“This Place is Full of Life”: On Deliverance at Soteria Alaska


Matthew Ladner
July 19th, 2013

Dear Soteria-Alaska,
Please accept this letter as my official resignation from the position of Residential Adviser III at Soteria-Aiaska. My last day of employment will be August 2, 2013.

In reflecting over my time spent at Soteria, something that Susan Musante once told me after the tragic shooting at Soteria comes to mind. Susan said that some things in life are just handed to us. You don’t ask for them, sometimes you don’t want them, but they are bestowed upon you. Sometimes these things are the catalyst for new direction and purpose in life. This statement has been what has kept me going on at Soteria. It provided me with inspiration and motivation to keep going when times got difficult.

Never in my life did I foresee myself working in the mental health field. Nor did I ever imagine I would be working in a place so radically different from the typical norm, that would teach me so much. As you know, before Spencer and I had come back up to Alaska from Idaho. My brother Spencer had his own experience with paranoia and in the realms of psychosis. During that experience I was actively “being with” my brother without ever knowing what the  normal institutional reaction to these distressing behaviors were supposed to be, and how different I was from that. I just kept in mind that he was my brother and that he needed love, support, and most of all, unjudged concern for his voicing of what he perceived to be very real and very scary to him.

After being with Spencer in his experience, I saw similar symptoms within myself. I sought psychiatric help for my own mental barrages of self-hatred and my own paranoia. Through that help I learned how fascinating medication is, and I saw it as the key to fix not only my own problems but maybe my brother’s as well. It wasn’t until Spencer started volunteering with CHOICES/Soteria that he shared with me all the information he was finding that was against medication, and he opened my eyes to a whole different paradigm – alternative ways to deal with emotions and issues of the mind. I took it all as “hoop-lah” and continued to eat my pills.
I eventually came back up to Alaska to find myself rebellious , jobless, living out of my car, and my mental health declining. I made several trips to more psychiatrists, trying to find a medication that would work with me, or rather a “magic pill” to “cure me”, that my family assured me did not exist; but I was convinced otherwise. I searched and I searched, and I hurt and I hurt.

I remember visiting my brother in Anchorage one day, where he told me there would soon be an opening for a job at Soteria, where he was working , and that he thought I would be a good fit because of what he and I had gone through together. He thought I could take my experience with that and reach out to other people as well. I did not like the idea of working a job in general, and I did not like the idea of working in this field, but I had no other options. money was … out. My life was in ruins. So I decided I would try for the job, to see if I could turn my life around.

I remember walking out after my interview, feeling very nervous, and I remember Mozelle standing on the porch next to the front door staring down at me with her punk hair, and she asked me when I was going to come back. I told her I didn’t really know when, but that I hoped I would see her again soon. Little did I know, at that point in time, my life would be forever changed. Little did I know that Echo and Dan had already pre-decided before the interview that I would get the job. Little did they know how pro-medication I was… and had they known , I really shouldn’t have gotten the job.

For 2 years, and about 9 months I have been employed at Soteria (and have been a faux Resident here as well, when I think about it). While working I was shown more and more reasons why there needs to be a huge change in the way the mental health field works , I was shown ways to connect with people (even the hardest people to connect to), ways to be easy on people, when it’s right to be hard on them, and when it’s right to just “BE WITH” them.

I was given the opportunity to go to a few conferences, to fly up to Fairbanks, and to fly over to New York to be in a documentary (To all who decided for me and my brother to go – I cannot thank you enough). I went from being an incredibly quiet, homeless, messed up young kid, to a fully functioning adult that now has confidence in himself, his abilities , and his life. I was able to get off of my medications (secretly) while at Soteria, and test everything from my diet and exercise, to simply how caffeine and nicotine and various holistic herbs and foods affect me — All the while sharing my experiences with the Residents, have my experiences resonate within them, and being with them and learning from their experiences as well. I have seen the saddest of things imaginable, and I have seen the happiest of things in life here. The spectrum of life. This place is full of life.

I have given Soteria my all. I have met some amazing people, and I feel I have been a big help to a lot of the Residents who have come through here. What people go through in life is intense, and it has been amazing to empower the hopeless and watch them rise above and beyond any expectations, and to recover from even the most difficult of situations with lovely people at their side .

Now if we go back to the statement that Susan had given me, you can see how being “bestowed” Soteria, and my experiences of “being with” has given me direction in life. I now know
what life has given me, and where it has steered me to go. I know the work that I want to do, and I know how meaningful this work is. But seriously, what 19 year old kid could ask for anything else? A place to grow up, to help people, to be there for people, and to learn immensely about life and all it entails — and get paid for it. I can not thank you all enough for the opportunity to be here. I have grown to love and care for everyone in here, and I have grown to care and love myself. What an opportunity for me in my life, and I want everyone who owns/works/lives/volunteers/visits here to know that I would not be who I am today if it was not for each and every one of you. So I thank you, to the deepest level my heart could ever thank you.

Now it is time for me to go. To move on and get an education and see what’s next in my life. There’s a whole world out there to explore, and I do hope that I will find my way back here to the spot where I grew up. Thank you to all.

I would not be who I am today without you all. and without all your love and care for me.
Thank you ,

Matthew Alan Ladner


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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