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Our own backyard: Personal stories of mental illness, recovery

Herald Democrat - 2/28/2020

Three Texoma residents took time last week to catch officials and conference attendees up on their progress since the last Community Behavioral Health Conference. Speakers gave video updates on their lives dealing with issues ranging from alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder to growing up with autism in a portion of the conference titled, "Our Own Backyard."

All three speakers were a part of the 2018 conference and have given an update each year on their progress

Texoma residents gave updates on their personal fights with mental illness and substance abuse this week during the fourth annual Community Behavioral Health Conference.

Six years

For Lisa Shields, 2019 proved to be a good but challenging year in her fight against alcoholism. This past fall marked her sixth year of sobriety after years of using alcohol to self-medicate against underlying anxiety and panic attacks.

Due to health issues, Shields said she felt the temptation to return back to old habits as a way of coping. However, Shields said she was able to stay sober.

"The last year was very trying for me in my sobriety because I suffered from a lot of physical ailments and was going through a lot of health issues," she said. "The old ways of thinking wanted to creep in. Getting rid of all the stress and anxiety would have been to grab the bottle, but because I was delivered six years ago, it wasn't a path I wanted to go down."

Shields previously said she has suffered from anxiety for most of her life, but issues began to increase in early adulthood. Alcohol became a source of comfort when medication ceased to work.

Shields previously said she was likely working against the medicine as alcohol is a natural depressant.

"I noticed after my first drink in high school that it was something that eased the panic and anxiety quickly," she said.

Shields's alcoholism relapsed following the birth of her first child and the follow postpartum depression. To cope, She began to drink "daily, all day, every day, all night."

"Wine and beer turned to vodka and I was totally oblivious," she said in 2018. "I was slowly but surely killing myself and I simply didn't care."

As her addiction continued to escalate, Shields was asked by her employer to take a leave of absence to address her addiction, which had crept into the workplace. That night, she went home and drank herself sick.

When she woke up the next day, she started to go through her normal routine and went to the bathroom and grabbed a bottle of vodka. As she looked into the mirror, she had a realization.

"I heard the still small voice say, 'If you drink that, you will die today,'" she said in 2018.

It was this day in late 2013 that she went to the ER for help and was put into sedation detox.

Despite being sober for more than half a decade, Shields said she is still cautious about falling back on old habits.

"I don't feel the temptation, but I am not dumb enough to think it isn't there," she said.

A changing role

For Colt Floyd, his fight with PTSD and alcoholism have allowed him the perspective to reach out and help those coming from a similar background.

Floyd was the first person to enroll and graduate from the Grayson County Veterans Court program following a series of arrests for driving while intoxicated. Following his success in the program, Floyd was asked to help work in the program as a case manager.

"Once I did address it (alcoholism) and make myself transparent of the problem going on, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said in 2018.

During his 12 years, and two deployments, in the United States Army, Floyd was involved in about 450 fire fights over a 300-day period. In addition to the firefights, Floyd had 10 blast exposures and was involved in an ambush that left his unit with a fatality and multiple soldiers that needed to be evacuated due to injury.

"We mourn the brothers and sisters that we lost on that deployment, but you have to find a way in this life to celebrate their lives," he said.

Upon returning from the military, Floyd said he began to withdraw and drink more heavily. In social situations, the drinking would help mask anxiety from loud noises and the crowds, he said.

After nearly a year and a half with the veterans program, Floyd said he is working with a new program referred to as VALOR -- Veterans Accessing Lifelong Opportunities for Rehabilitation. Similar to the veterans program, VALOR will allow those in the program to seek treatment, but while in custody.

Continuing Education

For Jake Thornton, the last year saw him move from a goal of graduating from Grayson College with an associate's degree to continuing his education at a larger university.

"I am actually proud of myself that I have the privilege to go to a small college and now graduate with my associates degree in computer science and networking," he said.

For the past two years, Thornton has spoken about living with autism and how it affects his life. Thornton was diagnosed with autism at the age of four, later than most diagnosed cases, and was mostly non-verbal and had sensory issues. Since that time, Thornton went through speech, physical, occupational and touch therapies to address some of his difficulties.

In high school Thornton found a love for the sport of running and has since run dozens of races, including two marathons despite the sensory issues that come with the sport.


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