Skip to main content
        Listen to Spreaker

Mental Health News Radio: An Interview with Craig Lewis, CPS

Craig Lewis, CPS is our honored guest on Mental Health News Radio.  Please enjoy his blog article My Inner Human.  We are excited to promote his advocacy in the mental health field.


Craig, Can you give us a brief history of your life up until age 14?

I grew up in Randolph, Massachusetts, a town right outside of Boston.  I struggled in school and socially. My family life was quite dysfunctional however I did not realize this until much later on in my life. I was raised Jewish and embraced Judaism (I am an atheist now). I went to summer camp every summer and from ages 11 -14, I went to sleepover camp which I did not enjoy or like. I played in the school band, played soccer and listened to music, mostly metal, with the few friends I had.  I was becoming increasingly unhappy and exhibiting dysfunctional behaviors and I now know that that was trauma, and not a condition that required medication, institutionalization and labeled with a diagnosis.

At age 14 you were put into a psychiatric hospital and you stayed in the adolescent mental health system until you turned 18? What was going on in your life throughout these formative years?

I spent over 3 years living in hospitals and group homes between April 1988 and December 1991. I had been torn out of my school and never saw my classmates or friends again. Everyone was told that I was mentally ill. I lived in homes for “emotionally disturbed adolescents”. I was put on heavy psychotropic medications, many of which are no longer prescribed. These medications never made me better. My maturation and development was stunted and I was prevented from blossoming. Life was a living hell and I was told that this was what my life was going to be and that was that.

Once you turned 18, how did your life change and what was the impact of having spent your adolescence institutionalized?

I lived in a group home for adults and there were people living there in their 60’s and I was afraid that this was going to be my life too. I spent 6 months living there and then moved in with some punk rockers I met in the community. I was completely unprepared for social relationships and intimacy and I was very immature and did not know how to take care of myself.  I did not know how to live with other people without “staff” and experienced great degrees of violence and abuse. I also discovered drugs and became a regular user.

You spent from 1991 into the mid 2000’s experiencing perpetual dysfunction, despair and a life in chaos. Can you please describe what your life was like during these years?

I could not hold jobs. I lived in squalor. I did not wash my clothes and was very dirty. I did drugs. I ate low quality food. I did not have healthcare. My social skills were atrocious and I got into many traumatizing conflicts in the community and with my peers. I was very alone and frightened and lived an indigent existence yet I took my meds diligently. Life was unbearable: I was worthless and despair is all I knew.

In the mid 2000’s, you hit rock bottom. What did it mean to you to “hit rock bottom” and what happened next?

After being made chronically sick and unstable due to being prescribed an endless amount of psych meds for so many years for conditions I never had, I had developed a grave trauma history.  I had lost everything I had and that wasn’t much. I was isolated, ostracized and alone in despair. My life was worth nothing and I lived this every single day.  I wanted to die. I mean really be dead. I felt no one would care if I died.

So out of the ashes of a lifetime of misery and after living this life of abject and ongoing suffering, you made a choice about your mortality? What was that choice and what happened next?

I had to make a choice: to live or to die. I got myself out of the terrible living situation I was in and found a new therapist for the first time in 15 years. This therapist validated and legitimized my experience and told me that if I allowed it, she would help me learn to cope. She was wonderful to me and I would not be here today without her.

The concept of “recovery” was introduced to you for the first time. What was this like? How did this impact your life?

As I was slowly gaining control over myself and my life thanks to my wonderful therapist, I entered into vocational services that were provided by the state. I found out that there was a program called the ‘Consumer Provider Program’ that taught adults with mental illness to become peer counselors.  I went to an open house informational session and this was where I first learned of the concept of recovery. From the moment I learned what recovery was and that I could have it in my life and learn to help others do the same while making a living for myself: this was the best, most amazing and wonderful thing in the whole world and I committed to myself at that very moment, that that was the life I was going to create for myself.

Between 2006 up until now, your life has radically changed for the better. What went on during these years that has allowed you to become the happy and healthy person that you now are?

I graduated the Consumer Provider Program.

I became a Certified Peer Specialist. I started having relationships.

I began working as a peer counselor.

I volunteered giving the ‘Better Days’ support group that I developed.

I was not using drugs.

I went to school and earned an Associate’s degree in human services with a 3.88 graduating GPA.

I obtained safe and secure housing.

I got a new psychiatrist and went off the medications that had forced me to be unstable all those years and I worked my butt off day and night, no matter what, so that I could have a better life.

You have been at the same job working as a certified peer specialist for over 4 years.  What is your job like and why do you think having people with lived experience as part of the mental health provider workforce is so crucial and necessary?

I love my job very much. I get to help people like me learn effective coping skills so that they can learn to cope with their struggles and live happier and more satisfying lives. I am open about my lived experience and this is part of my job. Those I serve can know that I get it and I can empathize with them. I can also help my allied coworkers think in potentially more helpful ways in regards to understanding and supporting our clients.

More recently, you have published two books, the ‘Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook’ and ‘You’re Crazy – Volume One’.  Can you please clue us in about these books?

Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook is a self-directed coping skills and perspective building workbook that honors each individual who uses it as the expert on themselves. It is being used all over the world and has been praised by psychiatrists, social workers, peer providers,  state level mental health officials, parents, adherents to radical mental health principles and people who have been burned by the system who are seeking an empowering approach to taking back their lives and many more. The workbook has only received positive feedback, as far as I know. ‘Better Days’ is currently being translated into Spanish, French, Portuguese and German.

‘You’re Crazy – Volume One’ is an anthology of 27 first-hand accounts of people from the punk rock scene in the USA and Western Europe who live with mental health struggles, addiction and trauma.  A second volume is in the works and expected out by the end of 2014.

You also travel nationally and internationally spreading the message of the reality of recovery to anyone and everyone who will listen. How did this come about and what are the workshops that you are giving and what are the events like?

I have travelled all over southern California, the east coast and Ontario and Quebec giving my talk ‘Punk Rock, Mental Illness and Recovery’ which is my personal story. I do this to heal myself and to help others find hope, inspiration and empowerment to create a happier, healthier and more satisfying life for themselves.  The events are great! Many interesting people come out and there is always a diverse and interesting crowd. I speak candidly for about an hour and then take questions and talk with people, sign books and give hugs. I first spoke in January 2012 on a whim, at a potluck dinner and I have been going strong ever since.

What does your life look like today and where do you see yourself going from here?

Life is great, all things considered. I am happy, healthy and well.  I live with my partner and our two cat sons and we have a beautiful and powerful connection. I am doing everything in my power to create the life I want and deserve and I will never stop trying to accomplish this. I have no regrets and I embrace all my experiences as being necessary for me to have become the person I am today. I am having lots of fun speaking and writing and meeting people and I truly believe that not even space is the limit. The world is my oyster.


Craig Lewis is a Certified Peer Specialist and author of the Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook. Craig based the Better Days workbook on his personal life and recovery, and every page has been used successfully in peer group settings. A Better Days support group facilitation guide is currently being developed as are Spanish and French language versions of the Better Days workbook.

Craig also has edited and published You’re Crazy Volume One which compiles first-hand accounts of people from the punk rock scene who live with mental health struggles, addiction and trauma. A second volume of You’re Crazy is currently in the works.

Craig can be contacted at:

For more information about Craig’s work please visit WWW.BETTERDAYSRECOVERY.COM and WWW.PUNKSINRECOVERY.COM.

“Craig was a pleasure to be interviewed and work with on this project. His advocacy work is imperative in the mental health community. As a consumer and advocate for mental health services, I  know how important it is for peers to be a part of recovery and maintenance. It also takes strength to put your own story out in the public eye. This is, however, the only way we will effectively reduce the stigma surrounding mental health struggles. Craig is a champion here, a great reminder why we do this show, and it is certainly an honor to promote his work.”

Kristin Sunanta Walker

CEO and Host of Mental Health News Radio Network

behavioral health, Certified Peer Specialist, Craig Lewis, mental health, Peer Group, recovery, substance abuse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By continuing to browse our website, you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy , and you are acknowledging that you have read them and agree by clicking accept.

Yes, I accept!