By Betty-Lou Kristy
The views expressed on EENote: An EENet Blog do not necessarily reflect those of Evidence Exchange Network.
Well, it looks like I will not be using this blog to share some of the specific opportunities I have had to participate in mental health and addictions initiatives at a systems-level and the need for self care from triggers and other complex dynamics. Simply put, there’s more perspective and personality that I need to share so I can qualify and frame ‘meaningful’ engagement.
Also, I know this will be posted during the holiday season and that may explain the re-direct; my son died of his opioid overdose Dec 23 2001. So I’m already dealing with a protracted grief bubble at the start of a season that is supposed to be all about family. I trust that my writing process is as much for me as it is for you, so I will see where this takes us.
I have always been drawn to the ‘unusual.’ I enjoy finding the simplicity in a complex tale. I love characters and people with character.
I gravitate to anything that helps me to expand any parameters in order to explore, find myself and then creatively express that to others. If my world doesn’t fit me, then I just change my world. It’s a very creative and healthy means of adapting to reality, living my veracity and not allowing myself to be marginalized, victimized, defined or limited. It also helps ensure I stay in my 17-year substance-free recovery, and not relapse back into massive mental health issues while negotiating the reality of being a bereaved mother. I find sense from what seems senseless and then use that to talk about mental health and addiction.
As Richard Buckminister Fuller says, “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”
Alice follows a white rabbit with a watch, falls down a rabbit hole into a hall with many locked doors of all sizes, finds one small key to a door that she is too big to fit through, and peers through to a beautiful garden on the other side that she can’t get to. (Perfect parallel to someone struggling with so many complex issues that their problems become ‘too big’ to fit them all into one door—like a door into the mental health and addictions system.)
Alice is sad and cries but her ‘sea of tears’ ends up flooding the hallway which lands Alice in a fantasy world and the resulting exploration, where she finds herself aided by strange anthropomorphic creatures. (Perfect parallel to lived experience/family advocates and peers – strange as we may be – having the ability to be allies and guides.)
Some have it that she was bored. Some have it that she was grieving the loss of her father. Others have it that the story is symbolic of drug use, and others suggest that the author was using opium. It has been categorized as genius, nonsense, and creepy, all in the same breath. And of course, Alice is trying to find herself and questioning her sanity. (Perfect parallel to the wide range of philosophy and interpretation and the relevancy of grieving, drug use and questions of what is real, perceived or imagined within the context of questioning our sanity.)
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The references to being ‘mad’ may not be politically correct. But as a person with lived experience, it is kind of cool to imagine a place where ‘everybody is mad’ – a safe place where our foibles are actually part of a unique strength of character through a ‘coming together’ of great characters. (Perfect parallel to the power of lived experience/family evidence when used by ‘like-minded’ peers, advocates, providers, and planners to co-create equitable opportunities—opportunities that showcase our strengths, normalize our ‘edges’ and embrace the notion that we are all a ‘little off the wall’ at times.)
In the chapter “A Mad Tea Party,” the Hatter asks: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” When Alice gives up, the Hatter admits: “I haven’t the slightest idea.” He was just asking. Alice chides him with, “I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.”
From what I have researched, it appears that author Lewis Carroll originally intended the riddle to be without an answer. But he was continually badgered by inquisitive people needing an answer. So he ‘manufactured’ one. People generally didn’t understand or didn’t like this ‘forced’ answer. It was disregarded by some, criticized by others, and to this day is still being analyzed by many. (Perfect parallel to our often conflicted personal internal dialogue and also system processes that seek answers to perceived questions that weren’t even asked, nor needed to be asked, and have no relevancy to our wellness. The wasted energy from these superfluous processes can paralyze any real momentum…but also leave us swimming in our own heads trying to answer what cannot be answered.)
Other quotes from Alice in Wonderland that draw parallels to struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues as well as the challenges of lived experience/family advocacy.
1) “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”
2) “’I don’t think…’ ‘Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.”
3) “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’”
4) “If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much!”
I find true relevance from Alice and her journey through Wonderland when I apply it to my journey through mental health, addiction, trauma and bereavement. I also find my son’s journey in the story. Drawing parallels helps to articulate the beauty of being somewhat ‘off the wall’, the beauty of the ‘strange’ characters and what can be discovered when one ‘falls down a rabbit hole’ into a place that may be unknown – but not stifling. As the story tells us, “Go on till you come to the end; then stop.”
And now I realize the process that has happened here. This is a blog in memory of a son lost at age 25 to an accidental mixed drug overdose of Oxycontin & psychiatric drugs and unresolved mental health issues. On Dec 23 2013, it will be twelve years since Pete died. His death was preventable. Society in general does not understand bereavement and there is a misconception that we heal. People may think that because it has been twelve years, I have ‘healed’. Truth is, we don’t actually heal – those of us who work very hard learn how to integrate that loss and live in recovery.
There is one irrefutable fact that stands out from this ‘Bringing it Home’ series – I will never get to bring my son home. He never got his gifts twelve years ago. Instead he got a toe tag.
We have to keep that from happening to others and I have faith that we will-together. I also want to acknowledge that this is a hard season for those who are struggling and many will be dealing with escalations of their ‘shadows’ that manifest because of the holiday season. We need to watch out for each other and be prepared to offer a smile, a hand and a ray of hope to others this season.
Not wanting to leave you (or me) with any heaviness I want to share a ‘gift’ with you. Pete lived in my basement – in what we now call a “man-cave.” We had a unique and beautiful relationship. We were (are) perfectly imperfect. Pete’s unique sense of humour and general ‘weirdness’ truly entertained me, and we found great solace from our struggles and lots of laughter in spite of all the challenges. (He definitely could have been one of the characters from Wonderland)
Pete’s love for animals was incredible. One day he ran upstairs and said “Mom, come quick there is a rabbit outside in the backyard. (He would have been about 23 years old when this started). So I would run down and voila, there was NO rabbit. I would turn to Pete and say, “Nice one Pete.” He would say, “No, Mom, really, there was the cutest rabbit here, and he stayed for a long time.” My reply would be a goodhearted: “Whatever you say Pete.”
Of course, I was always the dutiful mother who ran back downstairs with him only to find NO rabbit, yet again. (And again. And again.) It finally got to the point that when Pete yelled out his ‘rabbit alert’ I would yell back downstairs (no longer making the journey down the stairs) – “Yea right Pete, smoke another one” (which I know is not in the parenting book).
Pete would insist through his laughter that he was not imagining the rabbit (even if he was usually stoned when this happened). We had great fun with this. He even got carrots and asked me what rabbits drank. I didn’t know, so defaulted to milk. Obviously I never saw the rabbit.
One day, a year after Pete died, I found myself begging my son to send me a sign. I came downstairs to sit in his basement and there in the middle of the backyard was his rabbit! The rabbit sat majestically on its hind legs, with its head and paws up looking straight at me. With that, I started to laugh, thinking about all the times I thought he had “smoked” up the rabbit.
That is when I knew that Pete and I were meant to do something with his death. That is when I started my journey of being a lived experience/family advocate and peer.
And yes, Pete’s bunny has come back to visit me several times.
BETTY-LOU KRISTY is a bereaved mother, in recovery from co-occurring alcohol/multi-drug addictions, trauma and mental health issues who also lost her concurrent disordered son to an accidental Oxycontin overdose.
As a result of Pete’s death, Betty-Lou dedicates her time as a provincial systems level, lived experience and ‘family’ – advisor/ consultant and advocate who additionally provides peer support and outreach at a community level. Betty-Lou is also an experienced speaker, trainer and facilitator who has written three lived experience e-books and is the recipient of the CAMH Transforming Lives Award. You can watch the video about Betty Lou’s Transforming Lives award below. And while you’re at it, check out Betty-Lou’s new anti-stigma video called Stigmatized and Irrevocably Harmed here.
Betty-Lou holds several board directorships, has worked on many specialized projects such as the Minister of Health’s Expert Working Group Narcotic Addiction and The Minister of Health’s Consumer Working Group for the Comprehensive Mental Health & Addictions Strategy. She has both training and past experience within Children’s Aid Society, Big Brothers & Sisters, Restorative Justice, and conflict mediation, and she graduated from the Halton Citizens Police Academy.