Tag Archives: therapy

In Recovery:  Part 7 Cherry Street I

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Get The Full Experience Here

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt 6: Brockton IIPt 6: Brockton IIIPt. 7: Cherry St. I
Entrance to Northampton VA
Northampton VA and Cherry Street
View From Cherry St. Porch

I arrived at the Cherry Street CWT Program towards the end of April of 2017 with high hopes for seamlessly gaining my autonomy. Boy, would the next 7 months be as challenging as it could ever get for me in my recovery. Cherry Street is the name of the location of a three story split residence that housed male Veterans in the VA treatment program.

Having actually changed VAs, I had to start all over with a new support team, new therapist, new everything. It was quite the adjustment for me to go from dorm living to apartment living.

The building that Cherry Street occupied was massive. It had four separate entrances. It had three floors each. The residents numbered about about 12 of us. Each having a room of our own. I ended up on the third floor, by myself fortunately.

The main campus, the VA in Northampton (or Leeds more accurately), was to be the site of our therapies and participation in CWT. The program is strictly geared towards establishing safety and security, and moving rapidly towards independent living.

All the participants were assigned a Social Worker, Psychiatrist, Primary Care Physician and Case Worker. This was a so-called “dream team” of professionals whose main objective was to ensure wellness and strengthen our individual recoveries through the use of Compensated Work Therapy: CWT is basically a paid job at the VA without having taxes taken out of your pay.

Kurt the Conqueror
Kurt Z at Cherry Street by Robert Levasseur
Kurt Z.

Kurt Z. was my Case Manager who had a Napoleon complex. He was a very short and tiny man with a big ego. I disliked him upon first meeting. That disdain only grew exponentially with each mandate he attempted to use to control is “subjects” at Cherry Street. His female counterpart, Kristine W., was cut from the same cloth.

Kurt operated Cherry Street, a VA Program whose policies are mandated by VA Regulations, as if it were his own special island with special rules made up just by him. I would end up vehemently attacking his departure from VA Regulations in the coming months.

Kurt was a “my way or the highway” dictator who did not adjust well to those who challenged his authority. His demeanor was not of a helpful Caseworker, but that of a Conqueror who knew what you needed better than you knew yourself. Over the coming months I waged different wars of self-advocacy to combat Kurt’s omnipotence and penchant for always being right.

Dr. A.M. Psychiatrist Un-Extraordinaire

If Kurt Z. operated Cherry Street like a mini Napoleon, Dr. M. was certainly his sidekick. I was assigned Dr. M. as my psychiatrist because, well, he’s everyone’s psychiatrist. Talk about a wet can of paint. Watching paint dry was more exciting than talking to this bozo.

Psychiatry at Cherry Street Northampton by Robert Levasseur
Unextraordinary Psychiatry

I mean, truly, he was the worst psychiatrist I have ever had in my life. By the end of May, 2017, it was apparent that he was certainly no Dr. Ticlea or my other psychiatrist that I had during my time at the Reach Program in Brockton.

You could ask him 5 questions in a row and he would not have an answer for any of them. A psychiatrist is not only a prescriber, they are also trained to do SOME therapeutic work. Not so with Dr. M. He was all business and no empathy. Didn’t matter what was troubling you. He struck me as an individual who was exhausted with his position and should have retired years ago.

Lyn D. Vocational Specialist
Cherry Street room by Robert Levasseur
My Room at Cherry Street

The only person who seemed to be of the high quality VA professional one can only hope for, was Lyn D. Lyn was to be my Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist. That means she would handle everything coinciding with my CWT experience while I was at Cherry Street.

Lyn was highly reliable. She was also extremely dedicated to her work and the Veterans she represented. I can tell you that she was a bright light in an otherwise very dark recovery room for me during my 7 months at Cherry Street. She tried to do everything she could for me.

In the end, Kurt was the Program Director and nothing escaped his tunnel vision and some of the decisions that he would make–all the while denying that he was the one responsible for those decisions.

I think towards the end of my time at Cherry Street, Lyn had decided to leave the VA for greener pastures. I can’t say that I blame her one bit. Working in that dog-and-pony-show program, with Kurt the Conqueror at the helm, must have certainly made for interesting staff meetings. Especially when it came to discussing me.

Last Few Blog Posts While In Recovery:

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Part 7: Cherry St. II

In Recovery:  Part 6 Brockton III

Special Note: I use lots of pictures, videos, animations, flipbooks, and other cool layouts and features which can be best appreciated by reading this post on my blog. Mobile View will not give you the very best experience.

Get The Full Experience Here

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt 6: Brockton IIPt 6: Brockton III
Exit Building 7 Brockton Reach Program
Rebecca
My Wife Rebecca

I met my wife, Rebecca, through the blog she was writing about managing a Wilderness Life outpost in Sweden back in late December of 2016. By the time February rolled around, we were communicating every day. She uplifted me in my darkest and loneliest days at Reach.

It was very difficult to deal with the time difference between our two countries. However, we never missed a day without chatting on Google Hangouts. I found in her a kindred spirit. I also soon discovered that she was in a devastatingly abusive marriage. Although she didn’t speak much about it, the poetry I had encouraged her to write spoke volumes.

Although the language didn’t formulate in my brain at the time, I had a sense that I was going to get her away from that destructive relationship. And, by the time April came around, we actually started having some deep conversations about what we both wanted in life. I knew that somehow I would find a way to be together with her.

CWT

After about a month at Reach I finally was assigned a Compensated Work Therapy position as a Groundskeeper. I spent many days shoveling snow for extra overtime money. Other than the snow, however, we didn’t do much but sit around watching t.v. It was good enough for me. I felt my emotions trying to creep in with feelings of depression and boredom, mostly stemming from my inability to find something productive to do with my time.

Photo by Robert M. Levasseur
Fooling Around With Jimmy

So, I went to the CWT Counselor and asked to be put into another position. She sent me over to be an Aide in Building 8. Building 8 is where they housed Veterans who were mostly paralyzed. I remember feeling frightened to go into any of the rooms to introduce myself at first. But soon, I got into a rhythm of visiting the men in between doing things like calling Bingo, assisting with aquatics, and helping the men during shooting practice.

Jimmy was my favorite. Every Saturday I brought in a muffin for him and we would hang out, tossing back sarcasm and insults and generally passing the morning with our banter. To this day I am still in contact with Jimmy; he continues to kick my ass in chess, which aggravates me to no end.

CWT was truly therapy for me. It grounded me and gave me a daily purpose. I was immersed in an attitude of gratitude. For, what right did I have to complain about my life, when these men were confined to their beds and wheelchairs all day? It gave me a slice of humility as well; something I sorely lacked in my life up until that point.

My Recovery

I spent my free time mainly hammering away on my recovery blog, taking photos and editing them in various phone apps, and taking lots of walks. The medication regime they put me on seem to stabilize my emotions to some degree as well.

My Recovery Token by Robert M. Levasseur

Even though I justified my time at the computer as ‘therapy’ I was in fact still isolating myself. I just did not have the social tools to go about making friends with the other Veterans, even though I was with most of them for nearly 6 months.

However, at the end of my stay, I gave each and every one them a wooden token that had my 5 pillars of recovery printed on the front and back of it. I had a company do the coin online. I still carry one today.

I wanted them to have something that they could have that was proof that recovery can and does work. It was with some trepidation that I decided to take part in a 3rd VA treatment program called Cherry Street, in Northampton Massachusetts.

I can tell you this: From April 2017, until November of 2017, my life was anything but normal at the new Cherry Street CWT Program.

Coming Soon:

Part 7: Northampton

In Recovery:  Part 6 Brockton II

Special Note: I use lots of pictures, videos, animations, flipbooks, and other cool layouts and features which can be best appreciated by reading this post on my blog. Mobile View will not give you the very best experience.

Get The Full Experience Here

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPart 6: Brockton IIPt. 6: Brockton III
In Recovery Brockton Reach
Smoking Area Behind Brockton VA Reach Building
Welcome Back Legal System
Brockton Trial Court

Not only was I dealing with different kinds of medications to treat my PTSD and Bipolar Disorder, but when I went to check in with the Probation Department at the dreaded Brockton Courthouse, I was in for a little surprise. Seems that when I first got out of jail in mid-October, I was supposed to check-in with Probation. Well, I had not. There was a warrant for my arrest waiting for me!

I explained to two different officials that I was whisked away to a VA Treatment facility. One official was sympathetic, the other official wanted to throw me in jail until monday (it was the weekend).

Thank god that the official who wanted to allow me to simply clear it up on monday prevailed. If you have ever been to court and waited to see if you were going to jail or not, then you know how very stressful that waiting can be.

Legal Consequences of Alcoholism

After clearing up the misunderstanding with the court, I sat down with my probation officer, who outlined the consequences of my OUI and bogus Domestic Abuse convictions:

  • Total Fines, Fees, Penalties: $2,835.08
  • Loss of License: 1 year
  • Probation Time: 2 years – including weekly check-ins with a probation officer
  • Batterers Classes: 45 at $30 a pop
  • Suspended Sentence Still Looming: 1.5 years

Thankfully, the requirement to do 45 sessions of Alcohol Abuse classes was discharged, because of all the treatment time I had under my belt.

However, and as you can see, the fallout from alcoholism can be dramatic. The worst of it was that I had to attend classes with convicted “batterers” for 45 sessions! And pay for that privilege! Absolutely ridiculous. More on that in later installments of In Recovery.

My Worldly Possessions

Before I went to jail, I had escaped from the violent drunk who I lived with. I had been hospitalized on a Sunday in early April for a supposed suicide attempt while I was drunk. It was a suicide attempt, it was me acting out so I could get into a program.

Some of My Few Belongings

Well, on Tuesday morning I was driven by ambulance to the psychiatry department at the VA. They wanted to intern me there as an inpatient for evaluation for 60 days! I managed to explain to the head psychiatrist there the true nature of my situation at home. With assurances that I meet with my own psychiatrist on Thursday, I was released.

I immediately went to my friend at the car dealership and begged him to use a dealership vehicle so I could get my things out of the psychos house. After agreeing, I had only about 1.5 hours before she would get home from work.

I grabbed anything and everything I could get, and was allowed to store it in the attic of the old dealership. Anyway, while I was in the REACH program, I was told I had to get it all out of there pronto.

When I did go to get my stuff, it had been rifled through! All that was left was about three or four boxes of random belongings. It wasn’t like I had packed a lot of things up there; however, many of the things I had packed there were now gone. Still, I was glad to have more clothing and some of the belongings with me.

Time Spent Wisely

As I progressed through the program’s three different levels, I spent lots of timing productively. In the mornings I would meditate. I got to the point when I could meditate for 45 minutes to an hour. It help ground me for the day, and helped me to minimize triggers and what have you.

Blogging with vim and vigor; sometimes for hours at a time. Some of the counselors would approach me and ask me if they thought all the time on the computer was beneficial to my recovery. I simply would say “Would you rather I spend my evenings with everyone else, staring blankly at the t.v.?” Once they saw that the blog was primarily centered on recovery and wellness, they pretty much left me alone.

My recovery was greatly enhanced by bleeding my heart into my blog: was devoted to trying to use my blog as a means of helping others in recovery. And those still struggling with addiction. On retrospect, I can see where I did take it slightly to the extreme. I was not interested in making friends and small talk. I just wasn’t that kind of person.

And there were many, many walks upon the Brockton VA grounds. It’s a fascinating world of serene nature mixed in with old and new buildings of all different shapes and sizes. I walked quite a bit during my time there. Nature has always been my escape.

Finally, I got caught up with taking photographs (as you may know if you read Part 6: Brockton I), and editing them in various apps. When I wasn’t working my CWT position, or in various treatment sessions and classes, I would just take and manipulate pictures. These became the basis of my Instagram and Pinterest pages.

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Coming Soon: Recovery, CWT, Rebecca in:

Part 6: Brockton III

In Recovery:  Part 6 Brockton I

Special Note: I use lots of pictures, videos, animations, flipbooks, and other cool layouts and features which can be best appreciated by reading this post on my blog. Mobile View will not give you the very best experience.

Get The Full Experience Here

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Pt. 5: Jamaica PlainPt. 6: Brockton IPt. 6: Brockton IIPt. 6: Brockton IIIPt. 7: Cherry St Pt. I
VA on Recoverywise
Domiciliary At Brockton VA Still In Use From Civil War Era
Treatment At VA Brockton Reach

I was in the recovery program at the VA in Brockton Massachusetts from December 15, 2016-April 24, 2017. Less than a mile from the House of Horrors I shared with a violent, alcoholic ex from 2013-2016, it was more than a little depressing at first being there. Housed in a hospital-type dormitory, though it was much less antiseptic than a traditional hospital.

My Room At Reach

The Brockton Reach Program is designed to equip Veterans with the tools and skills needed to overcome homelessness. The cornerstone of the program is Compensated Work Therapy (CWT). CWT allowed me to start earning money at the prevailing minimum wage, and to start my long term planning for eventual self-reliance.

My time at Reach was very busy. The program was divided into 3 phases. Phase I focused on mainly classes about managing your life, Group Therapy, more DBT and CBT groups, and a strong focus on 12-Step Programs. Phase II was entirely about Compensated Work Therapy and regular therapy sessions.

Reach and Mental Health

By the end of my stay, I would be diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, PTSD, ADHD and Anxiety. My psychiatrist was a brilliant scholar, who really worked hard at achieving the proper diagnoses for my conditions. He also closely monitored my conditions medically.

I was put on a cocktail of medications. After about a month there, I really could tell a difference in my overall mental health. During my time at Reach, I also continued my intensive therapy with Molly; having to travel by bus to the Jamaica Plain campus every week.

Reach Hallway

We discussed the myriad of interpersonal issues I had, the possibility of having Borderline Personality Disorder, and my inability to manage my emotions; my number one problem, now that I did not have alcohol or drugs to stem the tide. I still had tremendous difficulty gaining any noteworthy friends and continued to isolate myself throughout my stay.

In addition to individual therapies, we were each assigned a Caseworker and a Social Worker. Both of these individuals were inept at their positions. Jeff, the caseworker, dressed like a hood thug and wore his recovery as a big, fat ego tattoo on his forehead. I was part of his “A” team, and every week we had to meet for two hours and endure the magnitude of his “me, me, me” approach to counseling us. I did not like his style, and we butt heads more than a few times about his approach with me.

My caseworker, Susan, was even more inept. I would describe her as a worn out robot. Her approach to her work with me was unemotional, uninterested, and she seemed to work mostly from rote memory. A perfect example of burnout in a profession as I ever saw.

Brockton VA Campus

Many of the buildings on the campus were built during the Civil War. The Brockton VA Campus is a collection of fascinating structures, all interconnected by an underground–and above ground–tunnel system. The campus boasts numerous domiciliary buildings, one of the few VA Spinal Cord Injury Hospitals in the country, a 6 lane bowling alley, and even a Starbucks; which I actually worked at briefly, in the Summer of 2013. I quit only after 2 months because I couldn’t get enough hours.

Civil War Era Domiciliary

I spent many hours photographing many of the nooks and crannies of this old campus, as you can see by some of the pictures to the left. I spent hours modifying pictures during my downtime. If you have read any other portions of my recovery blog, you know that I have the propensity to obsess: over emotions, over hobbies, over subject matter.

So you can imagine hour many hours I spent taking and modifying picture after picture. You can view many more of these pictures in the PDF at the bottom of my post. I almost wish I had some of the originals I took, for the architecture is truly a marvel with many of the old buildings.

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Pt. 6 Brockton II

Recovery Retro: Change The Tape

Recovery Retro

Recovery Retro features posts from my archives 2016-2017, my chronicles of recovery from alcoholism, mental health issues, and substance abuse. After 35 years of chaos, my life in several VA Treatment Programs was anything but boring. Join me as I share with you my most intimate posts about spirituality, living in the now, acceptance, gratitude, mindfulness, and the lessons I learned that keep me sober to this day.

Published 01/09/2017 at 8:00 am – Day 84 of Treatment
My Ruminations Me A To Z

As I go through this morning I found myself starting to become negative about all the groups I have to attend here at the treatment facility.

And then I got real with myself.  I had to remind myself why I am here.  I had to have a little pep talk with myself about my recovery and its aims.

As a recovering alcoholic I am learning I must always be vigilant to what my tapes are playing in my head.  I am learning to recognize negative thinking patterns.  I never really paid much attention to my thoughts.

Now, however, I am in tune with my thoughts and how much they affect my emotions and behaviors throughout the day.  Some call this “mindfulness.”

When I am mindful that my thoughts may be negative, judgmental, or just plain ineffective, I am able to simply “change the tape.”  That is to say, reorient my thinking to go down positive pathways.

thoughtscharacter on justruminating men's blog

Becoming in tune with how you think from moment to moment can help you to begin to change some of the negative consequences in your life.  This happens when you say to yourself “This way of thinking is not healthy for me.”  Then you simply change the tape!

You will be amazed at how much quieter your world becomes.  How much more at peace your life becomes!  So today, rather than bitch and complain about all the groups I have to attend, while I might not embrace them and do cartwheels, I will remember they are essential to my recovery and well being!

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