Elevating Lives Through Compassion

Are you ready to take the step into healing and recreating yourself? The greatest journey begins when we venture within in order to discover our full potential. Come and take the first step towards wellness.

The Dying Tree

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“There’s a mission that treats alcoholics and drug addicts located at the heart of Skid Row, Los Angeles.  It’s a community center, so often beds fill fast and many seeking treatment are turned away and placed on a waiting list, requiring many to wait months before getting help.  A fair percentage of those turned away have an earnest desire to get clean.  Yet, they have no where to turn and so they wait, often in the blistering sun of the summer afternoon or in the unpredictable occurrences of the winter nights.  Vulnerable to the elements, they lay underneath the refuge of an indifferent tree, a piece of nature notoriously known as “The Dying Tree.”  Their desire for a better life far outweighs the predictability of the next fix.  The commitment and focus by which they express in their determination to wait and to abstain, parallels the greatest ingenuity- humanity attempting to change against the odds.  And the odds are heavily against them, as many of them wither and die beneath the scanty branches of The Dying Tree.  Days pass, weeks, and months, and they wait.  Many convulse, falling flat on their heads, scarcely leaving behind a few items for survival.  Others die of dehydration or health related conditions, and those remaining, unable to continue the fight, relapse-  overdosing after a period of abstinence due to the body being unaccustomed to the dosages.  A grim and bitter ending it seems but the souls that never make it through the doors of possibilities of a different life grant us the greatest lesson.  And that is, with every challenge we face, with everything we desire, we should place ourselves at the precipice-at the doors of possibilities and change with an unrelenting commitment, willing to sacrifice everything, willing to battle the elements- in the coldness or the unrelenting heat of daily living-for the opportunity of a better existence.”

The Inherent Power of Mental Illness

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Several years ago I was leading a process group with patients affected by schizophrenia and addiction in a community outpatient center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Each patient took turns sharing thoughts and feelings on challenges of dealing with their symptoms and discovering more effective ways to deal with their condition.  As I listened to the their daily struggles, their efforts, and their level of gratitude, I couldn’t help but to think that in contrast to the rest of the world these seemingly poor souls were in reality the fortunate ones.  These individuals, through their condition, had acquired a keen ability to reflect, to identify weaknesses and strengths, and make difficult but responsible decisions necessary to change.  This group knew themselves at a level so profound they were able to help newer struggling members through their experiences.  These people understood the problem- they were awake.  There was honesty, there was sincerity, and a knowledge of self I had rarely seen anywhere else.  These individuals were fighting for their lives and they were doing it from the inside out.  They were aware that the war they battled was within and when someone attempted to deviate from this reference point they were quickly reminded of the errors of external blame.  This group like several others I’ve worked with stood in stark contrast to the general consciousness of society that declares “I’m fine” and that the solution is “somewhere out there.”  I’ve come to learn the most valuable lessons through people committed to their mental health and addiction recovery- and that is-the ultimate state of being human is not attaining nor portraying perfection, but a full ongoing life commitment to fight, to love, and to do battle from the inside-out.  

The Ills That Save

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How can the greatest ills of humanity serve any good purpose?  The question can only be answered once the defect has been identified and we commence the journey to remedy it.  Those suffering from chronic mental health problems or addictions who have undergone a process of recovery have accomplished the unimaginable.  They have defied the laws of a self destructive nature and have catapulted themselves to state of unprecedented usefulness founded on a basis of knowledge of self and the divine.  I will continue to say of this wondrous matter:  “There is no greater miracle than this!”

You Are Not Alone

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I always thought that statement was pretty tacky, something someone said when they had had no other way of consoling a friend in crisis.  In times of difficulty, a few friends used these words and I’d brush them off, reflecting on the corny nature of the statement. As if four words can take away the burden of the presenting problem.  I’d think how easy it was for them to say those words, those wasteful words they’d assume had some profound affect and I would snap out of my depression and resume a happy life all because I was “not alone.”  But then one day it got pretty dark…so dark that I doubted I’d ever come out of it.  Then, I heard the words “you are not alone.”  These words became the flickering light in the depths of despair by which I was able to find my way back again.”

If you are hurting and in a dark place, please remember, you are not alone…

Facing the War Inside

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The problem is not that we battle emotional and psychological problems.  The problem is that we are taught we should not have any kind of inner turmoil.  The subliminal message of “that isn’t real” or “it’s all in your head” contributes significantly to the deterioration of symptoms of people with mental illness.  This form of gaslighting in which a person’s reality is taken as a fabrication of his or her mind is the all pervading message of the mainstream mental health treatment field.  Suggesting a patient change their symptoms is equivalent to them changing a limb- it is their reality.  Instead, the aim should be to provide validation of an individual’s reality, understand the meaning of particular symptoms, and provide ways for patient’s to properly handle and overcome the battle.  

The greatest illness is denial.  Pretending as if emotional and mental health problems are foreign and exclusive to certain unfortunate individuals greatly contributes to the isolation and further stigmatization of an underrepresented group.  It’s time to be honest and acknowledge the battle!  

The Elephant and Scapegoat

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The mentally ill constitute a people like any other group in society.  This group is characterized by a disability, a disability of the mind.  So how is it that there has been little protest on how the media portrays mental illness? If someone commits a heinous act most often it gets categorized as “mental illness.”  Imagine if we did this publicly towards a group of people and we all ignored it, or even agreed with it.  The facts are the majority of those with mental illness have never committed violent crimes.  In fact, most people with violent histories have no history of or any current mental illness.  Mental illness has become the modern day scapegoat by which society demoralizes a vulnerable and resilient population to label or explain away deviant and even irresponsible behavior.  

I believe an apology is long overdue for the pervasive stereotyping of people with mental illness.  Get the facts and stand up for what’s right!  

Slaying the Beast of Fear

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If we reflect on our troubles, we will find the underlining theme of fear pervading throughout.  Fear creates paralysis.  The external obstacles we face are not necessarily the problem, the way we handle the associated fears of the challenge is the deciding factor of success.  Fear is a natural response to events that we are not accustomed to.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to eliminate fear, but there is a way to change the way we handle it- we can learn to transcend fear into something that we can embrace and welcome.  

I remember in college before the big game, we would often engage in chants and sorts of rituals to arouse a spirit of battle within us.  Some of us would scream, jump, and down shove each other, and slap helmets and pads.  Some would pace quietly while others sat with a deep long stare.  Everyone had a ritual.  I noticed this was more than a way to prepare for a fun game and obtain excitement.  The preparation was a way bring the mind and body to a state of readiness to overcome apprehension, to surpass any likelihood of paralysis, and associate fear with excitement and victory.  Preparation made fear an ally.  

Fear is much a natural part of our lives just as any other emotion.  The key is to adapt the proper mindset of its challenge and prepare effectively.  A preparation that creates a response of excitement, confidence, and persistence is one that will always lead to success.  

Recovery

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If you’re lucky you’ve hit bottom more than once.  On each occasion you’ve called out to something Greater than yourself.  Perhaps out of desperation, you eagerly pleaded to a G_d you didn’t believe in.  Each time you were rescued… and because of this an unquenchable love flourished for the One that saved you. And you became zealous- so zealous that today you bear no resemblance of the old self.

Elevation: The Simple Path of Change

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Great philosophies are born in the midst of turning points.  A counseling approach based on the foundation of a life changing experience will endure and permeate the lives it treats.  Every helper, no matter what level of expertise, must bring a part of these profound experiences to the counseling table. 

I remember a particular day in the 10th grade, staring into space, daydreaming, disconnected from my surroundings. I was sitting in my English class when the teacher asked the class to write a poem.  I was disinterested, slumped on my desk and prepared for a long nap.  However, the teacher, Mrs. Kurzer was persistent in getting the class to write a poem.  So I wrote a few lines, I can’t recall exactly what I wrote.  But I have always remembered what happened next.  Mrs. Kurzer read the poem and I could see the expression on her face change… and she looked at me and said “wow! This is really good poetry!”  And then she asked “can I make copies of this to show to my other classes?”  Now for a 15 year old kid like me at the time, who had experienced for years verbal and physical abuse from teachers in the public school system, this one gesture pulled me out of the depths of low-self esteem and fear.  Until that point, I had one foot in dropping out.  Until that point, I was utterly convinced that I had no abilities, that I was dumb; there was no confidence in the sense of accomplishing anything.  After that day, Mrs. Kurzer continued to encourage me with writing.  I developed a strong interest in poetry.  Aside from developing a talent, it gave me the gift of believing that I can… that I had a place in the world… I can contribute and create and I was good at something… and this all started with someone conveying a message that I was able.  It  just took one person to bring that out in me… to sincerely express a compliment of an ability that laid dormant within.  This event paved the way for creativity, for taking risks, and most importantly helping others using this philosophy of elevating a person and elevating the moment through bringing out in people their dormant talents and capabilities.  

About a year ago I was working with a 19 year old young man who was in jail awaiting trial for murder.  This young man was likely going to spend the rest of his life behind bars.  He grew up in an impoverished neighborhood without a father figure or any positive role models.  The only sense of purpose and encouragement he had was the one given to him by his friends who spent their time committing crimes and using drugs.  It was through spending time with him and forming an alliance of trust and genuine encouragement that he was able to discover an exceptional talent with numbers.  In less than a month he was studying for his GED exam and soon after began tutoring other inmates.  His entire demeanor changed… his face was brighter, his attitude was positive, and he gave off a strong sense of confidence.  For once, he had a sense of purpose and ability that was awakened through a genuine and caring relationship.  I often wondered, what could have been of his life, only if he had discovered his purpose earlier… if someone would have brought out this capability from within him-  the person behind the cell door could have easily been a great accountant or professor, or better yet, an influential leader in his community.

When people lack purpose than you end up with a society that seeks fulfillment in the most  destructive ways.  A capability unrealized, no matter how small, is a tragedy.. When you look around in your community, around the local treatment centers, the local streets, or even within your own family or circle of friends and you see people that you can help lift out of the depths of despair through elevating them  through encouragement and genuine love then every moment and every encounter becomes an opportunity to take part in what truly matters most… saving a life and in turn saving generations.  

Effectiveness

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There is a stark difference between good and effective.  While good co-signs and placates, effectiveness always upholds the truth without compromise.  If I am called a good person because I tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear, I am ineffective.  A good doctor makes you comfortable.  An effective one gets the tumor out and that requires serious discomfort.  The world needs just as much as effective men as there are good ones.  We should always be mindful to never confuse one for the other.  

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