“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