Patricia was a regular contributor to the Washington Park Beat newspaper, for which its publishers David Boucher and Stephanie Shipley invited her write and solicit articles about matters relating to mental health and illness. Read articles from the paper here on the Milwaukee Renaissance.
We are All Artists
By Patricia Obletz
‘’”All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.”
On the other side of sanity I came to the realization that we humans are artists by birth, but that our environment determines whether we’re practicing artists, con-artists or lost artists. Years after my return to reality, after the thought, “I believe in God,” entered my mind and remained there, I understood that solitary acts of creation are God’s way; they conjoin love and passion in safety.
The intangible beauty of the arts is that, while they are inclusive, they can be cultivated in solitude, and they stimulate creativity, spirituality and peace. These facts make arts education and experiences crucial to our development. Spiritual freedom through self-expression connects us to others, reduces stress and expands understanding, which smooth our path through life.
The arts develop the right side of our brain, home of creative thinking. We know that, in the 21st Century, problem solving depends on creativity and preventive healthcare, which includes behavioral balance. Paul Harvey says that the arts also require self-discipline, which is “more basic to our national survival than the traditional credit courses.”
Research shows us that every school needs arts education, as well as science courses and health education that includes learning how to identify signs of instability and direct students and their parents to seek intelligent medical treatment as needed. But these vital statistics are still trampled on by greed.
The Government Accountability Office recently investigated American company tax returns from 1998 to 2005 and discovered that about two-thirds of those corporations escaped paying taxes through classic loopholes, such as “deducting expenses.” The news media continues to report the consequences of war on nations, peoples and the earth.
The portrait painted by legal corporate tax evasion, mortgage and environmental disasters, and lust for war is a grim picture of current national priorities. Arts education budget lines usually are zeroed out despite all the statistical and anecdotal evidence proving their value.
How do we the people change this status quo? We can increase our petitions to legislators to make effective anti-poverty, healthcare, education and environmental programs more important than golden parachutes.
And on the chance that the Republicans have yet to enlighten most American citizens on the dangers of putting profit above people and the earth, we can make it a point to urge those we meet in our communities to vote for our most democratic candidates. How do we know who they are? Look for those who follow the path of non-violence and promote quality of life for the greatest number of people. Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dali Lama, and their still growing number of followers point the way. To do less is to cross that line into insanity.
On a Road to Bastille
By A.J. Hegerty
November 17, 2007, started out as it had for the past ten days. I awoke in a windswept field covered in a tattered blanket, shivering from the cold. I wondered why in God’s name did I wake, followed by a chorus of curses directed toward my creator for keeping me alive. Anger emerged, then resolved. Today would be my last. The misery and pain associated with my existence would end. Within my nearby backpack was the instrument of my demise, a disarmed military hand grenade.
Thirty years earlier I served my country as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. I led men while still myself a boy. Afterwards, I became an officer with the Milwaukee Police Department at a time when the city was racked by three police scandals. The cases of Earnest Lacy, David Schamperlin, and Lawrencia Bembenek were all making headlines. Hurtful debate within the community ensued, bringing about the first recorded “blue flu” in the history of the Milwaukee Police Department. My class of inexperienced recruit officers’ was activated to fill the gaps in police building security, while supervisors and Milwaukee County Sheriff Deputies handled calls for police service. Troubling times indeed for a person deciding his future, or contemplating the lack of one.
Early on I was able to mask my insecurity, uncertainty, and doubt, seeming outwardly confident and calm. Growing up under the tutelage of my father, the Marine Corps, and that of the police department, instilled in me that a man should act in conflict without signs of weakness or emotion. This philosophy exacted an enormous price.
After graduating from the police academy I served as an officer in a squad area riddled with gang activity. Violence and crime forever present: beatings, stabbings, rapes, and robberies. I was expected to be a marriage counselor, a mediator, a psychologist and more, with only the benefit of a high school education. In time I learned to disassociate myself from what I saw around me. The pain belonged to someone else, I merely was there to pick up the pieces as best as I could. That was, until the pieces I was trying to pick up were my own.
One early morning, a burglar alarm went out over the air. It was 7:15 AM, a time of day when burglar alarms were infamous for being false alarms. Today’s alarm would be different. Today someone would be waiting.
Mike went to the rear of the business to secure the perimeter and check the back of the building. Moments later he announced on the police radio that he had discovered a forced entry to the rear door. Then he broadcasted that a suspect had just run southbound from the door. He was now in foot pursuit, providing a brief description of the man he was chasing. Those were the last words heard from him.
The dispatcher then broadcast “shots fired,” the shots being reported by a citizen nearby. The police radio then went all a chatter with the sound of squads identifying themselves as they responded to the scene. What had begun as routine quickly evolved into chaos.
I saw my partner Mike approximately one-half hour later. Killed by one shot to his head; ambushed by the burglar he had pursued. I should have been at the back of that building. Life for him would have been a far cry better than the one destined for me.
Drinking brandy became easier than putting on my police uniform.
For years I continued doing my job. Suck it up, pull up your boots straps and get on with life, words people tell someone when they are not the one experiencing the trauma. God forbid I’d breathe a word about what was going on with my thoughts. The times when I put my service weapon to my own temple. The times when drinking a fifth of brandy was easier than putting on my uniform and witnessing the next horror.
In 1999 I left the police department. It was a blessing really. My mental illness and alcoholism had developed to a point that I was a wretch unable to care for myself or anyone else. Things got worse.
For eight more years I dealt with life by not dealing with life. I consumed alcohol in quantities that would kill the normal human being. I attempted suicide. I sought escape from my own thoughts by seeking oblivion. Being unsuccessful in this area never seemed to matter to me. I did the same things over and over expecting different results.
But that November afternoon, when oblivion could not be attained by any other means, I opened my backpack and withdrew the hand grenade. With my only goal being to end my life, I entered the lobby of a hotel and placed the disarmed hand grenade on the counter at the front desk. The hotel clerk called 911, and within minutes police squads were everywhere. When confronted by police officers, I slowly walked away holding the grenade. To motivate the officers further I threw the safety pin of the grenade to the ground at their feet. I realized the officers would hesitate to fire their weapons with civilians in the area. This dilemma was remedied (or so I thought) by leading the officers to a concrete parking structure void of civilians and capable of absorbing the blast had my grenade been real. My depression and desire to end my life was so great nothing else mattered. Ultimately, I was apprehended by two officers who put their own lives at risk to do so.
Once arrested, I was angry at the officers involved for not shooting and killing me. Then remorse set in. My selfish act involved much more than just me. It involved bystanders, the officers, and my community as a whole. I deemed myself a traitor to all I had once stood for.
When the day came for me to stand before a judge for sentencing much was said about the good I had done during my life in contrast to the event that unfolded on November 17th. I personally took responsibility for my actions. My desire to die did not outweigh the harm I had caused. The man I was that day was not the man I am, or once was. Already dead both spiritually and emotionally, I was merely waiting for someone to kill the body that contained my suffocating soul. For whatever reason, none of which was by my own doing, the judge took a chance on me.
Today I am addressing my mental illness and seeking ways to make some good come of the bad. To paraphrase a quote I once read, I see the sun where there once was none. I know there is love when I hadn’t felt it. I accept the gift of the present.
The Addictive/Codependent Legacy. And Disowning It
By Ann Palmer
More than 20 years ago, there was a surge in research and writing on codependence and children of alcoholic parents. That literature may have faded into the past, but the syndrome has not. Experts knew then, as now, that addiction does not happen in a bubble. It takes the addict down; it takes family and friends along, too.
Substance use (alcoholism, drug use) or compulsive behaviors may serve at first to ease painful, negative beliefs one has about oneself: feelings of being a failure, inadequate, socially inept. Unrelenting self-scrutiny finds us essentially flawed, defective. And our pain is our fault. Many people carry this anguish inside them.
And so some people drink to forget. Get high to shrug it away for another day. Gamble for the big win. The day it will all go away. But a painful past doesn’t just go away; you’ll have to wake up and get clean and face those messages from the past. It’s difficult. You may start remembering and believing every negative thing said about you, thinking you were crazy. You’re not “crazy.” You developed ways to defend yourself and survive in a sick, often dysfunctional system. So while an inner sense of doom tells you you’re stuck this way and will never get better, know that you are more than what you’ve suffered, know that recovery is possible.
An Unhealthy Cycle
Some individuals use substances or compulsive behaviors to cope with emotional pain. They adopt unhealthy defense mechanisms to survive and to continue their use. An addict may have unpredictable moods, angry outbursts, embarrassing public behavior, broken promises, and more. Children try their best to function in this system despite continued use by their parents.
“Mom doesn’t feel well” is the family’s euphemism for “Mom has been drinking a lot today.” No one ever mentions her strange behavior. She is “sick.” “Leave Dad alone. He doesn’t want to be bothered” may stand in for “Dad’s drunk and moody.” Kids learn early and well not to talk about what happens at home, not amongst themselves nor with others outside the home. The children grow up pretending all is well; they learn to consider alcoholic (or other addictive) behavior as normal. This thinking triggers guilt and other unhealthy and self-defeating ways of coping in the children: Loose or nonexistent boundaries, numbing, denying, being over-responsible, having a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior, all are strategies for survival in an alcoholic or addictive family system.
Accepting a parent’s addiction teaches some children to try harder through perfectionism, hypervigilance and people-pleasing. Some children take on the role of “family hero,” striving for perfect grades, perfect looks, perfect behavior, acting well-mannered in public at all times, knowing all actions must reflect positively on the family. Other children become the family clown or mascot, providing comic relief in a sick system. Children cans become withdrawn and isolate themselves (the lost child). Some children believe if they please everyone, everyone will be happy. Others become hypersensitive to the sick parent’s emotional state, carefully noting their unhappiness.
Too many Children of Alcoholics/Addicts (COAs) develop poor self-esteem and feel guilty about their parent’s addiction. Kids think, “If I were only ‘good enough,’ my dad/my mom wouldn’t drink/get high/get mad/be tired.”
Children can feel overly responsible, trying and failing to keep the family from experiencing negative emotions, situations and consequences of addictive behavior. In the course of addiction, kids continue to fail, feel guilty and distressed. They inevitably blame themselves, and there is rarely a healthy parent to teach them otherwise; they face many such difficulties.
The children guess at what normal is, often deny and/or repress what they feel, and lose touch with the happy, healthy inner child/authentic self. They grow up lacking confidence and, being more at-risk, often turn to addictive substances or people themselves. The legacy of addiction continues.
Often, older children rebel against unclear parental authority and take on the role of “family scapegoat.” Their problems (hostility, defiance) take the focus off the addicted parent. If they begin to use or drink, they hasten their inheritance of the addictive legacy.
For children who, at any time, try to express themselves or break through the family’s denial of a problem, they are belittled, ridiculed, talked out of feelings and opinions. They’re not loved or supported; instead, they are diminished, ignored, violated, or unnecessarily restricted. There’s no consistency or reliable reference points. They learn you cannot depend on others or trust them. They feel lonely in the midst of disharmony.
If you’re a child of addictive parents, over time, you may develop specific fears or a general sense of anxiety. You may feel lonely, confused about who you are and where you fit. You experience a deep sense of shame. Losing confidence makes you put yourself down and believe you’re the problem.
The Family System
While the dysfunctional family may appear to operate well from the outside, it is firmly rooted in denial of the problems addiction causes. When one or both parents are preoccupied by drugs or alcohol, they push away their children, or overly control them or abuse them in other ways.
Family members who are using don’t want to face up to their use patterns and give up the “only fun thing they do.” They rationalize their addictive behavior (“You kids drive me to drink”), avoid or change the subject, and consistently deny the negative consequences of their drinking.
They may have exaggerated or destructive emotions, conceal their true feelings, avoid self-responsibility by judging, criticizing, blaming, or attempting to control others. Some violate another’s personal boundaries, or detach themselves, aloof and unavailable behind their great wall of emotional and psychological defenses.
Each day the parent uses is a day things don’t go well in the emotional life of the household; persistent anxiety and feelings of dread exist. This sets up the children’s emotional inheritance: codependency. This emotional, psychological and behavioral condition comes from prolonged exposure to and practice of oppressive rules that exclude open expression of feelings and direct discussion of personal and interpersonal issues.
Grof, Christina Graf, in The Thirst for Wholeness (Harper, San Francisco, 1993, p. 63–64; p. 59) wrote that “Codependency feels like it’s ‘our duty’ to control situations, attach ourselves to people, take responsibility for their behaviors, repress our emotions, feel guilty and deprive or neglect ourselves.”
Also known as co-addicts, codependents wear themselves out trying to hide, help or change an addict’s behavior. Children are born into this, yet there may be a parent unaddicted to substances, but addicted to the behavior of the addict. This sets up the parental duo of addict/codependent.
Denying the Co-addictive Inheritance
When approval or acceptance is missing from our family, we often look outside ourselves and our families. Breaking away doesn’t take away the early teachings of a dysfunctional family. The adult child of codependent and/or addicted parents never learned to express himself in a healthy way. Anger and frustration doesn’t leave you; it runs underground, poisoning you from within. You think you can ignore it and it will go away. It doesn’t. You must consciously recover from an unhealthy childhood as the son or daughter of addicted parents.
For people with addictions, recovery from the emotional wounds that drinking or drugging caused is necessary. Healing for Children of Alcoholics who use requires getting clean and sober, facing one’s difficult childhood, and learning to parent oneself. People in recovery learn that, just as substances do, unhealthy ways of managing feelings prevent you from accessing the authentic self. Many people have suffered through and with their pasts. They have internalized incorrect and self-damning messages. These painful thoughts can be addressed and let go. Do the mental and emotional work you need to recover.
Learn that the problem began with alcoholism and chemical dependency in your parents, or their parents before them. You did not cause it, you couldn’t control it, nor could you cure it. Be willing to accept that you have been affected by a parent’s addiction. Help and support are available.
. Defenses, however unhealthy they now look, served a purpose. You can dismantle them as you erect healthier boundaries.
. Peel away the overly polite, compliant mask. Be real, not people-pleasing.
. Admit the presence of shame; check its validity against reality.
. Evict negative self-images and constant critical messages.
. Encourage a healthy, self-affirming voice (a positive, caring inner parent).
. Come to accept and love yourself despite your flaws and past failures.
. To seek one’s own answers usually requires proper supports. This means finding a trustworthy therapist, a self-help group, and compassionate friends.
. Starting a new life requires accepting one’s losses and failures, discarding former ideas of success based on perfection, and embarking on self-discovery.
. Know that, with time, encouragement, and patience, you will be able to listen to, feel and follow the guidance of your authentic self.
. Take your time. Don’t push too hard too fast. You are rebuilding a life.
Consider the goddess Hecate, who “makes sacred the waste of life so that it all counts, it all matters.” ~James Hillman
By Patricia Obletz
Virgi Driscoll is a visionary who makes her visions come true through her art and determination to help children evolve into well-balanced adults.
- Mental Health Developments
By Bob Driscoll
Bob Driscoll is an activist for mental health and writes on personal and public issues relating to his field. His first article, Off the Sauce and On Lithium appeared in the November-December 2007 edition of WPB.
- Brains Relate People Just As Lungs Breathe Air
By Russell Gardner, MD
Russell Gardner is a mixed-media artist, poet, author, think tank member, researcher and retired MD, psychiatrist, clinical & research; psychoanalyst. He paints a picture of what mental health means.
By Patricia Obletz
In this interview, retired Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, editorial writer and board member, talks about his childhood, which includes his first experience with discrimination. He also reflects on his career and what makes a teacher good with students.
By Ruben Hopkins, President, Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce
Ruben Hopkins reflects on what it takes to make African Americans succeed in busness, citing problems and solutions.
- The Universality of Mental Illnesses
By Patricia Obletz
Patricia Obletz shares the stories of an experiment in India, “Psychotherapy for all,” Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary’s theory of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” and more.
- Mental Health Insurance Parity Legislation Update
By Bob Driscoll
“The most profound toll of untreated mental illnesses is immeasurable human suffering.”
By Patricia Obletz
Sister Ann Catherine Veierstahler, RN, didn’t know what peace was until she was 57.
- Climbing Out: An Interview
By Patricia Obletz
Discover how Sister Eleanor Martinez, MS, CASAC, unknowingly fell into addiction, denied that she was in trouble for years, and then at last faced herself, her problems and got the help she needed to climb out of it.
By Patricia Obletz
Paster Lee Shaw and Minister Greg Lewis work with at-risk youth and help them find purpose and peace.
- Attitudes, Values and Behaviors
By Barry Blackwell, MD
Dr. Barry Blackwell compares attitudes toward brain disorders and breast cancer.
By Patricia Obletz
Peter Hoeffel informs us on the work of Disability Rights Wisconsin and how it helps individuals and groups navigate systems of care and justice. He delves into the serious problems existing in the Milwaukee County mental health system and public schools, saying that “Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s New Orleans.”
By Patricia Obletz
Child psychiatrist Shane Moisio, MD, and psychologist Bill Seymour, PhD, of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, talk about the problems and solutions available to advance help for young children and adolescents with behavioral health issues.
By Patricia Obletz
John Tomlinson, Vice President, Employee Benefits, Mid State Insurance & Investment Services, discusses the status of parity mental health insurance, and the difficulties inherent in insuring benefits for people who are addicted to legal and illegal substances.