From Darkness, Comes Light: September is Suicide Prevention Month

Scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post about Suicide Prevention Month.

Ten years ago if someone brought up suicide, it was a taboo thought filled with stigma. Now it is the norm. We hear someone passed, and more often than not we think suicide as the first reason. I strongly believe being in active addiction is slow suicide. The post flooded me with a lot of emotions. I immediately knew I wanted to write a blog about a particular way suicide touched my life. 

It was a dark and cloudy day in California. We were just waiting for the rain to pour down on us. Two of my friends and I were driving around town on a mission. One of our friends had disappeared. Her phone was off, and we hadn’t had contact with her for a considerable amount of time. All of us are in recovery and have battled addiction for years. We knew that someone going MIA usually indicates a relapse. We also have learned after relapse, loneliness consumes us. We wanted to be able to support our friend in need. 

We really had no idea where to start looking for her. We went to every gas station and bar we could think of. Every place we entered with the hope to hear, “Yes we have seen her.” And every place we heard “no,” without feeling and compassion. They had no idea through our “recovery” eyes, a relapse is potential suicide. Our hearts were being beaten, place by place. Our friend had battled mental health issues over the years. We shared a lot of similarities with trauma and seeking help from mental health professionals. Deep down I knew this could not only be a potential relapse but a mental breakdown or worse. In the midst of all the madness of running around, I opened up my Facebook. I see that my friend had posted a lengthy goodbye letter. My heart sank. The emotion spilled through every sentence and included pictures in her past. I immediately read out loud and showed the post to my friends. The energy completely shifted in that article post. We all went into complete flight mode. 

My friend broke the monotonous silence. She stated a few weeks back she was driving with our friend, and she stated if she was to kill herself it would be at the train tracks and then proceeded to point them out. It was a whim, but we had to check. It was about 30 minutes away. We ran every red light on the way. Halfway there we decided we need to reach out to the police. We had no idea if she would be there, we had no credible evidence, but we also knew we couldn’t handle this on our own. We finally made it to the tracks, the police hadn’t arrived yet. We jetted out of the car and it started raining. We couldn’t find her. We decided to run along the tracks hoping to see her at some point along the way. We saw the cops behind us as we were running soaked on the gravel. 

After about a half of a mile, we found her lying under a bush next to the tracks. She was alive, but she refused to move. She was furious that we found her. We ruined her plan. She wanted nothing to do with us. Her soul was dead. Tears were flowing out of everyone’s eyes. The cops finally caught up with us. The tension with everyone was explosive. The cops separated us from her and we waited by the side of the tracks. The emotions we felt were indescribable. As we were being interviewed by the police a train went across those very tracks. At that moment, we all realized if we were 15 minutes later, the ending of the story would be fatal. The ambulance took her away, and the three of us were left emotionally broken and unwell. 

We were angry, sad, and broken. We really did not know how to deal with the aftermath. The terms we left the situation was not good. The three of us become inseparable in the following weeks. Still, now, we are inseparable and I am thankful they are apart of my life. We were able to openly talk about our emotions popping up. We knew we had to put our recovery first. We increased our work in the recovery community. We knew staying busy was key. We knew that our friend had a stay at the hospital and then headed to treatment for her mental and substance disorders. Our anger turned into gratitude. We were at peace knowing she was in a safe place. This helped with us being able to move forward. 

I knew prior to starting this blog, that I needed to reach out to my friend and make sure she was okay with me sharing this personal story. I was honestly very scared to bring the past up with her. I wasn’t sure if it would trigger her, or my friends by bringing up the subject. To my surprise, she was fully on board with the blog. She explained that her addiction and suicidal thoughts, ran side by side. When things would start to go downhill, the feeling of loneliness ensued. In turn, she started to not take her prescription as prescribed. She stressed the importance of following physician’s orders and prescriptions. Seeking help is key. Letting your feelings out is key. Loneliness can turn into a fatal downhill spiral. 

We were able to catch up on life! Mentally, physically, and spiritually she is doing amazing. She is in a wonderful relationship and got a house. She was elated to tell me all the good things going on. She went on to tell me about her job. She works in a hospice care unit. I got chills when I heard this. Here was a person trying to leave in darkness, and now she has the opportunity to help people leave in light. Full Circle. 

Suicide is becoming more normalized than ever. This does not have to be apart of your story. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You are not alone. People do care. Be Well. 

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Happy National Recovery Month!!!

National Recovery Month is a national observance held every September. It is designed to educate Americans on mental health and substance use disorders, in addition to celebrating the work of individuals in recovery and providing support to affected families and patients. This is an important month for me. I battle both: Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Alcohol, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and this list also goes on. 

Junkie, Crazy, Wasted, Depression, Dirty, Psycho, Clean, Hammered, Crack Head, Anxiety,  Stoner, Lush, Pill Popper, Tipsy, Tweaker, Bi-Polar, Crack Head, Strung Out, Freak, Baked, Fiend, Wino, Pill-Popper, Dissociative Personality, Disorder, Boozer, PTSD, Blitzed, Druggie, Schizophrenia, Burnt, Psycho. Every word you just read, an image popped in your head to associate with that word. The weight of the stigma in these words is evident. It turns my stomach typing these terms out; I know people identified me with these terms, and in turn, I defined myself by these words. 

My mental health and substance abuse issues have taken me all over the place: Therapists, Psychiatrists, Counselors, Trauma Therapy, Sexual Trauma Therapy, Intensive Out-Patient Programs, In-patient Mental Hospitals, 12 Step Programs, Life Coaches, Self-Help Groups, Substance Abuse Treatment, and even Sober Living. Honestly many of these I have tried multiple times.

Every time I went to receive assistance for my issues,  I carried all these identities on my back, weighing myself into oblivion. “Don’t you know who I am?” “Don’t you know what I have been through?” I am sure all of us can relate to these questions. I finally got to the point that I dropped all my identities and had to start working with a blank canvas. Coming to the realization that I didn’t know anything, and taking direction from someone else, was the scariest thing I ever did.

Recovery doesn’t discriminate; it can impact every color, sexuality, gender, and socio-economic class. Some of my greatest supporters on the outside have nothing in common with me, but I wanted what they had on the inside.  I had to have the willingness to listen.  I always thought I was in control, but in reality, I skated by life. I needed to follow directions from medical professionals, other people who have been through the same situation I was in, and like-minded friends and family who wanted to see me thrive. The more I listened and learned, the more I was able to accept my reality. I began to accept myself, and life for what it was. 

I tried everything as I was an infant again. I had all these preconceived notions of what I like and what I needed. Once I let go of those thoughts I was able to fill that blank canvas. I did everything I was told and said yes to everything. I learned I like to garden, photography, and hiking. In my substance use and mental health struggles, I would never have attempted to do these things. Recovery isn’t about becoming who you think you are, it’s about learning who you are meant to be. 

My canvas now is filled, and constantly growing larger. It is filled with new hobbies, new friends, family members, and friends I had once lost due to my behaviors, a support group of people who deal with the same issues I do. Most importantly my canvas is filled with new identities and characteristics: Honesty, Acceptance, Integrity, Courage, Strength, Trusting, Loving, Hard Working, Supportive, Compassionate, Patient, and Willing. 

Being employed by Workit Health has become the greatest gift from my recovery. I have an amazing team: Kali, Courtney, Amy, Jacob, Shaniece, Dom, and Jessica. All of us have experienced or been touched by recovery personally. If you have ever called in, you have spoken with one of us. We carry hope, compassion, and care for every single person we come in contact with. Asking for help is the hardest thing to do. We are all in gratitude that we can be a small stepping stone in people’s pursuit of happiness. Recovery is possible! It is constant work and requires great attention to our mental and physical body. 

Recovery month is not only to celebrate those in recovery but to bring hope and light to the possibilities brought on by working on ourselves. Be well. 

Dealing With Trauma in Sobriety

Coming into this sober lifestyle, and gaining a new group of like-minded friends, the word “trauma” comes up all the time.

Trauma is defined as deeply distressing or disturbing experiences. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse are what we commonly associate with trauma, but this also would include loss of a loved one, a car accident, a natural disaster, and even just receiving bad news.

Seriously, who hasn’t dealt with trauma?

It’s a fact of life. With that definition, it is easy to see how trauma impacts the majority. For myself, I have dealt with many types of trauma. I have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The impact this had on my psyche is overwhelming. I had this continuous nightmare, intense snippets from my past, throwing my thought process into a screeching halt. This brought on an extreme case of PTSD, panic attacks, and a tremendous amount of wild mood swings. I found the answer to all my problems: Drugs and alcohol! It helped me numb my mind, body, and lack of spirit. It took me out of that mental hamster wheel nightmare; It became my quick “duct tape fix.” Even though the substances brought on car accidents, jail, hospitalizations, money, and most importantly the identity of being a victim. When my addiction finally spiraled me into rehab, I was adamant in fixing my PTSD from my assault. I also new my kryptonite was ANY substance to make me feel different.

On 4/6/2013 I overdosed. I was put on life support and in an induced coma in a military hospital. When I finally came out of it, the doctors asked why this happened. This was the first time I was completely honest and open. I explained to them I was a victim of rape and sexual assault and drugs and alcohol were my answer. They explained to me what PTSD was, and it was very apparent to them, as well as myself, that I had all the symptoms. They decided to place me in a PTSD unit at the military hospital. They felt It would be a great way for me to learn more about it and moreover how to cope. All of the men I was in the unit had PTSD from combat. This was my real introduction to PTSD falling into different categories. Although our traumas and symptoms were different, we were all able to bond on feelings. I felt comfortable talking about what I had gone through, what I felt, and how it had influenced my decisions. Unfortunately, the curriculum was driven for them and I had a hard time applying it to the trauma I had endured. 

Although I still had PTSD, I was able to acquire four-plus years of sobriety. Just as many of us have experienced I relapsed. That last run brought me to my knees. I was broken, sad, afraid, and my PTSD was savage. I worked harder than I ever have on my recovery. I went to an inpatient facility for three months. I attended classes on addiction, group therapy, and twelve-step meetings. In early sobriety, my PTSD grew even more. I was constantly working my brain and talking about my past. After two months my anxiety and panic attacks dissipated. For once I felt whole. I felt like I had conquered my demons and was not looking back! I became very active in the recovery community. I spoke frequently at twelve-step meetings about my trauma and how I had overcome all the obstacles life handed me. 

Surprise! Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean life is all glitter, rainbows, and puppies. At six months sober I started to become very anxious about everything, which quickly turned into depression and catapulted in full PTSD. Night terrors were the norm. Panic attacks were daily. Memories of all my past trauma resurfaced in depths I never thought imaginable. Sanity left me completely. My support groups were on high alert. I knew I had to dig deeper and face my past head-on. In desperation, I started sexual trauma therapy. I had never done this before, but it was apparent I needed help. I went once a week and physically shook like a leaf every day. It taught me how much I considered myself a victim in all aspects of my life. It taught me not only survival but how to thrive with the disorder. Slowly the nightmares and panic attacks lessened in intensity and frequency. I completed an eight-week program I was symptom-free. I felt amazing. I was myself again. After a couple of months, I had a night terror. This brought me to a crashing halt. I was so depressed. “I am a failure. I did all this hard work for nothing. I’m terminally ill. I am better off dead.” Trauma therapy taught me to change my perception of thinking. “The panic attack wasn’t as intense. I did do a lot of hard work. I did learn a lifetime of information about myself and how to live through the rough moments. I am loved by many. I deserve and want to live.” I instantly started keeping myself busy. Constantly reaching out to my support group. I started being more active in twelve-step programs. I listed every single accomplishment I did. Some days getting out of bed is an accomplishment! After a week or so I came out of the funk.

PTSD has no finish line. There is no cure. We have to learn how to balance ourselves. In a blink of an eye, we can go tumbling down. I still struggle still. Becoming sober makes changes to our brains make up. I’m always learning new things about myself and seeing my past with a different perception. Being open and honest to yourself and others is the most helpful. By opening up about your trauma it can start a conversation for someone who always felt alone. We all know that can be a horrible feeling. Be kind to yourself. Stay Strong. Be a Survivor!

I’m More Than a Statistic

These last few weeks, just like many others, have been heavy-hearted.

The news is filled with negativity and hate. Social media is filled with opinions of all sorts.

So many statistics are being thrown out left and right. Between racism, unemployment, gun control, COVID, the number of statistics out is astronomical. It’s a math equation from hell. Everything is being divided into numbers and categories. This put me into a state of reflection. How have I become a statistic/categorized in my life?

Even from an early age, I felt separated. Although I am not Black, I am a minority. I was adopted by a white military family. My earliest memories when we were stationed in Louisiana, was driven by racism. “Why would he adopt him?”, my parents were asked. “He will never grow upright with different colored parents.” My mom was once asked if I would grow up speaking English since I was a different color skin. My mom was told that my father must have been very dark-skinned if I came out (birthed) this dark. Ignorance and racism have impacted my family greatly over the years.

At thirteen I became a statistic again. I was sexually assaulted and raped. I was a gay male of color who lived in silence for years. I am the statistic who didn’t press charges. I began living my life in fear. It reaffirmed that I was unworthy of happiness. This drove me into every statistic of mental health you can imagine. Depression, anxiety, self-mutilation, PTSD, rehabs, abusive relationships, alcohol, and drug abuse. I would seek anything to make me feel good. My life consisted of drugs, sex, and money for years.

In 2018 I became a statistic once again, and it became a pivotal moment in my life. I went to a local health clinic and was given the diagnosis of being HIV+. I remember that moment vividly. All I could think was: of course. All the statistics I was brought up with, the sexual assault, the sharing of needles, all the unprotected sex. This was what my life was made to be. I was meant to have HIV. My childhood to the present time rushed through my head in flashbacks. The doctor interrupted my thoughts and states, “You qualify for a grant for your current situation. They will fund three months of inpatient treatment.” At that moment I knew I had the option. To remain a statistic, or break free from the stigma that I, and society, had put me in. That day I chose to go into treatment.

When I made it into treatment I witnessed so many more statistics in treatment. Only two of us in the facility were a Minority. None of the people employed at the facility were of color. We were taken to 12 step meetings and again I felt apart. I never saw, or heard, my story. I eventually realized my story matters. Chris being 100% Chris was my way to freedom. I decided that I had to break down every wall, every stereotype, every statistic I was ever placed in. I spoke my truth to everyone. I learned I had, and moreover, deserved to be heard.

I have learned to live my life with feelings, empathy. We all come from different walks of life. We all have our own struggles and stories. I look for the emotions behind them: Not feeling accepted, anxiety, loneliness, ignorance, hurt, fear, rage, sadness, and even numbness. We all can relate to these emotions. They show up for us all in different forms. This is the key to connecting one another.

My hopes and dreams for the world are a mile long. My hopes and dreams for you are to unapologetically be your authentic self. Rather than being a statistic, I thrive as a statistic. I am a minority. I am gay. I am a sexual assault survivor. I am HIV+. I am an addict. I am Chris.

HALT: A Simple Equation For Self Care

We come into recovery with a broken mind, body, and spirit. We have to come to terms with our past lifestyle versus a new lifestyle. This can be a daunting task. So many times I would be asked: “How do you feel?”

Most of the time I was unable to pinpoint an actual emotion to answer the question.

In 12 step meetings, you will hear the acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) quite often. It’s a helpful checklist to help you determine what you are actually feeling. It helps me determine if I have irrational thinking due to outside circumstances.

Here is a breakdown of HALT and how you can implement it to create better knowledge of one’s self.

Hungry

We can all agree that food is important. Without proper nutrition, our body will react accordingly. We can become lethargic, irritable, moody, and if you are like me just plain “Haaangry.” Remember we were putting substances in our body that is not intended to be there. We have to fill that void. It is important to have a balanced diet. It was key for myself to have healthy snacks ready when I wanted to impulse eat. I always had fresh veggies, mixed nuts, and microwavable popcorn around. You might notice in early recovery an increased craving for sweets and carbohydrates. This is normal. If you are like me, I put very little, if any nutrition in my body. Don’t be afraid to eat that ice cream; “treat yo’ self.” We also can suffer from emotional hunger: love, acceptance, attention. Finding that can be as simple as reaching out to family, calling an old friend, going to a 12 step meeting. For myself, I was hungry for positive people. Unfortunately, during the day we can run into and have to consistently be around negative minded people. I have created a “go-to” list of people I could reach out to. They put a smile on my face, and my mental headspace in a better place.

Angry

I believe anger is the hardest part of HALT. Anger is a secondary emotion. We associate anger with physical fights, screaming, and resentments. Some people even describe anger as “seeing red.” We have to ask ourselves why we get to this point. Some common first emotions we should check for are sadness, fear, hurt, scared, and even shock. If we really think about it, one of the above emotions is more than likely what you truly feel. Anger is sneaky! It can even show up in less obvious ways such as gossiping, speaking with a passive-aggressive tone, and sarcasm. The easiest and most efficient way to not get to “angry mode;” PAUSE. Take a minute, or ten, to breathe, think, and process your feelings. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way? What does this current situation impact? Do I have an accurate perception of this event?” In early recovery, I was unable to do this alone. I would have to run a situation and my personal feelings by a neutral party. It helped me gain a different perspective on my problems. You can also do an activity to change your mindset: Run, meditate, paint, dance, lift weights, cook, garden, sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs. The goal is to break your current anger, with an activity, so you can revisit this situation with a clear and open mind.

Lonely

We lost our best friend, our love, the one thing that let us be “ourselves.” Think about it, we celebrate: we use, we are sad: we use, we are mad: we use, we wake up in the morning: we use. That is a relationship that is hard to replace. Truthfully this was the hardest heartbreak I had to EVER get though. With  heartbreak of any kind, keeping busy is key. My motto has always been: “make your feet move faster than your brain.” If you sit with the thoughts of using, it can spiral in our brain to the end result of picking up. Personally, I had to make a support group. I found like-minded friends that aligned with the same goals in recovery, as well as in life. I attend 12 step meetings. I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Reach out to friends and loved ones, and discuss each other’s goals. Join a club or local sport to meet new people with similar interests. Put your mind to work and learn a new hobby. You can go out to eat, exercise, watch a movie, charity work, meditate. Do activities you would not normally do. You might find you enjoy them with this new sober mindset. Being stuck in my head, I know for myself, is the worst thing I can do. You have to make an effort to seek acceptance, comfort, and understanding of oneself.

Tired

In early recovery, sleep was my enemy. I found myself tossing and turning and counting hundreds of sheep. The dreams I had were vivid and off the wall. I had to make some changes. It is a good suggestion to have a bedtime routine. Have a specific time you will be in bed every night. Do a calming activity before like journaling, listening to calm music, read, or do a guided meditation. Our body, physically and mentally, is going through a lot of changes. The depression and anxiety from not using can make your body feel like you have ran a marathon. You have to relearn your body and mind to this lifestyle. It is okay to take a nap, it is okay to not be as productive. In time your body will settle to the new normal.

As you can see, one small acronym can make a huge difference in your recovery. It is an equation to help you learn and reset yourself. Whether you are in recovery or not, HALT is a great reminder of self-care. Have patience with yourself. Most importantly, BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Changing your lifestyle is a huge task to take on. There is no perfect way to do it. The benefits of HALT and recovery will surely put you on a path of success.