Michael Phelps was 15 years old at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. It was there that he set his first world record. Since then, he’s won 22 medals — 18 of them gold. As the most decorated Olympian of all time, he has reached some of the highest heights possible for any athlete.
But, he’s also reached some of the lowest lows. In his recent, nearly 30 minute interview with NBC Sports’ Bob Costas, he describes in some detail his struggles outside of the pool with alcohol, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Midway through his interview with NBC Sports’ Bob Costas, Phelps said,
“I went through this process where we tried to connect with our inner child, and I had so many vivid memories of me at the age of 7, 8, 9… I think it was kind of cool to realize, the kid is still gonna come out in us, and that’s who we really are… Once we brought all of that stuff out, I literally felt like a new person.”
The Survivors Workshop — the same one Phelps went through as an inpatient at The Meadows—is available to anyone interested in uncovering how their early childhood experiences affect their day-to-day lives. Participants in the Survivors workshop get a chance to process and release the negative messages and emotions that are rooted in painful past experiences allowing them the freedom to embody their authentic selves.
For more information call 800-244-4949 or contact us online.
America in the late Summer and early Fall. Among the sounds of lawn sprinklers, children laughing and playing outside, and bees buzzing by, you can often hear…
“Let’s Go, Guys!”
“We Got This!”
“C’mon you idiot, what the [redacted] are you doing?!”
…being shouted from living rooms all across the land.
Football is back.
And, this year, the shouting and celebration will likely start even earlier, as millions tune to watch the Summer Olympic Games in Rio beginning August 5.
In 2015, NFL games made up 45 of 50 most-watched TV shows in the fall season. And, the Summer Olympics, which only take place every four years, are also sure to draw in similar numbers of viewers. It’s plain to see that there’s something about athletics that deeply resonates with many people.
Although each sports fan probably has his or her own personal reasons for loving their game, there are some common cultural touchstones across the (score)board. In these intense match-ups between opponents, we see stories of people finding and exceeding their limits, working through pain and injury, and falling down and getting back up. Many of us probably see parallels between these stories and our day-to-day lives.
As we watch our athlete-heroes sprint, tackle, throw, hit, cycle, swim with incredible speed, strength, and agility, they may appear to us to be invincible—maybe even superhuman. But, the truth is that outside of the arena, many athletes struggle with the same kinds of feelings and impulses we all do; many even battle mental disorders and addictions.
“In sports, there’s a lot of people out there suffering and they don’t even know it. That’s because they can’t identify with mental illness. These people just feel like they’re just having a bad day or that it’s just weakness,” says New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall in 2015 article for theguardian.com. Marshall was diagnosed with a personality disorder in 2010 and now advocates for others struggling with mental illness through his Project 375 Foundation.
For some athletes, their sport becomes a smoke screen that hides deeply rooted trauma and behavioral health issues. And, the higher the level an athlete reaches, the less likely they are to ask for help. Mental illness is often wrongly associated with weakness, and weakness is a trait that is unacceptable to most athletes. It’s also often unacceptable to their coaches and their fans, which makes talking about the problem even harder.
Elite and professional athletes like Brandon Marshall and Michael Phelps, who has also recently come forward to public discuss his own mental health struggles, are playing a critical role in helping to break the stigma surrounding mental illness in the sports community and in our society at large.
Even though ultimately, athletes are responsible for their own performance in the arena, they don’t get there without help. Coaches, trainers, managers, agents, family, and friends all play a role in helping them develop the skills and the get the support they need to reach their full potential. Why can’t we start to look at treatment for mental illness the same way?
If there’s an addiction, a mood disorder, or a personality disorder that’s holding you back, you don’t have to feel ashamed and you don’t have to be afraid to reach out. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. In fact, speaking out in an environment where you fear you will not be well-received is the opposite of weak—it takes real guts and courage. And, you might be surprised by how people react. Once he came forward, other people in the league starting speaking out about their own struggles and asked him where to turn for help.
Treatment programs, like the ones we offer at The Meadows, are designed to help you heal your hidden emotional injuries, and practice and develop skills for moving forward with your life and reach your full potential. Don’t get sidelined by mental illness. Give us a call today and get back in the game, at 800-244-4949.
Spending time in treatment is something many people don’t want to talk about. And, understandably so—There is, unfortunately, still a stigma often attached to those who struggle with addiction or mental health issues and ask for help. This can be especially true among those who are considered “high achievers.” Executives, entrepreneurs, successful entertainers, and elite athletes all tend to fall within this group.
So, it’s quite remarkable that, since early Spring, Olympic gold medalist and swimming superstar Michael Phelps has been talking very openly and candidly about his emotional difficulties and the treatment he received for them.
In an article recently featured in ESPN The Magazine, Phelps said, "I didn't give a s---, I had no self-esteem. No self-worth. I thought the world would just be better off without me. I figured that was the best thing to do—just end my life."
This mindset is where Phelps was just a couple of years ago. Rock bottom. And, yet, somehow, he went from there to, just a few weeks ago, placing first in the 200m butterfly during the Olympic swimming trials with a time only three seconds shy of his 2009 world record and qualifying for his fifth U.S. Olympic team. It’s a remarkable story of how showing humility and courage in the face of trauma and pain can help anyone make a personal comeback.
We can’t wait to hear more of Michael Phelps’ comeback story in his upcoming segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter. It’s set to air July 31, 2016 at 11:30 a.m. EST. We’ll be tuning in here at The Meadows and cheering on Michaels’ comeback to the pool, and to his new life.
By Nancy Minister, Therapist, Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows
If you have ever done any work at The Meadows—either in an inpatient program or in our Survivors I workshop — you likely have had some experience getting in touch with your inner child.
So, how is that young part of yourself right now?
Go ahead: close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Feel that child’s energy.
Are they content? Restless? Sad? Scared?
Experience the warmth and love that you have for him or her in your body. Take a moment to provide for their needs, which could include anything from reassurance to a promise to go for a walk later.
Your child may need for you to go ahead and feel any feelings of fear, pain, or shame so that you can get in touch of where those feelings are coming from and address them.
One of my favorite things about facilitating the Survivors II Workshop at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows is helping folks to revisit their relationships with their inner children. The child part of themselves that they rescued in Survivors I probably feels happy, safe, and loved; but, it may be helpful for that person to also connect with an inner child from a different time. Having gained a greater sense of themselves, they are often ready for more trauma work.
Sometimes people return to The Meadows for Survivors II to address adult issues such as ongoing or past relationship problems, traumatic experiences, or addictions. Often, they need another layer of healing from childhood abuse or relational trauma.
Because of my passion for inner child work, any way you slice it, the Survivors II workshop is going to include some connection with that inner child. Yours could be a fearful, sad, and wounded child or an adapted child that is rebellious, angry, or shut down.
By checking in with your inner child in a deeper way, you can learn more about the wounding—the feeling energy and the messages that you still hold inside. Often, the connection people make with their inner children is very sweet.
We use various modalities to get in touch with the underlying source of the issues that people come to address. For example, your homework at the end of the day might be an inventory, a letter, a collage or other art project. The aim of the homework is usually to get in touch with your underlying feelings and the age at which your trauma issue underneath those feelings was set up. Rescuing the child and releasing the feeling energy tends to bring much-welcomed relief. It’s fun for me to be creative and match the homework with the person’s goal for the week.
I have had this blog post in my mind for a few months now, but my own inner girl has not been happy with the idea of me writing a blog. She is scared, having had some social trauma as a teen. Even as those fears come up, I breathe and allow my functional adult to affirm that I have boundaries and I can protect myself (and her). What do I need protection from? It turns out it is my own thoughts that “make-up” all kinds of crazy things about betrayal, judgment, and shame.
What is truly exciting about this work is that it is validated by neuroscience. We hold relational and survival experiences in our limbic brain in the form of implicit, procedural memories. When we go back in time and access the feelings and experiences of hurting, neediness, abandonment, rejection, fear, or worthlessness, we are retrieving them from that part of our brain.
As we heal by letting go of the feeling energy and then re-parenting that child part, we literally change the neuropathways in our brain. Focused attention on loving that child part of yourself creates new neuropathways. This means creating a felt experience of warmth, love, protection, even physical nurturing by—yes—hugging a pillow.
So, check in again… How is your inner kiddo right now? If you’re finding that he or she could use a little extra nurturing, it might be time to join me for the Survivors II workshop. For more details, call 800-244-4949 or contact us through the Rio Retreat Center website.
By Jean Collins-Stuckert, Clinical Director at The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows
As we were walking thru Croix-de-Bouquets, a metal workers village outside Port Au Prince where artisans transform used oil drums into beautiful art, I came across a metal sign that said “Haiti Rising.” It stays with me. Haiti is rising but struggling to get on her feet. Already one of the world’s poorest countries, it is fraught with corruption, poor healthcare, and poor educational systems. All of this was compounded by an earthquake in 2010 which claimed a quarter of a million lives. Six years later, the country is still struggling to recover.
The Meadows recently sent a handful of professionals to Haiti to present current information on trauma and addiction at a conference in Port Au Prince. The Meadows partnered with the University of Notre Dame and sponsored the conference on Psychotherapy and Spirituality. I was fortunate to be selected among many volunteers to join this well-appointed group.
It was my first experience in a third world country. I was stunned, vacillating between being on the verge of tears to feeling detached. It was too much to take in at times. It has taken me awhile to sort out my conflicted feelings about this divergent country.
Haiti is a contradiction. It is so close—only a one and a half hour flight from the U.S.—but so far away. Haiti is a dichotomy of crushing poverty and amazing resilience.
Rising out of the rubble in Haiti are fierce heroes and sheroes making a difference on both a large and small scale. There are dynamic leaders on the ground, selflessly working to develop amazing organizations. Nancy Sobel, for example, founded the Global Adolescent Project (GAP) assisting orphaned teens. She is a force of nature. Selena Jenkins and Sean Penn formed the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization (JPHRO) that is responsible for creating sustainable programs on six different fronts. The Association for the treatment of Alcohol and Other Addictions (AAPAC), the one and only Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for substance abusers and their families, was founded by two Haitian women, Maggie and Gaetane.
I also include our humble leader, The Meadows CEO Sean Walsh, in this category, who has adopted two sons from a Haiti orphanage. He has great passion for improving conditions and increasing awareness about trauma and addiction in Haiti. He organized and led our team.
I learned more than I taught on the journey. I attended a presentation from one Shero calling for all Haitians to clean up their piece of the polluted planet. Haiti has beautiful landscape contrasted with cement rubble from the earthquake and littered with garbage. She introduced me to a term I hadn’t heard before, “horizontal violence.” She used the expression “You can’t trust a Haitian,” as an example of horizontal violence. She used a bucket of crabs, crawling over one another in order to elevate themselves as a metaphor for horizontal violence. This concept is, of course, not unique to Haiti, but it is problematic. She pleaded with Haitians to lift one another in an effort to elevate the community.
Our team quickly became friends with a handful of Narcotic Anonymous (NA) leaders who were bringing the message of hope and recovery to Haiti, creating relationships, and connecting people with the proper organizations. There are many caring professionals in Haiti attending to pragmatic needs such as food, shelter, and medical care. There are also many who are attending to the needs of their souls by bringing counseling, music, dance and art. Sometimes these organizations are unaware of one another.
These extraordinarily generous people created within me inspiration along with self-doubt, making me wonder what I have done with my life. I’m left feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, in a good way. My brief time in Haiti has created a discomfort that I’m hoping will propel me into more altruistic service.
I attended a 12 step meeting in a foreign land and listened to people share in Haitian Creole and yet I felt at home. Far away and yet at home: another dichotomy.
I was also conflicted residing in an air-conditioned resort with a pool while the masses were withstanding unbearable heat.
I felt combined joy and pain as I observed beautiful majestic women carrying large objects on their heads with such grace in the midst of squalor. Haiti is 95 percent black, so it was rare to see someone white outside of our small group. It was one more way in which my world was a contradiction.
We visited bright university students sitting in classrooms made of fabricated walls with slats for ventilation without air conditioning in 95 percent heat with high humidity. I was so impressed. They were attentive, respectful, and remained after class was dismissed to ask questions about addiction and how they could help their families. Family is a strong value in Haiti. Opportunity occasionally presents itself and when it does most Haitians will take full advantage.
Our last stop was the Apparent Project, through which parents determined to keep their children out of orphanages were making amazing art to earn a living. They were transforming rubble into pottery and making beautiful beads out of garbage. (You can check them out at http://apparentproject.org.)
I don’t miss mosquito nets, being drenched in 100 percent deet, being overly cautious of the food and water, “American pizza” which translates into pizza made with American cheese, the chaotic traffic and feeling like a mark at times. I do miss the openly affectionate warm beautiful people I met while there.
Since returning, I am hyper vigilant of my self-centeredness. I have conflicted feelings. I feel a bit squeamish, a form of survivor’s guilt I suppose, combined with deep gratitude. Simultaneously, I feel incredibly blessed and guilty about the size of my home, my walk-in closet, my job, my vehicle. I have a different perspective on “problems” in the face of true human suffering— what some might call rich white people problems. I feel good about what I did and feel bad about what I haven’t done. I have received much more than I have given; I am in a process of transformation that won’t be complete until I take action. I am changed.
It was an enlightening adventure. I am proud to work for a man and an organization that truly places people before profit and thinks beyond their small piece of the planet. They have had a hand in Haiti Rising.