normalizing emotion and deepening connection
My name is Corey McCarthy. I was born and live in buffalo NY. Looking back I can say that “mental health” was surely not a term I would have used with any positive connotation. In truth my mental health was dramatically interrupted at the age of seven.
I was violently attacked and molested by a stranger in a public place. I had no idea then, or for the next twenty years how mental health would play a role in my life. My family did their best to try and help: doctors, therapists, education, unconditional love, and tough love.
For the next twenty years my path is winding, dangerous, joyous and at times quite sad. By twelve I was arrested. I hit an off duty Canadian police officer with a slingshot. At fourteen I was in a childhood psychiatric center and at sixteen I was in a long term drug and alcohol rehab for juveniles. I found myself homeless, addicted to drugs, and living in some terrible and horrific situations. I was trying everything I could to not feel. There were times the burden was relieved but the methods I was using always seemed to compound the shame, grief, sadness, anger.
Gabor Mate, world renowned psychologist says, “Ask not why the addiction, but ask, why the pain.” Addiction eases the pain of unresolved trauma. Sadly though they also compound the trauma. At nineteen I found myself in a area hospital having two brain surgeries after being brutally attacked on the street and left for dead. It was unsure if I would survive and if I did, would I be able to speak or walk. Six months later my daughter was born.
In the winter of 2003 I was arrested for a violent crime against another man. My family was devastated. Later that year I was sentenced to spend the next eight years in the New York State prison system. Very gradually, over the course of those years I started down a new path. I’ve read literally a thousand books, devoured information. For me reading wasn’t enough. Until I started to act on that information, growth could not begin. “The seed does not grow because you know it is a seed, it grows because you plant it in fertile soil and care for it.” I had to stop using drugs or for that matter anything that would get in the way of feeling.
The next steps were finding and refining a routine, a process for me that is ongoing and ever growing. I attended twelve step meetings and took advantage of the process contained in the steps. Thirteen years later I am still sober. I began to study and practice meditation and yoga. Physical exercise changed for me. It became medicine instead of a form of self punishment. Introspection, awareness, mindfulness, cognition became action words. I doubt very strongly that without a seed of humility none of these things would have been able to take hold. The soil would not have been made fertile. I needed to admit that I didn’t know. I needed to first make that space on my journey to learn. It may seem obvious but it would be tragic to not mention. As the saying goes, you cannot add to a cup that is already full.
In March of 2011 I was released from prison after serving my sentence. A new journey began. One that in some ways I was as prepared for as possible but also the reality was, I had never lived the life I wanted and had no working knowledge of how to do that. I was paroled to a halfway house in my hometown. Spent six months living there, attending meetings, growing a support network, doing odd jobs and maybe most importantly, building my esteem. A nun once told me “Corey, of course you feel badly about yourself. You’re in a halfway house, fresh out of prison. Here’s the trick. If you want good self-esteem you have to do estimable acts.” She told me this while I was helping her plant a garden. The most important thing I was planting, growing and nurturing in my life was my reputation. Every day since I have been building and reinforcing that reputation.
Since I moved from that halfway house my life has grown so deep and strong it’s in some ways unrecognizable. I worked a few jobs and then I started a company. My company specializes in restoring old architecture, churches, and homes. I see it as an extension of my mental health journey. We strip away the old things that are no longer serving a structure before we begin fortifying and beautifying. That company, McCarthy I.E. “a working example of integrity & efficiency” is an extension of the values I try and live by.
I have bought a home and then a second home. Travelled the country speaking in prisons, working as a consultant for restorative organizations. Spoke on a TedX stage. Been a guest on a number of notable podcasts. Mentoring men, building curriculum, running recovery groups. Became a member of the board of directors for the halfway house I lived in nine years ago, Peaceprints of WNY. I am also a member of the Special Corrections Advisory Board for Erie county jails. Got married to a strong beautiful woman who is the mother of two boys. These days you can find me jumping off waterfalls with my step-son, rebuilding exquisite homes with my daughter and my crew, helping people all over the world rebuild their lives. Most importantly you can find me in my home, comfortable, by the side of my wife.
Today I look at mental health as a consistent and imperative part of life, one that can be practiced just like we do our physical health. Normalizing emotion, deepening connection, and bringing health full circle. I thank the Evryman organization for their help and support.