Mental illness and substance abuse are not strange bedfellows. Indeed the two are more often than not hand-in-glove, so much so that the specific condition is known as co-occurring disorder. Sadly, this condition has become prevalent in our society, indiscriminately cutting across socio-economic, gender, age, and race lines.
“More than 10 million people in this country suffer from a substance abuse disorder, along with one or more mental health disorders,” says Kevin Jabbar, the director of The Centers’ substance abuse and children’s mental health services. “People with mental illness often use alcohol and/or drugs to self-medicate. Without professional intervention and help, the problem only escalates.”
Jabbar, who has been with The Centers since 1989, says that in the Ocala/Marion County area over the past five years there has been “a 25-percent increase in co-occurrence disorder in adults and a 10-percent increase in children.” With children, he emphasizes that 13 is a crucial age.
“Without adult help and learned coping skills, kids start doing drugs and drinking,” says Jabbar. “For many, it’s just the
beginning of a substance abuse lifestyle that will continue into adulthood.”
The key, according to Jabbar, is to seek help—the sooner the better.
“There are resources and facilities in the community for those who want to get better,” he says. “It’s very important for people to know that there is help.”
As evidence of that, Coral Moorhouse and Beau Broker graciously and bravely shared their stories of recovery with Ocala Style Health.
‘I’m Alive And I Like It’
Asked what she remembers of the six years that mental illness, drinking, and drugs controlled her life, Coral Moorhouse furrows her brow, squints, and says, “It’s all kind of fuzzy.”
And not as in “warm and fuzzy.” More like the TV reception quality from a rabbit-ears antenna versus digital high definition. For Coral, they’re distorted images from a life she shouldn’t have survived, but somehow did.
Beginning with drinking during Coral’s first semester in college and escalating to crack cocaine, the gravity of a downward spiral had her in its grip. Soon she was living the street life to support her $400-a-day crack habit—arrested and jailed more than a dozen times, prison stays from three to seven months. Her substance abuse was linked to a bipolar disorder diagnosis while Coral was in and out of eight different rehab centers. According to the National Institutes of Health, bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness marked by severe, alternating periods of mania and depression. Prescribed drugs for the mental illness, Coral overdosed on those several times in what were labeled as suicide attempts.
To an outsider, Coral’s existence at this point no doubt looked like one prolonged suicide attempt. Karen Cunningham endured “pure agony” over what her daughter was going through.
“It was like watching my child die over and over again,” Karen recalls.
But Coral has a surprisingly different perspective, saying, “I wasn’t consciously trying to kill myself. I was just trying to slow down my racing mind and I didn’t know any other way than taking drugs. Then I didn’t know how to stop.”
Born with hydrocephalus, Coral had to have a brain shunt to drain the excess fluid since birth and suffered from some vision issues. But while strong-willed, she had never been a problem child.
“She was a good kid, never drank or smoked, and belonged to our church youth group,” recalls Karen, a real estate professional who divorced Coral’s father because of his alcohol abuse, she says. “When she enrolled at CFCC, she moved into student housing and within months was drinking and partying. She dropped out of school, got severely depressed, and swallowed a bottle full of pills.”
Karen found her, took her to the ER, and then on the doctor’s advice used the Baker Act to send Coral to a rehab center. It was the beginning of a cycle that would repeat itself many times over the next years, so much so that Karen dubbed herself “the Queen of the Baker Act.” Dealing with her daughter’s alcohol abuse was tough enough, but the situation only got worse when Coral began using crack cocaine. There was some measure of relief when while doing her first rehab stint at The Centers, Coral was diagnosed as bipolar. But that didn’t stop the crack cocaine addiction. At one point, the just-over-five-feet-tall Coral had wasted away to a mere 80 pounds.
“I was totally unprepared for the effect that her crack cocaine addiction had on both our lives,” says Karen. “It was overwhelming. She’d disappear for days and I’d go downtown looking for her. Once I knew she had a crack pipe in her purse, so I called the cops and had her arrested. I was trying everything I could to save her.”
At her wits’ end, Karen even took out a classified ad in the newspaper: If you’ve had good luck with an addiction treatment, please contact me. And people did call her. The consensus advice was that Alcoholics Anonymous was the best addiction recovery program. The other bit of wisdom passed on to Karen was that she couldn’t save her daughter; only Coral could save herself.
“I also realized,” says Karen, “that I had to take care of myself to be able to do that.”
Karen got counseling and began taking anti-depressants to deal with the stress. She also became involved with The National Alliance On Mental Illness.
“I realized I needed help and support,” says Karen. “Because I wasn’t ever going to give up on Coral.”
In 2005, Coral was arrested on drug charges again and sentenced to six months. On the front end of that sentence was a court-ordered three-month rehab at The Centers. After three months, Coral would have a choice—finish out her sentence in jail or enroll in The Centers’ Substance Abuse Adult Residential Services program. Coral surprised even herself when she chose the latter.
“I decided I wanted to try to stay clean,” she says. “I started going to AA meetings; I kept doing the right things. Somewhere between six and nine months, I realized I was doing what the program says—living my way into being sober. That was the moment that changed everything.”
Coral’s official sobriety date is October 21, 2005, and as she approaches her fifth anniversary, she is truly living a new life. Thanks to a new medical procedure, she no longer has to have the brain shunt. In June 2006, Coral met Don Moorhouse at an AA meeting; he’s four years into being sober. Their friendship grew into something more and they were married in August 2009. This past January, Coral enrolled again at CFCC, aiming for a bachelor’s in early childhood education. Beyond that, she wants kids and a dog, specifically a French bulldog.
Karen and Coral remain close—not only as mother and daughter, but like best friends.
“We talk at least once every day,” says Coral, now 30. “We go to movies and shopping together, have lunch often. Don and I go over for dinner at least once a week. We have a great relationship.”
For Karen, seeing her daughter doing so well brings her much joy, describing Coral’s wedding day as “the happiest day of my life.”
“With addiction, every day is daily recovery,” says Coral, who continues therapy at The Centers and is still on bipolar medication. “But my life is good now. I’m alive and I like it.”
‘I Thought I Was In Control’
An athletic six-foot-four-inches tall, good-looking, and personable, Beau Broker seems like the quintessential all-American guy next door. One of the chosen few who glide through life, nary a bump in the road or a wrong turn. But, ah, appearances can be deceiving. Need proof? Check out Beau’s arrest mug shots. He does every day—they’re saved on his computer’s home screen.
“I started smoking weed and drinking when I was 12,” says Beau. “By the time I was 18, I was doing cocaine, Ecstasy, mushrooms, LSD, and pharmaceuticals. I was selling them, too. I did drugs and I sold drugs. That was my life and I was good at it.”
And good at getting away with it.
When weekend drinking became everyday drinking, Beau still excelled as a four-sport athlete and academic star at Forest High School. Twice he was named the Star-Banner High School Football Player of the Week and Beau says he was “absolutely intoxicated for both those games and a lot of others.” As for making the honor roll, he cheated, copied friends’ homework, and “was really good at looking out the corner of my eye for test answers.”
Beau was a charmer and everyone liked him, including his teachers and his coaches. He was even dating the high school principal’s daughter. He was just a kid who liked to party and have a good time. Nothing wrong with that at all. His mother, Patti, who was a single mother raising Beau and his younger brother, Sean, kept a watchful eye. She had divorced the boys’ father when they were 7 and 6, respectively.
“I had warned Beau and Sean about being careful with drinking because of their father being an alcoholic,” says Patti. “But I had been a bit of a party girl myself in my younger days. I had grown out of it and gotten on with my life just fine. And because Beau was doing so well in school and sports, I thought he’d be fine, too.”
Indeed, Beau seemed to have a future full of opportunities ahead of him after graduating from high school in 2002. As a standout defensive lineman, he’d attracted college coaches’ attention and offers of athletic scholarships. But the party lifestyle was too deeply rooted in him by then.
“I graduated from high school with a bag full of honors and college offers,” says Beau. “But all I was interested in was having a good time.”
For Beau that meant hanging out in bars, fighting, drinking, and doing drugs all night. Then he’d sleep most of the day, get up, and binge to fuel another night of fighting, drinking, and drugs. Even when he did have a job, he’d manage to do and sell drugs often in plain sight. He got equally high out of doing that as doing drugs.
“I loved the excitement and the brawling,” he says, realizing now it was how he dealt with deep-seated anger issues. “I loved fooling people. I thought I was in control and everyone else wasn’t.”
On December 1, 2005, Beau got a major warning that he was living a dangerous and likely deadly lifestyle. While he and two other friends were stopped at a red light that night in his SUV, another car pulled up alongside them. Beau and his friends were known drug dealers. There was brief eye contact with the adjacent car and then the other guys starting shooting.
“It was like we were suddenly in hell,” remembers Beau, who was in the front passenger seat. “The windows were shattering and I could feel the heat caused from the bullets going through the metal of the car. I yelled at my friend who was driving to ‘Go, go, go!’”
They managed to escape, but Beau’s friend who had been in the back seat was shot twice. As they sped to the hospital, Beau had the foresight to toss the drugs they had in the vehicle. While his friend was in surgery, Beau convinced the police that the drive-by shooting had been a car hijacking attempt. And with no trace of drugs in the vehicle, the cops had no reason to arrest them.
When Patti arrived at the hospital, her son’s shot-up SUV was parked in front of the ER entrance.
“There were bullet holes in the headrest of his seat and in the ceiling above,” says Patti. “It was a miracle that Beau hadn’t been shot. I thought that would’ve been a wake-up call for him to change his life.”
Beau’s friend lived and moved away. His brother Sean, who had become addicted to prescription drugs, got clean after the shooting incident. But instead of being scared out of the drug life, Beau was only emboldened.
“I went out and bought a gun and a bullet-proof vest,” he says. “I thought I was invincible.”
At this point, Patti realized that her son was beyond her help. Before, when Beau had no place else to go, he knew he could always come home. Now Patti forbade him from coming home as long as he was living the drug life.
“A mother’s heart can never turn away from her child, but it was time for some tough love,” says Patti. “It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do.”
After having eluded arrest for more years than seemed possible, Beau was finally caught in August 2007. Charged with possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, he was sentenced to six months probation—no jail time, no major consequences as far as Beau was concerned. He quickly violated his probation and had his driving license suspended. No problem, because he’d just drive without one. After all, he was invincible.
Funny what sometimes stops the invincible.
On Sunday, November 17, 2007, two days before his 24th birthday, Beau was driving home when he got a flat. While he was changing the tire, a sheriff’s deputy stopped to lend his assistance. And being a good law enforcement officer, he asked Beau for his driver’s license. Now Beau was busted and arrested. This time he was sentenced to six months in jail.
“Being locked up made me be still for the first time in years,” says Beau, “and I was finally able to get sober. While I was in jail, I read two books that changed my life—A Divine Revelation of Hell and the Bible.”
After serving two months, Beau was court-ordered to finish out the rest of his sentence at The Centers’ SAARS rehab program. He’s been sober and drug-free ever since.
“That was it,” says Beau, now 26. “I was done with the life I’d been living.”
An ordained minister with the Church of God, Beau is the youth pastor at the Living Waters Worship Center. His brother Sean is Living Waters’ assistant youth director. Also involved in missionary work, Beau now owns a small construction company and is training for a triathlon. If not for those telltale mug shots, there would be no hint of Beau’s previous life.
“Now,” Beau says, “my life is about helping, not hurting
Want To Know More?
The National Alliance On Mental Illness
Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administrationsamhsa.gov