Lost and Never Found

“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?


The father.


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.


How????


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…


Because…..

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.


She spent her last dollars on my football.


I still have that football today.

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

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

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR

The (Yellow Brick) Road to Enlightenment

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.

 

The Twister:

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.

 

Ego Traps:

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.

 

Shadow Work:

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.

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
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

The Craving Behind the Craving: Addiction as a Spiritual Disease

“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

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.

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
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

The Lunatic is on the Grass: : A schizophrenic golfer unwittingly removes stigma of mental health

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 of the 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? 

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
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