The biggest positive gains in my recovery from trauma, addictive and emotional conditions were made using a combination of 12 step meetings, an ICCD-certified clubhouse of the Fountain House model - Genesis Club in Worcester, MA (I joined in 1993), and holistic health practices, including Burch House, an alternative to hospitalization in New Hampshire.
The right medication (Depakote) begun in 1990 was also helpful. Certain caring and daring, committed and humble staff members; who weren't afraid to break the rules or admit that they didn't have all the answers were very helpful too.
The next most helpful thing was staying sober and staying away from traditional psychiatry through the clubhouse by developing peer and other natural supports.
Recovery dovetailed my return to employment. I started working and then began getting well, not the other way around. I began a clubhouse group placement in 1994 then took a Transitional Employment position later that year. I began working independently part-time in 1995 then returned to full-time employment in 1997.
I met weekly with a Zen Buddhist teacher/therapist (Melissa Blacker, MA) after my psychosis in 1993 in her home in exchange for yard or housework. Over the next year, she helped me sort through the aftermath of psychosis using a Buddhist approach, without reverting to the medical model per se.
Using the sitting, walking and other mindfulness techniques I learned with her in conjunction with yoga and meditation at the Jon Cabot Zinn Stress Reduction Clinic at UMASS Medical Center (1995, '96, and '97) helped me to further befriend my mind and reduce turmoil by extending compassion toward myself.
Using a nutritional Ayurvedic approach with Abbas Qutab, MD, DC since 1996 in Worcester freed me from diverse symptoms. There are three doshas that comprise any individual in the Ayurvedic tradition that correspond to the elements of water, fire and wind (kapha, pitta, and vata respectively). I was diagnosed as having a vata imbalance (excess), accounting for my extremely changeable nature (among other things).
For instance, energy fluctuations associated with lunar cycles, PMS, air travel, seasonal changes and other cyclical disruptions were managed with plant derived progesterone, a liver cleanse, and vitamin, mineral, amino acid and other herbal supplements. Dr. Qutab also helped me correct imbalances by eliminating so-called "vata" aggravating foods (cold and dry) and practices (e.g. irregular schedule, etc).
Helping others by volunteering also helped but demanded high attention to my own wellness lifestyle - mostly by following the vata-soothing nutritional and lifestyle recommendations of Dr. Qutab. This was to come in handy when I began working as paid staff in mental health in 1995.
Going to Burch house, an alternative to hospitalization in 1996 for 72 days and paying out of pocket @ $50/d for total of $3600.00 was one of the biggest turning points in my recovery. I figured that I was worth at least as much as my car (I bought my '89 Toyota for $4000 as a result of saving my Transitional Employment earnings of about $400/month for a year). I payed off the Burch house debt each month for the next 2 ½ years.
Unfortunately, Burch House is no longer in existence although a small group of committed individuals are trying to start a similar safe house in Northampton, MA on the Soteria model of Dr. Loren Mosher (go to http://hem.fyristorg.com/mosher/soteri.htm for more information).
Burch House was a community founded by David Goldblatt and RD Laing in the 70's - it closed a couple of years ago. It boasted a 100% cure-rate from 'mental illness'. It 'cured' me by helping me realize that I was not a mental patient but a person with problems (energy fluctuations) and occasional crises, who needed support and understanding from time to time, just like anyone else. At Burch House, I learned to accept and adapt to occasional life crises while avoiding symptoms, thereby reducing my Depakote dose by half.
I began seeing a practicing classical homeopathist/psychiatrist (Richard Weintraub, MD of Wellesley Hills, MA) on June 23, 1997. I think it no coincidence that I returned to full-time employment that August - 2 months after starting on a homeopathic remedy. The remedy had a subtle effect that I can only describe as that I began to do those things about which I had previously only dreamed. I have continued to dramatically reduce my Depakote dose with the remedy and Dr. Weintraub's support.
I also began an exercise program that combined jogging with weight lifting in 1997. I increased my running gradually and continued to reduce my carbohydrate intake (like many people in recovery from alcoholism and many others with psychiatric diagnoses, I deal with hypoglycemia by increasing protein and reducing carbohydrates).
As the result of learning and living a balanced lifestyle using the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) in 2000- 3 years after returning to full-time employment and getting off Social Security benefits - I lost 45 lbs. I continue to use my WRAP to achieve my personal and professional goals: stay well and co-create my dreams with others.
Mostly talking with people who had gone through similar things and who had come out on the other side and reading about such people helped sustain my desire - and then conviction - that I too would not only achieve full remission, but would use this experience in the service of God and others. Thus, peer support has been the invisible lifeline - an 'Underground Railroad' of hope - that has led me to where I am today.
This brings me to my final and most available and useful relationship - my spiritual life (prayer) as I began to reestablish trust in God, myself, others, and 'the process'. If the help of others in recovery formed the railroad, surely my Higher Power engineered its direction. I only agreed to the ride and what a ride it has been!
Cheryl Stevens, MD
65 Olive St
Northampton, MA 01060