“I Just Wanted to Dance With Dionysus!”:
Life's Sacred Journey, Lost Souls
and Our Thirst for Wholeness
Wayne M. Mellinger, Ph.D.
Presentation for “Community Mental Health”
Pacific Graduate Institute
I offer the following prayer to focus our intentions for our holy work together:
Spirit of Life,
Transcending Mystery and Wonder,
Ground of Our Being,
Be present with us now as we contemplate
How best to bring healing and justice to the world
And inspire us with a vision borne of compassion,
Where the bounty of the Earth is revered,
Where no one goes hungry or unhoused,
Where the weak are protected and the innocent are safeguarded,
And where the riches of creation are shared.
May all souls find their true purpose and become whole,
allowing who we are to inform what we do.
May we come to learn that it is often through our darkest nights
That we discover the glimmers of light that will guide our days.
30 our suffering allow us to become wounded healers
With the gift of empathy to sustain our acts of compassion.
When we bear witness to social injustices and that which should not exist,
Let us find the courage to publicly speak our truth to those in power
Demanding changes in institutions and practices that inflict harm upon our neighbors.
Let us re-commit to building the Beloved Community.
May it be so. Blessed Be and Amen.
I am humbled to be before you today as a guest lecturer. As graduate students in clinical psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute I know that you are a diverse group of educated and caring people who each are experiencing your own sacred journey through life. I do not doubt that many of you are already “wounded healers” bringing to your work an intimate knowledge of the dark Dionysian side of life at the edge of chaos. Having descended into your own underworlds to confront your own Demons has given you the gift of empathy for others who still suffer. And there is no greater gift than the ability to mentally trade places with another— to step outside of our own shoes and to imagine walking in those of another.
I want to tell you the story of my becoming a “lost soul”. In psychiatric terms I am dually diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and substance abuse. These “co-occurring disorders” have lead me to become homeless three times in the past 17 years and loose everything in my life—great jobs, house, partner of 19 years, friends and my self-respect. When I first gave this talk at Pacifica Graduate Institute I was reading Philip Cousineau's The Art of Pilgrimage. I noticed that the narrative structure of my presentation paralleled the stages of a pilgrimage. The epiphany that all lives are sacred journeys informs my approach. Each of us is the hero of our own adventure we call Life on Planet Earth. If life is like a pilgrimage, perhaps it would be wise to draw upon the wisdom that has guided pilgrims on their journeys through the ages. Joseph Campbell has mapped the journey of the hero from the world of the ordinary to the world of the extraordinary, from ego to spirit.
The myth of the hero’s journey, as articulated by Campbell, is composed of three large stages—separation, initiation and return. The hero leaves the world of everyday, ventures into a realm of supernatural wonder, wins a victory over destructive forces and demons with the aid of helpful spirits and beings (initiation). The hero becomes transformed and then returns to the community of ordinary people with wonderful gifts that benefit his or her community, including the gift of hard-earned wisdom. For modern humans “confronting demons” means leaving the accepted truths of our era and dominant ways of being in our culture to explore our own truths. We learn to let go of the myths, values and identities imposed upon us as children by authorities and discover the nature of reality for ourselves.
There is an expression in French, “Porter de l'eau a la riviere” (to carry water to the river), which parallels a very British expression “to carry coals to Newcastle”. These both mean, according to my Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, “to take something where it is already plentiful”. Yes, I am going to draw upon the discipline of Archetypal Psychology as I tell this story to audiences at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Thus, I bring something to a place where it is already plentiful. As you know, Archetypal Psychology is an off-shot of Depth Psychology. These approaches to why people do what they do begin with the assumption that much of our actions are shaped by forces of which we are unaware. The psyche is deep and the lowest layers are unconscious.
DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY AND THE ARCHETYPE OF SOUL
As my relationship with Pacifica has deepened over the years I find myself increasingly drawing upon Depth and Archetypal Psychology as I tell you a part of my life story. From Freud I have learned that most of our challenges as adults stem from our early childhoods and from the dynamics of our family systems. Indeed, we are increasing learning how the traumas of childhood scar us for large portions of our lives. From Jung I have learned that psychology can sometimes be closer to mysticism than to psychiatric medicine because so much of the workings of the human psyche are cloaked in mystery and appear almost magical. Jung also articulated a sacred part of our shared heritage in his descriptions of the archetypes in our collective unconscious.
James Hillman has returned the psyche to psychology and has challenged much of the scientific conventions of traditional psychology through his emphasis on aesthetics and poetics. Thomas Moore is a great author who weaves together practical applications, scholarly erudition and writerly grace in his best selling books, which have done much to popularize the discipline of Archetypal Psychology. Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof have forced me to remain open-minded *yet still skeptical, for their insistence that psychologists look up to planets and stars in their efforts to understand human character. Ralph Metzner, combining insights from hermetical alchemy, indigenous forms of shamanism and western psychotherapy, is pioneering the sacramental use of entheogens. For proof that we are returning enchantment to our studies of psychology consider how many of the above mentioned scholars are serious students of the Western Esoteric Tradition, peppering their studies with insights from Hermetic traditions, Alchemy, Astrology and other magical systems.
I am a lifelong learner who at the age of sixty is only now discovering the idea of “soul”. I am a bit bashful about discussing archetypal psychology on these hallowed grounds where great minds have pioneered these very ideas. I hope to use some of these ideas to make sense of my Supreme Ordeal—my dark journey of the soul—in which I became a virtual madman—psychotic, homeless and addicted to street drugs.
I want to put soul back into our approach to dealing with psychopathology. I see extreme mental distress as “soul loss” and reject the biomedical model of psychiatry. All healing is bio / psycho / social. Psychiatry’s approach is bio / bio / bio. As Hippocrates pointed out over two thousand years ago it is more important to know the patient who has the disease than the disease the patient has. Unfortunately over the past 50 years, Big Pharma has moulded psychiatry to serve corporate needs. All the biologically reductionist brain and genomic research has yielded little of value for people who are suffering. Psychiatric care has become reduced to a process of sorting through the diagnostic criteria in DSM V and prescribing a pharmaceutical. While this type of “managed” health care very much pleases the stockholders of the insurance companies, it is having devastating effects on the consumers of mental health care.
Two mythic archetypes are central to my story. Dionysus and Chiron.
Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and ecstasy. He is a fertility god and one of the European Horned Gods, like Pan, the Minotaur, and the Cernunnos of the Celts. In ancient Greece his followers gathered for four days every two years on Mount Parnassass to celebrate in a religious ritual that combined states of sacred orgy, festive dance party and drunken madness. We now know that the wine they drank to get in touch with this god was fortified with powerful psychotropic plants, such as ergot of rye (from which LSD was first derived). The Maenads, the female worshippers of Dionysus, were known for achieving staggering levels of sacred madness as the god incarnated through them after their sacrament was consumed.
Ecstatic religion in ancient Greece continued the shamanic tradition of “controlled substance use”, as some anthropologists call it, in which substances we consider “drugs” were consumed with sacred intention in non-addictive ways. When I first learned about entheogenic sacraments as a young man in San Francisco in 1981their very existence challenged the cultural myths I had internalized about drugs and addiction. As with the shamanic rituals from which this ceremony must have emerged, these worshippers of Dionysus followed strict norms and rules regarding how, when and why their “drugs” were used.
Dionysus is known as the “god of wine and ecstasy”. As the inventor of wine-making he is associated with states of intoxication. But this is not the ordinary tipsiness of respectful bourgeois society. Rather we are talking about states of ecstatic frenzy verging on madness. And not the ordinary madness of today’s secular society, but the powerful rapture felt as your favorite god incarnates through you as alcohol and other drugs flood your brain’s pleasure centers with serotonin, dopamine and other hormones.
Mad Nietzsche in his book The Birth of Tragedy contrasts two universal cultural energies—the Dionysian and the Apollonian, the former being life-affirming, the later being life-denying. At the end of his sanity Nietzsche lays out the cultural options facing modern humans: “Dionysus vs. the Crucified”. While loving the teachings of Jesus, Nietzsche hates the cult of Christ that became Christianity and initially promoted by the apostle Paul and the life-denying herd morality it installs and elevates. He knew that no greatness came through the milktoast mysticism of pious priests.
My second central archetype is Chiron, the centaur who through the work of psychologist Carl Jung became the symbol of the “wounded healer”. Chiron was the product of an erotic union between the Titan Chronos and the sea nymph Philyra. To not be caught by his wife cheating, Chronos took the form of a horse in his love making with Philyra. When Chiron was born, he was abandoned by his mother, leading to what is sometimes called his first wound. Apollo gave our centaur the gift of healing and among the ancient Greeks Chiron was known for his miraculous healings. He had many students in the healing arts including Achilles, Patroclus, and Asclepius, One day while out hunting with Achilles he is hit in the leg by an arrow dipped in Hydra’s venom. While he cured so many others he was unable to mend this wound, and thus was in constant pain. Being the offspring of a god would have meant being in pain for eternity, but he traded his life for that of Prometheus who had been condemned to death for stealing fire for humans from the gods. In his death, Chiron is turned into the constellation Sagitarius, or in some versions off the story the constellation Centauri.
A “wounded healer” is someone who is able to help another because they have been in the same situation themselves. Having the same lived experience of another allows someone to fully empathize with what that person is going through and is thus a central human trait, and a foundational psychological process for the counseling profession. Shamans are some times referred to wounded healers. My journey lead me to become a wounded healer, as well as what I will call a “wounded witness”—one who wounds lead them to political activism in which they speak publicly about the atrocities they have seen
Let me comment on the title of my presentation. By the phrase “I just wanted to dance with Dionysus” I highlight the holy longing which informs my quest. All journeys begin with a sacred yearning which propels the Hero on his or her adventure. When I originally sought to understand what longing lay beneath my adventure and was the primal motivation for my journey through the underworlds I entered, I thought long and hard about the potential options. I realized that in part the longing I picked depended on how I told the story and that the choice had consequences for later aspects of the narrative in that typically the hero arrives at a point in which he or she finds that for which they were looking.
I am a spiritual seeker who ventured into the world of altered states of consciousness in order to quench my thirst for ecstasy. I am drawn to the mystical and the shamanic--the spiritual states which provide direct revelations of the sacred. While I ended up as a psychotic and suicidal homeless crackhead, I want to draw attention to that for which I was looking. All addicts begin with deep spiritual hungers which compel them on their journeys. They are, I believe, like “misguided shamans”, who if they had lived in archaic forager societies would have become their tribe's “wounded healers” with intimate knowledge of sacred plants and their healing potentials. and knowledge about life at the edge of chaos.
I have a poem which speaks to this holy longing:
Each of us longs to live in Eden,
to experience true joy and unlimited freedom,
to walk in the garden of beauty,
to be with the nameless presence that animates all being
and brings to live the butterfly, the tiger, the jackrabbit,
the hummingbird, and the ocean.
There is no need to look anywhere for this place,
for this place here that you call home is the best place,
And you are blessed to be here.
Our restless urges of life, our quiet dissatisfactions of being,
our hopes when someone knocks at our door, must be gently set aside.
Don't worry about getting your clothes wet as you stroll along the ocean's edge.
Dive in naked.
Splash water all about.
Go deep into the water, and feel the love all around you.
MY APPROACH TO MADNESS
I want to advance an intellectual approach that sees moments of madness as sacred opportunities to fill our lives with soul and to adjust our daily routines so that our life missions might be better served. I reject psychiatry’s approach to our emotional distress, its medical veneer and pseudo-scientific diagnostic criteria, its disrespectful and coercive practices and fetish for pharmaceuticals which enables the capitalist system to profit enormously from our suffering. While I do not fully heed to the abolitionist cries of the radical wing of the anti-psychiatry movement, who denounce the very existence of medical practitioners focused on brain disorders, I do believe that the reforms we must make go deep and demand a total re-thinking of how we conceive of “mental illnesses” and go about helping those who suffer. We must reject the hegemony of the biomedical conceptualization of “mental illness” and restore the plurality of theoretical approaches that used to flourish in our attempts to understand human distress. More than a mere “chemical imbalance” needing to be corrected through pharmaceutical intervention, my mental breakdown had aspects that are best understood as “soul loss”.
To these ends I venture into Depth and Archetypal Psychologies. I draw upon the notion of “soul” as used by James Hillman, Thomas Moore and others and the explication of “the journey of the soul” as articulated by Bill Plotkin in his excellent book Soul craft. The structure of the soul's journey is the same structure as that of the Hero's Quest, as described by Joseph Campbell in his The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
What is the “Soul”? Soul is that core of our identity. It is that spark of divinity which resides in all things. We come into this world with souls that are intact— biological blueprints of who were are, whey we are here and how we relate to the world. Our highest aspirations and fullest potentialities reside within each and every one of us.
According to Parker Palmer in The Hidden Wholeness, the soul functions to:
Keep us ground in our own being
Keep us connected to community
Keep us in touch with the truth
Give us life
Get us to pass life along
When we feed our soul we explore our true identity, figure our what make us happy what brings us flow. To loose our soul is to become lost—to not be who you’re meant to be.
The soul’s journey often begins with holy longings, some conscious, some unconscious, which compel us along our journey. All souls want to be whole and complete. All souls seek to fulfill our mission or purpose. All souls want to discover our gifts and offer these gifts to the world.
Souls seek expression and yearn to be accepted. When properly cared for the soul allows the human to reach self-actualization, have loving relationships, and live a life filed with meaning and purpose. When the soul is not properly cared for it contrives ways to get us to pay attention to it and it pushes us in new directions and leads us to change the directions of our life course.
Parker Palmer sees a central psychological malady of modernity as “the divided life”. This happens when “role” is not informed by soul and thus who we are does not determine what we do. Palmer sees the rejoining of soul and role as essential to our quest for wholeness.
Many people enter adulthood with walls having been built be;tween their inner truths and their outer lives. Walls protect our vulnerabilities and hide our truths. Eventually the true self may disappear.
Once we decide to live divided no more, we must reorder our onstage lives around our backstage values and beliefs. The goal is to have our inner truths guide our outer lives. Many spiritual traditions call this being “centered”.
The soul can be the ferryman guiding us through the waters of life. But many deforming forces lurk in those waters which can assail our fragile souls. An extreme version of the divided life is the individual who has lost their soul. The obligations of life—family, career and other expectations, can pull us other directions, Or a variety of inner demons, such as depression and addiction, can kidnap us and consume vast portions of energy.
Among our so-called primitive ancestors a key task of the tribal shaman was the retrieval of lost souls. While in ancient times soul loss was attributed to the soul being frightened away or being stolen, today soul loss is more often the result of trauma. In order to survive traumatic experiences and to escape the full impact of the pain, a part of the soul supposedly separates from us.
James Hillman sees moments of pathology as signs that the soul is breaking through. Announcing that it cannot take it anymore, the soul responds to the chaos of our lives. These dysfunctional moments are of great value because we must set aside the normal routines of our lives and our habitualized patterns of thinking to face the unknown.
Notice how our culture its replete with images of soulless beings—zombies, robots and psychopaths pervade our popular media culture and folklore.
In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the universal journey and underlying themes of the journey of the soul’s descent into the underworld and subsequent ascent. The hero leaves home and soon encounters a demon that guards the passage. This is a test. You encounter various underworld beings and eventually undergo a supreme ordeal in which your old self dies and new self is born. The core of your soul is recovered either through union between your conscious self and soul or through soul knowledge confirmed by a divine being. You discover that have sacred power. Realigned with your soul’s purpose you return to the middle world with a sacred task to perform for your community—a gift that brings healing to the world.
Dark Nights of the Soul are long-lasting and disturbing periods of sadness, trial, loss, frustration or failure. The phrase comes from the Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross.
Besides Carl Jung, James Hillman is the scholar most responsible for the renewed intellectual work on the soul from a psychological perspective. His “Acorn Theory” sees human development occurring based on a unique image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. The “daimon” remembers your calling. Hillman sees the soul as a “perspective” rather than a “substance”—“a viewpoint toward things” rather than “a thing itself”.
E. The structure of this paper / presentation
Background Information and Contextual Matters
The Narrative of Events Using the Hero’s Journey
The Gifts of My Wounds: Insights on Mental Illness, Drugs and Addiction and Homelessness
Becoming a Wounded Activist: Bearing Witness and Social Justice Engagement
II. BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND CONTEXTUAL MATTERS
There are two contexts that I want to say something about that are relevant for my examination of my “midlife crisis” in which my loss of soul lead to a period of massive social dysfunction and psychological turmoil: (1) when and where these events happened in the course of my personal life, and (2) when they happened in the life of human history.
First, let me share my sense of our current historical epoch by contrasting our modern condition with that of humans in what I consider to be our most “natural condition”. We must remember that humans in our exact biological form have been on this planet for about 200,000 years and most of that time was spent in the form of nomadic forager societies. Moreover, the ways of life we developed wereIn the past these were referred to as “hunting and gathering” societies, but now we think that actual hunting played a more minor role in their lives than we used to think. We also often refer to these people as ”primitive” and regard their ways of life as unsophisticated. While these diverse cultures had more simple technological instruments in their lives, they were healthy and happy, had abundant food, ample free time and lives filled with leisure. While many of their beliefs seem absurd to us, their myths and rituals provided meaning and purpose to their lives and filled their lives with enchantment. Massive inequality was unheard of and a communal life of mutual support was the norm. A “mass psychology of connection” pervaded their lives, as people were intimately bound to others in their clan and intimately connected to their natural worlds. Moreover, they largely lived sustainable lives in which the Earth is seen as a living and sacred system.
In contemporary anarchist circles there is something known as the “primitivist critique of civilization”. Anarcho-Primitivists don’t just hate industrial capitalism—they seek to return to a foraging lifestyle and imagine jettisoning most of our techological advances. Frankly, given the space requirements of a foraging mode of production, there is no way for a planet of seven billon people to live that wauy. But while some of their visions for the future of humanity are a bit wacky, I do find many of their criticisms of “civilization” valid. Our culture denigrates that of our archaic ancestors and is so gung-ho on the benefits of our way of life that the advantages of forager societies are discounted.
Here I will focus my critique on our own civilizational epoch—“modernity”. Beginning in the early 1800s a agricultural societies of Europe and North American began to see the emergence of industrial capitalism and the increasing rationalization of a variety of institutions. The peasants and farmers of small town life were transformed into the factory workers of todays great metropolitan areas. The 20th century saw the complete transformation of countries from rural small towns to urban life. A variety of technological advances in transportation, communicatiom, industrial prodiuction feed society of the dependence on manual labor for many tasks. In military terms we developed the capactity to annihilate the globe with nuclear armaments. A wide variety of institutional settings established elaborate regimes of surveillance allowing those in power to closely monitor those in such settings. Prisons, mental hospitals, workplaces, schools kept close watch on the activies of their populations. Most importantlly, social change became a permament feature of our lives and seemed top endlessly accelerate.
Computers changed our daily lives and today most members of my social world have at their fingertips access to much of the recorded history of humanity, its greatest scientific discoveries and cultural achievements. The cellphone has the potential to bring learning to the masses.
I believe that which aspects of modernity were at times thrilling and exciting, the overall result is a massive failure. Let me mention briefly just three huger problems. First, we have virtually destroyed our planet through the destruction of ecosystems, the po]lluting of our air and water, the erxtraction of mineral resources from the earth and the over use of forests for wood, oceans for fish and other landscapes for agriculture. We are ion there sixth great extinction and th number of species threaten by our way of life is huge. And now we have entered a period of global climate change which threatens much of civilization, with massive forest fires sweeping the globe, torrential storms threaten our shorelines. Clearly, modernity has not been good to the environment and we have discovered that we are poorly adapted to face these changes in a timely manner.
Second, modernity’s embrace of capitalism has lead to levels of Inezuality never seen on our planet before. Recently, Oxfam reported that the 62 wealthiest billionaires have more combined wealth than the bottom half of the whole globe’s population of 3 1/2 billion people. And wealth is continuing to concentrate. This brings into question the very ethics of modernity’s continued existence, given its effects on generating poverty starvation and subsistence.
If these were not enough, we have an accompanying “mass psychology of misery”. Even in the wealthier nations with all their electronic toys and gadgets, significant portions of the population are dissatisfied. Depression and anxiety are pervasive.; Nihilism abounds. The average American is overworked, stressed out, in debt and prone to escapist adventures. The traditional family has disappeared with few children raised with both mothers and fathers. Often to compensate for their meaningless jobs, people spend inordinate time shopping and watching television. Teenage suicide rates are off the charts. Each year one in four American has symptoms of mental illness;. Many people I persomally know are barely holding it all together. How many people only make it through their days due to the overconsumption of antidepressants, tranquilizers, alcohol and pot. Voter turnout rates are the lowest in our nation’s history;. Cynicism, apathy and indifference pervade our lives. Isolation becomes the norm in a society which has witnessed the disintegration of community and civic life.
Modernity has failed and must be destroyed!
This is the context in which my mental breakdown occurred. My midlife crisis exposed my loss of soul and my loss of soul exposed a social system in which soul loss was the norm. Even now after I have struggled to put soul into my life I have not forgotten the millions of my brothers and sisters who still suffer grave emotional distress.
2. Personal Background
I was born on April 26, 1958 in Springfield, Mass. When I first meet briefly with an astrologer friend, she looked at my chart and stated “You were born to be an explorer of underworlds”. This has certainly been the case as I have entered into multiple underworld scenes, including those of drug users and dealers, those of people who live on the streets, and those who have mental health challenges. A middle-class, hyper-educated professional from suburban Massachusetts I was not wise to the ways of the streets until the late nineties. SI have had met people in gangs, or prostitutes, or drug dealers..
My family of origin was a chaotic environment for this hypersensitive man to grow up. Both my brother and sister had extreme ADHD and were put on Ritalin. I was seen as the well-behaved and quiet child who did not need a lot of attention. I found escape by sitting in a closet with a cat, a flashlight and a set of 1923 World Book Encyclopedias. While I do not doubt that I was loved by my parents the message I got as a small child was that I was unloved.
My brother used to pick on me a lot and was physically aggressive. When I first learned about childhood trauma I greatly identified with the symptoms. One clear indication that some terrible might have happened is that in first grade I began to stutter badly. I lost my voice and even the simplest utterance was painful to utter with blocks, stammers and the like. The other kids called me “Porky Pig”.
I remember being attracted to men why whole life, and as a child was very drawn to the men in the Marlboro advertisements of the early 1960s. When I had my first wet dream at the age of 13 and messed up my sheets over an image in my head of a man I felt that God had cursed me. Later at the age of 18, while a student at UMass-Amherst I “came out” as a gay man. As an adolescent I had no positive gay images and the only people I met who were gay were creepy perverts who had sex with boys like me. When I met Paul Keenan, who later became a soap opera star, I had my first gay friend who was masculine.
I felt like an outsider to groups of other youth and longed for that camaraderie the guys had with each other
I went through three majors at UMass-Amherst during my first two yearsra—Biology (Pre-=Med), Psychology, and Business Administration. While very drawn to the arts, especially the performing arts, I thought I was too old to become an artist myself. I was very drawn to peop[e who had devoted their lives to creative expressiion of al types.
Suddenly, upon entering the world
noting how often the “Ninth House” is in my chart. She tells me there is a “yod” in which multiple things all point in the same direction.
Chiron in Aquarius (or 11th House):
Wounds: Destructive rebellion, scientific detachment from emotions, trying to “fit in”
Healing Gifts: Social justice/activism, fostering utopian communities and a sharing economy both online and IRL, uplifting idealism
A difficult birth (“arrived looking like a prize fighter”) childhood traumas, hypersensitive in chaotic family, feelings of being unloved, insecure attachment, early sense of “gayness”, outsider, freaky at 16
No shaman took me on a vision quest, there was no tribal initiation
3. My Longings=wholeness, camaraderie, wholeness, truth, community, connection to the Earth
Chronology of My Life
1958 Born in Springfield, Massachusetts (April 26)
1971 No shaman took me on a vision quest at nearby Mount Sugarload. I was never initiated in any tribe
1976 Complete high school and begin at UMass Amherst (Bachelors of Business Administration with a special focus on Performing Arts Administration). Begin interest in psychology, critical theory, the arts, and the human condition.
1979 Met my partner Rodney at a dancers apartment in Northampton.
1980-1981 Spend Fifth Year at University of Paris—Sorbonne. While in Paris read Erich Fromm. Decide I want to pursue graduate work in sociology and social psychology.
1981-1983 Live in San Francisco working at a commodity club, The Other Cafe, in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. Write a lot of poetry. Discover Paganism, Wicca and shamanism. Am in a gay writing group and a lesbian and gay choral society. Do LSD and mushrooms. Have interests in the Western EsotericTradition. Am interested in developing my own individual approach to spirituality and personal theology. Read Starhawk. Call myself a “Radical Faerie”. Hear Judy Grahn.
1983 Move to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB. Take a class on “Altered States of Consciousness” and attend Pschedelic Conference. Meet Albert Hoffman.
1985 Masters Degree in Sociology. Begin teaching my own classes.
1990 Ph.D. in Sociology. Begin two-year visiting professorship at UC-Santa Cruz. Loneliness. Dislocation. Loss of peer network.
1992-1993 Unemployed. Temp work.
1994 UC-Berkeley Class in Social Psychology focusing on self-concept and identity formation.
1995 Begin teaching at Ventura College (8 classes per year) and The Fielding Institute (initially 50% time but full-time by 1997)
1999 The Supreme Ordeal
Break up with partner of 19 years
Heavy dysfunctional use of crack cocaine
Firing from three jobs
Loss of home I was buying
no peer support
Bad case of the “fuck its”
Entry into psychiatric hospitals for severe depression and clinical depression
2001 begin again at Ventiura College
2002-2005 learned about “functional use” and “maintenance use”
April 23, 2005 arrested for sales of methamphetamine
May 2005 homeless, depressed, out of control
July 2005 enter Santa Barbara Rescue Mission
May 2006 serve 280 days in Ventura County Jail
January 2007 begin at New Beginnings Counseling Center / WillBridge of Santa Barbara and studying Alcohol and Drug Counseling at SBCC
2008 Transition House (Financial Crisis—Loose job) Depression and Relapse
2009 back to NEW Beginnings and Wi9llBridge
2012 Homeless, Depressed and Relapsing
Salvation Army, Rescue Mission, Living on the Streets
2012 Enter Hotel de Riviera Dual Diagnosis Program
2013 Begin Guest Lecturing at Pacifica
2014 Get housing
III. NARRATIVE OF EVENTS USING THE HERO’S JOURNEY
I use the narrative organization of the myth of the Hero’s Journey as explicated by Joseph Campbell as a structuring device to tell my story.
Our journeys through life tend to follow a similar pattern. We struggle for wholeness and seek to find meaning in life. Our quests for self realization lead us to separate from the familiar and to adventure into unknown territories. Something is missing from our normal world and we must set forth to go find it. Thus the subsequent path of adventure that is life follows a narrative structure similar to that of Joseph Campbell's archetypal Hero's Journey.
Here is my version of these stages:
- Beginning State Before the journey begins the individual is in the world of the routine and familiar, and things have grown stale in their life. The individual feels fragmented and incomplete as they have not realized nor utilized their full potential. A deep and persistent longing underlies his or her life leading to feelings of apathy and alienation.
- The Call to Adventure This is a declaration from the depths of the individual’s soul that it is time to leave behind everything they thought their life was supposed to be. Something beckons them to wake from their slumber because they are no longer able to accept the normal way of doing things.
- Meeting of Mentor and Allies Along the way the individual may encounter helpers who remind them of their calling, give them protection and assist them in their travels. These guides may present maps and magical ”instruments of power” they will need on their journey..
- Crossing into the Unknown Because the old ways of doing things no longer work, the individual must discover or invent new ones. As they enter into unfamiliar territories they often must deal with the Guardian of the Unknown — their “Shadow”—all of the repressed and unacknowledged aspects of themselves which block them from reaching their fullest potentiality.
- The Series of Tests and Temptations These progressively harder trials are a process of initiation into the mysteries of life. In confronting those aspects of ourself that are obstacles to the journey, we find unknown strength and unexpected gifts that we aid us on our journey and when we return.
- The Supreme Ordeal—or the Dark Journey of the Soul—a grueling confrontation between the individual and their major challenge. Their greatest challenge is often their fear of their potentiality. The individual must symbolically must “slay the dragon” and through this they become reborn. A better version of their self is achieved through this confrontation.
- Getting the Reward The individual must bring out that which they went in to recover, the “Holy Grail” — that is their un-utilized potential. Through the transformation process individuals experience an expansion of consciousness, acquire unique gifts, become self-actualized and develop a soul-rooted way of being in the world.
- The Return The hero returns to the familiar with their gifts which will benefit their community.
Every individual can potentially follow the impulse to seek something greater. We often yearn for further evolution. We wonder if there could be more to life than what we are currently experiencing. Life transformations may lead to changes in identity, often accompanied by the pangs of existential angst. These are turning points in which our whole sense of self is altered. Triggering events may include marriage or divorce, death of a loved one, entering a new phase of life, or the introduction to a new group of intimates and peer group.
Some major life transformations follow the process outlined above. They are metaphorical descents into the underworld in which we struggle with our demons and face our fears. We may thus achieve a fuller, more encompassing sense of self.
When humans undergo a process of transformation, whether it is a career change, a romantic relationship or a stage of life, we polarize ourselves into Hero and Demon. The Hero is that part of us that says “Yes to life!”, that wants to grow and contribute, even if that means descending into Hell. Our Demon seeks to hold us back and creates the Hell we must navigate. As the different aspects of ourselves are reconciled we move into a new level of consciousness. We receive the reward of the transformation and return to life with a new, more authentic sense of self.
Loosing My Soul
For this project I tell the story of my psychological crisis as one in which I lost my soul. As someone who now leas a soul-filled spiritual life, I can see the elements that were missing in my earlier life.
By 1999 I had
- not had any physical intimacy with my life partner for over 10 years
- Become a workaholic
- Had not peer support group
- No spiritual practices
- No connection to nature
- Poor self-care skills
- Forgotten my true life purpose
- Used marijuana and alcohol to numb psychic pain
- Not part of any spiritual community
- (10)No collegial relationships with other scholars
In 1990 I received my Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California age Santa Barbara. In essence I had finished a year before but because the job market was very weak that year, I remained in Santa Barbara and taught full time for another year. In the fall of 1990 I mover to to Santa Cruz at taught at the UC there for the next two years.
By this I had no physical intimacy with my life partner for a full ten years tis resentment about the lack of physical intimacy. While I was in the relationship I just accepted the situation as it was and didn’t feel anything much about it. Later when the relationship was over and I had space and time to reflect upon what had happened, I came to realize that I was deeply and profoundly hurt by this lack of physical contact, intimate connection and release of passion. Talk about the ultimate rejection—the msn you love more than any other will not cuddle, m hug, kiss or fuck with you for a full decade.
I have a strong libido and I discreetly had brief affairs with other men. Initially I was a surprised atbit
Thee triggering event was a fight that occurred leading to our separation. One night after 19 years I do not return home. While I often had brief sexual encounters “on the side” I always returned home at night, although sometimes late and without a good excuse.
I had met this hot guy named Kenny who was a very straight looking man (formerly married with a caughter) who shot meth. We got a hotel room in Oxnard.
When I returned jealous rage.
He swore if I ever not return home again he would move out.
Sicx moths later it happened again. This time I was gone for two nights
When I returned the house was had empty, the cats were gone, the furniture was gone. He literally moved out
For 19 years my partner provided a sense of security, identity
I fell apart. I went on a long-lasting “run” in which
$200 of crack cocaine daily
Gave up other life tasks
Missed work 5 Mondays in a row
—the labyrinth, my trials and tribulation, becoming a lost soul
IV. THE GIFTS OF MY WOUNDS:
WISDOM ON MENTAL ILLNESS, DRUGS AND ADDICTION AND HOMELESSNESS
WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW WE DON’T
Some of the most important things that I have learned in my life have come through the pains and suffering of my descent into the underworlds of mental illness, addiction and homelessness. Without those experiences I would not be who I am today and would not be living the good life that I do. That journey has lead me to live a radically simple, yet abundantly soul-filled spiritual life, has shifted my values from the me-focused materialism so rampant in our cuture to a other-oriented service orientation, has forced me to become engaged fully in my community as a social justice advocate, writer and teacher.
The problem with much of the accepted truths of our culture, the “conventional knowledge” and commonsense definitions which dominate our culture, is that much of it is wrong. The three topics which I want to address are homelessness, mental illness and drugs and addiction. I am both well-versed in the scholarly research open these topics and also have direct experience dealing with concerns and others in subcultures who also have direct experience. For each of these domains I have found that what we think know we know don’t. Our commonsense is wrong.
I am left wondering about topics about which I do not have direct experience with that I largely accept the received truths and conventional wisdom about. If I were to wade into their waters and get up-close personal engagement with would I find that those traditional understandings are also wrong inadequate.
Wisdom is the outcome of the Hero’s Journey
A Drugs and Addiction
- The understandings we have about drugs and addiction are tainted by drug war ideologies—complete lies, half truths and wild distortions about how psychotropic substances are used in our culture and in our human history.
- The “will to party” is an innate urge to consume psychotropic plants to alter our states of consciousness. We are born with these desires and they are natural to our species. We need to accept our human nature as it is and not buy into the Enlightenment fantasy of rational human.
- Among our archaic ancestors in forager societies the use of such psychotropic plants to satisfy the will to party is almost universal. Something like 99% of all tribal societies have ritualized means to alter consciousness. Yet addiction is virtually unknown in those cultures and seems to be largely a modern invention.
- Shamans were tribal healers who specialized in journeying to the Otherworld through altered states to perform acts of healing. They were the carriers of vast amounts of wisdom about the local ecology, cultural practices and spiritual matters.
- Anthropologists studying shamanism have noted that the drug-consuming practices of these cultures are marked by “controlled use” —that is there are strict norms and rules concerning how and when and, most importantly, why substances are to be used. This calls into question the modern claim that moderate use is not possible and that tolerance leads to increased use which in turn leads to addiction.
- A key difference between modern and ancient drug consumption is our ancestors used drugs with sacred intention. As Timothy Leary noted, the experience any person has with a substance is determined by the “set and setting”—that the mind set of the person (their well-being, psychological health) and the cultural context (belief system, background expectations, norms, values, ways of acting).
- Entheogens are substances that alter consciousness used with sacred intention. It is not the chemical composition of the substances that leads it to be classified as entheogenic but the role that it plays. Potentially, any substance can be used with sacred intention. Scholars found the terms psychedelic and hallucinogens problematic from cross-cukturak religious reference and gained by 1960s popular culture.
- A pharmacratic inquisiton is the use of State powers to prohibit the consuming of sacred substances. The first PIs were Roman laws which outlawed the Greek Mystery Traditions (such as Eleusis) and forbid shamanic cultures at the Empire’s edge from their Dionysian practices. The Spanish descendants of the Roman Empire brought such prohibitions to the New World in the 15th century banning indigenous people from entheogenic sacraments.
- When substance use is supported by Dionysian cultures, which respect the spiritual value of ecstatic states, substance use is non-problematic. Yet when Apollonian cultures ban the use of substances, the “Will to Party” remains and is forced underground in Dionysian countercultures which lack the shamanic wisdom of controlled use. Addiction flourishes in such cultures, killing many.
- Modern cultures are noted for their “mass psychology of misery”, a psychological malaise distinguished by alienation, cynicism, and nihilism. Today in our society many people have soul loss. We are not “happy campers”. Because a central affect of substance use is to amplify the mental state of consumers, drugs in modern life can be a bummer. Still modern drug use in industrial capitalistic societies can be seen as a subversive means of escape from the hardships of daily existence.
- Drug scares are a tactic used by drug warriors to misrepresent substance use and its possibilities. Media accounts of waves of “drug epidemics” for exaggerate the harmful effects and whip up hysteria in the population. For example, the “meth epidemic” showed striking before and after pictures of user’s faces, detailed the horrors of “meth mouth” and warned the public not to go within 15 feet of “meth heads” because they are so violent. Funny how Adderal users don’t have to worry about meth mouth, The public information film Reefer Madness is an example of drug war propaganda. Alfred Lindesmith observed the “dope fiend mythology” in the culture in the 1940s, in which addiction is portrayed as stem,ming from a single use. See work of Craig Reinerman on drug war ideologies. Carl Hart’sw Methamphetamine: Fact or Faction?
- Linked to the use of substances as a subversive means of escape is their use as self-medicating. The number of people who experience symptoms of mental illness each year is something like 1 in 4. Vast portions of the population leave childhood traumatized. Many of us lack the coping skills required for the stress and anxiety of modern existence.
- In modern societies those who seek out ecstatic experiences, altered states of consciousness and visionary revelations through psychotropic substances are spiritual seekers longing to dance with Dionysus again. Addicts are misguided shamans who if they had lived in archaic forager societies would be the great tribal healers of their cultures, with vast experience traveling to Other Worlds to consult with spirit allies.
- We need an Entheogenic Revival. We need to re-construct the lost shamanic wisdom of controlled use. Tribal elders need to assume responsibility for passing on the accumulated insight on harm reduction, successful use and maximizing spiritual potentiality.
INSIGHTS ON MY MADNESS AND OUR MAD, MAD WORLD
Many years ago I experienced a “break down” in which I lost it for a while. We’re talking severe depression of the type that leaves you crying in bed aol day long unable to do the simplest of things. Initially I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew that I wanted the pain to stop. Thus, seeking to relieve my horrendous pain I entered into the underworlds of drugs. I quickly discovered crack cocaine and methamphetamine and experimented until I found the right dosage to numb all feeling for the entire day. I learned that about $200 worth of crack would make me and a companion numb all day long. Obviously this only created more problems, for now I was not only severely clinically depressed but addicted to crack cocaine.
It was while in this state that I first encountered American psychiatry. Over the course of the next few months I met with multiple doctors in their plush offices and fancy rehabilitation programs. They asked me lots of questions, checked by vital signs and took my weight. Usually these psychiatrists were supported by teams of other professionals, including psychiatric nurses and substance abuse counselors, who aided me in the process of becoming a client in these systems of care, talked me through the process of initiation into these social worlds, and coached me into the proper attitudes and dispositions necessary to begin this form of treatment. Most of the staff in these rehabilitation programs had been clients at one point. Rehabs are populated with former “addicts” who have so throughly internalized twelve step and other addiction ideologies.
A similar set of events happen in 2005 and again in 2011. I take in more than I can handle in hypomanic periods until something leads it to all fall apart. While in my manic state I feel energized, motivated and able to do anything. When I enter the depressive state I lack energy, focus on all the negative things in my life and am distraught.
I self-medicated with marijuana and alcohol, blazing a bowl of Ganga to chill a bit more or have a drink to round out those rough edges.
Prior to my enter into rehab, I had only the slightest encounters with psychiatry. My older brother and younger sister had both been diagnosed as “hyperactive” or ADHD and were put on Ritalin. I am uncertain if these pharmaceutical helped much. At the age of 16 my brother was suddenly taken off Ritalin and forced to go cold turkey. It seems to me that he never learned the
self-control lacking in disruptive teenagers from the working classes. He continually got in trouble with law. He hung himself in a jail cell a few years later. My sister also was eventually taken off Ritalin. Today she rots in a jail cell on the East Coast with the label of “bi-polar disorder.
I went away to college at age of 18. The chaotic nature of my family of origin lead me to want to not commute from home but to become a resident at the school. In my first few months at UMass -Amherst I became overwhelmed by psychological distress and sought help in the university’s mental health system. This was actually my first encounter with a psychiatrist—a white man approaching the age of 70. He looked like Bill Moyers. Since arriving at the college my hormones were out of control. I had somehow encountered “tea rooms”— out of the way bathrooms in which men h ad sex with other men. I became almost addicteed to these encounters and spent unusual amounts of time in these bathrooms. While I had mostly repressed these sexual feelings while in high school\
= I was struggling with my sexual identity
Anyway, today I live with the psychiatric diagnosis of bi-polar disorder and have been prescribed multiple pharmaceuticals to correct my supposed “cghemical imbalance”. I still see a psychiatrist every other month. For two and a half years I facilitated a popular support groups for duality diagnosed people in recovery. I have done years of psychotherapy. For about five years I worked for a major counseling agency doing personal therapy with clients who had psychiatric diagnoses as well as facilityating process groups, teaching life skill classes and doing street outreach. For the past four years I have served as a Commissioner for the County’s Behavioral Wellness Department, helping to oversee a large psychiatric system of care. I also stay up on local and national policy debates on mental health treatments by attending a luncheon of NAMI.
Thus, the insights I have on madness and our mad, mad world come from years of observation of people and institutions, from course work in psychology, sociology, social work, counseling, from working with people who have been labeled severely mentally ill, and through my first-hand experiences as a person labeled with severe mental health challenges.
What I Have Learned:Insights on Mental Illness
Our culture is filled with lots of myths and misunderstandings about mental health and mental illness. Most of the conventional understandings turn out to be wrong. Our commonsense knowledge is informed by psychiatric ideologies and other forms of propaganda. Psychiatry assures us that medical science has developed our ability to diagnose and treat these “brain diseases” through pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy, behavioral modification and other techniques. The truth is we don’t really know that much and half of what we think we know is wrong.
My observations of madness come from my interactions with people living on the streets as well as from people living in shelters and residential programs. The diversity of people we are talking about is very broad—from people who cannot hide their severe challenges and cannot suitably take care of themselves, and clearly need immediate and intensive care, to people who appear in peak condition and on top of there game. People often move in and out of being symptomatic and often the same person can have different presentations and appearances in the same day. Generalizations are impossible to make given the vast possibilities found in the human condition. While some people isolate, or don’t get along well with other, others are gregarious and amicable. While some people are ranting to the world in public displays that are terrifying to behold, or have engaged in fits of angry outbursts that frighten away all but the most courageous, others are introverted, peaceful and just like so called ’normal” people.
Of course the truth is that people experiencing madness are “normal”. Because our world is mad, it is only natural that throughout the course of our lives we have experiences of madness. The reason why mad people are just like us is because any person can have mad moments at times in their lives.
Of course some people have continued experiences and severe challenges that persist over long periods of time and others only have brief and minor episodes.
1 The notion that mental illnesses are objectively determined phenomena with precise diagnostic criteria is largely unfounded. Throughout the years studies have shown that there is little “inter-coder reliability” among psychiatrists using the official diagnostic criteria—that is that when examining the same person different psychiatrists often determine different diagnoses.
In part this is because there is no consensus about what is universally acceptable, normal or desired behavior in any specific situation. Humans vary widely in their responses to their environment. The norms of human behavior are diverse throughout the world’s cultures. No act is inherently deviant and as sociologists have argued deviance resides in the reactions of others to some specified act. The labeling of any specific action as deviant, abnormal or unacceptable is arbitrary.
“Mental illness” is a label applied to certain people whose actions some others find unacceptable. There is a politics to this labeling process, with some groups having the power to get their labels to stick. When a person gets repeatedly labeled they may “internalize” that label and it can become a self-fulfilling identity and role that they play. Thus, the label of “mentally ill” is relative, contextual and fluid. Social scientists refer to this process as “the social construction of mental illness”.
Some people labeled by psychiatrists as “mentally ill” are quirky non-conformists and colorful characters who refuse to adhere to the norms and rules of civil society which is permeated with middle-class white cultural values. Often it is the observance of these petty norms of hum drum existence, the inconsequential customs of mainstream culture and the polite niceties of “proper” society which seem to matter to many people the most. Perhaps we all need to lighten up on non-conformists and give everyone a lot more space to do their own thing without judgment or contempt.
2 An powerful elite dominates the labeling of and oversight of the care of people experiencing distress and their ruling ideology is often based on hierarchies of race, class, gender, age, ability, education, etc., This psychiatric ideology justifies the use of physical force, restraint, detention and coercion to force people to comply with social norms, even when no laws have been violated. The whole process involves the “medicalization” of human problems and conditions, thus making them subject to medical treatment. This psychiatric regime of rule significantly shapes our very perceptions of mental illness. In the United States, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is the most powerful group concerning the determination of “mental illness” and it’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM5) is referred to as “the Bible of psychiatry”. Every decade sees changes in what is and what is not a psychiatric diagnosis and what counts as criteria As a gay man the validity of that diagnostic system is severely undermined by the fact that until 1973 “homosexuality” was a mental illness. Until the 1960s a psychoanalytic orientation dominated American psychiatry, while currently, a biomedical model dominates. DSM V is a moral text imbued the principles and values of capitalism, individualism, personal responsibility and the Protestant work ethic.
Typically psychiatric diagnosis is based upon clinical interviews and no biological bases for many mental disorders have not been found. Critics decry the absurdity of diagnosing a “disease” through the interview process. Could one diagnose Diabetes or cancer through interviews? Psychiatric diagnosis is dependent upon fallible subjective judgments and not upon objective biological tests, as the other medical disciplines are.
3 This biomedical model rests on misconceived claims, flawed science and society’s need to control non-criminal but unwanted behavior outside the means of routine police power. Unsupported claims about mental illness-as-brain-disease are used to justify coercion and human rights abuses. Overall the clinical success of psychiatric care in the United States is dismal.
4 From a Depth Psychological perspective issues of mental distress are often issues of “soul” and knowledge of the whole person is more valuable than knowledge of the disease. Psychiatry and its biomedical model lacks insight into this. The list of great thinkers erased from contemptorary psychiatric understandings include Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, James Hillman, Harry Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm, and Viktor Frankl,
5 In reaction to and resistant to this psychiatric regime of rule there has emerged the several distinct radical and reformist movements. The “Anti-psychiatry” movement seeks to challenge the dominant understanding of “mental illness” as promulgated by the biomedical model of psychiatry. It is a movement of survivors, peer consumers, scholars and psychiatrists critical of mainstream psychiatry. It considers psychiatry a coercive instrument of oppression due to an unequal power relationship between doctor and patient and a highly subjective diagnostic process. This movement has helped to bring about many changes including de-institutionalization, the focus on recovery, the use of peer consumers in mental health systems, greater awareness of the adverse effects and questionable science behind some pharmaceuticals. Noted authors include Szaz, Foucault, Laing, Goffman. The “recovery movement” seeks to bring knowledge of the possibility of recovery to those labeled “mentally ill” and their systems of care which often act as if recovery does not happen . The “peer / consumer movement” seeks to embed people with mental illness into systems of care, thus removing the “us / them thinking” intrinsic to these systems. The “Mad Pride” and neuroplasticity movements seek to lessen the stigma associated with being a person experiencing mental illness by normalizing and celebrating the states and traits typically categorized as mental illness
The abolition movement seeks outright to abolish psychiatry and psychiatric institutions. “De-institution is the name given to the movement to close the mental asylums of the 1970s. The community-based residential programs promised by de-institutionalization never truly emerged. The “voice hearers” movement seeks to naturalize auditory hallucinations. All of these movement seek to address the power imbalances between psychiatrists and their clients by empowering people experiencing mental distress to have a voice and allowing that voice to be honored and amplified
6 Emotional and mental distress are rational responses to a sick society and an unjust economy. People are often reacting to their situation in society. Rather than helping people to adjust themselves to social system that oppressive and dysfunctional, perhaps the focus should be on changing the system.
7 To optimize human well-being we need to re-think the very foundations of our social system, especially our economy and other oppressive institutions. How is our society sick? The values it inshrines (greed, selfishness, violent aggression, war, apathy and indifference, cynicism) The abuse, neglect and oppressions it tolerates; The political process of election; Our treatment of other species and natural environments
8 Everyone in a sick society suffers. People with mental illness are the “canaries in the coal mines” — beings who are especially sensitive to adverse conditions whose deterioration should be a warning to the general population of modernity’s vast troubles. Modern industrial society is noted for a “mass psychology of misery” according to anarchist thinker John Zerzan. He refers to stress, loneliness, depression, and boredom as “the madness of everyday life”. He notes that much of our population has some of the symptoms of mental illness and the range of consequences that has, including the increasing use of physician-ordered pharmaceuticals (such as tranquilizers, anti-depressants), suicide rates, levels of anxiety and panic attacks, isolation, sense of meaninglessness, employee theft, low voter turnout, high school drop-out rates and drug abuse.
Zerzan refers to our contemporary world as “the Psychological Society” and observes that in our society the individual sees themselves as the problem and refuses to see the context for their malaise. For a primitivist anarchist such as Zerzan that context would specifically include many of the features of industrial capitalist civilization. We privatize our personal troubles and psychological challenges often refusing to see that society as a whole shares fundamental responsibility for our distress. He contends that alienation is the essence of all psychiatric conditions, thus again highlighting the isolating, dehumanizing, and disenchanting effects of working within a capitalist system of production. Zerzan states: “Psychology is the study of the alienated, but lacks the awareness that this is so.”
9 Many people in emotional and psychological distress remain undiagnosed and untreated by the systems of care, even when their suffering is severe and chronic.
10 Those who suffer mental illness carry a stigma, what Erving Goffman referred to as a “spoiled identity”. People labeled “mentally ill” are often abandoned by families, avoided in our private life, shunned in public settings, ridiculed and disparaged by media personalities are presidential candidates and are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Discrimination in housing, employment and services is common and societal oppression off those labeled mentally ill is common.
11 For many people their socioeconomic status (i.e., social class) compounds the challenges of mental illness. The poor, who often lack health insurance, are more likely to have untreated mental illness.
12 As noted above, many people with untreated mental illness self-medicate with a variety of psychotropic substances. Through doing outreach to those in psychological distress living on the streets I learned that people the type tend to engage in the type of self-care they best understand and that one of our goals needs to be to teach them other more appropriate forms of self-care.
13 Mad experiences unquestionably bring with them all kinds of hazards, but they also sometimes bring great benefits. These benefits include burst of creativity, revelatory insights into oneself and the world, and spiritual insights, The onset of mental illness may be the initiation into non-ordinary states of consciousness. Like a shaman’s initiation, these experiences can be soul-making. The difference between archaic shamanism and modern mental illness is that shamans have found ways to integrate their experiences and the mentally ill haven’t.
14 It is a disgraceful that in our relatively wealthy country that the largest provider of mental health services is typically the local county jail. Here in Santa Barbara there are about 200 people with mental illness in our County Jail (while the Aunty’s only locked psychiatric facility has 16 beds). The vast majority of these individuals are non violent criminals—most people in jails are have not yet gone to trial, so they are not yet convicted of a crime. The rest are serving short sentences for minor crimes. The de-institutionalization of our “asylums” combined with criminalization of homelessness has amplified this situation. Once in jail, many individuals don't receive the treatment they need and deserve and end up getting worse, not better. They stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness. They are at risk of victimization and often their mental health conditions get worse.
A SICK SOCIETY: THE LOSS OF VITAL TRADITIONS
My journey has brought me face-to-face with many of our neighbors on the streets who suffer psychological distress. In shifting our focus from the level of personal “sickness” to societal “sickness” my goal is not to deny their pain but to provide a context and to naturalize their symptoms. How can we expect people to be sane if our social world is insane?
So, what are some of the ways that our society is sick, dysfunctional and not conducive for maximizing individual mental well-being? Modernity, as a civilizational epoch, has discarded a multitude of traditions which were prevalent in pre-modern societies. This can be enormously liberating to have the weight of traditions lifted from our lives. Yet several important traditions are vital to sustain psychological health and well-being. Here are some traditions found among archaic foragers that we lack:
The bonds of community
Childrearing practices of protection
Meaningful work and life purposes
Integrating belief systems
Respectful encounters and empowering institutions
Equality and minimization of marginal status
Healthy consumption of entheogenic sacraments (manifesting ego deflation)
Regimes of self-care and healthy coping strategies
Peer support networks
In the last 150 years our country has transformed from one of rural small towns to large metropolitan sprawls. The bonds of community have been broken. The founders of sociology all mention this fundamental change. [Durkheim on mechanical solidarity, Tonnies on Gemeinschaft. Marx on Alienation. ]
Individualism leads people to focus increasingly on themselves. The average number of close friends Americans have has deceased in the last 25 years from 3 to 2. In his book Bowling Alone(2000) Robert Putnam documents the effects of these changes of civic engagement. Our increasing isolation and disconnection from others must be seen as a contributor to mental illness because of the importance of peer support for mental wellbeing.
The number of people who leave childhood permanently scarred is huge. The traumas of sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect creates wounds that often last a lifetime. We invest too little in the teaching of best practices for parenting an.d childrearing.
The effects of social oppression can cause and contribute to mental illness. Living with racism, sexism, ageism, ableism can have massive effects on our emotional state, level of anxiety and feelings of adequacy. One must bring an intersectional approach to our studies carefully considering how different aspects of our identities bring up penalties or privileges.
Insights on Homelessness
1 The conventional perspective on homelessness is that it is a housing problem best solved any housing people. Of course there is a lot of truth to this. By definition people experiencing homeless need to be housed. But things are much more complicated than that. Many of the people who are on the streets have complex lives, troubled pasts and multiple challenges to overcome.
2 Everyone deserves housing. The UN Declaration of Human Rights lists housing an an essential human right. What about the three men sitting on the sidewalk on Haley Street in downtown Santa Barbara who will not stop drinking, who don’t care if the cops write them tickets, who come right back after they serve their jail time? How would you like to be their neighbor”
3 Half of the homeless people in Santa Barbara have mental health challenges.We are increasingly learning that mental health practitioners need to be versed in the issues of affordable housing. People who remain on the streets do not recover!~
4 Half of them are dually diagnosed with substance abuse challenges. The big ones right now are alcohol, meth and heroin. Elsewhere I talk about drugs and addiction.
5 Other complications include chronic health concerns, disability, poor life skills, criminal backgrounds and versatility, foster care backgrounds, domestic violence, human trafficking, ageism, sexism, immigration status, divorce and separation, lack of education and job skills.
6 Psychological challenges include for self esteem, low frustration tolerance, communication skills., coping skills, self-soothing skills, assertiveness, anger management, poor decision making. Many need help to complete applications for services. Many lack the ordinary skills of self-care, hygiene, etiquette, etc. basic Budgeting and money management skills are absent. Many have poor interview skills and literally have nothing appropriate to wear for these encounters. Many are so traumatized that they cannot live in shelters, cannot deal with mindless bureaucracies, are filed with fear and paranoia. They are often barely holding on at all. Psycho-education is a needed skill for those working with these populations.
7 Until now our political leaders have lacked the political will to end homelessness. Locally, we house about 350 people per year while an equal number fall into homelessness. In our last point in time count we found 1400 people on the streets and in shelters. HUD urges us to use a multiplier of 2 or 3.
8 The diversity of people without permanent housing is vast, and includes people who have full-time jobs, who do not use drugs or alcohol, many students, many youth transitioning out of foster care, many seniors, families, immigrants, hard core “derelicts”, “travellers”, “home bums”, run-away youth, victims of domestic violence, paroles etc.
9 We need a lot more housing, a lot more supportive housing, a lot more street outreach, a lot more services for these people. There are few public washrooms for these hundreds of people, very few showers, only a few free public meals, not enough people willing to help fill out forms, etc.
10 As if these people’s lives were not hard enough our political leaders have implemented draconian laws meant to harass and penalize these people. This is the criminalization of poverty. Even though there is no place else for these hundreds of people to go, we write them tickets for sleeping outside. There are laws against them selling their tickets on the sidewalk, laws against sitting on the sidewalk, laws discouraging panhandling. Attempts were even made to stop religious organizations and non-profits from feeding the hungry in our parks.
11 Very few of the organizations that serve these populations use former clients on their advisory boards or as employees. The lived experience of people is often absent from the running of these agencies.
12 In the Age of Trump we are removing what little safety net there was that caught people as they free called to the bottom of the barrel.
Foragers were mentally healthy (meaning and purpose, mass psychology of connectedness, intimacy within group, egalitarianism, the Original Affluent Society == leisure time, ego deflation through periodic use of entheogens, ecopsychology, Dionysian cultures with controlled use
Modernity = mass psychology of misery, alienation, anomie, cynicism, oppression, apathy, indifference, ego-driven psychology, disconnection from mature, massive inequality, the Anthropocene
and the climatic apocalypse, Dionysian Counterculture without controlled use, the Triumph of Apollo
The Amethyst Path – the search for “jouissance” without drugs
IV. The Gift of Our Wounds
becoming a wounded healer
after the journey re-integration into ordinary life sharing the wisdom of our trip
living a spiritual life of simplicity, social justice advocacy, service to others,
My Theology = Dionysian Naturalism
Bearing Witness to Injustice
Each of our personal life journeys informs our public politics and shapes our in movements for social change. When the accustomed patterns of our everyday lives become threatened collective mobilization tends to increase. Thus our personal suffering and individual struggles inform our political resistance. But the suffering of others also shapes our public stances. Finding ourselves face-to-face with a person who is suffering we may feel sympathy and have the urge to make things better. If that suffering is caused by injustice, we may feel outrage, guilt, shame, shock, and / or helplessness. Fueled by these emotions and understandings we may get involved in efforts to alleviate that suffering through changing policies and programs that perpetuate that suffering. My own life struggles have likewise shaped my political convictions and my current passion for social justice advocacy.
My journey through homelessness has given me the opportunity to confront horrible, ugly and unacceptable re realities that were largely hidden from me prior to my becoming homeless. I have bipolar disorder and experience devastating episodes of major depression in which I loose the motivation to keep on going and can become suicidal and dysfunctional. To cope with these powerfully dark moods, I have self-medicated with illicit stimulants which elevate my spirits and make life seem worth living again. These challenges have lead me to become homeless three times in the past 17 years and to repeatedly loose all my possessions.
My time on the streets, living in shelters and enrolled in rehabilitation programs, and later working as a social worker in such programs has allowed me to bear witness to innumerable social injustices. People with mental health challenges, physical disabilities, and other major life obstacles often lack access to care, housing, and public assistance; they must fend for themselves in the dog-eat-dog environment which comprises contemporary urban homelessness.
I have lived in all three shelters in Santa Barbara, been a part of rehabilitation programs and lived in transitional housing. Most recently, in November 2011, I had a particularly bad depressive episode which lead to my becoming homeless. Once again, I ended up loosing everything. The pain was so unbearable that I choose to self-medicate with street drugs, which led to my entanglement with the legal system. Between these very bad moments I have had extended periods in which I held it all together ,spending six years working as a social worker, doing street outreach, counseling and helping people transition off the streets.;
Because I have spent a decade immersed within the social worlds of those who have the triple challenges of mental illness, addiction, and homelessness, I feel an obligation to testify in public about what I have witnessed. I have seen the human consequences of a society without an adequate safety net to prevent people from free falling to the bottom. I have seen the outcome of often indifferent civic leaders who year after year underfund the very programs needed to allow people to lead lives of dignity and worth. I have seen communities that seem not to care as people needlessly suffer and even die, often more concerned with shopping for trendy consumer items than knowing the pain of their fellow brothers and sisters on the streets.
Many of these people getting no care and having no place to go lead tragic lives filled with enormous suffering. Each of the women I have met sharing these three has been repeatedly sexually assaulted. Most others, both men and women, have been victims of other forms of violent crime. Many cycle in and out of jails, emergency rooms and homeless shelters in what has been dubbed “the revolving door” – never receiving the integrated and sustained psychiatric treatment they need and deserve. They often die unnecessary deaths at an early age.
It has been over 50 years since states began shuttering mental health institutions. “De-institutionalization” was supposed to be accompanied by the growth of local alternatives. The old asylums were seen as mere warehouses in which no one ever recovered and with treatment that was often inhumane. Unfortunately, the new community-based mental health services never emerged. When our economy faced yet another economic downturn the states reduced mental health funding to save money.
This failure to provide treatment and supportive services over burdens emergency rooms, local jails and homeless shelters. Only about a third of people who need treatment for mental disorders receive it. These people getting no care at all and having no place to go have been a major contributor to the increase in homelessness. Locally it is estimated that about half of the people on the streets suffer some form of mental illness. Half of those suffer from substance abuse issues.
In the city of Santa Barbara, our public housing agency has ceased to take new names for the waiting list for federally-financed subsidized housing because these lists are already so long that it will take seven years to serve. Hundreds of people live on the streets, including people in wheelchairs, people with untreated yet severe mental health challenges, elderly people, and youth. When the financial crisis hit in 2008-2009, the County was forced to downsize the number of workers providing various social services, including street outreach workers. And now as I now write these words threats of budget cuts are again sending shivers through the community.
A very chilly climate exists for many of our poorest neighbors in sunny Santa Barbara. Across the country there is a campaign by those in power to harass and penalize those living on the streets. Numerous local communities, overwhelmed by the numbers of people flocking to their cities, have implemented draconian laws to discourage people from staying. These local ordinances are devised to bring law enforcement officers into close contact with those on the streets to enforce arbitrary policies meant to harass those without homes. Sleeping outside is against the law. Sitting on sidewalks is against the law. Selling handmade jewelry on the sidewalk is against the law. Panhandling is discouraged and can result in hefty fines.
The real goal is to hit the most visible culprits with a barrage of tickets so that they will leave town. Many simply wander to the next beach community. Throngs of people shuffle between San Diego and Santa Cruz, never getting the assistance they deserve. Civil rights are routinely violated so that rich communities retain their tourist destination status. Civic organizations spend vast amounts on security teams who are charged with targeting homeless people in busy shopping districts. Social injustices abound, all in the name of profit. In Santa Barbara, with over a thousand people without homes but far less than 400 shelter beds, people are routinely written tickets for sleeping outside even though there is no place else for them to go. RVs are being banned on downtown streets. Attempts are being made to stop religious organizations and non-profits from feeding the hungry in our parks.
For the fragile and traumatized people sleeping in doorways and encamped along our creeks, this increased and unwanted attention by law enforcement teams feels like brute torment. Many get dozens of citations with corresponding court-dates, which turn into jail time when
they are ignored. They feel singled out and penalized for behaviors for which housed people are ignored. Judges and courtroom personnel feel that their times and skills are wasted on people with no criminal intent, who are not really harming anyone. Through these laws, we inflict more suffering on those who are already marginalized, displaced and struggling to subsist.
These are the crimes of which I accuse my fellow citizens: that apathy, indifference and cynicism have befallen you, and have lead you to become numb to the suffering all around you; that you have given up the struggle for social justice and the hope that we can change the system so that all people can lead healthy lives; that you have forgotten your most sacred value--the inherent dignity and worth of all people, that with an instrumental calculus difficult to comprehend that we knowing allow for the increase in suffering those with mental disorder in order to meet budgetary requirements. Do we pretend to not know the human costs of deceases in funding for mental health services?'
These are but some of the unjust issues we face in the modern world, a small facet of systemic strife. These are times which demand witnesses who can testify concerning the social suffering of our world, explicitly contrasting the ways things are with how they ought to be. My journey exposed me to the plight of some of the most destitute in our contemporary urban settings. Most American cities are now filled with such nomads surviving on handouts, come-ups, and whatever meager edibles they forage in the garbage cans and dumpsters of these paved jungles.
V. Closing Prayer and Questions and Answer Session
Spirit of Life, we give thanks for our time together, for our coming and our sharing. May we respect and love our selves and respect and love others. May we trust that the intentions we bring and the actions we take matter. Our good intention and respectful actions shape justice and ripple out beyond our knowing. Many we bring joy to our living and to our loving. May we be supported in our commitments, by our spiritual practices and the Spirit of Life. May peace be with you. May were no longer step blindly past the stranger who huddles ism the cold outside the door. May we no longer pretend not to see the woman crawling out of her wheelchair to sleep ion a door well. Let no one continue to walk past the elderly man riddled with dazed confusion begging for food in front of the grocery store because they are in such a hurry;. May we dome to see era of these people as sacred. For when we have earned their names we know they are our neighbors. Fr when we have heard their story it will remain forever in our hearts. For when we have become their friends, we know that we can sing together. For when we share our gifts with them, we know that we have gotten s much in return. Let compassion prevail. Let the beauty of each person’s gifts be seen. May our scarce resources one lifted up and multiplied. May It be So, Blessed Be and Amen.
Liz Szabo. 2014. “Cost of Not Caring: Nowhere To Go.” USA TODAY
I am a Santa Barbara-based social justice educator, activist and writer. I have taught Sociology at numerous colleges including the Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara campuses of the University of California, Ventura College, the Fielding Graduate University and Antioch University Santa Barbara. I have long served as a social worker helping those with mental health challenges off the streets. Deeply concerned for our climate crisis, I am working on the spiritual connections we need to the natural world to achieve a sustainable society