Rewriting a Life
Hopeless. Lost. Unforgivable.
These are three words Steve B. uses to describe his “old” self – the one that existed before he sought professional help at Portage Path Behavioral Health. With a lot of hard work and the help of treatment professionals, Steve’s been able to remove these words from his vocabulary.
At first glance, Steve appears to be a tall, intimidating man, but an irrepressible positivity is evident from the moment he speaks, and after forty minutes talking with him, one can’t help but feel the optimism; however, optimism is a relatively new concept for Steve.
Since adolescence, Steve has been trying to escape from the beasts we know as alcoholism and depression, and his journey has not been an easy one, filled with more disappointments than triumphs.
“Being a chronic relapser, I understand and can relate to waking up that beast after you’ve put it to sleep” he explains.
Steve has what is called a Dual Diagnosis, meaning that he deals with a mental illness and a simultaneous substance abuse issue. For those with a Dual Diagnosis, it is important to address both issues at the same time, because untreated symptoms of a mental health disorder can cause the patient to be unable to remain sober, and untreated substance abuse issues can make mental health treatment ineffective.
Steve’s childhood was extremely complicated. At the age of fifteen, he was removed from his home and taken to Boys Village.
“The Cleveland Juvenile Court system said I was an unruly child,” Steve recounts. “The fact of the matter was that I was running away from being abused. I started running away from home at age eight, and I remember being in the bushes of the neighbor’s house across the street freezing, watching my family eat in the dining room and wanted to be a part of it but couldn’t.”
His fifteenth year would also bring the first of many suicide attempts, the result of identity loss and hopelessness. A few years later, Steve got involved in the drug scene and was caught selling what was known as Angel Dust.
“This was in the mid 70’s and Angel Dust was popular. A friend of mine had some and couldn’t get rid of it so I sold it for him. First time I ever sold any drugs, and I sold it to this narcotics agent. After fighting it for a year with a good attorney, I received a sentence of ‘no less than one year and no more than ten years.’ They stripped my name from me, I became 104523. I turned 21 in Mansfield State reformatory, AKA ‘the Castle.’”
Steve served one year in the Castle, and upon release, he thought the world owed him something, “Self-pity was all I could feel”, he says. “Nobody walked in my shoes, they couldn’t imagine what I was going through.”
15 years after his release from prison, not much had changed. After a few more attempts at ending his life and continued emotional struggle, Steve knew he needed to get help. He began going to AA, and soon after started treatment with counselor Sean Blake at Portage Path Behavioral Health. Steve had heard about Portage Path through AA where they talked about additional treatment options.
For years, Steve worked with Sean to manage his depression, and to help obtain and maintain sobriety. Typically, people with a dual diagnosis benefit greatly from having an external support system to help them stay on track, and Steve credits a good friend with being his eyes when he couldn’t see through his addiction and depression.
Along the way, Steve felt he needed more intense treatment, so Sean referred him to Pathways, a partial hospitalization program at Portage Path which provides a safe, structured environment where individuals can build essential life skills, improve readiness for treatment, and regain a sense of hopefulness about the future.
Entering Pathways the first time was not easy, as Steve felt like he couldn’t open up or trust anyone in the group therapy setting, and something didn’t quite click. Some months later, Steve returned to Pathways, this time willing to be vulnerable, and it changed his life.
“The women and the men at Pathways were just amazing. They validated me and they listened to what I was saying, and they were able to draw things out of me that I never thought were problems. I was able to deal with my depression, my anger, and my alcoholism. When I completed the Pathways course, I knew something was different. I had hope, and I knew that I was walking a lot lighter. I was able to see how my suicide attempts were my anger turned inward.”
Steve described his suicide attempts as attention seeking, secretly hoping for an accident because he knew something inside was killing him. He explains that most of his suicide attempts have been a result of thinking that there was something wrong with him, and giving up after trying to be someone he wasn’t.
Sober now for a little over a year and a half, Steve offers these words of wisdom when asked what his advice would be to anyone struggling with mental health and addiction.
“There’s hope. The light at the end of the tunnel. I always thought it was a train coming at me, but it’s not true – you just have to walk through it. They’re only feelings and they’re only emotions – they’re not gonna kill you. Life is hard, but I think we just have to walk through the fire sometimes to get to the other side because otherwise, we just stop and burn up.”
Today, Steve draws on his experience battling addiction and mental illness to help others ensure they don’t “go home and sit on the couch waiting for life to happen.”
“I work at the REACH Project of Interval Brotherhood Home with recovering alcoholics and addicts after they graduate,” he says. “Our job is to help them transition back into a safe new way of living. We go to churches and help by volunteering. We get to feed the homeless. We volunteer at the food bank and give back at Good Neighbors. REACH members love to give back to the community from which they have received so much.”
Data shows that REACH Project clients are five times more likely to stay clean than if they were to simply return to their old lives. Steve says he hopes to focus on the heroin and opioid epidemic happening currently and feels that is where he is called to make a difference.
He has replaced those old words with ones like “forgiven,” “compassionate,” and “hopeful.”
“I have so much hope today. Somehow my God, Portage Path, and the 12 steps to recovery have given me an identity that I’ve never had before.”
“I’m convinced that I’m supposed to be here, and I’ve got a job to do. My biggest strength is that I am able to share my experience. I can help people – I’ve got to help people. I love my life!”