The Wizard

As I have mentioned before, addicts/alcoholics, those of us who suffer from mental health issues are great at the “burn down, build back” cycle. This is what I have come to know as “Comfort in Chaos”. We are so good at managing this cycle, because it is what we have always known, chaos that is. And it is a direct result of unresolved traumas and lack of atonement with our pasts. Childhood traumas and really impactful negative experiences place us into nervous system and emotional dysregulation which can last a life time in some cases. As I have explained previously, most of my life was spent “on edge”; either experiencing trauma/traumatic stress or dealing with and living in its after effects. As a result, it became incredibly difficult to find and enjoy contentment and serenity. Boredom, peace, contentment, normalcy, all of these can feel really abnormal to a person who has experienced prolonged and complex traumas. I lacked answers for a long time. Maybe one day soon I would start asking the right questions.

Another way that trauma can leave a lasting mark is through the shame that it breeds. Shame and insecurity themselves can lead to serious self sabotage. Shame can come from a multitude of sources like dysfunctional family systems, rejection, abandonment, parental examples, bullying, and betrayal. I can go ahead and check all of those boxes. Shame then leads to enormous insecurities in one’s life as they grow older and those insecurities can have terrible consequences in relationships later. Not trusting others, paranoia, fear of abandonment, questioning of a significant other, and smothering, these are just a few examples of how we can self sabotage ourselves and our relationships as a result of traumas we experienced as children.

I have pretty much been a professional self saboteur for most of my adult life, but the interesting thing about it is that it is not intentional. I don’t even realize that I am doing it most of the time. Its instinctual, like breathing air. It’s almost like my brain is hard wired to subtly and slowly veer me off my path and redirect me back into self destructive ways. That may be a bit of hyperbole there, that last thought, but there certainly is something to that school of thought. It almost seems like the more turmoil, sadness, and chaos that can transpire in my life, the more I end up gravitating to it. Recently, I have begun a journey of striving for self awareness. But I had to get there first.

I bailed out of jail after “Blotto” unfolded. I was going to be staying with my parents for awhile. My dad and his new wife, my bio mother passed in 2014. This was going to be a difficult time, taking a separation from all that I knew. And this was when I really got back into therapy again. I was seeing a therapist weekly for about a year from the events of that fateful night. Every Monday morning I would spend chopping it up with my counselor about what was going on in my life. She was a highly touted and recommended therapist too, she was in high demand with a waiting list, but a friend of mine was able to get me in with her by asking for a favor. What a great opportunity here! If only I had possessed the capacity, or felt the need to get fully-from-the-gut honest with her. But I was still very much in delusion. I was too hyper focused on “saving face” and maintaining some kind of image and reputation, I had been reverted back into my trauma brain for quite some time, which kept me in the victim role mentality. And as the saying goes, we cannot save our faces and our asses at the same time. So I would spend a great deal of time with this counselor spinning wheels, and playing smoke and mirrors.

I am pretty sure she was able to read between many lines, because she is actually the first provider I have worked with, and there have been many, who has ever brought up trauma so emphatically. I could hear her words, and I could follow her lessons, but I suppose I just hadn’t had enough self inflicted pain to finally open my ears and heart enough to begin some honest soul searching and life audits. Again, I had reverted back to the victim mentality, so everything was everyone else’s fault. My life sucked, blah blah blah.

I continued to see this therapist pretty consistently for the course of about a year. And I did my best to moderate my drinking. I ended up staying with my folks for about three weeks, and then returned home. Prior to my return. and upon my initial homecoming it was all the same shit, bargaining, compromising, promises, plans, etc. All the shit that comes along with loving an alcoholic/mental health client. It’s always the same, with every family and with every client. “The dance” I call it, promises, bartering, manipulating, compromises. Anything we could do to both somehow get our ways on everything. But life did seem to turn around a bit, for a little while. And then the barrier was broken once again, in one of our little compromises and I drank once. And then twice. And then every weekend. And then the benders were up and roaring and once again.

I had to keep a low profile though, because I had some shit with courts going on so I did my best to manage. It didn’t go so well. Bender after bender. Two, three, four day runs. Vanishing on my family, being a complete and utter asshole. Jekyll and Hyde were back, but had never really left because at this point I was still very much untreated. I was just continuing with therapy at this point to make it look good and maintain some delusion of control over the situation. Again, the less control on the inside I feel, the more I try to control on the outside. And I was grasping at everything. I was still spiraling. My poor family. I couldn’t see it. With mental health and addiction issues, we witness them in first person, we hear the thoughts and the delusions in our own voice. So, even though the things I was feeling and experiencing were very much distorted and sick, I was experiencing them in real time, and in my own head. So the delusions, the fear, the paranoia, the insecurities, the ruminations, the panic. the dread, they all seemed very real. So I continued to drink and I continued to play wizard, trying to control everything because clearly everything that was going wrong was because everyone was out to get me, use me, fuck me over and take me out. My delusions and cognitive distortions and clinical impairment were so major that I literally felt like the world was so focused on taking me out, that I never wanted to leave the house. But it was my guilt, it was my shame. How could I go out there and face the world in this kind of shape? And then I would throw alcohol on it, and kaboom. What used to work to help keep things stuffed down and numb, was now causing all of my pains and hot buttons to bubble out. I was so full and saturated, that there was no where to put anything anymore. Just adding the liquid solution to my body caused it all to come floating to the surface. Nothing worked, no amount of avoidance was effective anymore. The more I tried to hide from it, the more visible I became. In a bad way. This was not the attention and visibility that I wanted.

Weeks went by with little encouragement. Sure, I would feel a bit better after my therapy sessions, but it was short lived and I was reverting right back to my twisted mind and perspectives very soon after. I was treading water in blue jeans and a heavy hoodie. I was becoming more and more weighed down. In spite of my best intentions, I was acting on my poisonous thinking. And that’s the cycle I had been stuck in for so long: “negative/intrusive thought > negative/ugly feeling > negative/destructive behavior”, which took me back to negative thoughts about myself, like “I am no good”. And I stayed stuck in this feedback loop constantly. So, “what’s the use” became my go to, and more drinking followed. Weekend after weekend, bender after bender.

The more I struggled, the more life seemed to throw at me. Like blood in Piranha infested waters. Custody battles are ugly enough, but when a person is mentally struggling and the other party knows it, often times they will do everything they can to kick you when you’re down. Inflation, work stresses, deadlines, court cases, marriage problems, everything just piled and piled, so my mental and emotional stress grew right along with it all. The pressure of it all was too much to bear. Plus, add to the equation that deep down inside I knew that I was a culprit here, and that brought about even more guilt, pressure, and shame. I was breaking again. Damage control, Herb, damage control.

But I was not going to be able to control the damage.

The more I stressed, the more I spiraled, the more my insecurities and fears grew to the point of manifesting right in front of my eyes. As if the very things I was most terrified of were happening in real time, and the more I drank and acted out on those delusions. Bender after bender. More fights, more gas lighting, more blame placing, more hostage taking, more scapegoating, more stress and fear. More drinking. everything was so out of control. So I just drank to escape it all. I just wanted to drink myself to death, I couldn’t handle what was going on in my life or in between my ears anymore. I didn’t know what was real or imagined anymore. Life was toxic at this point. I would tell my wife that I was going for a drive to clear my head often, and I would go on drives, but not to clear my head. I would get out onto highways and take off my seat belt and search for the courage to speed up at crazy speeds and slam into a giant oak tree, or an oncoming semi. But I just couldn’t do it. I loved my family too much. I was too strong for that. I was going to make it. I knew it was gonna suck for a little while longer, but I was gonna make it.

The waters would calm at home for a while, and then things would ramp up again. This continued for a little over a year, and I would find myself back in jail, again. It was time that I finally put my pride to the side, and ask for some serious help. This was clearly something much bigger than me, and the more I wrestled with it, the stronger it got. The more I tried to maintain control, the more out of control it spun. I had seen this battle as far as I was willing to see it. The more chaos that came, the more I got swallowed up into it. I had been running on my sickened mind for long enough, and had completely sabotaged my life as a result. It was time to ask for some much needed help.



Even though I had made the decision to burn the letters and not go through with it, I was still a wreck. I just couldn’t shake the rumination, fear, anxiety, depression, or alcohol. My home life was suffering. I am pretty sure that I had suffered a full on split quite some time ago and was really feeling the effects of it. I was once a very out going, very chipper, very optimistic and joyful person. Now I was an empty, emotionless, bitter critter. “Persistent inability to experience positive emotions, and inability to experience happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings.” “Intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, anxiety, transient stress related paranoid ideation, and severe dissociative symptoms.” I had a meltdown and ended up going to see a doctor about it. I couldn’t take it anymore. No matter what I seemed to do, no matter what I tried, I simply could not get out of this head space. I was suspicious of everyone, paranoid as shit, anxious all the time, and depressed. It was like I had just awaken one day in the past in some kind of negative alternate universe. I had to go to the emergency room and talk to a mental health doctor.

I filled out their survey in the lobby, and waited until they called me back. The second the lady walked in the verbal flood gates opened. I spewed everything that I was experiencing to this lady. I didn’t share with her my “secret places” from my traumas, because I had not yet realized the extent of what was going on. I just thought I was battling depression or something. But I explained to her how I was experiencing anxiety and paranoia all the time, I was depressed, and so on. I think I spent a grand total of about 15 minutes in this lady’s office and she wrote me a prescription for Zoloft. Sertaline is the actual name of the chemical and it belongs to the class of SSRI’s. I had reached a point where I was now willing to take medication again to try and get my mind under control. I was so sick of the way my fucked up mind was running everything I said and did. I was sick of ruining my marriage and home. I had to try something different. I waited until the prescription was filled at the pharmacy, and took the first dose in my vehicle before heading home.

That first dose of that shit hit me like I was about to start rolling on MDMA! It was weird as shit, but it gave me such a “geek”, like I was “coming up” on some kind of speed. After the first few days, I got a little more used to it, although it did make me vomit a few times. But I was rather committed to seeing how this medicine would help, if it would. I think I stayed on the Zoloft for several months, and I guess it helped a little, although I do remember it making me manic on more than one occasion. For anyone who has experienced mania, you know, it is fucking weird. It’s almost enjoyable, but at the same time it is very out of control; like watching yourself on meth doing everything throughout the day. Very out of body experience. So I continued with the medicine, and continued on with my life. Some days were good, some days were not so good. I suppose the zoloft helped me maintain a little bit better, but overall, I didn’t really feel any better, I just wasn’t acting out on my feelings as much. So, for some reason or another, I just decided to stop taking the medicine all together. I mean, I hadn’t really noticed any major changes, so clearly it wasn’t the medicine that I needed to be on. Shouldn’t be a big deal at all.

The first couple days off of the medicine, I didn’t feel or think any different. I suppose it had built up in my system enough that it kept working a bit, even after cessation. So, it was back to the drawing board I suppose, back to figuring out what the hell I was gonna do and how the hell I was gonna manage and over come this. I guess, one thing the medicine did help me with, is that I hadn’t thought about self harm, or really had all of that rumination and paranoia for a while. Maybe I should have stayed on it? Nah, I don’t think that was the medicine, I think I have just been doing better. That’s it! I got this.

I did not have this.

Right around I would say day seven or eight of not taking the medicine, we were doing life. It was a rather typical day all things considered. Though, typical when you’re me in the shape I had been in can take on many different forms. It was a bright, sunny and warm Friday afternoon from what I can recall. I had recently been on a margarita kick and had the whole set up. Shakers, limes, syrups, everything. When time would allow I would float around in the pool and drink margaritas in my sombrero. My wife will tell you, I might be one of the most obsessive people to ever walk the planet. When I get into something, I really get into it. The margaritas were one case of this, and my wife was no longer amused. Now, I am going to do my best to put this together here, because I don’t really remember, all I know is that it was definitely not good.

I guess it was around 5:00 p.m maybe? I know that I began feeling really manic, like I had when I was taking the medicine, only way more intense. I hadn’t had anything to drink that day, yet, as it was still rather early in the evening for a Friday. The mania slowly started to settle in on me, and I remember feeling all hyped up and excited. And then I don’t really remember anything else. Apparently, from here I drove to the liquor store, purchased a bottle of Tequila for my recent margarita kick, drove home and proceeded to make some Lime Margaritas. I do some what recall, in flashes, pieces of the night. But what is interesting here, is that I began blacking out before I even took a single sip of alcohol. And then I started drinking, and it go much much worse apparently.

I did my best to process this night with my therapist after it occurred, and from what I gathered of the session I had had a full blown out of body disassociation. What’s eerily interesting about this, is I can’t really remember “visually” what happened, and I can’t really remember what I was thinking either. But somehow I can remember what I was feeling throughout the night which was extreme panic and fear, intense paranoia and fright, anger, and the overall feeling that I might actually explode. It was as if I was “re-feeling” every single horror of my life all over again and all at once. It was also as if I was feeling and experiencing all of my worst possible fears all at once. I was having the first of several serious breakdowns to come.

I had just completely blacked out the course of about 12 hours. Zero recollection. I didn’t even remember going to the liquor store, and I did that about an hour before I even consumed any alcohol. I woke up in jail. Waking up in a jail cell, was not something I ever thought I would do again. I mean, I was a changed man, wasn’t I? What the fuck was happening? How in the world had I fallen to such a place again? All of this, going back to the day we moved in to our dream home felt like some kind of passing dream. A blur. Had I been checked out, and only falling deeper and deeper into some kind of abyss the entire time?

When I woke up in that jail cell I couldn’t feel anything. I was completely numb emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. What in the fuck had just happened? If I had known, that this was what awaited me if I stuck with my decision not to kill myself, maybe I would have made a different decision. My fucking life was over. What was gonna happen now? I never meant for anything like this to transpire. Why is life like this?

All I had ever known was suffering, so all I knew how to do was run from the suffering, and all the running away from it did, was cause more suffering. I was fucked. I simply could not fathom how I had lost my mind so badly. And what made matters worse, was that I could tell I was still in the midst of the split and break down. It was going to take a while to crawl out of this abyss. More residual effects of trauma.

Thank God that no body was seriously hurt.

I just wanted to die. The thought had just come back into my mind. Maybe it was time to rethink that whole suicide thing.


noun: ism; plural noun: isms

A distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.” He loathed isms and any form of dogma”

Forming nouns denoting a pathological condition.


Ism. I. Self. Me.

It was 100% consequence free and seemed to be okay, pouring myself up that first IPA. I mean, I had been clean and chemical free for many years. I had never had any kind of real issues with alcohol, other than what I had outlined before in Junkbox Diaries; that it had always led me to other drugs. For some reason, here, now in that moment I knew it wasn’t going to lead to other stuff this time. In fact, then and now, you couldn’t pay me to put crack or heroin into my body. It had been completely taken off the table. Plus, it was strange, I would do these seminars and conferences with Social Workers, Therapists, Addiction Counselors, etc. and afterwards a vast majority would go out for drinks afterwards. So certainly, as long as I could limit it to just beer, and not allow it to lead elsewhere I would be fine. And I was. My family, friends, colleagues, many if not all of them enjoyed cocktails on the back deck, or drinks on the golf course, and all were well to do, professional family oriented types. This was fine. I mean, after all, we are the company we keep right? So a few beers with a buddy from church on the golf course, or with my family, or with my wife on the back deck was no big deal. And it wasn’t.

Time marched on. The business was growing, the family life was good. Birthdays, holidays, milestones, credit scores grew, bank account was healthy, relationships were solid. We were on our way to living the American Dream. The pursuit of happiness.

In spite of all of this, the pressure didn’t come off. The stress didn’t leave. The fear and rumination remained. And I had recently reintroduced a liquid solution into my body, which many of you know- Alcohol raises a person’s baseline anxiety. So the after effects of having some beers were horrible and lasting. My fears, worry, and stress were pretty much now full blown anxiety. As a person with addiction issues in the past, and what I now know to be diagnosed mental health issues of PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder as a result of the PTSD, this was not good. The slow burn had begun.

Initially, it was still all good, but the formula was there: Previous mental health and addiction issues, high stress professional life & pressure to perform, declining mental wellness, and increasing social acceptance & notoriety and ego + drinking. This was a very dangerous and potentially volatile formula compounding inside my mind and body. Even though I wasn’t drinking to excess or too frequently, yet, it had “opened the door” to once again using a chemical to cope. “To take the edge off”, and that’s one of the many things at the core of addiction. Escape. But nothing was or seemed problematic, so it was still all good.

We had both made a commitment to one another that we were going to be working towards buying our first house. We were both so excited and ready for the next step and so were the kids! This was a big deal! We were living the dream. We got married in October and my family from Georgia all came up to attend. My big brother Josh was my best man of course and it was the happiest day of my life up until that point. Judge Mary Harper, the same judge who had sentenced me to prison many years ago and made sure to include “Mr. Stepherson, if you are ever in front of me again, I am going to max you out.” when she did so married Tiffany and I. How funny, she wasn’t wrong, the judge, because the next time I was in front of her, she was “sentencing” me to a wonderful life through sickness and health with my best friend, my now wife Tiffany. My how things can change. I am a very lucky man, and felt so very much that way on that day in October. We had so many of our loved ones all together, celebrating our love with us. The sky was the most brilliant of purples and oranges over looking Lake Louise. We had a band and amazing food, a beautiful wedding cake and we were the center of the world for one day.

From there, we just continued on with our goals. We sacrificed in many great ways, pinching pennies and saving money. We prioritized working on our credit scores and monitoring our bank ledgers. We were focused. I was incredibly stressed out through the whole process. I have been incredibly stressed out for about 37 years, looking back. Pretty much the entirety of my life has been spent “On Edge”, according to my therapists. Such is life experiencing trauma and living with its aftermath I am told. But at the time of all of this, I just thought it to be a normal part of life. So onward we climbed. And I had already “broken the ice”, or “broken the barrier” so to speak with drinking beer; IPAs specifically, and it hadn’t caused any problems and was widely accepted by those around me, so it wasn’t made to be any kind of deal. Plus, I was this Author, Intervention Company Owner, Policy Writer, and expert on the subject matter; so I gotta guess that everyone around me assumed that I knew what I was doing and what was good for me. Every time I cracked one, or poured one up and “got away with it”, it inflated my ego, and reinforced my behaviors. As my dad once put it, “They (the world, cops, society, my family, whoever your ‘they’ is) can afford for you to get away with it 1,000 times, but we cannot afford to get caught or fuck it up once. And from a spiritual aspect of things, the devil, the negative forces of the universe, they want you to get away with it many times at first, that’s how we take their bate. We get comfortable in the getting away with it, and then they “set the hook”, if that’s what you believe. But anyways, my feedback loop was becoming more and more polluted and corrupted. But we were doing so well socially and professionally so no one batted an eye. Social acceptability does not equal recovery, and neither does professional outward success. ISM, Its Still Me. I am still what I was before all of this. That hadn’t changed. Time marched on.

But one thing that I can see now, as I look back on the way things all progressed is that from the time I began to enjoy my first adult beverages again two things happened: 1- I reopened those pathways in my brain and mind that are wired toward coping with a chemical. And 2- I was immediately convicted. I was immediately filled with shame, although quietly at first it was as if “Someone” inside of me (my conscience) was telling me, “You know you can’t go around recovery anymore, you fraudulent piece of shit.” And so I didn’t. How could I? And why should I? Everything in my life is going so exceptionally well, my life wasn’t unmanageable, and I wasn’t powerless over anything. If anything, I was more in control of my own life than I had ever been. And just like that, in those exact types of thoughts, I had completely disqualified and compared myself out of the recovery community. My oh my the power of our thoughts. And in that moment, in those trains of thought, I had begun separating myself from my support systems. And now, I had to go back into the isolation and secrecy of my new hobby, drinking.

But everything was still all good. I had no reason to worry. It’s not like shit was blowing up around me. My ego was alive an well. I had this shit totally under control. I was the master of my own destiny. We were about to buy a house, we had just gotten married, life was good, the kids were good, and we were kicking ass. But as my shame grew, as my isolation from my people grew, as a result of trying to stay low key about my lifestyle, my self esteem and self worth shrank and shrank. And with low self esteem and low self worth come low standards of living. This was about to be really bad, and I had no fucking idea. It wouldn’t be too terribly long and I would be writing suicide letters at the kitchen table and in the basement of our dream home. The very one we had worked so very hard to achieve. I had begun the process of losing my mind. And I had begun the process of a full blown alcoholic relapse, mental breakdown and total bottom. And with alcohol, it is such a slow and methodical burn. I had no fucking idea what was happening. I had completely separated myself from the world that I needed to be in, by drinking and with the shame and guilt that followed it. But my Ego, Pride, and status wouldn’t allow me to look at it for what it was. I was so self absorbed and self centered. It was so easy to trick myself, compartmentalize, and escape. But what I have learned recently, was that I wasn’t trying to escape my current life. I was still trying to escape my previous life, my trauma. Those unhealed parts of me from decades prior. They still lived in me. They don’t just go away because I worked some steps, wrote a book, and found God. We can’t shake our shadows, and we cannot change what has not been confronted. I was still very much at war with myself, it just looked different this go round. The more I continued to try and keep up with this kind of double standard in my life, the harder it became to hold it all together mentally. It wasn’t long until It was no longer a double standard, but a double life. A split was occurring in my life, and, in my mind. Each side of the split was battling for control of the show, vying for the stage and ability to call the shots. Shit was about to get real.

Inside all of us exist two wolves. Which one lives? The one you feed the most….

Living the dream. With regularly occurring thoughts of suicide.


I. Separate. Myself.