Scott’s story

Hi my name is Scott Ciallella and I am 49 years old and I work at MHAG as a peer support specialist for the last two years and this is my story. I was born in Riverside, RI into a family of alcoholics, my parents, grandparent, sister, aunts and uncles.  There is a picture of me drinking a beer at the age of 2 years old, it was acceptable for everyone to  drink in my family.   The first time I got drunk was at the age of 10 years old and it was with my grandparents and parents.   I learned that drinking took away my feelings and fears(false evidence appearing real). Then my life had its first trauma at the age of 12 I was sexually molested to the age of 14, when people in my neighborhood found out this was happening to me they picked on me called me names and beat me up.   When my parents found out they did nothing about it my father called me some real derogatory names!   At this point in my life is when my mental illness started,  a lot of negative things  were being done to me and said to me repeatedly and my mind learned from this.   My mind learns through repetition, my thinking has now become my problem over and over again in my mind.

Now at the age of 15 I create this character of Scotty Joe, he is drinking and doing drugs every day and he is a very angry, aggressive and a violent person.  I created him out of survival,  nobody was helping me or standing up for me so I did this myself although he had a very tough outward appearance I was actually a very scared and insecure little boy.   I continued to drink and drug with dangerous behaviors and by the age of 18 I was sent to my first rehab, I did not want to go and it didn’t work for me. I did learn a little something about alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, they are diseases of my mind and they are progressive and fatal disease’s  if left untreated. My life continued to spin out of control with numerous attempts at AA and NA.  I have been to over 20 Detoxes ,rehabs and psych wards with no recovery to follow I did not want it!  By now I had become Bi-polar and did not know my manics were completely out of control I have done things in my manic alcohol and drug induced state that are unmentionable , I did not care about myself and just wanted to stop feeling this way . That thinking problem I had bought into a state of depression which is the other side of my Bi-polar disorder in this “state of mind” I would beat myself up just like I learned how to do from all the words and actions other people have said and done to me, the human mind learns from repetition and my mind was in this state.  When I got like this I was in an emotional hangover and saw no future for me and planned a suicide attempt some of these attempts were real others a cry for help either way I was in a bad place. Thankfully I was not successful! My life was a total chaos lifestyle and I couldn’t figure out why drugs and alcohol had turned on me but I still was drinking and drugging because I had to.  My thinking made me feel real uncomfortable with me and with the world and I needed something to stop that feeling, my alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness is a disease of my mind I am at “dis” “ease”(disease) and I need something to stop me from feeling this way!  I couldn’t stop, something had to give!  So in 2004 I met this woman named Bonnie my life started to look better to me she helped me but I still was drinking and drugging, we started dating and on June 16, 2006 in Laconia ,NH on my motorcycle drunk and high we got into a very bad motorcycle accident where I almost died and Bonnie had a broken leg and foot , I vowed to quit drinking and drugging after that but did not I continued to smoke pot and got caught by Bonnie.  We got into a fight and she got away from me and called the police I got into a fight with the police and got arrested for numerous charges, this is the 11th  time I had gotten arrested in my life due to my behaviors on alcohol and drugs. Sitting in the jail cell I said to myself that this had to stop.  On Feb 10, 2007 I went to court and had a plea-bargain with the Mass. DA and I went to a 90 day rehab with 90 meetings  of AA after and counseling.   I threw myself into recovery and have not looked back since.   I go to 4-5 AA meeting s a week.  I still go to counseling and a psychiatrist, I take my meds as directed and work a program of recovery.  Constant  vigilance is the price of recovery!   I work at MHAG to help people that are searching to recover as well.  I was told in order for me to keep this recovery I have to give it away!  I try to help other as others have helped me,  I could not snap out of this as many people have told me to do ,what I have learned through repetition is that I have to work my way out of it.  Other people have helped me do this, this is a WE program if you take the words ”Mental Illness” and take the “I” out of illness and replace it with “We” you get “Mental Wellness” don’t go at this alone ask for help!  This is a life or death situation my recovery came first before everything,  if I don’t have my recovery I don’t have anything.  Working at MHAG has helped me grow as a person and has strengthen my recovery and I would like to thank all of the peers and co-workers because they help keep me in recovery so thank you!  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.



Benny’s Story

Benny Phillips came into the Mental Health Association in Greensboro on January 5, 2016. He was homeless, in crisis and really had no idea what to do next.
After speaking to our staff, Benny decided that he needed to take advantage of our services and start his recovery journey. He began attending Wellness Academy classes and faithfully attending peer support sessions. As part of the recovery process, Benny worked with a Peer Support Specialist to set recovery goals and monitor his progress toward attaining them.
Not long after, Benny started meeting the first of many goals.
Over the last eight months, Benny has obtained housing, established a medical and mental health provider, purchased a vehicle, and become permanently established with full-time employment. We are so proud of his progress and continue to support him in maintaining his wellness.

Congratulations Benny!


Eric’s Story

My name is Eric.I am 34 years old, and live near Cleveland, OH.I finally decided on July 24 2015 that i had enough of the crazy lifestyle that I had been living for far to long.I wont go into much detail but I started with weed when I was 13, did pretty much everything there is until I discovered opiates at the age of 30.It started with percocets from a car accident and within a year i was snorting heroin.It quickly destroyed my life.I first started getting serious about recovery when the mother of my children died from an infection that ate away her heart valve that she contracted through I.V. drug use.Two months later, I lost one of my very dear friends to a heroin overdose, he snorted a small amount and it killed him.Since I finally got my act together, I have lost too many friends to count to addiction.My little brother, Matt, whom i was very close to, died 3 weeks ago from an overdose.He left behind 2 beautiful children, and was loved by a lot of people.As a person who does not believe in god, I found that AA/NA was not the right program for me.I do not like being around people who use, and lets face it, there are people in some of those meetings that still use.If they are there, trust me I will find them.I had to give up a lot of life long friendships because those people still use.That was probably the hardest part of this recovery process for me.Today i see a psych doctor, and he is treating me for depression.Its great, the best decision that i have ever made.I go there and unload all the guilt and shame that carry around, and when I leave, I feel great.I am still picking up the pieces of my life that my addiction created.Today I can say that I have no warrants, and no desire to use.Its not easy, but it can certainly be done, you just truly have to want it.My biggest regret is that I did not address my mental problem earlier in life, but that is o.k., better late than never.If I could tell a fellow addict one thing it would be this- some people recover before they let addiction kill them, and others die before they get it.Do you want to live, or do you want to die.I know that I want to live, so i know today that i cannot use.I wish everyone the best of luck in the journey of recovery.

Stephanie’s Story



Before coming to Freedom House I dreaded seeing the sun stream through my bedroom window. Hopelessness was literally choking the life out of me daily. My addiction to prescription pills had become such a beast that I found functioning without medication impossible. Consequently, maintaining a job, household, and motherhood quickly became unmanageable. I had become mentally, physically, and spiritually bankrupt.

My family found Freedom House on the internet and urged me to fill out the application. After my admission to Freedom House, my outlook on life became extremely different. I am able to welcome the morning and thank God for another day to live in sobriety and freedom. My daughter and I have developed our relationship with Christ as well as with each other.


Stephanie is a graduate from the Freedom House  12-month program for women  I learned so much through the curriculum that helped to repair and prepare me for a Christ-centered life. I am happy to say that because of the staff, volunteers, sponsors, and donors of Freedom House, I have hopes and dreams for my future and my daughter’s future.


Julia’s Story

julia-picMy mother had me at the young age of 16.  She married my father three years later.  The physical abuse I witnessed between the both of them was horrifying.  I remember hiding in the closets to try to disappear and escape reality.  My father’s addiction to crack-cocaine made him very angry and although he never physically harmed me he was verbally abusive and I was scared to death of him.  Finally during a violent fight between them one day I was able to get out of the house and call the police.  After the raid of my house and fathers arrest I thought I was in the clear and could finally start living my life with my mom.  We moved into a house with my grandmother and she started going out all the time and drinking excessively.  Life didn’t turn out the way I imagined it turning out and I was lonely.  I started drinking and smoking weed with people in my neighborhood and for the most part it went unnoticed until my mom met her new man that would end up being my stepfather. The years to follow were made up of being promiscuous, drinking and a lot of drugs that stripped me of all my self- confidence, self-respect, self-worth and love.  Till one day I thought I met the man of my dreams who I didn’t know was as broken as I was.  After a year of dating when I was about 24 I ended up getting pregnant.  There wasn’t a doubt in my mind whether I should keep this baby or not.  I thought I’d be a great mother and that we would all live happily ever after.  I even stopped my alcohol and drug use so I wouldn’t hurt my unborn child.  After I had her life still wasn’t what I thought it would be.  I was depressed and experiencing post-partum depression and my circumstances with my boyfriend weren’t good either.  We started using oxycontin together and continued to do so till the formula of the medication changed to one that our high tolerance could no longer get high from.  That turned us both into heroin addicts.  I felt like I sold my soul to the devil.  I knew I was an addict before but those pills had nothing on me like the heroin did.  I spent most of my day driving around in shady neighborhoods to get the drug and the other half in the bathroom trying to find a vein to shoot the drug.  At this time I had another child and bought a house.  I was a stay at home mom to these beautiful children and the worst possible person for them to be around.  One day my three year old and I went on a drug run and on the way back I fell asleep at the wheel and rolled my car across the highway.  Thank the Lord we were both okay.  We were a little banged and bruised but it could have been so much worse.  That accident put me in jail for 6months for an OVI and child endangerment. I lost my children and my house.   I didn’t learn anything there.  I was released from jail and in two weeks I was back again because I overdosed on heroin in a gas station public bathroom.  That time it was intentional but I ended up in the hospital alive.  I turned my self into my probation officer and got the remaining time which was another six months.  I knew this time that I had to do something different because I couldn’t live that life anymore.  I was in jail in Ohio and the day of my release I got in the car with my mother and headed to her home town in North Carolina.  A couple days later I ended up in a residential treatment center called Freedom House and it was there that my life started to matter to me.  I came to know the lord there and during that time the family meetings that we had helped to restore broken relationships between my siblings and I and parents.  I gained custody back of my children and gained hope for a future for myself with them.  Today I am believing God’s promises and following his will for my life.  It is hard but rewarding and with each new day I receive new blessings and a reassurance that I am going to be okay and so are generations to come.  I have had new challenges to face but no longer am crippled by anxiety and hopelessness.  Without the substance abuse my mental illnesses started to surface but I have learned healthy ways to cope with them and I can honestly say I am not disabled by them at all.  I live with my three children and I work full time at the Mental Health Association in Greensboro where I get to give back what people so graciously gave to me when I needed it.  Love, support and encouragement!!


When the unexpected happens……

Yesterday, as I planned to write my first blog ever, I had a title “How to Keep your Cool in the Summer Heat” and I had notes about the pros and cons of summer. I had read and downloaded facts and figures about mental wellness and summer time heat. All very practical information, but anyone could have easily pieced together that blog. Instead I want to share with you when the unexpected happens in life. I arrived early for our Tuesday night Road to Recovery support group at the First Lutheran on Friendly Avenue. I set the chairs up in a circle and got out our tri-fold board of information. I had the sign in sheet ready to go. I glanced into the parking lot and my car was the only car in the parking lot. I sat there in the circle of chairs alone. I started to think…. what if no one comes……what does that say about me….. would I sit there by myself from 7:00 until 8:30???? To my relief slowly but surely people arrive. The room was full of chatter and everyone was settling into their seats, when the unexpected happened….people jumped up from their chairs and there were squeals of excitement. I turned to see a friendly face, one I had not seen for many weeks. Sue (name has been changed to protect group members identity) once a regular attendee was back! The reason Sue had been away is a story too long to tell in this blog but it also doesn’t really matter.

The group embraced her psychically and emotionally. We settled back into our seats and started group as we do every week. We did an ice breaker, introduced ourselves and went over the guidelines for group. As we opened up for sharing time, people shared how their week was going. People shared about improved relationships with family and changes in relationships with professionals (ie…new psychiatrist  or therapist). Some shared sad news about the illness of a beloved pet or a disappointment they had experienced last week. But as each person spoke, they all took a moment to tell Sue how much her being a member of the group meant to each of them over the years. They shared stories of the impact Sue had made in each of their lives individually. Sue is the type of person who takes the time to connect with each person. Her calm spirit is reassuring. Two recovery tools Sue had brought to the group over the years had been the use of inspirational quotes and the practice of taking a moment at the end of each group to say one thing that we are grateful for in life. Sue has the lovely ability of keeping the group grounded.

As our time together came to an end last night, there was not a dry eye in the place. The room was filled with unconditional love and acceptance. What brings us together at the Tuesday night Road to Recovery support group is the common bond of having a mental health diagnosis but what keeps us coming back is something so special I can’t find the words to describe it. I wish everyone a week of wellness!


Coping With Loss – In Memory of Mary Seymour

colorful-mosaic-darren-lewisThere’s a beautiful poem written by Mary Elizabeth Frye in 1932. Many people heard this poem for the first time about twenty years ago, when the father of a dead soldier read it aloud on the BBC, having found it in his son’s personal items in an envelope labeled, “To All My Loved Ones.” Here are the words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Grief is Natural

In the course of our lives, loss is inevitable. Loss may be profound, such as the death of a loved one, or it may be passing, such as forgetting the name of a friend in an old photograph. We all experience losing something or someone at some point. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss.[1] You may experience grief briefly or for an extended period of time.mosaic-butterfly-cloud

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced in 1969 what became known as the “five stages of grief,” (including: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness. Not everyone experiences all of these stages. The phases don’t necessarily happen in sequence. In her last book before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross said: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Yet familiarity with these stages of grief may help you on your journey to recovery. As you are grieving, you may ask yourself, “how can this important part of my life be gone?” You will need to find ways to move on without this person in your life.

Strategies for Dealing with Loss

Here is a list of strategies that can help during the grieving process.

  • Accept your feelings: grief can bring up all kinds of unexpected emotions. You may feel angry, hurt, guilty, sad, or any number of other emotions. Please know that this is totally normal. Understanding that your life has been changed in some way that is beyond your control is inherently challenging. Acknowledging and allowing yourself to feel these unpleasant emotions can help you move through the grieving process. There is no normal timetable for grieving.[2]
  • Reach out: You may find it helpful to talk to someone else who is grieving the same loss or someone who has experienced a similar loss. Talking to your friends and family members can also be a source of comfort. If you are a religious person, it could be helpful to reach out to someone in your faith. Additionally, you may want to speak with a counselor, especially one who specializes in grief counseling.
  • Remember your loved one: Try to remember all of the good times you had with your loved one. You may want to frame a picture of him or her, or just take a few minutes each day to recall a fond memory. Keeping a journal can help you through this process. One that has been meaningful personally is “Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and Remembrance,” by Kathy Eldon and Amy Eldon Turteltaub.[3] Having a special way of recording your feelings and thoughts can be healing.
  • Take care of yourself: Grief can make us forget to attend to our physical needs as well as our mental needs. Make sure that you don’t neglect the things you would normally do to keep your body feeling great, like eating well and exercising.

The Loss of a Colleague

Most of the time, when we talk about loss and grief, it is in the context of the death of a family member or friend. It is important to remember, however, that the loss of someone you know in a professional context can also be extremely challenging. Those we know through a professional context can become friends, and evmosaic-butterfly-glassshacken if the relationship is strictly professional, the loss of anyone who played a role in your life can cause feelings of grief. This is especially true if the loss was very sudden.

Grief and Pre-Existing Mental Illness

While dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult for anyone, it can be especially hard on those with mental health conditions. Grief is distinct from clinical depression; however, grief can trigger a worsening or re-emergence of symptoms. It can also cause feelings of grief about a past loss to resurface. This is especially common if you have lost someone very close to you in the past, or if you did not fully work through your feelings of grief about the past loss. If you have a mental illness, and you experience a loss, it is important to keep in mind that the grieving process may be more difficult for you to navigate on your own. If you find yourself struggling to handle your feelings, or if you think grief may be worsening your pre-existing mental health conditions, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. You may want to seek counseling or a support group.

Please know that the Mental Health Association in Greensboro offers peer-based supportive services ranging from classes to support groups. We are here for you.




Singing the Holiday Blues

According to the song “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the winter holidays are the hap-happiest season of all, with parties for hosting and much mistletoeing and hearts glowing while loved ones are near.


Not everyone sees the Christmas season as hap-happy. For many, it’s a painful and difficult time of the year, bringing up thoughts of fractured families, memories of lost loved ones, and feelings of loneliness while everyone else seems to have someplace to be and someone to be with. The pressure to buy gifts adds financial stress; those who can’t afford to shower their loved ones with the latest toys and gadgets may feel guilt and shame, while those who do buy worry about the mounting bills. And there’s pressure to do, do, do without stopping, from shopping to cooking to attending parties to delivering cheerful holiday greetings to all and sundry.


On top of that, the days are shortest during this time of year, with darkness falling on the heels of late afternoon. Lack of sunlight can bring feelings of gloom and depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder.


The malaise that sets in during this time of year is called holiday blues. Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, uneasiness, anxiety, sadness, intestinal problems, and unnecessary conflict with family and friends.

How can you manage the holiday blues? First of all, remember it’s okay to feel blue sometimes. A state of constant happiness—the kind promoted by holiday season retailers—is impossible to maintain. Our feelings inevitably rise and fall over the course of days and weeks. But if your feelings are falling more than rising, you might consider using one or more of the following tools:

  • Keep a reasonable schedule. Don’t overschedule yourself so that you wind up feeling stressed and irritable.
  • Remember that the holidays do not automatically take away feelings of aloneness, sadness, frustration, anger, and fear.
  • Try to put aside resentments related to past holidays. Declare a truce with any family members or friends you have had conflict with.
  • Understand that the holidays will be different from when you were a child. You are not the same person now, nor are your family members.
  • If you have unpleasant memories of past holidays, remind yourself that the past does not predict the future. You have control over how your holiday unfolds. Do the things you enjoy and let go of old, negative holiday memories.
  • If you’re feeling underscheduled for the holidays, look for volunteer opportunities like serving holiday dinner at a homeless center or visiting hospitalized children. There are always opportunities for community service, and helping others can go a long way toward relieving holiday blues.
  • Alcohol tends to flow freely during the holidays. Avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and will only increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Create time for yourself to do the things you need to do for your physical and mental wellness, whether it’s walking, spending time with a pet, or engaging in spiritual practice.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends, or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in while.

Most of all, remember that the holiday season doesn’t last forever. Before you know it, life will be back to a more regular routine, the holiday hullabaloo will die down, and you won’t feel pressured to have the hap-happiest time of your life. You can just live your life, one day at a time, knowing that daylight hours are lengthening and spring is on its way.


Journey to a New Home

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. In the case of the Mental Health Association in Greensboro, the journey to our new home began with about a thousand steps between our former office space at the Community Foundation building and our new digs at the Dorothy Bardolph Center at 301 East Washington St.


We’ve been ready for a change for while. Yes, the Community Foundation building was home for ten years, but it was in a basement (in realtor parlance, “garden level”), the carpets were stained, space was tight, it was off the beaten track, and the air was, well, damp.

When we learned that space was available at the Bardolph Center, we couldn’t think of a better place to move. The center was constructed expressly to house social service agencies. Its residents include Senior Resources, Alcohol and Drug Services, and Youth Focus. Quality folks, all. MHAG’s own mission of educating the community about mental health recovery and teaching people to manage their mental health challenges is right in line with the center’s heartfelt mission.

It took three weeks, a redesign of the new space, intensive painting, dedicated volunteers, three truckloads of stuff, and a whole lot of organizing, but MHAG moved lock, stock, and barrel into the Bardolph building between November 10 and 24. The move was not without its glitches (try three weeks without Internet or phone service!).

Office manager Jennifer McKeon greets visitors and takes calls
Office Manager Jennifer McKeon greets visitors and takes calls
Browsing the many brochures related to mental health
Browsing the many brochures related to mental health

Susan Ball, executive director of MHAG, is thrilled with the new place. “It’s bright and airy and more accessible,” she says. “Because we’re right by the Depot, transportation isn’t such an issue. People can get to us easily.”

Executive director Susan Ball loves the "airiness" of the new space
Executive Director Susan Ball loves the airiness of the new space

The biggest challenge now is letting people know that the Mental Health Association in Greensboro has moved. The office is in the back of the Dorothy Bardolph building, not exactly marked by blinking neon signs. But the sign on the door says it all:


Welcome, and come in!
Welcome, and come in!

MHAG staff are thrilled with their new environment. Their expressions provide the proof.

Murphy Sullivan, director of recovery initiatives
Murphy Sullivan, Associate Director
Christa Whitesell, director of aupport services, loves her light-filled office
Christa Whitesell, Director of Support Services, loves her light-filled office
Director of programs Myla Erwin in her new space
Director of Programs Myla Erwin in her new space
Accounting manager Jan Cooke enjoys her new office
Accounting Manager Jan Cooke crunches numbers in her office

Clients get to enjoy some pretty splendid benefits as well. The classroom, used for art, writing, cooking, wellness skills, and much more, is open and inviting.

The bright, light classroom
The bright, light classroom

For peer support sessions–one-on-one meetings between peers who have traveled their own recovery path, and individuals still struggling to find their way–an intimate room provides comfort and warmth.

A cozy office for peer support sessions
A cozy office for peer support sessions

Please stop by to see our hard work, to share our beautiful setting, and to take the first step in that thousand-mile journey.

MHAG office hours are Mon-Thurs 8:30-4:30; Fri 8:30-2:30. For more information, call 336.373.1402 or e-mail