STATE — Richard S. says that he owes what and where he is today to Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services. He currently lives a modest but comfortable and contented life with his loving wife of 17 years, living independently in their own apartment. He is deeply spiritual, in recovery and very aware that life could be very different for him – in fact it had been very different before he came to Bridgeway.
He states that growing up was tumultuous and for the most part without a father figure, but Rich acknowledges that his parents did the best that they could for him and his siblings. Although born in the US, he grew up with his family in Brazil and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and can speak Italian. He has, however, been on his own since he was 13 years old and spent 8 years in the US Army. At the time he was discharged he had already begun hearing voices and began to self-medicate with alcohol.
He was alienated from his family and things went from bad to worse. He began a period of homelessness for 9 years when he lived in a mausoleum in a local cemetery. A nearby service station attendant looked kindly on Rich and allowed him to shower with their hose and to use the station restroom early each morning so that he could be presentable to work at one of the many odd jobs that sustained his alcohol habit. His self-esteem was extremely low; he was unable to look his coworkers in the eye.
One particularly bleak day in the early 1990s Rich attempted to end his pain by stepping in front of a passing train. Luckily he did not succeed in attaining the expected results. However, his actions caused him to spend the next two years in Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital where he was diagnosed with mental illness. Rich states that his diagnosis has changed twice but that he now receives treatment for bipolar schizoaffective disorder and major depression. He has since learned that other family members have experienced mental illness as well.
Rich says that his journey of recovery began on his first day at Marlboro. He learned to acknowledge and deal with his substance abuse. He began to learn about his mental illness. Rich states that the psychiatrists and therapists helped him to realize the need to take medication regularly, to recognize warning signs of relapse and when to come to them for help. At the end of two years he returned to the community to live in a rooming house in Plainfield but knew that he would need additional support to stay out of the hospital.
Rich arrived at Bridgeway’s day rehabilitation program in 1994 with a few years of sobriety under his belt. Bridgeway strengthened his recovery efforts. Bridgeway helped him to understand his mental illness. He participated in groups to learn more about his illness and recovery. Over time, he began to lead recovery groups for individuals with dual diagnoses – mental illness and substance abuse – as well as groups about community living. He moved from the rooming house to an apartment with three roommates. He got more involved at Bridgeway, working as a member of the agency-run office cleaning business and serving as an officer in Bridgeway’s Member Association.
To better educate the community about mental illness and recovery, Rich served on the agency’s speakers’ bureau: speaking at the closing of Marlboro Hospital and on behalf of Bridgeway at United Way agency fairs. Eventually he became a peer outreach counselor helping people experiencing mental illness to live successfully in the community.
When his counselors at Bridgeway determined that he was able to “graduate” from the program, he resisted. Bridgeway made him feel secure; it was his comfort zone. At that time Bridgeway helped him move to an independent apartment. He felt abandoned. It took time before he applied all that he had learned at Bridgeway. With the support of his wife and friends he learned that he could live a satisfying life.
Rich relies on his spirituality and his hobbies to work through problems: he prays and meditates daily and loves to fish whenever he can. He has a greater involvement in the recovery movement and has become a speaker and group leader. He travels to agencies, jails and other venues bringing the recovery message and leading recovery groups. When Bridgeway sought an outside team to run some recovery programs, Rich was sent to help. For more than 18 months Rich has facilitated those groups.
He looks back and states, “I treat my mental illness like I treat my recovery – one day at a time. I want everyone to know that with the right supports and by taking medication people with mental illness can lead a normal life. Medication is not the magic bullet; you have to do your part, too.” He claims that the stigma associated with mental illness is a tremendous barrier to seeking and obtaining the help needed to live successfully in the community. This stigma is created by those in the media who focus on sensational stories not the success stories.
“My success story is that I have not been back in the hospital since my discharge from Marlboro in 1993. I have a wonderful life with my soul mate, my wife. We help each other. And I am helping others to reach their goals of success, too.” He carries with him a “gratitude list” which reminds him of all for which he is grateful. “I would not be the person I am today without God, my wife, my family, Bridgeway and SERV (the agency which provided his community housing)!” he claims.
For 40 years, Bridgeway has provided services to New Jersey adults who are experiencing serious mental illness. Through recovery-centered support services Bridgeway assists individuals to live as independently as possible, learn and work in the community, and improve their quality of life.
Bridgeway has taken a leadership role in the state-wide transformation of mental health services to the recovery model and focuses on assisting people to recover meaningful and valued roles through effective cutting-edge mental health programming. Bridgeway services are available in Union, Hudson, Passaic, Middlesex, Somerset, Warren, Hunterdon, Sussex and Bergen Counties. Information about Bridgeway and its services is found at www.bridgewayrehab.com.
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