Recovery Porn: Tell Me Your Story, I’ll Tell You Your Value

Sera Davidow
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Gnatola ma no kpon sia, eyenabe adelan to kpo mi sena. (Ewe-mina
Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story. (
English)

There is little denying the power of story… until our own stories get taken from us, positioned against us, and used to determine our value as some sort of human commodity.

Storytelling has a rich past, especially among indigenous groups but also in general. It is a way people pass on history, both familial and cultural. It helps us honor and remember times and people of years gone by. It allows us to remain connected to our roots, even when others would rather we forget. Were we to heed the lessons found in the stories of our history, we’d all be far better off.

Story can also help us connect to a whole range of emotions from grief to joy. And it is an important teaching tool. Our stories can bring more abstract points to life in ways that academic explanations simply never could, and sometimes serve to immeasurably deepen the connection between the speaker and their audience. Yet there are many potential harms, especially when intertwined with matters of systemic oppression.

Honey, Let Me Take That For You

For example, when those in power take on the telling of the stories of marginalized peoples, storytelling can serve as a weapon that obfuscates the truth, and further entrenches social injustices. For example, the much lauded film Hidden Figures told the story of three black women finding success in NASA in the 1960’s in spite of the tremendous racism they faced. Yet, the (white presenting*) director and screenplay writers took great liberties with the story, creating such memorable scenes as when Kevin Costner beat down the “colored ladies” bathroom sign with a crowbar. This made him look awful good — like a great white savior of sorts. It also inevitably made space for white audiences to feel a little better about themselves — seeing their own image in not only the villain but also the ‘hero’ role — and thus perhaps a little more able to acknowledge racism as a “thing.” (Because, you know… white fragility.) Yet, it simply didn’t happen that way in real life.

Green Book is another great example of a whitewashed story of racism. And, whether we look to the film’s deviations from the truth, or to (white presenting*) Director, Peter Farrelly’s much talked about acceptance speech (for Best Picture at the Academy Awards) during which he chose to lift up (white presenting*) actor Viggo Mortensen as the reason for the film’s success, it’s hard not to wonder how different things might look with someone a little more tied to the story’s roots at the helm. There are many motivations for avoiding the truest versions of these stories, capitalism (in this case, selling tickets) being tops among them all.

Speak Your Truth (the Way I Want You to Say It)

Dorothy Dundas holds her poster telling the story of her psychiatric file
Dorothy Dundas holds the story of her psychiatric file in poster form

Of course, this phenomenon happens all the time within the psychiatric system, where people’s files and treatment meetings are chock full of someone else’s stories about them; fragmented bits and pieces told through a distorted, wholly medicalized lens. For many stuck within, their lives become enveloped and nearly fully defined by these stories that they’ve had no personal hand in writing. And so, in some ways, the move to reclaim our stories has been key; a critical move toward reclaiming ourselves. For example, Dorothy Dundas — one of the last living survivors of insulin shock therapy — infamously took pieces of her own hospital file and reformed them into a powerful poster and statement about the system overall. But more and more, especially as “peer support” has drifted from revolution to industry, it’s all become something else entirely. Sometimes (too often) we’ve been turned into puppets. Our own mouths appear to be moving, but they are being worked behind the scenes by folks who still want to retain control over the story that gets told. We are instructed as follows:

“Speak your truth. As long as your truth isn’t critical of our service system (says the providers), or your family (says the parents). Blaming others is mean and unfair. Never forget: The root of all this struggle lies within you, so kindly conform your story to that very important fact. This is equally true for all you “treatment resistant” folk (you know who you are!). If you must name a villain outside yourself, please be sure to also name a hero, and make them one of us. Lift us up as the “crisis warriors” that we are. Remember the struggle is all in the past (even if it isn’t, you should still say that is so), and you shouldn’t focus too much on that, anyway. Please speak primarily of your “wellness.” You’re all better now, after all. Thanks to us. If you could work that into your speech (“I’d like to thank my psychiatrist, my therapist, my parents…” kind of like you were winning an Oscar in the world of “mental health” treatment), that’d be just great. And, please do all this while pulling at our heartstrings, as if your life were designed to go straight from being lived to the big screen, all neat and slick-like. Make us feel something. Bring tears and laughter. But, for goodness sake, please don’t make us uncomfortable. You know the drill.”

We’re also often given storytelling rules for our “own good.” No graphic detail, because even though many of us have lived through horrors, we’re apparently too impossibly fragile to hear them from others. We’re taught to be so afraid of “triggering” one another that our stories sometimes become unrecognizable. (See also my article on ‘trigger’ and internalized oppression here: “The Language of Internalized Oppression.”)

My Story is Bigger and Better than Your Story

And then there’s the competition. Oh, the competition… where us “survivors” are encouraged to battle each other for the spotlight. It’s that same old theme: Those in the power down position are encouraged to compete with one another for supposedly limited resources by those who are in control. In the process, us “consumers” are taught to consume one another in the most vicious of ways, with our own souls sometimes getting subsumed along the way.

Some of that encouragement comes in tacit form. For example, my good friend and co-worker, Caroline Mazel-Carlton (who has been featured in both the New York Times and O Magazine) was told by the Ladies Home Journal that her suicide attempt story was neither recent nor spectacular enough to merit writing about. In fact, that piece was supposed to be about the work of our shared organization, the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community, in developing Alternatives to Suicide, but the lack of a “blood and guts” sensational story to go along with it apparently meant they also lost interest in an approach that is actually working to prevent such events from even taking place. Meanwhile, there seems to be no end of space for “good suicide attempter” (as described by Jess Stohlman-Rainey in “Hegemonic Sanity and Suicide”) Kevin Hines, whose personal story of surviving a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge has metastasized into such a fantastical tale that it’s hard to believe anyone hears it as real anymore.

And then there’s the American Association of Suicidology (AAS — Pronounce that acronym however you see fit). AAS makes no secret of their desire to pit one person’s story against another. In fact, each year — linked to their annual conference — they offer the “Paul G. Quinnett Lived Experience Writing Contest.” Hopeful contestants must offer:

“a first person account of suicidal ideation and/or attempt(s). The winning entry will focus on the progression from before the attempt, or the time of the attempt, until the current time. The writing will describe impact on the writer, and will tell this story in a way that is accessible and understandable to the greater community.”

Winners receive a monetary award ($1500 for first place, $1000 for second, $500 for third), which at least some of them then use to be able to attend the overpriced AAS conference which currently costs $655 for non-members ($765 after March 24 for this year’s event), and offers zero discounts to people living on fixed incomes or who identify as having actually struggled with suicide themselves. (I recall a few years ago arguing with a conference organizer about how important it is that they offer such a discount, and being told that I need to keep advocating so as to be able to reach the far more recognized status of family member who has survived a loved one’s suicide.)

Gross. (Oops. Did I write that “out loud”?)

Ah, but it gets worse. The contest’s namesake, Paul Quinnett, is the current CEO of QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer!), one of the nation’s leading “suicide prevention” modalities. I’d like to tell you exactly what he has to say about the award, but when I click on “Why a Writing Contest” to read what Paul has to say about this, I find that the “page has been removed.” Pity. Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the head judge (among a long line of not-head-judges) is Sue Eastgard, a Master Trainer in (you guessed it) ASIST, yet another leading “suicide prevention” approach in our country, and the training that I wrote about in this article (where they reported me to DCF and called the cops on me for a “wellness check”): “ASIST Suicide Prevention Training: ‘Safe’ for Who?

But let’s get back to the point here. So, what’s better than attending a conference where so many leaders in the suicide prevention industry spend a bunch of money to come together and stare at each other in bafflement while discussing how all their various assessment tools and intervention strategies are failing? Why, convincing all the people they’re trying to “help” to compete with one another to come up with the very best, most dramatic suicide story so that they (and by “they” I mean one or two of them) can attend, too.

Gross. Again.

Now, I’ve heard people (even those who are in the “I’ve struggled with suicide” camp) defend this practice. But, really. What building block of systemic oppression is more detrimental than convincing a marginalized group to allow themselves to literally compete to be fetishized for some particular “talent” they may possess to amuse the masses? Black people are seen as “good” when they entertain us via sports, music, or dance, but aren’t we aghast when they try to use that platform to speak seriously for a moment. Women… we like them best when they’re looking pretty and staying quiet (and maybe naked or close to it). And, those psychiatric patients… well, let them entertain us with their stories and then send them on their way so the “grownups” can talk business.

This is “Recovery Porn” (a term I understand to have been coined a few years back by “Recovery in the Bin”) at its finest. It may seem like we’re finally getting our voices heard, but that is largely illusion. We are being used, and it is not okay. We deserve to have our stories heard and to hear the stories of others, but on our own terms, and without competition for paltry awards and recognition. Moreover, we deserve to tell our stories in ways that drive connection and, even more importantly, that drive (and demand) action. And finally, we deserve to tell our stories without threat of loss (of jobs, children, freedom, or anything else). (Hell, they’re not “stories.” They’re our lives, and all the wisdom we’ve gained from living them.) However, that is going to mean turning the system on its head and avoiding the allure of selling ourselves (and each other) out.

* * *

* I used the term “white presenting” in this article rather than just “white” because I hesitate to make too many assumptions about the race or ethnicity of some of the individuals named above. However, whatever their actual race or ethnicity, they have nonetheless clearly experienced the privilege of passing as white in a country where many people’s paths are deeply impacted by being read as black or otherwise a “person of color.”

102 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for writing this, Sera, I was very moved by it. It is heartbreaking and infuriating the level to which people are dehumanized, and actually betrayed to the point of sabotage, while trying to find their voices, own their lives, and move forward in their own truth–as you say, from wisdom hard-fought and gained from surviving harrowing and traumatic experiences.

    Speaking my truth publically for years, as I was coming to my clarity around this whole experience, grew me in so many ways and changed my life for the better, and I got all kinds of healing from doing this; and at the same time, because of this, I got thrown under the bus by my own peers and colleagues in the system. Go figure. Overall, truth came to light so I would not change a thing.

    Truth speaking is challenging, but unequivocally rewarding, from my experience. But indeed, on our terms, with our own voices, and for God’s sake, not for competition! Gross, indeed. And quite counterproductive, overall.

    “‘Speak your truth…” The quote should end there.

  2. Sera,
    I respect you for coming out and telling your story. But here’s the thing. How do you you learn anything from it if it’s not the truth and the bare and brutal truth. The fact is, we will never learn by sugar coating anything. It’s just not done that way and we’ll never change anything. The truth is uncomfortable and so is making change, one cannot be done without the other.

    For me, I have to live in the shadows. My profession or current job would not allow full disclosure of what happened to me by me believing the con of what we know as psychiatry. I am brutal and sarcastic on social media and above all brutally honest. I am a warning of what can happen to one who believes in the lies that this profession has sold and marketed to the public and I as a fool, swallowed it hook. line and sinker. I believed what the public now does that all problems with mental patients is that they stop their medication and that’s where the trouble begins. I never read any of the studies. I could have and it would have saved me a lot of grief. I wish I had heard of Mad in America before I got conned. And so my story is not one of doctors or therapists being my hero. Could I ever tell my story? Maybe someday but it will be brutal and it will name names and tell awful truths. The ending hasn’t been written yet and I am shooting for the stars on how much I can turn this story around.

    Until such time, I will continue to be “in psychiatry’s face” on twitter. To be the best troll I know how to be while teaming with the other activists and spreading the word that there is such thing as “life after psychiatry” and that it can be good once you turn your back on the current paradigm.

    Did I write that out loud? I guess I did.

    Well Sera, keep doing what you’re doing. We enjoy your articles so much here. And thanks again for making me feel like I have a close friend in the trenches.

    • Do you have plans for when the “social” networks ban anti-psychiatry info like they just collectively decided to ban anti-vaccine info? The justification would be the same — that we’re spreading “dangerous misinformation.” We’re just not effective enough — yet — for them to notice us.

      • I had the same thought the other day, oldhead, that this censorship of anti-vax messages on the basis of “dangerous misinformation” is a harbinger of things to come. How long before they somehow manage to make “pill-shaming” illegal?

        By the way, I have not been able to check my email in months… and it’ll still be a bit before I can.

          • it’s not that. When I get so soured on humanity that I have to retreat and be a hermit for awhile, the inbox can feel too overwhelming to approach. I’ve been re-engaging a bit, at my own pace, lately and will find my way back to the land of Inbox when I can face the terrain. But the more the world keeps dealing blows to my ability to give a shit, like the cops trashing a homeless encampment in my neighborhood, kicking the people when they’re down, or the white supremacists who shot up the mosque in NZ the other day, killing people while they prayed, the less shits I have to give.
            Been gardening these last couple weeks– well, ripping weeds out by the roots, no green thumb here– and that has been helping.

          • OK I know someone else who has been expressing very similar if not the same sentiments, and with whom you sound on the same page — too bad you can’t be conversing. You might even know who I mean. Maybe you could work, at your own pace, on distinguishing “the world” (or the system) from your friends and comrades, and start selectively re-engaging on that basis. In any case thanks for your thoughts & for saying hi, and for clarifying. Your consciousness, intelligence and compassion are greatly needed out here. Rather than get even more cryptic I’ll just leave it at that, anyway it’s really good to see you around. 🙂

      • I think that was Facebook and the anti-vaxers but I may be mistaken. Twitter has not done any editing of any of us that I’m aware of but that could change. I’m sure you can report a tweet but we keep it to the facts and ask the hard questions. We pull apart all studies and tell off psychiatrists how much money they have taken from pharma, how the studies from the FDA and the data are unavailable, and if they think it’s prudent to prescribe when that data has not been released. We have some doctors that chime in with us.

        Will it stop? Maybe, but until then we’ll keep talking until someone listens.

        • The vaxx info ban stretches across social media. Twitter has banned anti-vax searches I think, as has You tube, instagram & the others; when I checked google for “anti-vaccine info” I got links to stories about why anti-Vax info is so dangerous (to their agenda).

  3. “Recovery Porn: Tell Me Your Story, I’ll Tell You Your Value,” this is all just disgusting. People profiting off of psychologically screwing with, and stealing from, the vulnerable, while fraudulently claiming they’re there to “help” them. The “mental health” industries are just appalling.

  4. Sera is right with good analogies from the movies. Old-head is right on the “antivaxers.” Tell us your story, but only the one we want to hear. And tell it to us this way, so the proper people can be credited.

    Years ago, I remember going to court to defend myself against a false charge of PTSD. I waited for the prosecutor to present his evidence. Aside from the accusation itself, he had none. I then pointed this out to the judge.

    I then offered to take the witness stand so that i could be examined under oath, so i could tell my story from my perspective. They said no.

    They only wanted to hear “my story” from the perspective of the psychiatrist that I refused to “see.”

    I was puzzled by this. Why would i need a psychiatrist to interpret my words? Did my words not matter? Did my story need to be cleansed?

    The psychiatrist they told me to see had been chosen by the prosecutor. In an adversarial system, this guy works for the prosecutor. In other words, my story would be told through the eyes of a prosecution witness. Do you really think he would have told my story in a light favorable to me?

    In other words, in a court of law, my words, my story, was of zero evidentiary value. The only way my story had evidentiary value was if i allowed the prosecutor’s psychiatrist to tell it.

    I was also ordered to pay this psychiatrist $2000 to tell my story.

    They were all a bit flabbergasted that i was unwilling to participate in this exercise in adversarial story telling. I was insulted and called names. In court. By a judge. They were frustrated that i refused to play the game.

    But i knew that without participating in this story telling exercise that they would have no “evidence”. And without evidence, i cannot be found “guilty.”

    In fact i asked, in court, arent I innocent til proven guilty? And the judge had the audacity to say “we are beyond that at this point.” Beyond that? How is it possible to be “beyond that” when zero evidence had been presented. Without the testimony of the hired gun telling my story, they had no “evidence.”

    They found me guilty anyway. And for 19 years i have been punished for my alleged crime. PTSD.

    It is sad that a person can be accused of a “disorder” like PTSD from 3000 miles away and that they are believed even when they are not in court. They are believed more than i was despite the fact i was sitting right in front of them denying it was true. It is sad that i would be presumed guilty instead of innocent just because the accusation involves psychiatry. Had i been accused of any other crime, i would be presumed innocent and allowed to testify without someone else “interpreting” my words.

        • Work how? By requiring shrinks (& other mental health coppers) to follow a more stringent routine? Rather than see the creation of certain rules of confinement, I’d like to see more people released from confinement. I don’t think you get that by coming up with procedural regulations that support confinement. As is, in criminal cases, if the police issue Miranda warnings you’ve got a tighter case, if not, you’ve got the legal equivalent of a technical foul, and the case can be thrown out on procedural grounds. No procedural deviation, no grounds for release. I don’t think people are going to be any freer with a more regulated admission process. I do think they might tend to be less so.

      • Common sense should apply to the psychiatric interview, NOT Miranda warnings. I don’t think having psychiatric proceedings resemble criminal proceedings more than they do presently would constitute any sort of improvement. Instead, cease to prosecute (and thereby persecute) people for what you are calling “medical” conditions, and then we might be starting to get somewhere. The ‘lack of rights’ embodied in the ‘commitment’ procedure, do something about THAT, and you’ve got your citizenship rights back.

        Miranda warnings would only give the authorities more justification for what they are doing, and what they are doing is engaging in what ordinarily would be considered criminal acts.

        • Common sense should apply to the psychiatric interview, NOT Miranda warnings.

          Yeah, because the state is so open to reason, we should just trust their good intentions.

          Miranda warnings would only give the authorities more justification for what they are doing

          NOTHING gives them ANY justification.

          • I think the Miranda Warning makes it more clear to non-involved people that this is not about helping, it’s about incarceration. Plus it increases the odds that the potential prisoner will get legal counsel, which means fewer people locked up. Naturally, it’s not anything close to a total answer, but I think it would be an important statement and provide needed protection.

          • Actually because mental health law is the state’s way of circumventing the law. Treating these people differently from those people constitutes a double standard to begin with. Pointing such out is a way of trying to return to rule of law rather than rule of medical experts.

            When what they are doing is treating people like criminals, Miranda warnings are not likely to encourage them to treat people any less like criminals. Repeal mental health law, end forced treatment, and you’ve dealt a death blow to the problem. Supply a Miranda warning, and you’ve only made the problem official, and reinforced it with a ritualistic routine.

          • I would like to see the liberation of mental patients, and I don’t think you come any closer to this liberation with a ritualistic recital regarding their lack of liberty. Instead, you merely reinforce the deprivation of liberty that is taking place.

          • I think the Miranda Warning makes it more clear to non-involved people that this is not about helping, it’s about incarceration.

            Exactly. Plus it would offer protection from one’s refusal to cooperate with psychiatric interrogation being considered a “symptom.” Not to mention it throwing a wrench in the works generally.

          • I see it as a PR thing, as well as providing protection to those who are so unfortunate to run into this kind of situation while we’re trying to unravel it. Psychiatry’s not going to end tomorrow, and even if it did, there are still plenty of other options for extrajudicial incarceration that will arise. I think they all should be viewed as what they are, namely arrests, and be treated accordingly. Otherwise, people are tricked into “confessing” their “symptoms” to someone they thought was there to help.

          • Every forensic case has had a Miranda warning issued because in forensic cases not receiving a Miranda warning is grounds for dismissal. Otherwise, there is this little matter of changing the language to suit the context. Most mental health hearings take place in “hospital rooms”, not in ‘court rooms’. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law”. Note: the warning doesn’t say “hospital” or “mental health facility”. We have a word regarding the issuing Miranda warnings in mental health cases, and that word is criminalization. Criminalization, in treatment terms, is no big improvement over decriminalization.

          • If you lose your liberty under the Constitution there is supposed to be a criminal conviction, the equivalent of a “diagnosis” by psychiatry (which is a branch of “law enforcement”). Involuntary “hospitalization” is loss of liberty by any definition, so should be entitled to any protections due those charged criminally — including Miranda warnings.

          • You don’t lose your liberty under the Constitution, you lose your liberty under loopholes in, and violations of, the Constitution. I don’t think anybody should be incarcerated in a hospital anymore than I think anybody could be “healed” by imprisonment, mutilation, and torture. Involuntary hospitalization is what should be outlawed. It’s way up there with voluntary imprisonment and servitude. If Miranda warnings aren’t protecting peoples rights elsewhere, as they don’t outside of the criminal justice system, there is no place for them there. Rather than acceptance of hospitalization as imprisonment and servitude, I’d prefer to see people released from the mental patient role, and a Miranda warning isn’t much good if it can’t free you, and if it instead serves as a habitual rationalization for your further confinement. Basically, even if hospitalization is like imprisonment, I don’t think anybody helps matters by making hospitalization more like imprisonment rather than less. Miranda warnings, as far as I’m concerned, are the wrong direction to go in.

  5. A family member once, he did joke, only that long haired people like me are selfish, while I, I did also only joke, about his screeching, which extended beyond the normal volume of sea gull screeching, given their dynamic range, which is not usually that grand. And so, while we wait for Hollywood to do their magic with Jonathan Livingston Hippy and its ability to flap out higher levels of amazing superior, yet to be outdone by all those attempts at being new and improved, inspiration, there no doubt has already been many grass roots inclusions aiming at supporting what’s yet to come from it.

    (sorry, rather than seagull, it was actually perhaps wig-gull that was meant, which certainly leads towards it’s spire)

  6. Great piece as usual Sera. I, too, caught that White revisionist part in Hidden Figures, as well as the scene when the three woman broke down on the Virgina road and the State Cop stopped to offer assistance and reverent words: you know, classic 1960’s Virginia. What I loathe worse than recovery porn is Victim porn! When victim status reaches dictators and legions of people in positions of power and privilege-save the rigging that ushered their continued ascent, then…Not to go off the cliff here, but I thought the other day everything is beginning to look pornish (shallow, exploitive, etc.). For example, I see my doctor next week for my annual physical. He’ll use my labs, etc., as the basis of my health, whereby no discourse of my thoughts and concerns will see remotely reflective or complex responses from him. A nice, clean, algorithmic transaction in (well) under 30 minutes. Sorry for the last part here.. just trying to show you may be on to something bigger than the recovery angle.

  7. An another excellent piece Sera, I love the interesting and engaging way you write! This is another display of the arrogance, ludicrousness and dishonesty inside the mental health industry. An industry that purports to offer “help” but is mostly about belittling, blaming, labelling and never allowing a person to speak the truth.

  8. In my opinion the only people qualified to represent genuine recovery are the people that have brought about their own recovery, or the people that have helped genuinely recover other people. And as far as I know genuine recovery only exists outside of the “medical” system.

  9. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been throwing that thought around in my mind for years. When first introduced to the peer-support world and heard about this ‘story thing’, I saw it for good and I saw it for the damage it does. Sometimes, people telling their story (which is where the battle in my mind begins, because after all it is their story and who am I to tell someone how or in which context they should tell their story), mostly the way and the context in which it was being told, resulted in ‘Ehhh, something seems not okay about this’… So, I realized its not about their specific story, but how it was being used or how its not being told through their voice… In my current role in life, I talk about this whenever I can and what sharing means

  10. The competition winner in 2016 was Baltering from Bedlam by Ashley Loftin. I have just now read that text and I found nothing disagreeable or exploitative. It was tasteful and redemptive.

    I can’t see what the problem is.

    I suppose some would object to the fact that the competition winner expresses no qualms about being diagnosed borderline. Or that anti-depressants and therapy were helpful to her. If they were then they were and why should she or others be made to feel shameful for having bad experiences, going through mainstream treatments, and getting back on their feet and leaving it all behind?

    People unrecovered from suicidal impulses may be disadvantaged from entering the writing competition because they are dead. Or simply that they have found themselves unable to break free from their rut and achieve the narrative arc of someone like Ashley Loftin.

    My advice to such people is find some other competition and enter that.

    And a $10 entrance fee is cheaps as chips, all told.

    I do not understand the objection. I’ll read a couple more when I have time but strongly suspect none of them deserve to be scorned at either.

    • I don’t think the stories themselves are what folks are objecting to. It’s the apparent use of these stories to perpetuate the status quo and the apparent enforced limitations put on the stories so as not to “upset” anyone, not to mention the choice to threaten civil commitment when someone’s story is too scary for them to hear.

      • Sera Davidow wrote: “I’m going to be headed to a “Legislative Breakfast” at the end of this week that is inevitably going to include stories that fit the format you, I, and so many others are pushing back against.”

        Steve McCrea wrote: “I don’t think the stories themselves are what folks are objecting to.”

        Er…

        Steve McCrea wrote: “It’s the apparent use of these stories to perpetuate the status quo.”

        Please elaborate on how that is so. It isn’t readily apparent to me.

        “The apparent enforced limitations put on the stories so as not to “upset” anyone, not to mention the choice to threaten civil commitment when someone’s story is too scary for them to hear.”

        There is no threat of civil commitment made by the competition organisers. What they say is that if some submits what is effectively a suicide-note they agree to be contacted by a professional from the organisation running the competition.

        The enforced limitations are not unreasonable. They say they don’t want “sugar-coated” prose, but something impactful and inspiring. They don’t want something self-indulgent and exploitative of the reader which may inspire them to snuff themselves. That’s a sensible balance.

  11. Okey-dokey.

    I have read the 2015 winner: – Redeemed by Dese’Rae L. Stage

    The charge of “recovery porn” again does not hold.

    One paragraph reads: “My story is not unique. There are so many others out there just like it,
    but the society we live in tells us that we can’t talk about suicide, that
    doing so is attention-seeking behavior, that it only happens to “crazy”
    people. The truth is, this can happen to anyone, and until we
    stop sterilizing it by talking in figures, stereotyping it, romanticizing it,
    sensationalizing it, or avoiding it completely, we’re not going to save any
    lives.”

  12. The above concludes thusly:

    “In the late summer of 2010, I decided to address the issue head on using
    art in a series called Live Through This. I took a voice recorder and my
    camera, and I went to the source. I started to talk to other attempt
    survivors about their experiences—what led up to their attempt(s), their
    recovery, how they were treated by medical professionals, their feelings
    about psychiatric medications, what their support systems look like,
    other factors, and wherever else the discussion led. After each
    conversation, I made a portrait. I moved in close and asked each survivor
    to look into my lens as if they were looking directly into the eyes of the
    viewer.
    I started to publish these portraits and stories online as a kind of
    experiential catalog—as proof that, not only are we not alone, but that
    this issue spans all age ranges, ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations,
    gender presentations, and any other box we might want to put a person
    in. I’ve interviewed 115 suicide attempt survivors in 13 US cities. I have
    no plans to stop.
    I’m not trying to normalize suicidal feelings. I tell this story and I do this
    work because I want people to know that this doesn’t happen in a
    vacuum. The suicidal mind can’t be stereotyped. When we do it safely,
    talking about these feelings can be empowering. It can create
    identification and breed compassion. It can heal. It can open us up to
    possible solutions, both for ourselves and the system at large. Maybe it
    can even save lives, but we won’t know until we try.
    I wish I could say that I didn’t still battle my mind and the thoughts that
    I’d be better off dead sometimes, but I do. The difference now is that I’m
    not afraid to talk about it. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it. I
    know I’m loved even when I can’t feel it. And I know I will be able to
    power through any difficult moment because I know, without a doubt,
    that I’m not alone.”

  13. Hi Sera,

    I’m sorry for the many ways you and others here have been invalidated. I wish I could say it was better on the outside of the survivor’s community, but I haven’t found it so. People have a herd mentality, and if one doesn’t submit to the group-think, then one is ostracized and marginalized. And beyond that the power structures and gate keepers always look to retain their power and influence no matter what group or movement one is part. I wish it were otherwise, but I’ve spent a lifetime screaming in a vacuum for change on various issues and no one giving a [email protected] Like lemmings people happily follow everyone else over the cliff…

    Wishing you the best.
    Sam

  14. Thanks Sera and all.
    These are my thoughts and experiences in my locale.
    We have a very strong medical research and NAMI presence though in some places peers ran some of the MH Centers and once upon a time we had a regional peer coalition.
    What has happened would be a news story that would be picked up by multiple media outlets about someone in a crisis with an altered mental status with police and red lights flashing and the statement”we hope they get the treatment they need.”
    The deaths of urban folks in similar situations. would not be highlighted.
    But a year later, just in time for a NAMI event there would be a “I have found the light! news story about the wonders of medication.
    It would be the so called party line.
    There would be no allowance what was happening to cause a crisis or discussion of how professionals actually treat trauma, or the varigities of a person with high level of sensitivities, or what actually does constitute a religious and or spiritual experience, and most lacking of all the concept of total recovery and how that concept has been totally quashed by the systems involved.
    When given an actual pulpit it becomes recovery porn and not the beginning of an in-depth investigation of the folks behind the curtain who have manipulated the perspectives of so much of society.
    And because of those folks behind the curtain manipulations other folks have no idea of their presence and are taken in.
    When the snake oil salesmen are the only help in town one is exploited by trying to help oneself or others with his help because it’s the only show in town. One can’t be helped with trauma or whatever systemic ills if even the mental and verbal constructs are not allowed to see the light of day.
    How to remove the curtains?
    And this point , I would be happy for truth in advertising or lending type of legal recourses.

  15. Harmful and offensive as in the blog about the wellness call. The way you put it could have gone to a put away scenario.

    Put away – is a bad word or idiom from American history referring to when an individual is incarcerated or put away in a mental facility.

  16. Sera, Title. The title of your blog says it all. Survey is a word that I throw back at onlookers. Signifies to me looking back on the course of events that has occurred quite a while. I’m saying OK dermitt no. I don’t know but we shall, we shall make it there in the end.

  17. There is a mental health charity where I live that hosts an annual event called The Courage To Come Back Awards. It’s a bunch of self-congratulating philanthropists and corporate donors “recognizing” people suffering from “mental illness” who’ve had “the courage” to “come back” and become “productive” members of society. It’s a veritable orgy of recovery porn tropes and cliches.

    Because of course a person who finds themselves crippled by negative life events or trying to survive in a cold and ruthless system built around zero sum competition and sociopathic personality traits, while it shames and ridicules empathic people, those with a gentle disposition and anyone who can’t, or won’t, submit to the discredited and corrupt myths underpinning the dominant culture, is a coward who needs to stop being a loser and simply find the “courage” to “recover” and join the ranks of a decaying society that is well on the way to devouring itself.

    Late-stage capitalist societies use psychiatry and arbitrary labeling to punish and discredit dissidents who reveal the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the social and economic system. It’s a method of social control. The communist Soviet Union had its own version of this.

    The genius of our system, however, is that it has (so far) managed to wield many of its repressive mechanisms indirectly…a kind of inverted totalitarianism that makes it much more difficult to convince those who buy into the myth of a fair and just society that, for many people, quite the opposite is true.

    • FreeDom — Tell us more!

      You speak of the ability of the system “to wield many of its repressive mechanisms indirectly…a kind of inverted totalitarianism.” This is what I describe similarly, in terms of the system programming people people to not only put on their own handcuffs, but to fight over who gets the newest high-tech version.

  18. WOW! Powerful! Inspiring! I’m especially appreciative of your remarks that support our ability to be proud in telling our story in all it’s audaciousness. While this is part of the process of healing, it is perhaps just as valuable, if not more valuable, to seek the significance of our experiences so we can share with others the strengths we developed as a result of the adversity and other opportunities that our experiences provide! Thanks for this lovely writing!

  19. I am having fun now….went to a NAMI support group meeting for relatives, parents etc. Many are just overwhelmed with the nightmare of a loved one having serious emotional problems, how well i understand that. I encouraged them to read and learn about alternatives after the crisis had settled down. Meaning once their kids had been sedated…..at the end of the meeting I was greeted by the facilitator who told me that we required to believe in “the medical model ” to participate in these groups. No debate, just blind acceptance.I have had about ten years of blind acceptance ‘ I have fully learned not to blindly accept and was exiled from NAMI the people at the forefront keeping us ignorant, the first responders offering us ignorance and pills. We have a fight on our hands that is for sure. The New York Times reported that 75% of their donations come from pharma….75%….
    If someone knows of a contact at the national level in that organization that would be sympathetic I would like to call them and see they can moved in another direction.

    Sara I have to thank you for presenting this blog and especially for responding so respectfully to every comment. You are special…
    Jim Riddell

  20. The story that I added a link to is a report from the Denver Post regarding a woman who was tasered and taken to jail while she was naked and getting ready to take a bath..The dangers of the ” wellness check ” .They don’t always go as planned and can have very bad consequences…very bad, including post traumatic stress and more. I would never trust the police to check on any one I cared about…for sure.

    https://www.denverpost.com/2019/04/10/fremont-county-sheriff-lawsuit-naked/