“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
This is a true story. Information gathered from charts, talks with doctors, family members, and people who were there.
There were 8 kids. 5 of them under 10.
3 kids were older.
One day, the mother of these children had her younger children taken away from her for physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
The abuse was a part of the daily routine. The children would be forced to kneel down in prayer in front of a statue of Jesus. They were to swear that their mother had not been drinking. The mother would threaten to beat them if they told anyone she had been drinking. She had followed through on that promise before. This was a typical day for these kids.
Some of the documented instances that led up to the children’s removal are below and pulled from the chart:
One day, her 2-year-old stepped on a broken beer bottle and sliced her foot to the bone.
“It’s just a little cut, get over it!” The mother yelled at her two-year-old. The mother, Unable and unwilling to do anything for the child passed out.
The 14-year-old daughter had to drive the toddler to the ER for surgery. She had no idea how to drive, but they made it. Surgery was needed. The 2-year-old is now a successful nurse.
In another incident, the mother passed out drunk and fell on top of one of the kids. The other seven children all worked together to get her off, preventing the infant from suffocating.
This child went on to be assistant Attorney General.
The oldest daughter took care of the children with what she had to offer. She cooked Ramen noodles on the grill in freezing temperatures as it was all they had to eat.
The kids rarely attended school and when they did, they usually were welcomed to harassment, beatings, ridicule and bullying. They wore the same clothes, usually dirty, without combed hair and sometimes bruises. They were all shy and scared. They were targets of the other children. This was in the St Louis Park, Edina school system. A wealthy neighborhood.
Why would they be in a wealthy neighborhood?
Who was he?
Well, he was actually a doctor and a well-respected man in the community.
But behind closed doors, he was an abusive alcoholic that lashed out daily beatings to his wife for her drinking and the embarrassment she caused.
One evening, while she was pregnant, he drug her across the room with a belt leading to a miscarriage—with the children burying the dead fetus in their back yard.
Around age 40, the father died of a heart attack, leaving the family in the hands of their alcoholic mother and eight children—most of them under the age of 10.
This woman was left with a healthy inheritance, but spent it primarily on booze. And when the money train stopped, the next train that came in was by the state department taking away her children to foster care.
Except the older children, 2 moved out. One stayed with her mother, the 14-year-old daughter.
Once the younger kids were in foster care. The mother would get drunk and call to harass the foster parents, trying to get the kids removed and separated. She never took time to go see them or get to know them.
The kids moved on with their lives and became successful by society’s standards. Doctors, lawyers, nurse practitioners, nurses, and musicians.
The 3 older kids, one started his own family and became a wealthy nursing home administrator. He also beat his child and abandon him at age 15. But he had a good job.
The other went to juvenile homes for stealing cars but eventually became a well-respected doctor and colonel. He became legendary for what he would do.
How did they all rebound so well? That depends on your definition of rebound. Money, success, validation, accumulation of stuff can be seen as success, but the reason people do these things is to escape and to prove something. Trying to fill a void.
They all were evenqtually scattered across the country doing their amazing things by all accounts if you look from the outside.
Then as time went on, their mother became ill. The famous doctor bought her a house and paid for her care. He was a success story getting out of trouble and becoming a great doctor. So, he financially helped a great deal.
They all stayed away as the mother was dying alone. She had destroyed them, and they really had no sympathy. This is what she deserved in their minds.
Except that daughter. The one that was 14 and drove the kids to hospitals, cooked Ramen noodles on the deck in freezing temperatures. She also paid for groceries for the brother when he was going to medical school and got him through. We all believe we get to where we got by ourselves, that is ego. I saw she paid for his groceries and rent to get him through medical school.
This daughter, now an adult in her 20’s. Continued to drive to her mother’s house. She is the one who stayed at home with the mother when the rest left. The drunken mother would abuse this daughter, call her 4 eyed baboon, lesbian, and a Russian half wit. I don’t know what that means. What I found interesting is she kept coming back for the abuse.
I heard people say she is weak with poor boundaries, and low self-esteem. Letting someone treat you like that is weak. This eldest daughter heard it. The staff wondered when would be the day she stopped showing up. But it never happened.
As time went on and the drunken mother lived at the home she was bought. This eldest daughter drove to her mother’s house, cleaned up the feces all over the house, and drove her around and even to the liquor store. Maybe in hopes of finally getting the “I love you” that she never received.
When people go through a trauma like that together, they all react different.
It’s like if a house set fire. All would be burned differently based on genetics, where they were in the house, and sensitivity. So, we expect everyone to have the same burns. But all were burnt.
Some denied it, some tried to accumulate, some did drugs. Some hid from the world, some accomplished, some became helpless.
No way is right or wrong, it’s all responses to different traumas from the fire. It all affected the way they raised their children also. Some taught kids to become performers, accomishers, some enforced images, some beat kids or forced them to achieve. Some overcompensated and did all for their kids. Some avoided relationships.
But society sees them as successful so that is what they hold on to. It was a cycle being passed on. They all judged each other’s response to the fire and all thought they were right, because they never got to the realization, they all were burned differently.
Without that the trauma continues to be passed on without even knowing it.. Regardless of outside appearance.
The drunken woman continued the emotional abuse, creating permanent psychological damage to her daughter—the only one who ever showed her love.
Unknowingly to the mother nearing death, this unconditional love and compassion of this child is what recovery is all about. People do not need to be kicked when they are down, they need someone to see beyond the behaviors.
They need someone to tell them “you are a good person, but this disease is preventing you from being that beautiful soul. We just need to remove this barrier.”
However, it is much easier to have bad guys and good guys. To label people. Then we attach all they do to that label and prevents us from getting to know the real person.
It helps feel superior and helps hold onto anger. Being angry is a defense and a powerful one. It is easier than getting to know someone and seeing beyond the labels. Labels can describe things, It never can understand or explain them. To get to that point you have to lean into the fire. And if you are already guided by fear, the task is tall. That’s what I mean when I say the thing you need most is in the place you are most afraid to go.
The drunken mother was the monster, that caused this. This is how the pain all started. When we search for bad guys in this story it seemed to end here for them and most of society. Easily wrapped up.
She eventually died the villain. There was no story book ending where she saw the light and apologized.
Mostly became she saw herself as the monster that everyone else did. We all believe what others tell us we are. This is an extreme case. So, she tried to drink it away.
Then there was her funeral. I was there for this pre funeral meeting.
I remember it quite well. Her adult children all arrived from out of town, had not been around for years, but made their grand entrance for the spectacle. You could sense the anger and negative energy in the room.
“She is going to burn in hell,” was the common theme among these kids who had not seen her in years and never really saw it any other way. They never really knew their own mother. They were all in foster care before they were five years old, but made an appearance at her funeral to wish her well spending eternity in flames.
But the oldest daughter who always stuck around, caring for her mother as she watched her slowly drink herself to death. Continuing to care for her mother, no one quite understood what made her return day-after-day and take on the abuse. They questioned her mental stability, courage and strength. She stood up to them on this day.
While they thought she was weak and pathetic, they missed out on experiencing the strongest and most courageous person in their lives. This level of unconditional love this daughter had could not be broken. She did not listen to what others said about her, no one could prevent her from loving this “monster.”
Every day, people would expect her to stop showing up, stop caring, stop loving and stop trying. She saw something no one else saw. And if you haven’t been there before, there are no words in the world that can be said to make you understand. And if you have been there before, no words are needed and you already fully understand everything I’m talking about.
There was a side to this case that professional’s and everyone ended up missing due to being caught up in their own narrative.
The thing that was found out that had been missed in this case, is that when this drunken woman was seven years old, she was babysitting her 5-year-old brother. A 7-year-old babysitting a 5-year-old in New York in the 1930’s. Her 5-year-old brother explored as 5-year-olds do.. He wandered out into the street. Then there was a crash. A scream and chaos. Her 5-year-old brother was struck by a car and died instantly.
A 7-year-old watched her brother die. From this point on, she was blamed for his death. A 7-year-old does not have the mental capacity to understand this is not true. A 7-year-old cannot tell if Santa Clause is real or not, how are they supposed to know the blame is not true when her parents label her as a killer, irresponsible and bad person? On top of that, both her parents were alcoholics that immigrated from Ireland and faced immense discrimination during the 1920’s on the east coast.
She was blamed for the death of her sibling since she was seven. Her parents were her life and that is what she was told. She struggled in school and then was told she was a bad student and a delinquent and killer. She believed it. She trusted the adults. She was rejected and abused for this.
She grew up with pain and feeling as though she was a monster.
She married a well-respected man who was loved and adored by the community, the break she needed. Only to have this same man beat her within an inch of her life when he comes home from work. Then watch him be admired for his work. Who would believe her, the drunken killer? Her husband was glamorized in public, while she was ridiculed. Her upbringing had trained her that you do not mention these things, so she buried it away, put on her mask and turned to alcohol. She began to believe all these things about her to be true, turned people away from her and “chose” booze instead of her kids.
At seven years old, we are innocent. Imagine back to a happy time when you were around that age. Getting ready to do something you love to do (in her case, dance class) and then to watch your 5-year-old brother wander into the street and get hit by a truck and killed. Life changes just like that. And then to be blamed your entire life for this without anyone ever letting you know the truth. Then the trauma continues to come in waves and waves, while others stand by at the dock pointing and ask:
“Well why doesn’t she get out of the ocean? Those waves are too high.”
So she lost her way, but how does the story end? When did she get out of that mess? The popular feel-good stories tell us the incredible journeys of those who overcome, get better and find their way in the world. How does this one end?
The truth is many of us with mental illness and addiction suffer until we die. We die thinking we are monsters. We are all lost, but rarely found.
This story is not unique, but unfortunately, the norm in mental health and addiction. We observe and judge the behavior without taking a look beyond the mask. The behavior (mask) is going to stand out.
And the uglier the mask, the longer-lasting impact it will have on us. We treat those with the ugliest masks, the worst. We use it as a guide as to determine the evilness of the person inside.
And until we can consciously look beyond the mask of each person effected by mental health or addiction, the situation will never improve.
. The eldest daughter never heard the words, “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” There is no storybook ending. The woman died without ever saying goodbye.
But this drunken woman did get what she always desired—to believe she was a good, worthwhile human. She had finally received her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This woman finally felt loved for the first time in her life during the last few years.
While the daughter may not have noticed this new unconditional love was reciprocal, I did notice. And it changed me forever.
I saw it in the drunk women’s eyes. She felt love for the last days of her life. I knew the daughter was right all along using love.
Seeing all these reactions to pain, I saw that the one who came back with love was right. She was not weak, pathetic or any of that. In fact, she was strong.
Strength does not come in the form of aggressiveness, anger, and judgment. Strength comes in the form of love. Love is the hardest thing for us to do, especially after trauma. Forgiveness, understanding and love is strength. That’s what I saw. I saw it change the world.
I tell this story and many say how can I be so sure…….
I know so because I was there the whole time…
The drunk lady is my grandmother.
The eldest daughter is my mother.
When I was nine-years-old and visiting my grandma with my mom to clean her feces and bring her to the liquor store. We went to the same store red owl. There was a pharmacy Snyder’s, on the way, and in the window, I saw a green nerf football. I sat and cried and begged for the football. My mom said no, don’t have the money. Maybe next time.
I was begging for this football. It’s all that mattered to me. I had to have it, I was impulsive, I needed it.
Now, remember, my grandmother is this same, nasty old drunk I’ve been talking about for the past few pages, but she saw that I truly needed to have this football. My grandma watched my fit.
We walked towards the liquor store. Got the cart as always. Then as we were walking down the aisle my grandma stopped. Said something to my mom, and we left.
We walked back to the car, but before we got there, my grandma went into Snyder’s and came out with the 7-dollar football. That’s all the money she had. Nickels dimes, she emptied out her wallet.
She didn’t get a drink or drunk that day. Only time in 45 years she didn’t get drunk she went sober.
“The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the best you’ve got anyway.”
I wake up.
It is blurry.
I am in a room with machines going off.
There is a curtain, it is blue.
There are people talking, I can see them talking. I look over to my right, my mom is there crying, not just crying but sobbing.
There are alot of people in blue.
None of them talk to me. After a while I am up. Now I remember, I am supposed to be dead. Why am I here? Am I dead? Is this real? These are the thoughts I have.
I am alive. I had tried to kill myself the night before by taking every pill in the house, I spent the next day being forced to drink charcoal and throwing up for hours.
But why all the doctors in the middle of the night?
I learned later that what happened was I had 3rd degree heart block in the night. Third-degree heart block limits the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. This type of heart block may cause fatigue (tiredness), dizziness, and fainting. Third-degree heart block requires prompt treatment because it can be fatal.
I was 17 years old. I was now remembering, and I am angry that I am alive.
I pass out again.
I wake up the next day.
In walks this guy. He has blue on. He has brown hair, normal length with a beard. I am watching this guy thinking to myself “Do not even say anything or I am going to punch you.”
“Hi I am Tom, I will be the nurse working with you today.”
I do not say a word.
“Ok I will be here if you need anything, I have a menu here if you want to order food.”
I am not going to eat, I throw the menu away.
The food comes in daily and I do not eat.
Day after day this guy says “Hi, how are you. Can I help with anything.” He does his work and I ignore him. My mom is by my side everyday as I lash out at her. Tom doesn’t judge me for yelling at her. He doesn’t say a word about it. He talks to my mom, as she was an RN as well so she was asking him questions.
I kept yelling at my mom, but I didn’t want her to leave that room. She never did leave. That was her way. A love that cannot be matched by anyone, anywhere, and it was given to me.
I may have had hard times, but I had that. I had a love that everyone should experience as my core. It is what allowed me to overcome everything. I would not trade it for anything. While I had rougth times, I also was given the love that would help me overcome all of it.
It has been 4 days at this point. My mom has brought me a sweatshirt of my favorite team. My Minnesota Twins sweatshirt. I loved baseball and I loved that shirt. My mom knew this. I was going to ask, but it was already there. Everytime I looked, she was there. She was in tears, but she was there.
I wore the shirt. In comes this Tom guy. He won’t go away. I guess it is his job. But it’s others’ jobs to. But they aren’t dumb enough to ask me how I am doing every day. My anger pushes them away as it is supposed to. This idiot Tom doesn’t seem to get it.
“Oh you like baseball, me too. The Twins are my favorite team too. Do you think they were better in 1991 or 1987.” (Those were the 2 years that they won the world series.) I was 11 and 15 when they won and they were moments I will always remember as a child.
I speak. I cant let this go. “Yeah I like baseball, I think they were better in 1991.”
Tom starts talking to me about baseball. I start to give one word answers that become 2 or 3 word answers. Then they become sentences.
Tom then says, “Oh I know you haven’t been eating alot and your mom says you are a picky eater. Do you think I can make you a special order? I know they say you can’t have a burger yet, but I think I can make sure you get one if you’ll eat it.”
“Ok.” Is what I say.
I eat the burger.
The next day. I am actually waiting for Tom to come. Some lady walks in the room. I am thinking to myself, where is that idiot who keeps talking to me? Where is that corny dude?
I ask my mom, “where is Tom?”
He has a day off.
“Whatever, he’s a moron anyways.” I say.
Tom is back after 2 days off. I won’t admit it, but I am excited to see him and I have been waiting for him to come back.
“Well you are starting to feel better. It looks like we can take you off some of these machines.”
I am eating now and Tom helps me fill out the menu and to understand what is happening.
The psychiatrist from the hospital comes down and I refuse to talk.
Tom then walks in.
“I heard you didn’t talk to the doctor. It is really important so they know what to do to help you.”
I have learned to trust this moron. I think he has my best interest in mind. He is on my side. He got me a burger, he likes baseball. He actually notices me and what I like. He takes time and has taken an interest in me. IN ME. He actually seems to care even though I think he is a corny moron. He is on my side. So I talk to the doctor.
Then I get the news that they want me to go to a psychiatric floor in the hospital. There is no way I am doing that. I am going to get up and leave, No No No No No.
Then Tom comes in and speaks to me. “I need to talk to you about this. You know if you do not go willingly, they may force you to go and then you have no say in it, you could end up being here even longer that way. You said you hate it at home anyways. So think of it as a vacation. You get to go talk to people, and to play games. They have a ping pong table and you said you like ping pong. You get to go to groups.”
Tom knew I liked ping pong and no one else did because he had asked. No one else noticed my sweatshirt, talked baseball, or knew I liked hamburgers. No one else went against the hospital rules and got me a burger. No one else talked to me as a person. So, if he says it is ok, I believe him. I say “ok I will go.”
He says “great I will walk up there with you. But first I have a surprise.”
In walks Tony Oliva, Twins Hall of famer with a baseball bat from the world series. He talks baseball with me and Tom for an hour. He signs a bat and gives it to me.
Tom found him visiting someone else in the hospital, and went out of his way and bothered him until he would come. Tom did this on his breaks and his off time.
I, being a 17 year old Twins fanatic, this was heaven. Baseball was my favorite sport. This was the best thing ever. I smiled. My mom said “That is the first time I have seen him smile in months.” As she sobbed.
I walked up with Tom to the adolescent psych ward. As I walked I had my bat in my hand. When I opened the doors, my new life was about to begin. It was not the end for me, but the beginning.
I walked through those doors. The doors opened and it was the beginning of a long, painful journey. It was the opening to the beginning. He was my shepard. I was the lost sheep.
I never would have made it to the doors without Tom.
It all started with him being present, and saying hi. Him noticing things. Building a relationship. Going out of his way, not always following the rules. Being invested in me. He had a wife and kids and he had a life. He made me a piroirty. For the time I was with him, when I was in the room, at those moments, I was the most important thing in the world. When he left, I am sure he moved on. But for the time he was with me, he was focused completely on me. He was not distracted, or thinking of other things. He was present completley with me. Before that, he was just there. Saying Hi.
They say Tony Oliva got me to go up there. He saved my life. While that was great, and it made my day. Truth is, I was going with Tom regardless. Tom is the one that saved my life. What happened in those doors is another story for another day.
You think that you save someones life like you see on TV or the movies like this:
Someone is on fire. Burning in the building. The hero rushes in to save him. The hero has all his armour on and has been trained well. He is ready for this and pulls him out of the building.
But It doesnt go like that. Sometimes people are burning and dying inside. We do nothing. We let them burn, we all do. We were too caught up in our own lives.
You do not save a life by running into a burning building, you save a life by saying hi.
May you all be someone’s Tom today.
BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR:
Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution
“Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Cortland Pfeffer spent years as a patient in psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers, and jails before becoming a registered nurse and working in the same facilities. Based on his experience, this story is told from both sides of the desk. It offers a unique and valuable perspective into mental health and addiction, revealing the problems with the psychiatric industry while also providing the solution – one that brings together science, spirituality, philosophy, and personal experience
Over the past 25 years, I have been immersed in the mental health and addiction system as a patient, later as staff, as a Registered Nurse (RN), and eventually as a supervisor. My time in the mental health system officially began at age 17 when I was first hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. This preceded further hospitalizations, a number of treatment episodes for alcoholism/addiction, along with multiple stints of incarceration in jails. Eventually, through this experience, I was able to embrace recovery and ultimately gain employment at some of these same facilities in which I was treated.
Often I am asked about how I went from being a psychiatric patient and homeless drug addict to being a registered nurse and a supervisor at some of these facilities. While there is no magical answer to that question, there certainly have been some valuable life lessons learned along the way. These are 10 of the life lessons I have learned over time, which allowed me to continue on this journey.
1. If you are naturally different than the majority, you will be labeled.
It is our nature to want to try to fit in with the tribe. It can be lonely when you feel like you are different from other people. When you are not like the majority, others will notice this and try to get you to fit in to this box of normality. But defining “normal” is an impossible task. It is defined as conforming to a standard. However, this standard changes with different cultures and time periods. What was once normal, is now insane. Today we clearly live in an insane society – one in which we favor materialism over that of our fellow man; one in which there is more public uproar over a sporting event than the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. To be “normal” in this type of society would actually make one insane. Yet, when you don’t follow the mold of a brainwashed culture you get labeled as different.
This can be quite destructive as Erich Fromm points out in his 1941 book “Escape from Freedom” as he highlights how people are drawn to authority as it is safer to go along with the pack than to think independently.
We go along with the societal norms for harmony, acceptance, and belonging – which are also innate human desires. Each human has a desire to feel a sense of community and purpose. However, when we go along with the group – even when it is violates our personal beliefs just for acceptance – it causes us to believe that something is wrong with us for thinking differently.
Solomon Asch tested human’s conformity in an experiment in 1951. Over the 12 critical trials approximately 75% of participants conformed at least once; and 25% of participants never conformed. In the control condition, the participants were asked to write down the correct match between the lines without sharing their answers with the group. The results showed that the participants were very accurate, giving the correct answers 98-percent of the time. This is one of many studies that show most people will go along with a crowd, even if it is not what they believe. So what happens if the tribe has decided that there is something “wrong” with you? Science will show that most of us will go along with that.
However this is a mistake. Take a look at the bell curve, which is used to show “normality distribution.” The bell curve is used in many areas of life and can be used here. In many bell curves, you see that 95-percent are within two deviations from the mean, or average. On the very end you will always see 5-percent of people. They are at the extreme end and do not fall inside the box of “normal.” It doesn’t make you bad to be outside the norm, and it also doesn’t make you crazy or sick. In fact, I would argue that those on the extreme ends are the ones that have changed the world.
For example, Mahatma Gandhi did not fit inside that box. The “norm” of his time was to accept the British imperialism in his home country of India. He saw the injustices and spent his life trying to free his people from oppression. He was imprisoned and survived many assassination attempts (although one finally killed him). Likewise, Martin Luther King Jr. also saw the injustices of African-Americans were facing in the United States and stood up to the oppression. They both went against the norms, were labeled, judged, and eventually lost their lives for speaking against the status quo. They both ended up dead, but years later we realized they were speaking the truth against an insane society.
Other people’s labels of you are just that — other people’s labels. It is out of fear and ignorance. Do not adapt to other people’s expectations. The world needs people of all sorts. We need diversity.
If you closely take a look at the criteria for someone who is gifted versus someone who has ADHD, Bipolar, Aspergers, and many other mental health diagnosis you will see that they are almost identical. So whether you are called bipolar or gifted doesn’t depend on you, but rather on the so-called expert assessing your life. It is all about perception and none of it matters. All that matters is that you are your most authentic and true version of yourself.
2. We as a society create mental health and addiction.
There have been numerous studies that have exposed the fact that trauma as a child leads to neural chemistry changes in your brain. Childhood trauma has been called the smoking of mental health. The same way smoking can cause or invoke many physical diseases, childhood trauma and maltreatment does the equivalent for mental health and addiction.
There are higher relapse rates for hypertension and heart disease than there are for addiction and mental health. However, we often treat the addict like they are a bad person or making bad choices. So we are taking someone who has been traumatized and often did not receive treatment for their trauma and we punish them by locking them up. This creates more shame, exasperating the trauma and causing the cycle to repeat itself. Additionally, the patient is not going to be readily willing to seek help in the first place due to the aforementioned shame.
What if we had a cancer drug that works 10-percent of the time and made people sicker? We would throw the drug away! However if a treatment center has a 10-percent success rate for addiction or mental health they’re considered successful. What other business could be 10-percent successful and would continue to exist?
The addiction and mental health industry continue to grow, despite this complete lack of success. There are extremely high rates of recidivism in these fields. Speaking from personal experience, more often than not the patients get sicker while in treatment.
The staff then blames this lack of success on the patient. They point fingers and say that the patient “was not ready” or that they have “poor insight.” The site that failed to provide adequate treatment blames the victim and takes no responsibility for their failure.
This system only continues because too many people are making too much money off keeping people sick. The staff tends to be undertrained, under-qualified, and lack any meaningful or diverse life experience. They are trained to believe that their patients are bad people that are making bad choices instead of a sick person who has been traumatized. This obviously results in receiving much different treatment.
Now there are some absolutely wonderful people in this field. That is a fact. However, in general there is an overall lack of humanity and compassion in the way this population has been treated. We are the most incarcerating society in the history of mankind and most of these prisoners are there for harmless drug offenses. Due to this influx of incarcerations, we have created for-profit prisons which rely on mass incarcerations for profit. They set up contracts with governments to guarantee high occupancy rates and spend millions of dollars lobbying to congress to make tougher prison laws to ensure they stay profitable. In turn, members of congress then hold stock in these private prisons – meaning that the people that make the laws are making money off the laws they sign into action.
We are locking up people who have a disease to profit the rich. Punishment does not work for this disease – it never has and it never will. If it did work, we would not have a this astronomical recidivism rate in jails for drug offenses.
3. Be true to who you are.
We run from who we truly are because we are told to by our environment. We are told that it is not okay to be our true self from the time we are young and we begin to believe it to be true. We spend our whole lives living for other people and living based on other people’s expectations. We eventually lose ourselves and create a false persona (or false self) – This is what I refer to as “The Mask”.
The longer we wear the mask, the more we forget who we are underneath. We start to think that we are our masks – the character that we present to the world for acceptance. As this continues, we grow to dislike our mask because it is not our true self. This leads to depression, self-hate, or even suicidal ideation. We think we hate ourselves, but in reality we hate this false self that we have created. When we go against our own nature, it will always create depression.
If you have forgotten who you are, it’s easy to remember. You know the truth by how you feel. If you want to remember what that feeling is like, simply go do something that is pure, genuine, and has good intentions and see how that feels. If you can do something for somebody that can never repay you, you will remember this feeling – that is the feeling you are seeking.
Some of us may not even know who we really are because we’ve been wearing this mask for so long. In that case you get to explore and try new things. You get to discover who you truly are and what makes your soul feel alive. This can be viewed as an obstacle or an opportunity. You can now try everything – writing, dancing, singing, etc. – try anything you desire and you will find your true self in the process.
You will find out who you were, before the world told you who you were supposed to be.
This concept can be frightening, especially if we have become too accustomed to the mask. Some will do anything and everything to put the mask back on for safety, security, and possibly they are benefiting from pretending to be their false self. Although, in the long run it will create more inner dissent.
The world needs you to be you. Your true self fits into the world exactly how it should. When we go against this, we are robbing humanity of the gifts our true selves possess. Albert Einstein said, “great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
It can be scary to finally be yourself. You will likely start feeling rejected and you will lose some people. But those are the people that you want to lose. You will also gain people in your lives – the ones that love the true you and not the false you.
This is a change that is painful and it causes most people to go back into their false self (ore put their mask back on). However, this is an essential struggle that you will encounter on your way. It will turn your world upside down and your relationships will change. But as the old saying goes, “it is better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you are not.”
You are only doing a smidgen of what you are capable of doing by being your true self. You have no idea what you’re capable of until you embrace who you are and you will be blown away by the results.
4. Fear destroys us; and makes others money.
When we are not ourselves, then our lives are being lived and based on fear. When we are always afraid, it is from remembering pain or trauma. Just like any animal, when we are afraid we will hide. We live in a society in which many people benefit of us being afraid.
We are evolutionarily programmed to remember the negative experiences at a much higher rate, more clearly and more intensely, than positive experiences.
Many businesses profit off of our fear. The news gets higher ratings when they show fights, violence, and all the things that are wrong with the world. So that is what they show and that is what we see. They are not showing a true representation of the world, but a sample size that spreads fear and increases ratings. This is paid for by commercial advertisements that spend millions of dollars by spreading fear into your mind in an effort to buy their product. They will tell you might get bitten by a snake, so you need to buy a fence to keep the snakes out. They tell you to buy material items to fit into society or you will be left out and not included. When the fear does not go away, we continue to consume more. And it never goes away until we realize that we are being played.
“If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business?” – Dr. Gail Dines
Our insane society has created these masks and then they profit off these masks they created. Then you are labeled as insane if you don’t want to wear your mask anymore. Because when we take off our masks, they lose business.
What goes into your brain will affect your subconscious mind. If you feed it with fear, it will seek fear. If you feed it with love, it will find love. The opposite of living in fear is living with love. Love is the antidote to fear.
When you live with love, you will be faced resistance from those still guided by fear. But remember, in the end, throughout history, every single time love always wins. There may be a time it seems this is not true. But it becomes a crucial point in your recovery when you decide to choose love over fear if you are going to succeed. Every person going through a true recovery will come to this stage and it is scary, it is lonely, and it is supposed to be. It takes immense strength to love when everything inside of you tells you to run away. Once you make it through this stage, you have reached a turning point and the mask begins to crumble.
5. Love, acceptance, and truly listening is far more powerful than any advice you can ever give someone.
We have all seen someone struggling and we want to fix it. Usually we want to fix it the way we would fix it for ourselves if we were in the same struggle. We tend to go in and tell people how to change. Although well-intentioned, when we do this, we begin to lose them. Everyone is different, and every recovery is different. Every mask is unique, and therefore every mask removal must be unique.
Relationships are the single most important thing to someone going through a recovery. You can have the cure for them, but if they do not trust you, they will not hear it. They do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Accepting people for who they are and where they are at in their life will go further than any piece of advice you can ever give them. Giving someone love and a hug when everybody else is kicking them is what I call “psychological life support.”
I had two people that did this for me and they saved my life. Not those who criticized me and tried to force me into treatment. It was those who offered unconditional love and acceptance who kept me alive. Unconditional, meaning without conditions/judgments, but just loving them and accepting them in their entirety with no desire to change or point out their flaws. When I was ready to change, I went to the same people because I had gained their trust.
Relationships come first. If you cannot build a relationship, a trusting relationship, then you will only do damage. I believe many staff in this field are well-intentioned, however they make these problems much worse and the patients get much sicker simply because there is a lack of acceptance, love, and an overabundance of advice giving and fixing.
Trust me, if there was an easy-fix, the person would have already done so. In rushing to fix a person, you are sending the message that they are incompetent and could not think of this on their own. A broken person doesn’t need to be fixed, they need to be loved, then they are able to heal themselves.
When I say listening, I mean being present completely with that person. This means not checking your phone, not looking at the clock, and not even thinking about anything else. This is referred to as active listening. The ten people I think are the best in this field all do this. They make the person they are with feel like they are the most important person on earth in that moment. When the person can feel heard, the magic begins.
6. Embrace your struggles, they are gifts.
When I see a patient walking around a treatment center saying “everything is fine,” “everything is ok,” or “I’m doing great,” this becomes a giant red flag. You should be struggling. Muscles do not grow without struggle and the same goes for our soul.
Since we were young, we were trained to believe that admitting to a struggle is a sign of weakness, but in fact it is a great strength. We are all going through a struggle. We should be working on the thing that is the most difficult for us for optimum growth. The thing that you are most scared to do is probably the thing that is most essential to your recovery.
If you are in pain, if you are crying, if you are scared, then you are growing. If you are questioning why you are there, or why you are going through this, or questioning your own sanity, then you are growing. If you are angry, if you are tense, if you are isolating, then you are growing.
If there is no struggle, there is no growth. If there is no growth, there is no recovery.
Everything in my life in which I thought would be my demise, ended up being the very best things in the long run. We see a small portion of the big picture and act like that’s the reality, when it’s not. We must trust the process and trust in the bigger picture. Without the illusion, there would be no enlightenment.
There will come a time that you will think this is not worth it and feel like giving up. This means you are getting close to breaking through. We usually give up right before the miracle happens.
There is not one magical moment where you reach some mountaintop. It usually takes two steps forward, followed by one step back. It is a continuous, non-linear process. It is like a newborn baby deer trying to learn to walk. Their feet are wobbly and they fall down often. Falling down is not the issue, it is the learning process that makes you stronger and not having shame about the fall. It is about being around people that do not judge the fall.
The only way through the pain you have is to deal with it. There are many things we have hidden inside ourselves through the years because of fear and using the mask. Sometimes it may be for years, or decades, but all things eventually rise to the surface and all your pain is revealed. But that is the only way that it can be healed is for it to come to the surface. It cannot be healed when it is buried.
Let the storm come. After the storm comes the rainbow.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene
7. Our subconscious is what drives us.
We have two parts of our mind – the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious is all of which we are aware. The subconscious is the part that we are not aware, but all the millions of things we process daily and store away.
Our brain cannot tell if what is in our subconscious is true or not. It takes everything in as fact. It is like a hard drive that receives commands and stores everything as fact. It is built by other people and society – parents, siblings, teachers, television, pop culture, advertisements, etc. If we grow up being told that we are “bad,” our subconscious processes it to be true.
Everything is a perception and not reality. However, as different things start to play out in our conscious mind, then the subconscious files come to the surface to back it up as “evidence.” This creates stronger files in our subconscious mind. These files in our subconscious mind are what drives us; not what we are consciously aware.
As young children and even as adolescents, our brains are flooded with gray matter. This is the part of our brain that can be molded and create the person we are to become. This is what shapes the subconscious mind which will determine what drives us for a lifetime. If someone is told they are bad, lazy, incompetent, then they will be driven by this. If someone deals with pain, torture, trauma, and abandonment, they will be drive by this as well.
The good news is we can change the subconscious mind by implanting new messages. It is flexible, but it takes time, practice and patience.
Additionally, some of us will be more affected than others by these messages. Some people are naturally more sensitive, more prone to trauma, and more prone to take things too personally.
We are all born with an innate temperament that lasts our entire lives. That would be like if a couple people were eating a pizza. One person takes a bite and it tastes lukewarm to them; but the other person burns their mouth and complains as to how hot it is. The others would not believe it to be true. However when it comes to emotions, we can’t see anything, the scars or burns are invisible. So we are told that it is not real and our emotions are crazy, in which we believe to be true. This only further pushes our true selves down and creates more negative self-talk which creates files in the subconscious.
This leads to the most sensitive, warm, kind people in our society being invalidated and told they are “babies” for feeling and caring more than most. We tell them that they are not right when inside they are going through a trauma.
But if a young boy acts out in anger instead of crying, that is more acceptable in our society. That is one form of a mask that is created and is prevalent among young men. Then with this mask, and all masks, comes depression from not being your true self from going against nature.
That’s the inner voice, it is the subconscious. It is strong but it may not even be true. The only way to combat this is to start telling yourself positive things (affirmations), surround yourself with positivity, changing your perceptions of the world (cognitive behavioral therapy), focus on the positive things in life (gratitude). This starts to build more positive files in your subconscious which drives you out of despair and into a positive direction.
We all are born pure, and with nothing but love in our hearts. This is often taken from some of us by a combination of temperament, environment, society, and trauma. We eventually believe that we are not good at our core. But we are. We can change our subconscious by what goes into our brain daily. This takes persistence and daily practice, and it is hard when we are used to thinking negatively about ourselves. However, this out of everything is probably the key to sustained long-term recovery- dealing with that inner voice and changing our thoughts. It will seem foreign at first to say “I’m a good person.” If you are going to make it, you have to start doing on a daily basis. You can replace those files just like your body replaces every cell in the body every seven years. Soon those old files will be gone and the new positive files will be your subconscious.
8. Who you surround yourself with is one of the most important decisions you will make.
I have heard many wise people say that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As I said above, that directly affects our subconscious and what we think of ourselves.
I remember years ago my oldest daughter enrolled in a private school. Everyone in the school was Catholic and she came home and believed in her inner core that the entire world was Catholic. She cried about it at night that she was different because she did not go up to get the fake bread at their ceremonies. Similarly, if you are around five people that smoke pot and you do not smoke pot, then you are the weirdo for not smoking pot. However, if you are with five people that do not smoke pot and you do, then you are considered strange for smoking pot.
At the end of the day, if you are around negativity — eg. those who consider you strange or different — it will eventually influence you.
Now some negativity can be good if you’re an overly positive person and turn a blind eye to all negativity because that is also unrealistic and can actually benefit the person. Also, being angry can help mobilize and motivate you to change. People who are totally happy and content at all times are never the ones that change the world – see Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. It is those that are healthy discontents that create change.
On the flip side, if you only are surrounded by negativity it will suck the life out of you. Likewise if you are around a bunch of people who believe that you are a bad person, be that your family, friends, or relatives, then that’s going to creep right back into your subconscious and you creep right back into old patterns. Soon you believe that pattern as real.
You cannot do this alone. It took many others to help us put the mask on, and it will take others to help remove the mask as well. I came across five amazing people that helped change my life and save it.
Part of recovering is making the effort to be true to yourself. Once you can do this, you will find yourself in others. You start to see that all of life is a synchronicity. You will suddenly be around people who can help you and you have to be willing to accept help and make yourself vulnerable. If you cannot expose yourself and be vulnerable to these good people, then you will fall.
Vulnerability allows others to lift the mask.
You have to start all over sometimes; that may even mean leaving your family and lifelong friends. It is terrifying, but you will find new people that embrace your true self, whereas your friends and family have only got to know your mask and are not ready for your true self. You’ll find that people who you thought were close friends really were not; and people who you thought were not your friends actually were. You find out everybody’s true character when you go through this. It’s a gift in that way as well. Someone you may not have associated with five years ago, you’ll love them when you are your true self. This just means that the transformation is happening.
9. You must learn to truly love yourself or you will not make it.
I wrote earlier about being your true self and that is completely different from loving your true self. There is a reason we wear these masks and have these false selves. It is because we think that at our core, we are not OK. Then we start to be ourselves, but also seek to make changes. We have to 100-percent, truly, genuinely love our true self and embrace it or we will eventually slip back on our masks.
This is the often overlooked Steps Six and Seven of the 12-Steps. We are removing the parts of ourselves that are not true and keeping those that are. However, we get confused at this point because we feel that part of ourselves is flawed.
But, that is impossible! Every single person is perfect at their core. You do not have any flaws. That is a lie created by society. Every person is perfect and once you find your true self you will see this to be true.
Which is why, when you are finally being yourself you are likely going to be mocked, ridiculed, and teased. It begins to seem much easier to revert back to old ways (the mask). It is hard when you have run your whole life and been afraid. Then you start to be yourself and people start teasing you or pushing you away. You must realize that this has nothing to do with you and has everything to do with them. If somebody loves you that usually has more to do with them than you; and if somebody hates you that has more to do with them than you.
I remember when I had to have a psychological test done, I had to have my four closest people fill out a form and I figured it would all be the same answers that they gave. I got four completely different forms with four completely different sets of answers. Others love us based on their perception of us or they hate us based on their perception of us, none of this is reality – but it is reality to them.
What matters is what we think of ourselves. If we love ourselves, we will glow and other people will be drawn to us and some will be drawn away from us.
“The ego says, ‘Once everything falls into place, I’ll find peace.’ The spirit says, ‘Find your peace, and then everything will fall into place.’” – Marianne Williamson
10. Whatever you do, if you do it with love in your heart as your intention, you cannot go wrong.
The world is full of opinions. Everyone has the answers. You can’t do this, or you shouldn’t do that. People can show you evidence about why they are right and why you are wrong. Everyone will tell you how to handle your recovery and how to handle every situation in life. When we are listening to other people instead of our true selves, we are going against our own truth and against our own nature.
There is no right and wrong. We used to think smoking was okay for you and doctors advertised it. We used to think the world was flat. We used to think Columbus discovered America. There is no truth, there is only perception. You must do what your true inner self believes. Your mask is unique so your mask’s removal is going to be unique. The one thing that is common for all mask removals is connection and love. Science and studies have found out that we are breathing the same air that people breathed in and breathed out thousands of years ago. The air we breathe is composed of mainly nitrogen, gas, and oxygen gas. Very little is lost in space, and only occasionally is there a new source of carbon or oxygen introduced into this planet. So every breath you take has atoms that have been here for billions of years.
There was a computer program set up in various spots around the world. It would shoot off random numbers, there was no pattern ever seen for years. This is called a Random Number Generator. However when the September 11th attacks happened, or other moments that human consciousness became coherent, things changed. For instance, in the case of a severe tragedy in which all humans are thinking about similar things and having similar emotions, all the numbers become structured and organized. They show an unpredictable sequence of ones and zeroes. The odds of this happening by chance is one in a trillion. How is this possible?
Every single thing you can see around you — the rocks, the birds, and the trees — all are comprised of the same atoms. They are just expressed differently — yet intricately interconnected. Whatever you do and whatever decisions you make, if you do it with love as your motive and if your intentions are pure with love you cannot be wrong. So know your intentions and know your truth and embrace it. You were born with a light that others have tried to dim with a mask, let your light shine again and take your mask off. Humanity needs the gift that your true self possesses.
Books by this Author:
Walking Daddy Home is a new book for kids and adults. Kids often ask difficult questions about topics we usually do not know how to address with them, leaving them confused and frustrated. This new book helps explore kids questions about spirituality, the meaning of life, and other challenging topics that are difficult to discuss with children
In junior high school, I was a painfully shy student. It was to the point I would go through an entire week without peeping a single sound. While it was quite easy to shield my anxiety during most classroom activity, the lunchroom was always my greatest test. How could I possibly hide myself in a crowded cafeteria?
There was always one table in the back of the room which only had about five kids sitting there (the tables sat about 20-30 people).With so many empty seats at the table, it was the perfect spot for someone with severe, debilitating social anxiety.
This group was the outcasts of the school. They wore the same clothes every day, never paid attention in class, didn’t follow the rules, had long straggly hair, and were already experimenting with drugs and alcohol – likely due to their living situations at home. But, they were also different in the sense that they had no desire to fit in with the “cool kids.” They were perfectly content being in their own skin.
They also held different views on the world. They didn’t gossip about other students, blame teachers, or talk bad about the janitorial staff. In fact they talked about how they helped the janitors after school in exchange for being taught how to use certain tools. For it was these kids – the outcasts – who saw the world for how it was, they did not just blindly obey the forces that were trying to socialize them into robots.
A teacher shouted from across the room, “What are you doing sitting there!?
She shouted as if my life was in imminent danger, sprinting across the room with her arms flailing like she was rescuing a drowning child. Her overly-dramatic antics created a major scene – the exact opposite of what a child with social anxiety desires. But, it was clear, this incident wasn’t about me – it was about her saving a kid from harm. She yanked my shoulder back and with fear in her eyes.
“You don’t have to sit here! Are they making you do this? You can sit somewhere else!”
Embarrassed, I slowly looked at my frantic teacher and then looked back over at the kids at this table. All of them had a look in their eyes as if to say, “It’s OK to leave. We don’t blame you.”
Then I looked back at my teacher and spoke with confidence in my voice for the first time in my life.
“I want to sit here.”
“What!?” She shook her head in disbelief, “You want to sit here? With them!?”
“Yes,” I looked back at them, “I want to sit here.”
She threw her arms up in disbelief as if another child was lost to these terrible monsters. But, my question is where was she as I sat alone in her classroom for a semester? Where was her dire need to save me when she notice the bruises on my arm and cuts on my eye? For it wasn’t about “saving” me, it was about the opportunity to save me in front of a crowd.
Over The Rainbow:
This teacher is one of many that take part in the everyday presentation we put on for the world. We wake up in the morning, put on our masks, and then put on a play for the world to see. The thing I enjoyed about this group of kids, they saw behind the phoniness of the world and I felt together we shared a passion to discover the truth.
We celebrate truth-seekers throughout children’s books, films, and stories; yet, when children look to reenact this behavior in “real” life, it is frowned upon.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is tired of the boring and dull life on the farm in rural Kansas. She is trying to explore and the adults continue to push her away, telling her to “go somewhere you can’t get into any trouble.”
This turned into a breakthrough for Dorothy as she dreamed away of a different life, another dimension, a home void of the displeasures of going through the motions of life. She breaks into singing the classic song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which describes this desire to go to a place where “dreams that you dare to dream, really can come true.”
But Dorothy is not the only character with this yearning for truth. Alice from Alice in Wonderland, also was in a depressed state of mind in which she couldn’t find the energy to do the things she once loved until chasing a white rabbit down his rabbit hole. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is criticized and discouraged about seeking life above the sea and searching for a different existence. And Belle from Beauty and the Beast is considered odd because she does not go accept the norms of society.
We are attracted to these tales, because it is our innate desire to seek the truth beyond the mask. Everyone has this desire because it is how we are brought into this world, before it is blocked away from us by the masks we are told to wear.
Quite often in the recovery community, you will hear people talk about their absolute worst moment on earth as a “blessing in disguise.” People talk about the point of hitting rock bottom was the time that the fall finally stopped, and gave them the opportunity to get back up.
Frustrated with this existence, Dorothy runs away from home just before gusty winds sweep over the farmland. Her family rushes into the cellar for shelter and locks the doors before Dorothy can make it back home. Finally Dorothy makes it inside the house and tries to seek refuge in her upstairs bedroom. While debris from the twister is whipping around, she is hit with an object and loses consciousness. Before she knows it her entire home and life is being turned upside down and carried away.
This is addiction.
It is important to note that everything in this film is symbolic. Dorothy cannot get in the locked house and is trapped outside in this twister (addiction). Her home represents basic needs and values, and the fact she is locked outside is showing that something is being rejected and she is not receiving these basic needs. Dorothy finally gets in and she is struck in the head by a falling window and knocked unconscious, indicating her state of powerlessness to the twister.
After regaining consciousness, Dorothy peers out the open window as she is doing some soul searching in the midst of her active addiction. She starts seeing happy images of her aunt, uncle, farm hands, and animals. The final object she notices is Miss Gulch – the woman who was trying to take Toto away. Toto is always by her side and always knows what to do, hence, he is her intuition. Miss Gulch is Dorothy’s human shadow – the dark part of our self in which we constantly reject. It is our inner voice telling us we are not good enough. Once she recognizes Miss Gulch, she suddenly transforms into a witch with an evil laugh before Dorothy is brought to the ground by her own fear and confusion. It isn’t until this point that Dorothy recognizes she is engulfed in the twister (addiction).
Then, Bam! The houses crashes and Dorothy has hit rock bottom.
She wakes up and nobody is around. She is all alone in a dark and quiet home. She has no one to talk to and no place to turn. Everything she has ever loved has disappeared. It isn’t until this point that she is to begin the process of recovery and begin a new life.
Early Recovery – Journey into the Self:
Dorothy opens the door and the screen lights up in full color for the first time in the film. In the background, the music to “Somewhere over the Rainbow” is playing as she steps outside into a beautiful new existence.
This is early recovery – an inward journey to self-discovery.
We have arrived at that place we dreamed about, the place in which we could be ourselves, and a place in which we were free. We have found our way over the rainbow, without the use of drugs or alcohol for the first time.
Dorothy is first greeted by the Good Witch of the North, Glinda, who looks more like a fairy or angel. This is the part of our recovery in which we start to realize that things aren’t always as they appear. The things we used to view as “old and ugly” can be presented in a new light of majestic beauty.
To Dorothy’s surprise she even comments, “I never heard of beautiful witch before.”
Dorothy is then informed that her house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, who has been oppressing the munchkins for years. The munchkins are fun-loving people who represent our playful youth in which we love things unconditionally, forgive easily, and live in the present moment. They have been trapped by the destructive part of ourselves (Wicked Witch). Dorothy is treated as a queen by her inner child (munchkins) for finally putting an end to the mask she has been wearing.
While the munchkins view this situation as a miracle, Dorothy claims it was no miracle at all. This is the blessing of rock bottom, the twister, our past mistakes, and the worst parts of our existence typically tend to be the greatest blessing in disguise.
Killing the False Self:
When we are young, we are free and loving to the world around us. As we grow, we become socialized into fearing one another and being constantly discouraged to be ourselves. We are domesticated to think a certain way, act a certain way, talk, and behave just like others. This is our mask, also known as the false self.
The Wicked Witch of the East was the mask that was put over our true self, or munchkins. It took a twister, or addiction, which spiraled out of control and had to hit rock bottom before we could finally accidentally kill this false self. And then start all over, reborn, as our true self.
In Dorothy’s journey, this is celebrated to the notorious tune of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”
In recovery, this is referred to as the “Pink Cloud” phase as life seems quite magical and perfect. However, there are still obstacles and adversity we must face. Dorothy meets her first one with the poof of pinkish-reddish cloud of smoke and is introduced to the Wicked Witch of the West – same character as Miss Gulch.
Dorothy has more shadow work to do, and the Wicked Witch of the West makes it clear that she is going to be her enemy on this journey. The object the Wicked Witch most desires is the Ruby Red Slippers in which Dorothy has recently acquired. Glinda informs Dorothy that “those shoes must be very powerful if the witch wants them so badly.”
This leads to Dorothy’s first longing for “home.” Yet, she is still a lost soul and has no idea where to turn and where to go. She is immediately informed that her best option is to find God, which is symbolically represented in the film as the Wizard of Oz.
Confused, Dorothy questions whether this is a good or bad wizard, to which Glinda replies “He is very good, but also very mysterious.” In order to meet the wizard, she must follow the yellow brick road and never remove her slippers.
The Yellow Brick Road is our spiritual path that we must all take to find our way “home,” or in finding our true spiritual self.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road:
While instructed to stay on this path, we soon find out that it is not exactly the destination – in this case the Wizard of Oz – but the journey in which we discover our answers. Dorothy is told that the Wizard of Oz will have all the answers; however, the problem is she was searching for the Wizard when she should have been seeking Oz (the land that surrounds her).
Along her inward journey, she encounters other important aspects of herself – wisdom, compassion, and courage. Once again they are in symbolic form of a scarecrow, tinman, and lion, respectively.
At a fork in the road, Dorothy first encounters the Scarecrow. The Scarecrow talks about not having a brain and it his greatest desire, yet throughout the film he comes up with creative ideas. Next, she meets the Tin Man who yearns to have a heart just to register emotions. Likewise, the Tin Man continues to show compassion throughout the film despite his belief of being heartless. Then finally they encounter the cowardly lion who reveals his secret of lack of courage; although, he too, uses his bravery throughout the journey.
However, our shadow is never finished with us. The Wicked Witch of the West plays games by luring in the gang off their path. She creates something that is soothing to the eye, yet will put them to sleep and end their journey – poppy fields that cover their path.
This is one example of an ego trap. Each religion has a variation of what is referred to as spiritual warfare. Some refer to it as the angel and the devil on your shoulders; good versus evil; god versus satan; heaven versus hell; the ying and yang; the Cherokee proverb of the two wolves fighting inside of you – one good and one evil – and the one that wins depends on which one you feed; the lessons from karma which state each choice you make determines your future circumstances; and of course the ongoing spiritual battle of the ego/false self versus the soul/true self.
While this battle is ongoing, the ego pulls out all the tricks in the book to regain control. Ego traps are the most effective way to detour you from your path. Some of the most common ego traps include:
1) Knowing the Path versus Walking the Path: Quite literally in the film, it is clear that their path is to follow the yellow brick road; however, despite this knowledge, they are easily guided off course with the beauty of the Emerald City and the poppy fields which nearly ends their journey.
2) Feeling Spiritually Superior: Prior to their first meeting with the Wizard of Oz, the Lion is sensing that his lifelong quest for courage is coming soon and he begins singing “If I were King of the Forest” and talks about having others bow down to him. In our spiritual journey, it is easy to fall into this trap of the need to be right about spirituality. As Lao Tzu says “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.” It feels good to gain insight and recognize these positive changes in our life, but the ego can use this as a trap into believing that it is I (the ego) that is responsible for our advanced spirituality.
3) Judging Others who are “Less Spiritual”: While this one is not prevalent in the film, it is probably the most common. The notorious quote that I hear often in meetings is “Religion is for people that are afraid to go to hell; spirituality is for people that have already been there.” This gets people excited and can relate, but the religion bashing is stating that we are better than a group of people because our beliefs are right and theirs are wrong – isn’t this the same reason most people get turned away by religion? At the end of the film, Dorothy nearly falls into this ego trap as she explains her awakening. Nobody believes her and they tell her it was all a dream, but she is certain it wasn’t. But, she realizes the trap and says “Anyway, I am glad you are all here and I love you all.” Other examples are when we spend more time in nature, do yoga, eat organic food, stop watching the news, etc., but then start judging and labeling those who still do those things because they are not on our level.
4) Positivity Mask: Also not in the film, but worth mentioning as this trap involves pretending to be overly positive at all times. Even the most advanced spiritual beings will have their bad days and feel a full range of emotions. When the group first meets the Lion, he is into this trap in a different type of way by trying to scare the crew. Later he confesses his true feelings of lacking courage, which ironically takes a great deal of courage to express how we are truly feeling inside. Just another example the cowardly lion expresses courage throughout the film.
The Church of Oz
The Wizard represents the Western Christian version of God. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, but yet mysterious figure. Whereas Oz, is the name of the entire land in which the majority of the story takes place. The Wizard represents a religious interpretation of God in which he is one powerful creature who is the ruler of the universe; whereas, Oz would represent that God is actually in all things – the trees, fields, color, all characters, etc.
At the door of the Emerald City, the gang starts to notice some peculiar traits of this magical place. Their first impression is dampened when they ring the door bell and are greeted by a crabby man who refuses to serve them because they did not “follow the rules” of knocking on the door instead. Once they knock, he returns with a friendly smile on his face. This is symbolic to the modern-day lifestyle of the church in which you come in on Sunday and everyone greets you with a smile, handshake, and maybe a hug. But, then after leaving for an hour of connection, it is back to competition, resentment, anger, and disgust for each other.
They ask to see Oz, but are told that nobody has ever seen him. He only agrees to do so, once seeing the Ruby Red Slippers on Dorothy’s feet. Here we have this all-powerful being that refuses access at first glance and then changes his mind based on appearance.
This symbolism continues as they group is not granted access until they clean up first. The scarecrow is given new straw to help keep him young, the tinman is treated with being sharpened and new oil to help keep him repaired, and the lion receives a manicure and pedicure to look as externally beautiful as possible before appearing before the magnificent Oz.
This, too, is an ego trap. While it feels good to be well-polished, it is creating a mask/false self. This occurs often when someone goes from poverty into fortune and soon forgets the roots of their struggle.
In their first encounter, Oz is quite harsh to the gang. He refers to the tinman as “clinking clanking piece of junk” and the scarecrow as a “billing bail of fodder” and the lion faints before taking on any insults.
The Wizard eventually makes a deal with them and promises to grant their wishes only after they can prove that they are worthy of his power. They are instructed bring the broomstick of the Witch of the West. The group pleads that this could only be possible if they were to execute her, in which he instructs to “Just go.” This great powerful Oz is asking us to kill one another just so we can prove we are worthy of his help?
Similarly, so many wars are fought over religion and claiming to be doing things in the name of our God. What kind of God are we following in which we create artificial borders, discriminate, judge, hurt, and kill each other? God’s love is unconditional; yet, here this is clearly a condition of proving ourselves worthy of his love and assistance.
As they are walking through the forest to find the witch, she sends her flying monkeys out to attack them and capture Dorothy. The monkeys represent our mischievous side of our personality, which is why they are protecting the witch (our shadow).
The only way to free ourselves, and return home, is to do shadow work and embrace the deepest darkest fears of our soul. The haunted forest represents the journey into the subconscious, which stores the repressed memories, thoughts, and feelings.
Once at the castle, the witch threatens to kill Toto (intuition). Intuition is soul-guided, it is when our true self is running the ship and guiding our decisions. The Witch (shadow) knows that if we are to remove the intuition, the ego will forever be in control. Dorothy offers to give up all her power (slippers) in exchange for her intuition (Toto). But before this can happen, Toto escapes. Her intuition knows that the only way to survive is to find the other aspects of herself that need shadow work – the Lion (courage), Tinman (compassion), and Scarecrow (wisdom).
Toto leads the crew back to the castle, which literally represents our subconscious mind. The guards are put in place to protect us from releasing these painful memories. And it is here in which the shadow work takes place.
The scarecrow, fearful of not having a brain is the one who develops the plan. This plan includes the Lion leading the way; although quite fearful, courageously states “I’ll do it if it means saving Dorothy….I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there.” It takes true courage to take on the hidden aspects of ourselves.
The climatic scene within the castle comes when the witch sets the scarecrow on fire – his greatest weakness. In an effort to put out the fire, Dorothy throws water on the fire and it subsequently gets on the Witch. To their surprise, the water begins to melt away the witch leading to her demise.
The greatest threat to our true self, the Wicked Witch of the West, could only be defeated by the most basic, purest substance of all – water. The substances that we carry within every cell and makes up the majority of our body is the very purity that we needed to defeat our shadow.
Once she melts away, the guards rejoice that the wicked witch is dead. The guards forgot that what they were protecting this entire time was working against us. This is how repressed thoughts work, they feel they are protecting us, but in reality they are still apart of us and always will be until we face them directly.
The difficulty about shadows, is the more we try to resist them, the more they appear. We cannot run, hide, or drink away these hidden aspects of ourselves.
The Power Lies Within:
Upon returning to the Wizard, the group presents the broomstick. The broomstick is symbolic for sweeping away aspects of our self which is why the Wizard required the group to do so.
However, he still refuses to grant their wishes. This time, the group starts to argue with him due to his lack of integrity. This is the beginning of their questioning of the organized religious system and the brainwashing of everything they had been told to be true. They are ready for the awakening process. Of course it is Toto, the intuition, who takes the next step by removing the sheet to reveal that the Wizard is just an old man using a voice projector and a smoke machine to create the effects of “the Wizard.”
Here is their breaking away from organized religion, the Wizard has been exposed. The group is infuriated and demands the gifts of a brain, heart, and courage.
The Wizard affirms that it is all a lie. He then goes on to tell the Scarecrow that everyone has a brain before presenting him with a diploma. Instantaneously the Scarecrow recites a complex mathematical equation. The Wizard then tells the lion that he has disorganized thinking and that he only thinks he lacks courage because he runs away from danger – which he instructs him is actually wisdom. He then explains that the lion has displayed courage and presents him with a medal of honor. The same is done for the Tinman by explaining everyone has a heart and is then presented with a heart-shaped clock.
Next, he needs to fulfill Dorothy’s promise – to send her home. Once we are on the spiritual path we start to have this longing for home. This feeling that there is a greater existence out there and that this life is a temporary placement but eventually we will return to a place we call home.
The Wizards is a big talker and explains how he will fly her home in a hot air balloon. There is a major celebration and spectacle of an event in which he boasts about his great powers one final time. Just as the balloon is ready to take off, Toto hops out of the balloon knowing that Dorothy will follow shortly thereafter.
The balloon sails away and the Wizard says he cannot return as he does not know how to operate the balloon. Hot air balloons represent feelings of social elevation and superiority, fame, or popularity. Toto realizes this is another ego trap and escapes from the situation.
Another panic ensues for a short period of time as Dorothy feels stuck, stranded, and unable to return home. At this point, Glinda returns to their aid. Dorothy starts begging for help before the following exchange:
“Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?” Dorothy pleaded.
“You don’t need help any longer,” Glinda smiled, “You always had the power to go back to Kansas.”
“Then why didn’t you tell her before?” demanded the scarecrow
“Because she wouldn’t have believed me,” said Glinda, “She had to learn it for herself.”
“What have your learned Dorothy?” asked the Tinman.
“I think that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntee Em. And if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
While her friends found this concept too simple, they were confused as to why they never thought of it earlier. Glinda simply responds:
“No, she had to find it out for herself.”
While the story has to do with Dorothy going back to a physical home, this symbolizes of a peaceful state of mind and redemption of the Self. Home refers to our true self. We all have the power within us to return home at anytime, but just like for Dorothy, it is a journey that we have to figure out on our own.
“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” -Hippocrates
As a child, I remember walking in my grandmother’s backyard and one day noticed a litter of kittens near her garage in the alleyway. They were hissing, crying, and yelping with the hair sticking up on their backs as their frames were so thin you could see their skeletons.
“I want to pet them,” I told my grandmother.
“Oh no. They are not ready for that,” she insisted, “Someone must have dropped them off and they need food and water first.”
“Why not?” I asked, “Are they bad kittens?”
“Of course not, “ she laughed, “there is no such thing as bad or evil. There is only misguided love. These kittens were abandoned and they just need love. But they are also starving so we need to first feed them so they can refill what is missing.”
We went inside and came back with dishes of tuna fish, milk, and water for the kittens. Like always, grandmothers are always right. As the kittens indulged in the meal we brought them, the hair on their backs went down and their growls turned to purring sounds. When cats purr it is an instinctive reaction to communicate their mood as content, calm, and safe.
It was truly amazing. They were lacking basic survival needs of food and water, which had altered their behavior to aggressive and mean. Yet, once that need was met, they were content and friendly.
I look back at this story often as it has so many wonderful lessons attached. The first such is that when these kittens were lacking basic needs – such as food and water – and then finally presented with fulfillment of these needs, they instinctively indulged. In fact, a few of the kittens actually vomited after eating so fast.
It makes perfect sense. If I am walking in the desert and dehydrated and finally brought to an oasis, I am going to drink water to replenish the fluids and nutrients that were have been missing. If I am starving, I am going to crave foods to relieve all the nutrients that are missing. But, what if I am spiritually starving or thirsty? Wouldn’t it only make sense that if presented with a substance that would seem to instantly fill this void, I would also indulge?
Spirituality is not religion; although religion is a type of spirituality.
Most people that get turned off by the word spirituality have had a negative experience with religion, which is why it is essential to differentiate between the two terms. Spirituality refers to finding purpose and meaning in life, as well as a sense of connection to the universe outside of our self. Some people find this in religion, which is why religion is a type of spirituality. Religion does so with traditions, customs, books, and preachers. And at the core, all religions have the exact same spiritual message – to love one another unconditionally.
Spirituality can be found in any type of connection such as nature, sports teams, understanding the universe, in meditation, groups of people with a common goal, love, friendships, and mindfulness. All of use experience spirituality at times of our lives, though may not have used that term or understood what the term actually means.
As Ekhart Tolle explains, the word is not the experience, “The word honey isn’t honey. You can study and talk about it as long as you like, but you won’t really know it until after you taste it. After you tasted it, the word becomes less important to you.”
In this same sense, the word spirituality turns people off. But it is not the word, it is the experience in which we have all had in our lives such as:
· Moment of clarity
· Sense of inner peace or calmness
· A burst of euphoria
· A feeling of interconnection with the world around us
· Being in the present moment
· Detached from all of life’s labels and feeling as your true self
· Unconditional love
Is Spirituality a Human Need / Desire?
“At every stage, addiction is driven by one of the most powerful, mysterious, and vital forces of human existence. What drives addiction is longing — a longing not just of the brain, belly, or loins but finally, of the heart.” ~ Cornelius Plantinga
In the opening story, I share the story of the kittens that were derived of their basic animal needs of food and water for survival. But is spirituality also a human need and/or desire?
This answer comes in two parts. The first portion involves the innate need for love and connection, whereas the second part involves a historical perspective of spirituality in humanity.
In 1958, Harry Harlow performed the controversial “Wire Mother Experiment” which was a designed experiment on the overlooked human need of love.
In one part of the study, the monkeys were reared in isolation in which many died and others were frightened and acted abnormally. Once they grew older, they could not interact with other monkeys. The second study separated monkeys from their mother and gave them options of two surrogate mothers – one made from wire and the other with a soft cloth, both which provided milk. All the monkeys spent more time with the mother made of cloth, even if she had no milk. They would only go to the wire mother when they were hungry and then spent the remainder of the day with the soft cloth mother.
Furthermore, when a scary object was placed in the cage, they rushed to the cloth mother for support. The monkeys were also more willing to explore, or take risks, when the cloth mother was present. This allowed Harlow to conclude that for a monkey to develop normally they must have some interaction with an object they can cling to during those critical first few months.
Back to the story with my grandmother, the behavioral theory would suggest that the kittens needed food and water which is why they responded with joy after that need was met. However, Harlow’s theory shows that it is actually that these kittens were abandoned of their basic animal need, love and security, which created the erratic behavior and they were only brought back to loving animals once they established trust and love.
In regards to the human history of spirituality it goes back to the beginning of humanity. Humans have always shared a desire to alter their level of consciousness in one way or another. The oldest evidence dates back 40,000 years ago in which archeologists have discovered cave paintings in France that show images of humans in a trance-like states, indicating the first recorded history of humans intentionally altering their consciousness.
All ancient cultures have had different ways in attempting to do the same, including indigenous tribes in the Americas would go on vision quests in nature in which they tried to find their mission or purpose in life. Tribes in Africa dance in the streets until they feel the presence of their creator, other tribes in the east will dance on hot coals to try to free their spirit from the body, and many other cultures use meditation as a means to alter their consciousness.
As shown by Harlow, spirituality in regards to love and connection is a basic human need. As indicated by historical accounts, for at least the past 40,000 years humans have had a strong desire to alter their consciousness.
And psychoactive substances have always contributed to this.
Historical Substance Use
One of the oldest organized religions today is Hinduism, which was founded around 3500 B.C. in eastern India. The scrolls and texts of the Hindu religion is organized in books known as the Vedas, which is put together by a series of poems and hymns. Throughout the texts, there are numerous references to the drug/plant called Soma. The drug is basically idolized and worshipped as a hallucinogenic drug that helps the people of this time feel a sense of connection to the world.
Today, experts still do not know what this plant is and have been unable to discover its origins. Historians believe that the drug got into the public’s hands and started to be abused recreationally which led to the first prohibition of a drug.
In the southwestern American tribes they used peyote buttons from cactus at religious ceremonies to feel the presence of the Great Spirit. Also in the ancient Americas, tobacco was initially used in prayer and in South America the Coca plant was originally deemed a gift from the Gods. In the East, opium and cannabis also first were believed to be gifts from the Gods and used in religious ceremonies as it served as a way to alter the level of consciousness. While these ancient cultures it seemed worshiped these drugs by their texts, documents, and artifacts, one could argue that not much has changed.
If someone were to research our current times a couple thousand years from now, they will report that this generation wore clothing and jewelry with a hemp plant, 90-percent of their popular music made references to this hemp plant, and their passionate conversations and debates all revolved around the use of this plant. They will clearly say that cannabis was worshipped in this time.
Even alcohol has its spiritual roots as the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all had Goddesses of Wine. Today, go into any liquor store and they still refer to hard liquor as spirits. As Bill W, the founder of AA refers to the formula for addiction as “spiritus contra spiritum,” which is directly translated to spirits against spirits. This means that the only solution to fight the spirits (alcohol) is to find a spiritual solution in a natural way.
The Craving Behind The Craving
Addiction is a spiritual disease. It is a thirst, quench, hunger, or starvation for some type of fulfillment or wholeness in a person’s life. People who become addicted to something or another either have an initial void of spirituality, a innate higher drive for a spiritual connection, or a combination of the two.
In listening to many speakers over the years it is quite apparent that the first time the person uses their drug of choice, it significantly alters their consciousness to the point that addiction is inevitable. Just as the opening story indicates that the kittens indulged in food and water because of they were dangerously lacking the nutrients to fill what was missing, people who become addicted certainly share the same behavior in indulging in alcohol and drugs that help fill their spiritual void.
The craving behind the craving refers to looking beyond the desire to use the drug, but rather the desire of the spiritual connection.
In an unofficial collegiate study, a graduate student surveyed about 200 people including students, professors, and staff in regards to the reasons why they use alcohol. The student provided a checklist of ten reasons why the person uses and they could check off however many applied. The results showed that 100-percent of the people in the survey checked off the box marked, “I like the feeling.”
Every single person that drinks alcohol does so because they like the feeling. Which made me dig deeper into examining exactly what is this feeling that everyone craves?
Using personal experience along with talking with others that are actively using or in early recovery, we came up with a list of our own in describing the feeling of being drunk or being high:
· Everything makes sense / I just get it……………………………….…(Moment of clarity)
· I just relax and not worry about all the stressors of life………(Inner peace)
· Everything is better – food, people, jokes, experiences…….(Euphoria)
· I understand people better / love for everyone………………..(Interconnection/oneness)
· Not worried about minor things / Content in moment….….(Being present)
· Freedom from self-criticism and anxiety …………..……………..(True self)
· No judgments about anyone……………………………………………..(Unconditional love)
In reviewing the list, you see that it is the exact same feelings of a spiritual moment. This proves it is not the drug we are craving, we are craving the feeling the drug provides. The drug is just a tool to help us reach that spiritual connection.
If I am dehydrated, I am going to drink water or fluids that help replenish what missing. If I am starving, I am going to eat some food that brings energy and life back into my body to restore what was missing. If I am spiritually starving, and have not yet identified that unfulfilled need, I am likely to indulge in a drink, a joint, or a pill that will temporarily revitalize all these things that have been depleted.
See the Forest for the Trees
It is highly common for people to find their first encounter with spirituality in the natural world and in nature. On a sober trip that I took with a group a few years ago, we went camping in one of the most beautiful places in the country – Northern California. We spent a couple of days in the Redwood Natural Forest and finding instant connection with the world around us.
In observing the Redwood Trees, there was something quite majestic about these giants. They stood about 300 feet high, some were 20 feet wide, in fact some of the trees have tunnels carved in the middle of them through the highway and our bus drove right through the center. The Redwoods are the tallest living organism on Earth and some of them date back to the time of the Ancient Greek Empire 2,500 years ago.
I always wondered, how do they grow so tall? Whenever there are storms, the tallest trees always topple over because they lack the strength to survive the strong winds. In order for a tree to grow tall, it needs strong and deep roots. But, in looking at the size of the Redwoods, you would think that the roots must reach to the center of the Earth to keep these trees upright amidst strong winds.
But then I discovered that the Redwood Trees roots only grow about five or six feet deep, only adding to my confusion and admiration of the species. Upon further research, I was told that the roots of the Redwoods actually grow horizontally and go about 100 feet wide. Also, they need to grow together in forests so that their roots can interlock underneath and they help prop each other up. You can not grow an individual Redwood tree, they can only grow together so their roots can connect and ensure that they grow together.
The trees also cycle nutrients amongst each other to help each other grow. The tallest trees collect moisture from the fog and share with the shorter trees, and the barks of the trees are intentionally burnt so help cycle the nutrients at the bottoms of the trees.
The story of the Redwoods is a perfect metaphor for spirituality and addiction. We can not survive the storm alone, but once we are able to interlock and find a sense of connection outside of ourselves we are able to embrace the storm and help each other flourish as we rise above and reach the skyline.
I once worked at an Intense Psychiatric rehab facility. Every week we would have our team meetings in which we would go over the treatment plans of the 16 patients.
We would have the mental health practitioner present the patients, their goals, and their progress.
One day, we talked about this new patient, a schizophrenic, and we discuss his goals. It is said that this is a ‘career schizophrenic’ that goes to hospitals over and over. His goal is to marry Paris Hilton and play golf on the European golf tour.
After this is said, everyone cracks up. The laughing is intense, everyone teases, ridicules, and assassinates his character.
I am a little intrigued with this new case because I love golf. I am terrible at golf, however, to be outside in nature with the sun for 4 hours I love.
The lessons golf taught me was like exercise for my mind. Every shot matters in the same way that every moment matters. If I hit the ball near a tree, then become angry and impulsive, and try to smack it out of the woods, it will likely hit a tree, and I will be in worse shape. However, if I let my ego down, and chip it out, then I will be better off.
It all adds up, little things matter, have patience, and the only shot that matters is the one in front of you. Swing soft and the ball will go further, nothing is as it seems. Do the opposite of what the ego tells you to do. You cannot beat nature, go with nature. Use your talents, do not try to be like other players. Stay within yourself and be humble.
This is why I loved golf. It was some sort of meditation for me. Those things I learned in golf, could be said of life as well.
One day back at the psychiatric rehab facility, I walk upstairs, and I see these ratty old shoes hanging over one of the couches. I look over and there is the guy, the ‘Paris Hilton golfer guy’ we’d talked about. He wears the same clothes every day, it is likely all he owns.
He says he’s not sick, but he has to take medications. He gets angry if anyone tries to talk to him about his “illness.”
I just walk by him daily for about 2 months, the whole time thinking he is a typical schizophrenic, thinking to myself, let’s write our notes, get him out of here and go home. Let’s get our checks and continue living the lie. I was so embarrassed to be there, a part of this industry, I just did not want to talk to him….and I felt like a fraud.
So, one time I talked to him about golf to measure his awareness. He knew a lot, so I was surprised. Then, I began to talk to him daily and they became just person to person talks. He had started coming down to talk to me more because it was more of a friendship than me acting in my role there – which would just be me asking him about his “coping skills” and his “goals,” and the other stuff they teach you to say in school, and at these trainings.
He did not seem to feel threatened by me or assume I was prodding him in order to write things down in his chart. When patients act nervous or suspicious, we are taught to think: “See, they are paranoid.”
However, is that really paranoid? We read their charts and decide who they are without ever getting to know them! I think their lack of trust and not wanting us to write things down is a perfectly normal response based on the circumstances they are usually in. If they say the wrong thing to the wrong person, then it’s another forced treatment and commitment.
I swung my clubs inside one day that I had brought my clubs into work. He saw me, and said “Whoa, not bad.”
He then asked “Hey, can I take a swing?”
This was the beginning of one of the most deeply profound experiences of my life – one in which my false selves would all die. But there was more to come.
This profound moment did not take place in a church, in a school, or as part of a momentous occasion. No, I was about to learn about life from a lifelong schizophrenic at a golf course!
Not quite as I had dreamt this moment of enlightenment would be!
He swung the club, and it was one of the nicest swings I had seen in person. I was shocked. Of course, that didn’t mean he was a European pro. However, I did start to doubt my own pre-conceived notions as an “expert.”
Could I, the all mighty one be wrong in my beliefs? It brought me back to a time when I was working at the county hospital. One of the doctors training me said, “You don’t treat the diagnosis, you treat the patient, everyone is different.”
I had an idea, and I went to get support from the program director to take my new golfing friend (and anyone else who wanted to come) to the driving range. I chose the ‘the university’ where I got my golf lessons, it was close, and I was familiar with this place.
I got the O.K, and we drove the van to the driving range. We arrive and there is a bunch of young kids — teens with fancy clubs and clothes, looking us over as we walk onto the course — a group of patients perceived as mentally ill.
The college kids golfing had that look like “Umm I think you guys are lost” or the “Not in our neighborhood” looks.
Here is a schizophrenic guy with 20-year-old shoes, long hair, and 10-year-old jeans. We had no clubs other than mine. All the course can offer my friend is a 9 iron for kids, which typically a professional golfer can use to hit a ball about 150 yards. I am sure they had more appropriate clubs on offer, but it seemed they did not want the lunatic ruining their clubs. In fact, they did not want the lunatic on the grass!
The patient says “O.K.”, he was not arguing. This man is 6’5. In addition to being an ‘ill-fit’ for a man of this height, this club looked as though it had been well used by kids for about 20 years or more, but my lunatic friend is just happy to be there…as is everyone else.
Then came that moment, the one that changes everything!
He puts the ball down. All these young teens, with their 3000-dollar clubs and their fancy clothes are all chuckling and watching, I am watching, the other patients are watching. The tension is building.
He says “Wow, I haven’t swung a club in a long time.”
I was so nervous at this point – I could see all eyes were watching, and I was wondered, was this a delusion? By bringing him here, am I hurting this guy and embarrassing him? I felt my body get tighter, my teeth were clenched, my heart racing, I was really feeling it.
I look at his face, I watch his eyes, they are not schizophrenic eyes. His tongue was tightly wrapped on the outside left side of his mouth. He has this grimace on his face – the look of extreme like focus. I glanced at his feet, they are not schizophrenic feet anymore, they are solid, on the ground, in perfect stance. His arms are not schizophrenic arms, the hand grip is right, but the club does not fit him.
I sense the energy building as everyone was watching this “freak.” The thing is, he could not sense it – he already knew what we were about to find out. He was not hitting the ball for just himself, he was hitting it for me, to give me hope. He was hitting it for the other patients. He was hitting it for the watching teens — the bunch of 18 to 22-year-olds who already have their mind made up, and they wait because they want to laugh. He was hitting it for them!
And then it happened – he hit the ball, it goes well over 175 yards, with a child’s 9 iron! The ball flew so high in the air, in a manner a pro-golfer would hit it. It towered over the earth, and the ball was so beautiful in flight, it was like a magical TV moment. I could not believe it, and as for the others, well you could have heard a pin drop! Complete and total silence – everyone was still. The world had stopped, and mine had changed forever.
It was all perfect!
Had the first shot been a miss, no one would have watched any longer. The first shot was the key! But it was not a ball you could say was just struck well by an amateur. It had the look of a talented golfer. He had not swung a club in years, he had a junior club, he carried no fancy equipment, nor did he wear fancy shoes or a glove. He was in jeans, a sweatshirt, and those old raggedy shoes.
He did not do it right just once though, he did it repeatedly! Eventually people were not whispering anymore, and after a time they went back to hitting their balls.
Then more magic happened!
At a driving range like this, you see many golfers hitting many balls. They are all in flight and all hit well. But on this day, there was always one ball that towered over the rest and made the others look like little kids. I started watching the teens – they had started swinging and missing and hitting terrible shots. Our schizophrenic’s style may have been affecting their game, after all in their minds, schizophrenics who look like this guy are not supposed to do what he is doing.
I could barely move. I had been shown the truth yet again. I hit some O.K shots myself that day, but it did not really matter anymore. Things had changed for me.
My new golfing friend walked over and started giving me tips on my golf swing, and all those tips worked well. I could not believe this. Then I look behind me and see there is 20 teens watching him hit the ball – watching him teach me! It was all surreal and utterly impressive. Of course, watching from the side were our other patients, tripping and laughing, running around. The world had been moved – for all of us!
Then came another moment – a moment that still tears me up as I write this account here now. One teen with extreme courage and bravery came up and asked my friend for advice on his swing. What courage to do this in front of his shaken peers. Instead of teasing, he came and asked for help. Earlier they had mocked and judged, but my guy did not care about that. He said “sure”, as it was obvious, he loved helping. Before we knew it, we had the schizophrenic giving golf tips to these college golfers. I would never be the same, and I knew it in that moment.
I remember getting back to the facility and sitting down. My co-workers said, “You must really like golf, I’ve never seen you so alive and energized.”
I could not describe what I had just seen and my account here is still not doing it justice. All I could say was “yeah I like golf.”
We went to golf again maybe 3 times he and I, and we had long talks in the car. He started telling me about his life growing up, how he got involved in the system. I started teaching him about schizophrenia.
Eventually, he said to me, “Well I have been going to these hospitals and group homes for over 20 years, and no one has ever explained it to me like that. I think I do have that disease, actually maybe they are right.”
I think others had explained it to him, but he had not listened, because no one had ever listened to him. He was open and without fear with me. Ironically, I only talked to him by chance really, and prior to that I had ignored him for 2 months.
Everyone played a role in my ‘inner change’ at that time – from the negative mental health practitioner who tried to make a joke of his treatment plan, to the great program director. I started to listen carefully to what my golfing friend said when he went on a rant, instead of just falling back on preconceived notions as I would have done in the past. He talked about the college he went to, so I decided to look it up online, and there it was, a picture of him, clean cut, well dressed and very well groomed. He had a 4.0 and was captain of a division-1 golf team.
My life changed forever with that first swing that stopped the world, and it happened at a time when I had given up on the ‘mental health industry’ coming to believe it was all a fraud. My life change made me realize the mental health industry was not always a terrible business. Yes there are terrible things that happen, and terrible abuses do occur, but that was not good enough reason to give it all up completely – I had been shown good reason to stay. I would work on the inside and do my best to create change. It is only a fraud if we allow it to be.
There is a moral to this story…
We have the power over every present moment we are in. Present moments will always build on the past moments, much like golf. We can always find evil if we look for it. However, as Socrates said “Our energy is better spent on focusing on positive future than on the negative past.”
And it was Francis of Assisi who said “The best criticism of the bad is the practice ofthe better. “
The point of this article is to acknowledge that everyone is human, we are all connected, and we all have things to offer. If we put our being into treating others as equals deserving of love and respect (without the ‘superiors and inferiors’ nonsense), then things start to change for the better. When you drop the facades and preconceptions, the ego allows you to see truth and that’s when magic happens. When we take that leap, (or are forced into it like those with schizophrenia), what happens is a type of freedom and beauty enters your life, that I cannot explain with mere words.
But I can say this: Labels can destroy lives!
My greatest teacher was a “schizophrenic” – a man who had been committed to an institution for over 10 years, by a court who deemed him “crazy”. Like others I worked alongside of, I had almost closed myself off to him because I believed the label he’d been given – that of sick and delusional man – could NOT be a teacher, let alone my teacher. Yet there he was waiting for me – my greatest ever teacher – and all I had to do was ‘lose the mask’ and forget the labels to see him for who he really was. Is this not what seeking enlightenment is all about?