Outside In – ED with Angie

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For anyone that has ever watched anyone die of any type of a disease, you know how absolutely horrific it can be. To know that something is stronger then them, and even with significant help of modern medicine, they’re unable to fight it off or overcome it. To watch someone try and fight so hard  for something, that in the end can takes their life, is beyond heartbreaking. To know that no matter how hard you try, or the resources you put in front of them, it’s nothing compared to what has overtaken them. A feeling of helplessness overtakes every part of you as watch the disease win.

It is through Mallory and Kayla’s stories that we are given the opportunity to learn from those who have walked this lonely path and bring forth awareness to our own words and actions regarding such matters. Because even though it may be possible that your child won’t directly deal with these diseases, there’s a good possibility that one of their friends may. After all, 1 out of 2 girls between the ages of 11 and 13 consider themselves overweight. By you being educated on these topics, you can have simple conversations with your kids, spouse, students, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – which in turns opens the door for conversation about a friend they may know that is struggling. This conversation plants a new seed that trickles down, making others around you more aware of what they’re saying regarding body image, while also being a support for their peers. You are planting the seed of knowledge, awareness and hope – which is something we need more of in this world. This isn’t something to be feared – for fear only closes the door of safety, leaving adults and children alike to feel even more isolated and alone.

When we choose to break down the barriers of these conversations, we open up room for something bigger, an opportunity to offer support and acceptance to others. I hope you are able to take from all of these entries, a new respect for those who have endured this disease themselves, as well as those who have stood on the other side – forced to watch those they love be overtaken by something, that while they thought they could control, only in turn, began to control them. Here are their stories.

My name is Angie Murphy and I would like to share with you our story of how an eating disorder turned our lives upside down. Anorexia Nervosa by definition is an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. This crippling disease took the life of our oldest child, Kayla, on July 13, 2013, 18 days before her 23rd birthday. Kayla was everything we could’ve asked for, she slept thru the first night home from the hospital, potty trained at 21 months, and learned to talk at a young age. As Kayla grew up she always appeared confident. She tried basketball, played in band and was even named Miss Kellogg. In doing all these things Kayla began to strive for perfection, which in time, we learned that perfectionism is or can be a starting point of an eating disorder. I remember her doing home work in 9th grade, she would be up all night re-writing things to make sure it was perfect. This perfectionism started to play a roll in her health, she would be up very late every night, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly, and always stressed out. We as parents, nor her teacher understood what was going on. We just thought she was concerned about getting good grades for college and was working way too hard to obtain them.

It was right before Kayla started 10th grade, that she made a comment about wanting to starting eating healthier. This wasn’t something that seemed alarming because we were always on the run and had a tendency to not always eat healthy. By January Kayla had lost a lot of weight, again we attributed it to the stress and anxiety from all her home work. My husband, Marty, said she needed to see a doctor to figure out what was going on. It was at this time the doctor diagnosed Kayla with an eating disorder and that some of her organs were in the beginning stages of organ failure. Our Doctor then referred us to Park Nicollet for admission to treatment. Kayla was so good about cooperating, but too far under the control of the eating disorder that she didn’t really understand how deadly this disease could be. But then again, none of us really did.

As we were going thru this whirl wind of facing the reality that our daughter has an eating disorder, we were so confused. My sister-in-law, Jean, also had an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa and bulimia), being that we didn’t live near her, we were never educated on the mental illness. Like so many others, we didn’t understand why she just couldn’t eat.  Kayla and our son seen how the eating disorder would cause someone to act in such a self destructive manner. But because we were not educated on the mental illness none of us understood why it couldn’t be fixed. We didn’t understand the signs that had built up to  the point of where Jean was at. This really goes to show you how naive we were to this mental illness. Eating disorders were something people didn’t talk about. That’s why it is so important to talk about them – to stop the stigma and to educate everyone on the early signs.

When Kayla was admitted to Park Nicollet in the Twin Cities we were so scared. She was there for several weeks, but bound and determined to beat it! After inpatient and weeks of driving daily 180 miles round trip to the Twin Cities so she could do outpatient treatment, she had almost restored her weight and learned coping skills on how to fight off what is referred too as the eating disorders “voices”.

Between 10 and 12th grade Kayla worked with several psychologists, some helpful more helpful then others, but during this period home life was horrible. Between the four of us, I felt like I had to always be there to make everyone’s life better. My husband and son wanted to help, but that usually ended up in arguments. Being so naïve to the disease, we really didn’t know how best to help Kayla at home. Eating disorders are so difficult. Sometimes when you try to encourage them, you are actually feeding the disorder. The tension at home was an everyday occurrence. We are a very close family but there were days I didn’t know if we could continue to live together. Our son didn’t really say a lot, he watched, but I know it was very painful to see his sister go through this. Fighting this disease takes everything out of them and you

Kayla was in and out of treatment several times over the four years she was in college. The most frustrating thing was when she turned 18 and legally became an adult. The doctors no longer had to tell us anything and Kayla could discharge herself from treatment when  she wanted. She wanted to get better so bad but the voices were so strong that it was hard for her to always make decisions that were most beneficial for her overall health and well being.

There are only a few treatment centers in Minnesota and Wisconsin that work specifically with eating disorders. The problem at that time, was they were so inconsistent on treatment methods. Many would get the patient to a stable point and then release them to go home. There wasn’t much guidance on helping the patient and family find a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. They didn’t teach you how to go grocery shopping or how to really cope outside the treatment center. There wasn’t family education centers or meetings like they have now, that help you better understand the disease, or support groups to speak to other families that are going through the same thing, for additional support.

I think my husband was more realistic about Kayla’s passing, he never said it, but always worried about losing her. I was always a little more optimistic. I spoke with Kayla everyday and she was always trying to fight the voices, reminding her to stay strong. We would search for new doctors to help in anyway possible. Because the disease was so strong on top of a genetic link, I didn’t think Kayla would ever really have a full recovery, but I never imaged it would take her at age 22.

We will never have the answers to understand why this happened. After Kayla passed we were amazed by how many people came forward and said if it wasn’t for Kayla and her story they wouldn’t be here today. Kayla was such a caring and giving person. She touched so many lives, and that is our inspiration. Through this whole journey she/we were never ashamed of what we were going through, so we will continue to tell her story and continue to reach out to help others that are also dealing with eating disorders. We will continue to help educate where we can, continue to help raise money for the National Eating Disorders Association and The Emily Program Foundation in the Twin Cities. Kayla lived by many sayings, but two of my favorites were – “be the best you can be today because tomorrow is not promised to any of us” and “we can stand still and watch, or we can stand strong and fight”.

Do you feel there are other driving factors that reinforce eating disorders aside from genetics?

Yes! Eating disorders aren’t the average dinner table conversation. Which is why it is so important to talk about them – to stop the stigma and to educate everyone on the early signs. Eating disorders can show up for a variety of reasons, they aren’t just learned behaviors, it can be genetic, or how they are “wired”. I also believe society plays a big role in these types of diseases. There is a lot of pressure to be beautiful, to be thin, to be smart, and to be successful. This is a lot of pressure for our children at any age and I feel these are also triggers that start the process. Anxiety, depression, OCD and/or feeling as if they can’t measure up or aren’t good enough, can be some of the beginning signs of eating disorders or the onset of mental illness. As they grow and these issues and thought process strengthen, they start to control their life. We start to look for ways to find control in our lives and as a result, our body chemicals used for coping – diminish. This makes it the perfect time for an eating disorder to develop. What starts as having control over something, eventually begins to control you.

This isn’t just something that effects girls either, I do feel young boys are taught that they should have that perfect “10” for a girlfriend. This leads to a lot of bullying to those that don’t fit the bill or measure up to the standards that our society, communities and peers place. It is both genders that have this perception of being “perfect” in all realms. There are continually more boys/men that are being treated for eating disorders as well. We see this when we look at the pressure sports puts on our athletes. Telling them they need to be lighter to wrestle or leaner to run faster. It’s another aspect of their life they feel pressure from and one they may feel they have more control over. This plants a seed that weight is the driving force behind their performance. We, as a society, put attention in places where it’s least effective and needed, planting seeds that grow into something damaging. Which begins building forests of judgement and stigma around important and necessary issues such as these.This may not be something that affects everyone, but with millions suffering from eating disorders it is definitely something to be concerned and talked about.

Have you noticed an increase in education around Eating Disorders since Kayla was in treatment?

Yes, it’s getting there. They are now working on requiring teachers to be more educated on the signs that may lead to early detection of an eating disorder. Early high school age is a common time for eating disorders to develop but there is no age limit. Eating disorders have been diagnosed in children as young as five, but people such as Jean, who passed away from Anorexia Nervosa wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her late 20’s. Again, it starts with the conversation around it, just being more aware of it, asking more questions, and being advocates for each other – within the homes and the schools. We are gaining ground, slowly but surely.

*If you or anyone you know may struggle with a possible eating disorder, please know there is resources and help! Please contact any of the following

NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support

The Emily Program at https://www.emilyprogram.com/locations/minnesota

Foundations such as these are vital in our communities to help others struggling with Eating Disorders. Just as we help fund many other research facilities, these programs are equally important and often don’t the attention they deserve, due to lack of awareness. Please consider donating to The Emily Program Foundation at https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/TheEmilyProgramFoundation/donate.html

**Please share this important story and topic on social media, for you never know who could benefit!**

Inside Out – E.D. with Mallory

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 “Why can’t you just eat?” “Why don’t you quit eating?” “Why would anyone want to vomit after every meal? Gross!” “Why can’t you control the thoughts in your head?” “Why can’t you just be happy?” “Why can’t you just calm down?” “Did you see how much weight she’s gained – Ew!” “Put some meat on those bones” “If you were hotter – I’d date you” “God I’m so huge” “I hate my body” “I wish I looked like her” “Why did I have to get my mom’s hips?” “Is it so much to ask to be Beyonce?”

Welcome to the 21st century – where a majority of today’s focus rests on physical appearance. Too fat, too skinny, thighs are too big, ass could be bigger, take some from the gut, put it in the breasts, oh and the extra could be nicely added to the lips, I mean we hate to waste any, God only knows there’s plenty to spare! Welcome to the thought process of a majority of today’s population! If we don’t say them, I can guarantee we think them far more then anyone cares to admit! Whether about others or ourselves, the fact that this much thought goes into one aspect of the millions of things that make up a person – is a problem.

These are the ugly little seeds that are constantly being planted in not only our heads, but our kids’ heads on a daily basis. We stand in a check out line at the grocery store to thumb through the latest magazine with the latest named sexy actress, they watch commercials with half naked men and women, they hear adults talk about how much weight they’ve gained or how they shouldn’t be eating anymore, we hear men laugh and joke about sexist remarks or the ass on the waitress, or the lyrics to songs that reinforce what a “10” should look like.  Adults and children alike are constantly being reminded of the importance we’ve placed on body image – what seems harmless is often more harmful then we believe. We are setting precedence of what is the “norm”, leaving people to think that the only way to ‘fit in’, to be accepted or to be worthy of love – is to mirror these size 2 women, or ripped men. The fact is, that constant conversation, in any manner, around body image, good or bad – is the overall problem. You add these subconscious thoughts to a child who already struggles with things such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar, OCD or just plain fitting in, and you’ve set them up for a psychological disaster that could easily put them into place where control is no longer theirs.

This is a 2 part series on eating disorders, this entry showing what the inside looking out looked like from Mallory’s viewpoint. Angie will tell us what it was like from the outside looking in, watching her daughter endure, and eventually losing her life from Anorexia. This is another issue few care to familiarize themselves with because we often feel it’s nothing we need to worry about with our children. However, I think you, like I was, may be more surprised then you think about the stigma, signs and symptoms that can be associated with these diseases.

My name is Mallory Schad and I am in recovery from an eating disorder. My hope in sharing my story is that I can help shatter the stigma wrapped around mental illnesses. Yes, eating disorders are a mental illness, it’s not something you choose. I believe I was born with this disease. I believe I will always battle this disease, but most of all, I believe I can conquer this disease. Here is my story.

What was your “official diagnosis” and what does that mean via text book – more importantly – what did that mean to you? Has this been something that has always plagued you?

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with body image. I was a “tomboy” growing up. I wasn’t your typical “girly girl” – I liked hanging with the boys, and dressing like one. My mom was supportive of my taste and always took me shopping in the boy’s department. She never tried to change me, nor told me I needed to look a certain way. So, for the most part, I dressed like a boy. That’s what I liked. Often times in public, I was mistaken as a boy. I felt ashamed of what I looked like, due to others’ reactions and perceptions of me. It was confusing. I was just being me. What is wrong with being me?

It was 7th grade where I finally gained some freedom from outside remarks regarding my gender. I was becoming more interested in make-up and grew my hair long. Funny how people stop ridiculing when you seem to appear “normal” or fit a mold that makes them comfortable. Aside from the harassment I endured from outsiders concerning my gender, there was another factor that I believe played a role in my developing disorder. As a 7th grader, I was a young athlete participating in sports at a higher level. Because of this, I became close with peers and fellow athletes that were older then me on a daily basis. I looked up to them and I felt like they had taken this shy little 7th grader under their wings. I was thankful for them. Exposure goes with the territory of hanging with students older than you. The topics I discussed with my friends in school, were very different from those that I overheard after school during practice. Topics discussed were natural for young girls their age, but for a 12 year old, it was very eye-opening. These girls were going through puberty and experiencing their bodies changing and developing. Naturally, I then became aware of my own body. I remember hearing others talk negatively about the size of their bodies. Comments were made about “being fat” or “having big legs”, etc. I remember a teammate crying at Cross Country practice, telling the coach she “had more weight to carry”, therefore had a harder time keeping up. I knew the weight had nothing to do with her performance. She was not overweight.

I stepped on the scale as a 12 year old and glared at the number I saw staring back at me – 89 pounds. You can’t let yourself get above 89 pounds. I remember feeling scared for having that thought go through my mind. I didn’t know where it came from, so I brushed it aside. I started becoming more aware of my changing body. I was gaining muscle as an athlete and noticed my thighs getting bigger. They touched when I walked. How come the other girl’s thighs don’t touch when they walk? How come my thighs are so HUGE??? “I HATE my thighs”. Fast forward to 9th grade. It was the beginning of Cross Country season. Apparently, I had grown over the summer people felt it was necessary to comment on other people’s bodies, as if it was worthy of discussion. I’ll never forget having 3 people in one day comment on my weight gain. “You look bigger out there running – Strong! Other people had noticed it too. That one stuck with me. I didn’t hear the “strong”, I heard the “bigger”. I went home after practice and paced in the garage. I was filled with rage. “Why was my body anybody else’s concern? I was pissed. I only wished I stayed pissed and didn’t turn that rage inward on myself.

I remained aware of my body through high school. As I entered 11th grade I started developing some disorder behaviors. I purged for the first time when I was 15. It wasn’t then that I fully engaged in this disordered behavior, but I definitely played around with it. During college, I experienced the inevitable “freshman 15”. I was 23 when I started binging and purging. This cycle went on for about 5 months, I’d lose weight and people would notice. They commented. I continued in my cycle of destruction. I saw a psychiatrist because I knew my behavior was unhealthy, but inevitably stopped going. I didn’t think I needed the help. I somewhat snapped out of that cycle of destruction for the time being, only for it to return.

When at your lowest, what did your mental, physical and emotional state consist of? If you could give us a briefing on what went on in your world on an average day, as well inside your head – what would that look like for you.

At the age of 24 I moved to Bemidji, MN for a change of pace. This became the best and worst time of my life simultaneously. In the fall of 2012 I decided I needed to step up my game to get in shape for my cousin’s upcoming destination wedding that February. What started as going to the gym, quickly became being obsessed with the numbers on the exercise machines. Every day I worked out – having to run longer, while increasing resistance and burning more calories. Something HAD to be more intense than the day before.

I was diagnosed with Orthorexia. For those of you wondering, the ‘text book’ version of Orthorexia is an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating, a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”Along with this came the same mindset around food. Everything had to be strictly “the best”. When the various work out regimens weren’t enough, I decided I wanted to get back into running. I ran every day. It was my outlet, or so I thought. Every time I ran, I had to beat the pace from the day before, always having to push myself harder. This sort of mind set is what sent me into a downward spiral. It was “all or nothing” for me. There was no grey. Black and white thinking was my new norm. 

At my lowest weight, I was not living a life for myself anymore. I was living for the disease. There was zero space in my mind for anything other than disordered thoughts. I was consumed. My dietary intake became very rigid. I developed numerous food rules which included constant restrictions, followed by punishing behaviors. Anything else I ate outside of my obsessively strict and rigid guidelines, was done because I was in the company of others, because I felt I needed to hide my odd eating habits. This was my “FIT IS THE NEW SKINNY”. This was my “I’M GETTING HEALTHY” bullshit the media feeds you to believe. But nope, this was something else. This was the diet industries damaging message it sends to the public. Eat this, not that. Do this, to look like this. Looking like this, will make you happy. Wanting to look a certain way, became an unattainable nightmare.

 I was also diagnosed with body dysmorphia. Perhaps for some people they can work out and maintain a rigid diet and truly be healthy and happy. For someone fighting a mental illness, it became insanity.

I became so obsessed with counting calories that I started purging to restrict my caloric intake. I would eat small portions of food, believing them to be large, and then purge afterward. Often times after eating, I would feel such intense guilt and anxiety. Purging became my escape from the anxiety. Sometimes during the day I would go in a cycle of eating and purging for hours. I slept a lot to keep my mind from thinking about food. I wanted to eat all this delicious food that everyone else was having around me, but I couldn’t allow it. It was simply off limits. 

I also developed behaviors called “body checking”. I would measure my wrists and certain parts of my body. I would put certain articles of clothing on to make sure they were still lose, or that they were becoming more lose. I would look for protruding bones in my body, running my hands over them obsessively to make sure I could still feel them. I would take “progress pictures” and compare what I looked like previously to past pictures. I was so fixated on gaining muscle. I couldn’t pass a mirror without looking in it. But the thing was, my mind was playing tricks on me. Of course those bones aren’t protruding anymore and the pants are growing tighter and you look huge in those pictures.” Back to the gym, and you better go to bed hungry”.  The anxiety around that was paralyzing. This cycle was on repeat and this was what day in and day out consisted of for 2 years.

In the end, I did lose the weight. I did gain muscle. Physically, on the outside, I looked “fit”. I received compliments regarding my appearance, which only fueled the fire inside to keep the cycle going. What I wasn’t noticing at the time, was that it was never enough. I could lift a certain amount of weight, run a certain distance at a certain pace, but nothing was ever good enough. There was always room for improvement. This was my high, but also my imprisonment, my punishment. I often times got down on myself for not being a better student in college and partying too much in my early 20’s. I felt like I was turning my life around by achieving this “healthy lifestyle” and that I was making better choices for myself.  I wasn’t healthy though. I was exhausted all the time. My memory was shot. I would blackout often, felt weak and suffered with chest pain due to tears in my esophagus from purging.

Mentally, I felt at complete war with myself. I was not living my life at all. I was living for the disease. I was on a high from “controlling” my dietary intake and working out, but at the same time was severely depressed and didn’t know it.  

What were the general feelings that arose around food in general?

Immense fear. My underlying anxiety just overflowed to food, instead of having anxiety without consumption, I had it with the consumption. If I was consuming something I deemed “safe” I felt empowered. If I was out to eat, or eating something with family or friends that was not my choosing, I felt immense fear and anxiety. I wondered how it was prepared, and what ingredients were involved, which led to panic. I was not shy about sneaking off to purge the food either.

There was also sadness and guilt. I knew what I was doing was unhealthy, but I couldn’t stop because it made me feel so good. When I was eating inside my comfort zone it felt like a high. Everything was a judgement on myself, I obtained self-satisfaction by controlling my urges to eat what was doomed to be “bad for me”.

Grocery shopping took hours. Food was strange for me. Think of it as a drug that you only need a bit of. How do you start or stop when you feel so out of touch with the reality of it? When it controls you?  How do you develop a healthy relationship with it? Food is sort of like drugs in a sense, but also very different – because you need it to survive.

At what point were you aware this had become something beyond your control that needed professional help?

After being told by a doctor I was clinically malnourished, I started seeing a counselor, but she didn’t specialize in in eating disorders. In fact, noone in my area did! In all honesty I figured since I was there, I’d just get some good life counseling and tips to get myself back on track with school since it had taken the back burner to my rigid exercise routine. Besides, I never said I had an eating disorder, I just had “tendencies”.

After about a month, the counselor asked me if I’d consider inpatient. I thought she was crazy – no way! Eventually, she said she couldn’t help me, as she didn’t want to see me walk through the door again continually wasting away.  She quoted me previously saying “I’d give anything to have a healthy relationship with food” and made the analogy that – walking into a grocery store is like shopping for drugs for someone with a drug addiction. It’s insane. She told me it was time to seriously think about treatment. And I did. I called the Emily Program in the Twin Cities on a Friday and was admitted the following Monday.

                    How many times did you attempt help and was it actually helpful?                           If so, what parts did you feel were most detrimental in your journey to healing?

I attempted to seek help a few times, but was never committed. I would lie to counselors and tell them I was better. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t get help until I was completely submersed in my disease.  Eating disorders are really good at telling you that you don’t need help, or that you’re “not sick enough”. Master manipulators they are. It’s tough, because there is so much emphasis surrounding healthy eating and exercise, that it can be hard to tell when you have crossed the line into unhealthy habits.

How long have you been “free” so-to-speak from this disease and who are you since this journey as you continue to heal?

The decision to choose treatment over the comfort of the disorder was the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make. I knew my world would be flipped upside down. I knew it would be hard. I did 4 months of intensive outpatient. 4 days a week I would spend the day at the Emily Program. Re-feeding, dietary classes, group therapy, individual therapy and yoga. I’m not going to lie, the process was painful, but also very liberating learning to disconnect and free myself from it.

My mental state was at an all-time low. I struggled with suicidal ideation, major depressive disorder and anxiety. My body was in immense pain for a few months from the changes it was enduring. Week by week though, I learned about the disease and how to cope. I had no choice but to choose recovery after having my eyes opened to the dangerous lifestyle I had been living.

I’d say it was about 3 months after completing treatment that I became comfortable talking about the disease. I was still very uneasy and untrusting of my body right after treatment. It took some time to take the skills I had learned in treatment and put them to use on my own. I slowly became comfortable with the process and became more open to discussing it.

Today, I want to speak more freely and openly about the disease. I want people to be aware of it and to understand it. It’s so very misunderstood and there can be so many varying layers to it. I want people to know they are not alone, and most importantly that they are not abnormal for having the thoughts/behaviors they do. I want people to know there is help out there and that it’s possible to be freed from this deadly and agonizing disease.

Do you feel this still controls a large part of you, or something you’ve been able to slowly distance yourself from?

I have my good days, bad days, and everything in between. For the most part, my days are good, but there are days I still struggle with my current size and weight. There are times I wish I was smaller, or more fit. But then I remember what I felt like when I was those things. I wasn’t happy. I was sick. I was slowing wasting away in all aspects. Every day takes work. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have to stop myself at some point and revert my thinking. It’s been 2.5 years since treatment.

I still struggle. I’m not where I used to be, but I know it’s going to take time. I’ve come a long way and I feel hopeful that it will only get better. It took a lot of work to get to where I am now.

What do you feel is the biggest driving force behind eating disorders? 

It can be very different for everyone, but often times I think it’s a fight for control mixed with societal beauty standards. But more times then not, eating disorders tend to mask other issues. I know for me, when I was in the depths of the disorder, it wasn’t beauty driven. It was about control, obsession and perfectionism. I had underlying issues that I needed to deal with and focusing on “getting healthy” felt like I was bettering myself.  I was masking.

I think the younger generations are very susceptible to developing eating disorders. There is a lot of pressure to fit in and look a certain way. I also believe that eating disorders do not discriminate. Any person at any age can fall victim to the disease.

How has this changed the course of your life? Is this a topic of conversation you feel deserves more time and light?

I’m not really sure how it’s changed the course of my life. I want to reach out to others and make myself available. My goal is to be a mentor to those struggling and to spread awareness and education. I want to help others along their path as I continue to learn, grow and heal myself.

Eating disorders take more lives than any other mental illness. That’s a staggering statistic, so yes, this disease absolutely deserves more time and light.

If you could speak to this age group- or any girls/women/men either at that turning point in their life-or already suffering, trying to hold on- what would you say?

I would tell them there is more to life than what they are desperately holding on to. That I know how terrifying it is to let go of the comfort the eating disorder provides, but that nothing compares to the freedom that treatment and recovery provide.

Help is out there. Trust in others. Trust in the process. Find a support system and reach out to people. Treatment and recovery is a real ugly bitch. It rips you wide open. You have to take a good look at yourself and question what you want for yourself in this life. I’d tell them it’s tough, but it’s so worth it. Most of all, it might not be your hardest battle in life. Choosing to fight preps you for the rest of whatever life throws at you. You learn about yourself, and you learn how to truly enjoy life.

I would tell them that we are all individuals and that we all have struggles. To look within and figure out what it is that is causing pain – really dig into it. Often times, eating disorders are masking a bigger problem.

*If you or anyone you know may struggle with a possible eating disorder, please know there is resources and help! Please contact any of the following

NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support

The Emily Program at https://www.emilyprogram.com/locations/minnesota

Foundations such as these are vital in our communities to help others struggling with Eating Disorders. Just as we help fund many other research facilities, these programs are equally important and often don’t the attention they deserve, due to lack of awareness. Please consider donating to The Emily Program Foundation at https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/TheEmilyProgramFoundation/donate.html

**Please share this important story and topic on social media, for you never know who could benefit!**

Outside Looking In – Jodell

Blog - Jodi - Josh 2.jpgWhen you stand on the other side of watching someone steering their life into oncoming traffic in slow motion – painful is an understatement. Imagine watching your parent, child, best friend or spouse play russian roulette. You know at some point, the bullet will fire from one of the chambers – it’s just a matter of if they quit before it does. While you know the ultimate outcome, they grin and continue on – willing to gamble.

This is what it can feel like when you stand and watch someone unravel at the seams as they continually pull the trigger – or – pop another pill, snort another line, smoke another joint, chug another glass or fill another syringe. You can’t understand why aren’t they aren’t just fixing it, why can’t they see it, why would anyone in their right mind feed themselves poison and consume it willingly?! It’s a slow motion horror film.

Jodi and I have had countless conversations regarding this as years have passed and it’s also something that has been a hot topic within my own family. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “right” or “wrong” answer. I don’t know if it’s possible to save to another, or if you should continuing to enable or cutting ties is what’s best. Or, at what point it’s enabling and what point it’s handing them the bullet and placing it in the correct chamber for them. I do know that these entries, from cancer, to addiction to eating disorders (stay tuned;) ) have brought to light the many facets of disease and the choices we make with them. Sometimes knowingly engaging in what could very well be their quickest way to death, sometimes holding out for anything and everything to avoid it. Disease can eat at us in ways we didn’t know possible, in ways we’ve never identified with before, or taken the time to consider how closely related they truly are. This entry builds off of Joshua’s – showing what the view from the outside looking in can be like. And, as always, it isn’t always as it seems.

Thank you Jodi for reminding me that “right” or “wrong” isn’t always that easy – that love looks different in many realms. Sometimes that means engaging, sometimes it means letting go – despite the pain. But it almost always means trusting – trusting that they’ll come through it when, and as they are willing or need too. Trusting that they remember that help is available when they’re truly ready. Trusting that as the stigmas vanish with time, this will open up new doorways of conversation, lessening the need for division and lack of hope and resources. Your stories are the exact ones the world is needing to hear right now – the realness, rawness and truth behind them, in what seems like a fake, false and untruthful world right now! To hear what may have felt like failure, only to rise and overcome the darkness – these are the things we need more of going through our news feeds. Thank you for sharing your personal story! 🙂

Describe your and Josh’s relationship growing up…at what point did that relationship begin to change?

My brother was one of my best friends growing up, we are only 16 months apart. We were average country kids, always four wheeling, riding bike, hanging out under the bridge on I-90, and jumping off the house! (Yeah, we actually did that for fun, when you live in the country you have to be more creative!) Granted, we had our typical sibling fights, but most of the time we had a lot of fun! In high school we would go to the same parties and we hung out with the same group of friends. It was so much fun to have him there, I always felt like I never had to worry about things much because he was always there. He was always, in my eyes, was someone that everything came easy to him – national spelling bee champion in middle school, extremely smart,  and athletic. The kind of guy that others would be jealous of! I know I was, I struggled with math in school (still do!) and it just comes so easy for him. I would study so hard and he didn’t even show up to class and he’d still pull good grades.

Looking back, everything that we did – involved partying – I guess that was just the “norm” for a small town. Once we graduated high school I moved to the Twin Cities and then to Mankato. Josh was a bit of a wanderer and always seemed to show up where ever I lived and I loved to have him there because he was always the life of the party! It did, however, start to change.

He couldn’t keep a job, began to get DUI’s and was always in trouble with the law – which, in time, meant that every time he would call or stop over, I knew that he wanted something. I would let him stay or give him money – whatever I could do; he was my brother and that’s what family is for – right? I was kicked out of an apartment because he kept coming in through the window and kicked out of the bar I worked at for fighting. It was hard to not be able to have my brother even come in while I was working, so I begged the owner to give him another chance – but that didn’t last long. He went from being the life of the party to the one who usually ruined the party. In the beginning when people would ask are you Josh’s sister I would love to say “yes”, because it usually followed with “man I love that guy, he is so funny!” followed by a crazy story about him. But, that also changed with time – it became, “Oh man I can’t believe that you are his sister – that guy is fucked up or he owes me money.” I have watched him get his head bashed into a metal step by three guys, get his face smashed into a curb, seriously countless fights – too many to even remember. He had an attitude where he honestly didn’t give a shit – fearless was an understatement.

Did you always know there was a true “problem”? At what point did you realize this was bigger than recreational and fun? What were signs that made you aware he was using?

Josh was in treatment for drinking the first time when he was about 14. I, of course didn’t think it was a problem, because even at that age, it was just the “norm”. Even when we were in our 20’s, he had been getting pretty bad and was in trouble with the law countless times, didn’t even have a licence or a job for years – I still thought this is just something that he will out grow. The drug use always seemed recreational from my stand point as well. He would say that he could quit whenever he wanted. He would smoke weed but decided he didn’t really like, which then led to cocaine, then ecstasy. I still thought it was just something that would pass – no one ever says “I want to be an addict when I get older” – so I just figured it would stop. The drinking kept getting worse and with that, so did the drugs. I knew he had a full alcohol problem when he was in his early 20’s but I also knew that he wasn’t ready to change. By this time he had been in treatment several times. We had countless family days were my mom, dad and I would go and leave thinking “this is the time it is going to work” but it never did – it just kept getting worse. There were so many times I would have to go pick him up and he had no idea where he was or how he got there and he was usually driving on a revoked license. The last time he was in treatment I thought this might be the one that sticks.

He had picked up some hitch hackers on 35 and ended up at my camper in clear lake, IA. I told him staying there wasn’t an option, but Josh was so messed up I didn’t know what to do. So, I gave him some food hoping they would eat because god knows the last time either of them had. They went to a state park a couple of miles from our campground and continued to party. I don’t know what they were taking but Josh had his usual liter of vodka almost gone, looking for more alcohol. We got into a fight and I told him to leave, but when he left – he was so messed up he thought he was taking the road but went right through the playground. There were kids playing and he was within a few feet of hitting a child that was coming down the slide. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion. I ran after him as well as many others, but he didn’t stop – he didn’t even realize that he did that. It was the worst feeling I have ever had in my life – watching him come so close to possibly killing someone, none the less a child! The next day he called and said he needed help. My dad and I took him to the Fountain Center once again, on the ride I told him about what happened and he just cried and screamed, telling me not to talk about it – he didn’t want to know! See the thing is, my brother is one of the best guys you will ever meet, with one of the biggest hearts so the thought of this possibility would have destroyed him – my whole family in fact. They said his blood alcohol level was so high he should be dead. These scenarios were countless – things like this just kept happening on repeat.

At one point, he was in an alcohol induced comma, when we got to the hospital, they advised us to prepare ourselves to say good bye to him. Miraculously, he woke up and 3 days later was out of the hospital and the first stop was the liquor store. This would not be our last trip to a hospital with him either. His heart has stopped completely three times and had OD’d on heroin twice (that I know of). To be honest I don’t know why he is still on this earth with us. I knew he had a drinking problem  and his use in coke and ecstasy  had increased but it hadn’t crossed my mind he could die from it…. As horrible as it may be to say, I wasn’t overly concerned with coke and x, as they are hard drugs, but it was something that a lot of other people I know did. I guess I thought he’d get bored with it, well did he ever get bored with it – that is when heroin and meth came into his life. These drugs are something that truly come out of the depths of hell and will rip anything that you love about a person right out of them. They become unrecognizable. For everything that we had been through with Josh and drinking – I found myself now saying, “I wish it was just drinking again”.

What was it like to watch him deteriorate or delve deeper in the addiction? What did his behavior consist of during this time?  

It is honestly like watching someone slowly kill themselves and that is exactly what he was doing and it was even harder to know he didn’t care. We lost several close friends in high school to suicide and Josh knew the pain that brought, so he promised he would never, although I know it crossed his mind several times. This was just as bad as losing someone though because I did lose my brother. Every time the phone would ring or my mom would send a message saying ‘call me right away’ my heart would sink. It was never ending – just waiting for the news to come that he was gone. He had completely changed – my big hearted brother was no longer. He didn’t care about us; he treated his druggie friends better than he did his own family. He was always combative and would fight with my parents. I told Josh I would never forgive him if something happened to them during one of their fights. He wouldn’t listen to any of us – there was so much anger in him. You couldn’t even talk to him anymore, he cared about drugs and that was it. I had no idea if I would ever see the Josh that I loved again.

Did you want to help him more or realized you needed to distance yourself when this happened?

I had tried for years to help him. I would always be there when he called; I would give him a place to stay, money, and food whatever he needed. It affected my relationships too. There were many times I was told ‘it’s your brother or me’, or, ‘this has to stop’. How do you stop it though when you love someone and you just want to help them? How do you live with the guilt if something were to happen? I was with him for years side by side having fun, drinking and partying, so now that you have an addiction and I don’t – I’m not going to help you? I ask myself over and over why this all happened to him. Why not me? Alcohol was a big part of my life but it didn’t take me on this downward spiral. Why did it happen to him? He could’ve been anything and done anything – he is so intelligent and loving.

I have so much guilt still to this day that I should’ve done more, I should’ve stopped it, or I shouldn’t have partied with him so much. It took me a long time to start saying “no” to him but I finally did. I had to cut him from my life. I knew when he would call and I started to say no it was going to be bad and it broke my heart! He would call and ask for money or buy him vodka and he would yell and say horrible things, which led to me crying every time I got off the phone with him. I lost my brother……..he was gone.

My parents and I started to fight over this too. They would always bail him out anytime he was in jail, they’d give him money, they let him live at their house without working – it was just years of drinking and doing drugs. He had no respect for my parents or their house. I can’t even tell you how many drug deals and users that he would bring over to my parents because they wouldn’t do anything about it. They were completely enabling him and his addiction. I know why they did it. I can’t imagine having your child out on the streets not knowing if he was going to live. But I kept telling them that by letting him stay there with no concerns of shelter or food they were now killing him. I know it is really harsh to say but my brother was dying in my parent’s basement in front of their eyes and they were allowing it.

What did his mindset consist of when he was using, what emotions did that trigger in you? 

His concept of reality was gone. Trying to talk to him was next to impossible. The things that a person would consider horrible were no big deal to him. He has two beautiful daughters and he thought he was being a great dad to them because he was “around”. He loves his girls more than anything but even that love couldn’t stop him from using and his mind was so warped that he thought he was giving them everything that they needed. When in all actuality, he was high all the time with them, yes, he was physically there but it wasn’t an environment for children to be raised. One of the last times I talked to him – my best friend from high school, who loves Josh like her own brother, was home . We ran into him while we were out and she was so happy to see him, even though he wasn’t the Josh that she loved. She asked him how he could live like this and he laughed and said “are you kidding me…..me – live like this!?!? I have never been happier in my life –  you two are the ones who are phoney and living a horrible life!” It went on and on and he finally left because the fighting just continued. That was a moment when I felt there is no way that the Josh I knew is ever coming back. How in the world could someone who was high on heroin at the time, have no place to call his own for him or his girls, not a dime in his pocket,  not have even the slightest clue where he was going to sleep for the night or ever give his kids the life they deserve – EVER say that he was happy?! His whole outlook on life was gone….he was gone.

Was it hard to see the potential in someone, and know what they could be – but unable to teach or show them their own self-worth?

I wish that Josh could have seen what everyone saw in him. Like I said, he was the one that most would have loved to be; loving, smart, funny, good looking and so caring. The thing about all of this is, is this is how we all perceived him from the outside. When in all actuality, he had extreme anxiety that started when he was very young, so this was his way of gaining self-confidence. I was with him every day, how did I not see this? From the outside, he seemed so confident, had tons of friends and millions of girls that were dying to go out with him! I wish that he would have told me when we were younger so he could’ve gotten the help that he needed so long ago.

What was it like as a spectator from the sidelines? Explain what the highs and lows looked like from the outside and the affect it had on you and your family.

It was emotionally draining not knowing where he was or if that next call was going to be the call that he was gone. I just wanted him to snap out of it and get his shit cleaned up. I don’t know how he lived like that for years and never will. I do know that it is a disease that consumes everything. It is deeper than any of us can even begin to comprehend. It takes everything that you love or care about and throws it away. To the point that your number one concern is where do I get the my next hit? It broke my heart to step away. I told my husband that my brother died, he will never come back. It is a death, a death to a relationship that should last forever. I didn’t have anyone, I felt as though I was an only child now. I would get so jealous and almost mad at my friends that had siblings that they could call just to talk, go shopping with, and have holidays together. It wasn’t fair!!

It was also hard to watch my parents. Like I said they did anything for him. But as things progressed, my Dad started to see that he had to let go too – which made things worse. Josh and him are close but have always seemed to have this underlying issue between them. I think my Dad was just so disappointed because he could see all the potential he had and instead, was throwing it away just as he had watched his own Dad do for years. Watching my Dad and Mom fight over Josh was never easy either. My Mom wouldn’t ever stand firm and the tension that brought to their marriage was almost too much. My parents love my brother more than anything – how do you turn your back on that?

If you had to compare him at his lowest to today – what are the differences? Who and what do you see when you look at him today?

There is no comparison to that person and who Josh is today. He is such a giving person and best Dad, I see how much love he has for his girls and it is almost too much it makes my heart hurt to see him love them so much. He has found faith and that is getting him through this journey. I know that it’ll always be an uphill battle but he has the support of his family and we will be with him every step of the way. He is working and realizes how rewarding that alone can be to, just to have the responsibility of a job and what comes with it. I truly can’t say enough about the man that he is today; every time I think of how far he has come I can’t help but cry. I can honestly say that I have never in my life been so proud of someone before. I talk about him all the time and I love it more than anything! Now when someone says, are you Josh’s sister, I gladly respond…….’YES I AM’!!

I don’t think of my brother as an “addict” – he is a survivor. It was a part of his life but it wont define who he is or who he chooses to become from this point forward. Josh is a brother, friend, father, son, and an all around wonderful person.

 What is your take on the Judicial System &/and resources offered to those struggling with addiction? 

Our society has a negative look on addicts, as though they aren’t as “worthy” as them – when in fact everyone deals with issues in their life. This just happens to be theirs, so why is the stigma that comes with this widely spread problem viewed as if it’s something that doesn’t deserve the same love and attention that we would give that of a cancer patient? I think the most frustrating part of these years – was the huge lack of long term help and resources. The traditional treatment programs do not work, for Josh anyways. We need to focus on mental and emotional health as much as staying clean. There was more then one point in my brothers life when he came to me and said ‘I am ready I need to go get help now’. For those of you that have dealt with this, know that when they say now it has to be now, because in an hour it could change! I would call millions of places and ask for help and I always got the same answer sorry we are full we have an opening in 3 months will that work!?! No it wont he needs help NOW!

As far as the Judicial system – once you are “labeled” in the courts eyes – there is no helping – they sentence you to jail or a half way house, (which by the way, are just places where you meet more connections!) Josh was first offered heroin when he was at a half way house in St. Cloud. My parents and I left there thinking okay this is it – it’s going to work and 2 weeks later he was gone. My parents got a call at 2 am from Josh, he had been living on the streets for a couple of days and had no where to go, so back they went hopes shattered – not knowing what was in store for them with the years to come!

It is so sad that we have chosen to dismiss the underlying issues that drive addiction, to think that a 30 day program is enough to dig beneath the many layers that have been created. Not only that, but following that short treatment, we put them back into the environment in which they came from – only setting them up for additional failure with even more contacts and no additional long term options.

A note from Josh’s mom, Vicki regarding the difference in who he was versus who he is today….

  He has totally turned his life around now and lives it how God wants him too. He feels like he is worth something, has a job now and loves being around his family and he is the best single dad I have ever seen! Our hearts are filled with joy now that we know he is safe and taking care of himself and his family!  Now, he talks about how alone he felt and scared all those years he was growing up drinking and doing drugs. He hated his life, even though he let on that he was so happy and didn’t have a care in the world, he now feels relief. He was so miserable he didn’t know what to do other than stay drunk and high, as this masked things from the surface. It seems incomparable to think of that person and the son we have back now! Today we have our son back in our lives full force and it is such a good feeling that he feels good about himself now and has found his place on earth with God.  We are so thankful!

*If you or someone you know is in need of help, here a general site/line to start with to better direct you of resources within your area drugabuse.gov  or https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help  *

*If any of this resonates with you, or you know of someone it may help who is personally struggling or has family that is, please feel free to share on social media to bring forth awareness and hope, while breaking down stigma around this subject!*

Inside Looking Out – Joshua

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“My Name is Joshua Kuhlmann. I am an alcoholic. I am a meth and heroine addict, but only when accompanied by alcohol.” This is how I would’ve identified myself the last time I walked into treatment. I was 39 years old, this was approximately my 9th round of treatment, 2nd round of inpatient. This time I knew it was the last time, I felt it deep within me, I was finally bowing out of this life I became to know and rely on.

For all the thoughts and words that come to mind when we hear words such as “recovering meth or heroine addict” – vulnerable, courageous and inspirational most likely aren’t on the top of many’s list. When actually, those are the words that are deserved for anyone who has succumbed to any type of an addiction, and especially the wrath of harsh substances such as these. To not be able to see your life beyond your next sip or hit, to have your mind so overtaken by something that literally owns and destroys you, as well as every facet of your body and life, is something many more know then society cares to recognize. This is not always what it may seem from the outside looking in, it’s far deeper then that. It’s a world of it’s own that only exists to those caught in it’s darkness – it’s mental illness in another realm – masked by and numbed by a substance. To hear someone’s countless stories of being at the bottom of this barrel for years on end, only to see them a year later, an entirely different and new being – watching them rebuild their life literally one minute, hour or day at a time  is quite amazing. To beat the mindset of knowing that at any minute they could go back to any of it with a simple phone call – is inspirational!

Thank you Josh, for not only sharing your story, but teaching and reminding me what the meaning of truly being one’s self looks like. To be forced to function in every single area of your life with total and complete surrender, vulnerability and sobriety is not a task many care to attempt. To be back in the work force, raising children, building and starting new relationships, a home and most importantly rebuilding yourself! Everyone “lives their life”, many never walking down the path of addiction, but few live their lives consciously, always looking to improve themselves, being open and adaptable to change and giving gratitude for the simplest of things the rest of us take for granted. And that is just a few of the great things we can learn from you and all those who have walked this with you. You have so much to be proud of and so much more to look forward too on this new and exciting, while also challenging-in-it’s-own-way journey.

Here is Josh’s story, which will be followed another entry from his sister, Jodell, who will give us a glimpse of what it was like to stand on the other side, from the outside looking in.

At what age did it begin and were there any underlying reason? What substance did you start with?

It began when I was in elementary school, when my dad passed me a beer to take a swig. There was this feeling of acceptance I got, being “one of the guys”. It was a rush, a relief, as if I was on top of the world, all my problems washed away in that one sip. It was the social norm for my parents to host card parties and sit around and drink, especially in a small town. This was the normal setting I was exposed too, so it didn’t seem foreign to me. From that point forward it slowly, but consistently grew – it planted a seed of acceptance that I didn’t realize would snowball into something far bigger.

Let me just give you a bit of a timeline of what this life looked like. I rang in my 13th birthday smoking weed for the first time, which then led to regular use. At 14 I got what was the first of many minor consumptions. Age 16, my senior year, brought with it my first round of outpatient treatment. Although the drinking didn’t slow, I wanted to be able to participate in football, and this was mandatory in order for me to do so.

I graduated at 17, this just gave me even more time during the day to indulge in partying, with that came regular use of cocaine. I had a great job, making good money removing asbestos from homes. At 19 I buy a house, drinking copious amounts of vodka, while feeling daily rushes of regular cocaine use. I can average 2-3 days before crashing. A majority of this great income is spent on sipping, chugging and snorting. One of what will be four DUI’s follows shortly after, along with 3 friends committing suicide. This scares me, but I’m still feeling as if I need these outlets in order to be “social” because my anxiety is so intense. Age 20, I lose my job because I’m not able to function and make it there regularly, but not a huge deal, besides, I’m making enough money dealing. I’m feeling really good about myself, people look up to me and respect me and it fills another void. The reality of my friends deaths start to settle a little too close to home, so I move to distance myself from this, with the hope of going to college and playing football to get my life back on track. This instead turns into more hook ups and even better money selling coke! It’s funny how you say you’ll “never” until you’re standing there doing that “never”. I swore I would never shoot up, but somehow find myself doing just that.  This is what my life from age 20-30 consisted of  – partying day and night, selling coke, having sex with multiple women – living the high life.

Roughly at the age of 30 I OD’d (for the 1st time) off percocet and oxy, followed by a 3 day coma. I wake up pissed, wanting out, and begging my mom for money to go get another liter. I fractured my spine from having alcohol withdrawal seizures. The realization of this injury from having seizures from withdrawals, is a bit of a scare. So, I decide another round of inpatient treatment is necessary. That followed a half way house, with 60 days of sobriety, only to get kicked out of 2 more half way houses. Another overdose – this time on heroine. I end up enrolling to college, which lands me a $5000 check to live off of and supply my needs. At one point I end up in the Anoka County Courthouse bathroom drinking rubbing alcohol to keep the shakes at bay, with nowhere to go and no clue what my next move will be. This leads me back to parents again. Although I’m working, I meet who becomes my long time girlfriend, who just happens to be a bartender. This works out well considering she supplies my booze stash. She enables me even more, always paying the bills, which allows me to carry on with my lifestyle while she works, in turn I’m caring for her daughter. This works out great, I’m home more at least, out less partying, but still feeding off the toxicity that has always resided between us.

When I’m 32 I’m in the beginning stages of liver failure, noticeably jaundice, with extreme pain. This leads to a week of sobriety after being hospitalized, but corrected itself, only to have repeated itself. This is a realization that the half gallon of vodka is no longer feasible, so I pick up meth, besides it’s a great diet regimen! 😉 After awhile I’m going through an 8 ball of meth at a time just to keep me going. 3-4 years of meth, followed by heroine for a change of pace. It’s like a version of a doctors prescription to alternate between Tylenol and Ibuprofen, except I’m alternating meth and heroine. I wasn’t biased towards one or the other – unlike others – I had friends on both sides of the track. For those few years, I never intentionally slept. I mean I slept, but I never thought “I should go to bed” or “it’s bedtime”. I crashed wherever, whenever, but it was only at that point that I got rest.

At this point I can’t see the light of day, nor do I have alot of motivation to do so, this is just simply my life day in and day out. I am a master manipulator using and abusing anything and anyone that gets me from one hit to the next. While it feels good to feel good, being admired by so many, what I don’t realize, is, I’m being manipulated, used and abused by all around me just as much. So, here I am, feeling on top of the world, only having occasional rising fears of being without my safety nets.

Addiction of choice and why – explain the highs and the crashes – what did it feel like physically, mentally and emotionally.

Alcohol was always a factor, it was the first thing I did each morning and the last thing I did each night. Within a few hours of waking I had the shakes, looking for my next swig of booze – preferably vodka. The drugs weren’t near as important to me as the vodka. Drug of choice would be ecstasy, but isn’t something I did alot of because it was tough to keep the high for extended periods. The booze was my coping mechanism, while the drugs made me feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof, adding to my confidence. As my roommate says heroine was “a warm blanket of amazingness”. You could be getting your head bashed in with a club and think everything was good! But when the vodka was dry – it was instant panic, I was legit scared to think of not having any. I never did the drugs without the booze, to do it sober was actually scary to me. Straight up, uncontrollable anxiety.

How do you think this affected those around you? At the time, did you think there was any ripple effect to your family? 

Nope, not at all. I thought I appeared to ‘have it all together’ and someone to be looked up too, and honestly, I was – in that world. Outside of ‘that world’, it was total denial when it was brought up to me, I didn’t think it was anything I couldn’t control.

Turning point in your life – the last straw – the one that started your journey to get to this point.

I think subconsciously, I knew when I was 32, when the realization that the onset of liver failure had begun. That scared me, but instead, I buried myself deeper.                                Fast forward to 2015, I have 2 warrants out for my arrest due to drug sales after being caught with a wire. After ins and out of what I hope would be a pass back out the door after lack of evidence, my lawyer informs me another county has additional sale charges on me. But, even then, I’m feeding myself lies to keep myself sane. This is the realization that my avenues of escape are looking thinner by the minute and I should probably start prepping myself for a long haul of sobriety, whether prison or long term treatment, I wasn’t getting out this time. I actually tinkered with the thought of taking the 120 months in prison over the option of mandated inpatient for a year.

The real, official turning point is when I’m sitting in the wreck room in jail – I come across the Holy Spirit Handbook. This changes everything. This is literally my “coming to Jesus moment” in a way I’ve never experienced before. There’s this feeling of total and complete peace, calmness and serenity that flows over and through me. And this time, I don’t have an ounce of any substance in me. For the first time in my life, I know I’m going to be OK, and I’m actually excited about being admitted to MN Adult and Teen Challenge. This is the start of a new life I didn’t know was possible, or perhaps wasn’t willing or ready to embrace all those years. It was better then any high I had ever experienced, it was the most peace and comfort I had felt my entire life.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered since being sober? 

I would have to say keeping my anxiety in check, although nowhere near what it used to be, it still arises, especially in a social setting. Learning to be aware of it and trying to find coping mechanisms to offset it is a work in progress. Another thing that I’ve been trying harder to work on, is learning to focus attention back on myself, doing the inner work required to heal. It’s always been a mindset of blame, pointing the finger outside of me, that I’ve never taken responsibility for my actions. Now I’m trying to learn how to balance things, patience with my kids and family, but especially with myself. Learning how to co-parent while also setting boundaries, recognizing manipulation, being open to feedback without defaulting to blame and just establishing myself. To try and retrain my brain to remember things and be aware without going back into default mode. I started so young, I don’t know that I was ever able to establish myself and my own true identity. I guess that’s the beauty in rebuilding.

What do you think are the biggest problems that come with the stigmas of addiction? What are some missing factors you feel are being overlooked when addressing these issues and the judgement that comes with them, especially in younger kids?

The lack of understanding coming from all angles, especially at home. I told my dad once about my anxiety, (although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time), the response was along the lines of “deal with it, don’t be a pussy”. But the older generations didn’t discuss their problems, so maybe he didn’t know any other way to respond without thinking something was wrong with me.

I was sitting in jail after my second DUI, flipping through a magazine when I came across a Paxil ad. As I was reading the side effects such as racing thoughts, shortness of breath, restlessness, irritability, or difficulty in public places – I came to the realization that this was me! I am that blue pill – more like I need that blue pill! To realize that other people had these same symptoms was amazing to me, because I thought it was just me! I was so excited about the fact that this pill could help me that I went up and asked the desk clerk to give me some, not realizing it wasn’t that easy.

Another thing people don’t realize, is this isn’t just one set of people or only people of a certain social status engage in substance abuse. I used with plenty of people that came from higher social statuses, kids of doctors and other respectable careers. The stigma that only people that come from crap households or poverty level use substances to cope, couldn’t be farther from the truth! And yet we were viewed as the “scum” or “losers”.

Sometimes I wonder if I had known or learned to cope better with my anxiety if I wouldn’t have went to other substances to rid myself of these feelings that in fact were normal to many. Sometimes I think my parents should have just left me sit in jail the first few times I was in, maybe it would’ve changed my mindset. Instead it just enabled and reinforced my behavior, knowing they’d come to my rescue when I got caught again. But, I guess it’s hard to say for sure, either way, this was how it unraveled for me.

Has it changed your path or purpose in life since? Do you feel you endured it for a reason and are meant to do something with it?

Absolutely. I’ve lived my life unknowingly being so selfish, only worrying about myself, but now I know it has nothing to do with me. I realize it was all fake and false before, even looking back – there were so many odd things that happened that lined up in my favor – that redirected me. My life resides in Christ, which in turn out flows into everyone around me. The fact that I’m alive is evidence in itself of what my life purpose is. No one endures what I did and almost dies that many times for nothing. It’s all part of a bigger plan.

There is no denying that overall substance abuse, especially in meth and heroine are on the rise – what do you think are significant contributing factors to this problem? 

Prescription pills are a big factor. Although this wasn’t a direct reflection in my case, I do hear of prescription pills being a sought out source, it seems common within the treatment world. They’re fairly easy to get a hold of.  As far as the rest, I don’t know if there’s a certain “go-to” I think it depends on preference or whatever is available.

What and who do you see yourself as now? How would you identify yourself? 

I am Joshua Kuhlmann, I am a child of God, saved by Jesus Christ. I know what the highest of highs feels like, along with the lowest of lows – simultaneously – from trying to catch a buzz in a courthouse bathroom to sitting in a jail cell reading the Lord’s word. I have done alot of shit, seen alot of shit – but I am truly grateful for every part of my journey. Because I know what it’s like to stand on that side, and I look forward to spending the remainder of my life standing on this side, helping others in their journey of recovery!

*If you or someone you know is in need of help, here a general site/line to start with to better direct you of resources within your area drugabuse.gov  https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help  *

*If any of this resonates with you, or you know of someone it may help who is personally struggling or has family that is, please feel free to share on social media to bring forth awareness and hope, while breaking down stigma around this subject!*

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

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Is there a such thing? To be proven guilty or innocent beyond a reasonable doubt? Who’s in reason and according to who’s doubt? What used to appear so black and white has become so smeared and gray, the lines crossed and manipulated – in all realms. When everyone’s reality is so malleable, everyone’s truth so different – is there room for black and white lines anymore? How do you leave aside all biased, being forced to tune it all out, how does one perception outdo another’s, what makes one more “wrong” or “right”? How can 10 people look at one painting, watch the same episode, endure the same experience, and yet all walk away with a different perception? What makes that perception? All the tiny stories and experiences that have brought us to this point in time – one story – different view points – different eyes that have seen different things, different interpretations, how we were raised, what we were taught, what we’ve experienced – they all mold us, they all create these little snap shots buried deep within us that have brought us to present day. It’s like the slides of a movie that keep rolling on the reel – put them all together and you have one movement after the next. Some slower scenes, some faster, some dramatic, some boring, some forever imprinted, some that cause our response mechanisms, some that force us to react. 2 things they all have in common – a majority are subconscious thoughts that we operate from without knowing and all have a different truth to them.

What is truth anyways? Truth according to the dictionary truth is “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.” Not the definition I expected to find – that makes for many different truths all in one if it’s simply something that is accepted as true – kind of a game changer isn’t it? I have accepted many truths that many others have not, and forcefully unaccepted many that I simply didn’t want! Haven’t we all blurred the lines? I’m not talking white lies or choosing to manipulate it on purpose in order for an opinion to be swayed in a way I want, I’m talking about doing it without even knowing I just did it. You listen to a speaker and there are certain things that just click immediately, but others you may question were ever said. Parts of your childhood you chose to block, only to be reminded of the agony in which it surfaced. It’s the logical mind taking what serves it best at this moment, for us – and running with it. I heard a very varied version of the Adam and Eve story recently that seems suiting – Adam and Eve never knew the fruit on the tree was “bad” or “forbidden” until they were told. Up until then they simply just were, they did, they flowed, there wasn’t a certain “way” or “belief” around anything, they ate from every tree because no one infringed upon them that one was more valuable then another. It wasn’t until they were told otherwise that this became their death sentence. If you were to view the same knife, one beheading someone and that same one cutting an apple – why would you fear one and go towards another? After all, they are the same knife? It wasn’t until you were told and taught that one was “right” or “wrong” that you began to think differently about it, knowing to run from the knife that beheads or toward the one that feeds you. To the Christian, the Bible speaks the highest truth, but that truth is in the eye of the beholder – whatever wants to be interpreted from it, will be. To the Muslim, the Koran is the highest truth – if you were taught that sacrificing yourself to end the lives of others that you have been told and taught are harmful, why are they doing “bad” when it’s all they know? They simply see it as serving their God, just as we are taught going to church is our service. I mean, after all, we teach our soldiers the same thing – to kill the “bad” guys, are we really that different then? Or is this along of the lines of “he started it first” – does that make one better then the other? Does one man in a suit lying make it less of a lie because of his uniform? Perhaps he has been told that with power comes blurring the lines, so I guess he wouldn’t be a liar then? Are we all lying or are we all being honest? To the female judge who was wronged in the past by men, how does one keep their biased aside when mediating a case of infidelity and divorce or sexual abuse? To a male judge who endured copious amounts of abuse in a drug induced environment, how does one play fair on the other end of the gavel? You’re bound to see through the eyes of empathy or of wrath. How is a person to hold no bias when that’s what bias is – whether we realize we’re doing it or not. Have you never been impartial? Have you never had a favorite? A favorite color, teacher, sports team, friend, lover, doctor, TV show? Why? Why are some things your favorite? Have you never disliked something, hated and despised it? A person, place or thing, a behavior, a common saying, a liar, a cheater? Why? Why do you hate some things? Do you know? Can you link it to something deeper – to that “one time at band camp” story? 😉 To the girl that’s being mean on the playground, in her defense, it’s the only way she gets a voice, because at home she’s drowned out. To the boy that can’t concentrate, he can’t stop thinking about what will happen again tonight when he gets home to his drunk parents. To the black man that you label as a low life living in the projects, dealing drugs on the side, while working at Wal-Mart part time, this is the most permanent home he’s ever had with a full roof over his head, giving his children more then he ever had, doing the only thing he knows how to. To the obese teenager that you think needs to go on a diet, his parents can’t afford anything except pop tarts and hot dogs, and that’s if he gets 2 meals a day. Do you see how the hues of gray can vary so vastly, how the truth molds and bends? Do you see how people end up in situations and circumstances, not always because they chose too, but instead because they simply didn’t know how to do any different? Do you see how their truth and yours can be different? Do you know that your truth today can be different from tomorrow, that you’re the creator of it?

We all do a great job at trying to play God, but very few work on trying to be him – myself included. Perhaps if we realized that the days of black and white are forever gone, or even just that your black may be someone else’s white, maybe we’d concern ourselves less with what “truth beyond a reasonable doubt” best suits our vantage point, only to realize that truth lies only in the eye of the beholder.

Santa Monica

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“Her mind’s made up
The girl is gone
And now I’m forced to see
I think I’m on my way
Oh, it hurts to live today
Oh and she says “Don’t you wish you were dead like me?”

And I remember the day when you left for Santa Monica
You left me to remain with all your excuses for everything
And I remember the time when you left for Santa Monica
And I remember the day you told me it’s over”

This was the last song I listened too exactly 9 years to the day with you. Although those lyrics mean something different since then, the feeling that arises when hearing them is still there. I had just put Gabby – 2 1/2 and sick at the time – to bed, waiting for Nathan to get home, you and I were chatting about wedding stuff. I had mentioned perhaps  meeting with Sarah to do wedding invites, I knew you wanted to do them, but she’s great at this stuff and thought maybe you could learn some things from her?! I remember feeling half guilty, half defensive by the look on your face that said “of course I wouldn’t do it good enough or the way you wanted”. It was that look, followed by a weak “sure”. I remember talking about all of these wedding things as you half ignored me, never looking at me – always facing the computer. I often wonder how you didn’t turn around and tell me to shut the fuck up – you didn’t care – because you weren’t going to there. I often wonder how you didn’t say many things to me – instead, always playing the part, keeping your mouth shut, trying to pretend to be happy for me – even though I knew you were pissed about the whole thing. Once I realized you were less then impressed with this choice of topic I said “oh Jos – you gotta listen to this song – you’re gonna love it – Santa Monica by Theory of a Deadman! I asked you what you thought and got a monotone “yeah – I like it.”

I’ve replayed in my head a million times us standing outside smoking – while freezing our asses off – we got laughing about I don’t  even know what. I vividly remember thinking – but never actually saying “you look so good, you’ve lost weight – you seem happy Jos!” Maybe I just wanted to enjoy that contagious laugh a little longer, so I didn’t say it – just like you didn’t say anything to me, so we carried on. When we came back in the house I told you I was sorry, you could finish what you needed too, but I needed to go to bed. I needed sleep – pffff – fuck – let’s be real – I always needed sleep! You acted bummed, with a brief hesitation – I took note of it, but was defensive and proceeded to bed. As I laid there – I remember feeling bad, but more so as if something seemed off – but too tired to bother inquiring. Instead, I heard you shut down the computer and walk across the kitchen floor for what would be the last time. I heard the door close and I fell asleep. And that was it. That was the last time I would see your face, the last time I would hear your laugh, the last time I would smoke a Marlboro with you, the last time I would have a discussion with you – it was the last of so many things that would taint me for so long.

For months and months afterwards, I would talk to you on my way into work as if you were in the passenger seat beside me. I would try and alter the reality of it – as crazy as that sounds – I just always felt like I needed those one-way conversations – that were far from conversations because I couldn’t quit crying long enough to actually finish a sentence. To this day whenever I feel you, I feel you on my right side – steady, solid, always quiet and always on my right.

At some point in all of our lives we have a massive shifting point, it shows up in many different ways, but it shakes us to the core. For those that don’t know what this feels like, you will in time, for it’s inevitable in the human experience. It isn’t a week long ordeal either – it’s a forever long ordeal. For as much as this blog has done for me, in regards to healing at a much more rapid rate on many levels – the replay of that night – the feelings that arise with that song – the longing to hear that laugh or see that smile will forever be imprinted when this week arises – year after year – despite the time in between.

How can something feel like yesterday and eternity all at once? There are times I feel as though I’ve lost the details as time has passed. There are parts of me that are thankful for that, for it doesn’t consume me like before – proving I’ve been able to let go and move forward, but there are also days – like today – when I wish I could remember every detail of your face, of your words, of your every breath. Here’s to 9 years – 9 down – plenty to go – but still looking forward to the day I see that face again.

Perfect Storm

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There’s no denying hindsight is 20/20. We’ve all looked back on situations in our life and thought “how the hell did I not see that coming?” There were all of these passive thoughts and feelings…inklings that we chose to ignore, thinking they were of false pretense. Only in the end for there to be this explosion, this devastating storm that leaves us low and drained, fueled with a tornado of emotions that were suppressed but now raging. I’ve had 2 major life experiences where focusing on  the hindsight nearly killed me, both in a depressive, as well as an anger driven state. Two different experiences, fueled by different underlying factors – death and divorce. Both spent in states of replaying what I coulda, shoulda, woulda changed. But the divorce, I would have to say -was far more prevalent as far as indicating signals – random thoughts, gut instincts that something was off, change in behavior – that was one that I could’ve changed, but instead chose to ignore. And as much as I hated him, I began to hate myself even more, for ignoring what I knew was truth, instead choosing to tell myself otherwise.

There are many things in this life that hindsight serves us, but by the time it does, it’s often too late. It’s that whole ‘hind’ part of it that really doesn’t do us much good. However, it works nicely when needing to keep people suppressed – by guilt, depression, anger, hate, sadness – alot of the times focusing on that rear view mirror that we’ve been spoon fed to believe we have to feel shitty for – for the rest of our lives – that we rarely ever stop to think about foresight. What if, instead of waiting for more bad things to happen, or continuing to live in misery and victimization of our current circumstances (only to have another reason to debate or complain about) – we chose to get ahead of it? What if, we could change and alter the outcome of our personal lives, community, nation and global problems? In order to do such a thing, we’d have to be willing to look beyond a veil that has always blanketed us, fogging our vision and mindset.

As we look around the world, both within our country and beyond, we see this fueled fire almost everywhere. This state of chaos that seems uncontrollable. All of these emotions and opinions that are constantly voiced in defense of every angle. Everyone is wondering how in the hell we’ve ended up here, taking a look around this country wondering what land we’re standing on. I find it interesting, that the more I listen to people discuss issues ranging from Kaepernick to the ND pipeline, from 9/11 to our current financial state, from Bradgelina’s current relationship status to political views- the more I realize the only thing I’m hearing is – well – complaints and opinions, none of which seem to be targeted towards a solution, instead so many feeling helpless and victimized, angry and depleted. There’s what seems to be an ever growing division of ‘groups’ – black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter – those that appreciate what Kaepernick is standing, (or shall I say not standing for), and those that demand the respect of the American flag and what it stands for. We’ve got Trump supporters, Hilary supporters and straight up non-supporters. We’ve got Catholics, Lutherans, Protestants, Muslims and Baptists, we’ve got the upper class, the dwindling middle class and ever growing lower class. This, is clearly the tip of the iceberg as to what people debate about, but are some of the “hotter” topics.

I invite you to see what a perfect storm is being created here. The circus gets more entertaining while those in the background play with their puppets, making them dance and sing, fight and argue, promise and lie juuuuuust the way they want them too – oh no I’m sorry – let me rephrase, the way they want us too – turns out we’re part of the show! (bet you didn’t know you were going to be casted eh?! 😉 Now, I know this is going to be tough for many to swallow, and it was for me as well – but please, allow me to entertain you for a bit…not for debate – because that’s not what I’m going for – instead for awakening, for freedom, outside of any flag, of any government, of any 1% – beyond all of that – freedom to think and act for yourself while the barriers around these old belief systems begin to crumble. Because if we truly want change, like I hear everyone say they want change – it isn’t up to any of “them” to do that for us – it’s up to US as a human race to do it for ourselves. There isn’t any president, any congress, or any judge that is going to solve this for us, and the problem is, we’ve relied on others to do it for us, for far too long. In that process, (and I’m not talking in terms of a couple Presidential terms, I’m talking hundreds of years) we – as a collective – not only as Americans, but as a human race have lost ourselves, our freedoms, our love, our dreams and our unity.

What if, instead of being the puppets that we’ve always been, choosing to point the finger towards the next guy, as we’ve always done before, (and we’ve been trained to do it well!) – we chose to look beyond the obvious. We’ve been stuck in this sickening cycle, whether it was blaming the Indians for not getting off “our” land or those that don’t respect our flag the way you think they should, or that we feel we’re superior enough above all others to build a wall, it’s just run around, always coming back to the same basic convo – giving a war for the egos to justify who’s “better”. If we want change, we’d have to be willing to shut off all the opinions and blame – choosing to see what lies behind all of these smaller distractions. Here are the pictures that come to mind for me – it’s Alice in Wonderland, it’s watching Katnis in the Hunger Games shoot the arrow in the arena, to prove that there’s a glitch in the system, that the arena is fabricated. It’s watching Four and Tris in the Allegiant climb over the wall to realize what is actually going on outside of their little segregated lives to view the ‘behind the scenes’. For those that aren’t familiar with any of those, think of it as a magic show – you see the trick on the stage, but you’re unaware of what is happening behind the scenes to create this illusion that you’re awed over. It’s simply waking up – it’s realizing that there is a ‘behind the scenes’ and it’s very much dominating us, not only as a nation, but as a race. It’s the ‘great divide’ in The Land Before Time. 😉 You see, if you keep people so preoccupied with constantly debating and fighting amongst themselves, while throwing in some Pokemon Go to distract them a little longer and farther, then they’ll be so busy with that, they’ll have no clue that anything at all is beyond that wall or the man made arena, beyond the veil of the illusion in which has been created. They have done it, and they’ve done it very well – and they’ve done it for yeeeears – as in hundreds!

They’ve put together such perfect systems in order to keep separation, I mean really, you have to give them credit for how nicely it was thought out and even better how well it’s played out. This is obvious in ways both big and small, you simply can not suppress a person and expect that at some point there won’t be kickback. On a smaller scale, it may be misery in a job or a relationship, despite the reasoning behind it or for it – everyone has their breaking point. So whether this behavior is lashing out at a partner, boss or child, more often then not, it’s coming from something beyond that current situation at hand. Have you ever lashed out at someone over something minuet, when that wasn’t even the real reason you were angry in the first place? It’s like screaming at your spouse for not putting their dirty clothes in the hamper, when in all reality, it had nothing to do with the damn clothes, it had everything to do with the 10 shitty things that happened in your day before that! Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about – you’ve all had your 15 minutes of fame in the realm of nut houses! 😉 Ha The problem is, noone takes the time to evaluate where in our lives we’re being sucked dry, suppressed etc. This is a perfect example of why you have uprisings, this is why you have protests, although not always done in the best fashion, people are just sick of being shushed! They want to have a voice, even if sometimes that voice doesn’t know where exactly it stands or what it’s trying to express. Even if that voice leads to actions that aren’t in their best interest. I’m not okaying people’s bad behavior, but honestly what are we to expect?! Everyone is full of opinions, that’s obvious, but it’s reached a point where people are starting to realize that talking in circles isn’t getting us anywhere. So, while some are still so stuck on the part (as if we’re in elementary school) needing to take a “side” for or against all these different causes, some are just plain and sick of tired of talking and debating over it and feeling as though they have to take a stance. For me personally, it isn’t about what each of these groups are standing for, it’s about taking a stance, as a unified front against a system that most don’t agree with, and a system that sure as shit isn’t transparent in ANY form. It’s about taking back our power, as a people – preferably in a non-violent way, but in one that isn’t dictated by these people behind the screen. It’s about getting back to the basics – as in morals. It’s about less judgement upon each other and instead putting the spotlight on those puppets and people that sit in these “high and mighty” places. And not a spotlight asking questions just to get the same lies that we’ve heard a million times over either, instead forcing them to expose all the things we’ve been fed to believe are nothing but conspiracy theories

 I would just like to say, there are parts of these entries that may be heavily saturated with sarcasm, turns out there isn’t a font for that yet. 😉 However, I in no way, mean to offend anyone. The thing is, we’re all in this together, and we’re all as guilty as the next guy to some degree. So it isn’t about degrading, it’s about bringing forth an awareness to something that is foreign to far too many. As with anything, there must first be awareness before there can be true change. This is also something that people will be forced to see over the next few years. This isn’t any of our faults, and yet to a degree, I suppose it’s all of our faults, for not questioning, for believing the stories, for not doing our own research, aside if ‘everyone else was doing it’, for giving into their circus and getting caught up in the webs they so perfectly wove. However, that isn’t the point, the point is, we’re here – and by being here – we have the opportunity to change it. The number one problem with this, is there aren’t many that truly believe that what they do on a personal level can impact on a global level. I’d just like to say welcoooome to the 1st bullshit lie you’ve been fed! This is only the surface of so many other underlying things, but it’s just a glimpse to hopefully allow your conscious mind to plant a seed outside of what it’s been taught. One that I hope will ignite a flame that will become more curious, intriguing you to do your own investigating, or just be willing to look at things from a slightly different angle. Because oddly enough those “bogus” articles or “insane conspiracy theories” may not be quite as “bogus” or “insane” as you originally thought. I guess at this point – nothing is going to hurt, right?! The way things have been done haven’t gotten us anywhere – except more pissed off and separated, maybe if we were willing to go against the grain of what everyone else is doing, in a new way – we could lay a more solid foundation for something new.

 The less we give into the circus and games they toy us with and the more we start to realize that taking a stand in a new and different way may be more beneficial. Clearly, this whole play by their rules and vote for someone who swears they’ll make it better isn’t making anything better – why? Because they’re in it for their own reasons – none of which lines up with what is best for the overall majority, and I don’t care which party you’re voting for, that is the plain and simple fact. You can’t whole heartedly trust someone with every fiber of your being when you agree with less then half of their basic moral viewpoints. We don’t agree or believe in half of what they say and yet out of obligation of being a citizen (as we’ve been fed to believe) we feel we’re terrible people if we just straight up quit giving into their game, aka voting. What happens when all the players on a football field or basketball court step off the playing grounds? The game is over isn’t it? Why would this be any different? Are there things that may go along with the fall and rise of old and new government, yes, that’s a good possibility. But if we want change then we have to be willing to walk through the dips in order to see the view from the other side. And what helps make that walk a little easier in any area of our lives? Others to walk it with. The more we stick together and continue to walk off the playing field one by one, the more we’ll have to walk side by side with, giving comfort as we go.

So, the more we begin to look beyond the little segments of media creating more fear, hate and division and chose to come together as a whole, perhaps the quicker we’ll see the change that is desperately needed! So, in order to not just talk this talk, but also walk this walk – you’ll have to be willing to play with a few ‘out of the box’ ideas. If you’re willing to put down your ego and set aside all the shit you’ve ever been fed to believe is “right, just, good, brave, honorable, bad, unjust, criminal or disrespectful”, if you’re willing to put down some of your belief systems (by the way, all of 80% of what we do/say/believe is based off of someone else’s ideas, we picked it up along the way, either from school, parents, friends, media or society – original is few and far between these days lol) then maybe we can all come out on the other side, perhaps even better then before!

**If you are sick of being a sheep hearded along and are ready to help awaken those still sleeping, then please share on social media**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUT of the darkness, means bringing LIGHT to it.

blog-otd-walk-collageIf there’s one thing I hope this blog does for all who stumble across it is, to offer a sense of hope. To bring light to conversations, emotions, thoughts and struggles that so many of us face on a daily basis, but are often too fearful to bring up at the supper table. This is many people’s real life, whether it’s disease, finances, addiction, divorce, or death – these topics are too many people’s traumas and tragedies. While some have been able to triumph over these road blocks, there are still many stuck, unable to see outside of their current circumstances. These are conversations, that until we start having them – aren’t going to go away. Every change must first begin with awareness. I am hoping that this will shed some light and awareness on many different topics and emotions that I think more people will be able to resonate with, at some point in their life, then not. My hope is that this is the beginning of many more conversations to come within your life, ones with rawness, vulnerability, empathy and compassion. May this be the planting of new seeds of awareness, as well as hope in each persons life that comes across this, may you know you aren’t alone in your struggles and that the light always follows the darkness, so please – hold on.

I had the to opportunity to speak at our community walk this weekend, Out of the Darkness. This walk is to promote awareness and education, as well as support to the conversation of mental illness and suicide. This is something that no matter what – is just a heavy event, it’s really hard for it not to be, as these are heavy topics that come with heavy feelings and emotions surrounded by them. I really wanted this years talk to be different then I had done in years’ past, I wanted it to be general but specific, acknowledging all who were there and their stories, honoring whatever current stage they were in on their journey – but also bringing forth a lighter note  as well.

This is something that I want to include as an entry because for most of us standing at this event, we already knew all too well what standing on the other side of this hell feels like, carrying the guilt of not seeing the signs or being more proactive, the heart wrenching fact that they felt so isolated, empty and sad to be able to continue on is something we know all too well and it’s something that brings us to tears every time we think of what they endured and what it took for them to follow through. But the point isn’t just for those of us that now fit under the category of ‘suicide survivor’, it’s something that people need to be aware BEFORE they hit that point. It’s something that needs to be talked about MORE in homes around the supper table, no matter how uncomfortable that can be. The words “suicide” and “depression” need to be used more often, so that they roll off the tongue as easily as “pizza” and “sunshine”.

I’d like to share my story, to hopefully shine some light on this subject, as well as promote more light on such a dark and heavy subject. And I hope you’re willing to share this, to bring forth light to others as well – for you never who many stumble across it that may be in need of it.

” I, like most of you here, am a survivor of suicide after losing my sister Josie to a losing battle of clinical depression in 2007. It wasn’t until after that day that I was forced to feel the depths of the valleys in which she, and many others have walked. Through those years of darkness and fog I endured the sobering truth of what standing on this side of not only mental illness feels like, but what carrying the heaviest burden of all feels like – guilt.

We all stand here in different parts of our journey, ranging from months to years, with different stories. From veterans unable to co-exist in a world that had become foreign to them upon returning from the damage that couldn’t be undone, to those who had side effects to medications that forced them in the opposite direction of the intent of that medication, to an impulsive decision with what may have seemed like the only last piece to the puzzle, to just being sick and tired of attempting to fight what seemed like a losing battle through the darkness.

The details that go along with our loved one’s story, the aftermath for all of us standing here, is one we wouldn’t wish upon anyone. The reverberation that suicide generates, despite your stage in the grieving process, is all too familiar. To feel as if there were no other way out aside from this, to be so enveloped and suffocated in a deep and dark place is something that no individual should ever have to endure.

There isn’t a prerequisite needed in order to fall under this hush hush category, as we have seen that money nor fame can buy happiness or make you invisible from this crippling disease. From famous people such as Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams, to the ever growing numbers, especially in teens, due to the pressures of the world around them, to adults due to financial, work, home and relationship stressors and lack of facilities and treatment options. Simply being unable to talk about it in public, even in our own homes because we have made it taboo and an uncomfortable topic, and some just honestly not knowing how to respond. It almost always comes back to feeling of being isolated and alone.

A large contributing factor for this being the third leading cause of death is the sheer lack of hope in so many. The feeling that others can’t relate, or that you’re the only one enduring these thought processes. We are in a time where electronics have silenced us even more, tearing us away from human connection and compassion. We have entered into an era where the world around us seems to get crazier by the day, full of noise and static, opinions, debate and fog – it can be hard to find that light of hope to focus on.

It took me a long time to see beyond those first years of darkness, to gain a different perspective, but I honestly believe that it is up to those of us that have endured the pain of losing someone to this terrible cause of death because we are needed to be the beacon of light through the darkness.

When we begin to break down these barriers of fear and hopelessness, allowing light to stream in through the concrete walls that have barricaded us from each other, we can begin to see that healing can be possible. Perhaps it is then that our loved ones stories can begin to affect and shift the masses in a new way, letting others know that this isn’t the end, that they are supported and loved and that we’re here to help, educate and facilitate. Perhaps it is then that we can help them see through a new lens, one that brightens instead of dims, educates instead of criticizes and one that comforts instead of torments. Although this event is held with heavy hearts as a reminder to those who have taken their own lives, I hope today can also be about remembering to carry on their story, that despite our age, from young to old alike, reminding ourselves that we all have the ability to reach out in ways big and small to help others, to bring awareness to a conversation that has been silenced for far too long and to bring light to others around us, in whatever manner possible. May today be about more than just a reminder of the guilt and sadness that many carry inside, but may it be about reigniting hope and a light into a world that needs it more now than ever. “

**If this resonates with you, please feel free to share on social media in the hopes of helping any who may stumble across it.”

Autopilot

skyraysoflight9-16We’ve all experienced those moments of life altering, earth shattering pain. The one that forces you into your body, to awaken you from a state of cruise control. It comes in many different forms, at different points in our lives, all on a different scale, having a different effect but it is one that refuses to be anything but felt. At 16, it’s the break up with your first boyfriend, perhaps later a divorce. For a firefighter it’s going to a call only to be forced to watch a family watch their home be devoured by flames, to the EMT it’s responding to a fatal accident. To a soldier it’s pulling the trigger for the first time on another life, or perhaps watching one of his own men being taken by another. It’s the phone call of an unexpected death, the diagnosis of a disease, watching another’s life end before your eyes. It’s watching a child go hungry, die from lack of vaccinations or a fatal disease. It’s losing a job, the function of a body part, or the aftermath of a natural disaster. All of which demand the attention of the human emotions, as if jolted into the current reality, one where time literally seems to stop. The cruise control has been halted, from 60 to 0.

It is that slow drip of water in a pond, watching the ripples flow outward, affecting the mass, but the intensity remains within that first initial drop. A whirlwind of grief and questions, standing there looking at your life from a floor of shattered glass, unsure if it’s even your life you’re viewing. This ‘autopilot’ phase is one that jolts many, but often doesn’t truly affect, on a grander scale, those outward ripples. But, for those moments that the ripple does affect the mass, we reevaluate where we stand in life, how very small we are compared to the rest of this vast universe. We think about our days and how they’ve been spent, acknowledging that we’re truly blessed and fortunate to not have been directly effected by such tragedy. Instead, we make promises to rid our lives of excess baggage that doesn’t serve our evolution, and thank God for all he’s generously provided.
Often times, when we stand in this space, we realize how much of our life has been run on autopilot. How much we missed while going through the motions, only to realize it’s no longer an option to fix or mend, but to let flow through you, realizing the grip you have on this moment is nothing at all. The vulnerability of feeling on a deeper level, tears that won’t stop, anger that fuels, questions that may remain unanswered. It’s a space that for anyone that has ever felt it, never wants to be forced to feel it again, it instills a fear that we want to distance ourselves from as fast as possible. It’s one that never leaves, instead, only lies dormant. Only to return at the time of another reminder that autopilot is the exact place we aren’t meant to be. It’s during these times that we’re forced to reevaluate and question our very existence. Watching another endure such pain, knowing there’s no amount of words, cards or gifts that will replace what they have been or will be forced to feel and endure. It is in these moments, we make temporary promises as we mourn and truly do feel for those directly effected. We swear this is our eye opener, that we’ll become more focused on the things that make us truly happy, instead of the stress of daily life we’ve allowed to weigh us down. Instead of complaining, we’ll be more grateful, instead of fighting, we’ll be more compassionate, instead of blaming, we’ll be more empathetic of another’s viewpoint, instead of being devoured by guilt, we’ll let go of those we’ve allowed to pull us down. Because in these moments we see from a very different perspective, we see how precious and short our time here is, whether that’s 20 years or 80, it goes in a flash nonetheless. But just as quickly as it came, it often leaves. Because for those that aren’t directly affected, life goes on, and autopilot is what we so effortlessly fall back into. Getting wrapped up in our everyday lives of seemingly trials and tribulations, forgetting to pay attention, to feel or wake up from this deep sleep. Until the next ripple hits, reminding us once again that we’re human. These are the moments that are meant to break us, shake us and make us realize that this is our focus, this is a glimpse of what we’re here for, this is when autopilot is off, when we’re planted in our own bodies, grounded and reminded our days are far too short to be spent doing absolutely anything except what brings us joy. And the falsehood that we’ve been fed while on autopilot that this isn’t our truth, is the reason we’re forced to be redirected into what is.

*If this resonates with you, feel free to share on social media**

Noise and Static

*Disclaimer: Please read at your own discretion. Preferably with an open mind 😉blog-noiseandstatic

I’ll admit I was less then happy when the only thing that would flawlessly flow from my fingertips was the entry “Rock Bottom”.  Now, I’m starting to see why – because it truly is the case for so many people right now, both locally and abroad. I’m a believer that the night is always darkest just before the dawn and that sometimes thing have to crumble in order to be rebuilt, to see it for the greater good and trust where it’s taking us. But that can be a tough one to hold onto as things seem to be progress. It’s hard not to take a look around and wonder what in the f*ck is happening to this world?!  It’s hard to overcome the fear of what’s next and what does it mean?! I think of it on a smaller scale with things happening around me, but it’s much larger then that and I think we’re all aware of that. Humanity as a whole is facing some shit right meow – shit that can’t be denied – shit that needs to be talked about, released and straight up dealt with!

However, I’m struggling with the way it’s being dealt with. In case we haven’t noticed – this blame game isn’t getting us anywhere. Whether it’s blaming our parents for a horseshit upbringing, another person for abuse inflicted upon us, the poor for our national debt problem, drugs/alcohol/addictive substances, Monsanto for poisioning us with GMO’s, Trump for his hate and discrimination, ISIS for killing thousands of innocent people, my sisters friends mother brother to a cousin for who the hell knows what – it seems to boil down to blame in some form! It comes down to pointing the finger in every direction except our own – and I’m more then guilty of this as I blame my addiction on sugar for the reason I’ve gained so much weight! ha

I’m not by any means trying to undermine what is happening around us, or the lives that have been directly affected by any of the above. This is real shit on every single level – and I’m grateful every day those aren’t my family members or friends that are directly affected by this violence. But, I feel that I need to attempt to try and put a different spin on what is happening. Hands down the most common mistake we all make, I’m just as guilty as anyone, is forgetting to stop and attempt to see things in a different light – from a different vantage point.

I’ve seen multiple posts, but have not, nor have any desire to watch the videos on who is claiming what or which side, I do not have any desire to watch someone gasp for air after he’s been shot, despite the reasoning behind it. I especially don’t have any desire considering there’s a little girl in the back seat, who’s life has been forever changed. So, I’m not going off of facts here and I’m not siding with one over another, I’m simply viewing this from some of the few opinions/responses I actually read. So, here are some questions I have that I’m just going to throw out there.

Question #1

Have you ever drank under age? Have you ever smoked weed? Have you ever done an illegal substance or drug? Have you ever not worn your seat belt? Have you ever driven with any amount of alcohol in your system that could’ve very well been above the legal limit? Have you ever urinated in public? Have you ever rolled through a stop sign?

If you have done any of these, then you too, have broken the law – and I’m willing to bet you’ve done it on more then one occasion. What is the difference between you and someone that has their name put in the paper or face on TV?  They got caught and you didn’t. Period.

Question #2

Have you ever had sex before you were married? Disrespected an elder? Used the Lord’s name in vein? Called another human being a name? Have you ever cheated – in any form, on homework, an exam or your significant other? Have you ever threatened someone’s life or dreamt about it? Despite how big or small – from your parents to your children – no matter how you choose to justify it, have you ever told a lie?

If you have ever done any of these, then you too, have been immoral – at least to the eyes of many, especially according to religious beliefs. What is the difference between you and “them”?

My point here is this (and this is something that I’ve learned within the past year about myself as well) that despite the caliber of bullet, what makes one less deadly then another? The amount that is fired, correct? It takes more rounds of a 22 to do the same damage of a 12 gauge. So, while some have larger weapons, inflicting pain on others in more obvious ways, there are even more people that do it in their daily lives, on a smaller scale. You see, that’s what we do – we all have the ammunition but we fire it differently. Most fire more frequently but because it’s of a less caliber, we can justify it. Why? Because we didn’t get caught, what – because we didn’t kill anyone, or I wasn’t that drunk! It was only 5 mph over the limit. It was just a white lie. I can bring that up because she did this to me in 2nd grade! Oh good, I’ll keep that card in my back pocket for next time he effs up. These are the subconscious things that we think – I know that, because I’ve thought them! I’ll openly admit that! Did I know at the time I thought them, no, probably not, because I self justified it – I felt I was entitled to it – I mean, besides – eff them, they’re crazy anyways, of course my reasoning is right!

Question #3

Have you ever put your life on the line – day in and day out? Have you ever feared walking out the door, never knowing if you’re going to come home to your children? Have you ever had to put on a uniform that made you a target to many? Have you ever had to put on a badge that causes more hate and avoidance, where people openly hate you, calling you a “pig” – taking slurs the same as many different other races do? Do you know what it’s like to love and fear your job all at once – every single day? Do you know what it’s like to be proud to protect your community, but knowing you’re possibly putting your life on the line to protect complete strangers? Do you know what it’s like to have to uphold a certain criteria to do your job, even though you’re fearful of what is happening out there? Have you ever had to show up to a door step to inform parents their child was just killed? Have you ever had to arrest someone and see how that changes their life, good, bad or otherwise? Do you know what it’s like to have to act and react in a split second – never knowing what that reaction may lead too?

I don’t – and I don’t think a majority of you reading do. And that also is unfair to judge! I have never, nor do I ever want too have to make a split second decision to pull the trigger out of fear, only to find out I may not have had the right to do so and cost someone their life. And I don’t care what color of a person that is, that decision is a heavy burden to carry, “right”, “wrong” or otherwise. I also can’t imagine being the spouse or parent of someone in uniform either, especially in these large cities that deal with a large amount of violence, living in fear every single day, wondering if they’re going to walk back through that door to your children. I am however, thankful there are people that are willing to do that for us! I mean one is hated for the color of their skin, another for the uniform they wear?

Question #4

Have you ever slammed on your brakes the minute you realized the car you’re about to approach is a cop, even though you knew you weren’t speeding? Have you ever either felt the need to smile and be especially nice to someone in uniform? Or, feel your blood pressure rise being in the same room, even though you know you aren’t the suspect, but feel as if they’re looking at you with suspicion?

Have you ever crossed paths with someone from a different ethnesicity and hugged your purse tighter? Have you ever seen a black man with their pants down with their ass half hanging out assuming they must be a drug dealer? Have you ever thought because they were wearing a veil or hijab they must be a terrorist? Have you ever encountered someone of another color begging for food or scrounging for change and thought ‘typical, on welfare, I’m pry paying for that’.

If any of these thoughts or reactions pertain to you, then that’s stereotyping and racism. The problem is, noone realizes they even do it because it’s something that’s been engrained in us from a child on, whether at home, school, media, friends etc. So although it’s clearly not something we’re aware of on a conscious level, it’s something a majority of us do! And these are a majority of the comments I see and hear and have heard for a long time! All these one liners we’ve deemed as acceptable to throw out there towards certain groups, from police to another religion to another color, to white trash!

Question #5 –

Have you ever done something stupid, ridiculous or foolish? Can you imagine being put under a microscope for it? Can you imagine that one idiotic move costing you your life, whether dead or behind bars? Imagine if every horseshit decision you ever made was held against you, plastered on every news station and thrown back in your face?

I for one have made plenty of mistakes, I’ve passed on the right side of the road, I’ve drank too much and put the keys in the ignition, I’ve drank under age, I’ve had sex before I was married, I’ve called other people inappropriate names, I’ve done alot of things that I’m far from proud of. I’ve had many of them held over my head and I’ve held many over others as well. There are many of these I’m not proud of, and some I am, because I learned something from them. It didn’t cost me my life, I wasn’t forever shamed and abandoned for them, I’m aware of them and attempting to correct them. So, again – do a small tally of your personal ‘stupidity’ and remember, part of this whole human experience is learning, not hating and bashing and further separating. The definition of perfection depends on the eyes of the one defining it, and it varies by a large scale depending!

WHY do we have to side with one or the other?! I mean really, for all the people complaining about I-35 being backed up because of protests, are you doing anything to help or defuse the situation besides sitting behind a screen complaining about it and blasting your opinion all over? That’s another thing we’re taught well to do – hide behind a screen – our children know this even better then we even do, it’s how they’ve been taught to communicate and fight! I mean, at the end of the day – this is a true and legit problem on so many levels, but I just can’t grasp why people think that by constantly screaming and yelling and posting and name calling (even though we’d tell our kids to not do that) that we’re solving anything?!  And whether or not you feel that this particular family deserved it over the next or because of their horseshit parenting skills they had it coming. Or the fact that because they didn’t have a job they were worthless to ‘us’ anyways, gives you the right to justify it, then I guess do whatever you need too to sleep at night. As for anyone still reading this – allow me to put a slight twist on this a little more. To someone (a child – because remember, we were all children at some point, that never asked for the circumstances that we were put into) that grew up in a home with parents as meth addicts and homeless, the fact that the only drug they do is smoke pot, even if it’s around their children, they feel that they’ve improved their life. For those that grew up in physically abusive homes, watching their parents fight to no end, beating each other or their kids – the fact that those kids came out of that home only having alcohol issues, but never touching their own kids, is an improvement from the environment in which they knew. For those that went through the system, being tossed from home to home growing up, never feeling as if they were truly wanted, accepted or loved, the fact that they can hold a part time job is more stability then they’ve ever known. Do you know what the difference between a majority of us (white folk, privileged folk, wealth folk, the middle class, whatever title you want to give us) is alot of us had someone to help us. We had a support system on SOME level, whether it was family, friends, a teacher, a coach, a minister – they had someone, even if for a brief time. Someone that showed them just a little tiny bit of compassion that sparked their fire. This is something that many of us take for granted and something that not alot of people, even people close to you, truly know. That is a privilege.

In conclusion:

Is racism a problem in this country? Yes

Is police brutality a problem in this country? Yessum

Do we need law enforcement to keep us safe since we can’t all just get over ourselves and get along? Yip

Do we need law enforcement next time we or our loved one is in an accident, injured or has a health emergency? Yup

Is law enforcement often disrespected and also stereotyped? Yippers

Do we need more slander against one or the other? Nope

Do we need to feel as though we have to choose a side in order to feel like someone? As if a FB post is going to save the whole damn world and erase what is actually happening and been happening? Nada

I’m not claiming to have the answers to these many messes, I’m really not. I’ve just been trying to think of a way to not join the debate, but attempt to help put things into perspective again, for people to just take a deep breath and remember something more then black or white, in uniform or out, upper class or poverty – at the end of the day – we’re all something to someone, we’re all human, we all have emotions and most are damaged on account of things you can’t even imagine enduring, standing on both sides of the line. So, maybe instead of non-stop judgement and finger pointing we just set aside the fact that yes, there are people, of every race and profession that can ruin it for the mass, for the most part, they’re doing their best, even if it isn’t your best, according to your standards. I’ll be the first to admit this is can be extremely hard to put into play and remember on a daily basis! But, maybe if we just attempt to become more aware of our actions that we put out there and how much they actually align with what we say and preach, we could baby step our way a little closer to peace and calmness. Maybe if we just attempted to focus on one tiny little thing we all may have in common, instead of pointing out the differences so quickly, we’d have more productive conversation. And maybe if those words do get said, like we all tend to do in the moment, we attempt to make them right where we can, while we can.

I’d just like to leave you with this – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Maybe, just maybe – we can all put down our weapons, whether gripping a loaded weapon, pounding the keys on a keyboard or pointing a finger – and just try something outside of what we’ve always done, which is fight. That’s what we resort too every single time – we feel like we have to have our guard up, armor on – ready to fight. Maybe trying the opposite, just for shits and giggles, might be of more benefit. Just maybe.

**If this resonates with you, feel free to share on social media**