By Kim Lee Johnson
The earliest memories of my challenges with mental illness and addiction – I remember my mother shaking and being uncomfortable holding me as a baby. There were years of abuse – emotional, verbal, sexual – but mostly in my household – the family members didn’t communicate with each other. I learned to suppress my emotions and communicate only in writing. I did not make close friends.
In addition, my caretaker and best friend, my maternal Grandmother, retired and when she left for the winter months, no babysitter was hired to take her place. So, at 10 years of age, I began to cook, clean, and do laundry and to take care of my parents and younger sister and brother – emotionally – and physically – all at the same time.
Thus, perfect prep work for a future “member of Al-Anon” and a “Peer Support Specialist”.
I started drinking at the age of 14 to numb the pain and because I fell in deep like with a teenage boy who ran with a dangerous crowd. It was just the excitement and attention I yearned for.
I got sober at 29. And, my recovery from mental illness and subsequent addictions began. Unfortunately, there were 20 years in Psyche wards, two failed marriages, two houses lost, and a loss of a 15 year career in my field (Bachelor of Arts from Michigan State University in Public Administration). Eventually, I had to file bankruptcy.
I have been in therapy for as long as I have been sober – when I made a conscious decision to “not pick up a drink” when during my first hospitalization – the doctor told me “you will be on medication for bipolar disorder and you cannot drink alcohol again”. I listened.
Most of my life, I had female therapists. I had issues with female dominance and I thought that that would be “the ticket for me”. During the past three years, my life and recovery have benefited by a wonderful man- my age – a therapist with disabilities himself. He loves to work with people with Substance Abuse and Mental Illness – and he fulfilled the role of both a father and a brother for me. He helped me to emotionally bond with a healthy male, and understood the desire to bond with a partner again. He helped me with boundaries and trust issues for both my personal and professional lives.
He also encouraged me to continue to look for employment that satisfied me – and he knew I would benefit from relocating to do just that.
I hadn’t been employed by a “Peer Support” bureaucracy in 4 years. But, I remained in contact daily with other “Peers” and I continued to visit the local “Drop In Center” where I used to work.
Ironically, I attended “Peer Recovery Coach” training this spring in Lansing. I was certified in “Substance Abuse” as well as “Mental Health”. I was offered a position by my trainer and accepted and bought a house. I didn’t think I could make it an easy transition but with a lot of spiritual guidance and prayers from friends, it is now all falling into place.
I am also diabetic so I have plans for increasing exercise by walking this summer – at a local mall that is open early in the mornings and this can be accomplished every day of the year.
I sewed for many years and plan to dust off the cover of the machine again. I used to sew with a large Group of women – but I enjoy sewing at home alone as well as with a Group.
I have returned to my old church – and am happy to have my friends and Pastor still there and happy to see me. I intend to increase my activities with the Chapel – cooking for large groups, enjoying picnics, outings, Womens’ Groups, and Bible Studies.
I am making strides to handle my finances in healthier ways. Finances are a challenge for people with bipolar illness – as well as most in general.
My sleep patterns have changed. Insomnia has decreased and my moods are not quite as drastic. As I said someone the other day, “I used to isolate to control the mania”. I am not able to do that as much with my “new” life – and believe it or not – I don’t need to.
Have a beautiful – sober – clean – healthy life – each one of YOU! Peace . . .
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