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19 December 2011

After Drugs and Dark Times, Helping Others to Stand Back Up

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Link To Original Article: The New York Times


By BENEDICT CAREY
Published: December 19, 2011

SMYRNA, Del. — The taste of cocaine and the slow-motion sensation of breaking the law were all too familiar, but the thrill was long gone.

Antonio Lambert was not a young hoodlum anymore but a family man with a career, and here he was last fall, high as any street user, sneaking into his workplace at 9 o’clock at night, looking for — what, exactly? He didn’t really know.

He left the building with a few cellphones (which he threw away) and a feeling that he was slipping, falling back down into a hole. He walked in the darkness, walked with no place to go, and then he began to do what he has taught others in similar circumstances to do: turn, face the problem, and stand back up.

“I started talking to myself, out loud; that’s one of my coping strategies, and one reason I relapsed is I had forgotten to use those,” said Mr. Lambert, 41, a mental health educator who has a combined diagnosis — mood disorder with drug addiction — that is among the scariest in psychiatry.

He texted a friend, someone who knew his history and could help talk him back down. And he checked himself into a hospital. “I know when it’s time to reach out for help.”

The mental health care system has long made use of former patients as counselors and the practice has been controversial, in part because doctors and caseworkers have questioned their effectiveness. But recent research suggests that peer support can reduce costs, and in 2007, federal health officials ruled that states could bill for the services under Medicaid — if the state had a system in place to train and certify peer providers.

In the years since, “peer support has just exploded; I have been in this field for 25 years, and I have never seen anything happen so quickly,” said Larry Davidson, a mental health researcher at Yale. “Peers are living, breathing proof that recovery is possible, that it is real.”

Exhibit A is Mr. Lambert, a self-taught ex-convict who is becoming a prominent peer trainer, giving classes in Delaware and across the country. He is one of a small number of people who have chosen to describe publicly how difficult it is to manage such a severe dual diagnosis, including the sudden setbacks that often come with it.

“He is an extreme example of how much difference passion and commitment can make, given where he’s come from,” said Steve Harrington, the chief executive of the National Association of Peer Specialists, a group devoted to promoting peer support in mental health care.

Mr. Lambert, who has climbed out of a deep hole with the help of religious faith, medication and his own forms of self-expression, puts it this way: “There are a lot of people dealing with mental illness, drugs, abandonment, abuse, and they don’t think there’s a way out. I didn’t. I didn’t.”

Bean Bean in Spider City

His grandmother was the first person to call him Bean Bean, and the boy was so skinny that he couldn’t shake it.

He couldn’t avoid the older toughs in the Brighton section of Portsmouth, Va., either, and he spent some of his school-age years taking beatings. That was Brighton back in the day, and at least those fights taught survival skills. Not everything did: He remembers being sexually abused at age 6, by an older boy in the neighborhood — brutally.

He had no one to tell, even if he had known what to say. His mother and father were split, living blocks apart, each a fixture in the neighborhood’s social swirl of house parties, moonshine “shot shops,” card games and other attractions. His mother, called Chucky, was often out, sometimes leaving the boy at a friend’s house for “a few hours” that turned into an entire weekend. For much of that time, he waited on the porch.

He idolized his father, a truck driver and warehouse worker who lived nearby but spent his free time out, too, drinking and playing cards.

“During that time I was an alcoholic, but I would go out and try to find him when I heard he was out,” said his father, Edward Lambert, in a recent interview at his house in Brighton. He gave up drinking years ago for God, and father and son would eventually become close.

Read The Full Article: The New York Times

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