December Newsletter
Hi Everyone-

For those that don't know who I am, my name is Latosha Taylor.
I am a trauma and psychiatric survivor who has transformed my lived experience into a passion for building community-based approaches to support others to find value in their experiences. I helped to build the only non-profit organization in Arkansas, PERC. In January 2016, I ended up making the painful decision to leave the battle to my fellow peers in Arkansas. I took a leap of faith and moved to Connecticut, where there was an already well-established peer movement that I could immerse myself into in the effort to continue to have the support I needed in my own recovery. I am now a Recovery Support Specialist that is working as an Advocacy Educator and Community Outreach Coordinator for Advocacy Unlimited. The past three years I have resided in Middletown with my son, Javian and daughter, Kiauna. I have presented in several national conferences on the diverse roles of peer support and am currently helping to provide TA assistance through the Recovery Support Learning Collaborative to help mental health care providers integrate the peer role into their agencies. I sit on the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery Board of Directors and serve on several committees throughout the State of Connecticut that focus on policy changes to ensure better recovery services for people in my communities. I am so excited to be creating the Newsletter for you going forward. --Latosha
The Bridge
           
Today I was asked about the meaning of life. Thinking about the world, it’s plain to see the paradox of the modern age: we have more opportunities for connection but feel more isolated than ever before. When I reflect on this, the question that arises in my heart is: How do we connect to one another? And, perhaps more importantly, how can we feel more connected to one another?
       
This whole culture of isolation might be the product of social media and technology, or it could be a product of us looking outside of ourselves to help when we should be looking within to heal. It really doesn't matter how we got to this point; the only thing that matters is that we — me, you, us — find our way out. 
           
As a child, I went through a lot of trauma and physical abuse. This experience led me into dark depression, where a dwelled for many years. I sought advice and insight from therapists and psychiatrists, and they would ask me questions like: How are you doing? What’s wrong? These kinds of questions made me feel like I was broken; like I needed to be fixed. Overall, this kind of professional attention just compounded and deepened my depression. I eventually found my way to drugs and for the first time, I felt like there was a solution, a way to get out of my head. Deep down I just wanted to feel a part of something. Addiction helped me ignore that longing so I could get through each day.
           
All I felt throughout my years of addiction was either escape or depression. Here and there, I would attempt to get clean, but sobriety always came with feelings of isolation and loneliness. My internal dialogue had a running theme: "I'm just not worth anything. Change is impossible. No one can relate to me. No one feels what I feel. None of you will never understand." This was my pain and I grew to cherish it. No one was going to take it from me.

Being a lone wolf, I thought I could figure it out in a vacuum. My ego, "The great ‘I am’", told me “You’re different from the rest of the world.” I found labels and stereotypes for everyone around me, writing other people off. This process built walls which protected me/ protected me from what, you ask? From relating, from connecting, from growing, from letting the pain out, and from letting love in. The irony was that what I had built to protect me was killing me.
           
It was about 3 years ago when I began to notice a shift. I was living at a rehab, struggling with depression, not for the first time. A man named Corrie came up to me, and instead of asking me how I was doing, he let me know where he had felt scared in life — where he hurt and where he had caused pain. He would say things like "I’m not perfect, I’m human". Simply, he spoke from the heart.  
           
This idea, of just being real and vulnerable, was unlike anything I had experienced before. It spoke to a part of me I hadn't felt in year: my heart. The heart aims to love, to heal, to feel connected, to thrive, but can’t do so if it is being held captive. We have to free it from the baggage the body and mind have collected and endured. 
           
By exposing his scars and his pain, Corrie built a bridge to my pain. It was through this connection that: for the very first time since my childhood trauma, I saw a way out. And not only did this newfound bridge give me a way out; it allowed me to let someone cross over to me…and let them in. Through the practice of releasing our deepest pain to one another, we form true bonds, and real strength. Some people’s walls are taller and thicker than others (mine sure were) but with patience and persistence, eventually every heart can and will open.
          
Over time, my internal dialogue began to change. Questions like, "How do I get to a place within that is whole, thriving, and feeling connected to others?" The answer to that question is, to me, the meaning of life, and it’s led me on a path to break free from my ego.
         
My hope is that by exposing our vulnerabilities and our humanness, we will see beyond the ego's endless appetite for superficiality: separating labels, titles, statuses, preferences, backgrounds, etc. That we can see beyond the judgements, and come to a place of knowing that we have all experienced a range of emotions and we all have the same capacity to suffer. We are all just human and we’re not so different after all.
          
It is through this language of the heart that we will see these connections and break out from our within isolating walls.
           
We are more than the words our egos speak, so let us expose our humanness and pursue ways to not just know, but to feel our human connection.
 
It's time, my friends, to build bridges.
 
Sincerely,
Michael Alan Thompson
 
Latosha Taylor l Advocacy Unlimited