By Henry, a Certified Peer Specialist, SCI Greene, Pennsylvania*
Sitting in a cold jail cell, sick because I was a heroin addict; nowhere to turn what did I do? My moral compass was definitely broken. It was years later that I found some real answers to help me out of the pit I’d put myself in. One thing I will never under estimate is the importance of knowing about my mental health condition. The triggering event in my life was losing my mother to cancer. From that moment my life changed, it seemed like everything went numb and I was moving in slow motion. I was self-medicating, relapsing repeatedly. In and out of rehabs seeking help, little did I know, I was looking in the wrong place.
I later learned about the five stages of grief, I was caught between denial and depression; suffering in silence, unable to talk about what I was going through with those that cared. Every time something reminded me of my mother, I would relive the shock realizing she was gone. One counselor recommended that I do something that seemed foolish to me. He said, “Have you ever considered writing your mother a letter?” At first I rejected the idea because it seemed like it was too late to talk to her, she was in heaven. The counselor helped me realize I had nothing to lose. I agreed and started out thinking that it would be a short letter. For the next few days I plunged myself into what I would call an emotional abyss. I wrote about the good times, I told her how much I loved her and missed her. I thanked her for being my mother. That breakthrough showed me that I had hope. Yet I needed to come clean and face the demons of my past. As a drug addict, I had committed crimes, and I needed to take full responsibility for those things. Needless to say, I hit “rock bottom” in prison.
Then I got involved with the recovery community. I learned that I suffered from trauma of losing my mother, and had a type of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). God showed me my healing would come as I helped others. In prison I became a Certified Peer Support Specialist; I also facilitated many groups with the prison Staff. I learned about empowering people to help themselves. Before long I was being the best me I could be. When people like me learn how to become part of our own recovery, the change is lasting and transforming. I now work with people that are walking the same road of recovery that I’m walking. My moral compass is not broken anymore. I took a few wrong turns but my inner GPS is recalculating my route. My story is about Amazing Grace, I was once lost but now I’m found. I hope in my story you find hope to do whatever it is that is holding you back. You can do it!
This story was submitted to ITE/MH through Supporting Incarcerated Veterans Training, a collaboration among the PA Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association, and Drexel University.