richevil

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

By Irwin Ozborne

“Susie is dead.”

I still remember the text message on that fateful morning.

Susie is a 24-years-old, hard-working, good-looking girl without an enemy in the world. She is the type of person who naturally connects to everyone and genuinely cares about others. How could she be dead?

“She died from a heroin overdose.”

I heard these words and it literally floored me. We hear the figurative expression of being brought to your knees – well this is where it comes from. It literally occurs when you cannot physically stand and the pain and anguish is so unbearable that you involuntarily sink closer to the earth.

Who does heroin? That was my instinctive reaction.

It must have been engrained in our culture and generation that if you touch the stuff, you instantly die. But, in a way, that is not too far from the truth. Heroin is back and stronger and cheaper than ever previously known. And what comes with that is a desensitized public attention and understanding of our nation’s most recent drug epidemic – Heroin 3.0.

Beginning of the Epidemic:

In 2013, an average of 23 people in America died from a Heroin overdose each day.

Heroin is a drug on the other side of the gateway, with preceding drug abuse swinging the gate open. According to a 2013 SAMSHA study, nearly 80-percent of new heroin users had previously abused opiates.

The United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, yet we consume 80-percent of the world’s prescription drugs – primarily opioid pain killers.

And this is where our epidemic begins.

Eighty-five percent of households in America have prescription medication in their house. Most of this medication is not locked up, typically found in the bathroom medicine cabinet. The ease of obtaining prescription drugs legally is a joke, but perhaps more disturbing is that fact that it is easier to get them illegally.

This is called supply. When supply is up, prices are cheap. When prices are cheap, new customers are found. With new customers, it increases demand. If this sounds like I am describing how to operate a for-profit business, I am. This is the for-profit business of legal drug dealing.

In the 1990’s there was a shift in the way pain was treated in hospitals. They used to only use morphine-based substances for major surgeries. But the hospitals were in agreement that they had been doing a terrible job treating pain and the consensus was that pain needs to be addressed with each client and monitored as a vital sign. Then this trickled down into primary clinics and it became our God-given right to have our pain needs met immediately.

Side Effects May Include…

We know the names of these drugs – Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin – because we have been bombarded with advertisements for the past 20 years. It started with the 1997 FDA Modernization Act, allowing drug companies to advertise directly to consumers.

The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow this ridiculousness. The laws previously stated that all side effects must be included, but that is not possible with the number of side effects of drugs toppling the thousands. Instead, they are only required to list a few of the side-effects “that may include…”

This led to pharmaceutical marketing blitz of the late 90’s. Patients flooded clinics demanding new drugs and doctors felt pressured to take out the prescription pad. Because, if doctors were to “just say no” to the patient, they lose business. The inmates were running the asylum.

In 2012, more than 41,000 Americans died from a drug overdose – including 16,000 from an opioid analgesic (300-percent increase since 1999). Meanwhile, sales on painkillers alone have topped $1.3 billion in 2013 – preventing any desire for the legal drug cartels to pull back the reins on this gravy train that is destroying a generation.

With an astonishing number of overdose deaths reported each year over the past 20 years, eventually congress had to act on this self-induced epidemic. Programs were put into place to discover who was overprescribing medications – known as “pill mills.” While well-intended to put an end to the unexpected surge in overdose deaths, this system also became available to the legal cartels. Pharmaceutical companies used this information to help increase sales by finding patterns in physician’s prescribing tendencies and knew which doctors to target. Top salespeople were sent to clinics utilizing the finest tricks in the book – free gifts, vacations, sporting events, and free samples.

Laws were finally put into place to reduce prescription practices to risky clients, along with mandating education programs to health providers on how many prescriptions they were signing.

Slowly, the supply in the general public is shrinking but the problem is we already created record-high demands for these drugs. And, when the demand is strong enough in any industry – people will find an alternate supply.

Enter Heroin.

It is more potent than any pain killer on the market. In many cases it is easier to obtain and oftentimes cheaper. Basically, we created a demand for a product and then increased supply to fill that demand. Then the new laws took the away the supply, leaving a huge unmet demand for a product.

History of Heroin

Around 10,000 years ago in ancient China, the indigenous poppy plant was sliced open and they discovered a white-milky substance. When ingested, this substance gave intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure.

Primarily used as a spiritual ritual and then as medicine for pain in ancient Greece, opium eventually made its way into the public realm and was used recreationally. This led to early preaching against the drug and efforts to encourage recreational use in moderation as early as 160 AD.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus brought tobacco back to Europe which introduced a new method of administration. In smoking any substance, it is in direct contact with your lungs and then rapidly enters the bloodstream, bypassing the liver and gives a much more intense high at a quicker rate.

This helped fuel the opium epidemic in China in the 1800s. The British Empire grew opium in India and sold to their Chinese neighbors to the east. China had an alarmingly high rate of opium addiction at this time and the emperor attempted to ban the substance on multiple occasions.

But state-sponsored drug dealing is lucrative business. Drugs are ridiculously cheap to make and the mark-up is astronomically high. Some estimates report as high as 17,000-percent profit margins! And when we are talking that kind of money, fines and legal expenditures can never alter the way these products are pushed to the public. Two wars were fought between Britain and China over the opium trade, but with an advanced military the Brits won both wars and were allowed to continue to sell opium to a nation that saw over one-third of its total population addicted.

Technology continued to evolve the drug in Germany as scientists discovered the curing molecule of Opium – Morphine. This became the world’s new “magic drug.” It became a popular medication in the United States during the Civil War for the ailing soldiers in the battle field. However, even the strongest pain killer in the world was not acting fast enough to ease the pain and shock of wounded soldiers.  Leading to another technology shift – the hypodermic needle; the newest method of administration to quickly get the drug into the bloodstream.

This led to the “Army Disease,” referring to civil war veterans that came home addicted to Morphine and a drug epidemic was rampant throughout the country. It turns out, not only is morphine addictive, but is the most addictive drug known to man.

Then the Bayer Company in Germany synthesized morphine further – developing the world’s newest “magic drug.” Heroin was introduced in 1898, and made available to the public while being deemed non-addictive, a cure for morphine addiction, and no side effects.

In less than a decade the negative effects of heroin were glaringly obvious. In1914, the Harrison Tax Act placed major restrictions and by 1925 heroin was forever banned – just 27 years after celebrating the title of “magic drug.”

The demand for heroin slowly faded along with the supply. Mandatory sentencing laws also turned the public off to the drug and it stayed that way for about 50 years. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the next wave of heroin use arrived in America.

The War on Drugs

It was an interesting time in America. The country was divided by the war in Vietnam, kids were being drafted to serve in the military and fight a war they knew nothing about. People stopped believing the government, and with good reason, as we were fighting secret wars in Laos, Burma, and Thailand – an area known as the “Golden Triangle.”

The Golden Triangle produced 90-percent of the world’s opium during the time of American occupation from 1954-1974. A secret war, with a secret army, needed a secret airline. Air America is the name of the CIA’s owned and operated airline in which its fleet supplied arms and ammunition to the rebels and insurgents of the Golden Triangle to help fight the war in Vietnam. In exchange, Air America transported opium grew by the Hmong farmers to the area and made its way to South Vietnam and sold to American Soldiers.

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared the “War on Drugs.” The war is still active today, making it the longest war in the history of America. While much is to be said about this complete failure, its beginnings stemmed from the soldier’s addiction to heroin in Vietnam.

The Nixon campaign launched “Operation Golden Flow” before ending the war in Vietnam. This was an effort to get the soldiers clean before coming home. Just like the civil war, this was a generation of soldiers addicted to a derivative from opium.

This newfound control of the world’s opium production gave Americans a peak in supply, and as history repeats itself, a demand would surely follow back home with Heroin Epidemic 2.0 coinciding with the Vietnam War and military occupation in the Golden Triangle.

American withdrawal from the Golden Triangle subsequently slowed the heroin epidemic of the 70s. And the “War on Drugs” found a new target in South America, in which the CIA empowered dictators that favored American corporations. Drug trafficking, and the huge profit-margins, ran under the cover of “War on Drugs,” led to an increased supply in cocaine and crack during the 1980s.

At the same time, there was also a new switch in the world’s leader in opium production – the “Golden Crescent.” This is an area is Central, South, and Western Asia defined by three countries – Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – with Afghanistan being the world-leader in opium production since 1991. During the 80s, the CIA funded a group of rebels – involved in the opium trade – to fight off Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. One of those rebel groups funded by the CIA is known as “The Taliban.”

Dr. David Musto, a member of the Carter administration’s drug advisory board, issued a prescient warning that the United States was moving “into Afghanistan to support the opium growers in their rebellion against the Soviets. Shouldn’t we try,” Dr. Musto asked, “to avoid what we had done in Laos?”

In 1979, the DEA agreed with Musto and already anticipated huge shipments from Afghanistan to reach eastern shore of the United States. To give perspective on how supply/demand work in the drug industry along with profit margins, during the Soviet-Afghan War, annual heroin sales in Pakistan peaked at $8-$10 billion – about one-fourth of the country’s total GDP. At the same time, the rates of addiction increased by 26,000-percent! Just 5,000 reported cases of opium addiction in 1980 up to 1.3 million in 1988.

The CIA’s control of the Golden Crescent put America in control of the world’s opium production again. The formula stays the same – increased supply precedes an increase in demand. But this time, corporations found their way into the world’s most profitable business. Remember this is only years before the healthcare industry decided that pain management is needed at every level of care, new laws allowed for direct- consumer advertising, and customers were literally demanding opium (pain medication).

Opium is grown in four places in the world today; Southwestern Asia (Golden Crescent), Southeastern Asia (Golden Triangle), Columbia, and Mexico. The majority of illegal heroin in the United States comes from the Western Hemisphere, but prices remain at an all-time low because the world’s supply has created competition. Lower prices will encourage more people to use and with the astronomically high profit-margins, the loss is minimal to the cartels – both legal and illegal.

The Business Plan

The 1997 North American Free Trade Act passed by the Clinton Administration also had substantial indirect consequences to the current epidemic. This act allowed free trade between Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico, which flooded the borders with traffic and customs agents were unable to stop the increased flow of illegal drugs.

While well-intended, this law led to an increase in black tar heroin in America and put the control of the supply in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. And while the Cold War ended in 1990, Afghanistan became the largest producer of opium, and Americans no longer had a reason to occupy the Golden Crescent – Until September 11, 2011, and the “War on Terror” was created.

The Taliban had controlled 90-percent of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, but was quickly eliminated following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01.  Since the fall of the Taliban, opium production has actually risen each year since American occupation.

The terrorist attacks also changed things back home. President Bush created the NSA and Homeland Security which put tighter restrictions on the Mexican border. This meant we cut off the largest supplier of illegal drugs in America (Mexico), but we already have established a new demand. With such large demand and our hands in the world’s new largest supplier of opium, a need surely will be met to feed addictions.

President Bush had the answer with the Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003. This act was a handout from the United States taxpayers to the Drug and Health Care Corporations of $800 billion. This bill gave pharmaceutical companies freedom to charge whatever they wish, healthcare as the middleman, and the consumer as a life-long customer (also called a drug-addict).

Now we have a need for drugs (literally addicted), the supply in Afghanistan, and cut off supply from the biggest competitors from Mexico, and free reign to the corporations (the same corporations that lobbied billions of dollars to congress to pass this bill).

The industry known as “health care,” does absolutely nothing to care about our health. The for-profit system is a business, just like any other major corporation, with intents on minimizing costs and increasing revenue.

And Now Comes the Sick Part…

Corporations are making huge profits by getting people addicted to drugs (pharmaceutical industry), by creating diseases to justify drugging them (psychiatry industry), and then denying them the help they need for this addiction we created (health insurance industry).

In sharing Susie’s story, it is clear that the sick ones are not those addicted to heroin, but those in offices deciding the fate of those in need.

Susie had completed residential treatment months earlier and had a chance to clear her mind and work on skills to avoid further harm. While working on building support, Susie had a relapse by injecting heroin over the weekend.

Heroin relapse is often fatal because after abstaining from using for a period of time, your tolerance significantly drops and your body can no longer handle the effects. Furthermore, heroin is at an all-time high as far as lethality. Back in the 1970s it was about 10-15 percent purity and now the numbers are closer to 70 percent pure heroin. Dealers have typically mixed alternative products in heroin to maintain greater quantities of their product, but with supplies and competition escalating, dealers need to provide higher quality for repeat business.

Susie survived the relapse but was in need of further treatment.

But her fate is handed off to a “clinical specialist” at the insurance company that lacks education, experience, or licensure. Instead, it is just a young kid in their mid 20’s that has been trained to “JUST SAY NO!”

Literally, they are told to deny claims. In the medical industry, a claim is referred to as a “medical loss.” Think about it; if you deny care, it saves the company money. If you save the company money, they have more profits.

How did such a corrupt system begin? President Nixon passed the HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) Act of 1973, which eventually gained many federal subsidies and virtually eliminated affordable individual health care plans.

In a meeting at the White House between President Nixon and John Erlichman (speaking for Edgar Kaiser) in promoting HMOs, Ehrlichman quotes Kaiser stating, “All the incentives are toward less medical care, because—the less care they give them, the more money they make.”Mr. Ehrlichman quoting Edgar Kaiser to President Nixon on February 17, 1971

The Story of Susie…

Susie’s insurance company offered to cover four days of treatment following her relapse. The “specialist” performs a role of reverse-salesman in justifying reasons for denying coverage. They ask questions such as “Wasn’t she just in treatment?” “Where is she getting these drugs?”

After four days, the insurance provider comes back and says that since Susie is doing well she no longer needs residential services.  They view the client as a number and a bottom line and have become desensitized to the word ‘heroin’ because the epidemic has normalized its use.

“This is too serious and I am terrified that if we do not authorize services, that we both might be attending a funeral,” said Susie’s counselor, “Actually, only one of us will, because papers and numbers don’t have funerals. But I’m dealing with a human life, unlike you.”

Two weeks later, Susie died from a heroin overdose.

United Health Group CEO Stephen Hemsley is paid a salary of 3.2 million dollars (with a total compensation package of $34 million) and owns a $10 million home in Wayzata, Minnesota. Every day in 2009 he earned $819, 363.10.

The best treatment center in Hemsley’s home state is Hazelden-Betty Ford Center. A 28-day residential treatment program at the world’s finest facility costs $30,000.

Hemsley’s hourly wage was around $102,741.68 in 2009. At this rate, if Mr. Hemsley were to not pay himself for 17 minutes of one day in 2009, he could have paid for full services at the world’s best treatment center for this kid for 28-days.

But let’s not single him out, the top ten health insurance companies CEO averaged a salary of $13 million per year, with their average worker making $35,000.

With all that money, imagine all the services and care people could receive, instead of increasing the wealth of one person? We could create an entire industry and call it “health care.”
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Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Ebook is only 3.99. 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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press

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“You see the giant and the shepherd in the valley and Elah and your eye is drawn to the man with the sword and shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we can ever imagine.”
-Malcolm Gladwell

By Cortland Pfeffer      

I survived a suicide attempt. I also spent years receiving treatment in rehab centers and psychiatric hospitals. However my friend, Joe, did not survive. He spent many years on the streets and in jails before taking his life on February 25, 2010. This is what suicide looks like. This is him after hanging himself.

There is no difference between us, besides our resources and the subsequent treatment we were provided. He grew up in a rough environment including his home, neighborhood, school, friends, and life experiences. I grew up in a family that had money, offered support, and always knowing I had a security blanket if things went astray.

That is how our stories began and unfortunately how one of our stories end. But did it have to end this way?

There is enormous stigma associated with the word “suicide.” People cringe when you even mention the word and immediately change the subject. If we are afraid to talk about it, how on earth do we think we are going to prevent it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, taking more than 40,000 per year. At this rate, in one decade, we lose 400,000 people to suicide – equivalent to the entire population of Oakland, California.

When someone is suicidal, the typical reaction is “don’t talk like that!” or “that’s not even funny.” Or it turns to simplifying the situation such as, “other people have it worse than you,” or “just snap out of it, things will get better.” Nobody wants to “deal with it” and most people will adamantly refuse to even discuss it. You may even be considered selfish for having those thoughts and leaving close ones behind.

But when suicide does occur, the response is quite the opposite. Suddenly, everyone is there and feels terrible. They did not see the signs, never saw it coming, and can only talk about the amazing qualities of the deceased. It even goes as far as to hear people saying, “why didn’t they just reach out?”

If anyone has ever lost someone to suicide, they know the tremendous amount of pain associated. There may not be a worse feeling in the world. There are so many unanswered questions, “what ifs”, and “Should haves”. In the end, nobody commits suicide because they want to die, they commit suicide because they want the pain to go away.

I was suicidal, Joe committed suicide.

Part of the reason Joe is dead is because of the stigma associated with suicide along with the professionals he worked with that neglected and labeled him. He did not get treated as he deserved.

Joe didn’t have money, my family did. He went to jail and stayed long-term, I went to jail and got bailed out. He stayed in jail, while I was offered treatment instead. His crimes were all non-violent drug possession charges, mine were DUI, assault, and disorderly.

The difference? I had money and resources. Based on the information in the paragraph above, is there any other reason for the difference in penalties?

Joe and I were also born with the same temperament, which is more in tune with others emotions and greater sensitivity. This is neither good nor bad, just the way we were born. This is not to say that being emotional is guaranteed to create issues.

To be on this far end of the spectrum, along with consistently being denied needed support, along with the unhealthy environment is a formula for addiction. They refer to this as the biopsychosocial model. The biology is the genetics, the psychological refers to the emotional neglect and trauma, and the sociological refers to growing up in a broken home, overpopulated schools with minimal resources, poverty, and lack of positive role models.

But to also be denied the needed support on a consistent basis.

Some people are born more sensitive than others, which means they are going to get hurt more easily. Being an extremely sensitive male is vastly unacceptable in this society. It results in repeated invalidation such as “you are overreacting,” “you shouldn’t be feeling that way,” “men don’t cry,” “tough it out,” or “what’s wrong with you?” It also leads to being greatly misunderstood and isolation. The only way to gain acceptance is to create a mask, or a false self, to find a sense of belonging or purpose. People accept you when you wear your mask, which makes it more difficult to remove. But deep inside, we know it is not our true self.

For example, the mask teaches us that men are supposed to act out in anger when they are hurt. When we respond in anger, it is accepted. When we misbehave, we are accepted.

The mask brings us great power to finally feel alive. The more acceptance and connection the mask gains for us, the  more we try to fill these roles. In fact, we start to believe that we are the mask we wear.

Then something bizarre happens. People turn on us for that exact same mask that they once praised. Suddenly you took things too far, you get labeled and judged for the same behaviors that were once glamorized.

This leads to addiction. It can be any substance or activity outside of ourselves that allows an escape from the pain. This can take the form of alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, co-dependency, anger, or any compulsive behavior that lets our soul temporarily come through the cracks in our mask.

Each culture and society has their own version of acceptable masks. But they all serve the same purpose, to escape the pain and hide from any difficult emotion. It grants us temporary relief, which is reinforcing, as it seems quite simple to take a pill, smoke a joint, or drink a beer and the pain instantly vanishes. This creates a pattern of depending on our substance/behavior, believing that we are killing the pain, but in essence we are only adding fuel to the fire. The need for the substance/behavior becomes a matter of life-or-death and we start doing things we normally would never imagine all in an effort to use again and ease the pain. These new behaviors get judged and labeled as being a “bad person” which only adds layers to the mask and we begin to hate the monster we have created.

And that is just it, we hate the monster, the false-self, the mask. We don’t hate ourselves, we hate the mask that we have been wearing.

So, the truth is when we say, “I want to kill myself,” we have it reversed. It is not the “self” that needs to die, it is the “I”. The “I” refers to the ego, the false self, the mask. We need to kill our false self and then the healing can begin.

As Eckhart Tolle states, “The secret of life is to die before you die, and find that there is no death.”  He is referring to the death of the ego, the self-righteous suicide.

No health professional ever reached out to Joe, no one even talked to him, nor did they even know how to approach him. Instead they saw a “criminal” who was “angry” and was misjudged and mislabeled. While I went through the same difficulties, I was referred to as the “patient” that had a “disorder” and only needed proper treatment.

They never got to see beyond his mask. Joe was the most sensitive, caring, loving, and loyal person you could ever meet. However, that was not accepted in his culture so he became the angry, arrogant, drug addict – which is more acceptable.  He wore this mask his entire life, hiding his true self which led to more drugs, crimes, and erratic behavior.

No one in the field ever even dared to think, “This is a genuinely caring kid who has never gotten a chance to show himself.” Because once the label is created, everything you do is attached to that label. They read your chart and a decision is made before the first encounter.

While my rap sheet was for more horrendous, I was considered “a poor sensitive kid that needs someone to love him.” Whereas Joe was considered “unreachable.”

The difference in outcomes is related to how the patients are treated. One of my favorite sayings is, “you can get anyone to tell you their secrets if you love them enough.” Yet, in this field we are told to get the deepest secrets of the client, but not get too close. It doesn’t work that way. I won’t show you what is behind my mask until you show me what is behind yours.

He let me see behind this mask and I let him see behind mine.  And that is how true connections and relationships are built. I know the real Joe, something the “professionals” never took time to do.

Although I received better treatment, Joe was the better man. We shared a special bond and he would always reach out to me at times of need. One time he ended up in jail and had no place to go once released. He called me and we let him stay in our home for a while.  On the first night at dinner, he looked to my wife and said, “this is the best food I’ve ever had.” And he meant it, to him it was everything, while I had become so grown so accustom to these things I had taken them for granted.

Joe had a unique following of people. He loved to love. If he had two dollars to his name, he would spend it on others. He gave just to give, never expecting anything in return. This is what attracted people to Joe, he was pure once you got to see behind his mask.

He also had a son, Anthony, who he loved more than anything. You could see and sense the love these two had for one another. Joe would always say, “I love you buddy” and kiss Anthony. I never saw a man kiss his little boy before, it was admirable. I make sure that I do that with my three-year-old son now and I think of Joe every time.

Anthony never saw the labels of “drug addict,” “bipolar,” or “criminal.” That is the beauty and genius of children, they do not see masks or labels. Anthony only saw him as I did, as an angel. A kind, beautiful human with so much severe pain that nobody knew existed.

His friends started showing up at the house, and I started coming home to see my 10-year-old daughter sitting at home with a bunch of strange men I’ve never met.

After a few warnings we told him he couldn’t stay here if these people kept showing up on their own. He told his friends to wait until he was home, but they refused to listen. That’s the downfall of being so pure, people will take advantage of you. It broke my heart, but we had to remove him from our home for safety of our daughter.

A few months later I received an email that gives me chills just thinking about.

“Joe is dead. He hung himself.”

He didn’t call me this time. Perhaps the pain grew too great that he didn’t want someone to talk him out of it one more time. I had kicked him out, I was his support, and the guilt I carry with me is insurmountable at times.

So, when people ask me why I fight so hard for patients, this is one of the main reasons. If we lived in a just world, Joe would have received the treatment I received and he would be with us today. If we lived in a world guided with love, somebody would have built trust with him, got to know him, and offer the services he needed. But in a world guided by fear, we judge, label, and allow 40,000 cases like Joe happen each year.

People do not go away when they die. Only the false self dies along with the body. Our spirit lives on forever. The things Joe passed on to me, I still carry and pass along to my children. He is with all of us that remember him. He is here right now as long as we let him in.

I love you Joe.

Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Ebook is only 3.99. 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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.

I just think it is time we try something new,” said the doctor to his patient, “It’s called Abilify.”

But I’ve been doing well,” the patient pleaded, “I have had no problems for over six months and I am feeling fine.”

Well, you are on an involuntary (civil) commitment and I would hate to have to extend that 18 months,” said the doctor, “You understand that the court will always do what the doctor recommends, and I think that you are in need of a switch to Abilify.

This is a conversation that I overheard when I first started working at a county hospital. I was new and trying to learn from these wonderful doctors that I believed were there to help people. This facility saw the “sickest” patients in the county, and I thought this would give me an incredible opportunity to learn. As this was one of the first conversations I heard, I was certainly learning… and slowly discovering that the label of “sick” is being placed on the wrong individual in this context.

Eventually, I worked my way up to a role that included auditing the psychiatrist’s records along with the responsibility of meeting with pharmaceutical representatives who were pushing their free medication samples. The only means of distributing free promotional samples is by the reps being able to talk directly to the psychiatrist along with a signature, and I was like a modern-day gatekeeper. The different reps would visit and provide a pitch as to why they should be able to take the king (psychiatrist) on a date – and unfortunately describing it as a ”date” was far more literal than figurative.

The sales reps entertain psychiatrists with dinners at the finest restaurants in town and grant them access to luxury suites at sporting events in an effort to push their medications. But, they had to get by the guard (me) first. So they started to befriend me and offer similar gifts. They pulled out all the tricks in the book to try to gain access to psychiatrists, just like the Greeks trying to enter the city of Troy. In their finest efforts, the most beautiful women you have ever seen would show up as “sales reps” but they were really no more than a Trojan Horse posing as another false gift to gain access inside the gates. It really is only about one step away from prostitution, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in some cases these reps do take that ‘extra step’.

I had been officially introduced to the dark side of psychiatry, a field I had always believed was a “helping” industry. After battling my own lifelong struggles, I got into the field to help others only to find myself on the truly “sick” side of psychiatry – the side that is fueled by corruption, greed, back-scratching and dysfunction.

And this was just the tip of the iceberg!

Crossing a Line

I met a patient that I will call “Ronelle.” She was in the state hospital and preparing to be discharged after six months. She was assigned to my caseload for when she returns. Ronelle sent me a six-page letter describing herself and her situation. However, the doctor took this from me and informed me of her “delusional thinking patterns” and then coached me as to how to handle her care. He was still her psychiatrist and was ensuring I was aware of the extremity of her “sickness.” I was naïve, and had no reason to question this prominent psychiatrist.

Prior to my first encounter with Ronelle, it was already engrained in my mind that she was sick and delusional. While reviewing her medications, I noticed she was taking four different antipsychotics – one of which was 30mg of Abilify. There it is again, Abilify, the latest atypical antipsychotic. “I really do not need to be on all these medications,” she told me, “I really am not that sick.” Another delusion, I thought. So I blew her off, just as everyone had always done. I didn’t realize I was another cog in the psychiatric industrial machine.

As months went by, our talks were always the same and I was getting tired of hearing how she did not need her medications.

One night, while out on a date at a fancy restaurant – courtesy of the gift cards from the sales representatives – we headed upstairs to check out the view of the city and I recognized the same psychiatrist providing an educational talk to nurses and mental health workers about Abilify. He was sharing all the wonders of this drug and how more people need to be pushed towards this magical medication. As he took his seat, he was embraced and kissed by the same young Abilfy sales rep. I had to take a second-look as I was taken aback by the blatant corruption that sat before the entire crowd. Next day back at the office, I asked other sales reps about this encounter. They laughed and said, “Didn’t you know that? They are married.”

What!?

Shocked, upset, and in disbelief, I came to discover this prominent psychiatrist was pushing a medication on his colleagues that his wife was selling! Is this really about helping people? Or is it about expanding their personal portfolio?

Disease Mongering: The Selling of Sickness

After discovering this new information, I had to find out more about Abilify. Every single doctor I spoke with provided the same answer, “No, it doesnt really work.” One doctor even referred to it as “Vitamin A.” Abilify was introduced as a new atypical antipsychotic medication to treat schizophrenia but never gained the market-share they were expecting. A few years later it was approved to treat bipolar disorder. Later, the FDA approved its use in conjunction with other medications to treat severe depression – which is when it soared to become the top-selling drug in America.[1]

So, following the failed experiment of treating schizophrenia, the pharmaceutical company simply changed the “purpose” of the drug to treat other indications – specifically depression and anxiety – which is what you will see it marketed for today. In fact, you will find it marketed for just about everything.

“In the 12 months ending August 2011, more than [US]$453 million was spent promoting antipsychotics through physician details, direct-to-consumer advertising, and professional advertising. Abilify led with over $174 million, or 38% of the total market… Clearly, Abilify and Seroquel have performed well… in part because of the investments their marketers have made, both in promotion and acquiring expanded indications.” [2]

Yet, despite raking in more than seven billion dollars per year, both the USDI and FDA state the way Abilify works is “Unknown.” This is a very common practice in the pharmaceutical industry. It works like this:

  • Create a new disorder (identify a new market)
  • Hire a firm to spread awareness (disease branding/marketing)
  • Convince the normal person they have this disorder (creating a need)
  • Use a new drug to treat that disorder (solution)
  • The patent for the drug is good for 7 years; apply monopoly prices
  • Once patent expires, repeat step one
  • Repackage the “new” drug under a different name
  • Repeat steps two through five

Patents for new drugs are applicable for 7 years. Once it runs out, it allows the generic brand companies to make the same drug at reduced prices. To avoid this, the large pharmaceutical companies simply adjust a molecule of the drug and repackage it, allowing for a new patent. This process has been repeated throughout the past few decades as the psychiatric industry has abandoned psychotherapy in favor of drug management.

Valium was the highest prescribed drug in the world in 1978 and earned the nickname “Momma’s little helper” as it was marketed to stressed out housewives; and also referred to as “Executive Excedrin” for the overworked businessman. This was the turning point of America becoming a choose-your-mood society. As far as the pharmaceutical industry is concerned, there is a pill for everything, and the goal is to find the right pill for each person.

The 1980s saw the next “breakthrough” — the drug Prozac was released to treat symptoms of depression. And of course, the diagnoses of depression skyrocketed as public campaigns (funded by pharmaceuticals) let us all know that we, or someone we know, may be struggling with depression. Then in 1999 came “news” of the latest epidemic – Social Anxiety Disorder (ie. shyness). A coalition was created to help those suffering from this “disorder” and those targeted were told that there was a drug to alleviate their symptoms – Paxil. What is generally unknown to the public however, is that these coalitions to ‘spread awareness’ are funded by pharmaceutical companies, and psychiatrists are paid to give speeches about the newly devised “illnesses”, along with the accompanying medication.[3]

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The Legal Drug Cartels

Paxil was FDA approved in 1992, and to get approval status, the FDA appointed a board of psychiatrists – all of whom had financial ties with the pharmaceutical companies. In 2001, the infamous Paxil 329 study attempted to “prove” the effectiveness of their antidepressant in adolescents – another then-untapped market. Martin Keller ran this study on behalf of Glaxio Smith Kline and tested 100 children on the drug. There were 22 co-authors of this study, all ‘important’ psychiatrists, which concluded the effectiveness and safety of Paxil. The FDA granted their blessing to the faulty study and within a year, more than 55 million people were taking Paxil.[4][[5]

However, what was omitted from this “study” was that seven of children on which Paxil was tested were hospitalized and another 11 experienced serious side effects. Keller admitted no fault and simply did not count those individuals in the results of the study, and labelled them as either “noncompliant” or noted that they had “dropped out.” In 2004 he settled out of court for $2.5 million dollars for his role in the fraudulent study, but in 2012 the US Department of Justice brought a civil case against Glaxio Smith Kline which resulted in the company being fined US$3 billion dollars! [6] In that same year, however, Paxil brought in US$11.6 billion in sales for Glaxo Smith Kline which, from a business perspective, still made the fraudulent Paxil study a valuable corporate exercise. You can read the guilty plea in the case US vs Glaxo Smith Kline here.

In the book, “Sociology of Health and Illness” by Peter Conrad he writes:

“Marketing diseases, and then selling drugs to treat those diseases, is now common in the “post-Prozac” era. Since the FDA approved the use of Paxil for SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder] in 1999 and GAD [Generalized Anxiety Disorder] in 2001, GlaxoSmithKline has spent millions to raise the public visibility of SAD and GAD through sophisticated marketing campaigns. The advertisements mixed expert and patient voices, providing professional viability to the diagnoses and creating a perception that it could happen to anyone (Koerner 2002). The tag line was, “Imagine Being Allergic to People.” A later series of advertisements featured the ability of Paxil to help SAD sufferers brave dinner parties and public speaking occasions (Koerner 2002). Paxil Internet sites offer consumers self-tests to access the likelihood they have SAD and GAD (www.paxil.com). The campaign successfully defined these diagnostic categories as both common and abnormal, thus needing treatment.

Prevalence estimates vary widely, from 3 to 13 percent of the population, large enough to be a very profitable pharmaceutical market. The marketing campaign for Paxil has been extremely successful. Paxil is one of the three most widely recognized drugs, after Viagra and Claritin (Marino 2002), and is currently ranked the number six prescription drug, with 2001 U.S. sales approximately $2.1 billion and global sales of $2.7 billion. How much Paxil was prescribed for GAD or SAD is impossible to discern, but by now both Paxil and SAD are everyday terms. While there have been some concerns raised about Paxil recently (Marshall 2004), it is clear that GlaxoSmithKline’s campaign for Paxil increased the medicalization of anxiety, inferring that shyness and worrying may be medical problems, with Paxil as the proper treatment”. [page 484]

Then there was the Cymbalta clinical testing that resulted in five suicides, which somehow still managed to pass through the FDA approval process. 19 year old Traci Johnson had no history of depression, suicidal ideation, or any mental illness. Yet, after being involved in this clinical study she ended her life – one of five suicides resulting from the in clinical testing of Cymbalta. After her death, 20% of the volunteers withdrew from the study, and these ‘dropout’ numbers (again) were simply not accounted for in the final data analysis.[7] In 2013, Cymbalta delivered more than $5.1 billion in sales.

This unsavoury marriage between pharmaceutical companies and psychiatry goes back over 100 years. While it was highly publicised that Sigmund Freud touted the use of cocaine – both recreationally and therapeutically – what is not widely known is that his well publicized passion for this ”magical drug” was actually the result of hefty payments he received from the newly-formed pharmaceutical companies, Merck and Park Davies, for his professional endorsement for their drugs. [8]

Drug Pushers in White Coats

The story I related earlier about the psychiatrist with the penchant for Abilify, is one of possibly hundreds of thousand of other examples of this sort of prescribing within this industry. Drug companies are profiting by more than US$80 billion each year as a result of ‘mental disease mongering’, as well as ludicrous mark-up pricing. These medications are incredibly cheap to manufacture – i.e. the cost to produce 100 Xanax pills is about $0.025 (yes that is 2.5 cents) yet they sell for $136 at the pharmacy – a 500,000% profit margin. [9]

With these kind of profits, the pharmaceutical companies are able to pay enormous settlement fees which hardly crack their bank account. In 2007, Abilify paid a $515 million settlement for illegally marketing their drug in nursing homes, despite knowing that it commonly caused death for patients with dementia.[10]

In April of 2015, Abilify’s patent expired for treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and generics can now be purchased at discounted prices. So, in turn, in May of 2015 its maker the Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. attempted to sue the FDA, claiming that the drug was now an orphan-drug in treating pediatric Tourette’s syndrome and thereby extending its exclusivity period.

So why do we keep prescribing people these medications?

Simply, it is because we have created a gravy train that is producing a lot of money for a lot of powerful people – drug companies, doctors, pharmacies, and investors. In creating a new disorder, it is marketed as a lifelong and incurable disease, creating a customer for life. The first problem for the drug companies in marketing their pharmaceutical ”solutions” is if it kills a person; the second problem is if they actually cured someone – imagine the financial hit they would take. Their aim, therefore, is to create addictive drugs that don’t kill but also don’t cure.

Upon learning more about this dark side of psychiatry, I literally grew nauseous. I started to examine this psychiatrist’s charts to find that nearly every one of his patients was prescribed Abilify. In comparison, other providers prescribed Abilify an average of 4% of the time… compared to his rate of 75%. Then, of course, he is also married to the pharmacy representative for this company. For each prescription he writes, she gets paid a commission. She also gets paid for talking to doctors because of her free pass into the clinic. He also is funded by the same company to give speeches on this drug, and for signing off on peer-reviewed articles and studies on these drugs – again 100% funded by drug companies. They are making exuberant amounts of money by medicating people with a drug that in their own words ”doesn’t really work.”

I was reeling over how it is possible that this level of corruption is happening right before our eyes. But the chief of psychiatry didn’t seem at all concerned — he was busy playing golf with the Risperdal sales representative! Upon hearing this, I was prompted to look into the Risperdal Consta injections that were administered at our facility, only to discover that more than half of our one-thousand patients were being given this drug — a procedure that runs a bill of more than $1,000 per injection. This has all been given the ‘green light’ by our “Chief of Psychiatry” — our facility’s ‘pillar of respectability’ who has been featured in studies in medical journals and other publications and studies for the past fifty years.

This kind of corruption is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the psychiatric/pharmaceutical industry. Peter C Gøtzsche, a physician, researcher and professor of Clinical Research Design and Analysis at the University of Copenhagen, has firsthand experience with the criminal workings of the pharmaceutical industry, which he exposed in his book “Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare.” Gøtzsche detailed the corruption behind exorbitant prices for branded drugs, and outlines that clinical drug trials are often fraudulent, with pharmaceutical companies selecting populations and comparison groups that will support the preferred outcome of the study, controlling and filtering data in-house, cherry picking the results to suit their marketing needs, and hiring professional writers to document their “findings”. He also claims it is not uncommon for academics who were not involved in studies to be paid to be listed as contributors, to give the study credibility despite its “shamelessly biased data.”

A number of other prominent scientists — including 2 former editors-in-chief of major scientific journals — have also publicly stated that up to half of published research is biased or simply untrue. Says Dr. Marcia Angell, physician and longtime editor-in-chief of the New England Medical Journal:

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”

Recent Headlines

Recently Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals made the headlines after he increased the price of the AIDS medication Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 — a 5000% increase. Yet, the drug companies are adding these huge mark-ups all the time. According to a recent article from LiveStrong.com:

“Insight Journal” reports that many of the active ingredients in prescription drugs are manufactured overseas, and that the pharmaceutical industry earns from 2,809 percent markup of the cost of active ingredient in Zestril, to as much as 570,000 percent markup in Xanax; the markup for Xanax is based on a consumer price of $137.79 for 100 tablets and $0.024 for the cost of the active ingredients.

Now, a startling new development comes from the manufacturers of Abilify, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. The corporation intends to turn Abilify into a “digital drug”, and are seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to insert a chip into each capsule that can measure whether a patient is taking their medications as prescribed. If approved, this move would give doctors and courts the power to monitor whether people prescribed these drugs are complying with the dictates of their financially-motivated prescriptions. [11]

While the moral and legal implications of this proposal are staggering, the ludicrous insensitivity of such a proposal was highlighted by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert who joked:

“Nothing is more reassuring to a schizophrenic than a corporation inserting sensors into your body and feeding information to all those people watching your every move.”

You can read about this development here.

So, who are the sick ones in this industry?

Eventually, I started listening more to what ”Ronelle” had to say about her ‘drugging’ — I felt it only right to hear her out. With some collaborative efforts and a bit of manipulating, we were able to switch doctors. Her new doctor met with the legal drug cartel sales representatives but didn’t ‘buy into’ the shiny objects they tried to use to bribe him. “None of these meds really work,” he told one of the drug dealers, “Maybe 15% of the time at best, so we really shouldn’t use them unless it is absolutely necessary. They are only to be used as a last resort.”

Imagine that?! A doctor who still cared for patients, stands by his morals and ethics, and could not be bought-out. Of course, he often was shunned by his colleagues for his ethical tactics that made waves and exposed their corruption.

However, once he began working with Ronelle, he gradually got her off her medications to see how she would function without being doped up 24 hours a day. Eventually, she was reduced from 4 antipsychotics to a more suitable anxiety medication and an antidepressant. She was doing fine and never returned to the hospital again; she was happy, excited, and managed to lose a lot of the weight she had gained from the ‘doping’ her previous psychiatrist had forced on her to line his own pockets.

Unfortunately, the patient that I described in the beginning of this article was not so lucky. He did not get to switch doctors and was forced to continue taking Abilify since he was on civil commitment. He ended up fleeing for two years, taking a flight to Africa, and doing himself serious damage in the process. From what I have heard from others since, he eventually returned to the United States but his life has been destroyed.

Ironically, this doctor we have been discussing prescribed a cocktail of drugs that literally drove a troubled man to desperation, fleeing to Africa as a last ditch effort to escape his mental torture. Yet at the same time, the doctor responsible for this poor man’s state-enforced over-medication — the ‘professional’ who earned enormous sums of money pairing patients with his preferred drugs — used his ill gotten gains to funds his own vacation to Africa later that year, an expedition to escape the stress of “dealing with the mentally ill.”

In Conclusion…

In rounding out this article, it would be remiss of us to not point out the fact that more people die from overdose deaths from taking ‘properly prescribed’ prescription drugs each year than from illegal street drugs. Writes Scott Bonn, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University, in a 2014 article for Psychology Today [12]:

Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. At least 100 people die from drug overdoses every day in the U.S. More than 36,000 people die from drug overdoses annually and most of these deaths are caused by prescription drugs…

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rate of antidepressant use in the United States rose by 400 percent between 1988 and 2008…

The problem is getting worse and, frequently, medical doctors enable their drug addicted patients by frivolously filling prescriptions.

Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Ebook is only 3.99. 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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.

Reference (1) CDC. Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers—United States, 1999-2008. MMWR 2011; 60: 1-6.

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.

“Irwin!” 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.

Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Ebook is only 3.99. 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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.

By Irwin Ozborne

“If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.Dr. Gail Dines

A mother comes home after a stressful day at work with many tiny worries racing through her mind. She pulls in the driveway and opens the garage door to see her 16-year-old daughter hanging from the rooftop, lifeless, dead, from suicide. She was too fat, so she developed an eating disorder, then was too skinny and “sick” and eventually she gives her reason in a note that is summed up with the words, “soon the pain will be gone.”

Who is at fault? The parents, counselors, school, bullies at school? Partially, all of the above are to blame. But the greater culprit that allows this to continue is the media and beauty industry.

There is an old parable that explains of a small town that suddenly notices a baby floating down the river and all the people come together to rescue the child. Soon, they discover another baby and another and another all floating down the river. All of the resources of the community are put together to take care of the babies coming down the river but they can not keep up and can not save everyone. Eventually, someone offers the suggestion, “Let’s go upstream and see who is throwing all the babies in the river, then we can stop the problem at its core.” This is where the beauty industry is to blame.

Beauty in Western society has become a serious illness. In fact, you could call it an epidemic. Young women in America are being poisoned daily by corporations, advertisements, television, school, friends, and even family members. From the time they are young, they are engrained with the message “beauty is everything and everything can be obtained with beauty.”

Eighty-One percent of 10-year-old girls have a fear of being fat! Another study by the University of Central Florida showed that nearly 50% of girls, aged three to six, were already concerned about their weight. Nearly half of all fourth-grade girls have begun dieting. And by the time they reach high school, 90% of girls are dieting, while only 10% are actually overweight. But the fear of being fat is gone by the time they hit 17-years-old, because now more than four out of every five girl are “unhappy” with their body (Ross, 2012).

I saw a post that said “54% of women would rather get hit by a truck than be fat.” I laughed at the exaggerated message only to do more research and found out that it was not as far-fetched as I first believed. Thankfully, I have been unable to find any validity to that number, but some of the online posts about this scare me.

“How big is the truck, LOL?”

“How fast is the truck going? Will I get hurt?”

But, according to Radar Systems, nearly half of adolescent girls would rather have cancer, experience the death of a parent, or a nuclear war instead of getting fat. And these numbers are only dealing with weight. We haven’t even dug into the full beauty epidemic.

Actress and makeup artist Eva Devergilis states that every woman that sits in her chair apologizes for the way they look. This includes all ages, race, body types, weight, etc. Every single woman that comes in to see her apologizes for their looks. Why have we placed such an emphasis on beauty and why have we set the standard so high that nobody can be satisfied?

“Being a model is like winning the genetic lottery…Planning to be a model when you grow up is like planning to win the Powerball,” said professional model Cameron Russel, “and those are not pictures of me. They are constructions made by professional makeup artists, photographers, hairstylists and photoshop.”

The amount of time and money women spend in regards to their appearance is keeping them out of developing into a more complete person. As Jason Whitlock wrote in an article in the Kansas City Star, “How many more young girls out there are aspiring to be Beyoncé as compared to Hillary Clinton?”

Beauty is the main form of currency for women in Western culture. If you have beauty, you can have anything. They can not escape it because it is everywhere – television, internet, social media, etc. Their image is observed everywhere, by everyone, including themselves. This leads to beauty and image as the number one priority in the lives of young women and children.

But beauty is not the problem. It is wonderful and should be admired to some extent.  The real culprit of the beauty epidemic is a three-part problem which is controlled by the corporate America and the media (which subsequently profits off corporate America and has no urgency to report anything that opposes their financial interests). It stems from creating 1) the belief that beauty is the most important and powerful thing in the world; 2) this is what beauty looks like; and 3) you do not look like this.

With this system, you will always be stuck at number three. You will constantly be buying products, having surgeries to try to reach the level of beauty defined by corporations. The same corporations, mind you, which are selling you the products. It is a giant marketing scheme. None of it is true.

And women know this. But that is how incredibly powerful the propaganda system works. We know outer beauty is not everything, we know that the images they portray are not possible, but we also know we do not look like that. But at that point, we need to just say “and that is ok.”

  1. Beauty is the most important and powerful thing in the world.

You are told that beauty is the most important thing in the world. If you are not beautiful, you are not important, you are not successful, and you really have no value to the world. This message begins with the media, brainwashes everyone valuable in our lives, and trickles into our brains from the time we are young.

The media (television, films, videos, billboards, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, fashion designers, social media, and other internet sites) bombard us with body images throughout the day. Young children spend around six to seven hours per day enamored with these messages (Brown, JD 2002). Chris Downs and Sheila Harrison found that one out of every 3.8 television commercials portrays a message about attractiveness. They went on to state that the average viewer sees about 14 of these messages a day and more than 5,200 advertisements related to attractiveness each year (Downs, 2011).

By the time the average teenage girl in Western society reaches age 18, she has seen nearly 100,000 television advertisements about the importance of attractiveness. This does not include seeing images on the internet, facebook friends, or other media outlets which account for an additional 5,000 plus images per week! (Wiseman, 2012)

  1. This is what beauty looks like.

The same people shoving this message down our throats are the same people defining beauty. This definition is always changing. Look at the images of “beauty” just in the last century and how much the “ideal body image” continues to change. This is not by accident. They want you to continue to strive for an unachievable goal. Therefore, you are always in the quest for more.

A study showed that women experience an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day, while 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” moment each day. The comparisons damage the minds of nearly all women each day.

And this “ideal image” you see in the media is 23% below that of the average woman in America – 20 years ago this difference was only eight percent. The gap between reality and ideal image is widening by the day, with Vogue’s Gisele Bunchen (5’11, 125 pounds) at 25% below normal body weight.

  1. You do not look like this.

Without directly saying this, this message is implicitly implied. A study showed that observing an image of body image through the media leads women would increase depression and shame while reducing self-esteem and body satisfaction.

And that is the formula they use. Present an image that is unobtainable in which they know will cause women to feel bad and hate how they look. Then repeat the image over and over – as the Hitler propaganda system has proven to work – until they believe it to be true. Then, they will spend their money on your product, watch your programming, and have your surgery.

Oppression only Survives Through Silence

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”Susan B. Anthony

This is the implicit oppression of women in Western society.  For the majority of our country’s history there has been explicit oppression of women, people of color, homosexuals, mentally ill, and basically anybody who is not a white male. This only survives without anyone speaking out. Then comes the implicit, covert oppression which takes place by subliminally putting messages out through the media that one race, gender, or orientation is inferior.

There is a universally accepted concept that “nobody is perfect.” The concept of being perfect means to be without flaw and to hold all desired qualities and characteristics. So here we have the concept of “perfect” in which the beauty industry teaches us is the ultimate goal to happiness and joy, yet we are also constantly reminded that “nobody is perfect.”  Basically, stating that it is impossible to ever achieve this goal. It becomes a never-ending cycle of self-hatred, followed by seeking external pleasure to fill internal voids.

In reality, the opposite is actually true; which is also the antidote to this epidemic. The idea that nobody is perfect is the biggest lie you have ever been told. The truth is that everybody is perfect. To be perfect means to have all the desired qualities and characteristics – but it never says whose desires. If we can change the train of thought to realize that everything about us is already perfect, there would be no more comparison, and trying to be something we are not. Instead, loving what we already possess and loving everything about everyone else.

This is a concept known as unconditional love. It means to love without condition, without judgment, and to accept completely as it is. This means to not complain, question, or have a desire to change, but to accept perfectly as it is in the present moment.

While the concept seems simple, it is quite difficult. In fact, most people spend their lifetimes trying to achieve unconditional love.  In essence, unconditional love is synonymous with enlightenment.  Both refer to removing labels, judgments, and untruths, and seeing the world as it was presented to us through the lens of our true self. It means removing our mask and seeing the world for how it is, without its mask.

Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Ebook is only 3.99. 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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.

bipolar-or-gifted-the-modern-day-epidemic-of-medicated-madness

 Have I gone mad?” asked the Mad-Hatter. “I’m afraid so, you’re entirely bonkers”, Alice replied,“but I’ll tell you a secret… all the best people are.”

The exchange above is from Lewis Carroll’s notorious fictional story, Alice in Wonderland, which in my professional opinion stands with more validity than today’s psychiatric and mental health paradigms. In fact, Alice shares the same view as some of the greatest thinkers of all-time, such as Socrates who once declared: “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift.”Plato too referred to insanity as “a divine gift and the source of the chief blessings granted to men.”

So, to best understand bipolar disorder the modern day epidemic of medicated “madness”, down the rabbit hole we go…

Down the Rabbit Hole

Going back to our friend Alice, on the first page of the classic story, we find Alice is disinterested in the dull, boring, everyday existence in which she resides. She peers into her sister’s book to see it has no illustrations or even conversations, which to Alice has no use or interest. She ponders the idea of making a daisy-chain, but lacks the energy or motivation to take the time to pick the daisies. She is disinterested in ‘normal’ life. Then, suddenly, a talking white-rabbit runs past her; he appears to be late. Of course, Alice is curious about this bizarre occurrence and follows him down the rabbit hole — and most of us will be familiar with the rest of the story.

By today’s standards and diagnostic references, Alice’s disinterest in ‘normal’ life would very likely be diagnosed as a mental disorder. With this diagnosis, she would then be medicated for life, after a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital to stabilize her on the medications that are claimed to be capable of normalizing her mental sickness.

But, is Alice really sick? Or is she a creative, intelligent, deep-thinking, imaginative, or even gifted child? I would wager everything I own on the latter!

Bipolar disorder is one of the oldest recognized ‘mental disorders’, yet it remains one of the most misunderstood. As a psychiatric Registered Nurse, it is my belief that people with bipolar disorder are not “sick” – the real sickness lies in the treatment and medications they receive.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Formerly known as manic-depressive disorder or manic-depression, bipolar disorder refers to the experience of opposing poles with regard to a person’s mood. Essentially, bipolar disorder is distinguished by the experience of polarity.

At one pole is mania, which includes intense energy, racing thoughts, feelings of euphoria, inflated grandiosity or sense of self, impulsiveness and risk-taking behavior. The other pole includes depression, which presents the opposite symptoms, such as fatigue (to the point of inability to get out of bed), moving or talking so slowly that others notice, a feeling of emptiness, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of self-harm.

It is important to understand the distinction between moods and emotions here. Moods are essentially emotional feelings that last for a period of time – typically for more than two or three days, which can be difficult to shift. While everyone has their ups-and-downs, bipolar disorder is far more disabling, with symptoms far more severe than a typical mood swing from happiness to sadness. The extremes of bipolar disorder can take you from feeling that you are omnipotent to the point of wanting to end your own life.

Inside The Bipolar Mind

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” ~ Krishnamurti

Just as Alice does in the opening chapter of her story, many people with bipolar disorder realize that “normal life” is far too phony, boring and constrained. They realize that there is much more to this mundane existence than what is commonly suggested. So, with this insight, one can see how easily it would be to slip into a depressed mood with thoughts such as:

– Why would I want to go through with this life?
Nobody understands me!
– I am all alone.
Why am I the only one who thinks this way?
Maybe they are right, maybe I amcrazy.
What is the point of it all?
– What reason do I have to keep going?

This depression sucks the life out of you, to the point that you lack the energy to even get up and pour a glass of water. If I got up, then I would have to find a glass, wait for the water to filter, and then put the glass away… it is not worth the effort.Furthermore, the person experiencing these thoughts realizes that this thought process is illogical, and destructive, which only creates a tidal-wave effect, inducing further feelings of sadness and dejection.

How Does Bipolar Come On?

At birth, we are free — we are born with a clean slate and we see the world is magical. But as we grow, things change. We are trained to behave a certain way; we are domesticated to a set of standards that our society has agreed are “normal”. We learn to create a mask and put it on every day; To  conform. We learn to use different masks for different groups of people, different occasions, and different times. We are taught that this is “normal life”, and that wearing these masks is “normal” human behavior.

And yet this mask, this image that we create and send out to the world, is our false self. It is a learned function of the ego. It is only behind the mask that we find our true self — our soul.

Manic episodes — those times of euphoria, grandiosity and impulsiveness — are triggered by the collapsing of the ego or mask. It is as though the soul is allowed to be free for the first time. Just like a dog that is tied to a chain its entire life and then finally breaks free, it runs wild, explores, and does whatever it can, because it can finally be the animal it was meant to be.

A spiritual awakening is much the same process. Like those times of mania, it involves taking off the mask and living as our true self for the first time. If treated as a spiritual dis-ease, this is the unexpected gift that bipolar disorder can offer — a short-cut to enlightenment. The mania pole can reveal to us our strongest and deepest desires, and exactly how our personal energy truly wishes to be expressed, while the depression pole shows us – in no uncertain terms – the areas of our lives that are not being lived in total alignment with our most honest truth.

But, like the dog that just got off its leash and is running wild without care, there can be great danger if those manic episodes that are not controlled. Experiencing and freely expressing the impulses of your true self for the first time, you may begin to test reality in life-threatening ways, such as trying to fly out a window, walking into the middle of traffic, etc. In contrast, if the dog (the soul) has always been allowed to roam freely, it learns not to run in traffic or to chase people, and knows how to regulate its natural energy and exuberance for life.

The key is balance; learning always to roam free, not just in moments of mania.

Bipolar Disorder: Science, Medicine, and Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 5.7 million Americans (or 2.6 percent of the population) have bipolar disorder.[1] This is the highest rate of any country in the world. The official position of the NIMH is also that bipolar disorder cannot be cured. As stated on the NIMH website:

“Bipolar disorder cannot be cured… Because it is a lifelong illness, long-term, continuous treatment is needed to control symptoms.” [2]

With the United States having the highest prevalence of bipolar disorder, which is deemed incurable by the mental health establishment, it would make sense that the United States would have the finest diagnostic tools and science available, wouldn’t it? However, contrary to popular belief, there is no science involved in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, rather it is diagnosed from a subjective set of criteria. There are no scans or medical tests, nor is there anything scientific about the process. Patients are simply asked questions in a brief consultation, and someone with a license makes a subjective interpretation as to whether or not they have a “lifelong, incurable disease”.

The primary treatment for bipolar disorder is the prescription of psychotropic medication(s), mood-stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, or antidepressant medications. A government study published in 2005 reported that just 11% of mental health facilities provided psychotherapy to all patients diagnosed with bipolar. [3]

Regrettably, the medical establishment’s preference for treating bipolar disorder with medication over psychotherapy has less to do with results than one would like to think. When it comes to this disorder, it would seem psychiatric pay-checks and pharmaceutical profits rate far more highly than patients’ needs. In the past, psychiatrists would tend to the needs of 40 to 50 clients at most, conducting 45-minute sessions with each one. Today, they see up to 1,200 clients, holding only 15-minute appointments that focus on refilling medication prescriptions.

Why Are So Many Diagnosed with Bipolar?

In 1955, about one in every 13,000 people was diagnosed with bipolar disorder or manic-depression. [4] Today, that number has skyrocketed to nearly one in every forty!

Are there really that many more people displaying symptoms of such a disease, or could there be another factor accounting for this sharp rise in diagnoses? Let’s look at some statistics:

  • In 1970, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved the first mood-stabilizer medication Lithium (althoughmany U.S. physicians were already prescribing it in the late 1960’s without seeking an investigational new drug permit (IND) from the FDA, meaning its initial introduction to the U.S. population was entirely unregulated.) Following the official release of this new medication, an increase in the rate of official diagnoses of bipolar disorder naturally followed.
  • In 1995 Zyprexa was the first of the atypical antipsychotic medications approved for treatment of mania, and again, a surge in diagnosis ensued.
  • America is home to only 5% of the world’s population, yet it is currently prescribed more than 50% of all pharmaceutical drugs worldwide.
  • In 1976, Americans owned just 18.4% of the world market-share in pharmaceutical interests, but by the year 2000, that figure had climbed to 52.9%. [5]
  • In 2001, worldwide revenue for pharmaceutical drugs was around $390.2 billion U.S. Ten years later (2011), this figure stood at almost one trillion U.S. dollars.

With BIG money to be made from the prescription of pharmaceutical drugs, it’s not difficult to see why the mental health establishment’s treatment of bipolar disorder with psychotherapy waned — It was a question of financial incentive not effective treatment.

While United States has the highest rate of lifetime diagnosis of bipolar disorder, population-based surveys show that New Zealand is in second place [6], where a startling rate of almost 5% of the nation’s Maori (indigenous) population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Outside the U.S. and New Zealand, no other country even comes close.

Importantly, high bipolar rates are not the only thing these two countries have in common. In 1997, the United States became the second country — New Zealand was the first — to allow Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertising of pharmaceuticals, enabling drug companies to advertise their products directly to consumers. [7] By doing so, the U.S. FDA loosened the regulatory chains that previously kept drug companies in check, allowing them to advertise their “products” on television, radio and other media. This kind of marketing (like all mass-marketing) creates a sense of need where one previously did not exist; it allows the consumer to become familiar with the drugs available and their supposed “benefits”, to specifically ask their doctor for that medication, and if the doctor refuses, to find another doctor that will fulfil their request.

Of course none of this has anything to do with science. What it does involve is a multi-million dollar marketing scheme. And if you wonder why you never hear anything about this on the TV news, that’s because doing so would constitute a massive conflict of commercial interests for the media corporations that are heavily funded by pharmaceutical advertising. And despite the clear conflict of moral interests here, media corporations and the shareholders who ultimately benefit from this kind of direct-to-consumer marketing, prefer not to bite the hand that feeds them.

Are Prescription Drugs Actually Helping?

Psychotropic pharmaceutical drugs, like all drugs, can initially relieve symptoms of bipolar disorder, in the same way that alcohol or any number of illicit substances can be used to mask symptoms. Such substances artificially relieve us of unwanted feelings or states of mind, by affecting the brain’s chemistry. But as with all consciousness-altering drugs, relief is only temporary. You only get to ‘rent the relief’. In other words, everything that the drug gives you will eventually have to be paid back at some time.

The brain is always working to create balance – known as homeostasis – and when conditions change, the brain’s neurology also changes. Therefore the perceived positive effects of pharmaceutical intervention are therefore short-lived.

According to the reductionist medical and mental-health paradigms, a medication is deemed successful when the patients’s symptoms diminish. Although the do nothing to address theroot cause of psychosis, antipsychotic drugs can remove or mask the symptoms at first. This is the same principle that applies to alcohol, which can temporarily remove feelings of anxiety or depression — but it is by no means a long-term solution. In fact, what happens is that the brain quickly develops a tolerance to the substance and the individual taking it then needs more of the drug in order to feel the same effects. Eventually, a threshold is reached at which the individual no longer feels any effect and cannot be prescribed an increased dosage; the drug becomes the ‘new normal’. Then, when you try to stop taking the drug, your body suffers serious physical, mental, and emotional effects, because it has grown dependent on it. The body then needs to create homeostasis again, to cope without the drug. This is what is known as withdrawal.

In an August 2014 letter to The Psychiatric Times, psychiatrist Sandra Steingard M.D. (the Medical Director of Howard Center and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington) compared a number of different studies that demonstrate just how those suffering bipolar disorder and other psychoses are actually more effectively treated without antipsychotic drugs. She compared studies of individuals who stayed on antipsychotic drugs with studies of those who stopped using the medications after a period of two years.

According to Dr. Steingard’s research, after two years the results were initially fairly even, with 74% of those who stayed on antipsychotic medications showing psychotic symptoms, compared with the 60% of individuals showing psychotic symptoms in the group that stopped taking their medications after two years. However, as time went on, the gap grew exponentially larger. At 4½ years, 86% of those who continued to take the medications displayed psychotic symptoms, compared to 21% of those who continued to abstain after the two year mark. And after 20 years, the difference was 68% compared to 8% respectively.[8] Says Dr. Steingard:

This raises troubling questions for psychiatry… Psychiatrists are assigned a powerful role in our society; we can force patients into treatment, and this sometimes includes forcing them to take these drugs… In taking on this task, it seems that psychiatry should be assiduous in assessing risk and utterly transparent in our disclosures. This risk includes not only the failure to treat but also the consequences of our treatments. Yet, this has not been our history. Our profession has been slow to address the limitations of our drugs. We were slow to acknowledge tardive dyskinesia [a neurological disorder that occurs as the result of long-term or high-dose use of antipsychotic drugs] and slow to address the metabolic impacts of the newer antipsychotics. Will we be equally slow in addressing their impact on long-term recovery?

Clearly, pharmaceutical intervention is no solution to mental health disorders such as bipolar. All drugs, legal or illegal, have adverse effects on the body’s chemistry. Yet, with the support of regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, pharmaceutical companies label the desirable short-term effects as the “main” effects and the unwanted ones as “side effects.” But, as the science has clearly demonstrated, all antipsychotic drugs will bring about changes in the body that are unnatural and undesirable, which ultimately prolong the suffering of the patient.

Blaming The Patients, Not The Drugs

We’ve all seen those stories on mainstream news where someone has committed a heinous or violent crime, and we are subsequently informed that the cause of their violence was because the individual did not follow their medication plan. The diagnosis of ‘insanity’ and the individual’s failure to medicate is blamed as the cause for their psychotic behavior. But people in true psychosis are not typically violent; that perception is simply not true. It is generally once they stop taking their prescribed antipsychotic medications (perhaps due to the undesirable side-effects being experienced) that the withdrawal/side-effects create these suicidal or homicidal behaviors.

In other words, far from helping the patient, the taking of drugs as a “solution” to their condition actually leads to further problems, sometimes involving the tragic loss of life.

Drugging Adolescents and Children

Like all good product marketers, companies search for untapped markets and seek to create customers for life. This is known as ‘cradle to grave’ marketing; a corporate term that bears an eerie interpretation when viewed in the context of the medical and pharmaceutical industry.

In 1995, around 25 out of 100,000 adolescents aged 19 and under were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. By 2002, less than a decade later, that number had risen to 1,679 diagnoses out of 100,000 visits. [9] This increase is staggering!While the medical establishment shrugs its shoulders, unable to determine a scientific cause for such a sharp increase, realistically, the one factor that has actually changed in that time period is the ready availability and social acceptability of antipsychotic medications.

But this startling trend doesn’t stop with adolescents; there has also been a steady increase in the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder. Yes, you read that right – infants! In my experience, diagnosis goes a little like this:

Does your child act silly and crazy at some times? Then other times are they sad or angry? They might have bipolar disorder. Our drug can help you stabilize your child.

In reality, these young children do not have a diagnosable mood disorder — they are four-year-olds! Four-year-olds are simply not meant to always sit still, pay attention to one thing for extended periods, or regulate their own natural moods and emotions the way “socialized” adults do. Adding to this problem, up to 40 percent of U.S. schools are now cutting back on recess — the time when children get to go outside and be children!

And yet, prescribing antipsychotics has become the overwhelming norm, being regularly prescribed for so-called “behavioral disorders” like ADHD and ADD. According to Dr. Michelle Kmiec, an holistic health practitioner and regular contributing writer for Wake Up World:

Since 1990, according to some estimates, there has been a 300% increase with pharmaceuticals used to treat children diagnosed with ADHD. Now doesn’t that statement alone scream that there is something wrong with our medical establishment? It seems the trend is not to question why so many children (and adults) are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but instead to simply keep developing more drugs to counteract the “symptoms”.

Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist from Ithaca, N.Y., elaborates:

These drugs damage developing brains. We have a national catastrophe… This is a situation where we have ruined the brains of millions of children. In controlling behavior, antipsychotics act on the frontal lobes of the brain — the same area of the brain targeted by a lobotomy… These are lobotomizing drugs. Of course, they will reduce all behavior, including irritability.

It should also be noted that long-term use of the antipsychotic risperidone, commonly prescribed to young children, is associated with serious side effects including headache, uneven heartbeats, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain and increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

To complete this discussion today, I would like to share a personal account of my time with one of those 1,679 adolescents out of every 100,000 who are diagnosed as “mentally ill for life”.

Jacob’s Hope

“How can you say he is intelligent and gifted!?”shouts the mother of a 19-year-old adolescent,“He just tried to kill himself, talks crazy, and is emotionally unstable. Do not tell me he isintelligent!”

Jacob stormed out of the room, slammed the phone against the wall, and began pounding his fists into the corner of the room as if he were a caged animal begging to be set free. Quickly the entire hospital staff sprinted – following the culture and protocols of state hospitals – and Jacob was quickly restrained as though he were a criminal. Tears rolled down his cheek and onto the floor.

I was taken aback by what I just witnessed.

“They say I have bipolar disorder,” Jacob told me later that afternoon. “They tell me that I am sick, that I need to be locked up here, and take these medications. I do not think I am sick, but I am not allowed to say that.”

Believing he was a danger to himself and others, Jacob’s family committed him to a state psychiatric hospital following what they believed to be “bizarre” comments and behavior they had witnessed.

“I don’t think like them,” Jacob told me, “All they care about is money. Money is worthless. I do not want to go to college. College is just a façade. They charge thousands of dollars to have you memorize information. They teach you what to think, not how to think. Those who get good grades are just robots, all they do is repeat what the teacher has told them. But I think the government is corrupt. I do not trust them. I do not want to work for my Dad’s business. I want to travel the world, be a vagabond, read, write, and draw. I do not have any desire to work just to own material possessions. It is all phony.”

As this continued, I realized that nothing this child told me was bizarre. In fact, I admired his ability to think freely – outside the box – and respected his deep understanding of his own reality. Jacob is not sick; he is misunderstood, creative, and actually quite gifted.

Other gifted individuals such as Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemmingway and Kurt Cobain shared the same diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and gave us some of the greatest art of their respective times. Sadly, each of the aforementioned also ended their own lives due to the depressive pole of the bipolar complex, which brought about overwhelming suicidal tendencies upon which (sadly) they acted.

Jacob had once attempted suicide too.

“There are no people like me. No one understands me. Nobody gets it”, he told me when sharing the story of his suicide attempt, “So what is the point in being here? Everyone is living a fake life, chasing money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like. That is not what life is about. I just need an escape from it all and sometimes it feels overwhelming.”

Jacob asked to be taken off his medications because they made him feel like a zombie, feeling nothing at all, just going through the motions of life. But in the psychiatric world, any patient who shares an opinion such as this is simply labeled“resistant to treatment”, and their medication dosage is increased. The only way to be successfully discharged from psychiatric institutionalization is to follow to the letter what the staff believes is best for you, entirely without your input.

For my own sanity, this is a game that I like to call “Saving Normal.” Society and psychiatry have decided what normal is, with no scientific basis or understanding of the human condition, and then we tell ourselves that we are saving people by returning them to a state of mental normalcy.

Understanding his own nature better than any of the so-called experts on staff, Jacob stated that his goals were to stop taking medications, to discuss his feelings with people he trusted which he believed would help to minimize his feelings paranoia. But the staff would not allow it! Jacob was instructed that he can no longer talk about such things as the corruption of government, so he followed his orders and played the game, simply to get discharged.

But is such a protocol really helping people like Jacob? No. We are merely attempting to condition people like Jacob to ‘be’ what they need to be, to meet the expectations of society and to please the people who are empowered by government to run his life for him. This is why no one actually heals in the mental health system. This is why they come back, as life-long customers of the system. And when they do, we repeatedly try to force-feed them our beliefs about ‘normal’, medicate them out of their minds, and punish and restrain them for expressing their most intimate truth.

“I would like to be taken off my medications,”Jacob presented to the staff, “I am not sick. You can keep me here longer to monitor me if you wish. The meds make me sick and all I am asking is for an opportunity. I was depressed because I felt alone and nobody understands me. But I am seeing that there are people out there like me, just not as many. I want to be myself, which is why I use drugs and alcohol – it sets me free. Then I get more depressed and feel that life is not worth living. It has nothing to do with a disorder, I have just felt rejected and keep being told that I am not normal. But that’s ok, too. I’m not even sure I would want to be normal.”

The psychiatric team told him they would consider what he had said, but as soon as he left of the room, they burst into collective laughter. I know this because I was there. I was horrified but not surprised.

During his stay, I befriended Jacob and felt a real connection with him. I found him to be a highly sensitive and intelligent young man. He realized he must do as they told him so he would be granted his discharge and move on with his life. He was doped up with medications that made him sleep all day and, rendered inactive by the drugs that were forced upon him, he gained 20 pounds in just a few weeks. Worst of all, he no longer talked about the things that brought him joy and energy.

As far as the psychiatric staff were concerned, Jacob no longer displayed “psychotic symptoms” which, in their eyes, meant that he was clinically making progress. As his symptom diminished, the staff patted themselves on the back for “curing” this poor child, and the family was happy to have ‘saved normal’.

As for me? I was furious! This was simply not right. This child was intelligent, bright, and naturally gifted, and the “mental health” establishment took that away from him, and outwardly congratulated themselves for doing so.

But, when we scratch the surface of psychiatric institutions, the sad reality is that most psychiatric physicians are inadequately trained even to prescribe the psychotropic medications they so commonly substitute for genuine care — and deep down, they know it.

Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health from Harvard, the Director of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) and a co-Founder of the SENG Misdiagnosis Initiative. In an article for Psychology Today she described this problem as follows:

Pediatric primary care physicians do much of the psychiatric diagnosis and prescribe most of the psychotropic medicine – but a recent survey showed that only 10% felt adequately prepared by their training to do so. They see these kids for very brief visits, and many are too influenced by drug marketing propaganda – as are parents and teachers. Over-diagnosis and over-treatment are commonplace.

Dr. Kuzujanakis went on to state that pediatric misdiagnoses of ADHD, autism, depressive disorders and bipolar disorder are often attributed to highly gifted individuals; and at the same time, other symptoms go unrecognized, such as learning disabilities in those who do genuinely have them.

Dr. Kuzujanakis also asserts that giftedness does not always equate to what our society deems “positive” experiences. In fact, up to 20% of gifted adolescents drop out of the school system, displaying such “symptoms” as talking a lot, high energy levels, and impulsive, inattentive, or distractable behaviours. [10] Notably, these symptoms of the gifted are remarkably close to the symptoms of a person experiencing the manic pole of the bipolar disorder. And they are the same behaviors I observed in young Jacob, whose only desire was “to travel the world, be a vagabond, read, write, and draw.”

Where Is Jacob Now?

Today, Jacob has a family of his own, lives in the country, spends time in nature and makes enough money to pay the bills. He spends most of his time with his beautiful children, teaching them about life and what he feels is most important. He did end up traveling the world, roughing it with almost no money in his pocket — and he got to experience how other cultures lived, as was his dream.

Jacob rarely sees his immediate family these days, other than at occasional family reunions at which he regularly hears condescendingly mutters about ‘how bad they feel for him and his family’. But Jacob is happy. He knows who he is, and although his family does not understand this, it is Jacob who feels badly for them. While he now enjoys all aspects of the life he has created for himself, they – like most of us – continue to live behind their masks of ‘normalcy’.

So I ask you… Who is the crazy one?

Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution 3.99$

taking-the-mask-off-stigma-barriers-mental-health-addiction-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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, andBalboa Press.

adddictionlarge

“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”

By Irwin Ozborne

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 this need, 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 indulge in water to replenish the fluids and nutrients that were have been missing. If I am starving, I am going to crave high fatty foods to relieve all the nutrients that are missing and most certainly indulge. But, what if I am spiritually starving or thirsty? Wouldn’t it only make sense that if presented with a substance that would instantly fill this void, I would also indulge?

What is 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 that 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?

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 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.

Futhermore, 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 worshipped 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 indulge in water or fluids that help replenish what missing. If I am starving, I am going to indulge in some greasy food that brings energy and life back into my body to restore what was missing. If I am spiritually starving, of course I am going to indulge in a drink, a joint, or a pill that will 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 stor more tant to know what sort of person 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 andcannabis 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.

 

Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution $3.99

taking-the-mask-off-stigma-barriers-mental-health-addiction-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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.

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Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared. You see you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love it’s will to reach the sun. Well, we are the rose – this is the concrete – and these are my damaged petals.” —Tupac Shakur

 

Parable of River Babies:

One summer in a small village, all the people gathered for a picnic. As they shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, which was struggling and crying. It was clear
the baby was on the verge of drowning and facing imminent death if someone did not act swiftly.

Without thinking twice, someone promptly aborts everything to jump into the river and save the baby. Everyone’s heart had been racing in panic and confusion, rush to ensure the baby is safe. Just as things start to calm down, they notice another screaming baby in the river. Again, someone jumps in to pull the baby to safety.

Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river and all the townspeople were pulling them out and the entire village was involved in many tasks of rescue work: pulling the poor children
from the stream, ensuring they were properly fed, clothed, housed, and integrated into life of the village. While not every baby could be saved, the entire village spent all their day trying to save as many as possible. As everyone kept busy in the recovery efforts, two townspeople started to run along the shore of the river.

“Where are you going!?” shouted one of the rescuers, “We need you here to help us save these babies!”

“Don’t you see?” They cried. “If we find out how they are getting into the river we can stop the problem and no babies will drown!”.

“Don’t you see?” They cried, “If we find out how they are getting into the river, we can stop the problem and no babies will drown! By going upstream we can eliminate the cause of the problem.”

“But it is too risky,” said the village elders, “It might fail. It is not for us to change the system. And besides, how would we occupy ourselves if we no longer had this to do all day?”

This parable explains the modern industry of human services. Another version would include someone jumping into the river and teaching the babies to swim. While it is fair to say that everyone in this situation is doing their absolute best to fight the problem, real change is only going to happen once we find out the core problem to eliminate more from falling into the river.

Is there some mysterious illness in these children? Had the shoreline been made unsafe by a natural disaster? Was some hateful person throwing them in deliberately? Or was there an even more exhausted village upstream that had been abandoning them out of hopelessness?

Everyone is pure and innocent at their core.

Just like with addiction and mental health, we can fix all the presenting symptoms, but there will never be long-lasting change until we can get to the root of the problem. Everyone is innocent and pure at their core.

The “Bad Person” Argument:

“She just pops them out and then we end up paying for them,” complains a clinician during a staffing session at a mental health facility.

“She just does this to get more drugs,” cries another in agreement.

This aforementioned client has just been admitted as mentally unstable and “just pops them out” refers to self-inflicted knife wounds in her abdomen in a desperate attempt to legally obtain
narcotics.

Without any background, experience, or education in this industry, any group of outsiders could unanimously agree that this behavior is not “normal.” But the behavior and actions are not the questions we need to ask in this industry; rather, the question should center around what is leading to this behavior?

Is it a choice? Is she just a bad person?

Would anyone, with a rational mind, “choose” to intentionally penetrate a sharp blade through their midsection just to score some drugs? Does anyone truly believe that jamming a knife in your stomach is the best available option?

This “choice” theory is still largely, and openly, debated in society. Despite the immense volumes of advanced evidence of addiction and mental illness, the stigma survives. The medical and scientific communities have proven these diseases through a plethora of research, studies, brain imaging technology, along with the work of the top neuroscientists in the world. Yet, the public disagrees.

Shall we debate how fish do not need to be immersed in water to survive and that is their choice?

Shall we debate whether or not the earth is round, the rotation, and how it orbits the sun? Shall we debate how fish do not need to be immersed in water to survive and that is their choice?

Why, as a society, can we not accept the overwhelming evidence regarding mental illness and substance abuse? This stigma we create and support is preventing people from receiving their inalienable human rights.

Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the declaration of Independence states:

“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable,among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, right? Well, stigma destroys life; it doesn’t preserve it by any means. Where is the liberty, or freedom, for those who can not afford treatment
or are a part of a corrupt system of workers with misleading information? How can one pursue anything that resembles happiness when they are putting a knife through their abdomen just to get a pill that makes them feel “normal” for a few hours.

The stigma creates shame and disgrace within each individual. Despite being “created equal and independent,” society trains us how to act, talk, dress, express, behave, think, etc.

The training that takes place by society is nothing more than putting on a mask to hide ourselves from the world and conform to how others think we should be.

And for some of us this doesn’t feel right.

There is a lot of love in the world, but the world doesn’t seem to want everyone to feel this way. The world wants us to pretend. The training that takes place by society is nothing more than putting on a mask to hide ourselves from the world and conform to how others think we should be.

We know there is more to this pretend world in which we are living and we find it privately—with booze, drugs, food (eating disorders), gambling and other compulsive activities that help alter our consciousness momentarily. The rush of the activity or the substance allows us to numb our true feelings, so we don’t have to deal with them—which is what we always wanted.

Then we wake up in the morning and put on our mask before opening the door.

As the case of the woman with multiple stab wounds was being reviewed by these “medical professionals,” it reminded me of the first time I was able to see beyond someone’s mask.

The behaviors are not being pardoned by any means, but if there was no stigma with substance abuse and mental illness, people would be more willing to ask for help…

In discussing this topic, more specifically the stigma associated, we always run the risk of being viewed as an apologist or excusing the behaviors of the addict. The behaviors are not being pardoned by any means, but if there was no stigma with substance abuse and mental illness, people would be more willing to ask for help before some of these significant consequences began to surface and this destructive cycle could slowly disintegrate. Because today, asking for help is still largely considered a weakness, whereas the truth is that it is an incredible strength for one to acknowledge that they are in need of the services of another human to help them pursue a life of freedom and happiness.

Seeing Behind the Mask:

The first time we see beyond the mask is done so without a conscious effort – it just happens and we observe. I want to share a story about a woman who has just had her eight children taken away from her for neglect and abandonment. Emotional and physical abuse was a part of the daily routine. The children would be forced to kneel down in prayer before she threatening to beat them if they told anyone she had been drinking.

“It’s just a little cut, get over it!” she once yelled at her two-year-old that recently fell on an empty beer bottle. Unable and unwilling to do anything for the child, the 14-year-old daughter
had to drive the toddler to the ER for surgery.

In another incident, the woman fell and passed out on top of one of the kids. The other seven children all worked together to get her off, preventing the infant from suffocating.

The kids rarely attended school and when they did were usually welcomed to harassment, beatings, ridicule and bullying.

The oldest daughter took care of the children with what she had to offer. She cooked Ramen noodles on the grill in the freezing temperature as it was all they had to eat. The kids rarely attended  school and when they did usually were welcomed to harassment, beatings, ridicule and bullying.

Where was their father during this time?

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. While she was pregnant, he once dragged 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.

She would call and harass the foster parents, but never took time to see them or get to know them. The kids moved on with their lives not giving her any sympathy as she was the monster who destroyed their childhoods. However, the oldest daughter continued to see beyond the mask. She continued to go back to the house and help her mother. She chose to believe there was more to this monster than what was being presented. In turn, the oldest daughter received the most abuse but continued to care for her and spend her young adulthood showing love.

The drunken woman continued the emotional abuse, creating permanent psychological damage to her daughter—the only one who ever showed her love.

Unknowingly, this unconditional love and compassion of this child is what recovery is all about.

Unknowingly, 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.”

Because what you will not know is that when this drunken woman was seven years old, she was babysitting her 5-year old brother before watching him get hit by a truck and killed. 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.

So beyond her mask is a pair of alcoholic parents that were verbally and physically abusive to her. She was blamed for the death of her sibling since she was seven. She married a well-respected man who was loved and adored by the community, only to have this same man beat her within an inch of her life when he comes home from work.

She began to believe all these things about her to be true, turned people away from her and “chose” booze instead of her kids.

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.

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.

I remember this woman’s funeral 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 took a peek behind the mask. 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 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 did not listen to what others said about her, no one could prevent her from loving this “monster.”

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 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.

The 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 woman did get what she always desired—to believe she was a good, worthwhile human. She had finally received her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This woman finally felt loved for the first time in her life during the last few years.

While the daughter may not have noticed this new unconditional love was reciprocal, I did notice. And it changed me forever.

I saw it in the mother’s eyes and I know the daughter was right all along.

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.

I know so because the drunk lady is my grandmother. And when I was nine-years-old and visiting, I was begging for a 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 saw I needed it and she understood. She didn’t drink that day for the first time in nearly 45 years, because she gave me her last seven dollars to buy that football, which I still
have today.

That was my Grandma. And the oldest daughter was my mother.

I love you Grandma. Mom, you are my hero.


Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution

taking-the-mask-off-stigma-barriers-mental-health-addiction-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.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.




 

 

“For no amount of our screaming at the people in charge to change things can change them… the powers bent on waging war against the poor and the young and the “other” will only be moved to kinship when they observe it.”

 

By Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne

People with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are the most discriminated against people in the history of the world.

A psycho is a derogatory term for someone who is psychotic.  Someone who is psychotic is a person suffering from psychosis.  Psychosis is characterized by a disconnection from reality.

That is it, that is all there is to it. A psycho is someone who is experiencing a disconnection from reality.

At first the term was “mad,” then we called them “crazy,” then “insane,” which became “lunacy” or “lunatics,” and then of course “psychosis” or “psychotic.”

As I have shared stories of the ancient days and how people with mental illness were mistreated, a large majority of those mistreatments were towards schizophrenics.

Just as humans have always done, when we do not understand something, we label it as different and persecute those people. But, this is the one group of people that are still left in the darkness. We still do not understand it.

Even though we label it as a medical disease, they still end up locked up behind bars and it is the last group of people in society in which it is still socially acceptable to discriminate against.

In the very ancient times, in the shamanistic cultures they viewed schizophrenics as having a connection to the spirit world. They would train them as to how to use this power, this gift, to connect with their higher self and earn them the title of “healer.”

Eventually as civilizations started to form, governments were created, along with rules, laws, and norms were passed down to keep peace and order.

This was meant to conform to those in power. Schizophrenia then became viewed as different, bizarre, chaotic, and mad. People with this “disorder” were then persecuted, drowned, buried alive, burnt at the stake, locked in institutions, cut off parts of their brain, or highly medicated to control these abnormalities.

So what is schizophrenia? Medically speaking, it is a diagnosis that is characterized by abnormalities in the perception or expression of reality and the sense of the self.

These “abnormalities” are described as hallucinations and delusions.

Hallucinations consist of hearing things that do not appear to be there, and seeing things that do not appear to be present.  Delusions are beliefs that appear “strange” and that only the person diagnosed believes them and they refuse to think differently – hence, refuse to conform.

On a side note, the next version of the DSM is planning on including non-conformity of a mental disorder. They have went from trying to be secretive about these things, to just being quite upfront. If you do not act as we want you to do, then you are sick. And if you are sick, you need to take this drug. But this drug is expensive, so you need this insurance coverage.

However, these descriptions are clinical terms used to help give a diagnosis, which allows for treatment in a society and culture that has agreed upon the best way of treatment of any mental illness is a drug. In the past it was hospitalization in which they never treated the person, but rather abused them and labeled them as insane.

What would happen if we were to actually look deeper into what these “symptoms” include in non-clinical terms, but rather, in terms of the client experiencing them?

The hallucinations are nothing more than an over-sharpening of the senses and experiencing unusual sensations. It can feel like an out-of-body experience and having difficulty deciphering the difference from reality and illusion. Everything tends to flow together as one. The wall never ends, but rather flows together with the flooring. Auditory hallucinations or the “hearing voices” which is so often mocked and ridiculed is a part of being in tune with higher frequencies.

It is scientifically proven that we do not see objects as they are, but rather a transformation and interpretation made by our eyes and mind. The brain filters out what it deems to be unnecessary information. This isn’t new age, make-belief information, this is physics.  Some physicists have estimated that the percentage of light we see on the spectrum is between 1.5 percent and 2.3 percent! That means that there is up to 98-percent of things that we are incapable of seeing.

We communicate daily via invisible radio waves through internet, cell phones, television, and radio. Radio refers to sending energy with waves. Energy is transmitted across the globe without any direct connection. The end result is an announcer speaks into a microphone and the signal travels at the speed of light via radio waves, is received by another signal, and if we tune our radio dial to the right frequency we can hear their voice without any direct connection.

With all this being said, is it possible that if someone has heightened senses to see part of the 98-percent of the world we do not see? Or to hear things at a different frequency in which we are not tuned in? I would say it is almost certain.

Psychosis, such as schizophrenia and mania, has to do with cracking the ego.

The experience is so intense that words can not describe. The ego, also known as the false self, is everything that we thought we knew to be true about ourselves. The reality, as we know it, is breaking right before our eyes. The ego, or mask, is put in place to protect us from danger – but it also is incredibly limiting.

During this experience, you break out of this mask you have been wearing your entire life. You feel an intense amount of energy that takes you to the depths of your soul. Your soul is set free for the first time since you were an infant, which is the reason for such rapid changes. As a part of this, all your senses are incredibly heightened and you start to question everything around you. You ask things such as “Is this real?” “Am I going crazy?” “Did I Die?”

If we are able to resist nothing and allow this experience to continue we will feel other symptoms such as feeling connection and a sense of oneness with the universe. You begin to feel that you are everyone and everything, and they are all you. An intense level of understanding takes over and everything makes sense, you finally see to just “get it.” All the answers to life are in the grasp of your finger tips. Along with the heightened senses of vision and hearing, you also are in tune with those around you almost to the point of feeling their senses, emotions, and thoughts. The sense of time disappears, all that exists is the present moment. All worries seem to disappear as an intense sense of love for everything appears and everything becomes incredibly sacred.  Along with this connection, you also may begin to feel that everything is a test from your creator and you no longer see people in their worldly form, but rather see their souls and see the message they are bringing to you.

As this state of consciousness comes down, it changes everything. Your priorities and values change quite dramatically. It is as though you have been given the answers to all of life’s mysteries and to return to the worldly form can be depressing.

I would like you to now go back and read the last three paragraphs and take them out of context. Just read what this experience of psychosis feels like to the person. Now, instead of saying psychosis refers to cracking of the ego, change the word “psychosis” for “enlightenment.”

“Enlightenment refers to cracking of the ego.” Now read those same three paragraphs describing the sensory experience. It is the exact same thing.

The difference is with enlightenment, people try many ways to achieve this experience through deep meditations, vision quests, soul dances, and psychedelic drugs, etc. Yet, those who are labeled as mentally ill and who have been discriminated against more than any other group of people, tend to have this same experience happen to them naturally. In fact, if you were to experience bipolar mania and explain it to someone the most common response is “I think you need help.”

And by “help,” in our society means to medicate the person so they no longer have these mystical experiences. Now, I do acknowledge that sometimes these hallucinations and delusions can be quite harmful in the sense they are asking people to act violently and they are seeing demons. This is likely due to the either trauma or repressed feelings. It is still a good sign that the person is breaking away from their ego, but they need to be guided by someone with experience so they can get closer to the enlightenment side of the spectrum.

This is the story of the lunatic on the grass:

Every week we would have our team meetings in which we go over treatment plans of the 16 patients in our “Intense psych rehab.”   

I had been off for a while since a huge relapse. I was now back and this was the first treatment meeting I had been to since. My mind was empty and blank. I didn’t know anything to be true for sure, I had given up. Which, as it turns out, was a good thing.

We would have the mental health practitioner present the patients and their goals and progress.

We talk 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.

Well everyone cracks up. The laughing is intense, everyone teases, ridicules, and assasinates his character.

20 mostly privledged white kids in their 20s sitting in this board room with their first psych job determining the fates of these patients.

I am a little intrigued because I love golf. I am terrible at it. However to be outside in nature with the sun for 4 hours I love.

The lessons it taught me was like exercise for my mind. Every shot matters in the same way that every moment matters. If I hit the ball by a tree, then because of that, if I get angry and impulsive, and try to smack it out of the woods, it will likely hit a tree and I’ll 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 can’t beat nature, go with it. Use your talents, don’t try to be like the 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 for life as well.

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 golfer Paris Hilton guy we 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 daily for about 2 months. The whole time thinking this guy is a typical schizophrenic so let’s write our notes, get him out of here and go home. Lets get our checks and continue living the lie. I was so embarrassed to be there, after the relapse. I just didn’t want to talk to him. I felt like a fraud.

It was nice outside early that spring so I brought my clubs in one day as I was going golf after work. They were brand new fancy clubs. I tried to act like I was the man, because truly I hated myself at the time and didn’t know why.

Now I know because that was one of my false selves. A mask I was wearing, it wasn’t who I really am. When you run from who your true self is, you suffer.

So at times I talked to him about golf to measure his awareness. He knew a lot so I was surprised. Just person to person talks.

He had started coming down to talk to me more because it was more of a friendship than me just asking him about his “coping skills” and his “goals,” and the bull they teach you to say in school and at these expensive trainings.

He didn’t feel threatened by me or that I was against him, or that I was writing things down in his chart. When patients do that, 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 lacking 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 its another forced treatment and commitment.

I swung my clubs inside that day. He saw me, and said “Whoah, you got a good swing, not bad.”

He saw my clubs and said ” Hey can I take a swing?”

Now what I was doing here was something that most places would say is inappropriate and me displaying poor boundaries. The people mostly running these places would say that I should be discussing his treatment and goals and his plan. Teaching him the “coping skills” that the book says.

However, no one will talk to you if you don’t build a relationship first. We seem to miss that in mental health.

I think it’s funny that we ask people to tell us everything, and about the worst moments in their lives. When we give nothing. We force releases of information to be signed by court order, and we use the information against them. Then we call the patients non complaint if they refuse.

I wasn’t purposely manipulating a relationship either, I was genuinely talking to him like an equal, without regards to the societal roles we were playing.

So, I said “”yeah, take a swing, let’s see.”

This was the beginning of one of the most deep and profound moments in my life in which my false selves would all die. Was it in a church, in a school, in a huge moment, no. I was about to learn about life from a lifelong schizophrenic at a golf couse. Not quite how I had it dreamt it.

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.

I did start to doubt my own pre conceived notions as an “expert.” Could I, the all mighty one be wrong? 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 then went to get support from the program director to take him and anyone else to the driving range. The university where I got my golf lessons, it was close and I was familiar with this place.

I got the ok and so we drive the van to the driving range. We arrive and there is is bunch of young kids with fancy clubs and clothes looking as we walk on the course, a group of mentally ill patients.

They had that look like “Umm I think you guys are lost” or the “Not in our neighborhood” looks.

Here is this schizophrenic guy with 20 year old shoes, long hair, and 10 year old jeans. We had no clubs, except mine. All the course can give him is a 9 iron for kids, which is typically hit about 150 yards by professional golfers. I’m sure they had better clubs to offer. They didn’t want the lunatic ruining their clubs. They didn’t want the lunatic on the grass.

He says ok, he wasn’t arguing. This man is 6’5. The club doesn’t fit him very well but he is just happy to be there as is everyone. He has a 20 year old club used by a kid.

Then there is that moment, the one that changes everything.

He puts the ball down. All these young kids, with their 3000 dollar clubs and their fancy clothes are all chuckling and watching, I am watching, the other patients are watching.

 

He says “Wow, I haven’t swung club in a long time.”

I was so nervous at this point, because I could see all the people watching, and I was watching. I was wondering, was this a delusion? Am I hurting this guy and embarrasing him? I felt my body get tighter. My teeth clenched, heart racing, I could feel it.

 

I look at his face, I watch his eyes, they aren’t schizophrenic eyes. His tongue was tightly wrapped on the outside left side of his mouth. He has this grimace on his face, it was extreme like focus. I look at his feet, they are not schizophrenic feet anymore, they are solid, on the ground, perfect stance. His arms are not schizophrenic arms, the grip is well, but the club does not fit him.

I sense the tenison and the energy as everyone was watching this “freak.” The thing is, he couldn’t sense it. He already knew what we were about to find out. He wasn’t hitting the ball for just him, he was hitting it for me, to give me hope. He was hitting it for the other patients. He was hitting it for the kids watching. The18 to 22 year olds who already have their mind made up, they want to laugh. He was hitting it for them.

 

He hit the ball. It goes well over 175 yards, with a kids 9 iron. The ball flew soo high in the air, like when you watch a pro golfer hit it. It towered over the earth, and the ball was soo beautiful in flight, it was like you see on tv. I could not believe it and you could hear a pin drop. Complete and total silence. Everyone was still.

 

The world stopped, and mine had changed forever. Had the first shot been a miss, no one watches again. The first shot was the key. This wasn’t a ball you could say was just struck well by an amateur. It had the look of a real talented golfer. He hadn’t swung a club in years, he had a girls jr club, and he didn’t have fancy equipment or shoes or a glove. He had a sweatshirt, jeans and those old raggedy shoes.

Then this happened over and over and over again. Eventually people were not whispering anymore. They eventually went back to hitting their balls.

Then more magic happened. At a driving range like this, you see all these golfers hitting all these balls. They all are in flight and all hit well.

There continued to be one ball that towered over the rest and made the others look like little kids.

Then, I started watching the kids, they started swinging and missing, and hitting terrible shots. He’s not supposed to do that. I could barely move. I had been shown the truth yet again. I hit some ok shots, but it didn’t really matter anymore.

 

Then he walked over and started giving me tips on my golf swing and they all worked. I couldn’t believe this. Then I look back, there is 20 kids watching him hit the ball, and watching him teach me. It was that impressive. Of course on the side you had our other patients trippng, laughing, running around. The world had been moved.

 

Then a moment that still tears me up as I write this happened. One kid with extreme courage and bravery comes up and asks him advice on his swing. What courage to do this on front of his shaken peers. Instead of teasing, he came and asked for help.

They had teased and judged, but our guy didn’t care. He said sure, and he loved helping.

Before you knew it you had the schizophrenic giving golf tips to these college golfers. I will never be the same and I knew it when it happened.

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 I am still not doing it justice.

All I could say was “yeah I like golf.”

We went again maybe 3 times. We had long talks in the car. He started talking 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’ve 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 other people had explained, he hadn’t listened, becasue no one had ever listened to him. He was open, without fear to me.

I only talked to him by chance. I had ignored him for 2 months.

Everyone played a role, the negative mental health practitioner who tried to make a joke of his treatment plan, the great program director. It all played a part.

 

Then I started to listen carefully to what he said when he went on rants instead of just having preconceived notions. I heard him talk about the college he went to.

I decided to look it up, then there it was. I saw a picture of him, clean cut, very well groomed and dressed. He had a 4.0 and was captain of a division 1 golf team. I wanted to be his caddy and get him in tounaments. That never happened.

 

Did he have the talent ot be a pro golfer?, I don’t know, but good enough to make money for sure.

 

My life changed forever, for that first swing was the swing hat changed the world. It came when I had given up on mental health and thought it was a fraud.

Then I realized this wasn’t always a terrible business. Yes there are terrible things that happen, terrible abuse. Horrible things happen. That was not a reason to give up, that was the reason to stay. To stay on the inside and do my best to create change. It is only a fraud if we make it one.

We have the power over every present moment we are in. That will always build on the past moment, much like golf. We can 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.”

I think ghandi also said that “The best criticism of the bad is the practices of the good.”

Maybe it wasn’t Ghandi, however I know it wasn’t me. Everyone is a human, we are all connected, and we all have things to offer.

If we start to treat people as equals, who deserve respect and love, instead of superiors and inferiors, you start to change.

When you drop everything the ego tells you to truth, magic happens.

When we take that leap, or are forced into it. What we happens is a freedom and beauty that I can’t explain woth words.

My greatest teacher was a “schizophrenic,” that had been committed for over 10 years by the court as crazy. I almost closed myself to him as a teacher because society had labeled him as sick and delusional. That’s how labels destroy.

When we lose the mask, the world becomes beautiful again.

This is my 42 year old cousin Jon tonight, on a respirator, in the ICU barely hanging on.

Gifted people are not those that can act and are good at sports. It is those sensitive, caring, loving people who have been given hate, pain, and abuse their whole lives. Yet they still return with love for the world. They hold the key.

 Currently how our society is set up, is we treat the most caring sensitive souls like garbage. The ones who could save humanity are in psych wards, detox facilities, and  treatment centers. Until we learn to embrace these gifted souls, our problems will continue to mount and destroy us. We embrace the wrong things and this is the result. We are killing  them off. When they become extinct, we will all go away. 
It can be cured. The solution is simple.  Love. Find an addict or someone with “mental illness” and give them pure love today. It will change the world. You won’t see the results, but it will

This pucture is my cousin Jon tonight. This is what an accidental drug overdose looks like. He is on a respirator right now. He is not a celebrity, so people won’t notice. But this happens to people every day and it is an epidemic. 
As a child he was tortured and abused. His stepmother didn’t want him so he was treated that way. His father wanted his wife to be happy so he was beaten and abused. 

Then at 16 everyone said he was “crazy.” He came to live with us and became my hero. He loved us and saved us.  

If Jon makes it out of this, he may never speak to me again or kill me. But at least he will be alive.
This is Jons story.

“The hero, it might be said, is called into being when perception of a need and the recognition of responsibility toward it are backed up by the will to act.” – Mike Alsford

Twelve-Years-Old; Here I am screaming, hitting, kicking, and throwing anything within eyesight. Filled with rage, I only hear the echoes of laughter from my amused audience of family members and a handful of neighborhood kids. It was a show to them, their entertainment for the evening, all while I am crying inside.

“He can not hurt you,” they cackled to each other.

Then the yelling and screaming turned to tears. That was the real pain, I was a hurt and confused teenager and expressing it the only way I knew; with anger and rage. More chatter and laughter from the enthralled crowd intensified my inner torture. While this was outwardly conveyed with more violence and destruction, I am slowly dying on the inside, scared, and lost.

I grabbed a baseball bat. It stopped being funny.

One person in that room saved me from killing myself, or perhaps others in that room. I’ll share exactly how this all transpired at the end of this article.

First, I want to tell you about the story of two boys. The story begins when they are around 7-8 years old. We will call them “Boy A” and “Boy B,” for simplicity.

“Boy A” awakes in the middle of the night with typical late-night hunger and heads to the kitchen to make a sandwich and accidentally cuts his finger on the knife. Scared, he rushes into his father’s room to cry and tell him something is wrong. The father responds by hitting him and telling him that he is, “too fat anyway,” followed by a couple more smacks to the face.

In childhood, we are trying to figure out if the world is safe or unsafe and it is our primary caregivers that give us this message. The message being received is, “you are a bad person, you are overweight, don’t come to me with your problems.” As these regular beatings continue, the neurological pathways are put into place in the developing brain reaffirming his perception of himself and the world. He fears the world, he is not allowed to cry or show emotions, and express how he feels. Everything is stored deep within his subconscious, but he has been trained that it is not OK to be himself.

His mask has been created.

Now, there is “Boy B,” at age 7-8 his father comes home and tosses around the football with him. He teaches him about football as well as life lessons associated with the game; such as being a part of a team, work ethic, discipline, sacrifice, fighting through pain, perseverance, and commitment. His mother offers warmth, kindness, compassion, along with unconditional love and support.

Encouraged to do well in school, treat others with respect, and do the right thing, “Boy B” receives positive reinforcement. He trusts the world, believes in himself, and his life is filled with meaning, purpose, and hope.

Back to “Boy A,” his father decides to get re-married and his new wife wants to start a family of her own. To her, “Boy A” is a reminder of this man’s past life and interrupts with her vision of a happy family. She takes it out on him by abusing him with electrical cords and whipping him with curling irons.

The same message comes around again, “I am a bad person, a jerk, and I am no good. I am getting in the way again.”

Already engrained in his mind and belief system, the same thing comes up again and only deepens his self-perception. During adolescents is when our personality is created as these neurological pathways are created, strengthened, or dropped altogether based on experiences and reactions. The teenager also acts first on emotion rather than on analytical thinking or rationale (due to the natural evolution of the brain) which naturally means more “acting out.” When “Boy A” acts out, everyone’s perception of he being a bad person or jerk is vindicated. Including his own perception of himself.

At the same time, “Boy B” is excelling in school while his parents are putting in extra time communicating with teachers and coaches to ensure their son is growing from child to an adult. The teachers see that they are involved and care about their son, and in turn, spend additional time with their child making sure he is successful. He is applauded for his extra efforts, given awards, and is generally liked by most people. He is free to explore the world on his own, views the world as a safe place, and optimistic about the future. Whenever he is in need, his family is there for him for any advice, assistance, or general support.

And, “Boy B” happens to be naturally gifted in athletics. Along with his revered genetics, he has been raised to work hard, study, and strive for greatness. As he gets older, he begins to receive specialized instruction from the finest coaches around the country. And while he has a burning passion for football and for success, if all fails in college he still has a loving family and community that will forever be supportive.

 

“Boy A” is now growing up with the negative labels connected to his name and any good act is ignored. Like the Hell’s Angles motto, “When we do right nobody remembers, when we do wrong nobody forgets.” Only seeking acceptance he acts goofy, outrageous, and spontaneous. This is the only thing that gets attention, and any type of attention is good for him. A beating is better than nothing at all.

He misses school and gets in different kinds of trouble. As the struggles progress, he becomes more scared, hurt, and alone with nowhere to turn. His father’s disgust for him hasn’t faded, if anything, has intensified. His father destroys gifts the child receives from his biological mother, not allowed to see his mother and is beaten and left outside the house all day on a nearly daily basis.

In school, he has no support. He is in fights, disrupting class, failing grades and the teachers only see a lost cause. Still seeking acceptance, he willingly puts on any mask for approval – the clown, rebel, etc. Anything that grants him the love that every person deserves, the love that he was cheated out of during his childhood.

Looking at the two stories of “Boy A” and “Boy B,” as adults they are souls from two different worlds. People who have been through abuse are living an entirely different reality, how are they supposed to just wake up one day and “just get it?”

This is why we need to look behind the mask.

The adult survivor of child abuse has altered brain chemistry. Early childhood development begins with the primitive structures of the brain known as the limbic system. This deals with emotional learning and survival. Our body has a natural hormone, Cortisol, which is sometimes called the “stress hormone” as it is released to help our body regulate stress. In childhood abuse, the system becomes altered as the child is under chronic stress which constantly sends cortisol throughout the brain and body. At this time, the brain is rapidly developing and the child is dependent on their caregiver for protection – which has significant long-term impacts on these primitive systems. And then as he ages into adolescence and young adulthood, these constant reminders that he is a “bad person” strengthens these already disrupted pathways.

Back to the stories, “Boy B” has graduated high school with honors, receives a football scholarship and has support from friends, family, and his community. He is well-prepared with education, specialized training, financially, and ongoing support and guidance. He succeeds again at the highest level of college football and is dubbed a “real life superhero!” He is strong, athletic, intelligent, handsome, and he pretty good at throwing a football and has a real possibility of becoming a professional athlete.

We call professional athletes, “real life superheroes.” I see it on a daily basis. In fact, just the other night Don Cheadle’s exact words on the Thursday Night Football telecast were, “these guys are real life superheroes.”

Then I watch my son put on his power rangers costume and he hits and punches. From day one we are told there are “good guys” and “bad guys.” We teach them that it is OK for the “good guy” superheroes to punch bad guys. We think it is cute. To me, it has been disturbing to see him enamored with these shows and then fired up to “get the bad guys and punch them.”

So I can bash the system which does no good or I can try to focus on the future. Which is what I am trying to do is to teach him about real life superheroes.

Back to “Boy A.” He escapes the abuse by finding a job and secretly saving money. Once he has enough he drives four hours to his Aunt’s house, which happens to be my home as well. He is confused, lost, lacks acceptance or any belief in himself. He has had a “bad guy” mask tattooed on his skull and has grown to believe that it is true.

Our house is crowded with five children, extended family, neighborhood kids, along with a number of chaotic pets. In the basement lives a 13-year-old child that is incredibly shy, but also remarkably intelligent. This is my older brother, he has basically withdrawn from the world at this point and is also scared and lost.

Then there is a 12-year-old boy who is angry, acting out, constantly in serious trouble, and recently expelled from school – this is me. Then there was another boy, much younger, and painfully terrified of the world, but also very loving – this is my younger brother.

And, now enters “Boy A” into this home. It is a frightening situation to the outsiders in fear that he is going to destroy this home and these kids. They don’t need a “Boy A,” they need a “Boy B.” A Super Hero!

Meanwhile, “Boy B” is excelling in the classroom and setting records on the football field. His fun-loving, down-to-earth, good-humored personality makes him loved my just about anyone who encounters him. He is a good man with true humility. He is not a bad person, we do not get to choose our family and whether or not we receive love and affection – he should not be hated for that. He is an amazing man and is an exceptional role model.

Right now, his biggest concern is where is he going to fall in the NFL Draft? What kind of offense do they run? Will he be able to start right away? Again, to him, these are true worries that create anxiety. It is not his fault, it is just his reality. But in terms of real-life trauma, trials and tribulations, tests of strength, willpower, or character are not likely as significant or battle-tested as “Boy A.”

“Boy B,” could be one of many quarterbacks we see each Sunday, such as Peyton Manning. Great man, good heart, hard-working, and humble. One of the best in the world in the history of his given profession – NFL Quarterback. He is often labeled, “A Hero.” In fact, quite frequently.

In researching a few different studies over the years, athletes and celebrities usually top the list of people we consider “heroes.” Currently, LeBron James tops the lists of a survey of 2,500 people age 16-35. From everything that I have read, seen, and heard, LeBron James seems like a wonderful person with an inspirational story. But a hero?

So, who is “Boy A?” This is my cousin, known to me as Little Jon, although his birth certificate reads Jon Kosiak. He enters this home, goes downstairs to the withdrawn teenager and shows him love and acceptance. He authentically cares about him, spends time with him, listens to his thoughts and interests, and gives him genuine love. He brings him out of his withdrawn sense, talks to him openly and honestly about things, and takes interest in his life. He teaches him not to be afraid of anything and befriends the kid who had all but given up on the world.

By the end of the four years that “Boy A” lived in our home, the withdrawn child is now brave and strong. He goes on to earn a master’s degree, has a family with three children and living an excellent life. He is smart, a good man, and an amazing father. At a moment in his life when he was in greatest need, Little Jon was able to recognize that and willing to act upon it. Not because he felt obliged to do so, but because he wanted to do so. And not because it was difficult, but because it was natural. Little Jon showed him not to fear the world, to love himself, and rise above.

And the younger, scared child is no longer scared. He ends up excelling at sports, receiving scholarships, and now works as a counselor. This is my younger brother. He has been transformed from a terrified child to a fearless leader. He is strong and smart, and at a time in which he needed to toughen up and face the world – Little Jon saw the perceived need, recognized it, and was willing to act.

“Boy B”, Peyton Manning, well he went on to the NFL and is called a “superhero.” He is idolized, loved, adored, and celebrated by people around the globe. He is a great man, with a unique sense of humor, oh and he can throw a football pretty well. But superhero? No.

However, I believe that Little Jon does fit that label. He spent four years in our home and molded us into better people. He was our hero.

And as for myself, well I was the angry little boy. My tendency was to smash things, threaten people, destroy property, and sabotage the entire house. People would either bail or they gave in to my demands in efforts to eradicate my behavior. But, I never was really angry. Anger is just a secondary emotion disguised as many different things – for me, I was sad, lost, and scared. It is an emotional response to an injustice (either perceived or real). That is the response, the rage is the reaction to the response. So the final product may be taking a baseball bat to a mirror, but deep down I felt an injustice creating pain and hurt.

In the opening story, we reached the climax of the action scene. Swinging around the bat, projecting anger, and spreading fear into those who have brought me pain. Then steps in the one person that changed the course of many people’s lives in that moment.

Yep, Little Jon is there. And he refuses to move. This pisses me off to the point that I grab a baseball bat and start smashing and destroying things throughout the house.

The laughter has stopped, the show is over. The bear had been poked one too many times and all hell was about to break loose. And when the bear breaks free of the den, everyone takes off, bails, and hides in the hills.

What would “Boy B” do if they saw something like this? He wouldn’t know what to do. That makes it tough to label him a superhero. We do not know who we are until we see how we handle adversity. When it comes to reading a zone blitz on a 3rd down in a playoff game, sure, Peyton Manning knows how to handle that “adversity.” So we know how he is as a football player. But real adversity, such as the situation above, can not be practiced or coached up.

This is the fight-or-flight system, the most primitive part of the brain. You do not have time to act on logic, you go on instinct, emotional learning, and survival. Nobody else in the room had the necessary tools to defuse the situation, they have not had the intense emotional learning he endured.

Most of the “Boy B’s” of the world have no idea what is going on inside the head of someone who needs love. They have never felt that and that is not their fault and does not make them less of a person. However, stop calling him a hero. If we keep calling him a hero and telling our kids he is the hero, then we have brainwashed them.

Little Jon did know what was going on in my head.

He said, “I am not going anywhere and you need to put the bat down.”

Everyone else is in fear, bailing out, and in full-blown panic. We got these two “messed up” kids about to go at it with a baseball bat and tempers flaring.

The crowd shouts, “Jon!! Jon!! Get out of there!! Leave him alone he is crazy!”

Little Jon did not budge. He said, “Listen, put it down. I know how you are feeling. It is ok Betsy.” (That is what he always called me, “Betsy.”)

I said “I am going to smash your face.”

“No you’re not,” He responded, “You just need love. Give me a hug.”

“No!” I shouted. Then, I started crying.”

The room is empty, everyone is gone into hiding or calling the police – or searching for the “hero.” But, the problem is that the hero was already in the room with me.

“Come here,” Said Jon as he approaches me with a hug.

Complete silence fills the room.

I drop the bat. I hug him and begin to cry and then the floodgates spring open and tears kept flowing. I have no idea what we talked about or what was said. I did not even know why I was so angry on that particular occasion.

But, what I do know is how I felt. Not alone. And loved.

He saw a need, recognized his responsibility, and was willing to act. Just like all other neural circuitry pathways in our brain, these continued heroic actions, develop into a habit, create character, and essentially define the person.

Little Jon has a tendency to bring this feeing to everyone he is around. He gives people that feeling of acceptance and love even though it was never given to him.

He is a true superhero. He is the one we should be telling our kids about, not Batman, not Superman, not Peyton Manning.

But, Little Jon. Jon Kosiak. That’s who I want to teach my kids about. He is a superhero.

It’s time to redefine the definition of a superhero.

Everyone thought Little Jon was a trouble-maker and a bad seed. He is not. He is a good man that gives love, despite the only thing has ever received is abandonment, emotional/physical abuse, pain, and suffering. Prominent motivational speaker/author Wayne Dyer states that the most difficult thing to do in life is to return love for hate. Little Jon exemplifies that without any effort, he does so because it is natural.

By definition, if he instinctively flourishes at man’s most demanding task (returning love for hate), is there any other way to accurately portray and define a superhero?

I Love You Little Jon.

thank you.

The end.