Courage to Change

Introduction (The following is one of my signature works. The essay begins on page 13.)

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
A 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist.

This quote could be applied to many different scenarios given the times, the United States’ heavy-handed response to 9/11 comes to mind, but that’s not exactly where I am going with it. However, I will try to adhere to these wise words while making some follow-up comments to my previous essay (or letter). If you read “To: the Bazelon’s Executive Director and its Board of Trustees” I expressed my experience and expertise on the subjects of active alcoholism, addiction and mental illness and my ongoing “recovery” from these diseases and this illness.

This set the stage to challenge The Bazelon Center’s Executive Director, Robert Bernstein’s, PhD. attempt to add, what I perceived as being, his “two cents” in an effort to make The Bazelon Center’s role germane to the debate, to the discussion over to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) definition of “recovery”. I stated to, both, Bazelon and to you that I found Dr. Bernstein’s version to be arbitrary, materialistic and irrelevant considering the current realities facing America. By his definition alone, I wouldn’t be considered in recovery much less an authority on these subjects.

I went on to offer up a candid assessment of this Washington, DC-based mental health law center’s faulty understanding of addiction and mental illness as they apply to, both, the individual and to our dysfunctional society, the organization’s ineffectiveness through its own misguided mission statement and its lack of collective wisdom, the inability to easily access its leadership team including the director, himself through their website. I concluded by questioning the quality of the communications being disseminated by Bazelon through its own mailing list, as an email recipient and observer for the past five years. As I mentioned six of the twenty-three active board members are in this audience, all serve as law professors at their respective universities.

It’s been over five weeks and I haven’t received a response from anyone affiliated with Bazelon and, at this point, I suppose I won’t nor does it appear that any of my critiques have been taken seriously including how they operate and how they use their technology (their website) doesn’t appear to have been addressed. With twenty-two years of experience, I also claim to be an expert in living in reality and it’s from this vantage point that I try to write all my commentaries from – where all four tires touch the blacktop and not from some theory way up in the sky. The term that comes to mind regarding Bazelon silence is being out of touch, as in being out of touch with reality. Our basic differences isn’t over an opinion in policy or a viewpoint regarding mental illness and the best treatment, but instead over a deeper state of mind, body and spirit, of having awareness for self, for all others and for one’s environment.

To live in the moment, to live in the NOW requires oneself to shed all filters, the insulation, the buffers, the suits of armor that separate self from feeling, from sensing – from tasting and touching – the real world, that what separates self from his fellow man, that which keeps oneself from feeling his or her emotions – glad, mad, sad, happy… It’s to remain inappropriately and comfortably numb to any and all pain and suffering, to remain unresponsive to almost all stimuli, to all threats including that of honest criticism even when coming at the expense of one’s own survival. It’s to hide behind a large tree for safety, but never realizing that one’s derriere is exposed, that it’s sticking out until it’s too late when an arrow has pierced it and the body is immediately racked with pain, as in the case of 9/11. We felt safe and secure until we realized how vulnerable we really were and always have been. On that day, we were out of touch with reality, not the terrorists.

Denial is one of man’s best elixirs, but it’s not something we were born with instead it’s a learned behavior, a reaction that comes about from having an inability to naturally work through a problem, to its final resolution, that’s causing us discomfort, that’s causing us pain – be it emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, sexual or financial. It’s our repeated exposure to a negative stimulus caused by the conduct of others in our life (and later by our own self-destructive ways) that are already living in deep denial, in dysfunction and whose violent actions they can no longer see or control due to their blinders, due to their insanity. To cope, we learn to tune out the present by reliving, replaying the past while fearing all future events. We pick up a drug or two stunting our own emotional, spiritual and mental development while our bodies and mind continues to grow. We cease to live, but we continue having more birthdays.

Our spirit, our instincts necessary for navigating us, and all animals, through life, the source of God, of all things good including our talents, our purpose for living and for reaching our destiny is crushed leaving us in total confusion. We quickly go off course instead of living to fulfill one’s inner and natural desires we begin living for others, for their desires and dreams at our own expense, at our own happiness. We don’t know what we want to be when we grow up and we’re already 25, 35, 45, 55 years old or older. What a loss to one’s self and to this society, at large. It’s very costly to everyone, factor this into the economy. All happiness becomes fleeting, cheap thrills and tricks serve as a substitute to enjoying a state of contentment, a state of satisfaction on a daily basis.

The ego designed to keep man alive, to keep man from walking out into traffic and from self-destruction now grows and fills the void of man’s spirit creating an inflated ego beginning in our childhood growing throughout our adolescences and well into adulthood. It provides a veneer, a thin layer of insulation falsely protecting our being, serving as a mask for our insecurities and weaknesses, but it’s easily pierced with words leaving behind untreated wounds that grow tumors. The quest to grow up and to be old, like our “mature” parents, is on while our innocence, our youth is lost in the process. An imbalance is created within man causing him or her to veer to the “left” or veer to the “right”, but never again moving straight-forward until his or her ultimate death and resurrection. For a lucky few, it’s the one that occurs before we’re all put in a pine box and buried six feet under.

Feelings of health, sanity, security, strength, wholeness, consciousness, beauty, happiness, humility – being “an equal” to all six billion plus – is lost and replaced with feelings of dissatisfaction, emptiness, loneliness, humiliation, nakedness, a superiority complex, weakness… which causes an insane quest for artificial perfection in beauty and behavior, a harsh judgment of self while this civilization creates class, order, rank and a never-ending desire to climb up the social ladder. Public denial of any and all weaknesses or the committing of sins is a symptom of his, of an organization’s or society’s insanity and a lack of character. It’s an unwillingness to get honest, to face the truth about oneself and to change, to evolve for survival’s sake at the same constant rate as our turning world and our ever-expanding universe.

It’s to constantly fight someone or a situation tethered to us by chains rather than to accept it, to let go and move on with life. Both, society’s new and old political, spiritual and social problems have formed a plaque on man’s, an organization’s, this society’s arteries slowly cutting off blood flow necessary to feed the body, to feed all of its organs with oxygen. It begins to die, either, slowly or abruptly. How can this be happening to a nation with the most sophisticated and most redundant health care system in the world? Where are the doctors, the specialists? Where’s a good surgeon when you need one as this sick patient lies dying before our eyes? Denial is thick and sometimes it’s even thicker than blood and even thicker than a blood clot.

The national bird for the United States from its genesis has been the eagle, specifically the Bald Eagle. A symbol of American pride for its beauty, integrity, dignity and strength as a bird of prey, its image can be found on almost every piece of paper currency and coin and on the seals of almost every federal department and agency including on the Seal of the President. However, our idyllic reverence for this magnificent bird hasn’t always married up with reality as they’ve been hunted and poisoned to near extinction before receiving federal protection status, in 1940. This creature of instinct which embodied “The Spirit of 76” no longer reflects America’s corrupt values. It must to be replaced. Our selfish, self-centered and destructive ways as individuals, as families, as institutions, as a society and as a government have violated the basic laws of nature. Authenticity, originality, truth have given way to imitation, insincerity and phoniness.

The artificial self, the corrupt self has lost its spirit and has given way to “logic, intelligence and the smart ways” of the inflated ego. The head has been severed from the rest of the body. The truth has been lost. I don’t know of any reports where eagles have attacked and harmed man, but I do know of and have witnessed countless times of where the ego has attacked and harmed man. In many cases, our personal conduct, our government’s domestic and foreign policies have done just that – recklessly destroying humanity.

It’s only fitting that this unaccountable, this unconscious predator of mankind, of his environment should now serve this society, this nation and take its rightful place as American’s new national symbol and replace the eagle on all of our currency and seals. To be so unresponsive, to be so unaccountable to me and to the rest of the world as I’ve come to witness in the conduct of my fellow Americans and America, in general, is the moral bankruptcy, it’s the insanity that I repeatedly speak of in these essays. Does this nation and those in a position of leadership have no shame? When will America, Bazelon and this federal government wake up?

This is not the first time that I have been ignored as a human for being true to myself by speaking up, for exercising my freedom of speech, by those passing me on the street or as a writer by members of this very audience while seeking some assistance, while asking for some charity. After getting over being offended by the repeated silence and the lack of any response, it’s helped me to get a clearer picture of the depths of America’s woes. I’m not the problem, you are. We, as a society, haven’t simply taken one wrong turn or two off the main highway we continued to take many wrong turns out of arrogance, righteousness and stubbornness.

We have wound up on the wrong side of town, without a map, only to find us ourselves lost in a pretty dangerous and unfamiliar neighborhood. The kind that most affluent white people only hear and read about, but have never personally experienced. Ego and pride keep us from stopping our new car, from rolling down the window and asking a “brother” standing on the corner for directions to get us out of this hellhole before sundown. We would rather continue riding aimlessly or die than stop and ask for help, to show some vulnerability while hoping for some mercy. Even the nudges from our front-seat passenger, our concerned spouse, isn’t enough to make us want to pull over.

At the same time that I’ve been ignored by members of my community and this audience, I must say in all fairness that I’ve been pretty surprised by the unanticipated letters and emails of support from total strangers who have taken the time to write me after reading some of my essays. Their quotes have been a type of currency that money can never be – it remains intact and unspent. I’ve been able to put their kind words to use, over and over again, for years in promoting this project and soliciting new audiences.

Some that come to mind include my very own congressman who I’ve never met. U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (AL-R) took time out of his busy schedule, while working in Washington, to write me an encouraging note during my first year (2008). It was a real coup, “a feather in my cap” so I thought and more have followed from local business executives and professionals, faculty at Harvard, NYU, Emory, Sydney… friends and writers from traditional print media. I continue to add individuals through the social networking site, Linkedin, here’s what one new contact had to say in response to reading my Bazelon letter…

“Read your letter to Bazelon. Wow. Just wow. Powerful, elegant yet skull cracking insight and incinerating critique. Wow.”
– “John”, Senior Executive Producer in media

John’s words validate me, my work and echoes the earlier praise uttered by others; it makes up for Bazelon’s silence. Our subsequent email exchanges further convinced me of, both, his sincerity and his solid understanding of my life experiences from which this essay is drawn from. So, is a response warranted by Bazelon? I know if someone said those things about me and my work, if someone said to me what I said about them, I would have to respond, at least, to set the record straight. I would like to believe that I could own up to what is honest and fair criticism while challenging them on what I thought they had gotten completely wrong. I certainly couldn’t and wouldn’t remain silent.

Ultimately, one’s humanity calls for an acknowledgement, for a response. We’re all accountable to one another. The hollowness of Bazelon, I’ve come find is equally matched, to a greater degree, by most of our cherished institutions – academia, capitalism, local, state and federal governments, Hollywood, law enforcement, the legal and penal systems, the military, religion… When you think you’re leaning up against one of their strong brick, granite or marble walls for support, it often turns out to be just another illusion. When a problem or crisis arises finding good help or someone “in charge” can become an impossible task.

Osama bin Laden and all those out of power and without a voice “at the table” in the Arab world couldn’t get a high level U.S. government official – a diplomat, the Secretary of State or the president – to hear their complaints before and after the attacks on two U.S. embassies, the U.S.S. Cole and prior to the attacks on 9/11. What does a mad genius, a mastermind have to do to get someone’s attention around here? What do I have to do to get Bazelon’s attention, to get them to respond?

Like Osama bin Laden and 9/11, I studied my subject’s strengths and weaknesses before attacking them head-on and from behind while hitting their flanks, simultaneously. It was a brutal assault as my new friend’s quote suggests, but so is their ongoing misconduct, their acts of insanity in presenting the case of the mentally ill to the American people, to Congress and the Executive Branch and in our courts. Apparently, I never had a voice at Bazelon’s table before and I still don’t.

Is anyone, in Washington, going to investigate my allegations – of course not? It’s home to too many big egos including all those sitting on the board that have great influence and can offer some protection for Bazelon’s insane actions. However, if pressed with litigation Bazelon’s united front and its silence would crumble like a cheap suit. It’s made up of too many Baby-boomers, who truly stand for nothing. It’s the same group that’s run this country into the ground. See it for what it is.

This artificial existence leads to us creating walls causing us to lose our central nervous system and our ability to react quickly to new problems, to new stimuli. Our insulated walls, like that of the president’s notorious bubble have become barriers to doing business in America, to serving our nation while responding appropriately in times of crisis. It’s another unrecognized negative, a hidden cost of doing business and living in America.

Look at Washington’s response time to the 2008 financial crisis on Wall Street with its $700b taxpayer bailout and look at this same government’s inept response to struggling homeowners caught up in the same real estate bust. Why the two different reactions by the same government officials, was it out of ego, was it out of pride? Is this further proof of their lack of humanity? Save the cherished institutions, not the cherished individuals or the American families. They’ve got it so backwards. The potential collapse of the America’s banking system was more than just about saving rich bankers from themselves, more importantly it was a reflection of America’s ability or inability to project power, wealth to the world, as well as, a blatant statement on our value system. Its 2011, has Wall Street or Washington changed its ways?

I’ve repeatedly heard unsympathetic Americans blame their neighbors for buying homes that they simply couldn’t afford while U.S. and global banks, AIG and the Detroit automakers did the exact same thing, but they were rescued when they all deserved to drown in their own red ink. Why the double standard, why the hypocrisy? Why have any laws, why have any policies when you’re going to apply them differently across our society? That’s a sure sign of corruption, of insanity.

During the first eighteen years, I grew up in a self-made “fort” behind its thick stone walls, heavy wooden doors, a drawbridge that I could raise and lower on command, all this was circled by a water-filled, an alligator-filled mote for my safety and security. (Many of you still live in one.) My world was a scary place to live in, I bet yours is too. Slits in the outer walls allowed me to barely peak out with one eye to get a partial glimpse of the world and its inhabitants passing by and playing with one another. I felt alone and I had a desire to play with them, but I was so cut off from myself and thus from the world. I lived in total fear except for some brief moments with the familiar. Otherwise, I pretty much suffered in isolation. I wanted to connect with strangers, I wanted to connect with the world, but I simply forgot how.

When there’s no response from anyone affiliated with Bazelon to my harsh comments and critiques it comes across to me as being a lot of pride, a lot of ego with many “highly educated” people cut off from reality. What have you accomplished that’s so excellent, what have you achieved in life on behalf of society to become so unresponsive to the honest words of someone who you claim to represent and serve, to someone in recovery from alcoholism and mental illness?

Who are you fooling with your arrogance? I reminded of the bold words of President Ronald Reagan, while giving a public speech at West Germany’s Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall, on June 12, 1987, when he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” It was a brilliant and thunderous order and anything less would have been a forgotten mouse’s whisper. His call to action was courageous, it seemed crazy, but it worked. In the next two years, due to a radical series of political changes in the Soviet Union and East Germany, the 28-year old wall began coming down, in 1989.

All those affiliated with The Bazelon Center need to tear down their walls, the members of this audience need to tear down your walls, American needs to tear down its walls, not build more! On what grounds, are you so wonderful that you can’t acknowledge another human being’s presence or request? This isn’t living; you merely exist in a catatonic state ‘til taking your last breath. Until then we’re just keeping you warm and on life support. You don’t need this, you need to wake up!

What head of state lives with around-the-clock protection with a wroth-iron fence surrounding his palace and rides everywhere in an armored limousine called “The Beast”, yet he doesn’t fear his constituents? How could he not have a distorted view of American and the world? You call this freedom for the leader of the free world? What university with its thousands of professors can live in isolation from the real world and there be no consequences to its mission, to this society?

What value is there in studying the classics, world history, law, medicine, politics, theology…if there’s no connection between the collapsed mighty empires of the past, their great wars and that of the last great superpower of the present? History repeats itself and boy is it ever! Biblical and world history is simply a repeating cycle of freedom and slavery – teach this truth. How well have you done your job when newly-minted graduates are neck deep in student loan-debt and they’re unable to land their first real job much less chase a dream? What does the future hold for America? Where’s the truth in any of this nonsense?

Where’s the emergency on campus, in society when everyone spends another lazy Saturday, in the fall, tailgating before the big game? Show me a corporate CEO whose works are greater than that of God’s, show me a Wall Street banker’s grand gesture to society after getting bailed out, show me how its possible for no American politician living and working in the nation’s most corrupt capitol, Washington, DC, and not one of them has gone to jail or prison on corruption charges. Tear down your walls!

Years ago, while watching a broadcast of a 60 Minutes story on the Israeli’s Air Force, it was mention that no one from the fighter pilots all the way up to the top brass salutes or addresses anyone formally. Given the dangerous geopolitical situation that Israel constantly finds itself in with its hostile Arab/Islamic neighbors on all sides, the Air Force need for candor, for a quick and a direct response to any threat trumps its desire for standard protocol. Today, the United States is all hung up on rank, on protocol while our plane plows head first into oblivion, into a mountain.

We just marked and mourned the 10th anniversary of September 11, where’s the memorial for the death of America, for its founding principles, for its three hundred million citizens who have been lied to repeatedly for decades, for centuries? The events that occurred on 9/11/01 are peanuts to the current state of America, to its own death from its own two hands. We don’t lack smarts, we lack honesty and that makes us look pretty dumb. A requirement of every business is an inventory of, both, its assets and its liabilities; the United States is long overdue for one. There’s too much rot in our shiny red apple.

Since I last wrote to you two terms have entered into my consciousness regarding America’s current situation. The first is “free fall” as in a free falling economy. Ever seen one – well you have now? That’s what we’re experiencing. All the economic indicators point to the fact that we’ve yet to hit a bottom, as in rock bottom. Drawing from my own life and my own two emotional, mental and spiritual bottoms, I see no evidence to suggest that we have reached one nor is there a healthy recovery under way. It’s simple physics. No bottom, no recovery. I have several distinguished audience members who teach at top universities while writing regular commentaries for major media outlets.

All write about us having an economy problem, a jobs problem, but they’ve got it all wrong. This crisis has tentacles that run deep. I’ve long argued that the problems are spiritual in nature, as in “the Spirit of ’76”. These scholars and many others including the president believe it’s simply about jobs. In order, for me to be right, many of you have to be dead wrong. The gap between where I stand and where you stand is a gulf. I made the treacherous voyage across, but you haven’t, not yet.

The second term that comes to mind is the “dark ages”. As a student, I heard about this period in time, but I didn’t know what it really meant and I never bothered to look it up in a dictionary or an encyclopedia. By then I wasn’t interested in learning, I was already turned off. When the notion recently entered my mind, I knew exactly what it meant as it applies to the present. Every analyst, banker, CEO, economist, politician and pundit wants to believe that this economy is going to turn around in another quarter, in the next six months, by 2012 or 2013, but they’re all wrong.

If this really is another period like the “Dark Ages” we may be idling for decades, if not longer. It’s a scary assessment, but I base it on the degree of dishonesty that I have witnessed over the years and continue to see and hear throughout our society, in spite of this unending crisis. The foundation of our house has been washed out from underneath us, the walls have buckled and the roof has been blown away. Many, in Washington, continue to deny this reality, to deny this truth and so we all suffer for it.

The fear that motivated this nation during the Cold War of the 1950, ’60, ’70, ‘80’s to go to church, school and work isn’t working this time around with “the War on Terrorism” and this “recession” or depression. The reckless freedom, the insanity, the cheap thrill on the amusement ride that we all enjoyed in the 1990’s and 2000’s has turned into a bomb greater than any dirty one that a terrorist could get their hands on and drop over New York City, LA, San Francisco or Miami.

This, made in America, bomb has already gone off and has blasted shrapnel across the nation and into the homes and lives of every single American shredding their skin, the tissue all the way down to the bone, through their finances, through their hopes and dreams for a good life and retirement. Can you feel your pain and suffering? Can you see the suffering all around you or are you so cut off from your feelings? Tear down your walls! America and the world have geared up for the fight over global terrorism while the next threat has already arrived and has quietly covered us up in plastic body bags.

Wikipedia defines the “Dark Ages” as the concept of a period of intellectual darkness that occurred in Europe following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. I have concluded that our entire political class is already bankrupt – note Congress’ inaction, the current Republican presidential field and the president’s leadership, now I’ve come to believe that it’s also true of our intellectual class (all our colleges and universities, major foundations, the mainstream media and Washington’s policy institutes). As I have already stated there is a gulf behind where I stand and where most of you stand, today. One of us is completely wrong – conventional wisdom says you’re right, I say conventional wisdom is all wrong.

I’m not just talking about you being wrong about your political views, about your religious views, about your worldview, but wrong about almost everything that you think you know to be true including all the choices that you’ve made in your life. You have been wrong about everything that your inflated ego has ever over or understated because you’ve repeatedly lacked the courage to admit the truth – be it to your parents, to your spouse, to your children, to your friends, to your colleagues and manager and to your enemies. I stand for freedom; conventional wisdom represents a history of lies and slavery. Choose your medicine or choose your poison.

In my adult life, I’ve become a collector of inspiring quotes by famous or successful people. You can’t round out an Alabama education, in elementary school, without taking a year of state history. One historic figure whose life I’ve come to appreciate and take an interest in after reading some of her quotes is Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968). Helen Keller was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker.

A prolific author, Keller was well-traveled, and was outspoken in her opposition to war. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Wobblies, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, and socialism, as well as many other leftist causes (Source: Wikipedia). Helen’s life and mine share some parallels, we both grew up “blind”, maybe I was even “deaf, dumb and blind”. We each experienced watershed moments, personal breakthroughs that led to us both seeing and speaking of the injustice in the world. She traveled across the United State and to 39 countries around the world by airplane, train, ship and automobile spreading her message while raising money for her cause. Today, I travel the world via the Internet sharing mine.

In 1989, and at the age of eighteen, I made a conscious decision to leave the safety of my “fort” to face the real world, to face my life and the many problems that I had long denied. I traded the comforts of the fort for the dangers of the forest and I never returned. Sometime in the past decade and while on my journey, I came across one of Helen’s wise quotes…

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Her words affirmed my decision at eighteen. Today, a paralyzing fear of life has been replaced with a working faith. I am the risk taker that I never thought I could ever be. I know in order to enjoy and “sustain” this life, I must continue to grow. I must continue to consciously step outside of my comfortable zone – to do and say the unexpected. I must investigate every new opportunity that comes my way before deciding if it’s for me or not. I must try new things and accept the consequences of success or failure. Here’s my latest adventure…

I continue to grow my audience having just eclipsed the ten thousand mark. If I haven’t left my mark on Harvard, yet it wasn’t for a lack of trying. With faculty from Harvard College, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Law School already in my audience, I’ve now added some eight hundred physicians and researchers (10%) from the Harvard Medical School. My contacts at Harvard now exceed 1,600. Traversing new ground and trying to strike the right tone with these doctors, here’s what I said to them, in my abbreviated introduction…

“…This is my sixth virtual visit to your university, in the past three years. In 2008, my first solicitation email was addressed to professors teaching in five different programs at Harvard College. I followed this successful introduction with an invite to the faculties at the Harvard Kennedy School (2008), the Harvard Law School (2009) followed by the Harvard Business School (2010). Last spring, I added the balance of faculty from those five undergraduate programs – Harvard Divinity School, History, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology. Among the eight hundred professors receiving my work is President Drew G. Faust.

I am an American thought leader on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health, the role that integrity, dignity, sanity plays, spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. Much of what I write about is personal in nature and comes from my own experience, insights and wisdom. Many of your colleagues can attest to the quality of my work including Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren and ‘University’ Professor Michael E. Porter of the Harvard Business School. I freely share with you my best work.

My latest essay, “To: The Bazelon’s Exec. Director and its Board of Directors” has finally provided me with a bridge to reach out to this medical school and others like it. In my letter to The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, I confronted the troubling realities facing, both, the mental health field and the health care system based on my personal experience and from what I’ve repeatedly heard others express. As an adult, I’ve had two significant relationships with physicians, the first being with my former father-in-law, a graduate of Yale and the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia and the second being with my first psychiatrist, who holds a double major in medicine and pharmacology from Duke.

Both are fine people and doctors in the public’s eye, but on matters of God and spirituality neither one is a believer. This had a major impact on my relationship with my in-laws and later in the medical treatment provided by my psychiatrist. Yielding to no higher authority, my future father-in-law, with his wife and daughter present, told me that I wasn’t good enough to marry into his family. This smart doctor’s mindset denied, both, the gravity and reality of life. My spiritual beliefs drawn from my life and that of my non-believing psychiatrist would eventually collide, in her office, resulting in a difference of opinion thus hindering my chances at a speedy recovery. She always saw me as being mentally ill with no concept of me ever being restored to full health, to sanity. In her mind, the pill was my only hope, not God. As you will soon read in my attached essay both of them got it all wrong, but they’re not alone in their attitudes towards God, towards spirituality. This common viewpoint in health care must change.

To ignore the existence of the human spirit or the crying soul is like medicine or a medical school ignoring the role of the heart in the body. Is it merely a pump or is it something more? Medicine in an attempt to “heal the patient” and in its pursuit of the almighty dollar has conveniently stripped man of his humanity including the physicians, nurses, staff, administrators, big pharma and the health insurers thus rendering the patient powerless over one’s own care and treatment. It’s bad medicine and the system’s arrogance has led to countless lawsuits due to deaths, injuries and/or to perceived injuries.

Too many doctors have a god-complex as though their efforts alone led to the healing of a child’s broken bone while science has tried to eliminate mystery, altogether. Avoiding death by extending life for a few more days, weeks, months or even years through constant interventions is both, expensive and it shows a lack of maturity, wisdom and a respect for life. Death, like birth is simply part of the life cycle. It always has been and it always will be. Medicine and our society must accept this truth and get on with the business of living. America’s health care system and its bombardment of conventional, and often contradictory, “wisdom” over the airwaves, in print media, in consultations in the doctor’s examining rooms and in the patient’s hospital rooms is often foolish.

Health care has become a sick business, where the sick, where the insane are “running the asylum”. If you want to know where the front door to your doctor’s office is or the hospital is, just look for where the doctors and nurses are huddled together outside the building smoking their cigarettes. How can the most educated, most highly-trained medical staff in the world not take its own medicine? By this evidence alone the system must be doing something wrong. Health care is big business, it’s become artificially-inflated and with 30 million uninsured Americans it’s morally bankrupt. The system is broken and medical schools have to change their way of recruiting students and teaching by reminding everyone that humanity is the body’s core building block, not DNA.

Few physicians and researchers complain about the lifestyle you’re presently enjoying do to the current levels of federal dollars being injected into research and into the health care system, but too many of you oppose a single payer program run by this same government. How quick would the Harvard Medical School shrink if the money for research dried up, overnight? What would your medical school’s actual size be in terms of affiliated-hospitals, physicians, researchers, staff and students? I write about reality and its time to return medicine back to its humble place as society’s servant not as its master…”

I hope these arguments start to challenge health care’s unquestionable place in society. I did receive a reply from one Harvard researcher who called me “a pompous ass” while asking to “unsubscribe”. I told him in my response that “I had been called much worse.” Clearly, when being offensive no one can say that I discriminate. It’s easy to take a swipe at the little guy on the playground, it’s much harder to go up and punch the bully in the nose. I’ve had a long history of doing just that. It’s always scary, it takes courage, but it’s also rewarding when you hit the bull’s eye and live to tell about it. In this society, we punish the nonconformists, the whistleblowers, we penalize all those who stand up and tell the truth when this society and its most revered institutions refuse to. Penn Medical School also got this same friendly welcome to my work while I took a softer approach with a new recruit, The Johns Hopkins University (JHU) School of Medicine and JHU’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), in Washington, DC.

N > 12,680

Note: This could be my last essay of the year. Regardless, enjoy the holidays and your time off. See you after the 1st.



Occupy Wall Street!!!

See attachment – Change (starts on page 13)


Berlin Wall

Keller, Helen

Nietzsche, Friedrich

Tear down this wall! (Ronald Reagan)

October 23, 2011

Courage to Change


Ted Burnett

Sometimes we must accept ourselves, defects and all, before those defects are removed.
– …In All Our Affairs

As I alluded to in my introduction and have stated on many prior occasions, I walked into my first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, in 1989. The euphoric effects of alcohol had long worn off, after four years of heavy consumption as a teenager, and the depressant that ethanol alcohol truly is had set in like a morning fog that wouldn’t go away. Months of counseling and continued drinking on Friday and Saturday nights served as, both, a period of research and soul searching, I was seventeen at the time. The thought of giving up this drug, this coping mechanism, this “problem solver” was no easy decision.

However, I had reached a recognized point, within the rooms of recovery, where I had become “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. I wanted a different way of life or my thoughts of suicide just might go from a state of mental masturbation or fantasy to a plan of action. In truth, some part of myself, be it my ego or spirit, just couldn’t or wouldn’t do what I’ve come to see others successfully carry out. I don’t know what it takes for man to cross that threshold of insanity, to abruptly end one’s suffering with a single gunshot, using a heavy rope, driving one’s car at a high rate of speed off the road and head-on into a large oak tree or while passed out, breathing in the exhaust of a running automobile parked in one’s garage. Sadly, I know suicide to run (multiple incidents) in, at least, four white, middle class and prominent families residing in my community.

Most alcoholics and drug addicts truly lack the courage required to exercise this kind of willpower and so they take the easier way out by continuing to drink and drug until their death, insanity or recovery. As an older friend liked to say in meetings, “Alcoholism is suicide on the installment plan”. Well put. If you drink long enough it will do for you, what you won’t do for yourself. I painfully watched this happen to my father, who died, alone, broke and demoralized by his demons and from chronic alcoholism, at the young age of 53.

Putting down the drink and asking for help would be the first of many steps in this twenty-two year journey. This first change required me to step outside of the known – me, outside my small white, middle class world and beyond my limited abilities. It required me to grow up, just a little bit. This seemed like scary stuff, to go up to and beyond the ego’s comfort zone and one’s perceived limitations. It’s the boundary line between that which is known and that which is new and unimaginable; it’s where life’s mystery begins. This act requires a belief in something far greater than oneself.

No one is alone if they’ve come to believe in a Power greater than themselves.
– Sponsorship—What It’s All About

If there was any evidence that I was smarter than the tests in school had ever revealed or that I had the capacity to get more honest than I had ever been while sitting in a confessional, it was demonstrated to me early on in my recovery. While I had a drinking problem, it was just “a symptom”, it was masking other personal problems and I, now, knew it. Coming clean about the drink was just the beginning, it was the opening of the floodgates and it allowed me to slowly open up about other issues and secrets in my life. I was able to acknowledge many things to myself and some of those things to others relieving me of pent-up guilt and shame. I, instantly, felt better about myself when hearing the story’s of others, in AA. By voicing the truth, I began creating a new and more harmonious reality.

At the age of seven, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and I spent the most of my school years from that point on including my time in college needing a tutor’s help to pass my courses. Early on, I attended summer school for two or three consecutive years and I even got tutoring year around, in the fourth and fifth grade. In lieu of PE (physical education) once or twice a week, I went to a small building that held learning disabilities classes in small groups to receive more hands-on attention. I’m not sure if it really helped. With my fifth grade teachers’ encouragement, my parents reluctantly held me back.

This one event, in and of itself, was a crushing blow to my spirit and ego; I still remember the very first day lining up outside the classroom with my new peers, as my old classmates passed right by me on their way to the sixth grade. There was nowhere to run and hide and there was no explanation that seemed reasonable. I wanted to die rather than confront this reality; this was a common feeling that I had regarding my participation in school, over the years. The daily reminders of being a poor student had put me in a deep state of denial. I didn’t understand the nature of this learning disability and with no tools to address it I was unable to compensate for it, for the first thirty-two years. I was left feeling naked and out of my element to the demands of this artificial learning environment and later in the business world. It was never a fair fight.

(No coach expects a 3 ft. tall child on Monday to be 6 ft. tall and ready to play in Friday’s big game. However, this expectation is put on the backs of every child in the classroom, everyday and its outright abuse. Animals and humans don’t naturally evolve this way or at the same rate. Let’s admit this failure in thinking and change it. The output in American education is junk. School administrators and teachers practice child abuse everyday, its criminal. How ironic. Why all the dropouts because kids hate school?

Every person sitting in jail, prison or a mental institution at one time was a student in school, think about it. Teachers are sheep who will inflict emotional, spiritual, mental and sometimes physical pain on their students rather than stand up and revolt to the insanity of a nameless, faceless, bureaucratic, egotistical, political system and thus the abuse continues unimpeded. The largest source of child abuse isn’t deadbeat parents, but educators (the so-called “experts”). What’s needed is to make school a warm and safe place for children to grow and thrive at their own pace, to develop from the inside-out, not merely on the outside for the system’s approval, as well as, to develop in an ecosystem that’s free of a principal’s, a superintendent’s and/or Washington’s agenda.

Make school more enjoyable than the home life and no student would ever skip class, again. No more grading. I don’t grade your progress thus you should stop grading theirs. Simply tell the truth and the kids will start to soak up what interests them. Get out of their way. This new way of teaching requires a trust, a faith, a real expertise, insight and wisdom. Public and private education has none of this to give, to offer to sensitive children and it shows. It’s time to go in a completely different way!)

Getting held back forced me “out of the closet” and it finally revealed the truth about my performance as a student. This secret, this illusion, this aspect of my psychology was purged in a most nightmarish and in a very public way. This particular lie for my parents and for me was now over and the struggle in school did diminish somewhat, but its impact to my already low self-esteem or my fragile psyche would later serve as gallons of fuel for my drinking, as an eighth grader. I couldn’t get enough, I couldn’t quench my thirst. With a family history and this learning disability, I was a sitting duck for alcoholism, for addiction.

The humiliation and pain of that one event and my school experience, in general, shut me down and kept me from wanting to spend another minute working on the source of so much frustration – my homework – assignments, book reports and preparing for tests. I learned not to ask for help at home. My first attempt on homework soon became my final effort, mistakes and all. It was for my teacher’s eyes only and her red pen. Asking my mother to look over my “completed” work just resulted in her handing it back to me and having to spend more time searching for and correcting my errors. This took me away from my one nightly escape, another drug of mine – watching prime-time television before bedtime.

As I entered the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, I would meet new students who transferred from the city’s other private schools because of their poor grades and getting held back. No one ever stated their reasons for leaving their old school for mine, but I already knew and their early birthdays gave it away. Repeating the fifth grade was the first time that I was forced to get honest with myself and others. It was simply something that you couldn’t lie about because everyone knew. In all those years, I was the only person that I knew of who repeated a grade and stayed at that same school. I often wondered what reasons or stories these kids and their parents conjured up for their old schoolmates, family and friends for their move.

I gave though to my own situation, what would have happened if I had been transferred to another school? What would I have told everyone – the truth or a lie? I became good friends with most of them through high school, college and even into adulthood. Today, all are married with kids, one has done well for himself, as a business owner, in the financial services industry, but the others have struggled with their careers. All were affected by alcoholism in their families of origin, as well. I rarely see any of them since my illness, but I do get occasional reports on their status.

As soon as I accepted my alcoholism at 18, I began taking responsibility for my dyslexia which I had long turned a blind eye to. For the first time, I began to face this reality and I began trying to compensate for it. I made a conscious effort to get extra help in high school from fellow classmates at night and later in college on a host of subjects with tutors and from my graduate teaching assistants. This experience continued to humble me, to “right size” my ego. My family finances were a mess, due to a failed business and my father’s decision to return to drinking.

One spring day during my senior year of high school, I overheard several classmates talking about getting a college scholarship through the State of Alabama’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (Voc. Rehab.). Knowing certain information about our family’s financial situation, I mentioned this conversation to my mother and she made an appointment for us. These students were in the school’s learning disabilities program, which was something that I was dead set on not being apart of along with its stigma. My one primary academic goal in high school wasn’t making all A’s or even A’s and B’s, but instead avoiding summer school and the shame that when with it. In this one respect, I was successful. I finished out with a 2.3 GPA, in 1990.

With a documented history, I was quickly accepted by my case manager at Voc. Rehab. My actual reward for being “dumb”, for having a learning disability and for being a “C” student was getting a full-ride to the state university of my choice. Tuition, all fees, books, tutors and books on tape were paid for, based on me maintaining a 2.0 GPA or better. I was one of several kids in my senior class that received this assistance. Like cattle, we were corralled and encouraged to attend Auburn University in Montgomery (AUM), which had put an emphasis on recruiting high school seniors like us and they could provide us with the individual attention needed. I knew I had a good thing going when I graduated, at Auburn’s main campus, debt-free, in 1995. This was one of the early benefits of getting sober, facing reality, changing direction, keeping one’s eyes open and an ear to the ground, having a willingness to ask for help to solve a big problem.

I later came to the conclusion that I got a better deal than most of my high school classmates who worked hard for their straight “A’s”, who were always on the honor roll and were members of the National Honor Society. However, my high school didn’t recognize my scholarship, from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, like they did with all those who received full and partial academic and athletic scholarships from the nation’s colleges and universities, but there’s quite an irony to all this as I am writing to you and they aren’t. Don’t all the smart kids get the scholarships, well then? Didn’t you? Who knew, maybe God did all along?

As Pearl Fryar, an African-American topiary artist from Bishopville, South Carolina and the subject of a documentary, A Man Named Pearl, once told an art class at the local college, “[Testing] does not test the entire individual”, but they sure do define you by the system and by our impatient society. I wish academia would admit this truth and “slow down” while reminding every parent and struggling student of this message.

In getting honest about my alcoholism and my dyslexia, I also began looking at my conduct in the classroom. My academic performance already had me on my teacher’s radar screen. As an introvert, I didn’t like drawing anymore attention to myself than was necessary. However, I could and did act out; I could be a terror in class. In most cases, I was interruption for the teacher, sometimes a real thorn in their side.

My comments to them could be outright cruel and my actions towards my schoolmates could come in the form of bursts of violence while drinking on Friday nights. As my drinking progressed, it turned me into a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Confined to society’s straightjacket, as a former alter boy while wearing a school uniform for years, the assault to my humanity, to my individuality had been a long one, I had been roughed up and I was very angry about it.

Beyond engaging in underage drinking and driving under the influence to and from parties, I avoided breaking any other laws and the negative attention that it might bring to me. Ironically, some of my peers from privileged families would break in and steal from their neighbors’ cars and from out of their garages collecting car electronics, music CDs, fishing gear… Some got caught while others didn’t. They were all rebelling in their own way, I wanted none of that. All things considered, the expectations I had for this “false self” and the social pressures put on me by my community resulted in me being a pretty good kid, but this would change for the better.

Now sober and sporting a new attitude, I immediately began inventorying my past and present actions. I made a mental list of folks that I needed to go see and make amends to. I began apologizing to my current and past teachers for my behavior and to some of my schoolmates. My apology wasn’t simply a response to getting in more trouble, but instead I approached them under no duress. I told them what was going on in my life and my decision to change my ways, to grow up. All the teachers were very receptive and supportive to what I had to say. In high school, I had gotten into three fist fights at parties, all were unforeseen, but not necessary unprovoked; I was victorious each time. I wasn’t always “the biggest fighter in the fight”, but I guess I had the bigger fight in the fighter. My adrenaline just would turn on and flow. I could tap into this source of strength when I found myself on my back with someone on top of me. Taking new action leads to new thinking and not the other way around.

With turning eighteen and becoming an adult, I knew that my juvenile status was ending and that the laws and penalties were becoming stiffer. I made another conscious decision to swear off fighting as a tool for starting and/or resolving inner conflict. Getting sober drastically improved my chances of living up to my new oath by keeping me from running my mouth at the next party. In college, there were two or three close calls at fraternity parties involving members of their respective fraternities and fortunately nothing came of any of these incidences.

As an adult, I’ve been successful in keeping this resolution. (If an eighteen year old can make a grown up decision to stop fighting, why can’t our government leaders do the same?) Thankfully, I’ve never seriously harmed anyone much less killed someone and that’s one less demon that I’ve had to face in my recovery. My father, a Vietnam Veteran, could not make the same claim nor could he find any relief from his 30-year torment. I’m very grateful for how my situation played out, but it could have easily gone the other way during my drinking days or later during my manic/psychotic episodes. The opportunity for disaster was always there, I got lucky. Somebody was looking out for me, when I wasn’t.

Another personal defect driving my drinking was the distorted life that I had lived in for the first eighteen years of my life coping in a dysfunctional family and what I’ve now come to see as a crazy world. Lying became a necessary evil, a tool for growing up in twisted world – be it at home, church, school or in one’s community. For all the lectures and sermons given on this subject in the above arenas, there’s very little sincerity behind all the rhetoric. Like lying, telling the truth has its own consequences. No one ever states it, but in order to survive in this violent world, as a child and later as an adult, one must figure this out. So, I watched my parents lie to themselves and to each other, I lied to myself, at the same time that I was lying to them, to my teachers, to my classmates, to the neighborhood kids and to the world. Taking new action leads to new thinking.

As a child, I felt terrible about myself and I had a poor self-image, so much so, that I didn’t like, either, my appearance or my own name, as early as age four or five. Somehow I was picking up a lot negative energy in my environment and I was internalizing it. As a cotton head, I though if I just looked like my handsome father with his jet black hair that somehow this would make me feel better about myself. My dyslexia affected my ability to speak and write well. Telling a story, any story the exact same way was a difficult task. It still is. When telling a lie about a situation while having a degree of consciousness felt uncomfortable as I was saying one thing while knowing the truth to be something else, it was an impossible way to live. Saving face, saving my reputation at the expense of another’s was proof that my ego was large and in charge.

In early sobriety, I met a girl and we had a so-called “one night stand” or so that was my fear-driven story to my friends. With no foresight for where my version of events would go, it was quickly relayed back to her within hours or by the next day and back to me soon after. Quickly, my story was being challenged by her through my friends. It was a “he said, she said” moment. Sadly, my ego won out and not my character. Shamelessly, I stuck to my version, but the embarrassing experience which I didn’t drink over left me reeling and saying to myself that wouldn’t ever happen again. Taking new action leads to new thinking.

Dyslexia made lying difficult and thus I made another consciousness decision to live an honest life to the best of my ability. (For the longest time, I thought a lot of people tried to be honest, but that opinion based on personal experience has since changed. Most individuals, organizations and governments tell a version that always puts them in the best light even when it’s not true.) I continue to adhere to my decision to live honestly and it’s ultimately paid off with dividends in this new life. Secrets from my young life – from dark emotions to my insane behavior – slowly came to the surface over the ensuing years as I faced my fears and as I shared each incident’s details with trusted friends (a must).

For the thirteen years leading up to my wedding day and my nervous breakdown (ages: 18-32), I became pretty obsessed with doing the right thing, with keeping my commitments, with being “perfect” and making amends to my fellow man when I was either confronted or when feeling a disturbance within me. Facing life honestly and without drugs resulted in me feeling the growing pains that come with maturation. While everyone else was drinking, drugging and partying, I was there partying sober. During my teens and twenties, I was on the receiving end of several amends from my mother, who was working her own recovery program, she repeatedly admitted her less than perfect job as a young mother. This kind of dialogue goes along way in changing the dynamics of a parent – child relationship.

By admitting her own fallibility, it resulted in her giving me (and even herself) some breathing room (or latitude) to grow up, allowing me to make my own mistakes and not to judge me as she may have experienced with her own mother. I doubt few individuals in this audience have ever received this type of unconditional love from one of your parents, from your spouse or from a sibling. I know my ex-wife, with her controlling mother, never has. The fearful ego, without its humanity, just won’t allow it. It’s another gift of spirituality. Making amends can melt away old tensions between family members and start an honest relationship that’s never existed before. Judging one another is replaced with love, compassion and empathy, which is what the family has long been craving; it’s what everyone needs in order to properly develop. A natural and true bond can finally form and a heavy reliance on the family’s dog for their love and affection diminishes. Taking new action leads to new thinking.

This is a spiritual experience, it’s the language of the heart and it requires all parties to do their part in growing up, in facing their reality on a daily basis while sharing a familiar worldview. A trust is formed as respect and understanding of one another develops. I openly talked to my mother about my struggles with school, my father’s sad life and sudden death, my floundering career, to standing up to my soon-to-be in-laws. I often sought her counsel and really respected her wisdom. I’m not alone in this opinion. I’ve heard many adults, and her friends, in our recovery community express these same words. Just recently, I heard similar comments by “John”, a retired teacher from New Jersey, who now lives here, in south Alabama. Without her courage to change, to move closer to reality by confronting my father’s drinking, beginning in 1979, I wouldn’t have sobered up, in ’89, and made the necessary changes to my life. Her guidance was so critical during my infancy, it was life-saving. It’s said that, “Change attitudes aid in recovery.” True.

Unfortunately, I have to report that this relationship has come undone due impart to a new relationship and her marriage to someone I totally disrespect due to a number of comments he’s made to me and others, over the years, that I’ve found to be inappropriate, to be completely out of line and he has interfered with my relationship with my mother. Now on his fourth marriage, he’s another insane, licensed social worker. Those working in his same field have affirmed my take on him.

He’s a master manipulator and lives in a very small world. (He’s personality is completely opposite of my father’s, who the old neighbor kids still tell me how much they enjoyed this fun, loving man.) This new man is troubled. I suspect he’s used certain issues against me including my mental illness to create a wedge in my, tight nit, relationship with my mother. If I could kill the bastard and get away with it, I probably would. I bet you didn’t expect me to say that, did you? What do you expect? After all, I’ve been labeled crazy, so says the doctors and a judge. The truth always sounds crazy when first expressed, but it’s also very refreshing to say it. It’s one less secret that I have to carry around, as well as, keep from this group. The more you know about me, the more you might empathize with me and vice versa. All the world’s fighting would stop.

Since 2007, I’ve removed myself from this situation in order to put all my (+) energy, time and money into my new life and in this writing project. I refused to fight a losing battle, to be the focus of their marriage, two against one or to be apart of some triangle. Having already mourned my father’s death and my marriage surprisingly her “death” was a lot easier to digest. I’ve gotten no indication that’s she read the first essay of mine. She lives only ten minutes away and on occasion we cross paths in public places. For someone who saw me struggle in school for decades, who paid for my tuition to Catholic schools and for private tutors, this is a huge change in her behavior. It’s a complete 180 degree change since she first met the Greek, in 2000.

Whatever unhealthy bonds there may have been between the two of us, they’ve been severed, now. As a result, I feel like a free man. Any future relationship will be re-established on new terms; hopefully my personal and professional success will force a change in her mindset about me. I’m no longer 5, 10 or 15 years old. The situation is hard to explain, it’s actually mindboggling and its further proof that little in life is logical. I never saw this coming, but from what I know about her situation, her life, her career and finances, I understand her aging dilemma. So, do I judge her for it, not really?

I know she didn’t foresee this rift happening, either. Nor did she expect me to react the way I did. I expressed my displeasure to her while establishing my right to live as I see fit. She was slow to come around to my position, but she has finally found some acceptance of it. She made choices in the past that put her on this course to meet him. At the same time, I made choices in my past that put me on a different trajectory, to see the world differently. It’s not all that uncommon within families from different generations. She married him, not me. I don’t have to live with him, much less like him.

The term “family feud” could best describe the dynamic, ever heard of it? Can you relate, think? I know from friends that I am not alone with my situation. It’s bigger than me and I’ve had to just give this relationship to God while I continue to live and write. Who knows what the future holds for us, but I refuse to enable something I don’t support, it doesn’t feel right. It takes courage to stand up and protest; most kids of all ages usually go along just “to keep the peace”. They’re being loyal to the family in a dishonest way and it usually comes at the expense of one’s own integrity, dignity, sanity and their happiness. I know my absence, in her life, is being felt and I want it to create some tension in her marriage. I credit my recovery for my conscious actions in this situation. Protecting my mental health by living in reality is paramount to my well-being, first and foremost. You can also call it an act of “tough love”. Sometimes life can be really messy, this is one of them.

As one of her friends once said to me on this subject, “[Your mother] has the right to do what she wants with her life”. My response was, “Fine, then I‘ve got the right to do what I want with mine.” That’s very liberating to say and to act on. The truth has its own consequences. Today, I make no apologies for my choices and I accept the consequences. If you think I play hard ball with you or others through these emails know that I behave no different with my own family, relatives and close friends when there’s a clash in principles, in values. I know what’s at stake (life and death) and thus I refuse to back down to anyone.

After twenty-two years, I am a changed man. In many ways, I see myself as a real-life Forrest Gump. With his mother’s encouragement and wisdom, Forrest operated on faith and he accepted every opportunity that came his way from playing football at Alabama, to joining the Army and going to Vietnam, to meeting two American presidents and playing Ping-Pong in China as “an ambassador of goodwill”, to buying a shrimp boat and running across America and back. Life is lived, but one of two ways on faith or by fear. I lived my entire childhood on fear and I didn’t have a whole lot to show for it.

My journey in recovery started out really slow, painstakingly slow, but I built a solid foundation of honesty, a willingness to face reality and change. I crawled for a long time, for eighteen years before I landed on my two feet, for the first time ever at the age of 36, following my separation and divorce, in 2007. Through writing, a new life was begun and I started walking upright. With a growing audience and confidence, I picked up the pace and for the past two years, I’ve been running, like Forrest. I’m having a lot of fun and I’ve come to understand that “–it happens”.

Today, I know that a journey of faith takes you down a different set of roads with a different ending than a life of fear. I’m not sure one goes very far as a slave to his fears. Maybe it’s in the pattern of a circle, or an oval track, like that of our calendar with no beginning and no end. You live through another New Year’s Eve with more unkept resolutions, Easter, Memorial Day weekend, the fourth of July, throw in a birthday somewhere, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas with fifty-two weeks of work, fifty-two Saturdays and Sundays, it’s one year of life times however many years you spend feeling your age, suffering in pain and never growing while on this planet. Spirituality breaks away from living life by the calendar year. It’s more linear, but definitely not a straight line. It has a lot of zigs and zags, twists and turns with periods of darkness followed by light, cycles of joy and pain, joy and pain…

Spirituality has a beginning and an end with growing pains and the development of wisdom. Our marked (commercialized) holidays are in truth just another day, they’re no longer a big deal. See through them. There’s no reason to experience another depression or have a nervous breakdown during the holidays. Everyday can be a Saturday, a Friday or a Sunday or however you chose to live it. Forty or fifty hour workweeks can be replaced with ten or twenty hours by living a more sane and simple life. Talents and pursing one’s passion turns work into a creative outlet while serving society, at the same time. It no longer feels like work, as you grow. Your downtime becomes a way of life that you love, it all becomes a way of life that you love and there’s no going back to the rat race, to the system. Going to bed and waking up becomes a joyful experience with a fresh start. By regaining one’s humanity, one’s power you’ll never let another person treat you like a rat, ever again, because you’re human, in God’s likeness and image.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Lao-tse

I’ve shared with you some of my journey and what it means to me to have the Courage to Change. I hope something that you’ve just read has touched you and encourages you to step outside your comfortable zone and try something new, anything. Ask God for help in getting started; invite Him or Her into your life. Renew your spirit, save your soul. Break an old habit with something new; break all your old habits with new, healthy and positive activities. Replace the eight hours of daily misery with joy. Listen to an unfamiliar artist or music or go see a new play or film, watch a sunrise or sunset, try new cuisine, travel to a new destination, make a new friend outside your social circle, go play, look within or tell your story like I just did with you.

Take a risk, go make an overdue amends to a family member or to an old friend, forgive them and yourself, try your hand at painting or writing, it can be anything that leads to your emotional and spiritual development. Be creative; start feeding that side of you that’s crying out. Just expand your world a little bit, expand it a little bit more until your world matches the true size of our world with its “7b” inhabitants, which is surrounded by the heavens – its planets, its moons and its stars. Become conscious, awake up! You’ll wonder why you didn’t do this sooner. Taking new action leads to new thinking.

I grew up in the Deep South (U.S.), my hometown of Mobile hasn’t changed in decades, but I have. My home state, Alabama, “the Heart of Dixie” hasn’t changed, but I have. The Confederacy hasn’t changed, but I have. America hasn’t changed, but I have. I am no longer the man that I was at twenty-one, at thirty or at thirty-five, I continue to evolve by living “one day at a time” and by following my own intuition. I’ve become “the change” that I wanted to see in the world and there’s no more fear. I’m filling a void that I see in the world by sharing my writings with you. No one else is capable of doing what is my rightful duty, what is my purpose. I changed my world while the world continues fighting, struggling and suffering because it refuses to grow up.

Copyright © 2011. All Rights Reserved. “Courage to Change” by Ted Burnett.

My other essays can be viewed at my blog – I can be contacted via email at – My biography can be viewed at

 Ted Burnett: I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: