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December 8, 2017 by Open Excellence

Redeeming the Irreconcilable

At its best, motherhood is a bittersweet agony of self-sacrifice and letting go. At its worst, her child dies and a mother enters a new world of never letting go, carrying the weight of an unrightable wrong. The miracle of beauty from ashes comes when her love grows up through the grief and continues to give life.

In 1956, Alice Bolstridge gave birth to a beautiful, joyful boy she named Alan. In 2015, she laid him to rest. In between, they walked together through the trauma of a prolonged childhood illness and a lifetime of seemingly intractable mental and emotional challenges that grew from it.

Because of his long illness, Alan did not start school until the age of seven, by that time having transformed from a happy little boy to one who was fearful, haunted and increasingly isolated.

Through diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar and finally, schizoaffective disorder, street drugs and cocktails of court-mandated psychotropic drugs and hospitalizations, Alice and Alan together looked for solutions and for meaning.

He was a life-long artist, she a published author with a PhD in English Literature. In 2001, they embarked on a joint book project based on their recorded conversations about Alan’s life, hoping that in the process of articulating their experiences they might make some important discoveries.

Multiple psychotropic drugs and forced treatment made up the bulk of Alan’s mental health care over the years. By the time he tried talk therapy near the end of his life he was so leery of the systemic violence and coercion he’d experienced that it was too little too late.

After his death, Alice began to experience the inevitable what-if’s and if-only’s that haunt all of us who have lost someone and mothers in even greater measure. Then she began her search for a way to make a difference for other people’s sons.

In 2015, she found her tribe in the community of people who are the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care. Since then, she has donated the proceeds of her and Alan’s book, Oppression for the Heaven of It, to support the Foundation’s work to make life-saving recovery tools known and available to everyone in need. She is encouraged by the growth of the Hearing Voices movement in the United States and the help that people like her son are finding there.

We are honored to walk with her on the journey.

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