In my vocation, I often deal with the result of our broken mental healthcare system. Many acts of violence, or threats of violence, I work with involve people with untreated mental illness. In most cases, someone in the aggressor’s life attempted to intervene to affect a better outcome. In our free society, it is extremely difficult to help people if they are unable to recognize their need for treatment or refuse to be treated.
In this debate, I have chosen to speak up. We must face this challenge head on and develop strategies to humanely deal with people who refuse treatment. The shame and stigma associated with mental illness and addiction is a contributing factor preventing some from seeking help. It is in this vein that I choose to share my experience.
My life’s story is scarred with deep and lasting impressions carved by depression, mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide. My family tree bears witness to the legacy left behind by these maladies of the human condition.
Raised by her grandparents, my mother barely remembered her alcoholic father who abandoned three young children. Her mother was institutionalized as a young woman with schizophrenia and would remain in and out of mental health facilities her entire life.
Alcoholism runs through my father’s family like a dark layer of sedimentary rock. Burrowed deep within the DNA, its grip ensnared my grandmother, father, siblings, and eldest son.
My first wife, the mother of my two oldest children, lost her battle with mental illness and addiction to prescription pain medication on a stark January morning as I lay asleep beside her. I became a widower and single father at the age of thirty-two. The wake left by her suicide impacts us to this day.
It is my eldest son I wish to focus on. I love him with all my heart. He was born in an Army hospital on Thanksgiving Day in 1983 with a condition requiring surgery when he was only two days old. I held him close the night before and wept; I was a very young father scared to death for this fragile new life. The magnitude of parental responsibility washed over me like a powerful wave. I promised myself I would unconditionally love and care for him the rest of my life.
My son is a veteran. He held up his hand and swore an oath to defend our country. He served over four years in the United States Navy, nearly the entire time at sea. He served a tour in the Persian Gulf on a floating bomb delivering fuel and munitions to the fleet as they flew sorties over Iraq. He served tours patrolling the high seas interdicting ships and seizing illegal drugs headed for our youth at home.
I am proud of my son’s service to our country. But, I am also grateful. Without his service, he would be unable to access the Veteran Administration’s (VA) healthcare system. Without the VA my son would be dead today. I am sure of that.
"You've done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination." - Ralph MarstonTweet It!
I am proud of my son for not giving up. He bears pain we cannot see. It dwells deep inside him, in the recesses of his brain. He feels self-hatred when he has hurt no one but himself. He feels guilt for things he has not done. He feels shame for being who he is. What he wants more than anything is to be normal. He drinks to quell this pain.
Living with addiction is sinister, making one do things counter to their character. People will lie, cheat, or steal to feed an addiction. Trust is broken many times over. Being the loved one of somebody caught up in addiction or untreated mental illness is not for the weak of heart. It is a constant battle. It is a war of attrition.
I’ve lost count of the number of times my son has been hospitalized or in treatment since he left the Navy in 2007. He’s been an inpatient multiple times at VA hospitals in Marion, IL; St. Louis, MO; Ft. Leavenworth, KS; and the Jesse Brown, and Hines VA Medical Centers in Chicago.
I have driven him, broken and sobbing, to a VA rehabilitation center five hours away for residential treatment. I have driven on a dark, stormy night, from my home in Indiana to his apartment in Chicago, thinking he is dead the entire way because I have not heard from him for twelve hours. I’ve broken into his apartment and dragged him out of bed to drive him to the emergency room for medical detox. I’ve cleaned up trash bags full of vomit from his apartment to prevent him from losing his place to live when he gets out of treatment. I’ve sat in the airport on business trips pleading with him to call an ambulance and get himself to the emergency room.
I have done all of these things and more. I would give an arm for him to stop drinking or sacrifice an eye for him to love himself. Any parent would do so. But it is not that simple. There are two things I will not do: 1. Give up and 2. Be ashamed. I am in this fight until we win it, and I will not be ashamed for helping someone I love beat addiction and find peace within himself.
I share my story in the hope it encourages others to keep up the fight. Do not be ashamed to seek help for yourself or loved ones suffering from depression, mental illness, or addiction. The more we speak up the quicker we end the stigma associated with mental illness, addiction, and suicide. Less shame means more people will seek the help they need.
Here are links to some helpful organizations:
Jim Miller’s superpower is keeping people safe. He’s been a protector his entire life, with nearly a decade of active duty service in the United States Army on three continents and over twenty years experience in the private sector. His tools of the trade are an understanding of the human condition forged through personal experience under trying circumstances, and the ability to triage a rapidly escalating situation while developing a plan to resolve it safely and swiftly. Jim enjoys writing and spending time with his five amazing children - Jim Jr., Kristy, Mitch, Fletch, and Paisley, and his beautiful wife, Heather. You can connect with him on LinkedIn profile or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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