“Will We Wake for Pity’s Sake?” Healing Through Choice at Inner Fire

Beatrice Birch

Inner Fire, Inc. is a licensed, not-for-profit, proactive, healing community in Brookline, VT, that offers striving individuals the choice to recover from debilitating and traumatic life experiences. These individuals struggle with difficulties that typically lead to addiction and mental (soul) health challenges, creating the need to strengthen oneself on a deeper spiritual level but without the use of the mind-altering psychotropic medications. Inner Fire supports striving individuals who want to avoid medication in the first place, taper to a level that works for them (which could mean off), and supports those still reeling from the horrendous withdrawal symptoms of the benzodiazepines.

Organizations such as Inner Fire need to be available for everyone regardless of race, religion, and financial situation; it is crucial that we simply meet in our shared humanity. However, at this time, there is no state/insurance funding, so such organizations are dependent on donors and private pay. Inner Fire is not anti-medication but believes in the power of choice. For some, medications have been supportive for a time. However, the lack of visible choice has been devastating for too many.

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States.[i] While antidepressants and other mind-altering psychotropic medications are designed to decrease symptoms, they often have the opposite effect. These medications have been known to increase suicidal thoughts and actions for people from all walks of life and all ages. The impact suicide has on the lives of family members, friends, co-workers, and the community is devastating. The loss of human potential is enormous.

“But will you wake for pity’s sake?”

In Christopher Fry’s play, A Sleep of Prisoners, he writes:

“Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size…It takes

So many thousand years to wake,

But will you wake for pity’s sake?”[ii]

As the Founder and Executive Director of Inner Fire, I have met many young, thoughtful, sensitive, and intelligent people who hated being medicated with mind-altering psychotropic medications. They were not aware that there was a choice, and after being told they would have to be on these medications for the rest of their lives, they chose suicide. They were not prepared to live in a fog of pain, disconnected from the clarity of thinking, heartfelt feeling, and creative initiatives: the essential qualities of being human.

Not many people know that, indeed, there is a choice. There are legitimate ways to work through, understand, and digest the debilitating and traumatic challenges of simply being human. But one needs to be proactive and willing to break old patterns, including unhelpful self-images, in the understanding, loving, and supportive company of family or friends.

With the best intentions and in good trust, parents or individuals seek professional advice when wrestling with life challenges for themselves or their children. Of course, there are exceptions, and experiences differ. However, typically, due to big pharma prioritizing profits and insurance restrictions, within a few minutes and without really being listened to or offered supportive, empowering alternatives, struggling individuals are stigmatized with a mental health disorder. They are told the chemistry in their brain is out of balance and given one psychotropic medication, soon to become a cocktail of psychotropic medications, that they could depend upon for the rest of their lives.

Wouldn’t we all agree that human beings are dynamic and complicated? One honest psychiatrist stated: “The brain is the last and grandest biological frontier, the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe…The brain boggles the mind.”[iii]

Isn’t it time we look deeper? Some individuals experience the state of the soul, the seat of our emotions and habits influenced by life situations, as informing the brain. Could it be that the medications are actually what significantly disrupts the chemistry in the brain, which is naturally flexible and forgiving?

Could the term “mental health” be a reductionist term for “soul health?” Are we not speaking about “soul trauma” when one is caught in the out-breath, where we have no center, trying to escape this body of pain, or stuck in the in-breath, afraid of breathing out for fear of falling apart?

For some people, these addictive medications keep us in the victim mold. They disconnect us from working with our life challenges which need to be dealt with for us to continue to grow and evolve. Challenges are growth opportunities; they are not meant to hold us down!

Looking through the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), one would imagine that simply being human is an illness. For example: if you mourn the loss of a loved one for over a certain amount of time, you may be labeled as depressed and then medicated to no longer feel. Why? Don’t we all have tear ducts? Tears are a reflection of the soul breathing out, of letting go. Imagine how it would be if we could be reassured that we will cry for as long as we need to, and when we have worked through the loss and the need is no longer there, we will simply stop crying. Perhaps we could choose to see tears as enablers, assisting the soul’s recovery and digesting process.

As human beings, we are creators, but, at times, we certainly can feel like victims. In my experience, we more or less consciously seek out challenges that stretch us to go beyond our box. We are surrounded by, and history is filled with, inspiring individuals who have made their way through unenviable and unbelievable hardship guided by the resilience of their spirit.

An English doctor-colleague referred to us doctors as the pushers. Look at all the people addicted to pain, sleeping, and other medications. Any addictive substance we take disempowers us at the expense of cultivating our own inner strength. The subliminal message is: you are a victim of life circumstances, and you need me or this pill to fix you. Well, this fixing is not working! We are not machines!

These psychotropic medications are turning too many of us into zombies. We are experiencing an epidemic. Opioids, alcohol, sugar, and the prescribing of mind-altering, psychotropic medications are causing chaos in our society. The spiritual essence of the human being is being eclipsed.

I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”[iv] Ask anyone wrestling under the influence of their medications how they feel. When we lose touch with our feelings, incredibly awful things can happen. What are we doing to our people? Never in the history of the world have so many people been so intensively medicated, via both legal and illegal drugs, as they are in the US today. The United States accounts for about 4.4% of the global population and yet consumes more than 30% of the prescription opiate drugs in the world. Some estimate US prescription opiate consumption to be as much as 80% of global demand.[v]

What life have we created for our youth? Are we listening to them and helping them to connect with their divine, creative, resilient self? How else will they develop the confidence to take on life’s challenges?

An elderly, wise friend once asked: what sensitive, thoughtful person today would not be depressed? We have so much to transform: we have many schools like prisons where our children do not thrive, while our prison system is punitive and has little belief or interest in transformation. We can feel paralyzed by the overwhelming challenges, but the secret, I believe, is to get involved with whatever you feel needs transforming. Find your colleagues, and try as best you can to walk the talk. Remember, you never know when you might save a life simply by taking the time to be interested and to listen with your heart. Please do not underestimate your efforts and your positive thoughts. They are more powerful than you might imagine.

I want to believe that all those struggling individuals for whom life became unbearable under the influence of psychotropic medication cocktails have not died in vain. I have chosen to see their action as both a sacrifice and a statement to all of us: “But, will we wake up, for pity’s sake?”

Will we remember that a human being has a body, a soul, and a spirit with an innate wisdom that, despite challenges, is always in the process of seeking balance and healing? Will we take the time to listen and support rather than shut up and medicate? Will we allow people to feel and work through the challenges which belong to them? Can we be motivated and catalyzed to bring a deep and lasting humane alternative to the so-called best practice of medicating? Will we choose to nurture out of love for our brothers and sisters, believing in their resilience and healing journey?

Bio: Beatrice Birch is the executive director and founder of Inner Fire. She is a Hauschka Artistic Therapist and has worked in integrative clinics, rehabilitation centers, and prisons in England, Holland, and the USA, where her work calls upon the whole human being: body, soul, and spirit. Her belief in the creative human spirit and the choice to be proactive in the healing journey is foundational to all her work. For more information on the work she does at Inner Fire, please visit: www.innerfire.us

[i] Heron M. Deaths: Leading causes for 2019. National Vital Statistics Reports, vol 70
no 9. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI: https://dx.doi. org/10.15620/cdc:107021.

[ii] Christopher Fry, Selected Plays (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).

[iii] Sandra Ackerman and James D Watson, “Forward,” in Discovering the Brain (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).

[iv] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854.

[v] “Opioids Prescribing Practices Perception of Pain,” Opioids Prescribing Practices Perception of Pain (Minnesota Department of Health, 2020), www.health.state.mn.us/communities/opioids/prevention/painperception.html.