Unconditional Love

Tonight my parents came over for dinner, it’s not any special occasion, but rather just wanting to spend time with them. My parents are now in their 70’s, and my mom was recently confirmed to have moderate dementia. I hear stories from others who had the experience of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia that it’s a cruel disease as you watch the loved one slowly deteriorate in front of your eyes. This is probably one of the most difficult situations that I am facing since I got sober/clean 15 years ago. Even though I feel powerless and helpless at times, I’m grateful that I am free from my own addiction so that I can be here for my family.

My mom was the rock in the family, the one who always found solutions, cleaned up the mess from my bad decisions, and guided our family through the many storms. It saddens me to see her today confused, withdrawn, and unable to do things for herself that she once did with ease. As I take on new responsibilities within the family, I realize how much of a significant role she played in all of our lives, even though she did so quietly and subtly. I think about her leaving her home and family in Korea to find a new life here in the US. I think about the sacrifices she made to ensure that I am able to fly and achieve my dreams. I think about the nights she worked for over 30 years at the US Postal Service so that we would never go without and could live comfortably. I think about the countless prayers she prayed while I was lost in my addiction. I see her small, frail frame and realize how big and strong of a person she actually is. I learned from her how to be resilient, responsible, determined, courageous, and compassionate.

For a long time I was resentful that she had such high expectations of me, never told me she was proud, and constantly raised the bar. I believed I was never good enough in her eyes and that her love was conditional upon whether I met those expectations or not. This fueled my addiction and at some point, I gave up trying to live up to her standards. I felt free at the time even while chained to my addiction, or so I believed I was free. She’s never been the affectionate type, outwardly show praise, or very expressive with her emotions, so I always misunderstood that as indifference or dissatisfaction. Despite how hurt, disappointed, and devastated she was about how I was living my life, she kept it inside and continued to pray for me daily and never gave up. She would come to my court dates, visit me in rehabs, and hold onto hope that someday I’ll be able to stand up again. It took me years in my recovery to realize how my mom shows love and that she has always loved me more than words can ever express.

I truly believe that my recovery from addiction helped me find gratitude for the relationship that I have with my family. I understand the unconditional love that they have for me. And just as my mom was there for me in my disease, I can be here with unconditional love while she faces hers. I will cherish the time we have left and continue to make my living amends.

Is there a person in your life that you are grateful for? Someone who has been there through the storms? If so, take a moment to show them gratitude and love while you can.


It’s been a few months since I posted here, but thought that today was an appropriate day to share about my gratitude. I was sitting in my class tonight discussing the difference between linear and logistic regression (still have no idea what that all means), when I looked down at my clock wondering how much longer we had to talk about this. It was about 6:30 PM when I realized that 15 years ago around this time in the evening was my last arrest. I was on my way to drop off drugs for a friend when I was pulled over for a missing front license plate. I was on probation at the time, so of course the officers went through the usual routine of searching my car, and found the drugs. I was irritated that I was going to jail again and that I had violated my probation for the third time. I was worried about losing my job that I recently got hired at, how I was going to get my car out of impound, and what to say to my family again for disappointing them.

Today my life is completely different and I could have never even imagined that I would come this far and changed so much. Tomorrow I celebrate 15 years of sobriety, 15 years of being on this journey to find myself, and 15 years of incredible moments and opportunities that lead me to believe that everything happens for a reason. I will be finishing this semester in a couple weeks and starting the last semester of my Doctoral program in Social Work at the University of Southern California in August. My capstone project (dissertation) is addressing Substance Use Disorders (drug addiction) in Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). My goal is to launch and lead the nonprofit organization that I have been developing as part of my capstone. My trauma, the sense of loneliness and despair, the devastation in my family’s eyes, and the shame all fuel my passion for wanting to help other AAPI individuals and families hurting like I once did.

Today I am absolutely grateful for the life I live, the beautiful people in my life that believe in me, my spiritual connection, and this incredible journey of recovery. I hope that you take a moment in your day to reflect on the things that make you grateful and the people in your life that love and support you. I also hope that you never give up on yourself no matter how difficult things may be at the moment. Just wanted to share my gratitude today… thanks for reading my post.

Lessons Learned

Throughout my journey of recovery, there have been moments when I would question myself as to what my purpose is and whether I have what it takes to accomplish that purpose. For the past 3 semesters, I have been in a doctoral program at USC wondering if I am “good enough” to be here. My fears of failure and letting people down often overwhelmed me as I would fall into a trap believing that I was once again that powerless girl who was lost in her addiction. Each time I would have to speak in front of a class, I would have anxiety because I was afraid that people would see the impostor I was who had no place being in a doctoral program. This is how my addiction plays out today… it gives me every reason to run, every reason to hide, and every reason why I should just give up.

What I have learned about myself this semester is that despite all the negative dialogue that goes on in my head, I have the determination to push past my fears, people in my life who are there to support me and believe in me, and a strong purpose that keeps me motivated to overcome challenges as they come. These things help to quiet the noise that tries to bring me down. If I don’t know what I’m doing, I have plenty of people I can ask and it’s okay to ask for help. I don’t have to know everything, I just need the openmindedness and willingness to listen to guidance.

As I continue to move forward in my career, work towards helping other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders struggling with drug addiction, and improving cultural competence in the field of social work, I will remind myself that I have the courage to make a difference in this world. I never forget where I came from, but will not lose sight of where I am going. It is those experiences that have made me stronger and I am proud of the resilient person I am today.

Booking Photo: July 2005
Present Day 14 years clean/sober

Peace’s Story

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” — Dalai Lama

I am second generation Chinese, born in Orange County, California. My parents were both born in China around the time of World War II. Both of their families moved to Taiwan during the aftermath of the war, and both my parents came to the U.S. around the 1960s for school, when they met. I was born years later, and am the youngest of four siblings.

Growing up, we looked like a normal and respected family. After I was born my father opened an engineering business. He was active, loved classical music and playing tennis, and was generous towards his friends and business associates. My mother was well-educated and spent her time being a housewife and mother, and helped at my father’s office. My siblings and I did reasonably well in school, excelled and competed in piano, danced, had tennis lessons, attended Chinese School, and were active with friends.

However, I was a sensitive and insecure child, and there were many times when I was paralyzed in fear. I panicked easily when my mother was late picking me up, which happened often. It was only recently that I learned that my mom was in a deep depression for about a year after I was born, and attempted suicide. I was afraid of my father and my oldest sister, who both had explosive and unmodulated tempers. At a young age, I also developed a fiery temper. I was often unsure about what would get me in trouble as it was difficult trying to navigate contradictions and unspoken rules. Sometimes I tried asking, and would usually be chastised or jeered at for having to ask. If I was upset and cried, I was either further chastised, shamed, or else met with sarcasm. Through this I gradually learned that it was safer to not express my thoughts, and better to stay small. Conversely in other cases if I was hurt, it would be expressed passive-aggressively, or in a full-fledged hellfire.

Several times I found miscellaneous items in the car, such as lipstick and even women’s panties. I would give these to my mom, which she would take without a word. When I was 8, on a rare occasion I was home sick from school, and I eavesdropped on my parents talking. My mom was confronting my dad about finding women’s articles in the car. My dad insisted he did nothing, and then finally conceded he only gave money to a woman because she needed it. I was horrified at the implications, and quietly crept back to my room and talked myself out of what I had just heard. It was not until years later that I recalled this event. Then as I grew older I became painfully shy and withdrawn. I noticed my dad habitually and openly stare at other women, typically Caucasian, including girls younger than me. I was mortified and began dreading being in public with my dad. I remember my skewed hope and logic one time when I thought that if my third sister, who I perceived to be my parents’ favorite, accompanied us whenever we went out then my dad would stop gawking at other women and girls. I was disheartened to find that this did not work.

In high school, my mother went through a difficult menopause combined with depression that lasted two years. My siblings had grown old enough to move out, so I was left at home my mom. My mom was restless, anguished, and weak, and could only wander around the house. On one particularly painful day I suggested she go into a room and scream for some relief. She did this, and released an agonizing wail that broke me. I could only hold together until my boyfriend visited, and I ran out of the house and hugged him in long silent moments. I had my rebellious times, and when I was 17 I discarded the high school boyfriend for a 27-year old man. I snuck out constantly, drank, and smoked cigarettes and pot. It was an unstable relationship with jealousy and possessiveness, and I could not help but be drawn to it. After I broke up with him he continued to stalked me for several years. I was terrified but felt I could not talk to anyone and was relieved when he finally moved out of state.

On the day before Thanksgiving when I was 24, my mother told me and my sisters separately that my father has a sexual addiction. She spoke in a monotone and almost militaristic manner and did not invite questions or discussion. She said that for 10 years he had been visiting prostitutes, had been under house arrest multiple times, and had contracted and passed sexually transmitted diseases to her. Thinking back to the conversation I overheard when I was 8, I knew his addiction behavior occurred for a longer time and likely long before I was born.

My Father’s Story

When my father was a young child, his mother abruptly left with no explanation. His father (my grandfather) remarried when my father was 6, and my father gained a step-mother who protected her own children well, but treated my dad and his sisters very poorly. She placed my father into an ill-maintained boarding school, where the children were abused and bullied, and oftentimes slept in sodden bedding. My father’s two sisters were even less fortunate. Being female, they were perceived to be less useful to the family, and the step-mother discarded them in orphanages, while my grandfather quietly acceded. It would be many decades later that my father was finally able to locate his sisters, who had remained in China, and even more years before my dad’s half-siblings believed these sisters existed. Based on the amount of intervening time, distance, and events however, my father’s relationships with and among his sisters have been all but severed.

Education offered a respite for continuing hardships and mistreatment at home, as well as opportunities, so my father easily excelled in school, and was accepted into the U.S. for graduate school. Being poor, he could only take a cargo ship and was at sea for 30 days before arriving in the states. He worked three jobs during the Summer to save tuition for the Fall semester. My father was also shocked and disheartened to see how the resident Chinese were treated. The Chinese were required to live in Chinatown, and if they stepped outside of the limits, they were likely assaulted. The children similarly could not risk leaving Chinatown, and could only be taught by the adults. Since few adults had opportunities and resources to learn English, the children had little means to learn English, despite being born and raised in the U.S. After graduating, my father applied for engineering positions, and quickly realized he was being discriminated against for job prospects, and was unable to be hired. As a result, he opened a Chinese restaurant, and even employed his colleagues, who were similarly well-educated but were also discriminated against from being accepted into professional workplaces. My father’s restaurant was successful, so he expanded to several locations. He also sponsored his family members, including his father, stepmother, step-uncle, and his four half-siblings to come to the U.S. Afterwards, to help his family members and simultaneously remove himself from his stepmother’s desire to control and drama, my father gave all of the restaurants to his family, and started out with nothing once again.

My Mother’s Story

My mother grew up in a wealthy home, as her father, despite having grown up poor and being uneducated, worked hard to become a successful banker. Her mother, my grandmother, was vivacious in her youth, and captured my grandfather’s attentions because of her beauty. However, later she became passive and dependent, and noncommittal as a parent. My mother was raised by servants, and remembers her hurt and anger growing up when her mother preferred to spend time playing mahjong than to look after her.

As a child, my mother had many friends, and would oftentimes explore and play in the mountain wilderness. However, having grown up during World War II, she also had to endure war hardships, such as fleeing to shelter during air raids, running amongst dead and dismembered bodies during the bombings, and eventually war poverty. Following WWII, her family escaped to Taiwan, since my grandfather, while having working class origins, would have been persecuted by the Communist Red Guards. During college in Taiwan, my mother discovered that three of her cousins were actually her half-sisters, due to her father’s infidelities with her mother’s sister. My mother spent her remaining college time troubled and distraught, and then abruptly decided to move to the United States. While her father adored her, their relationship became permanently damaged, and it was many years before she would speak to him again. In my mom’s case, the major male figures in her life – her father and now her husband – betrayed and broke her love, and in a manner that devalued her self-worth.

Thanksgiving Day, the day after my mother’s disclosure, my siblings and I were in the kitchen preparing dinner for the dreaded gathering, when the oldest broke the somber mood with, “It’s kind of funny when you think about it.” I’m certain I wore a you’re-an-idiot face when I stood up and responded, “What do you mean? This is mom’s life we’re talking about.” The silence resumed. From thereon, my siblings chose to pretend nothing was wrong. I was however, unable to mask my feelings, and stopped talking to my father. My actions conflicted with the denial and silence that the rest of my family chose to follow, and soon after, I was excluded from my family and our gatherings.

Also during that time, I started seeing how my own relationships were burdened by my parents’ problems. One time after I initiated an unfair outburst towards my then boyfriend, I realized I needed help and then sought counseling. I attempted to talk with my mom about how she could help her situation, and on one occasion, mentioned counseling. but was met with her terse reply, “I’m fine. Fine. If You need counseling, then You should get it. I’m Fine.” I left crying, and moments later my mother called to tell me that what happens in her relationship with my father doesn’t concern me or my siblings. On some level I felt like my mom appreciated that I was on her side, but being ostracized from the family I had little contact with her. For some time I grieved and felt abandoned during the time when my life had been overturned. It was also difficult confiding in my close friends, since without resolution for my grief, I felt like I was only dumping my putrid shit on others.

I had counseling for almost two years, which provided an outlet to express and acknowledge my hurt and anger. In so doing, I could process my feelings and begin to look beyond my own hurt. I learned to have more compassion for my parents’ experiences and gradually stopped idealizing them to my expectations. Also, I felt immense burdens lifted when I better understood the sources to my previously unquantified fears. Without intending to, I became a different person, or rather, aspects of my personality matured. I became less dependent on others, more confident, less reactive, and more outgoing. Ironically, as I became less needy, my then boyfriend, the one for whom I originally sought counseling, no longer seemed to understand and ‘fit’ my needs, and we finally broke up. Additionally, despite recognizing its beneficial outcomes, part of me continued to feel ashamed about seeking counseling, and I would regularly want to stop my sessions. From these times, I began to observe that the days I most wanted to end my sessions were invariably the days when we would address particularly painful matters. It was from these patterns that I became aware of when my inner voice tries to lie to protect myself. From this, I also realized that I no longer needed that protection and denial. After the first year of counseling, I was able to hug and talk to my father again, which continues to this day.

In following years, I sought additional therapy during particularly trying times, and also worked through a 12-step program, Adult Children of Alcoholics (and other dysfunctions) (ACA). The 12-step program taught further valuable lessons; among these included the recognition that I had picked up versions of the dysfunctional patterns modeled in my own family. Because of this, I could be and have been both aggressor and victim; but, moving forward, I had the choice to respond in life situations as these instead as a healthy individual. Initially I was perplexed at what normal, healthy behavior entailed, and how one knows where to set boundaries. Eventually I found that these become easier when I practice: practice being honest to myself; practice managing responsibility for my own actions; practice claiming my voice; and practice shifting my inner voice to be one of more self-compassion.

Presently, the addiction and depression cycles, as well as other patterns of dysfunctional behavior unfortunately still occur in my direct and extended family members, as the denial and stigma towards mental health has a stronger hold than recovery, at least through Western means. What I notice however, is that through my own growth and continuing practice, I can change how I interact with my family members. I am much less easily triggered, which leaves more space to be present. I feel that my relationships are more honest and balanced, and in some cases, such as with my mother and father, as well as with myself – they are stronger, more accepting, and more loving.


Hope, Transformation, and Healing

I was born in Macau, which is China today, about 60 years ago. I grew up there with the Jesuit Priests at an all-boys school. At 14 years of age I was adopted by a couple and brought to the U.S. I was raised in Long Beach, California, which I proudly call my hometown. At 19 I moved into my own apartment in downtown Long Beach. At that time, I began working as a banquet waiter in the Non-Commissioned Officers Club on Terminal Island where I was employed for several years.
During my 20s and 30s I experimented with and became dependent on alcohol and other substances. By 38, I had finally hit a roadblock. I wanted and found sobriety in the rooms of 12 Step groups. I celebrated 26 years of recovery on May 11th, 2019.
After experiencing a severe injury while employed as a Regional Manager with OfficeMax, I decided to go back to school. Without deciding on what I wanted to do professionally, I picked up an associate degree and then applied for California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). As luck would have it, I found the Human Services Department and met Dr. Lori Phelps who introduce me to the Substance Abuse Track. I managed to get my Bachelors in Substance Abuse and Mental Health from CSUF. I won a full scholarship to pursue my Master’s in Social Work from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). After graduation I worked in the field of social work for a couple of years. I have been an instructor at Inter Coast Colleges, an Adjunct Faculty at Glendale College, Saddleback College, Cypress College, Rio Hondo College and CSUF. I am currently a full-time therapist at South Coast Behavioral Health. I am also a bimonthly family presenter at Corner Stone of Southern California.
Along the way I married a wonderful woman. Betty and I have been married over 25 years. She is an educator at a local community college. Our marriage has been successful because we continue to work on our spirituality. Growing together spiritually has been the most important factor in having a loving long-lasting marriage.
I petitioned the CAADE organization to become the first student representative. Not long after, I was selected as the first student member on the CAADE Board without voting rights for the first year. Eventually I held various positions on the CAADE Board over the years.
I do want to mention that while I was at CSUF I was accepted into a very special group and I want to give them kudos. The McNair Scholars Program is a federal TRIO program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The Program was created to honor Dr. Ronald E. McNair, Challenger astronaut and physicist with a Ph.D. from M.I.T. Dr. McNair, the first African American astronaut, was aboard the .U.S. Challenger space shuttle. He was killed instantly when the Challenger exploded one minute, thirteen seconds after it was launched on January 28, 1986. Following his death, Dr. McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This organization is in over 25 different universities across the nation and supports students that are the first generation to go beyond a bachelor’s degree. The involvement in this organization gave me structure, guidance and encouraged me to aim high.
I am very active in promoting wellness in the overall community. I attend a lot of conferences and conventions that support recovery and mental health. I believe that people who suffer from addiction can
transform into amazing human beings through self-reflection and self-examination and become givers rather than takers in life.
As I look over my life, I am amazed that I have participated and have become a positive influence in the lives of so many people. I often receive feedback from students, peers, workers, my neighbors and my community confirming that I have been a positive force in their lives. I am very grateful for my life today.
The legacy that I would hope to leave to future generations is this message: there is hope, there is transformation, and there is healing from whatever depth of self-destruction a person may descend. He/she may one day rise and be transformed as an amazing healer of others and walk the path of uniting and loving the community.

Sincerely, Fernando Mallory

Saving Face vs. Saving Lives

Substance abuse, drug addiction, chemical dependency, Substance Use Disorder…the way that addiction to substances have been labeled has changed over time, but what appears to have stayed the same is the stigma behind the labels.  For Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), this stigma takes it a step further as cultural norms of “saving face” prevent many from seeking the services needed to recover.  Many individuals and families affected in our communities suffer silently so that they do not bring shame to themselves and those around them.  But is saving face worth losing a life to addiction? I grew tired of saving face 14 years ago… I wanted to live.  I no longer wanted to look in the mirror and see a hollow shell of a person looking back.  I was someone who once had dreams, compassion, and hope. I lost all of that through my addiction to crystal meth. It was not until I had the courage to seek recovery that I found myself once again, actually, I found more than I ever dreamed of and I am hoping that I can encourage other API individuals and families to do the same.

            The current label being used is Substance Use Disorder (SUD) found within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p.483) and is described as “a cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicating that the individual continues using substances despite significant substance-related problems.” For the purpose of this op-ed, I will use the term addiction which is more commonly understood by the general public. An estimated 4.6 percent of Asian Americans and 11.9 percent of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders have an addiction to substances, but I often wonder if this prevalence rate is accurate as factors related to shame may influence underreporting. Research has shown that substance use prevalence rates have increased within the API population, US-born API have 3 times higher likelihood of using substances, and that API are the least likely group to seek professional help related to the problem.

The Model Minority Myth, cultural and language barriers, lack of resources, lack of awareness of the problem, and stigma make it difficult for API to seek treatment services. Many API media outlets focus on addiction as a criminal behavior and sensationalize the issue when a well-known celebrity is caught using substances and falls from grace.  This focus on punitive measures and public shaming does nothing but push those who need treatment services further into isolation.  Individuals and families attempt to hide the problem or begin to withdraw from their usual sources of support.  This is not a fight that they can overcome by keeping it in the family.  Stigma of having an addiction needs to be reduced, communities need to increase resources, and those affected by drug addiction need to speak up.

            How often do we talk about those who had the courage to seek help, recover, and then help others? When have we highlighted those individuals and families who have overcome addiction problems and continued to live successful and meaningful lives? Instead of focusing on all the ugliness of addiction, there needs to be some discussion and celebration around the resiliency developed through recovery.  I have been privileged to witness the transformation of individuals who find the courage and hear those stories while working as a certified alcohol and drug treatment counselor and a therapist. The problem is that for API, these stories are far and few in between. Most API clients I have worked with enter treatment through a court mandate, and by then, the shame and devastation has become so severe that they have trouble believing that they deserve anything better. Do we, as API individuals, families, and communities need to wait until the problem is this severe, or can we at least have a little compassion for those who are suffering? Continuing to hide the problem or punishing those who are afflicted will not make addiction problems go away. Let’s start having the conversation about addictions and how we can support those who need services find the help that they need. Let’s help those who are struggling with addiction truly become resilient and strengthen our communities. Let’s start saving lives rather than saving face.

Influencing Public Discourse

It seems pretty rare for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) families and communities to talk openly about substance use (drugs and alcohol) and Substance Use Disorders (addiction). In order to reduce the stigma for those who have an addiction, there needs to be some conversation about this. If we as API continue to hide the problem, those who are addicted and their families are left with very little solutions. Why is this such a difficult conversation to have? Saving face? Is saving face worth losing a life to addiction?

When my parents found out about my addiction, they often told people that I was not around because I was too busy in school and playing golf on my college team. As long as the visible part of my life looked good on the outside, they can deny that a problem existed. I often wondered if I was able to fly under the radar and not cause such a devastation in the aftermath, would they have continued minimizing my addiction as just something I did once a while to relieve stress. They did not have any friends or family they felt they could confide in. They were afraid to be blamed as being bad parents and that my addiction would cause them to lose face. I wonder how many other API families have this same secret that they are holding onto and terrified that others will find out.

What grows in the dark dies in the light…it was not until my parents found the courage to reach out that they started to understand a little more about my addiction. Although at the time, they felt ostracized by some friends, others who were having similar problems or knew someone who could help, started to reach out. Funny thing is that after all that we have gone through as a family, my addiction has truly made us closer. They are proud of the person that I have become and believe that me sharing my story will make difference in the lives of others.

So what does this all have to do with public discourse? Good public discourse is described as integrating “rational argument with narratives, personal experiences, expressions of emotion, and empathetic listening” (Rodin & Steinberg, 2004, p.16). Using this blog is a way that I hope to bring light to the issues of substance use within API communities. Other ways that public discourse could be shaped are through movies/films/TV shows, radio podcasts, and social media campaigns. The beauty of it is that any person can be a voice for those who are disempowered and help them to gain the courage to speak up. Let’s encourage the conversation to start!