It was December 25, 1981. I was a mere 19 years old and I was already in my second psychiatric hospitalization of the year, the first being in the previous February through March. As with the first stay, I was in the Buffalo General Hospital Community Mental Health Center. I had experienced another psychotic episode due to a combination of substance use and poor medication management. At this time, I had a diagnosis of Schizophrenia (I was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1 with psychotic features) and was unable to gain relief from the mish mash of meds I was prescribed.
On that day I received a day pass to go home to spend the day with my parents. Honestly, I don’t remember any more than that. But, what is remarkable is that I still recall the feeling of having to go back to the hospital. I was very despondent at the prospect of spending an uncertain amount of time in the facility. But in due time I was discharged.
I spent the next six years cycling through Buffalo area institutions, with each Christmas finding me in a different state of mind. Some were better than others, but all in all, they were not as celebratory as perhaps I had wished.
But something changed. I got clean in 1988 and had my first Christmas at home with a brighter future ahead. I had hope. I had the feeling that things in my life could be different. It was like I had received a breath of life. This breath, I believe, came from the Son, who, through His infinite power, can make all things whole.
One example of being made whole was the relationship I have with my family. I put my parents through a lot of despair when I struggled through those years before. I spent several Christmases after I got clean living at home with my folks. They really were a time of love and togetherness. Both of my parents have transitioned however my wife, daughters and extended family have helped to create holidays that have provided me with a lifetime of wonderful memories.
I believe that despite how difficult this season can be for so many, it can still be a season of promise. I have a friend who celebrated 31 years of addiction recovery recently. His story is one of promise. I have another friend who lives with chronic depression who has, in the last year, made tremendous strides and is working in his field of choice, something that he couldn’t do a few years ago. His story is one of promise. I have a professional colleague who, at one time, was homeless and who lives with a severe mental health challenge. This same person oversees a local peer-based mental health agency. Her story is one of promise.
Each one of these individuals could have been written off. But, by the grace of God, and a measure of perseverance and hard work, we are living what we call, in my 12 Step program, a “life beyond our wildest dreams.”
This has been an especially hard year for all of us. And this Christmas will be even more so. But I believe that the promise of Christ’s presence and God’s grace will see us through.
I wish you a Blessed Christmas season and a healthy and peaceful New Year.