Arrested Development

According to Psychology TodayCollins English Dictionary and Emotional Intelligence Training, the term arrested development refers to the stoppage of physical development, emotional development or mental development before reaching adulthood. This abnormal condition results with someone being stuck in a certain emotional or mental level of development, and can be the reason why some adults act like children emotionally or mentally. In the field of medicine, this is considered a developmental disorder that may result in a lack of intelligence or decreased mental status. This plateau of development can be the result of trauma or neglect and can be a form of mental disorder consisting of severe mental impairment, usually caused by an abnormal state in  adolescence. When people are subjected to trauma as kids or young adults, this can cause the abnormalcy and onset of arrested development in their psychological development, causing delays among peers and sometimes an infantile fixation. Symptoms may include regression, being stuck at a certain developmental stage, and more.

There is a saying in the rehab profession that clients stop their psychosocial development when they become addicted to alcohol or other drugs. There is definitely some truth to the saying. Think about it. Once addiction captures your brain your focus of attention shifts from learning about yourself, others, and the world to scoring, using, and recovering from the use of substances. You are so engaged in repetitive behaviors related to drugs that you have little motivation or opportunity to take on and try out new behaviors in the way that most adolescents do. Instead of investing your energy into growing the skill set you need to succeed in school, dating, and career development you remain stuck in the simple pattern of obtain, consume, obtain, and consume some more drugs. (Harvey Hyman, LPCC Sacramento, California)

So yeah, that just about sums it up. It just about sums me up. I know that I have fucked up. I know that I have failed over and over again throughout my life. I am not all that convinced that I wont ever fuck up again, but I am certain that I will never give up. I am certain that I will never stop my journey of healing, self discovery, and learning.

I know that it might be easy to judge addicts/alcoholics and those of us with mental health issues. I know how easy it can be to judge damn near anyone who is different from us, especially when it takes the focus off of ourselves. Empathy and understanding are incredibly special values to behold, and they are very difficult to keep in practice in this world today as life happens to all of us and can leave us cold and calloused. Our societies today have a sympathy and empathy deficit, this much I know. Mercy for me and justice for you has been a repetitive theme among many a community for far too long.

The reason why I am writing this entry today is to try and illustrate something that I have been thinking about today.

First of all, I want you to think about your life. I am sure for the most part it was rather normal. You probably and hopefully didn’t suffer too many serious traumas in your life, especially you “normies” out there. I would assume that your childhood was for the most part healthy, no significant trauma, you went to school, did your best, felt nurtured and loved, were provided for, did the best you could in school, learned life lessons from rather well adjusted adults, and went on to college or trade schools and on to adulthood. You had little to no disruption in your environment or in your mental status. As a result of this, you cope well, you handle adversity, you have solid verbal, processing, communication, and relational skills etc.

Now, lets say that you were born with chemicals in your system, which automatically sets you back developmentally. From here, your child hood was a series of trauma and neglect. You had zero healthy and well rounded adults around you to care for you, guide you, nurture you, and help you develop emotionally or mentally. As a result of this neglect and trauma, your brain suffered a series of changes on a very deep level as you learned on your own make shift and unhealthy coping strategies. Things like disassociation, fawning, people pleasing, etc. As a result of things that you endured at zero fault of your own, your body adapted to the negative stimuli it was being fed on a regular basis leaving you in a state of emotional and nervous system dysregulation. Each and every trauma you suffered, made unnoticed changes to your brains chemistry, and arrested development began taking hold. Instead of learning about relationships, being demonstrated trust, learning how to handle and cope with life, communication skills, homework, friendship, patience, understanding, etc. Your mind was reacting to what was going on around it and you were learning how to survive. You lived 100% on edge all the time. Surviving trauma is kind of like surviving a hostage camp I can imagine, or surviving the battle grounds of a major war. It changes you. And lets say, when all of the chaos finally settled down, you were 18 years old and you had zero direction in life and no one to turn to so you started using drugs. As a result of the drug use, more arrested development occurred, further and further blunting the growth of your already shriveled and diminished brain. And you do not end up getting clean until you are around thirty years old.

I was once told by a highly touted therapist here in my part of the world that “The age we start using drugs at, is the age we technically are when we get clean.” I can imagine that this is doubly true if it was extensive and complex trauma that led us to using chemicals to begin with. The person in our examples here, could essentially have the emotional maturity and psychological development that would parallel most 12 year old kids, at 30.

And so what happens when we finally end up getting clean, is now our brains are fully reliant upon adolescent thinking at such an advanced age. This is not going to work out well for us, as we still see the world through the very lens that led us to using to begin with. I suppose it would be as though all of our peers took a trip in a time machine, leaving us behind and we emerge years later to meet them as our 18 year old traumatized selves. We would have a lot of catching up to do, not only professionally and socially, but mentally and emotionally. We would be experiencing our “Mental Growth Spurts” at a time in our lives when most our age are planning for retirement. So then we are double tasked with not only trying to play catch up, but stay sober, develop, learn, and grow; all the while trying to navigate life with a very poorly developed mind. This is the battle for those of us with PTSD, and substance use disorders. It is not an excuse, but I believe does provide some valid reasons as to why we shouldn’t be judging someone who struggles with addiction.

I mean think about it, healthy and well rounded, well adjusted, and well nurtured humans do not typically go on to use needles, or drink themselves to death. Something happened in their lives that was so horrible, that turning to such a dangerous life style actually seemed like a way out. experiencing life this way is purely tragic. I know from experience. So think about this the next time you interact with someone who is new to recovery, starting over, or who battles mental health issues. This person was once a small child, and someone left them to fend for themselves, neglected them so badly, or hurt them so deeply, that it actually altered the trajectory of their entire life. The addicts that I know, those of us who suffer from mental health issues are typically the most kind hearted, loving and peace loving people I have ever know, but they have just never been given the time or the patience to be shown what love, trust, friendship, loyalty, follow through, kindness, truth, honor, or faithfulness are all about. Many of us had our innocence taken away from us at a very early age, and literally had no self worth, identity, self respect, or self esteem when life showed up for us. So we did what we had learned to do the whole time, we numbed, we escaped, we disassociated.

If you know and/or love someone who struggles with mental health and addiction issues, do me and them a favor and give them a call. Let them know that you love them and that you know how hard this thing called life can be sometimes, and that you are always there as a healthy outlet for them. Let them know that they matter and that you see them, let them know that you understand how hard they are fighting and that you believe in them. I promise you it will mean more to them than I can say. It may even save someone’s life.

One of the most powerful things we can ever experience, is life through the eyes of another.


War Time

Life can be and often times is an ongoing battle, especially for those of us with mental health issues. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, BPD, Addiction, etc. make going through our days all the more difficult and turbulent at times. When I first got clean and was living at the halfway house I got a tattoo on my chest. A full “Chest Plate” image of an Eagle that is holding the quiver of arrows in one claw, and the olive branches in the other. The image is strikingly similar to the Eagle on the back of a one dollar bill. It is almost identical. The difference between the two however, is that on the Dollar, the Eagle’s head faces the Olive Branches. The Eagle on my chest, his head faces the arrows. An Eagle who’s head faces the olive branches is known as a “Peace Time Eagle” which symbolizes a time of great harmony, joy, and peace. Mine is known as a “War Time Eagle”, which symbolizes exactly what you may be thinking, a time for war. War with and within myself, war with the world, and war with my past and future. I knew it was going to be a very long and painful pilgrimage ahead. I didn’t know what might happen or where it would take me, but I was here for it and I was ready to start fighting.

Before soldiers head for battle, they prepare and strategize. The ways of preparations have evolved throughout history, but typically those who emerge victorious are the ones who had best planned and showed up most equipped. This is not always the case, but usually the more advanced a side is, the better the outcome is for them. Typically, from the little I know about actual war, the generals and leaders devise their plans of attack and defense, and then pass those plans down to the soldiers to execute. The soldiers, I imagine prepare in much different ways; prayer, hyping themselves up, making sure their weapons are functioning properly, and of course suiting up into their outfits of protection.

These pieces of protection that are described in the bible, “The Armor of God” are as follows: loins girt with truth (belt of truth), breastplate of righteousness, shoes with the preparation of the gospel of peace (peace), shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit/word of God. Now, you may not be a person of Christian Faith or have never read the Bible and that’s okay. I really like the description here, and it is one that is very widely known. So humor me even if it doesn’t particularly speak to your faith.

So what do we have in all of this War Ready Ensemble? A belt, probably not a leather belt from Walmart with holes in it to help hold our pants up. More than likely a heavy steel belt, very wide in breadth to protect our midsection and lower torso. Just above this belt begins the Breast plate, a large and heavy fortified shell of sorts which protects us from swords and arrows that could be hurled at us. Shoes, more than likely heavy boots outfitted with steel to protect our base. A very sturdy shield, emblazoned with the insignia of whom we are fighting for. A very sturdy metal helmet for obvious reasons. And a massive sword, or in modern day instances, a very high powered high capacity rifle. Hopefully you can get the imagery. I can see it now, and when I think of armor I think of the British Soldiers in the movie Braveheart, with the chain mail, and the heavy metal swords.

But, as I am thinking about it now, as the armor is described in the Bible; what is significant about each and every piece? What do they all have in common? What is missing? Notice that “The Armor of God” does not include or describe any pieces of protection for our backs, the backs of our legs, the backs of our necks, or funnily enough, our asses, or rear ends. What do all of the pieces have in common? They are all front facing pieces. They all fit and protect the front facing portions of the Soldiers. I wonder why that is? Well, I believe it is because we cannot win a battle that we are running from. If we are getting hit in the back, then we are not facing the “enemies”. In order for the armor the serve its purpose, we must go in face first. We must march directly into our adversaries, with courage and bravery, and trust that the armor is going to do its job.

Now I know that this is a bit metaphorical here, especially as it pertains to mental health. I can see the connection though. I have felt the effects of both running from my issues, and confronting them head on. They are stark in contrast to one another, and have dramatically different results.

For years I thought that me getting better was just about not drinking or using, and for a time it was. This was also an excuse of sorts, for me not to boldly and fearlessly confront the actual reasons that brought me to using to begin with. “Hey, I’m clean/sober so I must be doing something right”. And I was. But that was just the very beginning for me, and many of us out there. It was also a defense piece for me. It was a piece of my “armor” so to speak. It was my shield of arrogance. I held it with me everywhere I went. Any time I felt something threatening an old vulnerability of mine, I would hoist that shield and display my own insignia: “clean and sober”. Or I would hide behind humor, and deflect it away. But, as with all armor, no matter how modern it is, there are always weak points.

It took me really spiraling out, once I finally had something and someone to lose, to finally be ready to take a step back and objectively look at myself and say “I am missing something here.” And that, I believe is one of the most fascinating things about trauma, it hides within us. It literally hides. We don’t always think about it, in fact I hardly ever did. It is so subtle too, often times we don’t even realize that we are having a trauma response, or acting out on our mental health issues until after the fact. You see, I honestly thought that I was a changed man when I began spiraling out. And I was. But I still had so much to explore and confront in order to achieve the level of significant healing that I was really striving for. And unfortunately, with unhealed parts of us, we don’t even realize that they are there until they “flare up”, or “rear their ugly heads”, with often dramatic consequences and leave us again auditing what the hell just happened. This is what they mean when they say, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” I believe this very much.

We simply do not and can not know or understand how much an event, a season, a loss, an addiction, etc has truly effected us if we do not examine it. I believe that really truly processing things beginning at an early age is critical, before harmful events and seasons become traumas. If this is not possible, as is the case with far too many in this world due to lack of access to adequate mental health services, then as soon as we are able, we must initiate the process of processing. Even if we believe that we are well adjusted, well rounded, mature and mentally healthy adults we should attend some kinds of therapy. I always say that everyone on this planet would benefit from going to rehab at least once, even if they have never done a drug in their life.

You see, this is important because we may not know how something has and is actually effecting us now. Remember, we are used to our own “normals”, and what we interpret as normal may be anything but. And it is in those subtle unexposed isms inside of us that we could be living, acting, thinking, and believing in maladaptive and corrupt ways. I suppose, in keeping up with the Armor/battle metaphor this would be the binoculars of new perspective. Or the spyglass of fresh vantage points. We cannot simply rely on our own first person perspective and our own thinking to solve our own problems and survive our own troubles. It is critical that at some point in our lives, we all find a therapist, pastor, mentor, counselor, or just someone who we truly trust, and tell them the whole story. It is imperative that we learn from ourselves and from our own life stories and actions. This is how we can find self awareness, and grow past the hidden things that are holding us back and causing us to act against our character.

You see, I didn’t even know that the vulnerabilities, the wounds, the traumas existed inside of me the way that they did; until I again and again acted out on them, messed my life up and was essentially forced to take a good long honest look at my life in total. And I didn’t know about them, because I am me and they live inside of me. I had always been using my own thinking, beliefs, and perspective to interpret the very life that gave me those things. That doesn’t work. We must be willing and able to confront those messy parts of ourselves and learn how they went into creating who we are today.

We don’t have to, and shouldn’t be made to feel weak or ashamed for embarking on such a journey of self discovery and healing. For getting vulnerable and open about my most sensitive parts of my life story was the most courageous I have ever felt in my entire life. It provided me with new armor, quite possibly the most valuable piece of them all, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, insight, and self awareness. It helped me identify the places that I had been “weak” in the past, or “more vulnerable to attack” if you will. A fool knows how strong he is, and a genius knows how weak he is, and where he is weak. We gotta do it. We gotta armor up, and walk into the battle with ourselves and with our own stories. That is how we learn the most valuable knowledge we will ever hold, and that is the knowledge of ourselves.

We cannot change what we refuse to confront. What we resist, persists. All of the armor listed above makes no mention of protecting us from behind so if we refuse to walk boldly into it, and we choose to run away, we die.

The armor we slip on as we prepare for battle is all designed so that we can face the enemy, not run away. Please be bold enough and brave enough to face those dark and scary parts of yourself and your story. Your life may depend on it.

As the old saying goes, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”


Fraud, phony, two face, deceiver, lip-server, fake, liar. Go ahead and insert whatever other synonym you wish here. I have heard them all.

You see, I have never, not once, not ever, said, proclaimed, touted, announced, or declared how perfect I am. I have never once stood out on “the stump” and talked myself up like I was some kind of answer, like I had it all together, or that I was somehow “cured” or some kind of exception to a rule. 

I struggle. I fail. I fall. I own it. You see, from the very beginning, when I started trying to piece some kind of life together for myself, I had 30 years of intense wreckage and trauma to clean up. And I was all alone. I had no one to carry me, I had no one to guide me, I had no one to enable me or make this any easier. I knew that there would be struggles, and set backs of course. And I vowed to be 100% authentic through it all. I believe that I still am.

All I did was write some books, stop shooting heroin, turn my life around, and found a company whose entire purpose is helping people who struggle. I married my best friend, I have raised her/our children and my own son to the best of my human ability. I have done my absolute best to give back to this community in every way possible. We donate to charities, we volunteer, and for the most part we keep to ourselves. I have spent the last almost 8 full years, day in and day out pouring every single shred of everything that I had into my family, career and company, our community, helping others, and doing the absolute best that I can to make a life for myself.

Yes, I began to unravel. Yes, I fell and struggled. Yes, I am humiliated and embarrassed. But I own it. I am human. Does this mean that I am a hypocrite? A fraud? I will leave that up to the court of public opinion on this one. But I believe in my heart the answer is no. 

Love and tolerance is my code, and always will be. I have been somehow placed in the light of notoriety, because I wrote a book. Big deal. I am still a human being, and I will succeed with humility, and I will fail with grace. But I will never cease striving to be the best possible version of myself and I will never cease my authenticity.

Believe it or not, I have always tried to live my life with the utmost integrity, honor, and valor.

The point that I am trying to carve out here, is that all I have ever tried to do while on this planet is find myself, improve myself, love everyone equally, and leave this world better than I found it. Was it, by definition hypocritical of me, to go on helping people in my work, while struggling mentally, and struggling with drink myself? Yes. Does that make ME a hypocrite? NO. It makes me human. In fact, I read somewhere that when someone helps you, and they struggle themselves, that’s not help, that’s love. And I will second that. You see, even though, I was struggling myself, for a time there, I couldn’t turn my back to anyone who was suffering. I simply do not have the heart to do such a thing. I poured every single piece of everything that I am into this new life of mine, and my failure lied in ceasing self care. That’s when I lost myself. And that is what led me to the bottoming out that I endured. I own that. That was my mistake. But it is not one that I will repeat, because I make new mistakes now a days. Life is a non stop process of learning, growth, and development. And, given where I come from, and what I have endured, I am pretty damn proud of the man I am today. 

So as I go from here, on to indeed make new mistakes I am sure; there is much to atone. There is much to clean up. But it is my mess, and I will clean it up, and I will bounce back higher than I ever had before. I know who I am, and I know Who’s I am. And I know that this walk of mine, this appointment of mine, will not be easy and I may struggle again. But when God calls us to our missions, He has already factored in our foolishness. He does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

I will always be here to help anyone in any way I can.

I have a family, I have a beautiful and wonderful wife, I have a loving and amazing home, I have an incredible life that I thank God for every day, And I have a few actual friends. I have a company that is dedicated to helping other human beings end their sufferings and turn their lives around, this very company was instrumental in helping me as well. And I have so very much to be grateful for. I will make mistakes in the future, and I am not sure what exactly lies ahead, but I am walking into it with an open heart of acceptance, and with renewed curiosity and vigor. To all of those who have been supportive, encouraging, and loving, I see you too. And I am incredibly grateful for your love and prayers.

Very sincerely yours,

The Hypocrite

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strongman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;

who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error andshortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds;

who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Teddy Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena 

Unconditional Love

Born into chaos, 

Trauma from the start. 

Abused and abandoned, 

Fear weighed down his tiny heart. 

Always felt alone, 

Searching for connection. 

Wanting only to fit in, 

But never having a best friend. 

Unseen and unheard, 

He felt like a ghost. 

No one to step up, 

When he needed them the most. 

From a lost little boy, 

To a trauma laden teen. 

He began to find relief, 

In a bottle, in some weed. 

As he grew up, 

He searched for a purpose. 

Anything with a meaning, 

Something to make him feel worth it. 

At home he found no hope, 

Drug addicted parents set the precedent. 

Mom would run, dad would chase 

He became a burden and irrelevant. 

2 / 4

A massive void in his world, 

Caused by the lack of safety and love. 

But then he found relief, 

In the harder type of drugs. 

A headfirst dive into oblivion, 

Became a cherished reprieve. 

But this gift he thought amazing, 

Turned and beat him to his knees. 

Fast forward to adulthood, 

Never experiencing real love 

No hope or ambition, 

No real faith in God above. 

Programmed by his past, 

But he wanted to be better. 

Still comfortable in that chaos 

Emotions bursting from the pressure. 

Stress and fear held him down, 

“Playing the cards life handed me.” 

Lashing out and causing pain, 

To myself and my family. 

Wanting to be sober, 

To find a better path, 

But unable to shake free, 

Of the bondage of his past. 

3 / 4

Began to find some hope, 

Put together some good things. 

Took the steps needed to grow, 

Things slowly began to change. 

Made some good decisions, 

Life began to improve. 

Found some joy in this life, 

But still had more pain to pursue. 

Fell off one more time, 

This one a different type of bottom. 

Kept the outside things together, 

But inside his spirit rotted. 

Fast forward to today, 

I found another chance. 

And I’m so grateful for the gift, 

And have taken a new stance. 

I have unconditional love, 

From my wife and my kids. 

You’ll give me reason to fight, 

You’ll give me a reason to live. 

So grateful for you my sweet girl, 

For not giving up on me. 

I will give this chance my all, 

To become the man you need. 

4 / 4

I have learned a lot about myself, 

And I am healing from my trauma. 

I will learn to live without the chaos, 

Give up the fight and constant drama. 

I love my life today, 

And I am happy for this chance. 

I will work hard to back these words with action, 

To become my best version of a man. 

The future looks so bright, 

And my past no longer pulls me down 

I thank God for this gift 

For this blessing that I’ve found 

I am a work in progress, 

It won’t happen overnight. 

But I will strive daily for atonement, 

For our family I will fight. 

Staying sober and committed, 

To this new path of mine. 

If I do this every day, 

I know that I’ll be fine. 

Dear Stevie,

I just want you to know that I am okay. I know you’re scared right now, and you feel invisible and unheard, but I see you. And I hear you, right here and right now. It may seem like no one cares, but I do. I just want you to know that even though you’re surrounded by sick people and dysfunction, you make it out!

Oh, how lonely, scared, lost, and exhausted you will be at times, but do not give up! You and I know the heart you have, and one day not far off you will find forgiveness. Sure, its gonna be awful at times, and you’re gonna suffer and have to unlearn so much, but you are going to learn so very much too!

I know it’s not fair, Stevie. You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve all the things that happened to you. I wish I could say it is going to get easier right away, but its not. In fact, it is going to be tough for a long time. But I promise you, it will all work out. It is going to actually get better than you can even imagine right now. Your suffering will not be in vain. You know that you are a good person, and a champion deep down inside. Oh, the battles that you are going to fight, and win!

If people could even understand the things that you will face, the struggles that you’ll endure, and the triumphs you will find. I am so very proud of you. You are a great human being. Good people and good love are in store for you one day. God has his hands on you, and will not leave your side. Some days it will feel like you are all alone, and other days it will feel as if you simply do not have the strength to endure. But you will persevere. You will rise, and fall, and rise, and fall again. It is not some simple task to overcome what is ahead for you. But you will. And with that heart of yours, with that spirit of understanding and empathy, you will go on to help so many people just by being your authentic self. You are perfect just the way you are, and one day not too far off you will find peace, forgiveness, and atonement. I wish that I could tell you not to do something, or to change something in your life to alter your life’s trajectory, but I can’t. For without everything happening just the way it did, I wouldn’t be here to write you this letter. And it all makes for one helluva story to tell. So buckle up, keep your faith and hope alive. I’ll be right here waiting.

Stay true to yourself kid,



I collected myself after my little bonfire ceremony, and headed back to my room for some coffee. I immediately hit my knees in my room and leaned against my bed to pray. I was not asking for a single thing. In spite of everything that had happened in my life, especially recently, I was grateful. I was making sure that God knew that. Maybe I am/was sicker than most, maybe its normal, maybe it isn’t, but in spite of everything that had transpired in my life over the last couple years- in this moment I was grateful. I knew that I was safe, and was in the midst of healing. I could feel it. And no matter what it took to get here, no matter how ugly the past was, it brought me to this exact moment. Kneeling against my bed in a rehab center thanking my creator. I knew that my journey was again just beginning, but I also knew that now, I would have a shot. I was still in the game. I didn’t deserve to be. Truth be told, looking back on all of my life, its miraculous that I am still alive quite frankly. And that meant I had a chance. This would be chance # 48,397 or some shit. God has been gracious to me. This much I know.

I finished up my prayer, got myself together, poured a cup of coffee and headed on over to the main house of the center. As I was making my way in through the screened in porch, I passed a friend of mine that I had made there. We were both finishing up a smoke, and I decided to share with him my little ceremony at the fire bit, the burning of my fears. He took a drag off of his cigarette, blew it out, and then looked at me quizzically, “what do you have to be afraid of, Herb?” I then gave him a short list, but a list of some of the more significant fears that I had. “Do you have any evidence of this?” Was his only response. And in that moment, I was provided such tremendous confirmation that I had indeed let those fears go. His response, although simple and direct, really worked its way into my mind and stuck. And the timing was perfect because I had just “cleared so much space” in my mind and heart, that now my friend’s simple basic rationale had plenty of room to sow. He had just planted a very simple seed in my mind. When the student is ready, the teacher appears indeed.

The following weeks were intense. Coming off of the powerful weeks before, and event next to the bonfire I was hungry for more. Groups, Groups, Groups. I had already filled up one entire notebook, and was now working on filling up the second. Life was like I was seeing in color for the first time. I was able to really absorb so many things now. I honestly believe that things we carry around in our minds, even subconsciously, take up physical and real space. It’s as if I had just marked all as read, sent to the trash can icon, and then proceeded to “empty trash bin”. My ears were open. Towards the end of the week, as we were on a break between groups Krystal pulled me aside to check in for a minute. She asked me a very simple question, arbitrary it would seem. “So, how are you feeling, Herb.” I didn’t answer the question directly at first, but proceeded to tell her about the bonfire, forgiveness, and my prayer at my bed instead. She followed along as I told her all about it in pretty specific detail, and then she asked me again, but this time, She included the word “Now”. “So, Herb, how are you feeling, now?” She insisted. And I took a moment to formulate an answer that could possibly encapsulate how I was actually feeling. “Naked.” Was my response. Just that one word at first. And then I went on to elaborate.

What I meant when I said that I had felt naked was that for the first time ever, I finally felt fully seen. I had laid it all out on the table for full examination, “warts and all” as they say. All the good parts, and all the ugly parts. Full blown, hold nothing back real life vulnerability. I felt validated and liberated. It’s almost like for the first time in my entire life, someone was actually willing to listen to the full story, but no, for the first time in my entire history, I was ready to let it be heard. It was very validating to me, I knew that I wasn’t just some victim. It was so much more than just “I have had a rough life.” I had witnessed, experienced, and felt so many things that impacted and flat out changed me on so many levels. But I had always been scared to share them all in detail for many reasons. The top reasons that came to mind were; no one would care enough to hear it all, and someone would tell me that it wasn’t that bad. I was so used to dealing with fake and inadequate friends throughout my life that I kinda of just developed the mentality that “No one cares anyways, and those who do listen can’t be trusted with the information I am going to share with them, so whats the use?” Most people would probably just tell me to suck it up, or to man up anyways.

So there I stood, standing next to my therapist in a treatment center. January of 2023 feeling naked as a Jay bird, having finally found a safe place after all of these years to unload all of the horrific, heartbreaking, scary, joyous, happy, vulnerable secret places of mine that I had been forced to hide in those dusty old boxes for all these years. I had just shared some things with this lady that I had never had the courage, or ability to share with someone in her profession in my entire life time. I felt visible. I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt like someone finally understood me. I felt light as a feather. It hadn’t even occurred to me to even consider what this therapist of mine might be thinking about me, after all of the shit I had just unloaded on her, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t care.

I knew in that moment, and in the days following why I had felt invisible for all of those years going back to child hood. I had somehow, in the process of all this therapy shit gained some priceless perspective on my life. The past had in fact changed. I had a new and profound understanding of myself. I could see me. I could see myself. And the reason why I had always felt so invisible, was because I was essentially trained to be invisible. Kids are to be “seen and not heard” philosophy shit, except I never felt seen or heard. I never, until the last 7 or so years even knew of a human being that I could fully trust enough with the kind of shit I had to share. I was trained to lie to CPS, I was taught to shut the fuck up or I’ll give you something to cry about, I was constantly shuffled around like an unwanted dog, I was totally invalidated and denied the very few times I did try to speak up for myself, I was violated, I was used, I was beaten, and I was made to feel so insignificant for so much of my life. This is not a victim stance at all, and if anyone thinks that I would be happy to recommend a therapist for you, I think you might need one. This is factual hard data of my life. What I have learned throughout all of this, is that how we speak to our children, how we validate or invalidate them, how we build them up or tear them down, becomes their image and their inner voice. If someone grows up feeling invisible, and unheard, there is a very real chance that they will carry that with them for a very long time.

Because I never had the opportunity to fully unload all of the shit that was making me who I was, I carried it around with me, in those dusty old boxes. I had that shit inside of me for so long that it had become my Identity. It was like every where I went I had those words tattooed all over me: Loser, failure, molested, shame, drug addict, white trash, insignificant. And when I had gotten clean and wrote the first book I had received some recognition for the first time in my life, so I then latched on to that identity. I was things. I was labels. I had no fucking clue who I really was or what I was capable of. I just shape shifted through life trying to make it as best I could and I was always so raw from dragging it all with me, that it ate me alive.

I should have done this first. I should have done the treatment thing first, and gotten this portion of my life out first. But it wasn’t an option for me at the time. All of this sensitive and vulnerable shit that I have shared with you all, and with my therapist is the “Why”. They are the things, events, traumas, and driving forces that took me to drug addiction to begin with. I have so many answers to questions I didn’t know I needed to ask. I hope this is all making sense, because I can see it all right now.

I was dealt a really shitty hand. My life was truly awful for a very long time. I have been beaten, molested, addicted, robbed at gun point, jailed, abandoned, homeless, neglected, and violated on many different levels over the course of about 30 years. There was a time when my only meals came out of garbage cans. And I am here to tell you today, that those things are not who I am. I am here to tell myself, that those things are not who I am. I am not what has happened to me, I am what I do about it. I am a survivor. And so are you! And likewise, your pains, your traumas, your past, your secret places are not who you are. Those things do not define you. You are so much more than the wounds that you carry.

Life can be so very cruel, and is to so many people out there. It can chew us up, and turn us into people we swore we would never become. Just because I have forgiven myself, and I have gained new perspective on my life, does not mean that I get some kind of free pass in this world. Just like my past is not an excuse, enlightenment is not an automatic pardon. There will still be people out there who don’t like me or want me around, and that’s okay. Because for the first time in a very long time, I want me around, and I like me.

I have stumbled into something over the last month and a half here, in my life. And what I have stumbled into, is self awareness. This is something that I am not going to relinquish without a fight. If you look at some of our great minds throughout history; those with seemingly infinite practical wisdom, they all have something in common: Self Awareness. I believe that the harder we can all work on ourselves, the better this world will get.

It’s interesting to me, when I had had my profound spiritual experience at the great banquet, I was blown away. But I was blown away at the magnitude of God, and during this time of spiritual growth, I was adding something to my life, and being accepted for just who I was, in God’s eyes. And during this time of therapy and treatment, I was subtracting, I was reducing myself, down to the barest of minimums. I was examining exactly who I was and what exactly made me the ways that I am. I got naked. I got vulnerable, I spoke my core truths. I peeled those layers back one by one, with the guidance of a professional and It was the greatest thing I have ever done for myself.

It was the first time in my entire Life that I had felt fully and totally visible.

I understood myself, only after I destroyed myself. And it was in the process of putting myself back together, that I discovered who I really was.

I thought that she was going to judge me at first, when I started the whole treatment journey. But as I was preparing to leave that place, she pulled me aside once more, and simply said to me, “Herb, it was an honor to hear your story.”

John 13: 7- Jesus replied, “you may not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

I may not have done what you’ve done, or been where you’ve been, but at one point or another I have felt what you’ve felt.

The Onion

“Hello, this is a call from…Herb Stepherson. An Inmate at the Porter County Jail.”

I bet my folks didn’t think that they were going to hear that again. And they thought that primarily because I had convinced them that they wouldn’t. Up until this very moment I had been too concerned with saving face, maintaining my reputation, and up keeping the notion that everything was okay. Up until this very moment I had been very much obsessed with maintaining control, which I hadn’t had in quite some time. I was still somewhat bitter and angry, and showed that over the course of several phone calls with my parents. Blame placing, scapegoating, focus shifting, etc. but I knew that all of this was square on my shoulders. I may not have been responsible for what ‘made’ me this way, but I was responsible for the lack of effort and attention I had put into myself and my healing. I was also responsible for allowing myself to spiral out of control so badly.

We are not responsible for our diseases but we are responsible for our recoveries. We are not responsible for our traumas, but we are responsible for our healing. And the weight of my failure to take personal responsibility was crashing down on me. I broke a little more and more with each phone call. The entire tape of my life was now available and playing in my head over and over. I was now finally able to accept that I needed to go and get some much needed help. I told them this over a series of phone calls from the jail, and I called my business partner as well and told him the same thing.

I bonded out of jail and walked to my father’s vehicle which was waiting out front. They had just bonded me out again. This time for 2,500$ bringing the grand total of bond money spent on me in the last 15 months to 7,500$. Not exactly pocket change. I remember feeling so angry on that ride back to my dad’s house. The thing is though, is I was searching for someone to be angry at, and the only person I could pin point to be angry at was myself. Sure, I could misplace my anger easily and say that it was this person or that person, but when I tried doing so I felt instantly convicted inside. I knew this was on me. I felt so ashamed. How could this success story guy, this author on addiction and mental health, this intervention company owner, this husband, father, and changed man fall so hard like this? Well, like I said before, it wasn’t some over night thing. It never is. I got to this bottom like I had all the others, one compromise at a time.

One of the most interesting and fascinating things that came out of this trip to jail was, for some reason, even though I was horribly humiliated and ashamed; those feelings were also accompanied by an intense feeling of relief. The cat was out of the bag so to speak. I could stop pretending. I now could take a big deep cleansing breath, and shift the focus back onto myself and getting myself some help. I realized in that time, that no one expected me to be this super human mighty man, except for me. And that it was okay to be human and to struggle. The thing that was not okay, was letting it get to this point.

My wife, business partner, and parents had all gotten together and made arrangements for me to go to a treatment center out of state. Like way out of state. We were following the same exact template for success that we utilized when executing interventions ourselves. Get them out of dodge, away from all of the people and places and things, away from any resources, trigger zones, and away from any immediate life pressures. If we are able to preach it, we are able to practice it. This applies everywhere. I knew I couldn’t beat this thing on my own, so I agreed to go. A large suitcase was packed for me, and a plane ticket booked. I spent the night at my parents house, and was off to the airport the next day.

I walked into the doors of the residential treatment center a hot mess. I had gotten hammered on my commute to the coast and was more than a little toasty. I sat my luggage down while the tech went over some rules & expectations and welcomed me to the program. I stumbled over to the leather sectional, put on food network on the common area T.V and passed out for about 6 hours. Apparently I was “quite pleasant” when I first got there. When I woke up, however, that would very much not be the case.

Apparently this was a no cell phone facility, and we were going to be on black out period of one week before we could make any kind of phone calls back home. I did not like this at all, and I began getting incredibly upset. I packed my bag and I threatened to leave. I asked to speak to a supervisor on the phone and demanded that I get a phone call to my parents. I personally didn’t think this was too much to ask, I mean my family should at least know that I had made it safely. They knew, I had talked to them the whole entire way, this was about control. This was about calling the shots and I could actually feel that in this time. I could feel my control being taken away from me and I did not like that at all. The supervisor agreed to one five minute monitored “safe call” to let my parents know that I had made it. My attitude would not improve for many many days.

It seemed like every day for the first week I was leaving. Fuck this place, fuck these rules, this is bull shit, blah blah blah, more victim shit as I wrestled with control. The very first Monday I was there the doctor put me on three days worth of Valium. I guess that was their, “here, this will calm his wild ass down” tactic. And it worked. I felt like a damn slug for the days I took that shit. And I finally began to settle down a bit, physically and verbally. But my mind still raced. I still grappled with everything but the present moment. I was bitter and unapproachable. I was angry and borderline rude. But I was only really mad at myself. I put me here. This was my doing, and that made me even more upset.

My first day in clinical, I met my therapist. Her name was Krystal. “Like Krystal ball, not Krystal Meth she said.” We spent some time getting to know one another a bit in her office and I was still very much full of “piss and vinegar” as the old saying goes. “So, Herb, any questions, or concerns. Any input or anything you might have for me?” She asked. “Yeah. This is fucking bullshit. I don’t think this is gonna work, and I don’t think it’s gonna work because I am smarter than you are.” Was my response. What a joy I was gonna be to work with. But she handled it with such grace and understanding. “That’s ok, it may not work, but that will be on you. And you might be smarter than me, in some areas, sure, but for now I am going to need you to trust me, and trust that I might be smarter than you in some areas too.” She was so direct, assertive, and bold. But in a very calm and kind way. She just bucked right back up to me. Interesting. She had my attention.

I remember when I finally mentally and emotionally settled in. We all had to attend a meeting every single day at local AA/NA clubhouses there in town, and this old man was sharing, and he said something like “If, I can’t get out of this, I might as well get into this.” And in that moment he was speaking to me. I had been rustling with this whole vulnerability and openness thing, for about the last 37.5 years and it finally dawned on me what an opportunity this was. So yes, Krystal, it was going to be on me. I would get out of this what I put into this. Up until this trip to treatment I was still very much untreated. I had done all the AA/NA, the Church stuff, the CD&A programs back home, but this was my chance to really open up and do some research on myself. I knew that I was “ready to go to treatment”, but up until that moment, I wasn’t ready to actually dig in, probe my life, and do the dirty difficult work of healing. This was going to require a lot of processing with my therapist. That old man who shared that that day, may have very well saved my life and doesn’t even know it. It was time to get to work.

Once I honestly and seriously made the decision to dig in and do the work, it was like a light had turned on inside of me. I was gonna share it all. I was gonna tell the whole story. Not the story I would share when “giving a talk”, but the real one. The gritty, ugly, sad truths of my life. I was going to air it all out with my therapist, and we were gonna process it together. What did I have to lose? The worst case was that I wouldn’t get anywhere, and some stranger across the country would know my whole real story. I could live with that. So we started at the beginning, as you have read- starting with “1985” and we moved on from there. Man I opened up to this lady like she was Barbara Walters. It’s kind of like, once I broke that barrier with her, once I realized that I could trust her, and once I realized that this healing thing was on me, a massive sense of motivation and urgency came over me. This was life or death. I had to peel the layers back, and she was going to show me how. We spent about 20 full hours together in individual sessions. She also facilitated some of the process groups which was cool, she had this really unbelievable ability to break stuff down and explain it in both addict and therapist terms. She was in recovery too, and I have always said that addicts make the best therapists.

One day we were doing a session and I was going on and on about some shit. I was upset, I was sad, I was feeling it all. And she looked at me dead ass in the eyes and asked me, “So, Herbert, what the fuck else would you like to try and control- and drive yourself crazy in the process?” I didn’t know what to say. “Yeah” She continued, “You’re a control freak and it’s because you’re entire life has been spent living in such uncontrollable conditions, you were constantly traumatized and victimized, and though not your fault, it has led you to dying on the hill of control, and living in a victim mindset.” She had my full attention. No one had ever “called me out on the carpet” like this before. And she was right. I had never really examined my life like this before. I had never known how to. And I had never fully considered how all of the events that unfolded in my life actually went into making me who I was today. For the longest time, I just thought I was faulty. I thought I had depression, anxiety, bipolar, or maybe I was just a hopeless addict and drunk. It had never fully occurred to me that all of this addiction and alcohol stuff actually had a real, tangible source. A root cause. Things were starting to make sense.

Onward we marched. We talked about everything. Fears, insecurities, parenting, relationships, successes, failures, communication, boundaries; I am pretty sure we covered everything possible in the clinical world, and most of the DSM. It was like, I had finally realized that this was some kind of moment I had been waiting for my entire life. Those of you who know me, and those of you who have read my stuff in the past know that I had tried to get into treatment many times in the past, but never could. It was only through my work in the field, intervention and etc. that I was able to attend a program now. I am still in that “We make too much for medicaid but not enough for private insurance” demographic. My wife, business partner, and parents had to call in a favor with some people in the industry to make this a reality. I could sense that this was a really important opportunity and privilege to finally connect some dots. We were peeling back layers.

I think we had gotten to the point in my life to where I had started using drugs to begin with. We had left off for the day, after a session and I was in the group room doing whatever the exercise and processing the group was doing. I was an active participant. I was eating this shit up. I love the human mind. I love talking about philosophy, and people, and relationships. I was on fire to learn as much as I could.

About midway through the group session the door to the group room opened and Krystal’s head popped in. She gave me her classic “pointer finger curl” to come here. I met her in her office and she closed the door. She proceeded to read off a long extensive list of criteria from a computer screen to which I rattled off a series of “Yes’s” to each and everyone. When she completed the list she flipped her screen around and showed me what she was reciting the criteria for: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t really know how to respond. It was too simple of an explanation. I thought war vets were the ones who had PTSD, not me. This was mind blowing. But there was no fighting it. I knew this to be accurate. I knew she was right. I could just feel it. I had spent 15 years trying to find answers. But I hadn’t been asking the right questions. I hadn’t been peeling back the right layers. When She shared this with me, it was like a door unlocked inside my mind. We were getting somewhere.

About a week or so later, I was again, sitting in group. We hadn’t done any individual sessions yet this week, but it was only about Tuesday. Krystal, again, pulled me out of group and I met her in her office and closed the door. “Just a quick question here, Herb. Do you ever think about killing yourself?” I didn’t really know how to respond. This was out of the blue and took me by surprise. So I just answered it honestly. “I mean, doesn’t everyone think about blowing their heads off from time to time?” She stared at me with understanding and a touch of pity, shook her head and in a hushed tone replied, “No.”I could see that she felt great sadness for me. She then proceeded to go down another list of criteria, to which I responded “Yes” to every single one. Again she flipped the screen around to reveal another Diagnostic Criteria page. This time it was for Borderline Personality Disorder, which stemmed directly out of the trauma and PTSD. This one made me squirm a little bit, not gonna lie. “It’s one of the weird ones” I said, as I judged myself, and in that moment experienced what so many of us who suffer like this feel on a daily basis- stigma. But again, I knew she was right. My wife had also been right about this. She had been conducting her own research about my mental conditions for a while, and both of the diagnoses I had just received were on my wife’s radar. And it all made sense too; the splitting, the mood changes, the fear of abandonment, the delusion, the anger, the anxiety, depression, the risky use and abuse of alcohol. All of it was me to a T. Another door had unlocked in my mind. I was getting answers.

Upon receiving the new diagnosis of BPD, I really began to ponder my life. I know that we had done lots of processing, both individually and in groups, but I was in rehab, and this was going to be a full time job for me. So even in the free time we had, I studied myself. I journaled, I prayed, I practiced breathing and meditation techniques. I probed my life and I looked deeply within myself. I really began to study how my current relationships, my current interactions with other humans, my behaviors, the way I talk, the way I felt, and my over all outlook on life were impacted by things that had taken place 25+ years ago. It’s actually quite fascinating. It all began making sense. One example that comes to mind is Fear. Fear takes on many forms, there are healthy fears and unhealthy fears. Most people have instinct when it comes to healthy fears. One would not just run out and do push ups in the middle of an expressway, because you would get hit by a car. That’s a healthy fear. But I was so full of unhealthy fears. I laid there on my bed, it was Christmas Morning, and I pondered on what my fears were, and where they came from. When I was done meditating on the life cycles of my fears, I took the time and wrote them down, 3 full pages of fears. Everything from fear of heights, to fear of rejection, abandonment, dying alone, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of doing nothing. And so on and so on… I walked that list out to the bon fire pit, I talked to God about these fears, and where they came from, I released every single one of them and I lit them on fire and started a roaring bon fire with my list. It was about so much more that the fears though. In this moment, I was letting go. I was letting go of all of it. I was letting go of my hurts, my trauma, my betrayals, all the times I had been rejected, and turned away, all of my failures. And I was finding forgiveness.

Forgiveness is something that I didn’t know that I had struggled with until I got to treatment. It’s almost like, all of the things that I had been through created within me a hostile heart, full of resentment. And resentment is in fact a coping mechanism. That coping mechanism of resentment allowed me to maintain the illusion of control. And those resentments also fed into my delusions of reality. When My heart is full of resentment, then it clouds my mind, and my perception of life, reality, and of people. I was done being angry. I was done being hurt. I was done holding people hostage in my heart. I went through my life’s tape right there as the bon fire burned away my fears, and I allowed forgiveness to flow. To anyone and everyone that I had once held a grudge towards. I allowed forgiveness to anyone and everyone who ever hurt me, to all who had wronged me. And then I got to the most important person of all to forgive. Myself. Silent heavy tears rolled down my face, as I looked at all of the places throughout my life where we had done each other wrong. Where I was wronged, I forgave, When I did wrong, I forgave. It was like watching the movie of my life in real time. And allowing myself to finally examine it, feel it, know it, understand it, accept it, and then let it all go. I no longer had any animosity or hostility inside of me. I could literally feel it all just washing away. I could feel those dusty old boxes that I had been carrying with me for decades burn up in the bon fire flames, I could feel all the gray matter in my brain freeing up, and breathing deep cleansing breaths, no longer clustered and crowded by compartmentalization. And I could feel my heart open again. Accepting what was, feeling what is, and making way for what was to come. This was one of the most important moments of my entire life. And in the lives of so many. I had finally peeled it all back to the core. I was free.

Forgiveness is to set a captive free. And then realizing it was us who were captive all along. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. I was safe.

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.


With my letters safely tucked away, now all I had to do was wait for the right time and for the motivation to hit me enough to walk downstairs, drill a hole in the cross beam, install the large metal eye hook, double up the metal corded dog leashes, stand up on a five gallon bucket, and do what needed to be done. I went about the next days of my life, ready at a moment’s notice to do it- with a smile on my face for everyone I met. I saw people I knew at the gas station, I held open doors for those I crossed paths with. I greeted them all with positivity and good cheer. No one would have known if I had’t told you what was going on inside my mind.

All I had to do, was wait for the time to be right- when the wife and kids would all be gone for a couple hours, shopping or something and I would have enough time to get this done.

I truly believe that God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Because that moment didn’t come, at least not in the time frame of my suicidal window which was many days long. They never went anywhere for long enough and they never all went together. At the time I was beyond frustrated. All I wanted was about 3 hours time where I could just quietly check out without being disrupted. But it never came. I remember having mixed emotions about this, I was so mad that they wouldn’t all leave and let this happen, but I was also relieved that they hadn’t, and then I was pissed off again because now I knew I was gonna have to go on living still. I was such a head case for a while. All I wanted to do was run, get better, or die. It wasn’t really a whole big list of asks. I needed some relief. I was just too damn ego driven and prideful to just open my mouth and say “I need some help here, please help me.” I think I did and said everything on the planet but those words.

I was edgy, my moods switched from moment to moment it seemed. I was an asshole one day, and then the nicest guy in the world the next. I loved my wife so much and then I wanted a divorce. I felt so blessed and grateful on wednesday, and on thursday I wanted to sell the house or burn it down. My mind was a mess. I would spill guts in love and adoration to my family, and the next day not say one kind word. I couldn’t seem to speak the words of defeat and surrender, or accept the fact that I needed to. The more my mind spiraled out of control, the less in control I felt on the inside, the more I fought for control on the outside. I didn’t even have control over making enough alone time to take my own life and that made me feel really powerless and out of control. I was a festering ball of mental unwellness and the proverbial powder keg. My wife had no idea what to do with me.

But what’s weird, is that looking back on all of this, the writing was very much on the wall. The music I was listening to at that time was very much sad sounding, with just overall negative messages about life. Sad country and bluegrass songs, rap songs about poor mental health, the movies and shows I watched were dark and ominous. My whole overall energy was just black. Dark and hostile. It’s fascinating to me, how I was able to convince other people that I was okay. I certainly was not.

There wasn’t any kind of “A-ha” moment for me, there was no booming voice from the sky that appeared and convinced me not to follow through with taking my own life. But there was just a long drawn out coming and going of little subtleties along the way. I would hear Connor emulate me, or ask for a meal that I showed him. Luke would ask me to play catch with him, Logan would volunteer to help me around the house, Tiffany would want to set some time apart for date night. My friend Doug would call just to talk. These little subtleties I noticed. And they kept me hanging on, one day at a time.

It’s weird how when we are with our families, our coworkers and friends so regularly that things can become so hidden in plain sight. But when we get around new people or those without any types of attachment to us, things are more visible. An old friend of mine and myself were setting up a canopy and tent at a music festival one weekend. We had made a long journey by vehicle to see some of our favorite bands and drink too many margaritas. We brought everything that we would need for the weekend away, including my large speaker, which was playing my “On Repeat” playlist on my Spotify as we set up our camp. It took about an hour and half to get everything the way we wanted it, and then we took a quick break to enjoy an IPA and our newly founded home away from home. Not long prior to this, we had met the neighbors, a group of about 6 dudes from up in Milwaukee, who had gotten there about the same time as us. My old friend and I were sitting in our camping chairs when one of the guys from Milwaukee called me over to their site. “Hey, Herb, right? Come here for a minute would ya?” So I did. I like meeting new people and shooting the shit with people from different places than me. “Hey dude, um, (he motioned me to walk around the side of their tent so he could ask me something quietly, almost in secret) I heard you jammin over there man on your speaker. And some of that music man, um, I gotta ask you brother- Are you okay man? Who hurt you?” I was really taken back by this. I was also really impressed by this young man’s ability to see something, say something, his empathy, and his compassion for a stranger. But of course, I had to take on a defensive type of a stance with him. “Nah, you know man, just life brother. No big deal.” Or some shit is what I said. But the moment stuck. It meant a lot to me. And it also caused me to feel even more resentment towards those people in my life who supposedly saw me every day, but yet never had any kind of mention for me like this stranger had. But I suppose that that was because I had spent the last year staking major dividers in between me and my people, to avoid vulnerabilities and had made myself quite unapproachable Which was what I had always done to protect myself from having to feel and allow people truly in.

But something else happened to me during this chance encounter, and another one later on- but we will get to the second one later. What happened here, was that it dawned on me, that people could see me. Even a passing stranger at a concert, could see and hear me for what I was- a soul in intense pain. And he did so, in a matter of minutes, just by listening to the music I was listening to. The little subtle things.

Little subtle messages had been trying to work on me for a while now, the messages from my wife and kids, from my buddy Doug. But nothing was really having any kind of profound impact, because I wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat. I still had some kind of semblance of control, and so I held on to that with white knuckles. The more I wrestled with control, and the more out of control I got, the more spiteful I became. The whole “I’ll show you, I’ll kill me” mind set. I was very volatile and ugly. I was condescending, I was paranoid, I was bitter, I was controlling, and it was all self inflicted. The result is always nill until we let go absolutely.

But what’s interesting, is that looking back, I had subtleties of my own. I would get vulgar and snarling with people, I would get bitter and ugly. And the actual words I said might have been something like “I fucking hate you, leave me alone.” But what my soul was saying, what my insides were actually saying was “Can’t you see how hard I am hanging on here? Can’t you feel how awful I feel on the inside?” But I just couldn’t get the actual words out. My ego wouldn’t let me. I had survived the depths of hell on earth before, and I knew I was strong enough to survive this too. And I was bound, set, and determined to thug it out and get through it. I would push people away and tell them I was fine, and then I would proceed to drink in the basement for days at a time and blare all kinds of sad and depressing music. I was spiteful, I was drowning in my own sorrows, all I wanted was some peace in my own mind, and I didn’t know how to get it it. And because I was so god damn stubborn and so foolish as to not just surrender and open my mouth, I place bread crumbs of indecipherable riddles all around me indicating that I needed help, but when the topic came up I would deny it all away. I was sick.

Pride does in fact come before the fall.

What I realized, once I had come out of my suicidal season, was that I didn’t want to kill myself in whole. I wanted to kill parts of me. I wanted to kill those ugly secrets and shitty experiences, the trauma. The being molested, being mistreated, being left alone, hurting all the time from its active and live presence inside my mind. That was what I wanted to kill. And if I myself had to die as a result, then I would just have to be collateral damage in the process of snuffing the pain out. But since I was no longer willing to actually take my own life, I had to find a way to keep going and get through this.

One day not long after the music festival talk with my friend from Milwaukee, I was sitting at home. I was still depressed and I was still in the process of bottoming out and hurting people. But i decided to get up, grab those letters, grab a beer, and walk out to the back yard. I cracked the top, sat down in the camping chair, and used those letters to start myself a little bon fire. I was going to live. I was going to get through this one way or another. I knew deep down inside that there would be more suffering ahead, sure. But I was gonna live. I wasn’t going to roll over and just let this thing beat me.

My wife walked outside onto the back deck, looked down at me and was pissed that I was drinking again, and so early in the day. Which I understood, but what she didn’t know at that time, was that I had just finally made the decision to not take my own life once and for all. How could she have known? I hadn’t come out and told her, I just did my best to speak in subtleties. But when we love people, often times we miss those things, and often times, those are the very things that keep us going, and keep us alive. Sometimes we pay attention to what people are saying, and sometimes we need to pay more attention to what people are not saying.

If you want to truly help someone, the most important thing you can do is listen to them.