My Story

By Jesse Fortner My story is reflective of the struggles many substance addicts and manic-depressive types endure. I experimented with Budweiser at age 13, LSD at age 14, marijuana and ecstasy at age 18, and crack cocaine at age 21. My mental illness birthed a label of “bipolar” at age 22, right after I had been diagnosed as an insulin-dependent diabetic. In younger years, I kept this alternate life “secret” from my family. I maintained my own little fantasy world, and even achieved consistent honors in high school and college. However, by the time I graduated academia and got too sick to manage my own life, my father was urging to intervene and help to save my wasting life. Pushing myself to be “unique,” I developed a Jeckyl and Hyde personality that lit up when I was.

Venturing into nightclubs and late night “raves” was my favorite venue for scoring drugs and releasing the power of “mania man.” I loved the rush of dancing all night and then following my moment-to-moment instincts of how to make it home and crash out. Along the way back from Candy land I wound up in several mental hospitals and various drug treatment programs, but I still believed I could maintain my using when I got out. One time I even called the authorities and made a threat to their department, only to be taken away once again to a mental ward.

Finally I hit my bottom when I was arrested for assaulting a close member of my family while high on crack and ecstasy. I spent 4 long months incarcerated, with no available options to escape my consequences. I saw a glimmer of light when my case manager discovered a program that treated dual-diagnosis, and she recommended to my public defender that it might provide a successful regimen for me to follow. I had previously never completed any type of structured scenario, and thus I always felt “incomplete.” My public defenders made a large production of my case and demanded that I fully cooperate with this form of treatment, or I could face 3 years of further incarceration.

One memorable landmark occurred when the director of Foundations drove me to court to testify on the progress of my treatment arrangement. The whole trip out of town was filled with personal experience that he shared with me and we talked and laughed about how awesome being sober was. I became even more determined to nestle in to some effective habits of recovery, and not just to survive on mediocre levels of participation. I did not fulfill the upper echelon of maintenance that he laid out, but even making the attempt paid off in the form of deeper relationships with my God, sponsor, and others participating with me.

Initially fear factors drove me to strive for excellence, but as timely as clockwork, all external motivators eventually wear off and lose their impetus. I had to discover the gut-level honesty and desire to live a clean and healthy life inside the deepest regions of myself. Anyone, especially me, can glorify himself or herself and indulge their own egos with a false padding of assurance based on their own efforts. I have had to regularly and symbolically get down on my knees – an inherently humbling stature – to taste and see what reality truly is, and to play on the same level as everyone else. The ability to sit in a 12-step meeting of my choice and refrain from judging others is a fresh gift from God.

Over the last year and few months, I have secured an intake/screening position with Foundations Associates, a job as manager at my halfway house, and active participation in Narcotics Anonymous, my particular choice of groups. Step work in NA demands a daily interaction with pen and paper and my sponsor. Then, I still must live the real steps of the program every day in the way I treat people. The aspects of daily maintenance for literature, attending regular meetings, writing on my steps, and fellowshipping my recovery include: talking to my sponsor, writing a gratitude list, reading the around the program and other addicts.

I still take medication to ensure that my moods remain stable, and I follow all the guidelines set forth by doctors, mentors, and advisers. I believe that I had to get both of my problems under check before I could start to build a real life. There have been many times when the voice of non-compliant temptation has said; “you can stop taking your Lithium now.” And, honestly I have stopped for up to one day. Inevitably, as God would have it, I either felt bad as a result or engaged into a conversation with someone else about remaining cooperative. After all, who am I to say what may happen to the delicate chemistry of my brain if I were to make any sudden changes. The patience that I have learned working the steps has taught me that every event does have a time, and that I am not the boss of my life.

Now, through diligence and cooperation, I get to help other people everyday and am realizing that “one day at a time” goes far beyond just a slogan. I thank my sponsor and extensive support system for keeping me humble and focused on gratitude for each moment that I am granted to grow and share and help. He always stops me on those days when I sound rotten and asks if I’ve made my gratitude list yet. Somehow as I sit down and write out those things and persons that I value, I become familiar with God’s rescue and less concerned with my own preoccupations.

In my time processing grand themes about recovery and goal setting, I have come across some meaningful quotes. Here is one that emphasizes each individual’s journey, with which I’d like to conclude: “When a man seeks obstacles to measure his strength, he goes toward the North. If he needs rest and tranquility, he turns to the South. To learn of his future, he sets off for the West. And he returns to the East to discover his origins. But for the longest of voyages, he travels motionless, inside Himself.” Uman

Here is a comical poem that I wrote while working through the initial phase of my program at Foundations. It describes some of the bizarre dimensions that being dual diagnosed fosters:

Not One Illness, but Two

Diagnoses are common, but not so with mine;

For two problems compete -not one, but twine.

Oh, what shall I do with this duo pair?

Should I retire toward just plain despair?

No! “Hold on” I must, and in God I will trust.

For He instructs me on what to do

When I have not one illness but two. How can this be true?

The complex interaction that makes me feel blue…

The world, twisted, turns in my head…

And fate can be worsened by skipping my meds!

So much I must do to manage not one illness but two.

I never knew just how much this bipartisan event had to do

With my feelings to use… “What causes the blues?”

Who knows,cause I’m happy, I talked to my Pappy;

Life’s grand and astute while I pipe my flute,

Declaring as people stare that the reason I glare has everything to

do with coping for not one illness but two!

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