Peers create their own solutions

by Steve Bringe

Unintentionally finding myself involved in behavioral health peer advocacy illuminated a universal truth:


It’s not enough to point out what’s wrong. As peers we must create own our solutions because no one else is going to do it for us.


It’s been an advocacy guiding principle for me and it’s been working out just fine.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Guilt won’t save me. Guilt gives me reason to let go.

by Steve Bringe

I have no fondness for this sentiment. To wit, I firmly believe this sentiment is irresponsible and dangerous to peers at the brink of killing themselves.

If ever you’ve been suicidal you’ll quickly empathize. If not, then perhaps shared insight can help you understand.

You see, when I’m at my worst and suicidal, and already feeling worthless and underserving of love, a burden upon my loved ones with a mind lying to me with artificial thoughts like “They’re better off without me,” this sentiment only proves my point to my diseased mind.


Suicide doesn’t take away the pain. It gives it to someone else.


Guilt won’t save me. Guilt gives me reason to let go.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

The words and guidance of Dr. Chris Morris are a cornerstone to my peer advocacy

This is an important photo in my recovery journey and the advocacy stuff I do.

Taken at Behavioral Health Day at the New Mexico State Capitol Building (aka “The Roundhouse”) in 2012, this was my first full term as president of DBSA Albuquerque. The photo is of me (obviously) and Dr. Chris Morris, then with Optum Health.

DBSA Albuquerque had a table for the event and Chris dropped by to say hi. When the crowd thinned out a bit, Chris asked to have a private word with me.

By this point early on in peer advocacy, I was fairly well-networked and fairly well-known as a peer advocate. And, it was already a thing I was torquing off prominent stakeholders who’d been in the community much longer than the two years I’d been around.

So Chris pulled me aside and said, “Steve, you know you’re making people mad and upset, right?”

Sadly, I knew this. And it was a mystery as to why.

Chris then said, “Why should anyone be mad at you? What are you doing wrong? You create new support groups, you hold peer focus groups for advisement, you bring peers to meetings so they can have a direct voice, you set up peer education events, you write opinion pieces and letters to anyone you feel can help peers, you hold community education developed and presented by peers. Why should anyone be angry with you? You’re not doing anything but trying to help peers be empowered.

“This is the reason: You are threatening people’s power, money, or both. You are outside their influence and they can’t control you. This is why people are angry with you.”

Wow. A bit of a gut-punch to hear that. I really was naive early on.

Chris then offered advice which is a cornerstone to how I approach advocacy to this day. Chris said this:

“Don’t stop doing things your way. If you do, then you’ll put yourself where others can control you … and stop you.”

These words mean everything to me and are a constant reminder to keep straight on what my friends are saying and the goals I hope to accomplish. Chris’ words are also a reminder of how limiting bureaucracy is and how building new, novel solutions to peer needs is more efficient and successful than trying to fix broken systems.

Chris’ words also guided me to the very foundation of how I view behavioral health advocacy:

The enemy of innovation is asking for permission.

And, yes, I still piss people off. And, yes, people still try to stop me.

Dr. Chris Morris is a hero of mine. With complete sincerity. Thank you, Chris.

The quirky, unpredicted, amusing, and heartwarming meteoric rise of Dr. Drew

Articles such as this, where Dr. Drew Pinsky is a lauded medical celebrity, are a quirky lineage of “Way Back In My Day” and “Who Could’ve Predicted This?”

Dr. Drew: We have to treat mental illness to fix homelessness

I remember when Dr. Drew, a surgeon, was invited onto the radio show Love Line hosted by Jim “The Poorman” Trenton on KROQ 106.7 FM out of Pasadena, California. This was in the mid-80s and Love Line was worth staying up until midnight on Sunday and risking detention for passing out asleep during chemistry and setting the lab ablaze through unmonitored exothermic faux pas easily avoided had I remained awake. Totally worth it.

Love Line had mainly teens calling in to talk about their romantic struggles.

  • Guy thinks I’m ugly and it’s breaking my heart.
  • Do I masturbate in the locker room too much (always “yes”)?
  • My boyfriend found out I’m dating his dad’s mother’s uncle.

Poorman and whoever he had guesting – usually band members – had fun with the callers, essentially a real time tongue in cheek Dear Abby.

The show grew in popularity and callers began bringing up topics like pregnancy, STDs, birth control, etc. The show started becoming a venue to get medical information and (limited) advice. Poorman and friends couldn’t field these topics, so KROQ brought in Dr. Drew.

Love Line hosted by Poorman on KROQ 106.7 FM in the mid-80s … this is where Dr. Drew got his start as a medical guru media celebrity.

It’s a quirky lineage from the 80s to here and now, so articles like this where Dr. Drew is revered as a social-medical advisory icon are tempered by my high school Sunday night ritual of listening to Love Line on my clock radio until midnight. It’s amusing and heartwarming seeing Dr. Drew as a trusted and influential voice of medical advocacy, thinking back on his humble beginnings as a surgeon brought on to a Sunday late night radio show to answer teen questions about crabs.


Epilogue: Truth. I did set the chemistry lab aflame falling asleep after listening to Love Line the night before. The statute of limitatons is long past so I’m golden talking about this freely. In the immortal words of MC Hammer:

“Where did all my money go?”

Also:

“Can’t touch this.”

Reprinted with kind permission of
Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

How just another behavioral health meeting opened my eyes and my heart

During my short tenure on the NAMI Albuquerque board, the one project I worked on was Community Engagement Teams (CET). The idea behind CET was if a family member, neighbor, friend, etc. believes a peer might benefit from services, they can request a CET visit with a peer and offer help locating services, before the peer falls into crisis. As I liked to call it, “Catching us up river before we hit the rapids.” CET could be the conduit to services.

I saw a secondary purpose for CET. I remember when I first was divorced. I had no idea where to get help, and I really wanted to keep my treatment going and didn’t know how, or even where to start. The ex-wife was the person who helped me with this. In my struggles to get help, I really could have used a clearing house for info on and direction to services. CET could be the conduit to services for peers who want to catch themselves up river.

For several legislative sessions a state CET bill failed to become law. The best chance it had didn’t come through because the governor vetoed the bill, on the grounds the service should be in HSD (Human Services Department) and not DOH (Department of Health). Drats.

After the bill was vetoed, a small group of us went a different way. We decided to ask for the blessing of HSD to develop and implement a pilot project in Bernalillo County. The two people I worked with closely were Jim Ogle and Nils Rosenbaum. We all came to the table with distinct perspectives on how CET could be useful.

We had several meetings in Santa Fe with HSD to lay out our ideas for the pilot project. For one middling meeting, two representatives from the City of Roswell asked to attend. Their names I can’t remember. Their faces I do. One worked directly with their mayor, the other was a peer who was there to describe what mental services were available to them. This peer was a revolving door peer at their detention center … jail. This was the only mental health service in Roswell. Literally.

Mistakenly, these two representatives believed that CET was a fully realized program with funding. They were attending to speak of their community’s needs and secure funding. If CET funding was dedicated to Roswell, this would bring providers and services to Roswell to support CET. Sadly, this wasn’t going to be available.

I’ve been at a few hundred behavioral health meetings in the last decade. This meeting I remember because of what the mayor’s rep said.

“I’m supposed to be going home with hope. I was supposed to bring services to Roswell. What do I tell them now?”

He said this through tears.

Of all the behavioral health meetings I attended, this one meeting exemplifies the critical need for services around our state and how the programs and funding do not exist. And Roswell is not a tiny railroad town. It’s one of the largest cities in southeast New Mexico.

More and more, the issue I see that is impeding health care availability in New Mexico is funding. There are so many great, innovative solutions already planned for addressing the needs of frontier services, but without money it’s just talk.

Having an active and funded CET program to share with other needful New Mexico communities woukd have been … just grwat. I teared up big time at this meeting, and meeting that proves New Mexico social are dangerously underfunded. The coffers run in the red. And, newly identified peers with specific needd aren’t addressed because it’s a lot of money to develop brans new services.

We need money. The reality is New Mexico is one of poorest (financially poorest – we are rich in community and culture) states in the union year after year. A main primary solution is to identify services peers don’t use and don’t want and eliminate these to fund the useful needs of peers. Based on our peer focus groups, I can name five of these progeans right here in Albuquerqhe. Another solutionn is to look at novel funding otberwise untapped. I’ll be sharong more on this after beta-testing with STS funding. And where it comes to government funded social services, we need to get out of the cycle of increnentally taxing the existing pie more and morr year after year We must make our tax pie larger.

The CET meeting opened my eyes and my heart to realities outside my day to day life. And very directly, I find these realities unacceptable and, thankfully, only temporary. I have a few ideas.

Community Awareness Conversation: Deconstructing Behavioral Health Non-profit Corporations – Prologue

A peer advocacy project I’m taking on this year is more of a community awareness conversation than an actual advocacy project. What I want to share is a deconstruction of non-profit corporations (501c3) and how the idea of a non-profit is misconstrued as all donations (or most) go to charitable community projects. This just isn’t the case and it’s a misconception nurtured by several non-profits to mask a branding and income-generating machine.

Many of you know I was president of DBSA Albuquerque for seven years. We did a lot of really great things for our community – as volunteers – for which DBSA National gained respect and noteriety in New Mexico. The accolades rightly belong to our peers and our community and not an organization in Chicago that never finacially supported our local projects in any way.

Financials get people’s attention. Let me give you some quick rough numbers on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance that our former treasurer researched last year. There are about 700 DBSA chapters (the majority are 100% staffed by unpaid volunteers) and each chapter pays a $120 affiliation fee yearly to use the DBSA brand.

This adds up to $84,000 from annual affiliation fees.

Now, here are the numbers our treasurer found in his research:

  • The DBSA organization is worth $89 million.
  • The DBSA head-honco is paid $9 million a year.
  • This head-honcho has access to annual travel funds in the tens of thousands of dollars.

$84,000 versus $89 million.

Not once in my seven years as president did DBSA National fund any local projects. We requested an inter-organizational grant each year to simply cover the cost of support group venue rental costs.

Most people in Albuquerque, if asked what DBSA is, have the impression the ENTIRE ORGANIZATION is a volunteer peer group providing peer support groups for free.

This misconception is one main reason we brought our peer support groups to the local community, adding the groups along side our existing Stand Up To Stigma education programs. All of what we do remains free to the community. We receive funding in more transparent and honest ways. And we’re open with our plan to pay peers for giving presentations, facilitating support groups, and taking part in community advisement. Our time has value and not simply “doing good is its own reward.”

This is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” and our research includes many more behavioral health non-profits. This is an ongoing community awareness conversation we’ll be detailing this year.

A final note for this prologue. For my entire tenure as DBSA Albuquerque president, each year I invited a representative from DBSA National to visit us, to put a face on our affiliated parent organization in Chicago. From what I gathered from peers who have been attendees at DBSA Albuquerque since as long ago as the 1990s, no one can recall meeting anyone from DBSA National.

Each year, DBSA National was thrilled receiving our invitation. I was quoted the speaker fee plus expenses.

This is an ongoing community awareness conversation.


Slander & Libel Concerns

A colleague who reviewed this article asked/warned me, “Aren’t you afraid DBSA National will sue you to get you to shut up?”

Absolutely I’m afraid. I don’t have the backing of $89 million for attorney fees. And, I’ve already been threatened by DBSA National in a way that violates the First and Thirteenth Amendments.

So, yes, I’m very concerned. If it cones to civil litigation, hopefully folks will understand it’s merely a large organization bullying a peer advvocate striving for peers to be valued and justly compensated for their value.

What’s it like being crazy?

What’s it like being a peer?

I was asked this question today, less delicately, as “What’s it like being crazy?”

As a peer, I live this as my normality and have done so since I started having symptoms as a teen. So, that’s my basis of comparison, before and after, and this makes it easy to answer what it’s like being crazy.

For years, I could depend on knowing right from wrong, true from false, real from unreal.

Then, I couldn’t at times because a newly malfunctioning brain began lying to me.

Worse, I couldn’t tell my brain was lying. It refused to let me.

Now, I live with always the glimmer that what I’m perceiving might be wrong, false, and unreal. And I wouldn’t know it.

The real question is:


What’s it like not fully trusting your own brain?


There’s your answer as to what it’s like to be crazy.

The challenge of helping fellow peers understand saying “NO MEANS NO!” is the same as saying “Self-Care First.”

I tried to make myself dead a couple weeks ago. However, that’s not really want I want to talk about.

For the past few months a peer has insisted on confronting me about “issues and concerns” she had about me. When I plainly stated my mental health was not in a solid enough place to take on this sort of conversation, her reply was, “Well, let’s give it a try and see where it goes.” I flatly declined to do so, repeating my mental health was my prioirity.

Similarly, at a STS peer support group this year, I had a peer member call me out on expressing my difficulties and challenges. He said, “I’m very uncomfortable, Steve. You’re supposed to be our rock. I don’t think you’re being appropriate.”

The spectre of this demand upon me loomed with everpresence. My ex-gf even pressured me, saying “If you don’t talk to her, you’re going to lose her. You’re strong enough.”

Of course I have strength. I am very proud of myself for my strength. And at this time in my recovery journey, all my strength is dedicated to my wellness. I’ve made this absolutely clear.

Something I’ve recognized over time is there is a misconception I have “my shit together” at all times and in all ways. Proudly, I do carry myself well and present well. I believe people’s misconception comes from the success I have “wearing the mask” to function in society, especially when feeling kind of rough. It’s a fair assumption considering.

Yet, it’s exhausting when already exhausted. What I find most draining and disheartening is not when a Muggle says something like “You should think happy thoughts” or “Have you tried not being depressed”, it’s when peers are imposing upon me prioritizing my mental health and feel an entitlement to encroach upon – or even violate – my explicit boundary of “self-care first.” It’s exhausting.

Fellow peers not listening to my plea of “NO MEANS NO” is a pressure that depletes me and breaks my heart. I take it very seriously and very personally.

Trying to precisely define my emotions borne of peers expecting more of me than I have the strength to muster brings up feelings of hurt, disappointment, anger, weariness, exhaustion, loneliness…

If really expressing myself honestly, my emotions are a great swell of betrayal and abandonment. Betrayed and abandoned is how I feel.

These are my emotions to own and I’m confident I’ll learn ways to successfully manage the resultant symptoms. Still, it sucks feeling this way.

It’s been full-on difficult the past two months. I pushed myself harder than healthy (a constant failing of mine), my med regimen of seven years is losing efficacy, I’m not managing the symptoms of CPTSD very successfully (thank you, Susan, Paula, and MHRAC for this Disneyland of turmoil), and the holidays are simply emotionally defeating since losing my Mom in 2011.

All said, I made a best effort at killing myself two weeks ago. First time in over seven years. I’m here typing this so apparently I suck at suicide.

It’s important to know I firmly stand that it’s bipolar that led me to the (foolish) decision to try to be dead. There are always contributing stressors reinforcing mu brain’s capacity to lie me. It’s my malfunctioning brain lying to me that’s at fault and nothing else.

One crucial element for me, moving onward, is building upon learning how to express myself explicitly when I’m in crisis and learning how to ask my support network for help before the crisis turns deadly… and hoping they’ll understand the severity when I ask. It’s tough to see my distress behind the mask and it’s my responsibilty to reach out make myself understood. Pride is deadly sin for a reason.

Even more crucial is being very clear “NO MEANS NO” and not taking “No, I won’t respect your boundary, I won’t respect your health, and I won’t respect you” for an answer.

My Dad is here to help keep me alive day to day while I work with Deb on new meds, while I confer with my new therapist exploring the wonder of how much CPTSD manifests itself during my daily existence, and while I draw upon DBT skills as strongly as possible.

As for STS peer support groups, although being called out as “uncomfortable” to the group (no member disagreed) was a tough nut to chew, it is fair and useful feedback. We’re no longer a small cog in the bigger DBSA machine. As the founder and proprietor of STS there are different expectations of me and it’s very kind and generous for the members to help me understand this. I’m honored we have a community of trust where members feel safe enough to express their needs to me.

And, to close off, I’m doing much better thanks in large part to friends who are there when I (finally) ask for help.

Song Motivation to Show You The Way through Peer Support

By Patrick Byers-Smith

Back in 2005 Rich Ward of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy had released a solo album under the alias The Duke,  entitled “My Kung Fu Is Good.” Unfortunately many radio stations, here in New Mexico overlooked this album,  as one of our CPSWs (Certified Peer Support Worker) used to work with his label at the time.

That CPSW being Patrick Byers-Smith. ” A lot of  music industry people have done peer support for each other, before becoming recognized. Too many of my musiciansare often uninsured and can’t make copays to see a therapist. This song is dedicated to you brothers and sisters. This is one of my motivations to do Peer Work and gets me motivated to start my day. It’s called Show You The Way by The Duke.Recovery Is Possible!”

World AIDS Day…and what that means to me…

World AIDS Day…and what that means to me…

During the crisis in the 80s I was in junior high and high school. I watched the news with my parents every day as they exploited the dying calling them an abomination to God, and saying they were deserving of their suffering because they were gay.

I watched as it was used as a political platform to prove the “Christianity” of the candidate(s).

I remember as a young adult first realizing what hate and marginalization of people really meant. I remember my heart breaking when I understood how unfair and ugly this world really is. People were literally leaving loved ones in the morgue, refusing to accept their bodies because they had a “gay disease” and didn’t even deserve to be properly laid to rest.

So on this day I remember, and send my love to all those of my generation who lost their lives to this disease. We lost (almost) an ENTIRE generation of strong, caring, humans.

And I especially send out love to my dear friend Bunnie Benton Cruse who spent every waking hour doing anything and everything she could to lay those to rest who were rejected and left alone by their families.

– Bethany Brehm Anderson