In my 40s, isolated from friends and family, and with the encouragement of my “scientifically minded” new partner, I began taking psychiatric drugs in an attempt to deal with a cycle of depression and suicide attempts.

After some years, I discovered that the relationship I was in was destructive for me and that I had gone away from myself and was going in the wrong direction. I began to work toward ending it. I reconnected to a Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC) Community from which I felt support and that gave me reason to get away from the drugs. I realized I had become dependent on the drugs.  It felt like I had no control. It felt like drugs were in control, and it somehow felt safe that something was in control.

I had many RC Co-Counseling sessions about my desire and decision to get off the drugs. I was realizing that it was important to me to take charge of my life.

It took me many sessions to take that final, enormous step – ‘now is the time.’ What was critical was trust between me and another human being. I needed something I could depend on outside of the drugs. A close friend was confident that I was bigger than this challenge, confident of her own strength, and sure of her commitment to help me. She believed in Co-Counseling as a tool that we would use to guide us through the process together.

On March 15, 1999, I decided to stop some of the drugs I was taking. I went to bed with no Risperdol, no Ambien, and half my dose of Lithium. I had a difficult time falling asleep and feared what I was doing. I woke up sweating – but I survived. I stopped taking the other half of the Lithium. I realized that the actual steps were far less terrifying than the thought of trying to get off the drugs had been. I continued to have lots of Co-Counseling sessions both in person and on the phone. Next I began decreasing the Zoloft.

Because I knew that to lead in the RC community one can’t be taking psychiatric drugs, I had an important motivation. I regained my ability to have joy in my life, to remember things and people outside of my own problems, and to have the satisfaction of making a contribution.

Periodically, old feelings of hopelessness threatened to engulf me. When in the grip of these painful emotions, I would feel just as powerless, defeated and desperate as ever. I was often able to reach out to a Co-Counselor while in the midst of these doubts, which was new for me. It took a lot to get to the point of realizing that these feelings were not true.

I began to trust that someone could actually listen to what had felt too awful to tell anyone. It is true that many people are not able to stay lovingly attentive in the face of painful emotions.  Society discourages the expression of emotions and people are fearful and unable to understand that the outcome of expression can be good. My belief that my feelings were dangerous was reinforced by my parents, friends, doctors, and therapists. Using Co-Counseling to release emotions provided the framework for this difficult transition in my life.

For me, an old, negative cycle was broken because someone listened in a relaxed and caring way – someone was able to convey that it was finally safe.  Someone believed that I was really okay and that what was happening to me was just feelings – big, difficult, and terrifying, but still “just feelings.”

I began to understand that there was nothing “wrong” with me, there was never anything wrong with me. I refused to be drugged anymore, and using the healing process of RC, freed myself from the numbed stupor of psychiatric drugs. I had to re-learn how to look at the feelings of pain, fear, hopelessness, and terror, so that I could move beyond them. I had to re-learn that to do this is a good and necessary thing. I had tried to repress or avoid feelings by taking psychiatric drugs, but now I knew I could face them.

I am proud to say that I have stopped using the drugs. I have looked the feelings in the face and survived!

Listening seems like such a small and simple thing. I feel whole and good when I am able to listen to another human being. Being able to see the good and true person underneath their difficulties is key. Many more of us need to have a solid basis of understanding from which to listen to others.

What I want to convey most about my experience is that it really can be done. With the ever increasing pressure to deal with emotions and struggles with psychotropic drugs, it is heartening for people to know that there is an alternative that “works.”  I am not saying that the alternative is easy or fast, but it did work for me, and I have seen it work for many others. The process of recovering ourselves is empowering and contradicts the messages the mental health system gives us. In addition, drugs create their own ill effects and reinforce patterns of dependence, as well as leaving the oppressive society unchallenged.

I am currently involved in the planning and fundraising for the Sunrise Center. Folks will be able to come this Center and use what we know in RC to stop taking psychiatric drugs and reclaim their lives.  For me, this project is one of the ways I put into practice keeping my attention off my own problems and challenges. I have shifted my focus onto interesting and important things, and I am making a contribution using my experience and success to help to make change.    ~~ A