Guest article provided by: Bruce Schutter from chooseanewdirection.com
Let’s take a brief journey in history. I was stuck in the circle of addiction and mental health challenges for 20+ years. I remained firmly rooted in the circle despite the occasional rally to escape from the circle, which provided a brief respite but never realized the goal of long-term success. I became accustomed to the shame, the depression, the manic behavior and the craziness of my life. You might even say that I reveled in the excitement on the surface. But I was deeply unhappy, going nowhere with my life as I could not find anything that inspired me or provided lasting happiness. Now some of this was the result of my alcohol addiction, some a result of my Bipolar Brain and the rest was just the result of ignoring my Mental Health, letting all of the other mental health problems I have run with abandon. Eventually this pushed me to the brink and let’s suffice it to say, that I no longer wanted any part of this world. But luckily that was not to be my fate. But I still needed guidance, a direction for my life and basically needed to build everything from the ground up. That is really what changed the direction of my life…finding myself and what I am all about. Or more accurately, what I wanted to be about, as I was so far from the person that I wanted to be. Which also left me extremely far from happiness.
The day I decided I had had enough of problems running my life, I embraced the concept that I would try out any solutions and see if it could help me change my life. I feel that is an important first step, for we should not go into things without 100% commitment. That does not mean we cannot pivot throughout our journey as we find what works and doesn’t work for our lives. But it simply means that we remain committed to finding a new way of living. Far from the circle of life’s challenges running the show! Trust me, that simple pledge of commitment is an amazing first step, even when we have no idea what the path will look like.
Once I made that commitment, I went to doctors, tried numerous medications for my bipolar, my generalized anxiety disorder (which loosely translates into extreme worry over everything) and of course meds for my poor health conditions (high BP, overweight, prediabetic, etc.). Basically, as I am sure you can tell I was a complete mess! But that was just part of what I tried, for I had committed to checking out everything. I went to numerous therapists, I attended a large number of self-help groups and even read every book that I could find on the subject of addiction and mental health. I would love to say that these were the solutions, and I was done, but instead I just kept running into problems.
Most of the meds I tried had side effects, some minor annoyances, while others sent shocks throughout my body throughout the day. Basically, leaving me almost unable to function. Or when taking one medication, that would keep me calm, I then needed to take another to fight the depression that would creep in. If you have been on any medications for mental health problems, then I am sure that you are familiar with this journey that I am briefly speaking about. Eventually I found a combination of meds that provided me enough stability so that I could “think” and that was a blessing. But then I found myself caught up a new circle, made up of medications and doctors’ visits, with an unending set of both physical and mental health problems. If I tried to stop, then I was back to the original challenges but if I keep on this path I was never moving forward, just round and round in the circle.
I also still faced other challenges at that time, like how not to drink all the time. For that was my go-to solution for the stressors of daily life. So off I went to therapists and to self-help groups. It was great to connect with someone and spill out all my troubles and gain a brief respite. But after leaving sessions or meetings, I was faced with the real world again. My newfound peace was quickly challenged by life, as that is just how life goes…there will always be challenges. Eventually I did realize that is part of the deal of being alive and the alternative is not what we want. But even with understanding that truth about life, the problem persisted. I would feel so empowered when in sessions/meetings but then shortly after leaving, I would feel powerless and without my resolve. I found that I was now stuck in another circle, where I slacked off on my sessions and meetings, then I was in danger of going backwards. I knew that is not what I wanted but I also knew that I was going nowhere in these various circles. For that is the nature of a circle, round and round until we are exhausted!
I decided that there must be a better way for in all honestly, I was going nowhere in my life with these “solutions”! My first thought was the one constant in my life is that I am always there. Yeah, I know, you may say “duh” at this point but stick with me for here comes the “big flip”! If I am always present, then there must be a way for me to have an impact on my life’s direction. I realized that managing and maintaining my “Mental Health” was the answer at the core of everything. We make hundreds of decisions a day and they each have an impact on my life, so if they are made from a point of strength and clarity of thought they have enormous power in my life. But when made randomly they do not have much power as the scattershot approach lacks focus. Ok, sounds good, and even I got the point of how much influence my mental health has on my day. But how to harness this power that was just out there waiting for me to use?
My first thought was the answer lies in fixing my physical health. So, I applied myself, made food selections and embraced a fitness routine. And I did see results! I was able to get off of the medications that were needed to combat my health problems. I lowered my blood pressure, lost weight, gained some muscle and moved out of the prediabetic range. Excellent results and surely, they would lead me to feeling happy with my new life, but they did not. Now, I am not putting down these accomplishments, but they did not have as much impact on my addiction and mental health challenges as I had hoped. For while I could keep busy at the gym, it did not fully remove the desire to drink or help me from sliding into bipolar depression. Plus, again, when I was not fully involved in working out or eating healthy, I was left with big blocks of the day in which I felt lost. Again, I was stuck in the “Circle”, sure a better circle as I was physically healthier, but still a circle where I was not moving forward in my life and towards my goals. Plus, not finding my path to happiness as I had hoped.
I then took some time and realized that I was not wrong on my first assumption, I was always present in my life (yes, you can laugh at the simplicity of that statement). But what I missed was that my mind, not my body was what really set the direction for the day. It was my Mental Health that was truly at the core of providing power to shape my days. Now, I am not talking about my mental health challenges, but my “Mental Health”. A term that has broad meaning in our lives. It represents how we manage the full spectrum of emotions that we all face on a daily basis. It also contains the power to allow us to overcome Life’s Challenges that would have previously sent us running back to old habits in the past. But most importantly, it contains the key to long term success, in maintaining a new direction for our lives. For just as we are physically present in every moment of our lives, our mental health is right there also, and it is where true strength resides.
Yes, our Mental Health is the controlling factor in setting the direction of our life and we are in charge! I will repeat that part again, as this is where the light bulb over my head just exploded. We all make a thousand decisions every day and therefore we have this amazing power over the direction of our lives. We can never lose it, as even if you end up far, far off the path and down the hill, you still have the ability to make choices each day to change that path! It is that powerful, within our control and most importantly the critical factor in how we manage the life challenges that we face!
That is how I found my way out of the circle and even more importantly, how I have stayed out of the circle for the last 12+ years! I am also going to let you know a really amazing secret, I have no desire to go back into the circle, ever again. I have found that once you are out of the circle for a while and build a new way of living that the sheer number of opportunities become so amazing that your old desires will fade away. Yes, I have been challenged in my new life and I have even run into problems that were even more severe than I had ever faced before. But, while I, just like everyone else will still have some bad days, I always keep moving forward. For I find meaning and enjoyment in things that previously I would never have even dreamed about. For example, I find happiness, contentment and an immense pride in developing my cooking skills. I would never even dream of being calm enough to take the time to learn to cook or imagine that I would be so happy with just discussing food recipes with others. But by learning to manage and maintain my mental health, I have found a new way of living and I dare say the true “me”.
When that happens, you realize that you have started to find “Your Path to Happiness”. Not the one you see in magazines, not the one on social media sites, not the one that gets talked about at parties but the real path. Where you decide what really means something in your life, you find you can go after it and you end up being happy in your life. Yes, that is where my journey has brought me and I really, really want to share it with everyone!! So, I have create the Choose A New Direction Program (chooseanewdirection.com) to help everyone “Unlock the Power and Excitement of their Mental Health, and the possibilities it will bring to your life!”
Thanks for taking the time to read my story! Bruce