He has Bipolar Disorder 2 and he believes in the rights of all people, particularly the most vulnerable of society. (Animals too. He has been an ethical vegetarian since 2006). Mental illness and compassion have shaped, guided, and informed who he is today, in myriad ways.
He was raised in a middle class family with all the creature comforts to be expected in a suburban household. He has been active in social justice groups and movements since 2003. He has led recovery groups for AA, most notably for 3 years at Heartland Recovery, a 5 day detox for the indigent and homeless. In his role, with God’s help, he facilitated the weekly meetings for 3 years among this community of people who are very broken with lots of recidivism, chronic criminality and homelessness. Compassion and empathy have been consistent themes in his life. Even when he was a deeply self-centered, self-medicating active alcoholic.
What triggered his Bipolar? No one can say with certainty, but a dysfunctional family of origin would be a safe bet. Every story has an origin of some kind. In most situations it starts in the home at an early age. This is where our identity is first being formed. His parents looked down on poor people. They believed war was reserved for the poor and it was a way to get rid of society’s undesirables. His parents were not compassionate people. Empathy was in scarce supply in his home.
His mother was judgmental, self-righteous, and passive-aggressive. That’s a mental health term that means “of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.” It also involves punishing people by withholding love and affection. Both of his parents were almost impossible to please and his father had a bullying, entitled attitude about almost everything. He rarely said, I love you or I’m proud of you, my son.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that state and local authorities investigated 3.7 million cases of suspected child abuse in 2008. Child abuse is not only physical violence, it also includes emotional abuse and neglect, all of which leave lasting scars because children grow up in a state of fear and without the clear boundaries they need for healthy psychological and social development, according to HelpGuide.org. Prevent Child Abuse New York notes that most child abuse occurs when parents are unable to cope with stress factors in their lives. Child abuse is not limited to certain sectors of society; it crosses all social, economic and ethnic lines.
Adults who suffered abuse or ill treatment in childhood are more likely to abuse their own children because the family model they grew up with is flawed, according to HelpGuide.org. Similarly, the Oregon State University Extension Service says that if parents grew up with harsh methods of discipline, they may be more prone to violence. Parenting classes and therapy can provide insights to help such parents to fill the gap in their knowledge of parenting and develop strategies for dealing with the stressful aspects of raising children.
Some indicators of why parents abuse their children:
1. Unrealistic Expectations—Some people enter into parenthood with unrealistic expectations and they may be surprised at the amount of care and attention that infants and children need.
2. Lack of Support—Because parenting is stressful, parents without support from family and friends may be more likely to abuse their children, according to HelpGuide.org.
3. Alcohol And Drug Abuse—HelpGuide.org states that alcohol and drug abuse often lead to child abuse because these substances cause people to lose self-control.
4. Emotional Disorders—Parents who struggle with anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses are less able to cope with the stresses of parenting and may be more likely to engage in child abuse, according to HelpGuide.org.
As he tried to grow and prosper in this environment with his family he became so hopeless that he developed self-hatred and shame of who he was. He was miserable in his formative years, was demoralized and shamed by his dad’s bullying, and felt emotionally abandoned by his mother. At one point when he was in his early 20’s, his shaming and negative self-talk made him so depressed and despondent that he planned to take the lives of his parents and himself. He felt it would be better if all were dead. Fortunately, he ratted himself out to a therapist and she intervened.
These are the kinds of conditions that can trigger the type of hopeless depression that is destructive and harmful to others and self.
Just a Glimmer of Hope
All we’ll ever need is a spark and a glimmer of hope to help us make it through the worst of times. Things didn’t get any better for him for a time. In fact, it got worse before it got better. He began to spiral out of control with all of the so-called norms of life. Bipolar Disorder, addictions, and disillusionments with the distorted views he inherited from his folks finally caught with him. Eventually, in 1993, he was placed in a psychiatric ward in Western Missouri Mental Health for several weeks. (A facility for the homeless and indigent, which inspired his deep passion for helping such people). He had long hair and a long beard. A woman on the ward who suffered from delusions would follow him around calling him Jesus. There were also violent patients and patients strapped to beds screaming for hours at a time. He realized that there were some people in that mental hospital who had some chronic and, perhaps, untreatable mental health issues. He didn’t want to go past the point of no return and end up like them.
When Hope Is Restored
His turning point began later in 1993 when he had quit drinking and started working cognitive behavioral therapy. At first he thought he could do life all by himself—he thought he would figure this all out and get things back on track. Yet the insanity of hypomania, mania, and depression continued to manifest itself through marijuana abuse, over-exercise, severe food restriction, kleptomania, pornography addiction, under-employment, self-harming, massive debt, and a foray into extremist politics that got him into a lot of legal trouble. For years he suffered through failed marriages and relationships, loss of family connections with two of his three sons, and the feeling that he was no better than his dad. In fact, he had become what he never thought he would. He had become his dad, but by abusing his kids in a different way. Neglect and abandonment-he was out of their lives for more than a decade.
Then in 2010, he began his ongoing spiritual journey in AA and had a spiritual encounter with God. Things began to turn around for him. He feels God’s strength, presence and power today.
One day last summer, he got word that one of his 25 year old sons (they are twins) needed a kidney. He found that He was a perfect match. He offered him one of his kidneys with no strings attached. His son accepted the offer, the surgery was completed on 1/11/17, and they are both thriving! Their hope to be father and sons has been restored. He can say as a proud father that he gave his son life twice. Only God could help do something like that (through him).
He sees all three of his sons on a regular basis today and they have a great relationship. All because of the hope and faith that he had, and has, in God and AA.
He is married to a lovely, intelligent, successful woman who has journeyed with him in his struggles. But they celebrate life together because she accepts him for who he is today. Not what he used to be like yesterday. He can’t change the past. Nor does he want to. What happened to him was part of the process of creating the beauty of how God can restore all brokenness into a bond of grace and hope.
If we would only “knock the door will be opened, seek God’s hope and we will find it, ask for God to help us be restored.” God will do all these things and more if we would only hope and believe.
It is important to close with this: His ongoing recovery depends not only upon his reliance upon God. His own efforts are indispensable. Taking his prescribed medication; attending AA meetings; continuing to work the 12 Steps; praying; being of service; reading meditations, Scripture, and recovery literature; finding Fellowship with others in recovery; and participating in the recovery community at the UMC church he has joined are all essential parts of “living on the cliff and staying there.”
A lifetime of Bipolar Disorder has taught him that he lives on a cliff. Always one step away from jumping into the abyss of mania or depression.
Stay on the cliff. One day at a time. By the grace of God.
The Sound of Silence, as hauntingly and powerfully sung by David Draimen, is his favorite song. It reminds him of the silence, isolation, and darkness of depression. And those who still suffer, whom he seeks to help.