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This site is devoted to sharing pictures, letters  and poems of Sean Blake. He was a young man who loved kindness.  He enjoyed giving and receiving love. A gifted poet and writer. He was an amazing chess and card player.  Sean showed his love by cooking for family, friends and strangers alike.  You may have seen him reading palms on Church St. in Burlington, VT.  He touched many lives with his wit, charisma and love of life.

The site is maintained by Sean’ s family. We hope to show that Sean was more than his disease. We hope there will be less stigma and shame with mental illness and addiction. We hope to raise awareness of the dangers of  opiates and risk of death from their use.

As anyone reading this can understand, Sean wanted to live. he wanted sobriety. It takes only one moment of  weakness with an opiate to cause serious consequences. The message is don’t start. No one intends to grow up to be an addict.

The poems and letters were written, mostly during periods of good health.  The writings and posts chronicle his struggles with love, bipolar disorder, addiction and life.  Hopefully,  what he has left behind will help another to choose life over addiction or at least show more kindness to those struggling with this disease.

SB died at age 27 from an overdose of alcohol and fentanyl, combined with marijuana.

We will miss him forever.

Remembrance, One Year Ago

It has been a tough few weeks, sometimes the grief just gets worse. The holiday without out you, the birthday cake not purchased. Then again, this time of year has always been hard. Summertime and bipolar disorder are bad companions, the addiction fuels the mania and vice versa.  All night campfires and waterfront gatherings….Everyone tells me this anniversary date is rough, the shock is gone and you really, truly feel the loss.  Tim, Ned and I all feel like life is quieter now, less bright and colorful without our charismatic, witty, life of the party.  Complicating everything is the poor health of Tim’s mom , Sean’s beloved Grandmother.

For 10 years we did all we could to get Sean the help he needed. Some things we did well, some not so much. We did the best we could. Like all Momma Bear’s with a struggling child, I became quite co-dependent. I became an expert in mental illness and addiction. Yet, nothing I did truly made a difference. So, losing Sean meant a losing a battle our entire family and many friends had been battling.

So, when I get in a negative state of mind I try to build a gratitude list.

I am grateful for all the support, people who immediately came to our aid when Sean was admitted. The hospital visits, texts, calls, all meant so very much. Sarah, Dawn, Kristin, Dale, Patricia, Pat and Greta helped immensely. Daniele insisted on bringing food when I couldn’t think of eating, that we totally ate, and gum-the best.  Everyone who showed up at our doorstep, often with gifts of food. I would just say I have the best friends you ever could have. The continued calls, texts, messages, invites..it helps. If you have a friend grieving stay with them.

I am grateful to have a job I love and awesome coworkers, the joy of being mostly good at something is a constant reminder to take better care of myself and to keep moving forward. Grateful to have a little extra time off now.

I am grateful for the strong love of Sean’s friends, they sustain me. I admire any young person in recovery because, I know how hard it is. I spent many a late night talking to Sean and hearing how hard it was to maintain sobriety. The last day I saw him, he cried “It’s just so hard”, I wanted to take him to the hospital that day but, he refused. He wanted to go to work and not let his employer down. I believe it is possible and a fast track to an amazing life if you can stay sober. So many young people have told me they are staying clean because of Sean’s death.

I am grateful for the ER and ICU staff for keeping Sean alive long enough to determine the damage to his brain. Then the respectful discussion regarding organ transplant, which Sean would have wanted.

I am grateful for the website. Sean had a mix tape we often listened to. I couldn’t understand the lyrics. Sean said “Mom it’s me J**kie For Kindness “  So, I don’t use or say J**kie, so it became For-Kindness. I appreciate the opportunity to write and share Sean’s work. Now that I have some more time, I look forward to being able to go through the remainder of his work.

I am grateful for the passage of several legislative acts. One bill H 874, in particular, presented by a legislator who knew Sean from jail. He presented a bill to ensure that people are not uniformly taken off their psychiatric meds upon entering jail, I am guessing to save money?? Sean was released in a very manic state, he went back on his medication and was trying to get his mood stabilized before he died.

S166 was passed to allow a substance abuse assessment on admission to jail, and to provide MAT for opiate addiction if needed. I am not sure if Sean would have taken MAT but, he could have used the counselling.

Again, many were moved by our story presented at the Burlington Comm Stat meeting to press for passage of this bill.

We are very private and to share Sean’s story was very difficult, we were asked by a mental health counselor, Jackie Corbally, who knew Sean from one of his stays at Maple Leaf Farm and it seemed right. Many have an illusion that substance abuse doesn’t or can’t affect them. This disease does not discriminate; race, income, education level.. all can be affected.

We were also asked to share his story with a student, whose dad Dr. Gil Allen, kept Sean alive on admission to the ICU. The film won an award and Riley Allen donated the prize money to NAMI for the Family Support Group.

I am grateful that so many of these changes were begun or helped by people that knew Sean and wanted change because of him.

Money donated to New Found Life Treatment center funded scholarship for 3 students. Our family is forever in debt to the family programs at New Found Life and Hazelden/ Betty Ford, these programs saved us. These programs were offered at no cost to help families.

I am grateful for the new programs at Safe Recovery, particularly Fentanyl Test strips. I think many have noted that Fentanyl has become a pivotal point in this epidemic, the numbers are skyrocketing. To the general public, the numbers aren’t known. The press doesn’t report them. Many people aren’t able to afford an obituary, or aren’t able to note a cause of death, as it takes 10-16 weeks. We didn’t put much in the paper as we didn’t know. Sean’s test for opiates was negative, so we didn’t want to put into print our speculation.  However, the death rates are 1-2 people a week, just in Burlington.

I remember in 1988, that as a new med student at the County, in the lock up ward, HIV was very new. I took care of a young African American with HIV. He needed dressing changes q 8. I tried to help him, he didn’t want me to get HIV so he insisted on doing most of the dressing change himself, I am still in awe of his courage. Anyhow, I hope we soon see overdose like HIV, a terrible disease that doesn’t improve by blaming the victim.

I am not so grateful that Sean didn’t get the care he deserved. I will fight for better substance abuse prevention and treatment, for mental health care parity, and for criminal justice reform. Many people tried to help Sean, very caring hard working people.  It’s the systems that need change. Many people I know are still struggling for housing, health care and medication.

I read this t the sunset memorial on Aug 1st, written by Sean upon hearing of my Dad’s death. They were very close.

“Wish you were here” played on the radio.

Thank you for teaching me Life is a Show.

Act with love and creativity.

Play music, read often. Laugh. Cook good food, speak with integrity, tell stories.

All the things I learned from you!!

Your wisdom taught us all. Your love was felt from this whole family. Enjoy your next life and new

Adventure, Because OH! Because the thing you taught the most, Never stop seeking. Peace and Love, Sean Blake

I am grateful, that while the losses were very profound, my Dad and Sean are together.

Shooting your Pride

by Sean Blake

March 23, 2014

A man stood with a decision to make.  To shoot an elephant or to leave this majestic beast to roam its new field.  The man shot the elephant.  What a dark tale about the death of an animal I really like.  What a story that is about so much more than the death of an elephant.  George Orwell’s Essay Shooting an Elephant is really about the struggle for people to conform to their society, to fill their roles that their culture gives them.  I enjoyed Orwell’s writing style.  I was completely in the mind of the young police officer.  I have been in so many situations where I have made the decision of the masses because I was going with the grain of the culture around me.  For example I was sales manager at a big and tale store.  I got a lot of questions from my customers.  Why do I work here? Why am I not big or tall?  I had to put on a role every day at work of the skinny salesman that can sell clothes to big guys. I had to be extra understanding, extra nice and extra small.  I thrived in an environment where most didn’t think I belong.  A lot of it was all bullshit, “big guys need nice fashionable clothing too,” and “I’m just a good salesman” and “that looks great, how about a tie to match.”  Humans are very good at conforming.  I conformed and found acting every day a lot of fun.  That may have been my favorite job I ever had.

Other than being disingenuous at a job, I have another example where lives were in danger. I was at a beach party.  I was around a group of people drinking, having a good time and taking it a little too far.  I didn’t say anything, instead I tried keeping up with them.  That night ended with my friend blowing my car up and me getting charged with DUI. Gratefully, no one was injured. A true lesson for me, listen to your conscience and do the right thing.

I found the death of the elephant to be very cruel and dark.  I have always been fond of elephants as I am of almost all animals.  The suffering this creature went through really hurt my feelings, but again it speaks volumes to the character of the police officer.  He didn’t even know how to kill an elephant but, he still tried his best.  Shooting away from the elephant’s brain because he thought that’s where he should shoot.  He continues to shoot the poor beast trying to put it out its pain and misery.  Failing to kill the beast, this bit did not sit well with me.  I felt the beast’s pain, I felt anger towards the man that shot it and I felt upset for the shooting and wish the man had just leveled his pride.

Pride is what killed the poor animal. Pride is a deadly sin according to some.  To me it’s not that evil but it is a killer in disguise.  Normally it just kills good vibes and peoples egos but in this story it kills an elephant slowly and painfully.  It brings to life the problem of pride. “I was hated by a large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me” (272) the futility of this man’s pride is painted beautifully in this quote.  Would it have really hurt the police officer if he had left the elephant alone? Everyone already thought he was a fool.  He was still so prideful, even though everyone hated him, he still believed in his own importantace.

Overall this was a well written story that I found hard to get through because of the animal abuse.  But like I stated above the killing of the elephant is really just a man trying to avoid to killing his pride.  Is that not what nearly all of us do every single day?

The Animals….

The City (Animals on the wall)

I see the animals swirl on the wall.

Above there are none, only my falls.

To the front is a seahorse,

Parked on the door.

It feels like life is but, a bore.

It’s not mine, All this I sought.

Where the fuck is all the pot.

To my left, is a little sleeping cat.

Mahn.. I’m getting awfully fat.

But, the food feels good,  when the drugs are gone.

Couldn’t it be, my lifestyle’s a little wrong?

Behind me are zebras, ready to stampede.

So I ran to the hills with a bottle of mead.

I’ve stolen so much, I don’t know what’s mine.

Going off to prison for quite some time out.

To my right is the walrus, up on his wave.

The curtain drops, I have finally caved.

I gave, gave away EVERYTHING but have it all and

I see the animals swirl on the wall.

 

jpeg a city animals

Homeless in Vermont….Cold

boots

Sean’s Boots 2015 Ethan Allen Club Shelter

Our local paper featured a story recently on the closing of our low barrier shelter for the season. This is Vermont and it is still pretty darn cold. I didn’t realize until very recently that most shelters require sobriety. Few offer much at all to single men.  I understand, limited resources etc.  Homelessness is complicated. Mental Illness and substance abuse are major barriers to getting housing. Unfortunately, history of incarceration can make matters even worse.

The paper featured a picture from 2015. It showed Sean’s boots. At the time this shelter was located in the former Ethan Allen Club. So ironic that the shelter was housed in this former exclusive men’s club. Sean stayed there for a few weeks in the spring of 2015.

I had a hard time understanding why he would choose homelessness over a nice bed in a comfortable home, with running water and cable TV.  That is what mental illness does, there is no sense. Home was confining, too many rules, sobriety (and many times we weren’t as tough as we should have been) being one of them.

At least the shelter offered warmth. I hated the idea of Sean being cold and hungry. The shelter offered a meal and a bed. Often, like many low barrier shelters there was commotion. People could come into the facility in varying states of sobriety. Sean said at one point “Everyone here is drunk and crazy” I can’t imagine sleeping in there. Yet, he didn’t want to come home.

We have brought meals this year to the new Community Health Center warming shelter. We have handed out poems of Sean’s and prayer cards. I hope someone might think about getting help after reading his story.  Bringing food has been gratifying, so wonderful to make people smile at the sight of a home cooked meal…. Visiting the shelter is sad though when I wonder if this would have been Sean’s future story if he stayed out on the streets.

Some positives are that Spectrum’s (for young adults) shelter age has been raised to 26. Sean may have faired better there with younger people and more services than the shelter at Ethan Allen. Also, the new warming shelter has more services through Community Health Center.

There is talk of potentially making this a year-round facility, just seems to make sense doesn’t it?

burlingtonfreepress.com/…summer/520433002002

Advocacy for Change

A few months ago, my husband and I spoke at a community opiate task force meeting in our hometown. The meeting was attended by the many officials including Mayor Weinberger , Police Chief del Pozo, Jackie Corbally- opioid policy coordinator; representatives from the Health Department, University Medical Center..

It was difficult to share some of the details of Sean’s history, especially his incarceration. However, it is part of his story. In fact, he was not given the care he needed in the prison system. He was sentenced for several misdemeanor offenses. Luckily, he never injured anyone. We are forever grateful that, while he definitely did wrong, his offenses didn’t cause significant harm. He was pretty good at petty theft and a bit of a con. How much was due to addiction vs. his bipolar disorder, I am not sure.

I do know, he failed attempts at “Mental health Court”. His PO tried, in vain, to get him treatment and Psychiatric care. Unfortunately, while sentenced at a “work camp” (prison for non violent offenders) he didn’t receive his medication for bipolar disorder. He never had a psychiatric evaluation and was never offered any medication for addiction. In the past he had good success with Abilfy for mood stabilization and Naltrexone (Vivitrol) for alcoholism. I don’t know if he would have identified himself as an opiate addict or not. I do think if he had received better mental health care he might have survived.

I feel pretty strongly that mental health should be part of care for our prisoners. You wouldn’t stop someone’s insulin if they were diabetic??

Our town’s mayor spoke about Sean in his “State of the City” address.  Specially, to advocate for treatment of incarcerated individuals for opiate addiction. How much this would have impacted Sean, I don’t know.  Sean overdosed just 38 days after his release. We don’t know if he knew he was taking an opiate.

I do think medication assisted treatment in the jails it is a very good idea. This was one of many suggestions to reduce overdose deaths. In Rhode Island, where medication assisted treatment is offered in prison, overdose deaths were reduced by over one half in recently released prisoners. (JAMA Psychiatry Feb 2017)

Reluctantly, my husband and I agreed to share Sean’s story to hope for better treatment. Not easy !! I don’t think I slept for a few days knowing the paper would print the story. Indeed, the paper got some of the facts wrong but, overall not too far off base. The actual mayor’s address was correct but the paper’s report wasn’t completely accurate.  Kim Blake (Sean’s mom)

https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2018/04/02/miro-weinberger-burlington-mayor-state-city-third-term-opioids-development-trump-immigration/473322002/