Transformation in my life truly began when I had the courage to voice for the first time my lived experiences of voices, visions, other “unusual” perceptions and extreme states. It was May of 2014 and the opportunity presented itself for me to attend the first Hearing Voices Network Facilitator Certification Training offered in Connecticut. During this three day training, I gave voice to the most profoundly secret, silenced part of my being. Never before had I shared my experiences, yet I felt safe to do so during this training with complete strangers.
This training was sponsored by the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community and facilitated by Lisa Forestell and Marty Hadge. It was designed to be consistent with the Hearing Voices USA charter and values, and offered an atmosphere of safety in which I could share my experience without judgment. I was met with compassionate, genuine curiosity from both of them. I experienced validation of my experiences being real and NOT a sign of illness. What a relief!
The training opened up doors within myself that had been locked since I was three years old, having my first vision and experience of a presence that was a comforter and friend then. I know my age because it was about six months after the sexual abuse began at the hands of my father, while my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother. My experiences were many, most of them comforting and very supportive and encouraging until I was 19 years of age, which is when I experienced extreme distress by voices that shaped my life going forward.
Also during this training, Jacqui Dillon from the UK shared her story via Skype and answered questions, of which I had many. Jacqui is a writer, campaigner, international speaker and trainer who has personal and professional experience, awareness and skills working with trauma and abuse, dissociation, “psychosis,” hearing voices, healing and recovery. I began to question the status quo of the psychiatric system and all my diagnoses. I had been labeled with depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. I had been told by a psychiatrist that I would be institutionalized for the rest of my life. Gratefully, I took that fatalistic fate as a challenge and have definitely proved that psychiatrist wrong.
My life in the psychiatric system up until this Hearing Voices training had been one of many, many hospitalizations in state institutions and community and private hospitals. I had gotten the label of a “frequent flyer” because of the numerous hospitalizations (unfortunately they didn’t provide the perk of frequent flyer mileage like airlines do). I had been extremely overmedicated — at one period of my life I was on 21 pills a day. I was a zombie and felt like the living dead.
I attended the Hearing Voices facilitator training because I wanted to support others, to be there for them in a way I wished someone had been there for me. After the training I became passionate about my involvement in creating the CT Hearing Voices Network. I was a founding trustee in this movement in Connecticut, and facilitated my first group in July of 2014 in Norwalk, CT. Facilitators are members of the Hearing Voices support groups; there is none of the hierarchy that is found in clinical groups.
Between May and October of 2014, my relationship with my voices and other experiences transformed from being adversarial to acceptance and self-validation. My psychiatrist noticed a transformation in me and recommended I start to taper my medications, saying “less is more.” I was taking 45mg of Abilify, an antipsychotic/mood stabilizer, which was 15mg greater than the maximum therapeutic dose; 450mg of Wellbutrin, an antidepressant; 4mg of Ativan, a benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety, and I was on Seroquel that was prescribed to aid in sleep (which it never did).
The taper off of medications has been gradual and self-directed with the support of my psychiatrists. Since October of 2014, I have had two different doctors and have found it necessary to continually advocate for myself regarding this medication reduction. Today, I am on 2mg of Abilify and 100mg Wellbutrin; no longer taking Ativan or Seroquel. Being medication-free will soon be a reality.
Transformations to liberation occurred for me through the holistic approach offered in the Hearing Voices movement and the amazing support I have received in being a facilitator/member of Hearing Voices support groups. My goal was to change my relationship with my voices from one that was adversarial to one in which I experienced them as allies. I was successful in that I now look at my voices, visions and other experiences as teachers, as gifts. It has not been an easy journey — it has been extremely trying at times with the intrusive and disturbing nature of these experiences. A journey marked with courage every step of the way for me.
Liberation from my voices, visions and other experiences was unexpected yet a profound and welcomed experience. My dad died on September 6th, 2015, and on September 9th he was placed in his crypt; as they were sealing up the crypt it thundered so loudly that the earth seemingly shook, and I heard the voice of God say “it is finished” (those were the last three words Jesus spoke on the cross). The voice of God was comforting and brought me a tremendous sense of peace. I was with my family who are all Jewish and I am Christian; hearing this at that moment was surprising since I was distracted by the funeral and all the people. I did not know that the ramifications of hearing those three words would bring me liberation. It brought closure for me of a nightmare that started when I was two and a half years old, with the sexual abuse and then the trauma that ensued going forward.
In looking back, I realize that my taking the Hearing Voices training has inspired me to touch the lives of many people, being available to connect with others in ways that were previously unfathomable. Currently, in facilitating five support groups weekly I reach an average of 30 people, opening doors for transformation and liberation in their lives. As the program coordinator for the CT Hearing Voices Network I am committed to growing and sustaining the 18 existing groups, working tirelessly to ensure that facilitators, members, family and friends of members have the support they need so that the possibility exists for greater connection and ease in facing life’s challenges.
Yes, I am passionate about my work, offering hope through my own story and the message that where you are today does not dictate your tomorrows. I feel so blessed to be able to serve others, never having imagined the reward in just being able to express my truth — to listen and connect with a compassionate heart.
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.