Success Stories

Personal Stories of Recovery

Paul Kalish Talks About Dual Diagnosis

(Reprint from our own 2009 UP Magazine)

After enduring years of abuse, Paul Kalish withdrew to a life of drugs, alcohol, and serious mental illness.

Through a series of healthy decisions, he recovered and now helps his peers find their own journey to wellness.

Paul Kalish’s early childhood memories are, at best, off-putting. “From as far back as I can remember, my dad was throwing me down flights of stairs, sticking my hands to our freezer’s cooling units, and burning my hands on redhot electric-stove burners,” he says. “One night at dinner, I put ketchup on my chicken, and Dad threw a carving knife at me. I’m glad it skewered the wall instead of my head.”

Paul can detail countless other grotesque incidents of abuse and believes his parents adopted him and his three siblings in an attempt to salvage their dysfunctional marriage. Depressed by age 8, he attempted suicide by hanging himself from a tree in the backyard. And that was before his sports coach began to sexually abuse him.

By age 9, Paul was using drugs and alcohol to numb his emotional and physical pain. At 12, he added a second self-destructive habit – cutting – and was sent to a juvenile detention center for the first time. When administrators suggested he be released to his parents’ custody, Paul acted out and, as he had hoped, was reinstitutionalized. That cycle went on for six years.

That is not to say Paul didn’t have opportunities to succeed. When he was 16, he received special permission from the state of Pennsylvania to take his general equivalency diploma test. His high ranking secured him early acceptance into three local colleges, but his substance addiction squelched that chance to break free from his past. High on speed and weighing only 72 pounds, Paul was institutionalized again at age 16. He was released from the juvenile detention system — the only true home he knew — on his 18th birthday.

Over the next 14 years, Paul was in prison, on parole or probation, or in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. During that time, he was misdiagnosed and began treatment for schizophrenia and, later, schizoaffective disorder. Paul continued his self-destructive ways until 2003, when he was arrested for public intoxication.

For the first time, Paul considered a different way of life. He remembers, “After sobering up in my jail cell, I was confronted with the void of the 30 years of my life — I had nothing to show for them. I decided enough was enough.” Paul was paroled in 2005 to Gaudenzia Erie, a rehabilitation center that specializes in intensive drug and alcohol treatment. There, he was correctly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder, and with the help of community counselors such as Betty Ferguson, he began a journey to recovery.

After showing much improvement and initiative, Paul was transitioned into an apartment through a special program called the Community Reintegration of Offenders with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse. He still calls that apartment home and proudly says, “I never stayed anywhere longer than six months before. I finally set down roots.”

In 2006, Paul took a computer class at the Stairways Behavioral Health Education Center. He volunteered to teach, and after acing the adult basiceducation test, he was immediately accepted as a math and reading tutor. It wasn’t long before Center staff noticed Paul’s students thriving under his leadership, and as a result, staff recommended him for peer-specialist certification.

Paul applied for that training program, writing the necessary essay on why he wanted to enter the mental health field and how he hoped to impact his peers in that position. He was accepted and certified, and later that year, Paul landed a job as a certified peer specialist (CPS) with Stairways.

Paul now works one-on-one with others who have serious mental illness to help them identify, pursue, and achieve their recovery goals. “Many of my fellow mental health consumers were so ill they were written off by the medical community,” explains Paul. “But now, they’re living lives they choose to live and are achieving dreams such as education, work, and relationships.”

Paul was trained as a Wellness Recovery Action Plan facilitator in 2008, adding to the repertoire of skills he has to serve his peers and has spoken publicly about the effectiveness of the CPS program and the destigmatization of mental illness.

Paul continues to take symptom-combating medication and attend 12-step programs such as Dual Recovery Anonymous for people with both a mental illness and addiction issues, but he believes he’s taken the steps necessary “… to undo everything that’s happened and put the past to rest.” Paul adds, “I am focusing on the here and now and what’s to come. My entire life revolves around recovery in one way or another — my drug and alcohol addiction, my mental illness, or those of the people I’m working with. I recognize a part of myself in each of them.”

“Anybody can change the course of their personal history,” Paul affirms, “It starts by making one positive choice and then another and another. The next thing you know, you’re living a life beyond your dreams.”

"Stairways helped me to work on recovery, one step at a time." -Ron S

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