For Romeo Saganash, MP, a turning point

I am touched by the frankness and honesty with which New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash has chosen to address his “medical problem”, alcohol dependency, and I hope that he can work his way through the first acute phase of treatment with personal integrity and with the knowledge that millions of Canadians have his back.

Both as a Member of Parliament and a member of the New Democrat caucus, it is my duty to follow a code of conduct in keeping with my role as a Member of Parliament and the confidence that my constituents placed in me when they elected me.

Last Friday, my behaviour caused an unfortunate incident that delayed an Air Canada flight between Montreal and Val-d’Or. I want to apologize to the other passengers and staff for what happened and for any inconvenience I caused them. I would also like to offer my sincere apologies to Air Canada and the Aéroports de Montréal.

Neither fatigue nor stress can justify what I did. I need help to overcome a medical problem, a dependence on alcohol, like far too many other Canadians.

I am not looking at excuses, but I know that profound scars were left on me because of my time in residential school. I never shied away from that. The death of my friend and mentor, Jack Layton, also greatly affected me. Like him, I needed a crutch. The leadership race wore me out, on top of taking me away from my children and my loved ones even more often.

Life on Parliament Hill can be hectic and exciting, but it is also full of obstacles and pitfalls. Many of my colleagues can attest to this.

I have asked my leader to give me leave so that I can take the necessary time to treat this illness. I am deeply grateful for his support and the support of all my colleagues in this difficult period of my life.

I would like to thank the citizens of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for their constant support in this difficult period of my life and ask for their understanding. I can assure them that my office will continue to serve them and that my New Democrat colleagues will be available to help while I’m on sick leave.

My priority is to serve my constituents to the best of my abilities and it’s with deep humility that I say thank you and see you soon.

There are at least a few, if not many, important people with whom I need to have my own conversation about…


It’s certainly not too early to think about Mental Illness Awareness Week

When I read the Ottawa Citizen article (linked above) I immediately thought, “Mom will have read that yesterday,” and what an opening it would give me to discuss my own mental health history with her.

Not long after sobering up five+ years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and, although it might seem strange, the news came as a relief to me. It helped to explain behaviour, over and above (and below) drunkenness and depression, which had dogged me most of my adult life. The eventual absence – thanks to treatment – of depression, which became hypomania, went undiagnosed for so long because I quite enjoyed said absence of depression, despite the danger, stupidity and recklessness which accompanied it.

Of course, as my 1,002 posts here can illustrate – at least in part – there’s been more going on in my life than depression so, absent or otherwise, there have been many other factors contributing to my state of being and my sense of self.

I cannot deny, and quite enjoy reporting, that seeking help – even if it took sinking to “rock bottom” to do so – has me feeling mentally stronger than I have in a long time, the occasional extraneous screw-ups notwithstanding.

For that I am truly thankful.

Jerry Sandusky guilty, now what?

In the hours following the conviction of their once-revered Jerry Sandusky, Penn State is most anxious to move on.

After my exclamation on Facebook of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, attached to a media account of the guilty verdicts on Friday, I wondered how the victim-survivors were feeling. Having invested my emotions, and my own survival story, by proxy into the trial I can say I was elated.

One of the most galling things about Sandusky, as evidenced in his Bob Costas interview, was his supposed naiveté about the gravity of things he was being accused of. Whether a defense or a pathology, why is it that so many pedophiles believe they can justify their crimes? (Don’t try to Google for answers. You’ll be disgusted.)

It has been a long journey for me just beginning to talk about the anonymous sexual abuse I encountered as an adolescent following long-term bullying by an elementary school principal. Anything to do with sports reminds me of that teacher, the coach of half of the sports teams in school, who harangued those of us who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, participate more than we had to. So Jerry Sandusky, for me, embodies the characteristics of both my abusers.

I did not begin even the most minimum of therapy about this until I was about thirty, shortly after testing positive for HIV in 1989. At first it was difficult enough to connect the dots, as I still like to say, let alone getting in touch with the feelings of trauma – so it was an issue I set aside fairly often when I didn’t feel I could cope.

Yet the void never goes away and, untreated, nothing fills it.

Another occasion which pointed me towards more healing was after I was hit by a cab in 2003, fracturing my femur and wrist. In the course of post-traumatic stress counselling I was encouraged to peel back the veil of any previous traumas so, naturally, my childhood came up again. One of the tools my psychiatrist tried, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, was to recommend Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. Like anything that might hurt before it feels better I put off reading the book for quite a long time. But read it I did and it unleashed a hunger in me for similar books of real-life terror and, in some cases, survival – think Elie Wiesel, Viktor Frankl and many others.

When the Penn State scandal first erupted I was triggered quite sharply and found myself engrossed in news coverage as if in a trance. I mentioned this to a fellow survivor and mentor when we met for a coffee last fall. Our chosen coffee shop was quite crowded and so, it being a colouful fall evening, we opted to take a walk with our beverages. He literally walked with me in my distress. Something he told me, and it is echoed by valuable resources such as, is that we are well advised to avoid anything more than cursory coverage of such news stories or, at least, be self-aware to know when enough is enough.

There’s not much more I want to hear about the main perpetrator of Penn State. His future doesn’t seem to included anyone he can harm. I wait to see how other officials at the university fare in this.

Above all, I hope the completely vindicated survivors can continue their healing journeys with whatever help or compensation is deemed fitting.

No sentence could undo the harms caused by Graham James

I join the outcry today over the sentencing of convicted serial pedophile Graham James to two years in prison for the sexual abuse of Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. Counter-intuitively (because I knew it would just get me stirred up) I watched the news coverage of the lawyers’ statements and victims’ reactions.

Graham arrived at court wearing his best perp ensemble:

Following sentencing, which The Globe I think rightly criticized for its lack of nuance, Todd Holt spoke on behalf of cousin and fellow victim Theo Fleury.

“I stand here today, on behalf of not only myself and my cousin Theoren Fleury, but as a voice for every man.

For all the young boys, the old men and the ones that got stuck somewhere in between because of the most devastating type of abuse; sexual abuse inflicted on us by someone in a position of trust and authority. Theo and I were two of those who got stuck in that middle place between boy and man; we made some terrible choices and watched the life we were meant to lead spiral down the drain.

No longer.”

It was, for me, a powerful and meaningful beginning to an expression of feelings – I even heard myself in his words – which later criticized the justice system.

This was where I switched to thinking, “Hmmm…”, and I’m sure it will take me some time to sort out why.

As my headline reads, and as legions of all types of crime victims can attest, the length of Graham James’ sentence, while still shocking (considering that two years probably won’t last two years), is secondary to the horrors, and their after-effects, that James inflicted on Theo Fleury, Todd Holt, Sheldon Kennedy and who-knows-how-many-other young hockey players I would otherwise not know, let alone relate to.

They are still recovering, having taken the familiar route of spiralling downward before they were fortunate enough to make it back without ending their lives.  Theirs, as mine, is a life-long journey.  Every time I/we think we have reached another air-pocket of resolution, something takes it away – or at least I let it be taken away.

There’s a tough-on-this-kind-of-crime demon whispering inside me thinking Graham James and his ilk should be chemically castrated, if not as a barbaric punishment then at least as a preventive measure.  Or is that just the wolf of murder by lethal injection in sheep’s clothing? And would that alone take away his predatory impulses?

My self-image, a work in progress, was moulded in part by a monster or two in my childhood.  I continue to try to make sense of so much, even the crap in my own past that makes no sense at all.  But I persist, with your help.

A former soldier courageously confronts stigma of mental illness

Susan Ormiston’s “Mind Battle” highlights the difficulties of a former Canadian soldier, home from Afghanistan, who is experiencing horrendous mental illness issues – which so many will relate to on some level.

With mental health troubles so stigmatized in society in general, you need only imagine what it’s like in the macho world of the military.

I salute this brave young man. His courage in discussing his illness will inspire many people – civilian and otherwise – who so often suffer in silence.

…And “He signed up for this” is beneath us as a society, regardless of our views of the Afghan mission.

Multiply this one man’s pain millions of times over when considering how many civilians are caught up in war, and remember those with similar symptoms having been traumatized in other ways.

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Seeing daylight through layers of secrecy

I am challenging myself to begin an exercise of trust, or at least vulnerability, by chipping through my secrecy.

So thick is my denial that I sometimes don’t even perceive myself as secretive.

This blog, where I have revealed more about myself than many would be comfortable doing, has surely been self-revealing. However my secrecy – read insanity – is not so much about what I’ve done, or what has happened to me, but how I have so often coped mainly by seeking my own counsel.

To believe that this is satisfactory is a big lie, just as it is untrue that I have not had outlets (mostly professional) with whom to release the inevitable heads of steam along the way.

Yet I isolate. My friends think I am doing okay, better than okay even – or do they? Am I the last one to recognize how distressed I am?

There are so many lies about myself that I have believed.

This began early.

Mr. G., C. G., sadistically tormented me as my elementary school’s head teacher – this being the only example to have been put in narrative form – all the more sick because he was a family friend (and a member of our church).

I believed that I was somehow a lesser human being because of the way he pitted my nerdiness against his, and his son’s, athleticism.

“Four Eyes” he called me after the sick, abusive way he tested my eye-sight.

Did I report that to my parents at the time? Not with my childhood belief that adults (and adult friends moreso) stuck together, and he probably knew that. (It’s only in my adulthood that I have taken his name in vain among family members.)

His steady chipping at my self-esteem set me up nicely for coming of age – as I saw it at the time – with strange, much older men in my teenage years.

A few years later, at the hands of someone else, this was sexual abuse and exploitive, at the very least, and with today’s level of kid-proofing I believe I probably would have reported it.

And yet…

In the confusion of realizing that my sexual orientation was not like other boys I carried guilt, shame and self-blame so reporting the perverts did not seem like an option. Those feelings just seemed to confirm what I had been seeing in myself since Mr. G. threw a blanket of abuse and secrecy over me and stole so much of my childhood wonderment.

And then he failed me in math – was it any wonder I could not learn from him? – giving him an extra year for his sadistic pleasure. Equating school with mortal terror it is a miracle I was ever able to get to high school, to say nothing of college.

I drank, and quite heavily, from the earliest opportunities. I had my first black-out that first September at college. When I left home, in the fall of 1977, to go to Niagara College I would not turn eighteen until October 26. That did not stop me from drinking. (Eighteen was still the drinking age back then, although I think it might have been changed to nineteen around that time.) In any case at no time (after high school) was my drinking illegal. This is not to say it was not inappropriate.

I was not conscious of it being a coping mechanism, a way to feel a peace inside that I otherwise could not feel. It just seemed like the thing to do as a college freshman, strange looks, blackouts, and even a warning or two, notwithstanding.

What was I hiding from then? It would be many years before I saw the sexual abuse for what it was. I do not recall feeling latent trauma from elementary school. No, it was the more immediate discomfort of being around complete strangers, new classmates, coupled with the youthful feelings of immortality, awakening sexuality and drinking-as-ritual that found me increasingly fogged under the haze of alcohol.

One of my early solutions, in retrospect, to my being gay was to dive head-long into a fundamentalist church for a couple of years – adding a level of self-hate and unspoken hopes of exorcism.

The drinking continued, off and on, intensifying through my coming out in 1981, through my working days (‘Aren’t all journalists drunks?’ I rationalized), and up to the time I began to try to stop drinking and I tested HIV-positive in 1989.

I need to grow into the idea that what happened to me as a child, and later, does not make me who I am today. It has certainly influenced how I have interacted with the world but I am not merely a sum of past traumas.

Thanks for the comments Jeremy. (This was the conclusion of the original post yesterday.) As alone as we are in our traumatic times I know that I am not alone today in recovery.

I am reading a couple of helpful books. I lie. I wouldn’t be bipolar were I not reading at least three helpful books🙂

Tom Wootton’s The Bipolar Advantage (although I have lost interest in it for the moment as I read the two others), The Dual Disorders Recovery Book from Hazelden and Vastly More Than That – Stories of Lesbians & Gay Men In Recovery by Guy Kettelhack, also published by Hazelden.

I am seeing the “cunning, baffling and powerful” in my disease(s).

When I was being treated for acute post-traumatic stress disorder, following my 2003 accident, and thought – once and for all – that I was facing the demons of my sexual abuse, I let myself believe that this was the reason why I drank. With that piece of the puzzle found it seemed to me, thanks to a disease that loves such self-deception, that I could drink again. That is logic only an alcoholic could come up with!

So I did.

After a couple of years of PTSD treatment I began to realize that, while no longer depressed thanks to a sedating anti-depressant, I was manic. I didn’t have that word for it yet, however. To me, Doctor Kenn, it just seemed like a pleasant absence of depression.

Alas it was, so another psychiatrist concluded, bipolar disorder (specifically bipolar II). Nothing to be alarmed about yet, he assured me, just take a different medication.

It worked. Trouble was, however, that it ought not be taken under the influence. I obeyed the guidelines on those occasions when some moderate drinking went late into the evening.

After Craig died, however, and I was doctor and alcoholic I let the bipolar med go for a while. I was sufficiently frightened of mixing it with booze and more than snared by alcoholism again to let any fears of bipolar disorder take a back seat.

Now I see that I can be sober, take my psych meds, and stop the chicken-and-egg debate about the relative severity of each disease – the list of which, of course, also includes HIV and type-2 diabetes!


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More lemonade anyone?

I had a meeting with my prospective sponsor – she wants to talk some more but I think it’s a go – and I have taken up her challenge to examine the issue of “trust” in my life.

We’re going to see each other at meetings this week and then meet again towards the end of the week. Meanwhile, it’s not like I’m completely adrift. Two former sponsors are in my home group. New friends have taken me under their wings after meetings for chit-chat and fellowship at Baskin-Robbins🙂

The evening is cooling with me feeling a little more grounded and more optimistic. That makes it a good day!

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Open and honest or just plain nuts?

I wrote this today, in a Yahoo! group I belong to, in response to kudos for being “open” and “honest”.

I have had a lot of experience being “open” about myself – different issues than my bipolar diagnosis in the last nine months or so (what a relief THAT was!) but issues that, in groups (be they A.A. or HIV-related), trained me to risk being open. Too bad I self-medicated over the past couple of years, particularly recently with my brother’s death, but now I can compare how that worked (it did not) with how I stayed sober through my Dad’s death five years ago.

I am absolutely devouring “The Bipolar Advantage” by Tom Wootton.

My brother’s death has brought up what would, by most grief counsellors, be classified as “survivor guilt”. In a nutshell it seems like if life was fair (which I acknowledge it is not) I would have been the one to die. Despite also having AIDS, as I do, Craig had a loving partner (I do not), a very active life (mine is only now on the rebound after a bad accident of my own a few years ago), etc. I do not think such guilt is unnatural but it is absolutely useless, that is for sure.

It points to older issues of what I have always felt about my right to occupy space on this earth…stuff I never really articulated but “acted out” from very early years onward.

Did I mention (to use a “B-P Advantage” phrase) that I thought, even before diagnosis in 1989 that “if anyone DESERVES AIDS I do!” To unpack that statement takes a while – as if ANYone, including me, “deserves” AIDS (or any other illness).

While my family has been extremely accepting of both my brother’s and my homosexuality – for which I am very grateful – the whole coming to terms with my own sexuality was done in a vacuum, with “gaydar” unoperational between my brother and me. Plus I went away from the family’s liberal, and ultimately accepting, church and, for a brief time, joined a fundie Xian church…as if that might help me(!) So sure, there was guilt galore about that and I feel like I missed a few good years with Craig while we were on such different paths with the same ultimate destination – coming out.

When I came home from Mom’s, after we had spent a couple weeks together following Craig’s funeral last month, I crashed big time. Having suspended my drinking (which had started slowly again in 2005) I went overboard with it from the moment I got on the train back here the third week of May until June 20.

Careful not to combine Seroquel with drinking, I dropped off Seroquel. Naturally. Not only that I spent a few thousand dollars (about $800 a night) on $20 dances at a gay strip joint – where everybody was SO happy to see me come in, don’tcha know? It was so non-sexual that I just kept going and going with massage and the like…man, did that all add up!

So, yes, I admit I feel guilty and stupid (as pointless as it is to whack myself with a sledgehammer).

I must say, however, that I am definitely emerging – on the surface at least – from the worst of this despair.

I have gone back to A.A. meetings, both gay-identified and more ‘mainstream’. I have seen both my family doctor and my HIV specialist. They agree that priority number one is to stay sober and take my Seroquel. We have put myself on an HIV meds “holiday” because my sporadic compliance, with the twice daily regimen of handfuls of pills, fell off the rails and it is better to be off them altogether for awhile than to be taking them willy-nilly.

My HIV doc said “I’ve almost lost you before (in 1993-94) but you survived. You can get through this too.”

I agree.

There are a few HIV meds options, both approved and in trials, should any of the ones I was on fail now after being off them. I’ve been a drug trials guinea pig from the days when AZT or DDI were the only things available.

Not that I can take my “nine lives” for granted.

I just need to stay on the beam, coming back to life while being treated simultaneously for my physical and mental conditions.

I can affirm, for myself, that my survivability over the years has inspired people – even if I wasn’t one of them. I need to claim some of that strength as my own.

One last thing, which I know is common among those of us bipolar. Having been accustomed to mainly treating the depression over the years – beginning when diagonsed HIV-positive 18 years ago – the manic part was not caught.

Mania? Yes, now that I recognize what it looks like, I can see the beginnings of it go way back. I have little or no respect for the value of money, and have spent (or gone in debt) accordingly (including recently).  After being sexually abused as an adolescent, which followed a tyrannical teacher abusing me in many other ways in early school years, I had no appreciation for the value of my body either, sexually or looks-wise. Promiscuous? You betcha.

Worth the trouble of feeling guilty?  No way.

Then I drank, as soon as I went away to college. (Academics has never been a problem for me, by the way, although I dare say I would have done much better in school had I been able to actually discipline myself to study.)

All of which, incoherent as it may be, is to say that I am a survivor. I just keep bouncing back – even if I fear my chances may well be running out. This has a motivational edge to it. The more I dodge the bullet, whatever that may be, the more I realize that I cannot take such good fortune for granted.

That’s why I am going to try, with everything I’ve got (including a lot of help) to make this big comeback – and I am confident that, putting one foot in front of the other, I will come back!

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Medical update: An amazing check-up

To refresh your memory, I have been off one of my HIV meds (I forgot it at home) since the day after Craig’s ultimately fatal accident on April 24.

While I stayed on everything else while in Perth, I went off everything – more or less – when I had quite a breakdown upon my return to Toronto over the May holiday weekend. I did the obligatory blood test a couple of weeks ago and was anxious, and not optimistic, about the results which I received today from my HIV specialist.

Viral load: undetectable. I can hardly believe it (and I’m still skeptical)
CD-4 count: 340 or so (an immune system snapshot; this is a significant drop but “not surprising”, given the circumstances, according to my doc)

He wonders how my diabetes might have changed through this process. Surprise, surprise I haven’t been monitoring my sugars🙂

So my only assignment for the next week is to poke my fingers a couple times a day. If my sugars are high, I’ll call him and go back on one of the diabetes meds.

In any case I’ll be seeing him again next week.

Meanwhile, we are in agreement that I could use a break from all my other meds. The unitended break has not been too harmful so far, apparently, so he is not concerned about a major HIV relapse happening in a matter of days or weeks. When I do go back on whatever combination is found to be workable I will need to carry an alarm to remind me to take my meds because I have fallen away from some good discipline along those lines.

“Fletch”, as he is affectionately known, was genuinely sorry to hear about everything that has happened over the past couple of months and seemed to understand how I could come off the rails as I did.  For as long as I’ve been a patient, some seventeen years, we have not needed to discuss my drinking problem.  Abstinent, as I was most of that time, it had not been an issue until recently.

He asked me how I was doing mentally.

I said, “Better now.” I told him that drinking, as I was, affected how compliant I could be with the bipolar meds. Getting back on those was my first priority when I started to sober up a week ago.

Obviously he is pleased with the steps I have taken to recover.

I feel like I’ve caught a big break – again. Not that I am not due for a break or two, because I can honestly believe that I do deserve to get through these days. I have been a good, involved, compliant patient for many years and Fletch even refers to me as one of his “stars”. Coming from a man with his unbeatable credentials I feel privileged to receive such accolades.  Craig, Fletch pointed out, did not die from HIV/AIDS and he wants me to hold on to the hope that I may not either.

I deserve good health. I deserve recovery. I am going to do what I can to make sure I make lemonade (sugar-free if necessary) out of at least some of the lemons.

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The fog of renewing sobriety

The opinions expressed (on both “outside” and inside issues) are those of the writer – that would be me! – and ought not be mistaken as being necessarily appropriate for a meeting (although they may well be, I do not know). Besides – hello! – while I may have more than 17 years of sober experience I am but seven days sober.

One week ago tonight, on Tuesday, June 19, 2007, I had my last drink – and I hope (and know that it is possible) that forever, one day at a time, it can mean that June 20, 2007, the last day of spring, will be my sobriety date. May that be so!

It was around this time in 2002, when I was four years clean and sober for a second time, that Tom John asked me to be his sponsor. He had seen, in me, the hope of recovery from a very brief – but profoundly alarming – episode with drugs (other than our common, and longer, histories with the drug of alcohol). Tom, too, was HIV-positive and had also been sober for many of the same years that I was before my drug relapse which started, and finished, on the May holiday weekend in 1998. His drug experience, a few months longer than my own, ended just before Pride of 2002. Interesting, and this had not occurred to me until now, that this was five years ago this month!

Even with his long-term HIV/AIDS diagnosis Tom’s death, due to a heart attack, in 2005 was – as it was worded in his obituary – “unexpected”. By then he was three years clean and sober again, we had worked the 12 steps together, and he had been such a support while I was recovering from my 2003 accident. However I had fallen away from “the program” when I learned of his death.

I picked up a drink while touring Canada’s Atlantic provinces in 2005, a trip made possible only by the legal settlement which followed the aforementioned accident (See Chopin, Roman Polanski and a cab.)

My drinking did not seem, to me, to be out of control then. I had learned so much about myself through therapy over the years, particularly in post-traumatic stress counselling, and had made the connection between childhood trauma and my “coping” via alcohol. I was convinced that – though not yet diagnosed Bipolar II – I was drinking moderately, notwithstanding the fact that I had been sober for ten years, followed by the lost weekend with drugs, and then again for seven years.

I have always felt there was deeper meaning in life and have been connected with a faith community, of one sort or another, from my infancy. Yet one of the misgivings I had about recovery, as I began to slip away following the accident, was that “God as we understood Him” was actually code for God as YOU understood Him which, in many cases, I had difficulty with.

The very first problem was assigning a gender to God. I do not believe that God is male or female unless God is both male AND female or, even better, completely gender-free. The childhood stories about God have a deep impact on what ought to be an exploratory connection between those of us who are self-described “seekers” and the inner peace which we seek – no matter what religious trappings may be part of our respective cultures.

I admit that the “God as we understood Him” line may simply just be not perfectly worded, penned by fallible human beings as it was, and may indeed be much less of a problem for the majority in recovery than it has been for me. It is not something sufficiently offensive today to drive me to pick up a drink. Yet it was one of the things which contributed to my drift, I admit that.

God, as I understand the concept, is indescribable at best. I believe it is, as I understand the Jewish tradition, something which cannot be named (hence their G-d expression). However I also do not believe in the interventionist type of G-d as described in both the Old and New Testaments. The idea of a puppeteer-style force, picking and choosing who lives or dies, suffers or thrives, is rich or poor, makes no sense to me.

(Keep in mind that Craig died under tragic circumstances and, although I had believed my drinking to be somewhat “controlled” in recent years, I completely went off the rails upon my return home, in late May, from the family’s time of mourning.)

I describe God as Mystery. Divine Mystery. Unimaginable yet, for me, Undeniable. It is not a man with a beard. It is not something which resides in an unearthly place. G-d, The Mystery, The Divine Mystery, The Unimaginable, is right here. Available and accessible to me, and whomever else would wish such a connection. What is wrong with admitting how little I know about G-d, even whether or not there really is such a Force (or force)?

It has been my experience – difficult, self-willed, stubborn and potentially deadly – that I am incapable of living on my own. This is not to say that I cannot function without a room-mate or loving partner. In fact I am quite accustomed to doing so. However I cannot survive – physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually (as wide open a concept as that is) – without a power greater than myself.

To those who, having read this, must be thinking, “Keep coming back, Kenn” – whether or not you’re rolling your eyes as you do so – I would add, “Keep coming back and, better yet, STAY!

Dealing with what’s in front of me or ‘First Things First’

A careful read, between the lines and otherwise, will reveal in this blog my history of alcohol abuse.  I have also, for periods of time (two significant stints of ten and seven years of continuous sobriety) included myself in the fellowship of self-described recovering alcoholics.

While it could be argued, and rightly so, that I am juggling a lot of plates one of the more pressing issues at the moment is the rapid cycling I have been experiencing with my bipolar disorder imbalance ride which has brought with it poor adherence to my medication schedules. This fuels my guilt, which helps nothing.

I seemed to reach a nice plateau when I discovered connected the dots, at least in part through therapy, between the post-traumatic stress I was experiencing after my 2003 accident and other traumas I had survived from younger years.  It’s a phenomenon an attorney friend told me his colleagues sometimes refer to as the ‘soft head syndrome’.  Trauma unleashes trauma.

So, on an intellectual level, I felt a great deal of relief in going through the exercise of explaining, to myself at least, why I had conducted myself the way I have from elementary school days.  I felt such relief, and even found a way to absolve myself of a lot of guilt, that I foolishly thought I might be able to handle things which had previously given me trouble, such as drinking, with new insight and restraint.  And for awhile I did quite comfortably.

When it became abundantly clear that I was bipolar I again felt some relief and, in fact, could see how it had been an issue probably years and years before the depression which came with the post-accident PTSD.  As I drank I did so moderately, and maintained my course of medications both for HIV/AIDS and bipolar – carefully avoiding a drink too close to bedtime when my bipolar med (Seroquel) is taken.

This was working well.  All signs were good.

When Craig’s accident devastated our family this spring I carried myself well, abstaining from alcohol during the weeks I was with family members, and taking my Seroquel faithfully.

Then I came home.  Alone.  Well, except for my cat Emma.

I began to drink a little more than I had been when things were going okay before Craig’s fall.  Therefore I was careful not to take my Seroquel when the drinking went into the evening.  In other words my priorities had reversed themselves.  Such has been the case most nights for the past few weeks.  I’ve been missing proper meals and my meds, both my antiretrovirals and my Seroquel, for the sake of the elective drug alcohol.

That, whether or not with all my health issues it makes it number one, becomes a major presenting issue in today’s circumstances.  So long as I drink too much, foregoing my medications, I put my life at risk – whether it be in the medium or long-term.  It just would not be wilful suicide.  Small comfort.

This is no way to pay tribute to Craig.  I am filled with shame, not helpful to be sure.

I certainly do not want Mom to have to bury another child, nor my sisters another sibling.  Not while I have the potential to get back on track.

So, whether or not alcohol is my number one problem (and arguments can certainly be made either way)  it is the number one presenting problem which prevents me from addressing the other ones.

I will be seeing my HIV specialist next week to receive my most recent bloodwork (which was done while I had forgotten, completely, one of my HIV meds when I was away and while I have been missing other meds since my return to Toronto).  If we can salvage a workable drug regimen out of the results it will be the second time I will have dodged the drug resistance bullet in a couple of years.  I hope, if things are okay, that I will have learned my lesson.  For good.

It is perfectly obvious to me, regardless of my prideful misgivings about A.A.’s alcoholism-as-disease model, that seventeen years of sobriety over the last twenty-one years were among the best and most friend-filled times of my life.

If I can summon up the humility to get back on the wagon, and do what has worked so well in the past, then I will be doing myself a huge favour.

That will take willingness on my part which, for the sake of the memory of Craig at the very least, I know I must summon.

Whether that comes before or after one more Pride party obligation, it will come.  It must if I am to survive.

Childhood trauma —-> isolation —-> adolescent trauma —-> isolation—-> sobriety —-> adult trauma —-> isolation—-> PTSD/bipolar —- >

Sobriety.  Recovery.  That must be my path again.  Regardless of the chicken-and-egg questions and the ranking of issues I need to get back to what has worked.  The past is the past, and insights learned are helpful, but not worth anything if I squander my life either physically, mentally or spiritually.

Whether alcoholism is a disease, my disease, or not matters little if I do not survive bipolar and HIV/AIDS.  Yet to do that I must again stop drinking.  That seems abundantly clear.

I went to a meeting Monday night.  It felt like home.  I am going again tonight.  The willingness is slowly returning even if I am hauling a load of stubbornness and pride behind me.

If blogging this is my first attempt to be accountable again, then it is with that hope that I publish this entry today.

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New page – My book

I’m responding to the challenge from Jamie to dare to dream that some of my most important blogging (now that’s definitely subjective) might one day be published in a more traditional book form. For now, you get a sneak preview as it is cobbled together at its most primitive stage.

See it evolve, as I make the most meagre of beginnings, by clicking the banner above.

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Virginia Tech, NBC News, the media, and the making of another anti-hero

I come at this as a former professional journalist and as someone with empathy for victims of trauma (sometimes the two are not mutually exclusive).

As a journalist, my ears perked up yesterday afternoon when I heard that NBC had a package from the lunatic who so violently shot up Virginia Tech on Monday. The 6:30 broadcast last night, therefore, got one more viewer than it normally would. To that end, with the tease and then the delivery, this was commercial journalism at its most crass and I was soon a regretful consumer.

While it is hard to imagine grieving families watching the news, in these painful hours so soon after Monday’s horror (although they might), there are thousands of Virginia Tech students and faculty who – in my experience with trauma I can guess – will have seen the NBC broadcast and, therefore, been re-traumatized beyond measure:

  • seeing the gunman, they know now to be dead, alive and at his most delusional – and not just in a grainy still-photo
  • the gunman pointing the barrel of one of his weapons into a camera lens (his re-creation of the last horrible thing his victims experienced)
  • the gunman striking monstrous poses with his body, his guns, and a knife to his throat
  • the gunman recording his way, via psychopathic rants, into the sordid history of violence and narcissism
  • the gunman invoking the names of the Columbine killers as ‘martyrs’

Even this point-form synopsis is infuriating.

Immediately after Brian Williams’ release last night of what he called “a multimedia manifesto” (nothing too sensationalizing there!) CNN reporters, and all the other networks I presume, were only too happy eager prepared to show the NBC peacock logo as minor compensation for distributing this madness more widely.

Thank goodness I dumped Fox News from my cable line-up as I can only imagine how much more over-the-top than CNN they would have been.

CNN was horrible enough!

Wolf Blitzer, he who manages to speak in sentences longer than even I can write, gushed about the “disturbing” tape and pictures he showed (as did all of his colleagues) while, within the same program segments, interviewing victims’ parents, family members and friends right there in his perch on the Virginia Tech campus. Unbelievable!

The disappointment, as expressed by police and other Virginia Tech authorities this morning, was practically shouted down by media hordes demanding to know all and sundry details of the investigation. The messengers were clearly feeling wounded.

This morning, eighteen hours after the damage was done, NBC News fell leaned dangerously on its sword – ethically, if not morally. I would link to the corporation’s online statement directly, via a link, except that it appears side by side with the offending videos and photographs it purports to be now showing with greater restraint.

NBC News statement on gunman video

Network to limit airtime for material, acknowledging ‘immeasurable’ pain
NBC News

Updated: 11:43 a.m. ET April 19, 2007

NBC News issued the following statement Thursday in regard to the materials it received from the gunman in the Virginia Tech shootings:

The pain suffered by the Virginia Tech community and indeed the entire country is immeasurable.

Upon receiving the materials from Cho Seung-Hui, NBC News took careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed. We did not rush the material onto air, but instead consulted with local authorities, who have since publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter. Beginning this morning, we have limited our usage of the video across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime.

Our Standards and Policies chief reviewed all material before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams, handled the reporting. We believe it provides some answers to the critical question, “why did this man carry out these awful murders?” The decision to run this video was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on Web sites and in newspapers. We have covered this story — and our unique role in it — with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

CBC Newsworld has been telling viewers not without debate even before today, of its corporate and editorial decision not to broadcast many of the images and tape, citing concerns from consultants who fear inspiring misguided, though hardly unimaginable, copycats. Bravo!

The horrifying images we can recall from the Columbine tragedy, as well as some of our own Canadian examples, have undeniably – it would seem – inspired cult followings of gamers, at the very least, if not film creators and a variety of sociopaths.

The tragic figure who unleashed his depravity on the Virginia Tech campus last Monday said as much – from the grave, thanks to the media.  Sadly more may follow.

Ah, freedom! Without responsibility it can be a most reckless thing.

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When ‘good enough’ is good enough

I don’t think I will ever be described as being an over-achiever, although I know other survivors who are.

Back in my smoking days I would occasionally create a ball with the tiny pieces of foil inside the cigarette packages.

Recently, in one of those self-examination exercises I indulge in occasionally, I’ve been looking at my life, metaphorically, as individual bits of aluminum foil.

It’s as if that’s all I can handle.

I stall out and just sit in one place, emotional or otherwise, for what can seem like an eternity.

One of the perspectives I am getting, through the feedback of a social worker I’m seeing at the Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Psychiatry’s Clinic for HIV-related Concerns (here in Toronto), is that of my history of resilience – surviving and, at a minimum, plodding on.

The way I see it, self-critically, is that of a guy who has known others in comparable circumstances who have committed suicide long before now and, yet, on I plod for goodness knows what reason.

I hear, “I admire your (my) resilience” and internalize an unspoken rhetorical question “Why have you (I) hung on so long?”

A recurring problem for me is my short attention span, most noticeable since my serious accident in 2003 during which I was knocked down by a taxi cab, breaking my femur and wrist (but, then again, that’s when just about everything came into sharper focus).

I know this to be an effect of post-traumatic stress. I also know that a case can be made that I have lived with the effects of PTSD from quite a young age. So why is my awareness of this inattentiveness only now becoming such an irritant? (Or is this irritation I’m feeling not really new either?)

In the settling-for-less/resilience discussions I’ve been having I recall how I did not seem to be able to – my claim was that I did not know how to – study for school exams. Open books of my notes or text just seemed to stare back at me. Yet my grades usually averaged between the mid-70s and the low 80s. Upon graduation I even won two prizes.

Those grades were good enough to get me into one of the top three colleges of my choosing (even if they were not top colleges or universities by national standards). Then, dabbling in an above average number of youthful indiscretions, I managed to graduate college, too, again winning one prize. Within months I landed the job of my short-term dreams.

When some eight years later, with a few of the predictable behavioral problems beginning to have a cumulative effect, I left that job – no it was a mutually agreeable dismissal – I sank deeper into my ‘acting out’ behaviors and, within a year, became infected with HIV.

That was in the spring of 1989. I would not know my HIV status until the following spring at which point I took a paid, short-term leave from the most recent good job I had landed and, soon going on long-term disability, I have never returned to “work”.

This is not to say, as others have pointed out, that I have not been a productive, contributing member of society in terms of peer counseling, helping on home-care teams, etc.

It was during a holistic healing workshop, in the early months of knowingly living with HIV, that I recalled, with the objectivity of an adult, that experiences in my young adolescence had constituted sexual abuse and recalled more vividly that, prior to that, I had been abused, physically and emotionally at the very least, by a family friend who was also the head teacher in my elementary school.

The realities of my illness trumped any counseling which might have been called for at this time. My HIV had quickly progressed to include AIDS-defining illnesses which, in those early days of the 1990s, indicated the time was now to get my life’s affairs in order. Meanwhile I experienced more trauma, albeit a little more universal, with the deaths of friends who I had become close to through our common illness.

Fast forwarding to 1998, after the present-day classes of anti-retroviral drugs had begun to have such an impact on life expectancy (here in the “developed” world anyway), I experienced a manic meltdown when I experimented with a street drug one weekend. It was devastating enough, particularly materially, that I have not tried it again.

Does any of this sound like the after-effects of someone who had been abused as a child?

Ever ‘resilient’ I have managed to climb back up, after every setback, to something like ground level.

Still flighty and inattentive, however, I remain content with ‘good enough’ while continuing to wonder (strike up “If I Could Turn Back Time”) how much better – whatever that means – my life could have been had I done more than settle for the results of minimal work.

Here in 2007, in my 48th year, I continue to see the effects of childhood events affecting my life, consciously and subconsciously.

I hear, in almost admiring tones, descriptions of “resilience”. Yet, through those ever-critical inner voices, I remain mostly unimpressed and content to let ‘good enough’ be good enough.

All that said I see, in me, someone with strong empathy and compassion. That’s who I want to continue to grow into being – even if I don’t exert much effort to help it happen.