Posts Tagged ‘cortland pfeffer’

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“Imagine all the good that could be done in the world if we offered treatment services – people getting real, talking about feelings, everyone included no cliques – and encouraging adolescents to take off their masks, rather than teach them how to build one and wear for the rest of their lives. “From the book “Taking The Mask Off” by Cortland Pfeffer/Irwin Ozborne

By Cortland Pfeffer

The mass shootings keep happening, despite blaming guns, mental illness and other things. Maybe that is because we are looking at the problem all wrong.

“Help me man!” says a voice of a man that stumbles into my office, “I don’t want to do it anymore. I need you to save my life.”

I was working at the walk-in mental health clinic when this distraught man sits down in front of me and clearly has hit his rock bottom. We start talking for a short time and we both feel a sense of familiarity with each other.

“Ozzy!?” He questions, “Well, I guess we both should have seen this moment coming.”

Ozzy was my high school nickname and the man sitting across from me that was pleading for me to save his life was one of my many, and probably worst, high school bully.

This man tormented me and made life a living hell and now here he was in a hell of his own and begging for me to bring him out of despair.

April 20, 1999:
Rewind the tape to April 20, 1999. It was our senior year and I have endured seven years of being a social outcast and bullied daily. By my senior year, I was part of the “popular” group but I realize it was not because I was accepted but it was more of a joke and a more covert bullying. Although I recognized it, I went along with it due to it being easier to handle than the overt bullying the years prior.

We all skipped school that morning to partake in International “Weed Day.” While we were innocently watching MTV, getting high, and laughing, suddenly my mindset changed. I grew very resentful at everyone as I knew that they were just inviting me so they could laugh at the awkward kid getting high. It was funny to see the kid that never talked suddenly opening his mouth. They were laughing at me, not with me, and I had enough.

I walked out of the house without saying a word and just walked home. No one called, no one wondered where I went, no one cared that I left. It was right around noon that morning as I began my walk.

At the exact same time, a thousand miles away, another group of high school seniors that had been bullied their entire lives and set as outcasts had a much different response. At 11:19 a.m. (local time), Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had entered Columbine High School and began to open fire on the most deadly school shooting in United States History and forever change our world.

First and foremost, I need to explain sincerely that I do not condone their acts in any way and express sympathy for all that were affected by this tragedy. I also am a very non-violent person and could never see myself acting in such a way, but the purpose of this article is to show the two distinct paths my life could have took as I lived the life of the prototype of a school shooter.

A Life of Bullying:
Ever since entering Junior High School, I had no friends. I sat alone and barely said a word throughout the day of school unless prompted. Then, when I went home, it was more of the same. I was emotionally and mentally tormented and tried to hide in my room. I was even victimized further and accused of being “too sensitive.”

I had nowhere to go. No one ever took the time to step in.

A child that never talks, wears dirty clothes, and sits all alone and gets picked on daily and no one wanted to ask what was going on. Perhaps that would have been a “hard case” and nobody wanted to take the initiative.
Long before Columbine happened, I remember a kid in class joking about how I never talked. “Ozzy, you are the type of guy that shoots up a school. I better be nice to you for when you do something like that.”

Another time, while I was in the back of class writing football plays in my notebook, a girl (that also was fairly quiet), walks by and says “what are you writing, bomb codes?”
If people were saying this out loud, what were their private thoughts about me?

Then, the next day, April 21, 1999, I returned to school. Everyone in the school had eyes on me and looked me in the eye as if I had committed the same crime as Klebold and Harris. They weren’t friendly with me, instead they were more quiet and suspicious. The remaining month of my high school career went back to being ignored, which was perfectly fine with me as the phony “friendships” had run its course. Again, I didn’t want to act violently, I just wanted to escape and begin a new life.

Having a Social Outlet
The difference between neurosis and artistic, is that the artist has an outlet to express himself/herself. They neurotic keeps everything inside and brings about further self-torture.

“I’d be a savage beast, if I didn’t have this outlet to salvage me.” — Eminem

We all need a sense of belonging. Luckily for me, I happened to be an average athlete that was good enough to make the team. This is the only outlet that I had and I could release some of my built up anxieties. In addition, and more importantly, it allowed me to belong and be a part of something. It allowed a few people to recognize me and know about me.

A sense of belonging, above all else, is what each individual needs. Look at every mass shooter/killer in the history and they lacked connection.
If it wasn’t for athletics and not making the team, I would have had nothing. I am not sure how those last few years of high school would have turned out. It was because I was involved in these teams that the popular group took me on as their mascot. Again, although it was a form of bullying, I felt I was part of something and had a purpose. If I hadn’t made the team, or wasn’t into athletics, what would I have had? I would have been even more alone and perhaps I become even more alienated and who knows how that story ends.

To Those Who Have Been Bullied
Listen, I am as outcast as they come. I was even too odd for the weirdest people in the school. I have never fit in anywhere in life. As I grow older, I realized this is my greatest strength. If you don’t fit in with mainstream culture, it means you are doing something right. If you fit in with an insane society, that can not possibly make one “normal.”

If I could go back, I would embrace it more. In fact, that’s what I have done since then. It doesn’t have to be painful and life does get better once we truly embrace our life behind the mask.

Less than twenty years later, one of the biggest bullies walks into MY office and asks me to SAVE his life. Here I am living a meaningful, fulfilling life and this man is now begging for me to help him after he put me through hell. The thing is, I didn’t feel redemption, I felt sympathy and empathy for this man because I know how it feels and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that.

To all those who are bullies, remember it is hurt people that hurt people. They are hurting very deeply. Someone who is fully secure and self-confident has no interest in harming the life of another.

I view myself as a non-violent pacifist. I hate guns. But, I also look back and see that I was maybe only a few situations/scenarios away from becoming Dylan Klebold. At the same time, my life changed dramatically in less than twenty years to working with and preventing the future Dylan Klebolds of the world.

Walk Up, Not Out
While this pains me to say it, the conservatives got this one right. In response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018, high school students around the country organized a “walk out” to protest gun violence. Again, I agree with the students, I have always been for gun control to the point I am anti-gun.

But, I can also acknowledge when the other side has a good point. The idea of walk up, not out, has to do with explaining that bullying is the cause of the school shootings. Instead of walking out, the students should walk up and get to know each other – this is accurate. The only thing that bothers me, is the conservatives use this only as a means to push their own agenda – their guns.

If schools would take time to teach classes on having people openly share and express their feelings with one another, it would form tighter bonds. I remember in one class we had to write a very personal essay. We sat in a table of four other students and passed our paper around. Even something as simple as this helped us connect with each other as we saw beyond each other’s masks.

There should be more of this. There should be a treatment-style class in which the group shares their inner world with each other and work on forming meaningful relationships. If we start doing this at a young age it would end nearly all school shootings.

For those that have been bullied, I would like to share that there is also a place to go. There are support groups around the world, such as AA and NA, that understand the concept of unconditional acceptance. You can sit in a room with a police officer and doctor that are sitting alongside a homeless person and they understand each other. They talk about real things and form meaningful connections. No one is judged and everyone is accepted.

The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference. I don’t feel people hated me, but people were indifferent towards me everywhere I went.

Once again, the answer is love.


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, Barnes and Noble , and Balboa Press.

By Brooke Feldman.

Individuals seeking addiction treatment typically have the least amount of resources and the most complex of needs.

Do you know that feeling you get when you are sitting at your doctor’s office waiting to be seen and it’s 15 minutes past your scheduled appointment time and nobody has even checked in with you?

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re experiencing tremendous dental pain but are told “Sorry, the next available appointment isn’t until two weeks away”?

Do you know that feeling you get when you are on hold with your doctor’s office waiting to get a prescription called into the pharmacy and it feels like somebody must have forgotten you were on hold?

Well, if you take that feeling and multiply it exponentially, you will get a tiny glimpse of what countless individuals and families experience every day when trying to access addiction treatment services in America. Extraordinarily long wait times, an utter lack of engagement while waiting, poor customer service and a complete lack of communication often meet people at the entry point of attempting to receive treatment services. While there are many good addiction treatment providers who understand the importance of a warm and welcoming environment, there are far too many who do not – and then some who even go on to blame the individual seeking care for “not wanting it bad enough” when they don’t “stick out” the horrendous conditions in which they wait.

Our public behavioral health service systems are intended to serve the most vulnerable citizens of this country. The individuals and families seeking addiction treatment who are uninsured, under-insured or receiving Medicaid (i.e. welfare; medical assistance) insurance are typically those with the least amount of resources and the most complex of needs. While one would imagine that the treatment providers serving our most vulnerable citizens would deliver services in a manner that actively engages people into treatment, sadly this is often not the case. If you ask any individual or family who has attempted to access addiction treatment services in a public behavioral health system anywhere in this country, you are nearly guaranteed to hear some of the following experiences.

“I waited for three hours on a hard plastic chair before anybody came out to talk to me.”

“I was experiencing terrible withdrawal symptoms but was unable to receive any medical treatment until after I was admitted which was 11 hours after I first arrived.”

“Nobody even communicated with me or told me how long I’d (or my loved one) would have to wait.”

“I waited all day without being seen and then was told to come back the next day because the intake staff were done for the day”

You know that feeling you get when you still haven’t been seen by your doctor and it’s 15 minutes past your appointment time? Well, yeah, multiply that exponentially and you’ll get a glimpse of what many individuals and their families experience when attempting to access addiction treatment services. At a time of crisis and often a personal and family low point, we are expecting people to weather the type of service delivery that in no other healthcare or customer service venue would even the best of us be able to tolerate. Is it that we think people who struggle with addiction challenges don’t deserve better? Is it that we think people who struggle with addiction challenges aren’t important enough to be treated with human decency and respect? Is it that we don’t care how many people are literally dying trying to get into treatment?

There are many strategies behavioral health system leaders and addiction treatment providers can employ to better engage people into treatment. Below are just some examples and available in the literature for all are plenty of others:

1) Provide peer support services in waiting rooms, allowing individuals and family members with lived experience of navigating the system and sustaining recovery to provide encouragement, information and hope

2) Provide the type of waiting room furniture that you would be comfortable with yourself or a loved one spending hours and hours sitting on

3) Splurge on being able to provide water, coffee and something to eat for people who often haven’t eaten in days let alone the hours and hours they have been waiting

4) Ensure that regular communication is taking place and that staff are providing routine updates to individuals and families about wait times, next steps and what to expect in the process

5) Be prepared to serve people experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms and develop procedures that allow for the availability of medical care within a reasonable amount of time

6) Align federal, state and local funding and regulatory policies with a behavioral health system that can meet the demands of those it is there to serve

7) Do unto others as you would want done unto yourself

Listen to Brooke’s story on podcast here:

Itunes; Brooke Feldman story iTunes podcast

Spreaker: Brooke Feldman story podcast on spreaker

YouTube: Brooke Feldman story you tube podcast


Brooke M. Feldman, MSW Candidate, University of Pennsylvania
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Brooke openly identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ communities and a person in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. What this means for Brooke is that she has has been able to stop the intergenerational transmission of addiction that claimed her mother’s life at a young age and has transformed her own life into one of wellness and service. After spending her adolescent years in and out of many behavioral health institutions and the juvenile justice system, Brooke began her recovery at age 24. Since that time, much of Brooke’s energy and efforts have gone into advocacy and action work geared toward making wellness and long-term recovery accessible to all. Having spent the past decade working in various direct care, community outreach, administrative/policy, program coordination and training roles under some of the field’s highest regarded leaders, Brooke has combined her lived experience with a wide spectrum of professional experiences to serve as a support to those in or seeking recovery. Brooke firmly believes that wellness and recovery is not about luck or good fortune but more so about individuals and families having access to what it is they need, when they need it and for however long they need it. Additionally, Brooke believes that the gifts and wisdom uncovered in the addiction recovery journey can and ought to be applied universally to the human experience and shared with the larger world.

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 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble , and Balboa Press.