Living Miracles share their stories
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2005) In a workshop at the Cuyahoga County Mental Health Board’s Roads to Recovery Conference on October 7th in downtown Cleveland, members of the Living Miracles Group, a peer support group that meets six days a week at Bridgeway’s Stricklin Crisis Unit at 8301 Detroit Avenue, shared their personal stories and how their support group has helped in their road to recovery. Members of the peer support group, which meets six days a week at Bridgeway’s Stricklin Crisis Unit at 8301 Detroit Avenue, told how members of their group have helped each other overcome obstacles and crises they face in their journey to recover from mental illness.
Fouad Abadier, a Bridgeway staff member and advisor to Living Miracles Group, said that in 1998 several clients came to him and Bridgeway staff member Monica Z saying they wanted to start a group that would be open to all people with mental illness. The clients were experiencing loneliness and isolation after having been released from the crisis shelter and wanted the support and understanding they had found in group sessions at the shelter.
Abadier and Monica worked with the clients to start the new group in 1999. The group was open to all adults with mental illness – depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other illnesses. He said the group represented a new model centered around the need for clients to socialize after they are out in the community. He said, “we all need to socialize. As people recover from mental illness and plan to participate in life, social activity is a big first step.”
The group, which meets every weekday evening, not only provides a social setting but also helps develop problem-solving skills. By helping each other solve their problems, members learned to solve their own problems, said Abadier. As members’ lives changed for the better, their self esteem increased and their socialization into society at large was eased, he added.
On Saturdays, group members go out together into the community for a social activity such as a picnic or visit to a park. On Sundays group members are encouraged to engage some sort of spiritual activity.
Over the past six years over 600 people have participated in the Living Miracles Group. Nightly meetings average about 30 participants. During each month an average of over one hundred and thirty will participate in the group. Abadier says members can attend whenever they want. Some have gone away for several years and then come back.
Ella Patterson said over her lifetime she witnessed the peace movement and the struggle for women’s and minority rights in the 1960s and 1970s. But she said that despite all the rights that have been won, in the mental health system you have no rights. Having a mental illness since age 15, Patterson says she has experienced shock therapy, group homes, been hospitalized a number of times and has been told by mental health professionals that she would never be able to work or go to school.
“For years, Id had no sense of self worth or confidence. I wanted to be needed, to be part of a whole. I didn’t have a sense of belonging or acceptance.”
Patterson says for the last two and a half years she has enjoyed the acceptance of the Living Miracles Group. During that time period she says she has not been hospitalized or in a crisis shelter. “The group is family,” says Patterson. “I can finally say I belong.” Patterson is now a member of the Cuyahoga Community Mental Health Board working to help change the mental health system. She says now she works part time in a day care center.
William Perez attributed his recovery from mental illness to individuals who helped him out. He publicly thanked fellow group members saying, “People helped me out to be able to spread my wings and fly.”
Kaitlyn Beckwith, who has been part of the group from the beginning, says group members helped her and encouraged her as she struggled with chronic fatigue. She shared with the group line from a movie Abadier often shows to the group. In the movie a man is talking to God asking for a miracle. God tells the man, “If you need a miracle, be a miracle.” Beckwith said to Abadier of the movie, “That has so impacted my life. I know it by heart.” The movie had also impacted the lives of other group members and spurred the group to name itself “The Living Miracles.”
Beckwith said members of the group are living miracles “we each give to each other, and each receive from each other.”
Richard Folbert said before he came to the group he was self-centered and that “a psychotic fear of trusting others governed most actions.” He said he was extremely abrasive towards others and had difficulty in all his relationships.
Folbert says he now has embraces the group’s motto, “Respect Others, Accept Responsibility.” He says, ‘Respect for my own well being arrived hand-in-hand from respecting other people’s feelings, beliefs and community.”
Folbert says “Belonging to this group has helped spiritually and emotionally opening further doors of opportunity” He noted that the Living Miracle Group has taken a roll in helping to train Cleveland Police Officers by advocating attention for the special needs of mental health consumers. Members have participated in meetings of the Cuyahoga Community Mental Health Board.
Folbert summed up his interpretation of the group’s motto in the statement, “always return the help that one receives, and if possible enhance it.”
For more information about the Living Miracles Group call 440-390-8859 or e-mail Thelivingmiracles@Bridgewayinc.org
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