“Hello, this is a call from…Herb Stepherson. An Inmate at the Porter County Jail.”
I bet my folks didn’t think that they were going to hear that again. And they thought that primarily because I had convinced them that they wouldn’t. Up until this very moment I had been too concerned with saving face, maintaining my reputation, and up keeping the notion that everything was okay. Up until this very moment I had been very much obsessed with maintaining control, which I hadn’t had in quite some time. I was still somewhat bitter and angry, and showed that over the course of several phone calls with my parents. Blame placing, scapegoating, focus shifting, etc. but I knew that all of this was square on my shoulders. I may not have been responsible for what ‘made’ me this way, but I was responsible for the lack of effort and attention I had put into myself and my healing. I was also responsible for allowing myself to spiral out of control so badly.
We are not responsible for our diseases but we are responsible for our recoveries. We are not responsible for our traumas, but we are responsible for our healing. And the weight of my failure to take personal responsibility was crashing down on me. I broke a little more and more with each phone call. The entire tape of my life was now available and playing in my head over and over. I was now finally able to accept that I needed to go and get some much needed help. I told them this over a series of phone calls from the jail, and I called my business partner as well and told him the same thing.
I bonded out of jail and walked to my father’s vehicle which was waiting out front. They had just bonded me out again. This time for 2,500$ bringing the grand total of bond money spent on me in the last 15 months to 7,500$. Not exactly pocket change. I remember feeling so angry on that ride back to my dad’s house. The thing is though, is I was searching for someone to be angry at, and the only person I could pin point to be angry at was myself. Sure, I could misplace my anger easily and say that it was this person or that person, but when I tried doing so I felt instantly convicted inside. I knew this was on me. I felt so ashamed. How could this success story guy, this author on addiction and mental health, this intervention company owner, this husband, father, and changed man fall so hard like this? Well, like I said before, it wasn’t some over night thing. It never is. I got to this bottom like I had all the others, one compromise at a time.
One of the most interesting and fascinating things that came out of this trip to jail was, for some reason, even though I was horribly humiliated and ashamed; those feelings were also accompanied by an intense feeling of relief. The cat was out of the bag so to speak. I could stop pretending. I now could take a big deep cleansing breath, and shift the focus back onto myself and getting myself some help. I realized in that time, that no one expected me to be this super human mighty man, except for me. And that it was okay to be human and to struggle. The thing that was not okay, was letting it get to this point.
My wife, business partner, and parents had all gotten together and made arrangements for me to go to a treatment center out of state. Like way out of state. We were following the same exact template for success that we utilized when executing interventions ourselves. Get them out of dodge, away from all of the people and places and things, away from any resources, trigger zones, and away from any immediate life pressures. If we are able to preach it, we are able to practice it. This applies everywhere. I knew I couldn’t beat this thing on my own, so I agreed to go. A large suitcase was packed for me, and a plane ticket booked. I spent the night at my parents house, and was off to the airport the next day.
I walked into the doors of the residential treatment center a hot mess. I had gotten hammered on my commute to the coast and was more than a little toasty. I sat my luggage down while the tech went over some rules & expectations and welcomed me to the program. I stumbled over to the leather sectional, put on food network on the common area T.V and passed out for about 6 hours. Apparently I was “quite pleasant” when I first got there. When I woke up, however, that would very much not be the case.
Apparently this was a no cell phone facility, and we were going to be on black out period of one week before we could make any kind of phone calls back home. I did not like this at all, and I began getting incredibly upset. I packed my bag and I threatened to leave. I asked to speak to a supervisor on the phone and demanded that I get a phone call to my parents. I personally didn’t think this was too much to ask, I mean my family should at least know that I had made it safely. They knew, I had talked to them the whole entire way, this was about control. This was about calling the shots and I could actually feel that in this time. I could feel my control being taken away from me and I did not like that at all. The supervisor agreed to one five minute monitored “safe call” to let my parents know that I had made it. My attitude would not improve for many many days.
It seemed like every day for the first week I was leaving. Fuck this place, fuck these rules, this is bull shit, blah blah blah, more victim shit as I wrestled with control. The very first Monday I was there the doctor put me on three days worth of Valium. I guess that was their, “here, this will calm his wild ass down” tactic. And it worked. I felt like a damn slug for the days I took that shit. And I finally began to settle down a bit, physically and verbally. But my mind still raced. I still grappled with everything but the present moment. I was bitter and unapproachable. I was angry and borderline rude. But I was only really mad at myself. I put me here. This was my doing, and that made me even more upset.
My first day in clinical, I met my therapist. Her name was Krystal. “Like Krystal ball, not Krystal Meth she said.” We spent some time getting to know one another a bit in her office and I was still very much full of “piss and vinegar” as the old saying goes. “So, Herb, any questions, or concerns. Any input or anything you might have for me?” She asked. “Yeah. This is fucking bullshit. I don’t think this is gonna work, and I don’t think it’s gonna work because I am smarted than you are.” Was my response. What a joy I was gonna be to work with. But she handled it with such grace and understanding. “That’s ok, it may not work, but that will be on you. And you might be smarter than me, in some areas, sure, but for now I am going to need you to trust me, and trust that I might be smarter than you in some areas too.” She was so direct, assertive, and bold. But in a very calm and kind way. She just bucked right back up to me. Interesting. She had my attention.
I remember when I finally mentally and emotionally settled in. We all had to attend a meeting every single day at local AA/NA clubhouses there in town, and this old man was sharing, and he said something like “If, I can’t get out of this, I might as well get into this.” And in that moment he was speaking to me. I had been rustling with this whole vulnerability and openness thing, for about the last 37.5 years and it finally dawned on me what an opportunity this was. So yes, Krystal, it was going to be on me. I would get out of this what I put into this. Up until this trip to treatment I was still very much untreated. I had done all the AA/NA, the Church stuff, the CD&A programs back home, but this was my chance to really open up and do some research on myself. I knew that I was “ready to go to treatment”, but up until that moment, I wasn’t ready to actually dig in, probe my life, and do the dirty difficult work of healing. This was going to require a lot of processing with my therapist. That old man who shared that that day, may have very well saved my life and doesn’t even know it. It was time to get to work.
Once I honestly and seriously made the decision to dig in and do the work, it was like a light had turned on inside of me. I was gonna share it all. I was gonna tell the whole story. Not the story I would share when “giving a talk”, but the real one. The gritty, ugly, sad truths of my life. I was going to air it all out with my therapist, and we were gonna process it together. What did I have to lose? The worst case was that I wouldn’t get anywhere, and some stranger across the country would know my whole real story. I could live with that. So we started at the beginning, as you have read- starting with “1985” and we moved on from there. Man I opened up to this lady like she was Barbara Walters. It’s kind of like, once I broke that barrier with her, once I realized that I could trust her, and once I realized that this healing thing was on me, a massive sense of motivation and urgency came over me. This was life or death. I had to peel the layers back, and she was going to show me how. We spent about 20 full hours together in individual sessions. She also facilitated some of the process groups which was cool, she had this really unbelievable ability to break stuff down and explain it in both addict and therapist terms. She was in recovery too, and I have always said that addicts make the best therapists.
One day we were doing a session and I was going on and on about some shit. I was upset, I was sad, I was feeling it all. And she looked at me dead ass in the eyes and asked me, “So, Herbert, what the fuck else would you like to try and control- and drive yourself crazy in the process?” I didn’t know what to say. “Yeah” She continued, “You’re a control freak and it’s because you’re entire life has been spent living in such uncontrollable conditions, you were constantly traumatized and victimized, and though not your fault, it has led you to dying on the hill of control, and living in a victim mindset.” She had my full attention. No one had ever “called me out on the carpet” like this before. And she was right. I had never really examined my life like this before. I had never known how to. And I had never fully considered how all of the events that unfolded in my life actually went into making me who I was today. For the longest time, I just thought I was faulty. I thought I had depression, anxiety, bipolar, or maybe I was just a hopeless addict and drunk. It had never fully occurred to me that all of this addiction and alcohol stuff actually had a real, tangible source. A root cause. Things were starting to make sense.
Onward we marched. We talked about everything. Fears, insecurities, parenting, relationships, successes, failures, communication, boundaries; I am pretty sure we covered everything possible in the clinical world, and most of the DSM. It was like, I had finally realized that this was some kind of moment I had been waiting for my entire life. Those of you who know me, and those of you who have read my stuff in the past know that I had tried to get into treatment many times in the past, but never could. It was only through my work in the field, intervention and etc. that I was able to attend a program now. I am still in that “We make too much for medicaid but not enough for private insurance” demographic. My wife, business partner, and parents had to call in a favor with some people in the industry to make this a reality. I could sense that this was a really important opportunity and privilege to finally connect some dots. We were peeling back layers.
I think we had gotten to the point in my life to where I had started using drugs to begin with. We had left off for the day, after a session and I was in the group room doing whatever the exercise and processing the group was doing. I was an active participant. I was eating this shit up. I love the human mind. I love talking about philosophy, and people, and relationships. I was on fire to learn as much as I could.
About midway through the group session the door to the group room opened and Krystal’s head popped in. She gave me her classic “pointer finger curl” to come here. I met her in her office and she closed the door. She proceeded to read off a long extensive list of criteria from a computer screen to which I rattled off a series of “Yes’s” to each and everyone. When she completed the list she flipped her screen around and showed me what she was reciting the criteria for: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t really know how to respond. It was too simple of an explanation. I thought war vets were the ones who had PTSD, not me. This was mind blowing. But there was no fighting it. I knew this to be accurate. I knew she was right. I could just feel it. I had spent 15 years trying to find answers. But I hadn’t been asking the right questions. I hadn’t been peeling back the right layers. When She shared this with me, it was like a door unlocked inside my mind. We were getting somewhere.
About a week or so later, I was again, sitting in group. We hadn’t done any individual sessions yet this week, but it was only about Tuesday. Krystal, again, pulled me out of group and I met her in her office and closed the door. “Just a quick question here, Herb. Do you ever think about killing yourself?” I didn’t really know how to respond. This was out of the blue and took me by surprise. So I just answered it honestly. “I mean, doesn’t everyone think about blowing their heads off from time to time?” She stared at me with understanding and a touch of pity, shook her head and in a hushed tone replied, “No.”I could see that she felt great sadness for me. She then proceeded to go down another list of criteria, to which I responded “Yes” to every single one. Again she flipped the screen around to reveal another Diagnostic Criteria page. This time it was for Borderline Personality Disorder, which stemmed directly out of the trauma and PTSD. This one made me squirm a little bit, not gonna lie. “It’s one of the weird ones” I said, as I judged myself, and in that moment experienced what so many of us who suffer like this feel on a daily basis- stigma. But again, I knew she was right. My wife had also been right about this. She had been conducting her own research about my mental conditions for a while, and both of the diagnoses I had just received were on my wife’s radar. And it all made sense too; the splitting, the mood changes, the fear of abandonment, the delusion, the anger, the anxiety, depression, the risky use and abuse of alcohol. All of it was me to a T. Another door had unlocked in my mind. I was getting answers.
Upon receiving the new diagnosis of BPD, I really began to ponder my life. I know that we had done lots of processing, both individually and in groups, but I was in rehab, and this was going to be a full time job for me. So even in the free time we had, I studied myself. I journaled, I prayed, I practiced breathing and meditation techniques. I probed my life and I looked deeply within myself. I really began to study how my current relationships, my current interactions with other humans, my behaviors, the way I talk, the way I felt, and my over all outlook on life were impacted by things that had taken place 25+ years ago. It’s actually quite fascinating. It all began making sense. One example that comes to mind is Fear. Fear takes on many forms, there are healthy fears and unhealthy fears. Most people have instinct when it comes to healthy fears. One would not just run out and do push ups in the middle of an expressway, because you would get hit by a car. That’s a healthy fear. But I was so full of unhealthy fears. I laid there on my bed, it was Christmas Morning, and I pondered on what my fears were, and where they came from. When I was done meditating on the life cycles of my fears, I took the time and wrote them down, 3 full pages of fears. Everything from fear of heights, to fear of rejection, abandonment, dying alone, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of doing nothing. And so on and so on… I walked that list out to the bon fire pit, I talked to God about these fears, and where they came from, I released every single one of them and I lit them on fire and started a roaring bon fire with my list. It was about so much more that the fears though. In this moment, I was letting go. I was letting go of all of it. I was letting go of my hurts, my trauma, my betrayals, all the times I had been rejected, and turned away, all of my failures. And I was finding forgiveness.
Forgiveness is something that I didn’t know that I had struggled with until I got to treatment. It’s almost like, all of the things that I had been through created within me a hostile heart, full of resentment. And resentment is in fact a coping mechanism. That coping mechanism of resentment allowed me to maintain the illusion of control. And those resentments also fed into my delusions of reality. When My heart is full of resentment, then it clouds my mind, and my perception of life, reality, and of people. I was done being angry. I was done being hurt. I was done holding people hostage in my heart. I went through my life’s tape right there as the bon fire burned away my fears, and I allowed forgiveness to flow. To anyone and everyone that I had once held a grudge towards. I allowed forgiveness to anyone and everyone who ever hurt me, to all who had wronged me. And then I got to the most important person of all to forgive. Myself. Silent heavy tears rolled down my face, as I looked at all of the places throughout my life where we had done each other wrong. Where I was wronged, I forgave, When I did wrong, I forgave. It was like watching the movie of my life in real time. And allowing myself to finally examine it, feel it, know it, understand it, accept it, and then let it all go. I no longer had any animosity or hostility inside of me. I could literally feel it all just washing away. I could feel those dusty old boxes that I had been carrying with me for decades burn up in the bon fire flames, I could feel all the gray matter in my brain freeing up, and breathing deep cleansing breaths, no longer clustered and crowded by compartmentalization. And I could feel my heart open again. Accepting what was, feeling what is, and making way for what was to come. This was one of the most important moments of my entire life. And in the lives of so many. I had finally peeled it all back to the core. I was free.
Forgiveness is to set a captive free. And then realizing it was us who were captive all along. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. I was safe.