written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Eric Wakefield grew up on the East Coast. He had “a sort of typical suburban childhood” but shares that “from early on, it was rather confused and messy. There were things that have never made sense in my life.
“Both of my parents graduated from Harvard and I never got a high school degree.” There was time spent at a boarding school but that didn’t culminate in a diploma either.
“Then it was sort of the late ’60s and early 70’s — sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.” Eric bounced from one exotic location to another, had many wild and carefree adventures, admits to spending about a year and a half drunk and guesstimates that he held more than fifty jobs.
And then he found his way into Baltimore “for some bizarre reason. I had a hammer and a pickup truck and started renovating buildings. And, at some point, ended up with forty-two employees!
“It was working really well in some ways. Lots of drinking. Lots of coke. Way too many women. It was a little out of control.”
And then he wrapped his truck around a pole after leaving a bar in Chestertown one evening and found himself in a cornfield. He took it as a sign that it was probably time to do something different.
Eric went to a therapist and AA, NA, ACOA — “all the A’s. A bunch of workshops and seminars. Somewhere in all of that, I found myself in an Applied Spiritual Psychology Program through the University of Santa Monica which changed my life.”
He explains, “It really got me in touch with who I actually was and why this whole mess was going on. It was fabulous. Somewhere, out of all of that mess and this Program, I managed to create a Master’s degree.”
Along the way, Eric had been diagnosed with ADD, Bipolar Manic Depression, Alcoholism and more. He was institutionalized a few times. “The meds were a problem. The institutions were a problem.”
More Seeds of Change Sprouted On The Farm
Eric moved to Middletown and managed a grass-fed pastured beef, lamb and pork farm. “That was great. I really loved it. However, cows aren’t really a great way to do personal work. They’re cool and all that but they don’t talk back very well.”
He had been clean and sober for twenty-five years by this time and someone began a conversation about recovery housing. Having had experience with both real estate and being a landlord, he thought it was a good fit.
“Knowing nothing, I opened these two recovery houses. I didn’t even know there was a Health Department. Six and a half years later, they’re running smoothly. They are peer support — it’s a really effective model.
“Through that, I ended up at On Our Own. I was asked to first go down and take a look at what was going on and, over a little bit of time, became their Executive Director.”
On Our Own of Frederick — A Wellness And Recovery Center
“On Our Own is a place folks in whatever kind of distress they’re in can come in and not be ‘fixed’ — not be ‘cured’ — not be ‘labeled’ — but just be sort of held, socially.
“Come on in. Have a cup of coffee. It’s free. Just sit down. If you want a doughnut, have a doughnut. If you want to play the piano, play the piano. If you want to chat with somebody, great. If you want to join one of the groups that’s going on, great.
“If over time, this speaks to you and you feel safe here and you want to hang, great! If you want to get involved in some groups, cool. If you want to run some groups, even better! Or just as good, also good — it’s ALL good!”
On Our Own has a weekly peer-run meeting for members. “The members decide the rules and the procedures.”
It also provides advocacy. “If you’re having a major hard time with your psychiatrist, for instance, we are happy to go chat with that person and try to — not tell the psychiatrist what to do but — try to improve the quality of the communication.
“Often, people lie to their psychiatrist. Surprise! Surprise! What do you suppose the outcome is of lying to your shrink? And, there are reasons for it because they have all this power.
“We have no power over anybody. It’s just me talking to you. And, my primary job is not to tell you what to do. It’s really to connect. You’re a human being. I’m a human being. What do we share?
“When we’re connected and we’re safe and we’re feeling whole, there’s a fertile place for thoughts and ideas to land in Germany. And, that process takes care of itself. I don’t have to run around the world figuring out what I’m going to do. It just happens. I just kind of ride the beanstalk as it grows.
“We go bowling. We have a few outings. We have groups and activities and one-on-ones. People do have specific things they’re trying to solve and deal with.”
Eric remembers a recently deceased buddy who ran one of the centers up north describing it as “we’re the one-stop, last-stop shop.”
He encourages, “If it isn’t working someplace else, come on in and let’s see what we can do. It isn’t that everybody else is incompetent. It’s that everybody has their own kind of niche.”
More Distinct Benefits of On Your Own
* Peer Support
“It’s more of a direct human connection rather than connecting with the system — the clipboard, the intake forms, the psychiatrist…all of that stuff.
“It is clear that there are a lot of people that need that level of medical support. But, there’s an awful lot of people who don’t. And, there’s an awful lot of people for whom that level of service is counterproductive.
* Resource Plug-In
“We will help plug you into other people and resources that would be of service to you — that would support the quality of your life.
“The hospital’s job primarily is to intake, diagnose, treat and discharge. All very well and good if you’ve got a ruptured spleen. But, if you’ve got a life condition that has been going on for twenty years, that doesn’t really get to it.”
* A Community of People That Will Hold You
“When things get overwhelming, we need to be able to collapse. We need to be able to fall and be held by some group that’s capable of just holding us while we sort through this craziness that the medical community says is crazy but, for us, it’s mostly a way of trying to make sense of things.”
The Biggest Challenge of Directing On Our Own of Frederick
“Managing my own expectations. This is an organization that is run by, staffed by, directed by folks with significant challenges. And, it has a life of its own.
“Expecting things to happen when people say they’re going to do it — or to the degree that they say they are going to do it — or if they’re going to do it at all — are they still going to be getting along tomorrow — is a major challenge.
“And, there are enormous opportunities in the peer support world because it’s a renewable resource. When people come alive and begin to plug in, they’ve got this enormous amount of energy and creativity. And, then they’re gone for a week because…whatever.”
“So, managing my own expectations is the hardest thing for me.”
What Advice Would Eric Give To Himself If Starting Over Again?
“Don’t push the river. It flows by itself. Things change. We are who we are. Just accept who I am right now and be okay with it. It will all be okay.
“It’s the fighting — it’s the internal struggles — that we do that get in our way, that keep us disconnected, that keep us ineffective, that keep us spinning around in our heads. Relax. Connect with your heart and it’ll take care of itself.”
An Unmistakable Sign That Eric Is Making A Difference
Eric recalls that early on, during a meeting at the women’s recovery house, he was feeling a little frustrated and he asked “What in the hell am I doing here? This is nuts. I don’t get it. What am I doing?”
One of the women looked at him and said, “Eric, don’t you get it? You saved my life.”
Eric adds, “There have been many, many, many similar stories both in one-on-ones and in groups of people. If I ever get confused about one of the things that’s at the heart of what I do, that’s as good an answer as any.”
How YOU can donate to On Our Own of Frederick
Option 1: “They can always stop in with a truckload of money. That would be probably the simplest thing. Just back the truck right up to the front door.”
Option 2: Make a donation through the website: www.onourownfrederick.com “I’m quite certain there’s a DONATE button/page on there somewhere. My IT folks have seen to that. It’s a beautiful thing!”
Option 3: Call Eric Wakefield directly at 443-386-1568.
Option 4: “We are happy to have folks support us in whatever way they can. There’s some big picture issues we’re trying to solve.
“We’d like to create a diversionary respite – a place people can go to ‘instead of’ the behavioral health unit. We’d be happy to talk to people about that kind of level of support.
“Sometimes, people just showing up being willing to take somebody to the doctor. We have a tiny little budget!”
And, of course, if you’re looking for peer support, stop in and check it out!
331 West Patrick Street
Contents Provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast Episode #083: Eric Verdi Interviews Eric Wakefield