Understanding My Brother's Recovery: David's Story

Reviewed Jul 23, 2016

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Summary

True recovery is something only we, each of us, can define and create.

My brother, Daniel, never wanted to be captain of the high-school wrestling team. He didn’t want to be president of the astronomy club, or a second-string player on the varsity football team, or an honors student (third in his class). He never wanted to date a pretty girl named Julie. He didn’t want to sing solo in the glee club or run for student council. Yet he did all these things because our parents wanted him to.

As their marriage crumbled over the years, it became more important for Daniel to do well and help maintain the mask of a perfect family. He was accepted at an Ivy League college, and made dean’s list his first term. When my father visited him at school and asked him to tell our mother he was leaving her, like every other time in his life, Daniel obeyed. He drove home the next morning to tell her. My father was supposed to call her and back up the message. The phone call never happened. 

Daniel’s breakdown

For the first time, Daniel had obeyed one parent and destroyed the other. After that fateful trip home, he was never able to shake the guilt of what he had done.

In the year after my father left and was never heard from again, my mother began to rely more heavily on Daniel for emotional support. Because Daniel thought he had somehow helped his father to leave, he felt a certain duty to act as her stand-in husband. He came home every weekend. He called every night. He could not tell her at this point he was gay. He was afraid “that would push her over the edge.” My mother “didn’t know gay people existed.”

By now Daniel was pursuing my mother’s dream of going to teacher’s graduate school. But the pressure of his guilt and our mother’s neediness became too great. He began to break down—at first slowly. On visits home, he would spout Biblical references. He said he would become a famous dancer. He felt he could talk with animals. One night, he stayed up all night reading books and believed he had decoded a secret language.

While student teaching the next week, Daniel had his first, and only, psychotic break. He began to tell his teen class about the Bible and that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. They laughed at first, thinking he was joking. But as continued, some students became worried. He led a girl out of the class to speak alone, and they walked past the school grounds to a park. When he told her she was Mary Magdalene, she yelled out to others for help. He was held down until the police came. He was arrested and placed under observation.

Daniel’s recovery

Daniel has no recall of the next two weeks of his life. Thankfully, he was put into a hospital instead of jail. After he was stabilized, the problem became clear to Daniel’s therapists. His family system, and lack of any identity of his own, was causing his pain. Our mother never “got it.” She wanted things to carry on as before. But his discharge plan was very clear: he was to get a low-stress job in a field of his interest, and a lease for his own apartment.

His recovery was, and continues to be, miraculous. Freed from others’ expectations, he got a job selling tickets at a theater and he moved into his first tiny apartment at age 25. From there, he moved to New York and sought work as an actor. He then worked as a talent agent and then formed his own talent agency. He met his life partner. They have been together for nearly 30 years. 

Ironically, 10 years ago he decided to go back into teaching, but this time in a subject he loves: theater. I have seen his fantastic student productions. He brings out gifts in high school students that even they didn’t know they had. When he retires, next year at age 66, he will have experienced a full life; a fantastic life; his life.

And I’m sure that will only be the start of an even more exciting journey.

It has often been said that people define their own recoveries. When we can rid ourselves of others’ expectations about what we need to be, and how to “get better,” we are that much closer to living a healthy life. True recovery is something only we, each of us, can define and create.    

By David Lally, MBS, LCSW, Director, Communication and Policy, Beacon Health Options

Summary

True recovery is something only we, each of us, can define and create.

My brother, Daniel, never wanted to be captain of the high-school wrestling team. He didn’t want to be president of the astronomy club, or a second-string player on the varsity football team, or an honors student (third in his class). He never wanted to date a pretty girl named Julie. He didn’t want to sing solo in the glee club or run for student council. Yet he did all these things because our parents wanted him to.

As their marriage crumbled over the years, it became more important for Daniel to do well and help maintain the mask of a perfect family. He was accepted at an Ivy League college, and made dean’s list his first term. When my father visited him at school and asked him to tell our mother he was leaving her, like every other time in his life, Daniel obeyed. He drove home the next morning to tell her. My father was supposed to call her and back up the message. The phone call never happened. 

Daniel’s breakdown

For the first time, Daniel had obeyed one parent and destroyed the other. After that fateful trip home, he was never able to shake the guilt of what he had done.

In the year after my father left and was never heard from again, my mother began to rely more heavily on Daniel for emotional support. Because Daniel thought he had somehow helped his father to leave, he felt a certain duty to act as her stand-in husband. He came home every weekend. He called every night. He could not tell her at this point he was gay. He was afraid “that would push her over the edge.” My mother “didn’t know gay people existed.”

By now Daniel was pursuing my mother’s dream of going to teacher’s graduate school. But the pressure of his guilt and our mother’s neediness became too great. He began to break down—at first slowly. On visits home, he would spout Biblical references. He said he would become a famous dancer. He felt he could talk with animals. One night, he stayed up all night reading books and believed he had decoded a secret language.

While student teaching the next week, Daniel had his first, and only, psychotic break. He began to tell his teen class about the Bible and that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. They laughed at first, thinking he was joking. But as continued, some students became worried. He led a girl out of the class to speak alone, and they walked past the school grounds to a park. When he told her she was Mary Magdalene, she yelled out to others for help. He was held down until the police came. He was arrested and placed under observation.

Daniel’s recovery

Daniel has no recall of the next two weeks of his life. Thankfully, he was put into a hospital instead of jail. After he was stabilized, the problem became clear to Daniel’s therapists. His family system, and lack of any identity of his own, was causing his pain. Our mother never “got it.” She wanted things to carry on as before. But his discharge plan was very clear: he was to get a low-stress job in a field of his interest, and a lease for his own apartment.

His recovery was, and continues to be, miraculous. Freed from others’ expectations, he got a job selling tickets at a theater and he moved into his first tiny apartment at age 25. From there, he moved to New York and sought work as an actor. He then worked as a talent agent and then formed his own talent agency. He met his life partner. They have been together for nearly 30 years. 

Ironically, 10 years ago he decided to go back into teaching, but this time in a subject he loves: theater. I have seen his fantastic student productions. He brings out gifts in high school students that even they didn’t know they had. When he retires, next year at age 66, he will have experienced a full life; a fantastic life; his life.

And I’m sure that will only be the start of an even more exciting journey.

It has often been said that people define their own recoveries. When we can rid ourselves of others’ expectations about what we need to be, and how to “get better,” we are that much closer to living a healthy life. True recovery is something only we, each of us, can define and create.    

By David Lally, MBS, LCSW, Director, Communication and Policy, Beacon Health Options

Summary

True recovery is something only we, each of us, can define and create.

My brother, Daniel, never wanted to be captain of the high-school wrestling team. He didn’t want to be president of the astronomy club, or a second-string player on the varsity football team, or an honors student (third in his class). He never wanted to date a pretty girl named Julie. He didn’t want to sing solo in the glee club or run for student council. Yet he did all these things because our parents wanted him to.

As their marriage crumbled over the years, it became more important for Daniel to do well and help maintain the mask of a perfect family. He was accepted at an Ivy League college, and made dean’s list his first term. When my father visited him at school and asked him to tell our mother he was leaving her, like every other time in his life, Daniel obeyed. He drove home the next morning to tell her. My father was supposed to call her and back up the message. The phone call never happened. 

Daniel’s breakdown

For the first time, Daniel had obeyed one parent and destroyed the other. After that fateful trip home, he was never able to shake the guilt of what he had done.

In the year after my father left and was never heard from again, my mother began to rely more heavily on Daniel for emotional support. Because Daniel thought he had somehow helped his father to leave, he felt a certain duty to act as her stand-in husband. He came home every weekend. He called every night. He could not tell her at this point he was gay. He was afraid “that would push her over the edge.” My mother “didn’t know gay people existed.”

By now Daniel was pursuing my mother’s dream of going to teacher’s graduate school. But the pressure of his guilt and our mother’s neediness became too great. He began to break down—at first slowly. On visits home, he would spout Biblical references. He said he would become a famous dancer. He felt he could talk with animals. One night, he stayed up all night reading books and believed he had decoded a secret language.

While student teaching the next week, Daniel had his first, and only, psychotic break. He began to tell his teen class about the Bible and that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. They laughed at first, thinking he was joking. But as continued, some students became worried. He led a girl out of the class to speak alone, and they walked past the school grounds to a park. When he told her she was Mary Magdalene, she yelled out to others for help. He was held down until the police came. He was arrested and placed under observation.

Daniel’s recovery

Daniel has no recall of the next two weeks of his life. Thankfully, he was put into a hospital instead of jail. After he was stabilized, the problem became clear to Daniel’s therapists. His family system, and lack of any identity of his own, was causing his pain. Our mother never “got it.” She wanted things to carry on as before. But his discharge plan was very clear: he was to get a low-stress job in a field of his interest, and a lease for his own apartment.

His recovery was, and continues to be, miraculous. Freed from others’ expectations, he got a job selling tickets at a theater and he moved into his first tiny apartment at age 25. From there, he moved to New York and sought work as an actor. He then worked as a talent agent and then formed his own talent agency. He met his life partner. They have been together for nearly 30 years. 

Ironically, 10 years ago he decided to go back into teaching, but this time in a subject he loves: theater. I have seen his fantastic student productions. He brings out gifts in high school students that even they didn’t know they had. When he retires, next year at age 66, he will have experienced a full life; a fantastic life; his life.

And I’m sure that will only be the start of an even more exciting journey.

It has often been said that people define their own recoveries. When we can rid ourselves of others’ expectations about what we need to be, and how to “get better,” we are that much closer to living a healthy life. True recovery is something only we, each of us, can define and create.    

By David Lally, MBS, LCSW, Director, Communication and Policy, Beacon Health Options

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