I recently celebrated two years sober on 7.6.23. The story behind my sobriety journey is a lot longer than I thought. It is a story that I do intend to share, but I want to ensure that I share it thoroughly and honestly. So here is an abbreviated version of it.

I was completing my first 12-week clinical rotation in graduate school at a transitional housing facility for serious mental illness. Majority of the clients that I worked with also had a substance abuse disorder/concern. While working with them, I saw the serious impacts that drugs and alcohol had on them and their wellbeing. I would hear things like “it is hard to watch people glorify the exact things that ruined my life.” They would often ask me, “Miss L, what do you do for fun if you don’t go out drinking with your friends?” I rarely had a response to these types of statements or questions.

So I decided that in order to be the best therapist for them, I would quit drinking. Little did I know that it was going to be the best decision for me. On 7.5.21, I took my sip of alcohol. I don’t remember what it was. I am pretty sure it was some expensive red wine, but I do remember that I was in Atlanta (life really does come full circle, y’all).

There was one client in particular that influenced my sobriety journey. This client was schizophrenic, NGRI status (not guilty by reason of insanity), and had a substance abuse concern (cocaine was his drug of choice). His story really stuck with me. He was one of my higher functioning clients that I relied on during group sessions. He would in many ways assist me with leading groups as his peers received the message better from him than me. He was a black immigrant in a very prestigious part of Virginia. He often shared with me that he felt that he was going through an identity crisis being a black immigrant. On top of that, his diagnosis of schizophrenia complicated his identity even more. He shared that his parents said that they would deal with it themselves instead of getting him the help he needed. So he turned to cocaine.

He was one of the most beautiful souls that I have ever met. But his addiction and his diagnosis led him to committing the most heinous crime. Under the influence of drugs and in a state of paranoia, he committed murder. When he snapped out of the state that he was in, he realized what he had done. He turned himself in and asked the judge for the death penalty. He was granted NGRI instead.

He could never live with himself after that. Every time he had a glimpse of hope, he would remember what he had done. He shared that he wakes up every morning and only sees blood on his hands. Yet, he was the most beautiful soul that I had ever met. The last time he ever participated in one of my groups, he said, “I wish I took my diagnosis seriously. I wish there wasn’t a stigma with schizophrenia, and that my family was open to getting me help. My dad said that we didn’t need a shrink. We would figure it out. My mom sprinkled holy water on me every time I hid in the closet because of my paranoia. I wish I never used cocaine to fix it. Maybe I wouldn’t have done what I did.”

A few days after he said this to me and his peers, he had his relapse. He violated his conditional release and was taken back to prison and then back to another state hospital. That day was 7.6.21. The day that I began my sobriety journey.

He had written a poem titled “The End of Discrimination Begins With Me.” If you know me or have seen me in person, then you know that I have this tatted on my left bicep. Because he was right. The end of the stigma and discrimination pertaining to mental health and substance abuse begins with ME. Hell, the end of discrimination of anything and everything begins with ME. I had to become the change that I wanted to see in this world because I can’t expect it from anyone but ME.

I have maintained my sobriety for two years and have no intentions of drinking again in the future. It does not serve me or my Divine purpose on this earth. I have lived more life in the last two years than the years I spent drinking. I feel everything all the way through. This decision all started from me being placed in a position to work with individuals who struggle with mental illness and sobriety themselves. The ones that I was teaching became my greatest teachers. They think that I was there to help them get their lives back, but little do they know that they gave me my life back. And for that, I am forever grateful.

More to come on this story, but I think this gives a good background on my sobriety for now.

With Love,

Dr. Kaler

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