May 4, 2023

How Resilience Will Set you FREE From Childhood Trauma and Abuse with Kenneth Nixon

Welcome to the latest episode of the Think Unbroken Podcast, where we explore the theme of resilience through the personal story of a remarkable guest.... See show notes at:

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Welcome to the latest episode of the Think Unbroken Podcast, where we explore the theme of resilience through the personal story of a remarkable guest. In this episode, we sit down with Kenneth Nixon, a renowned author and speaker, to discuss his resilience journey and how he learned to overcome childhood trauma through forgiveness.

Kenneth shares with us his deeply personal and moving memories of growing up in a turbulent household and the impact it had on his life. Despite the challenges he faced, he reveals how he was able to find the strength to forgive those who hurt him and move forward on his journey towards healing and personal growth.

Through his inspiring story, Kenneth offers valuable insights into the power of resilience and forgiveness, and how they can transform our lives. Whether you're struggling to overcome your own challenges or simply seeking inspiration and guidance on your journey, this episode is a must-listen.

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Learn how to heal and overcome childhood trauma, narcissistic abuse, ptsd, cptsd, higher ACE scores, anxiety, depression, and mental health issues and illness. Learn tools that therapists, trauma coaches, mindset leaders, neuroscientists, and researchers use to help people heal and recover from mental health problems. Discover real and practical advice and guidance for how to understand and overcome childhood trauma, abuse, and narc abuse mental trauma. Heal your body and mind, stop limiting beliefs, end self-sabotage, and become the HERO of your own story. 

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be joined with you with another episode with my guest and friend, Kenneth Nixon. Kenneth, what is going on, my man? How are you today?

Kenneth: Doing good. It's Friday, getting ready to get off work and just try to relax and enjoy the weekend.

Michael: Yeah, I love that. I would say the same thing, but this weekend's gonna be a busy one, anyway, I digress. You know, when you and I first connected, the first thing that I thought to myself was, I love the advocacy, I love what you're trying to do, and build community. I have a vast appreciation for people who are putting in the effort and energy to create change, that's something that you and I are going to get into and we're gonna talk about the importance of how it is that you are making these moves in the world, in America, in your town, and really talk about how other people can as well. And I think Kenneth, a lot of people feel like they're unable to contribute because they aren't, you know, president or mayor or city council. And it's like, we're gonna get into some ways that I think will help people. But before we do that, what's one thing that I need to understand about you? So that I know who you are as a person.

Kenneth: Thank you again for having me, and that's actually a great question to start off because it's the core of how I introduce myself to individuals when I'm in the community is you can't understand me unless you understand the story of my mother because the two are intertwined and the work that I do is connected back to that entire journey. And to understand what makes me tick and to truly understand me, one would have to know the story of my mother and that's part of why I do the work that I do, because it's rooted in getting to know people at a deeper level than just service introductions or cursory conversations. So, the one thing you need to understand and we'll dive into that, to know me, you have to know the story about my mother.

Michael: Let's hear it.

Kenneth: Wonderful. So, my mother was unfortunately has spent her whole life suffering from multiple severe mental illnesses. And I, myself have a few that I've been dealing with my whole life to this day. But her being trapped in that cycle, unable to function in society as a teenager, as an adult, rendered her incapable of caring for any of her children, myself and my siblings included. And at the point of my birth, I was born in what was called Garfield Apartments, which is in the south side of Arlington, Virginia. And when I was born, the story of my birth, my mother had wrapped me in newspaper. She had given birth to me on the apartment floor, had wrapped me in newspaper, and this is a little graphic, but she had bitten off part the umbilical cord. And that's how my father found me as he was coming off of work in the apartment and she was off in the corner of the living room with kind of a vacant look as the story was told to me in the middle of a mental health episode. So, I was quite literally in crisis from the moment of birth but it's that pivotal start is the basis of a lifelong battle, not only of dealing with my own mental health challenges and growing up in an environment with a mother who spent her whole life in cycles of local incarceration, state hospital facilities drug and rehab facilities, dealing with different types of abuse, both physical and mental and me being in that environment and having to navigate it as a child and deal with my own insecurities and challenges growing up. So, I always say that my story to understand me, you have to understand the story of my mother.

Michael: Yeah, I actually resonate with a lot of that. You know, for me, growing up with a mother who was bipolar, narcissistic, addicted to pain prescriptions and alcohol, it strikes the chord with me. I even get a little emotional thinking about it, and that's because as much as we don't get any say in what we're born into; what we are born into creates the foundation for everything that we become. You know, I think about these pivotal memories as a child and how so much of my journey has been working through those, trying to understand them, and probably most importantly, let go find forgiveness where it finds the space to be applied. What's a childhood memory that you have that has shaped who you are today?

Kenneth: One memory specifically I have is the moment I can remember as a child where I were finally able to connect that something was not all together in terms of my environment interacting with my mother, and I would say I was six years old. I had to be very aware and develop that sense of awareness at a very young age. I remember sitting at the dining room table, we were in Arlington at this time. And I was six years old so at that point I'm in Kindergarten, I believe kindergarten, first grade, one of those. And I was sitting at the dining room table and I was working on something that was back when they used to give homework, my children don't get homework in elementary school, but that's a foreign concept to them. But I was sitting working on a homework assignment and it was quiet in there, my other stepbrothers and sisters were still in school, and I just remember this huge thud happening and it shook me. And it was my mother actually kicking through the door at the apartment and at the time I did not know fully who she was because I did not spend significant time that early with her because I was with my father who got custody of me at a young age. And I just remember her screaming at the up the steps looking for my father; my father came down halfway, he didn't come all the way down the steps. But I remember them coming down halfway down the steps and my stepmother coming down the steps behind him. And I remember them going back and forth, shouting and cursing at each other. But I didn't understand at the time why my father never fully came down the steps and why he never fully engaged with her just was off as I was growing up, I was like, I always wonder why did he not like fully engage someone who had just kicked open his door, I didn't understand why. But at a certain point she stopped and walked directly over to me and I was frozen, I was gripped with what I know now is anxiety in fear and a couple of other things.

And as I sat there, I remember her distinctly reaching over and grabbing the pencil got to my hand and asking me a question to the effect of what's two plus two? So, I must have been working on a math assignment or something of that nature. But I was rendered mute. I could not respond to anything in that moment. I just remember, crying and sitting there and then at some point she turned around looked up at my dad, said a few choice words to him, and then she was gone, I didn't see her for like six months after that. But at that point I just started crying profusely and I remember my dad coming down to my stepmother trying to console me. And then, I remember that because a couple of days later, my dad explained to me fully that that was my actual mother and that moment has always stuck with me the first moment I really was introduced to trauma in a real way.

Michael: Yeah, that's a h*ll of a story, man. You know, I think that, so actually I know witnessing and bearing witness in my own journey to those moments very similarly, I mean, dude, the impact even today, I still feel, you know, despite the work and despite the coaching and the books and the conferences and the therapy and all the investment, it's like, what's really interesting is we carry those. If you've ever read Bessel van der Kolk book, Body Keeps A Score so much of that just sits within us, and it shapes us, it shapes our reality. But one of the really interesting things that a lot of people don't talk about in conjunction with traumatic experiences is that sometimes you just need one person to create and build resiliency in you by showing you that they love you, that they support you. And I remember once I was sitting and I was like trying to trace back these people who possibly had done this. And what's really surprising is that for me it was like my coaches and my peers at school, a lot of the times. Do you feel like with your father, you had that kind of emotional support, do you think that when you look at the resiliency that's been built in you, especially with what you do now, was he kind of a cornerstone in this journey for you, especially with that other side of being your mother?

Kenneth: Yeah. So, this piece is going to get a little nuance for me. I don't want to go too terribly deep because that can be a three-hour conversation by itself. But my father is, that answer is yes and no. I say yes because my father was big on fulfilling the commitments that you have to family. So, my father was that stabilizing force in my life, he made sure I never went without clothes or food to eat or roof over my head from that perspective, I had stability which is critically important in the development of a child, but that stability alone wasn't enough to protect the trauma that was around. But then my father also had a lot of trauma and things that he had carrying with him as a product of a broken home.

My father grew up in East Side Baltimore in the fifties and sixties, the height of drugs in violence, the civil rights era, and his father left him when he was nine years old for New York. And he used to always tell me the only thing he remembered his father ever giving him was a bike on the day that he got in his car and took off and went to New York and he also had his, my father at age 16 in Baltimore, a bullet due to a drug altercation went through the glass of the home they were living on Barclay Street and pierced through the couch and killed my uncle but at the time his 12-year-old brother who died in my father's arms at the age and my father was 16 years old at the time. Then fast forward a few years later, a second brother of his died from drug overdose in my father's arms when my father was in his early twenties.

So, you're talking about someone who grew up with an absent father who had to drop out to high school to help my grandmother support the home, who used alcohol and cigarettes as coping mechanisms at a very young age then had siblings who died in his arm when he was still a child. And then now he's a father, which means I did not get any type of emotional support because that wasn't accessible to him or he didn't even know how to provide that type of support because he had undiagnosed and an untreated issue that never got dealt with, but I did inherit some of his bad behaviors when it comes to coping in dealing with trauma and not processing things in a healthy way. So, yes, he was a stabilizing force in my life. He gave me something he didn't have, which was a present father, but that other piece of emotional support, how to navigate, how to be resilient within that type of environment, he did not have the tools or the resources to be able to equip me with that because he did not know how to access it himself.

Michael: Yeah. And that is so true for so many people. I mean, that story is heartbreaking. You know, you think about those, you go, that's movie-like in some capacity. And then I go through my own journey as a kid and many of these very, very chaotic movie-like insane circumstances I was a part of. And then you sit at it, you go, actually it's more common than we think, it is vastly more common. And when you have so much of this happening in your world, in your life, it becomes the nomenclature for what you think is love and communication, compassion, friendship, mentorship, like all of it is encompassed in that. And that's how you arrive at this concept that has become the cornerstone of my life and my journey, which is generational trauma. You know, you map this and Kenneth I just look at this and go, I'm so thankful I really do mean this. I am so thankful for the internet because it was through access to information and learning and data, I was able to like start making meaning of these things even deeper probably more so than therapy or coaching or many of those aspects because it gave me the space to kind of study within the nuance like this leads to this, leads to this. And then you get to the arrival point and this destination where people like you are where I would even include myself in where we're making the shift. We've kind of said, actually, you know what? I don't like the world this way. I'm gonna do something different here.

When you trace back and you look at this, it's like there are these dominoes that fall, right? There's all these moments in these circumstances in which when I look at my life, it was ultimately arriving at the straw that broke the camel's back that changed things for me. And that led down this beautiful path, a very, very difficult path, like, let's not get it twisted, like it has been a journey, dude. But for you, where did you start to feel like, I'm gonna do something different?

Kenneth: Well, for me, I have to actually fast forward to 2019, which is not all that different that long ago. When my father passed away from a short but aggressive battle with cancer and even as going into adulthood, I did the things that I thought would help me kind of place things in context, right? When I got out of high school, I thought, okay, let me go and find, ‘cuz I had lost touch for a few years ‘cuz there was a lot of anger and resentment and bitterness of how my childhood unfolded that I didn't want any communication for a few years. But I said, well, let me go find my mother and my grandfather and my brothers and so forth and go on this journey what is essentially I thought was gonna be a healing journey of, and I got some questions that I want to ask and there's answers that I want, right? It's still that teenager, I'm an adult, but still teenager childish. Like, I deserve answers and I'm going to find out my answers of and I went on this journey and I came away empty, not really understanding the big picture of how everyone fits in this puzzle of life and the things that they had to grapple with, right? It was very me focused, which in some aspects make sense when you're the one feeling the trauma, feeling the anger, and having to live it. But it was very me focused.

And then you fast forward to 2019 and my father passes away, and now the one person, the one person who was the stabilizing force in my life, like 2019, I'm married, I have children. I'm thinking I'm living this life that I built for myself and that I'm good, right? I have my whole unit. But when my father passed away, it hit like a ton of bricks, the depression, the anxiety, the one stabilizing force that unconsciously I probably thought I would never have to lose, was taken away from me. All the trauma, even though I didn't have that emotional component, it was still a consistency in there. And with him being gone, my whole world shifted, I honestly did not know what to do, and I tell people all the time, I am grateful that God blessed me with a wife and children because knowing that I had, and this is the thing that I'm thankful for my father too because he was so consistent in providing, doing the things that a parent should do, that I kept getting up every day because I had an obligation and a responsibility to my children and to my wife, and having that sense that that's what my father passed to me. If I did not have that, I probably would've gone into a deeper depression and struggled with some things much deeper. But it was at that moment I was able to take a step back and with that blanket, ‘cuz it was like a security blanket being torn away.

For me to say there has to be something so much deeper that I have not dealt with in terms of helping to support my family in ways that they may not even be capable of doing it. But I've been too selfish, and this is just me talking, this is me personally, that I felt that I was too selfish to think, not think beyond just myself and think more broadly about not only the environment and the people, but the systems and lack thereof that are surrounding my family at the time.

Michael: I feel most people can resonate in this concept of feeling selfish. And if you really narrow down, I mean like, you know, if you study this long enough and you look at human psychology and you can map out our behavioral patterns, our autonomic responses, especially when we are in constant fight or flight, which obviously a loss of any capacity, chaos in the home, right? These things lead down this pathway really, that selfishness is self-preservation. Now until you're studious of who it is that you are, and you become conscious of who you are, that's something that you don't understand. Right? I'm speaking through my own lens on this because when I look at some of these really awful, some moments in my late teens and my twenties these choices, these decisions that I made, I didn't realize that they were, honestly, I didn't even realize they were hurting other people, I just thought I was taking care of myself. Now, taking care of myself was very chaotic at the time so let me be very clear about that. But I was like, this is what it means. Like no one else has my back, the people that do, they're a little bit off their rocker, right? So, if I don't do this for me, no one's going to, and then you come to find, okay, wait a second. This isn't love, this isn't compassion. This isn't how you build the foundation of something beautiful. And it was in that, that I realized actually what I need to do is step into the discomfort of seeking the healing. And that was so incredibly, incredibly difficult and part of that discomfort, arguably probably the hardest part was reconciliation, I'm not even going to label it as forgiveness. And the reason I say that, Kenneth, is because for me, I think about how does one forgive their mother when their mother cuts their finger off, right? That's a thing I will carry with me. But I've reconciled it and I've just sat and I go, that's my reality, not the reality that I wish existed, right? But the reality that I'm actually in. But I started to understand forgiveness and I understand more so and more deeply how it was really a necessity for this journey, and I was able to forgive people like my grandmother, forgive people like in my life, who even to this day, I don't really want a name, but I was able to add forgiveness for them and then for myself, when I did that led down the path of compassion, self-love. And actually, the thing you mentioned, which is something I did not understand at all, was showing up even on the hard days. And so, I'm wondering what was something that you had to forgive? What was an experience for you where you were like, I have to do this so I can break free?

Kenneth: So, the way you just put it, hit the nail right on the head for me. Forgiveness in my context was always for myself because I don't know that I can ever get to the place of accepting and being willing to fully acknowledge some of the intentional hurts and traumas that the adults in my life inflicted and did not consciously work to alleviate. But forgiveness unlocks the power that trauma in those circumstances had on me and prevented me from moving forward to be able to live a more healthy, productive life that not trapped and beholden to those certain things.

So, for me, forgiveness, allows me to not necessarily forget or to ever get to a place where it doesn't inform how I interact with some of my family or other people in my life, especially during those periods. But it really allowed me to be on a path of healing that put me on a platform of empowerment because I'm at a place now where I can freely tell my story because it is transformed for me to something that I utilize as a bomb almost, for the advocacy work that I do to say, here is my story and here is why I'm involved in the work that I do. And it gives me access to be able to let people know that they're not alone, that they're not unique, their circumstances may feel unique and it may feel personal, and in a lot of ways it is. but that there are those out there who are able to share their story so people feel that there is a safe space to not only access some of their internal power or healing process, but if you feel led to actually do something to help others potentially avoid the same circumstances then there's a path to that as well.

Michael: I think the path to that only exists in reconciliation and forgiveness. You know what this crux of this show of Think Unbroken of everything that I've been working on, I is like transformed trauma into triumph, right? I think we have a moral obligation; I really do. Like, I don't necessarily mean at this scale, and certainly not for everyone. This is a path that I kind of was like walking down the forest path and I just fell into a rabbit hole like I never saw this coming. But it just made sense to me, I was like, here we are. How do we use the voices of those who have been through incredibly painful events and allow them to share their story and their journey, right? And that platform, it doesn't have to be this, it's in your own home, first and foremost, with your friends, with your neighbors, your peers, your church, your community. And I think that you have to get there by first forgiving yourself. Right. I mean, dude, I've done some sh*t like, I don't even know that I want to even say publicly. I am like, I will go to prison still. Like, I don't know where statues of limitations are on some things. And I'm just like, I had to sit and do the work. And I had to show up for myself, I had to forgive myself. And that is one of those things that is so incredibly difficult because often we destroy ourselves independently and individually, far more dangerously than anyone else who hurts us. What was forgiving yourself in this journey like?

Kenneth: Well, for me, right? So, there were so many people, my stepmother, my aunts, my uncles, anyone who had a cursory understanding of what was going on, but did nothing. I had to tap into some forgiveness of them in order to get to a place to forgive myself, right? For me, that anger and everything that was built up, it became a wall that until I was able to forgive people, I couldn't access forgiveness for myself, right? Forgiving myself for not grieving, forgiving myself for and being afraid to cry, like this false sense of masculinity that I should not cry, that I have to s*ck it up and tough it out. Forgiven myself for not having enough curiosity. And what I mean by curiosity is being curious about who am I, who am I trying to become? Like, why am I here? What is the purpose of all of this if I can't find my identity as I progress out of this?

So, forgiveness, for me was multifaceted, but I had to get to the place where I allowed myself to, you know what, it's okay for me not to be okay. It's okay for me to be angry. It's okay for me to go through different levels of emotion, from anger to sadness, to frustration because that's all a part of being human. And forgiving myself for not allowing the wholeness of who I am to feel those emotions in a deep way, and then being able to wrestle with them, right? Because if you don't feel your emotions and allow your body to relieve anxiety through crying and through some of the natural processes, you can't fully wrestle with, well, why am I feeling this way? Why am I crying right now? What is it that's within me that is being released and how I manifest this in a way that gets me to a better place of forgiveness, but also a better place of healing.

Michael: Yeah, that release is something else, man. You know, we hold on so tightly and especially as men and men of color who grow up in these environments where I mean, you go look at the statistics child abuse is so much more prevalent and predominant and low-income communities of color, and it's like, we are taught don't cry, don't laugh, don't exist like just go shut the f*ck up and stand in that corner and be silent and invisible and then we go find the ways to be seen. And here's what's really interesting about those ways we find to be seen, a lot of times they're pretty dangerous. They're pretty, like in incredibly harmful and hurtful ways to not only ourselves, but our own communities, our own families, our own friends, our own relationships.

And I think a part of that is, it is systemic like, I don't care what anybody says, like in a lot of ways your zip code is a better indicator of success in your life than anything else. And so, my hope is when people hear this, they recognize and they understand, you cannot negotiate with what I'm about to say ‘cuz it is just fact. Boys who grow up like we grew up do not make it statistically, right? They just do not. And so, we're not outliers, we've been in trouble, we've done some things, right. Maybe we just got a little bit lucky than the guy next to us, but I've been in handcuffs more times than I can count, I'm here by the sure will of God's, spirit, universe, mother nature, I don't know, brother. But I think about the importance of having intention in my life now, and I think this is the thing that most people miss.

Most people who go through trauma, through abuse, and I'm not even talking about even just the people who grew up in places like we grew up. I just mean in general across the board, they don't real, you said something so important they don't realize that they're allowed to discover who they are. They don't realize that they're allowed to have the curiosity about becoming themselves. Where do you begin on that? Like what was the starting point for you?

Kenneth: So, you just mentioning that those who don't make it that actually is a starting point and I say why ‘cuz I have perfect examples in the sense that both of my brothers, so with my mother, had four children, I'm the youngest of her four children. I have two older brothers and an older sister. My two older brothers to this day are still wrestling with substance abuse in and out of incarceration for bad and poor decisions. I have an older brother that's still incarcerated right now. My oldest brother, he just got out of incarceration in 2021 after 13 years for some of the decisions he's made. And he's now trying to rediscover himself and figure out how does he be a father to his adult daughter who has children so, he's a grandfather now. Right. A whole life has passed him. I have my older sister who unfortunately because of her mental health challenges and her other challenges could not care for her children and they ended up in foster care.

So, I've always wrestled with this sense of anxiety around of how did I not end up in the same circumstances as my siblings? I made poor decisions as them, I had this same opportunity as they had in terms of slipping through the cracks but they didn't make it and they're still trying to fight just to keep their head above water today. And we're talking about folks in their forties and fifties. Right. That they're still trying to fight to keep their head above water. And for me that was a red herring, so to speak, in me having the opportunity to be able to not only shift the dynamic in my life, but be intentional in the work that I do and how I go about life, because I may be the only chance that they have to get some sense of peace or normalcy. But knowing that this is so much bigger than just my family unit, that the systems, the systemic things that impact someone's ability to just be foundationally functional, like housing over their head that's stable a healthy environment in which they can access services that are needed to support them in their various illnesses and ailments. And being intentional, really thinking about in these moments, how do I be intentional to protect my peace and protect my mental health and continue on the treatment path that I'm on so I could be healthy enough to be a positive force to impact my family's life and others.

Michael: Yeah. And so much of it really comes into this idea that I think we fill these calls, right? I feel this even within myself. And again, I don't really know where this whole Think Unbroken thing came from, other than it felt like that is what I'm supposed to do. And to leverage my experiences of the past and say, look, I get it. I'm never like, yes, I teach, I coach, I instruct, I write books, I lay out the practical how-to blah, blah, blah. But so much of it has just been, I know what it's like to be there and this is what I did to get out, this is what I did to create the change. And so much of it is the internal shift, the internal aspect of I want something different and allowing yourself that something different because as much as we wish that the people around us would, would follow suit, most of the time they're not. And remember I was listening to this podcast with Ed Mylett, and Ed created this massive, massive company worth hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. Grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father, got beat up all the time, was bullied the whole thing, right? He said something Kenneth, that made me think of you. He says; in every single family, there's the one; the one the person who makes the decision to heed the call and to go and create change. And a big part of your journey has been that. And I would love for you to talk about what that call has been for you and what your mission today is?

Kenneth: Yeah. So, and I really appreciate, that thank you for that. I never looked at it in that light until you just mentioned it in that fashion so thank you for that again. And my reflection time, I'm actually gonna wrestle with that a little bit but what got me on this path, I go back to the curiosity, I really wanted to dig into how is it possible that my mother never got into any semblance of stability in her life where she had what I would coin as a thriving healthy life. And as I begin to do research of her history with the criminal justice system, I noticed at one point and I really focused on the periods where she was absent a lot and I didn't know where she was at. So, I focused on the period of 1989 through about 1994 and what I found was really astonishing that 37 times between 1989 and 1994 in Arlington County ‘cuz that's where I focused in Arlington County, Virginia. My mother was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace public intoxication, possession of drugs, assault and battery, and the list goes on and on, and it was just this cycle, but they would no profs her, which means they would dismiss it, but the charges weren't dropped.

So, each time that they kept this vicious cycle going where she would be charged, no released back into the community. Occasionally she would end up in a state hospital facility where they would stabilize her and then release her back into the community or law enforcement would pick her up and take her to the local emergency room where she would be zip tied to a gurney until an open bid came up somewhere in the state and that could be four hours, that could be six days. And it just this vicious cycle of local incarceration and state hospitalization but no continuum of care, no real intentional or intentionality in an approach to get her to a place of being able to support her life, even if she had wraparound support to get her to be more stable. And at that point, they really helped me understand that we have a system, particularly in this country that criminalizes mental illness. When you break your arm or you are really sick, an EMT is who comes to your front door. When it's an illness of the mind and someone calls 911, you have an armed law enforcement person that shows up at your door. And in very serious circumstances that can end up with that person would have untrained law enforcement officers who are going into a situation that they don't fully understand and they're assessing dangers and having to make snap judgments and decisions instead of this issue being in a healthcare context. So, that's led me down this path of how do we get to the place that we decouple the criminal justice system being so intertwined with mental health and mental illness and put in place a humane system of treatment that gets people on the path of treatment and stability and not in the criminal justice system.

Michael: So, then how do we do that? Right? The reason I ask is, you know, I trace back very much similarly. My mother would disappear for weeks at a time, who knows where multiple times getting arrested for drinking and driving and they would just let her out. I remember one time I was in the car with her, it was me and my little brothers, we were coming home from church. She was always intoxicated and we were at a night service, it was weird ‘cuz she would go to church and be wasted. Right. And like nobody's ever said anything, I was like, what is happening right now? It felt so insane to me. And we get pulled over, she gets towed in to, and we get put in the squad car. My little brothers and I we're like seven, eight years old, we're freaking out, obviously. And we were in the police station for like two hours, three hours and they let her go. And this happened again and again and again. And I do think about this quite frequently, how when someone is having a mental health issue, the first response is armed officers like, and my brain goes, that doesn't make sense. And we know, and we see this constantly, these guys are having to make snap decisions people's lives are lost. I'm hard pressed to say I know the statistics, so I will not, but I know that there is an impact of that. So, what are the changes? What is the advocacy? What is it that you're trying to do, and what can other people do to assist you in this mission?

Kenneth: Yes. That's a great segue to talk about this. Well, the first thing is the advent of the 988 number to start to try to get society to move away from dialing 911 and move towards what is now in place, the 988 number. And it's in place, I believe in 28 states now, and it's expanding to others and it's the new National Suicide Mental Health Prevention number that is launched and it gives community members, family members, the opportunity to have a single easy to remember number for anyone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or con contemplating suicide. And I know as well as you know, that suicide is a major public health issue in the United States. And there are tens of thousands of deaths a year just off of suicide alone and the idea that you can have a 988 number that is similar to 911, to get people to someone who can potentially talk to them and dispatch resources to be with them is critically important as we're trying to deal with the mental health crisis in this country.

So, the first thing I would say for people to do is to understand that there is a 988 number out there that they can call in lieu of law enforcement being the first folks that you decide to call to get someone that they can talk to and kind of help diagnose what type of response that individual needs. But second to that is really starting to educate yourselves on what is called the Crisis Now model which in combination with federal agencies and other nonprofit organizations, they put to out and put together a model called the Crisis Now Model, which is an innovative approach to crisis response that seeks to improve the outcomes of those who are experiencing mental health of substance abuse issues. And the traditional response historically has been inadequate, right? And that's armed law enforcement and local jails.

One of the things I always want people to recognize as you're looking to dig in, I always ask, those who looking to get into advocacy. Can you tell me what the largest mental health treatment facilities are in the United States right now?

Michael: Jails.

Kenneth: They're jails. Jails are the largest mental health treatment facilities in this country right now. And that's something that we fundamentally know it's wrong and that we have to change. And what the crisis now model, what that does, and you can look at Tempe, Arizona, you can look at San Antonio, Texas, Virginia is starting to implement, some of this model, it involves a network of community-based crisis services, including hotlines, mobile crisis teams, and crisis stabilization centers. And these services are designed specifically to provide immediate trauma informed care for individuals that are in crisis. And the goal is to help them stabilize and void unnecessary hospitalizations or other forms of institutionalization. So, that's like the 10,000-foot overview, but the practicality of getting that implemented requires significant power and I use the word powers for a reason, because any program or system like this requires dedicated, ongoing resources and funding. And for those who are elected or in positions to make that happen to actually commit to it.

So, one of the things that I've always advocated on is for those who are impacted or a part of the mental health community or are looking for ways to get involved, is to find people with similar or like-minded thinking on this issue who have stories that can come together to create what I call collective power. And collective power has a component of organized people to come together to really compel your local governments and the state to put resources towards building crisis receiving centers to supplement the 988-suicide number, but also put money into mobile crisis teams that you can have an alternative to dispatch to people in crisis that they get a therapist and other counselors as a response to their situation and not always armed law enforcement. And the kicker here is that the stories and the power of people coming together to affect change on this issue will move things much more quickly then people realize because on this particular issue, it not only is a moral issue, but if you're trying to talk just pure pocketbook, this pocketbook. Putting in place crisis receiving centers where people can go to for 23-hour treatment or three to five short stays to get intensive inpatient treatment. You're reducing the cost that it's required to run and operate a local jail. You're reducing the cost and the burden on local emergency rooms. You're reducing the need for law enforcement to respond to mental health calls and they can be getting back to doing public safety. And in Maricopa County, Tempe, Arizona, they put out a report that showed when they fully implemented the crisis Now model, which means they have the mobile crisis, they have the Crisis Receiving Center, they saved over 47 full-time equivalent police officers who were just dedicated to responding to emergency mental health calls, they saved over a hundred million in expenses that would've gone to local jails and hospitals for individuals going to that and they saved millions of dollars that would go into having law enforcement transport people across the state to various hospitals or being dedicated to those individuals. So, on this issue our community, and I call it a community, because we have to be intentional in building deep personal relationships. We have the power to create systemic change necessary to actually transform lives but we have to do it collectively together and there are resources out there for people to not only connect with like-minded individuals, but also begin to advocate for the full implementation of the crisis now model across this country. And we start moving people on the path of treatment and begin decriminalizing mental illness.

Michael: Man, I hope people will go back and listen to everything you just said again. And I knew the answer was jail because I have witnessed it time and time and time and time again. Most people don't know that and I, I am assuming that's going to blow some people's minds. I want folks to be able to get in contact with you and to connect with you, before I ask you my last question, my friend, where can everyone find you?

Kenneth: So, people can find me on social media, on Instagram @kenneth_nixonjr or they can visit my website at authorkennethnixon.comwhere you can tap into my mental health blog. But also reach out to me, if you want to get involved in advocacy work.

Michael: Yeah, and I certainly hope people do this is, I mean, we're talking about people having the potential and the opportunity to heed the call and to step into being the one, and sometimes the one leads to the many, right? And so, I hope people will do that. Unbroken Nation, make sure that you go to Check out this episode with Kenneth because we will have all the links in the show notes for you.

Go follow and get connected with Kenneth, my friend. My last question for you. What does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Kenneth: Thank you for that question. And again, thank you for having me on here. But for me, to be unbroken means that I have endured hardships, I've endured challenges, but I'm not defeated, nor am I permanently damaged. The pain and trauma that I felt that I deal with, that I see people deal with, it's still with me, but to be unbroken means I'm a person that's faced adversity and has come out on the other side with the spirit to fight back.

Michael: Hmm. I feel that my friend. Thank you so much for being here.

Unbroken Nation. Thank you for listening.

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And Until Next Time.

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Kenneth NixonProfile Photo

Kenneth Nixon


Kenneth Nixon Jr. is an Author, a Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator, and the founder of True Dynamics, a coaching, counseling, and conflict resolution practice. Kenneth specializes in relationship coaching, workplace conflict resolution, performance management training, and Family Mediation. Kenneth has been an outspoken leader in the mental health community and has worked to break the stigma surrounding mental illness as a clergy leader and community organizer for the Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE).

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.