Thursday, July 30, 2015

The road to recovery can be a hard one


I ran across a story one of my former friends penned, and there are striking similarities to my own story and the main character in her story. Though this story was crafted as a work of fiction, I certainly recognize the truth of a time in my life in its paragraphs. And, reading this very good work reminded me of some very hard times, indeed.

Today, I am an alcoholic in recovery. As well as being in recovery I also deal day-to-day with psychiatric illness, which is a struggle (though it is a struggle I beat every time I make good, positive life choices, exercise and diet appropriately). Anyone can become an alcoholic. There are always a thousand 'good reasons' to take a drink. But, there is only one excellent reason for not drinking: Alcohol was not made for all people and some people are alcoholic and others aren't.

This main character "Eric" is a broken man, reduced to living in the streets, a victim of his own demons. The story the author penned is not 100 percent accurate, and the author, I am sure, never intended it to be so or regarded as a work of non-fiction. Nowhere in this work does the author say I was an inspiration to her, but I have a 'psychic twinkle' about this one -- because this is a hard story to make up (and an even harder one to live). This tale does bear a very close resemblance to a reality I lived, while in my addictions and being untreated for PTSD while living in Keansburg.

I was there during Hurricane Sandy and was one of so many who faced the blunt-force trauma of that storm's fury. This is not a sympathetic treatment of the "Eric" character, and that is fine because (if this was based upon me) in those days there wasn't much to inspire very much sympathy about me in others. 

After I lost a child, whatever shred of sanity I had was buried with him in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2012. I became lost; heck, I was lost even before that, I suppose. This story would, if it followed my actual timeline, take place about the same time I actually did move back to Keansburg in the wake of that great loss. 

I have to say, this is wonderfully written by the author. This can be a story to inspire people about what a true 'bottom' might look like in one's life. If for no other reason, this tale can be a cautionary tale for those who are wandering down the path to addiction.

You see, addiction grabbed hold of me and destroyed who I was and mental illness was there at every turn, making the world around me someplace dark and menacing. As you read this story, I want you to keep in mind that there is a lot of truth in these words and those who view it should know that, if anything, the author made this tale more palatable for mainstream audiences and that the actual truth of those times for me, and others like me who I knew, was even darker than in her pages. 

I came back to life through recovery, which is available to all of us. All any of us have to do to recover is be tired of being sick and tired of addiction. Similarly, to those who suffer from mental illness and refuse to take meds, I ask how illegal drugs or alcohol helps to put their life back on track. Fixing substance addiction problems without addressing psychological disorders is as useful as fixing a funnel but leaving a whole in the bottom of the bucket you are trying to fill up.

Recovery works and is available in any one of thousands of meetings that take place all across this great nation and even the world every single day. 

I wish the author all success and praise their work. There is no better story than the one that has the possibility of touching the lives of others. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Power of Caring

Essential for healing to occur

By David H. Kerr                  July 23, 2015

Instincts plus a balanced Caring Relationship developed with your client, may far out way what is learned by the traditional assessment, diagnosis and rote application of recommended counseling techniques.  This is the belief of Psychiatrist Allen Frances who wrote the essay published in the July 7, 2015 issue of the “Psychiatric Times” – see Addendum below.  I would agree with Frances but how you apply what you have learned to develop a natural conversation and relationship is “the art of healing.” 

There’s no training that can overshadow the power of caring and the subsequent healthy and healing relationship that is established between counselor and client.  Common sense?  Sure but let’s not forget to use it!  What we learn by life experiences and from books and formal training must be absorbed and communicated in a most natural way as if you are talking to your brother.  If you apply “common sense” then your relationship will be guided and focused and “healing” rather than intimate or detrimental or pontificating.  Every counselor must understand that “healing” comes from the heart, not the books or the libido.

Dr. Allen Francis concludes that "the major focus of the fact of therapy should be to establish a powerfully healing relationship and to inspire hope. Specific techniques help when they enhance the primary focus on the relationship; they hurt when they distract from it."…

Francis goes on to say that "The paradox is that the therapists are increasingly schooled in specific techniques to the detriment of learning how to heal. The reason is clear; it is easy to manualize technique, hard to teach great healing."

Fanny Marell, an experienced Swedish social worker, licensed psychotherapist and friend of Francis, shares her input; "many therapists worry so much about assessing symptoms, performing techniques, and filling out forms that they miss the wonderful vibrancy of a strong therapeutic relationship."

Marell goes on to say that "If we focus only on troubles and diagnostics, we lose the advantage of capitalizing on the personal strengths and resources.  Therapy without conversations about strengths and hopes is not real therapy."

Dr. Francis concludes his meeting with the following: “Thanks Ms. Marell, for terrific advice.  Some of the best natural therapists I have known have been ruined by psychotherapy training, becoming so preoccupied learning and implementing technique that they lost the healing warmth of their personalities.

I think that public funding and regulatory bodies should understand the truth expressed by Dr. Francis and Ms. Marell.  Talking and listening to your client is informative and essential.  However, without establishing a relationship with your client and expressing the healing warmth and human caring of your personality we may miss the basic ingredient of the healing process.  Those effective psychiatrists and counselors whom I have known, understand that a caring relationship with their clients is essential for healing to occur.

My next blog is entitled:  “An alternative to a degree as a measure of caring and competence”


Psychiatric Times

The Magical Healing Power of Caring and Hope in Psychotherapy[1] July 07, 2015 | Couch in Crisis, Psychotherapy By Allen Frances, MD

 “Allen J. Frances  (born 1942 in Thessaloniki, Greece) is an American psychiatrist best known for chairing the task force that produced the fourth revision of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) and for his critique of the current version,DSM-5. He warns that the expanding boundary of psychiatry is causing a diagnostic inflation that is swallowing up normality and that the over-treatment of the "worried well" is distracting attention from the core mission of treating the more severely ill. In 2013,  Frances said that "psychiatric diagnosis still relies exclusively on fallible subjective judgments rather than objective biological tests.”

There are 3 consistent research findings that should make a world of difference to therapists and to the people they treat.

1. Psychotherapy works at least as well as drugs for most mild to moderate problems and, all things being equal, should be used first
2. A good relationship is much more important in promoting good outcome than the specific psychotherapy techniques that are used
3. There is a very high placebo response rate for all sorts of milder psychiatric and medical problems

This is partly a “time effect: People come for help at particularly bad times in their lives and are likely to improve with time even if nothing is done.  But placebo response also reflects the magical power of hope and expectation. And the effect is not just psychological —the body often actually responds to placebo just as it would respond to active medication (/basics/psychopharmacology)..

These 3 findings add up to one crucial conclusion—the major focus of effective therapy should be to establish a powerfully healing relationship and to inspire hope. Specific techniques help when they enhance the primary focus on the relationship; they hurt when they distract from it.

The paradox is that therapists are increasingly schooled in specific techniques to the detriment of learning how to heal. The reason is clear—it is easy to manualize technique, hard to teach great healing.

I have, therefore, asked a great healer, Fanny Marell, a Swedish social worker and licensed psychotherapist, to share some of her secrets.

1Ms Marell writes: Many therapists worry so much about assessing symptoms, performing techniques, and filling out forms that they miss the wonderful vibrancy of a strong therapeutic relationship.

Thinking I can help someone just by asking about concerns, troubles, and symptoms is like thinking that I can drive a car solely by looking in the rearview mirror.  Dreams (/basics/dreaming), hopes, and abilities are seen out of the front window of the car and help us together to navigate the road ahead. Where are we going? Which roads will you choose and why? It surely will not be the same roads I would take. We are different; we have to find your own best direction.

If we focus only on troubles and diagnosis, we lose the advantage of capitalizing on the person’s strengths and resources. If I am to help someone overcome symptoms, change behaviors, and climb out of difficult situations, I need to emphasize also all the positives he brings to the situation. Therapy without conversations about strengths and hopes is not real therapy.

And often most important: Does the patient have a sense of humor? Laugh together! Be human.  No one wants a perfect therapist. It is neither credible nor human.

Symptom checklists and diagnoses play a role but give me no understanding of how this person/patient understands his world and her troubles.
And don’t drown in manuals, missing the person while applying the technique.
People come to me discouraged and overwhelmed, their hopes and dreams abandoned. Early in our time together, I ask many detailed questions about how they would like life to change. What would you do during the day? Where would you live? What would your relationship to your family be like? What would you do in your spare time? What kind of social circle would you have? By getting detailed descriptions I get concrete goals (e.g. I want to go to school, I want to argue less with my parents, spend more time with friends).
Almost always, working with the family is useful; sometimes it is absolutely necessary. What would be a good life for your child? How would it affect you?
Sometimes dreams are big, perhaps even too extravagant; sometimes they are small and and perhaps too cautious. But dreams always become more realistic and realizable when they are expressed. Sharing a dream and making it a treatment goal helps the person make a bigger investment in the treatment and to take more responsibility for it.  He becomes the driver and the therapist may sit in the back seat.
Because my first conversation is not just about symptoms and troubles, we start off on a basis of realistic hope and avoid a negative spiral dominated by troubles. Problems have to be faced, but from a position of strength, not despair and helplessness.
Having a rounded view of the person's problems and strengths enriches the therapeutic contact and creates a strong alliance. 
Thanks, Ms. Marell, for terrific advice. Some of the best natural therapists I have known have been ruined by psychotherapy training, becoming so preoccupied learning and implementing technique that they lost the healing warmth of their personalities.
Therapy should always be an exciting adventure, an intense meeting of hearts and minds. You can't learn to be an effective therapist by reading a manual and applying it mechanically.
I would tell therapists I supervised never to apply what we discussed to their next session with the patient, lest they always be a week behind. Therapy should be informed by technique, but not stultified by it.

Turned down by Fabula Press

The nicest turn down letter I ever received...

Dear Nivalis2015 Participants,

With the contest now concluded allow us to first of all thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your stories. The longlisted entries have been published in the Nivalis 2015 anthology, which is available on sites. 

As may be expected, the greatest challenge that we face with our contests is the judging part - we acknowledge that assessing the merit of the stories is influenced to a large degree by personal tastes and opinions, and  many of the stories that we are required to leave out are purely on account of logistical constraints and might otherwise have won a place in the anthology - much as we would like to, it is technically not feasible to publish an anthology of 50 or 100 stories. 

That said, we are deeply grateful for your support, and a formal acknowledgement of the same is in order. We have accordingly decided to gift you a pdf copy of the Aestas 2014 anthology as a token of our gratitude. This IS a gift, with no strings attached. If you do feel like it, however, we would welcome reviews of the book on Amazon / Goodreads. Or you could just mail them to us, to be displayed on the Fabula Press site. 

Please note that the book is readable on any pdf reader such as Adobe Acrobat.

As many of you maybe aware, the summer contest from Fabula Press Aestas 2015 is now open, and we shall be accepting submissions till30Sep15. Unlike the earlier contests we have decided to do away with the theme this time, and have also made some changes to the word count requirement. Should you wish to enter, please review the guidelines at .

Kind regards, and happy writing!

Fabula Press Team

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rachel Maddow - Trump is Republican frontrunner, third party threats aside

I think this is important for people who are getting interested in the upcoming theater that is the upcoming Presidential Campaign. I think Maddow makes an interesting point, comparing H. Ross Perot's role in the 1992 campaign to the similar role that Donald Trump may well play in this coming election. Indeed, this may well be even more watchable as entertainment than that long ago contest.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Readers posting comments to the blog is now allowed

Effective immediately I am permitting comments to be placed on the blog for all posts. I really want there to be a high bar here and for everyone to keep it classy. If that cannot happen then I will just go back to disallowing any comments on this blog. 

I think it is time, though. The blog is pretty well known and there should be someplace for responsible posters and commentators to put their views and opinions on the site.

Let's try and remember the 'Golden Rule' and have some nice discussions.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Word About Personal Kindness


People are a blessing to one another mostly. The Lord, no matter who one's Lord is, made people to be social: People need other people. Perhaps it is kindness that makes the world actually go around then, one soul imparting some small bit of humanity to the next as the day travels through its course.

Money sure doesn't make the world go around, I learned that one after about a half-century. Love of money will ruin a man or woman, the love of it might just send someone to hell and there is nothing in the world money makes go around, rest assured. Money makes the world go around as much as liquor or drugs do.

I do not bring up kindness because I am as kind as I want; I may not be as kind as the next fellow either. In fact, sometimes I've been downright mean with little provocation. There have been times, like everyone else, I have made an ass out of myself, been cruel, because of my own weakness; my own failings.

But, I am a firm believer that every morning presents us with a new day; a new chance to become a better person. Indeed, the morning allows us to rise from sleep and again try and make our mark on the world. With Grace by our side it will surely be a better mark than a day without Grace by one's side. People err, certainly I add my name to that number, and as much as one may feel sorrow about what happened yesterday, one cannot and must not allow sorrows of the past to lay the groundwork for the next day given us.

Each day is a gift and should be treated like that, despite the fact that people often do not, said the sinner.

Even if, one morning or one day, we behaved badly, created conflict with someone or gave into anger for its own sake, one cannot dwell on it. The road to dwelling on dark things is paved with more bad things ahead. Walk away from dark roads and greet the new day with a smile. Try and welcome peace and joy into one's heart first thing. Have peace and joy with your morning cereal. Work to maintain it through the day: Do good for others as best you can. You will fall short more times than you ever dreamed of, because we are frail and weak people made only from flesh and bone, raised from the clay and destined to return to it. Regardless of our age or place in humanity, each of us is only a fragile copy of our Lord's image with just the merest speck of God's greatness and love -- but we are each just working with a speck of it.

People fail. They were born to try and not succeed until one day, one joyous day they may get something right, despite all of the failings of humanity.

Yes, people fail. People do wrong. People injure others, and every now and again there is no saying 'I am sorry' anymore, for whatever reason. There is a lot of wisdom in the Alcoholics Anonymous program; wisdom in life and not just recovery. The group has a simple credo: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." Words to live by and a mighty thought.

Is there room for reconciliation in the world? Certainly. It is a large enough world for that, except, I believe, where contact with people one may have injured only injures them more, or in situations where doing so would injure one's self in some way.It is an uneven path we walk, at best, in life.

I say try and make every day a new beginning, complete with the real possibility each of us might just finish that day a better person than when it began. Instead of living in regrets, make the choice to create new beginnings and accept the world for what it is, without trying to change it to make yourself more comfortable in some ways.

People are entitled to be angry with us, resentful of us and, in some cases, they might just have a gosh darn good reason to feel that way. I say wish these people well in your heart. We are on this earth for just a moment...anger is the least attractive of all the sights to behold here.  For those one might have injured, I say wish them all the light and love they can find, and keep your own eyes fixed on the now and all the wonderful possibilities 'now' offers you.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Meds, Psychiatric Disorders and PTSD: A Love Story


I have PTSD, Depression and am in recovery from alcohol. I know these things have a stigma attached to them. But, nothing is going to get solved by being 'in the closet' about issues like these, not for me or anyone else suffering with such disorders.

Why am I writing this? Because living with psychiatric disorders can be very difficult and secrecy about ongoing issues can be a terrible way to live. But, it is how some people live, and walking around feeling bad and carrying around the 'secret' of one's situation is nonsense; it damages the mind and the spirit.

On job applications from sea to shining sea there are questions about one's psychiatric past. And, most people do not hire people who have these kinds of problems, let's face it. Still, these are disorders -- like a broken knee or bad back,

There are all kinds of Right Wing politicians who say people on Public Support and Social Security should 'get a job.' I agree, but just where are people with these issues going to work? If society wants these people to work then there is going to need to be a change of the tide, so to speak, and psychiatric disorders and diseases are going to have to be de-stigmatized. There is really no way around it. Either people with psychiatric disorders (and there is no short supply of such people) are going to have to be given incentives to work or on Public Support and Social Security these people will stay.

You know, Republicans are swell for pointing out problems but fixing them is usually not something that gets attention at all times. In the first place, debacles like the North American Free Trade Agreement sent jobs away from the country by the millions. I am ashamed to say it was a Democrat, President Bill Clinton who presided over the last act of that legislation. I suppose that makes him the one who gave the eulogy to the American worker. Nevertheless, NAFTA was legislation that was crafted throughout the Reagan and Bush 1 administrations.

It's not politics that need to change where it involves re-employment and acceptance of people with psychiatric disorders -- it is people that need to change. It is attitudes that have to change.

Psychiatric medications and treatment are in an era wherein an amazing amount of good is being done for people, making them able to function and thrive in ways that were impossible just 20 years ago. But, what is the practicality of treatment and stabilization of those living with disorders if opportunity is blocked to them in the workplace? Where is society getting a pay-off, so to speak, if old standards and old notions bar recovering people from having a career?

For there to be full employment for people with psychiatric disorders there has to be a way for them to re-enter the job market with an expectation of success. Without this, Public Support and Social Security will remain the primary way these people live: no one wants this, including those people being treated for psychiatric disorders.

It is hard, on a personal level, going through one's life with challenges brought upon one by psychiatric disorders. Yet, hope is found on many fronts medically, therapeutically. Still, society has closed so many doors to people recovering from their issues that the metaphorical locked door to employment these people encounter can seem to be 50-feet high and 25-feet wide.

To grow as a culture, to grow economically, society has to create an avenue for recovering people to re-enter the work-a-day world. What does that look? I have no idea, to be honest. But, knowing there is a problem and trying to do something about it is the beginning of solving it.

I can say that trying to be supportive of someone with a psychiatric condition can be hard, and this can be attested to, no doubt, by my beautiful daughter, Amanda, whom I owe so very much to for her loving kindness. I can say that she was my rock through some terrible storms. This is not to say things are always smooth sailing in her being able to understand me and those things I am facing. But, she has taken that journey with me and put up with a great deal. I work and live with the idea that there is someone in my corner in what can be a very cold world.

I am grateful to my boss, who took a chance on someone like me, and to my friends for supporting not only my recovery from alcohol but also my recovery from mental disorders. Without these, I too would be another discarded member of society, cut adrift because of what was called "madness" not all that long ago.

Today, I fight not only for myself, but to honor those who have invested so much into me, including the host of wonderful doctors, psychologists and health care professionals who have worked so diligently with me.

Changing a human heart is perhaps the most improbable act of all, yet the journey of a million miles begins with but a simple step.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Veterans and joblessness are sometimes hand-in-hand


When a young man or woman finishes their physicals and sign into one of the Armed Forces, they are giving the military a blank check. The blank check given to our republic goes up to and including the very lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

What is it that America owes is active duty, Reserve, veterans or those retired from the military. Being one of those veterans, I will say each of us owes our veterans a lot.

Yet, there are many veterans who return changed from their service to our nation, and saying that someone can healed entirely is too ambitious a sentiment. People change with experiences, particularly those who have seen combat.

Alcoholism and drug addiction happen in great numbers within the veteran community of our nation. What is to blame? Well, it can be a lot of things. I am no doctor so I will not try to practice medicine. However, it is a fact that alcoholism and drug addiction are rampant within veteran populations in this country. Consequently, finding at-risk veterans with troubled pasts and troubled driving records, perhaps even arrests or imprisonment in their backgrounds is not a rare occurrence.

For those who cheer on veterans in parades, on television or at the half-time of football games -- the same veterans that one may see shining bright against the sky with medals and ribbons, highly shined shoes and ornate uniforms are still the same thing as those veterans who are men and women who have, by poor choices and troubled minds, illnesses and injuries, become those grizzled homeless that inhabit our cities.

It is impossible to support those young men and women who serve our country today and not pay homage to those who have returned to the 'world' from their service, or who served in other eras, other wars, other campaigns.

What is the cure: None. But a great way to start is by hiring veterans. Understanding that, for veterans to leave at-risk situations in their lives (living on the streets or in cars, in the woods, or couch surfing), someone has to give them a chance; Not a hand-out but help up.

Give a man or woman back a job and they will be rewarded with self-respect and confidence. Armed with these things and hope, people can move mountains.

So, I am speaking to hiring professionals, leaders of companies and employment specialists and just plain old folks. Veterans wrote a blank check for our nation during their service. I suggest that the idea of giving veterans back a paycheck with a living wage, and a sense of dignity is what all of us owe them.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Some comments about art

By Rev. Jim Purcell

When each of us reads a book or looks at a painting, what is it we really look for at the bottom of it all. I think I search for some truth, some shining piece of knowledge underneath all of the words or all of the paint or ink. I want to know something I didn't know before, and maybe it is that one thing that will lead me to some even greater truth.

Artists of any kind, regardless of their medium, want to share something with the larger world. If they didn't then they would not create. The creation of art is based in the lives of the artists. So, as the artist interprets the world, so too does their personal understandings of the world shape the landscape of their art.

It has been said before that art is mankind's glimpse into heaven, and it is worth restating. I don't mean to interject religion into this monologue too deeply. However, how much has art impacted religion or faith or spirituality, whatever one feels comfortable with saying? Indeed, art has had enormous contributions to people through the ages understanding their faiths. In my case, I am a Christian and there is no shortage of Christian art through the long walk of time. For me, there is an essential quality to it. Likewise, the language of the Gospel of Mark, for another example, allows me to access my faith in a way I could not of if it were not for those words (widely believed to have been penned by author John Mark).

I say that art can teach people compassion, empathy, bravery...and a host of things needed in the lives of men and women. Like so many other people, I came from a terrible beginning in my life. There was not much to look forward to for me as a child, but then there was art. I did not care if it was comic books or great works by the Masters, I absorbed art like a sponge. Art shaped who I am, who I want to be and how I saw the world, my God...even humanity.

Some of the greatest wonders of the world were create through the simple work of human hands in making a dream more real through some medium.

In my middle age, I am starting to live more through art then ever. I begin to see genius in artists I simply passed by before, unimpressed about their talents. Now, maybe it was time that was my teacher, but I begin to see things anew, which illuminate the works I made short work of before.

People are explorers at heart. Not all people want to find a new continent, conquer space or the great expanse of the oceans, but there are so many discoveries waiting within art and our own imaginations, sparked by art that speaks to us, respectively. I encourage this journey for anyone. God bless to all, thanks for coming to my site.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Recent Rejection Letter

I just received a very courteous rejection letter from a literary magazine. I gave them "For the Love of Helga, My Zombie Queen" to review. It is a rejection and, if one wants to write, get used to rejection. I always said, 'If one believes the praise one gets from their work by others then they must believe the critics. Believe neither and it will not disturb your work.'

A writer's life is rejection, minus some very elating times when work is printed. In either case, there is a phrase from baseball, when it involves running the bases after a hitter smacks a home run: "Use class. Act like you've been there before and you'll be there again." In success or failure...keep on trucking.  JJP