachings. I believe now that “Even at night there are stars that shine”.
I have not had an eating disorder or used substances since 2013; neither have I eaten meat or smoked. As I now know, there is meaning in the suffering. Life happens; it is up to us as to its meaning. I know today that I make a choice everyday as to the path my life will take. “I am the captain of my soul; I am the master of my destiny.” Hope is available for everyone; take heart; it is yours if you want it.
Let it be clearly known; I did not just suddenly become good. It has taken years! of extremely hard work to become who I am today. I have a horrible past, writhe with substance abuse, cheating, lying, things done to me, self-mutilation, serious eating disorders, disabilities, death, etc., etc. I am not my past. Yes, it affects me, but I had to realize; either I live in my past and wallow in misery or I learn from it and move on. I have spent enough of my life feeling sorry for myself; I know what it’s like to dwell amongst the weeds. I choose to live in the sun, with the flowers, today! There is no magic pill. Often, we seek out a quick fix for our problems. I can use alcohol and drugs and food and sex and love and psychotropics as a temporary solution, but it is just that; temporary and fleeting and I am thus left with myself, after all is said and done. It is not until I search within, am honest with myself and others, and do not hide and suppress my true being, that I find solace. If I am not doing well, I don’t hide it. These days, it is rare that I’m not. For example, one of my very dear friends passed away a month and a half ago; this was followed by 3 other friends dying and the anniversary of my father’s suicide all within one week. Needless to say, this took its toll. I did not, however, take these things to heart and use them as an excuse to feel sorry for myself; how I meet challenges is a choice…these things only stop me if I give them power over me. My attitude is more powerful than people and events in my life. I am not Superwoman, I have flaws; I am perfectly imperfect. Love yourself despite your past and your flaws and I challenge you to be patient and honest and kind to yourself and others!
I spent the day at NAMIWalks (NAMI’s annual fundraiser) yesterday to raise awareness of and eliminate stigma surrounding mental illness. Great day! Thanks to the huge amount of people (and of course my team!) who participated. NAMI raised in the state of Virginia (Richmond walk) $158,361 ( just one of about 60 walks); proceeds going towards research, treatment, programs, and more.
Information on NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):
Mental illness affects everyone. Nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year. Regardless of race, age, religion or economic status, mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children across the United States.
People living with mental illness need help and hope: they need a community that supports them, their families and their recovery.
Because mental illness devastates the lives of so many Americans, NAMI works every day to save every life.
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness and build a community for hope for all of those in need.
NAMI is the foundation for hundreds of NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and volunteer leaders who work in local communities across the country to raise awareness and provide essential and free education, advocacy and support group programs.
Mental : If there is one thing I’ve learned from battling mental illness, substance abuse and many other disorders; it is that it makes no difference your age, gender,ethnicity, sexual orientation, life status, class, etc. We , as human beings, are all capable of having such problems. They are not a matter of morality or ethics, they are diseases. I came from a prominent family; that doesn’t matter, I still have bipolar disorder and substance abuse issues. I had nothing traumatic happen when I was young; sometimes things just are. Never think that someone is “better than that” or has been “taught better”; sometimes take control over your life (whether your life is “good” or “bad”). Factors (that make people people) make no difference where disorders, addiction, illnesses, etc. are concerned.
Physical: When exercising,either at a gym or alone, many people get discouraged because they do not look the best or do not perform “compared to”. This can lead to discouragement and completely quitting. Do not compare yourself; do the best YOU can do, not anyone else. Push yourself to be a better you; it will (more than likely) transfer into other areas of your life. Often you will receive a sense of accomplishment and this will give you a mental boost.
Social: Stigma; it is horrible and rampant in society. Stigma of age, race, orientation, physical and mental disabilities, illness, and on and on. Do not feel as though society might view you one way, that’s what you must be. Often, society is just wrong; do not succumb to social stigma and let it define you! Social stigma