Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I went with my wife to the Glen Alpine United Methodist Church, Glen Alpine, NC last Sunday. This was the church her Mom had walked down the railroad tracks to as a young girl to attend. The Pastor’s message for Mother’s Day was “Building a Home”. One of his points was the Christian home and the church should be a home that anyone could return to no matter what they had done just like in the parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15: 11-32) It was a powerful thought for me because I have been on the streets homeless. Not since the 80’s, but the memories are still very fresh. I have lived on the streets of both New York and Los Angeles among other cities in between those two. Having a home has a real meaning to me.
A few short years ago I started trying to learn more about the region of my birth hoping I could become more rooted. More at home in this world. With both of my parents gone, I was beginning to feel like a ship at sea without a captain, sail, or rudder. So I began the study of Appalachia. To be more specific southern Appalachia. To get even more specific West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia. As you can see I have defined southern Appalachia my own way, but so have many others.
The official body who defines Appalachia is the Appalachian Regional Commission. On their web site they tell you the states and the counties that make up Appalachia among lots of other stuff. The Kentucky county of my birth is in Appalachia. The North Carolina county of my wife’s birth is. The Kentucky county my two sisters were born in is. My parents were born in Appalachia as well as my wife‘s parents. We just moved from a Kentucky county that was in Appalachia to a North Carolina county that is. One of my sisters lives in a Georgia county that is in Appalachia and my oldest sister is moving to one in Tennessee that is.
Anna Jarvis who is considered to be the lady who was the power behind the official establishment of Mother’s Day was born in Grafton, West Virginia. In Appalachia. On May 10, 1908 the first church to hold a Mother’s Day celebration was St. Andrews in Grafton, West Virginia and is now the International Mothers Day Shrine. Mother’s Day started in Appalachia.
I have enjoyed the study of Appalachia, but I am not more rooted. The stigma of my mental illness keeps me from ever feeling at home. The words spoken after the tragedy in Blacksburg tells me stigma is still alive. Go back to the Old Posts (there is a link at the bottom of this page) and read “MY FATHER’S WORDS” to see what growing up in a Christian home on a mission station with a mental illness was like.
I started in 1988 working as a mental health consumer advocate trying to get faith communities to embrace those of us with serious mental illness. I still believe the natural support of faith communities is the best way to help folks like me believe we can truly have a home in the community and for us to learn to dream again the first step to healing. Medications can calm my mind, but if no one helps me heal my heart I will remain an outsider and never find a home where I can be safe and at peace.
I am asked why we do drugs. I guess the proper question is why are so many of us dually diagnosed? It is very simple. We have had fairly good medications for some mental illnesses for years now. For example, I can control my bipolar disorder with the medications I am prescribed. We also know more is needed. We have been told for years that medications alone are not enough. So the medications help control the bio. A lucky few get some psychosocial programming, but wait a minute we are bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings which means we need more. We need something that reaches the pain of our hearts and souls or we will find something to dull the pain with.
I do not have an addiction problem, but I have watched many of my friends. I am convinced that if they were embraced as the prodigal son was in a community of folks who wanted them and showed it without reservation the healing process would begin from within.

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