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.

  Personal  Add to Technorati Favorites

Kenn Chaplin's Facebook profile

Site Meter

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!


Kenn Chaplin's Facebook profile

Site Meter