Creative Care’s reputation for clinical excellence can be traced back to 1989 when founders Dr. K and Dr. Karen Khaleghi dedicated themselves to pioneering a residential treatment setting rooted in attachment-based healing. Drs. Khaleghi believed that patients’ struggles with substance use were the manifestation of underlying mental health conditions – thus the importance of a dual diagnosis with correlating treatment – and that those core mental health conditions could be understood through a compassionate lens.
Morteza Khaleghi, PhD, LMFT
Renowned for his clinical insight and pioneering efforts to bring psychoanalytic thinking to dual diagnosis populations, Dr. K has led the Creative Care organization to find and understand the deeper issues impacting each person. Dr. K was trained at the California Graduate Institute where he obtained his doctorate. He has been working in the field of addiction and acute mental health since graduating and has been integral in the continued development of the dual diagnosis treatment methodology.
Karen Khaleghi, PhD
First, as a parent, second as a practitioner, Dr. Karen Khaleghi speaks to parents and organizations about the formation of addiction, the critical aspects of nature and nurture, and the resulting disconnection between emotions and behavior. Both she and Dr. K feel strongly that there needs to be more of a dialogue about the genesis of addiction and the path to recovery, a process they call “connecting the dots.”
A letter from one of our founders, Dr. Karen Khaleghi
My Brother Mike
Mike was born on September 3rd, 1959, the fourth of five children to Edwin & Nancy. He died alone and unclaimed until happenstance connected us, Mike’s family, with the Lahaina detective handling the matters of the “next of kin.” How and when the family had become fractured to the point of Mike dying alone could, of course, be told from many different family members’ perspectives.
I can speak from my perspective.
The last time I saw Mike was when I jumped on a plane to Maui after being told by my mom that Mike was on the streets again and was in really bad shape. The story that unfolded this time was that his pill doc on Maui had been shut down and that he was in withdrawal. He was seen lying on the sidewalk, appearing to be massively struggling. The call to my mom came from someone who knew Mike and had tried to help him with day jobs while encouraging him to get clean.
Less than 24 hours later, I landed in Maui in hopes of intervening and getting Mike into treatment. My brother Tom who was sober for almost 20 years was to meet me in Maui in hopes that together we could get Mike to agree this time.
By the time I landed in Maui, Mike was loaded and had made his way back to his place. Mike’s apartment had all the signs of a lifelong addict/dealer: small electronics in abundance, big-screen TVs, bikes, and a few safes. He would fund his addiction by dealing just enough to get “well.” His life has been pared down to living and sleeping in a duct-taped recliner surrounded by his take. And as I knelt in front of Mike and held his hands in mine, asking him if he was tired enough to come with me, I could see that Mike had no quit in him. He had no ties to bind him to the thought that another life was possible.
My brother Mike and I were born into a family that continued a line of generational alcoholism. Our father, grandfather, and great grandfather were alcoholics whose “medicine” was the drink. They were a line of men who had never learned a way to acknowledge, much less express, their feelings. As I explained to my children, they never learned the words that could create ties that connected their feelings with the life they lived.
Learning the words is important.
I have raised 4 children and I can tell you firsthand that the words that can convey how we feel are learned most powerfully within the family. And when those powerful words expressing anxiety, fear, anger, pain, joy, and elation are uttered with family members and daily life goes on, resilience develops. This resilience transfers into our ability to cope with the slings and arrows that come to us all in the world outside.
Mike did not learn the words of life. My mother would say that Mike was her wild Irish rose, quick to anger and hard to soothe. Quick to smile with a laugh that led her to shield him from the consequences of his behavior. When I think of Mike as a kid brother, I recall that he was constantly irritated – with everything. His speech was hard to understand because he was so rushed to speak. He had allergies and acne and a growth spurt that gave him 6 inches in a year. It was in 7th grade that Mike found pot, and suddenly, his world was no longer so irritating. When Mike stopped going to school – cutting to smoke weed – he was sent to an educational psychologist to be tested for learning problems. As I understood from reading the report that the educational psychologist wrote, Mike had a very high IQ as well as severe ADHD. The recommendations were medication and special education to deal with his behavioral issues.
Mike received neither. In an alcoholic family, the follow-up is slim to none and Mike had none. He went on to drop out of school in 10th grade as he became the local source for weed, cocaine, pills, and always alcohol. At 6’6″ with long blond hair and genetics that gave him muscles, he was an imposing figure and a hit in the stoner world. His financial success made him popular and led him to live in a drugged haze, believing that he had the world on his terms.
As the years went by, Mike’s inability to temper his behavior, along with his lack of high school diploma or GED, led to Mike being unemployable. Accordingly, Mike went full force into dealing and his addiction, creating the chaos that formed the train wreck that became his life. By the time he was in his early 20’s, he was threatening suicide when he would emerge from binging.
I was the person that Mike called when he was despondent and threatening to end it all. I tried in vain to get Mike to stop using, to get help, promising all manner of things to no avail. My alcoholic family system was fractured and broken and certainly not a resource, backup, or support of any kind. I was faced with not only denial but anger that I was disrupting their acceptance of the status quo. In accepting that Mike was an addict needing treatment, my family would be forced to look at their own use, their own alcoholism.
It was many years later that I staged an intervention that led my father to enter treatment for his alcoholism. In those intervening years, Mike’s addiction took control over his life and led to his withdrawal from meaningful contact with any family member. He moved into a world defined by his use and life as a dealer. His contact with the family was based solely upon urgent life-threatening concerns that frequently had dire legal consequences. Help for Mike was delivered at arms-length in that complicity was never acknowledged, much less accepted.
Over the years, Mike knew that I was available to him when he was in need. When Mike moved to Phuket, Thailand at the urging of a friend who had the inside track on elephant rides & “specialty drugs,” I paid for the urgent medical care he needed but only through direct payment to the treatment provider. And I continued the message that I would take care of his life concerns if he entered treatment. This would lead to Mike ending contact with me, preferring to talk to other family members who persisted in believing that his problems stemmed from a run of really bad luck.
Ever so profoundly, Mike slipped into an alternate reality of living as an addict who had no ties to life beyond meeting his daily need of getting “well.” As I mourn him, I think of the life that he could have lived. As I parent my children, I think of my brother who could have had a different life had he been born to parents who were not mired in alcoholism and enabling. I attempt to weigh out the factors of biology, predisposition, and awareness. And I pray for the awareness that leads to making life better for those that struggle with addiction and for the families that endeavor to do better than the hand that they felt was dealt them, just as I have endeavored to create a place where addiction can be put on the table in the light of day to be dealt with and tackled so that recovery is possible and relationships are full and rewarding.