Hello! Who are you?
My name is Elijah Meason. Currently, I am a certified peer Support Specialist in the State of New Mexico. I am about to marry an amazing woman and as of this moment, my life couldn’t be better.
Because of the struggles I have been through, I have dedicated my life to helping others in similar situations. I am working on obtaining my master's degree and running an organization called MHAPSS that is dedicated to the development of peer support workers everywhere.
Overall, I would say that today, I am happy.
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD and that was on top of having a drug and alcohol addiction that consumed the better part of 16 years.
As for how it all got started, well…
My family life growing up was a little chaotic, to say the least. Drugs and alcohol were common place and I was constantly moving around. That’s not to say that my parents were using in front of me, just that it was fairly obvious as to what was going on.
Because of this, I actually grew up attending AA meetings and was introduced to “recovery” pretty early on. Even so, I would go on to spend 16 years in an alcohol and drug-induced nightmare that almost consumed my life.
Irony at its finest.
I set my world on fire at a young age. Drinking, getting high, and late-night adventures terrorizing the city streets were part of daily life for a long time. How I never got expelled from school is anyone’s guess. Especially considering that I had an ambulance called on me midday during class because of an overdose.
However, my brush with death in front of the entire school did not deter me from continuing to self-destruct. In fact, it only added to my over-the-top ego and made me think I was invincible.
At age 17 my mother took her own life and things went from bad to worse. No longer was I just a teenage rebel looking for thrills, I was running. Running from pain, running from uncertainty, and mostly running from myself.
I no longer wanted to feel so I turned to any chemical I could get my hands on. Heroin, alcohol, and even over-the-counter medications.
You name it, I was on it.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
Every decision I made was dictated by whether or not it would interfere with my drug use. I knew my life was a wreck but what I didn’t know was how much worse it was about to get. I started using a needle and for the next ten years, (queue the music montage) every day was a horrific blur of pain and destruction.
Everything became engulfed in violence, deceit, and loneliness. There were some close calls with my life, countless nights in jail, and people overdosing all around me.
Still, it wasn’t enough. I soon graduated from petty crimes to felonies and I soon found myself on the run, living on the streets of Albuquerque, NM. I felt completely hopeless and that there was no way out of the mess I was in.
Any reasonable person could see that I needed help, but a reasonable person I was not. In fact, things only continued to escalate until finally, the State of New Mexico decided to make that choice for me. I had been on the run for multiple felonies and stealing a candy bar was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Irony, my only friend.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
I quickly realized that I was destined to spend the next few years wearing an orange jumpsuit, with plenty of time to think about what I had done. What I didn’t realize (at the time) was that it was probably saving my life.
As fate would have it, I actually found myself in the company of several men who were trying to turn things around for themselves. To be sure, this isn’t always the typical experience for someone who finds themselves locked up. However, I am eternally grateful that it was for me.
I will be honest and say, in the beginning, I wanted nothing to do with “recovery”. I was stubborn and thought I could manage things on my own. Besides, it had never worked for my mother, why would it work for me?
The way I saw it, recovery was for people who were weak and I didn’t need any of that cheesy nonsense in my life.
I had a heart filled with resentment and rage. More than that, the dark shadow of my past still haunted me, and it was all I could see. However, with nothing but time, I was forced to finally face the demons I had been trying to ignore all those years.
Everything changed with one question, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”. I had to decide, Did I want to hold on to the anger, pain, and hatred that had taken over? Did I want to take this path to the grave? Or was I willing to try something new?
So in that cell, with a scratched-up sink, metal toilet, and cinder block walls, I decided to sit down and for once in my life, listen.
I wanted to be happy.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
I learned mindfulness and meditation first. Although I was skeptical, I figured I had nothing left to lose. Little did I know, I was about to gain everything.
By chance, I found an old book that described Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and started incorporating these new skills into my mindfulness practices.
Overcoming these challenges was no easy task. That being said, I practiced mindfulness and the skills I was learning in everything that I did. More than that, I incorporated tools from CBT such as the ABC tool, cognitive reframing, and keeping a thought record.
Once again, irony steps into my life. All the stuff that I thought was cheesy, useless, and a complete waste of time… It worked.
To say that it worked, I don’t mean that I am cured or that I never have difficult moments. Rather than through mindfulness and the skills from CBT, I am able to manage any symptoms I do experience. I’ve learned to be aware of how my thoughts influence my emotions and catch them before I get carried away.
More than that, I have learned not to run from painful emotions. Mindfulness has allowed me to accept them and feel what I am feeling in the moment. I’ve come to understand that emotions are not the enemy.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
As a peer support worker and future drug and alcohol counselor, I am very open about my struggles. In fact, I have found that the more open I am about all of it, the less power it holds in my life.
Obviously, this approach may not be for everyone. But, I think that speaking our truths is not only our own path to freedom but it helps change the stigma around mental health and addiction. Each time we tell our story, it helps shift the perspective toward empathy and compassion.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
Accepting help was the turning moment in my life and it’s my recommendation for anyone struggling with mental health or addiction challenges.
More importantly, I recommend being open to the process. I’ve realized that sometimes our idea of getting better may be different from how it actually works.
This is what kept me stuck for so many years.
Having a therapist guide you through this process can make it easier to grasp. I’ve realized that now.
One thing to remember.
Just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for another. Finding what works for you is the key to better mental health. Be open to new possibilities and look for wisdom in the most unexpected of places.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
- As far as mindfulness goes, the book that started it all for me was Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness, (And World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan. This book broke things down in a way that was easy to understand. More than that, it was fun. The ideas, concepts, and exercises are presented in such a way that anyone can connect with them.
- For CBT I would recommend the book Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger, Ph.D. This book presents CBT in an accessible way and provides worksheets and explanations to back up what is discussed. It gives a step-by-step process that guides you through the tools needed to change your thinking.
- Alternatively, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic and Worry by Seth Gillihan, is another great book.
That being said, the most important thing is to find what works for you.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
You can learn more about me at one of two places:
- mhapss.com - to learn about me and the work I am doing to help others struggling with mental health and addiction.
- streetsober.com - to read more about my chaotic life in addiction.
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