Adam Burak

@adamburak | contributor
Dedicated to breaking the stigma surrounding mental health one conversation at a time because life is too precious.
Adam Burak

Finding Confidence and Empowerment in Five Years of Sobriety

As I reflect on what 1,826 days without alcohol means to me, I struggle to know where to start. Words typically come fairly easy to me and I usually have a lot to say. The accomplishment of reaching five years without alcohol has been difficult to put into words, which simply shows how much this feat means to me. I don’t know where to start because there are so many reasons that I am thankful that I continue to not drink. No hangovers, spending less money, not making poor decisions, and being my true and authentic self are just some of the beautiful changes to my life I have experienced. When I quit drinking on Sunday, October 30, 2016, I had no idea the profound effects my decision would have on my life. Quitting drinking and abstaining from alcohol was a necessary decision for me to be able to live my life in the way I wanted and accomplish my goals. If I didn’t quit drinking, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing because I was not the person I know I am or aspired to be when I was drinking. I knew I would begin to get to a better place mentally and start to feel better about the way I was living my life after I stopped drinking. What I didn’t know was how stopping drinking alcohol would bolster my confidence and self-esteem, completely change my view of myself, create deeper relationships with my friends and support system, and begin my journey of feeling comfortable talking about my feelings and emotions and working to destigmatize mental health in society. All these changes I have observed in myself are why I find it hard to put into words what these last five years have meant to me. I can’t express how thankful I am that I was able to make this decision and stick to it throughout the last five years. To all those people in my life who accepted my decision and who will always love me no matter what, I will never be able to repay you for your love and support. You are everything to me and I love you all. People are always shocked when I tell them that during my journey quitting alcohol that I never received anybody pressuring me to drink or anybody who judged me for being “weird” or being a “loser.” To have that level of support and acceptance while making a super challenging decision was a large part of what allowed me to push through and stick to my decision. I can’t be more thankful for all the people that allow me to be me. After five years without alcohol, I am living as my authentic self and am so thankful as every day my decision is reaffirmed. I will end with a message of hope to anyone who may be currently struggling with alcohol or substance dependence. I didn’t realize the empowerment and confidence that could come from making the decision to be sober. When you make a similar decision, you have the opportunity to improve yourself in ways you can’t anticipate and allow yourself to be closer to the place you want to be. My pragmatic advice on beginning to become sober: start slowly and talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Nobody will judge you for trusting them and being vulnerable enough to open up to them. Your friends and family just want you to be happy with the life you are living and will support you in whatever you do. Once you understand that you will have support deciding to take a break or quit a negative habit, making the change won’t feel as daunting and can help you feel better. Here’s to the next five years!

Community Voices

How I Deal with My Constant Need for External Validation

Part 1 of 2 I started the to share my story of growing up with mental health issues to accomplish two main goals. My first goal is to destigmatize and normalize sharing mental health issues. I believe when we normalize talking about mental health, then more people will reach out for the help and support they need. My second goal is to show others that by being vulnerable and sharing previously hidden details about my life; I became a stronger and more empathetic/relatable person rather than someone who people think is weird, damaged, or messed up like what our society teaches us to believe currently. I hope by continuing to share my story, people will start to feel comfortable talking about their challenges with their mental health furthering the destigmatization of mental health.

“My Constant Need for External Validation” is the second blog in my series focused on my experiences with mental health issues. In this blog, I will focus on how I believed that I needed to be someone different than who I was while hiding my differences in order to be loved, valued, and appreciated by my peers.

For the first two decades of my life, I hid all the things about me that I thought made me different rather than appreciating my gifts and unique qualities that make me the special person I am. It was only recently that I started to understand that this obsessive and urgent need to feel “loved” and “valued” by others was actually something called While learning about external validation, I also discovered the concept of mental models. “Mental Models are our deep-rooted ideas and beliefs about the way the world works and how things ought to be. The mind forms patterns, or models that define our sense of reality, and lead us to expect certain results, give meaning to events, and predispose us to behave in certain ways.” (Frye, 2015) External validation is an example of a mental model and is when you rely on others for validating and feeling good about yourself. The challenge with mental models is that they subconsciously cause us to think and act in certain ways. I have always been someone who has sought external validation in everything that I do. I have sought this validation without even realizing I was doing it. Like with anything, the first step to working on something you want to change is acknowledging and recognizing that something exists that you want to change. I now understand that my intrinsic need to be “valued” and “loved” is called external validation and it is something that I am actively working on living with as I write this blog.

Although making friends came easy to me and I always had a busy social life, I did not possess much self-confidence and self-esteem while growing up. I constantly worried about what others thought of me and whether they liked me. I made almost all my decisions based on what I thought would cause people to like me and accept me rather than just simply being myself and doing what I wanted to do.

My low self-worth was caused by my belief that I did not possess the same amount of intellect or talent as my peers due to being told I had things that were wrong with me. Things like being born with a club foot, being diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade, and receiving occupational therapy (OT) all contributed to my belief that I was damaged and inferior to others. To compensate for not having much self-confidence and believing I had things wrong with me, I focused on being an entertainer and tried to be well-liked by everyone. By acting as the entertainer, I frequently made self-deprecating jokes putting myself down, and got in trouble frequently for my behavior that was motivated by trying to be liked and accepted. My self-proclaimed identity as an entertainer drove me into frequent overindulgences of alcohol at social events which I used to numb the pain caused by my low self-esteem. I knew from an early age that I was different than my peers in many ways due to experiencing challenges related to ADHD and having undiagnosed OCD. I hid these differences and felt as though these differences made me inferior and worse than my peers rather than embracing and using my differences and uniqueness to my advantage which I try to do now in every aspect of my life.

Had I recognized my gifts, passion, and where I fit in naturally while being myself while growing up, I truly believe that I would have approached so many things differently. The epitome of not being myself as a kid occurred when I ran for student council President of my class as a joke with no real intention of being the student body president and made my who

Community Voices

How I Deal with My Constant Need for External Validation

Part 2 of 2 le speech filled with jokes to try to make people laugh (it failed miserably lol). I ran as a joke because I did not see myself as someone who could represent my fellow classmates well and make the right decisions to help them at the time. The present and current more confident Adam now understands and recognizes that I would have been a great class President and I wish that I ran seriously for Student Council. I now recognize and know that I possess the skillset and characteristics that make me somebody who can effectively serve and advocate for others. The flip in my feelings of self-worth and confidence in terms of my skills and intellectual ability has meant everything to my ability to pursue my goals and dreams both personally and professionally.

I know I talk about it a lot, but I can truly credit my decision to stop drinking for a lot of the changes in my confidence. By deciding to quit drinking, I was finally making a decision purely based on my own desires and goals and not out of what I perceived others wanted me to do. Up to that point, I had spent my life making decisions based on what I thought would cause others to like me or accept me and now I was making a massive life decision for myself based on what I wanted in my life. I felt completely empowered. It felt phenomenal to make a decision that I knew I needed to make (for several years) for myself. I had no idea what people would think about my decision and whether they would still like me without me drinking. I couldn’t care what others thought because I needed to make the decision for myself and to accomplish my goals. I was validating myself, and my own feelings by making the decision to stop drinking and it felt incredible. Because I made the decision purely for me and I was sticking to it, I felt my self-confidence skyrocket and I began to realize that people liked me for who I was and not who I had pretended to be for so long.

As I continue to be my authentic self and continue my journey of sharing my mental health story and being a mental health advocate, I am validating myself while not worrying about how others view or perceive me, further empowering myself. I have been struck by the fact that through my journey of taking off my mask and breaking the stigma of mental health, by sharing all my challenges, insecurities, and emotions, I have received nothing but support when I thought people would run away from me or judge me. I now realize that I was completely enveloped by the stigma surrounding mental health and it caused me to fear, suffer in silence, and resist opening up about what was going on in my life for two decades.

I have concluded that those who support and value you, will stick by you when you make decisions and do things that are important to you and make you feel good. If those individuals in your life don’t support you and the decisions you’re making for your life then they likely never truly supported you at all. People are mostly just concerned with their own lives and their own decisions and aren’t looking or judging you for everything that you do. We are all the stars of our own movies and other people just playing the supporting roles in our lives. It is far past time that we all do what empowers us, and what makes us feel good about ourselves, not what we perceive as what makes others think highly of us or what makes us feel well-liked. If you struggle with constantly and obsessively seeking external validation — you are not alone, and this is an everyday challenge for me. I encourage you to do something you have wanted to do for yourself today and not let the worry of what others will think cause you not to do it. You will feel just as empowered as I did when I started living for myself, not others.


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Adam Burak

From Death to Job Loss: How I'm Learning How to Grieve

Ding, ding, ding… my extremely annoying and recognizable alarm begins at 6:30 a.m. like any other Monday morning. I spend some time waking myself up and am about to get out of bed when I hear my phone start to ring. “Hm, that’s weird, it’s pretty early for someone to call me other than my dad,” I think to myself. (My dad will call me many mornings on his way to work to catch up.) I look down at my phone and it’s a group call with my whole family. My stomach sinks, and I know something must be wrong immediately. The uncertainty of not knowing what the bad news might be is killing me. When I pick up, my dad is choking up and says, “I don’t know how to tell you all this, but Piper is really sick and might not make it.” Piper was my family’s 7-year-old second Brittany Spaniel. I am completely silent during our 15-minute phone call while I listen to the crying and disbelief exhibited by my whole family. For any of you who know me, for me to be silent during any 15-minute period is very abnormal. The second we hung up the phone, I immediately began crying and shaking uncontrollably. Amid my crying, I asked myself, “Why are you sad?” “Why are you crying so much?” and, “You shouldn’t be this sad about losing a dog.” Asking myself these questions was such a blatant indicator of my inability to allow myself to grieve. I decided to write this piece because I have learned firsthand that it is not only OK to grieve — but how important grieving is while dealing with any type of loss. In all honesty, over the last two years, my life has thrown me numerous curve balls and challenges. I am now sitting here with a list of six major losses in my life (with only two of them being deaths) in a short amount of time. Naturally, I want to be successful despite my challenges, but to think that it is possible to continue through challenges while acting like nothing is wrong is dangerous. I am working on allowing myself to grieve as I face difficult losses now and as I face them in the future. It is very easy to feel like a victim when you lose your job due to COVID-19 and lose your best friend to suicide within the span of a few weeks. “Why is this happening to me?” “I have the worst luck,” and, “This isn’t fair,” were common thoughts I had in July 2020 as I experienced two challenging moments in my life. I immediately went into the offensive “do-ing” mode to deal with both of my losses by trying to be there for all my friends and trying to find a new and better job. No matter how much I was there for other individuals as they dealt with the loss of Trevor, I still wasn’t letting myself grieve. In fact, I was avoiding the grieving process. It took me a year to truly understand that I hadn’t let myself feel the loss of Trevor and feel the pain of knowing he would no longer be in my life. I wasn’t allowing myself to feel the pain associated with knowing that I could never pick up the phone to call him again, or that we wouldn’t be at each other’s weddings. It took me six major losses within a two-year time frame to understand how to grieve. Up until I quit drinking, I didn’t know it was OK for me to show and talk about my emotions, so it’s no wonder I didn’t understand how to grieve and was instead well-versed in actively avoiding grieving and feeling painful emotions. Although losing Piper is incredibly challenging and terrible, it was the loss of this sweet dog that finally allowed me to grieve all my losses I experienced during the pandemic. I started to lean into the pain and every time I thought about one of the losses, and I let myself fully feel and process my emotions instead of trying to do something about the pain. Although feeling this pain hurt me emotionally, it allowed me to not avoid feeling uncomfortable and get more used to feeling sad and upset about what happened. Taking these measures has helped me to truly heal. I still think about each of these losses almost every day and will for a long time, but I will no longer run or hide from these uncomfortable feelings. Instead, I’m letting myself process and heal, something I am so happy I have finally learned.

Adam Burak

Normalizing Expressing Your Emotions for Your Mental Health

“Will Adam Burak please come down to the main office?” was a message I heard over the loudspeaker dozens of times while in elementary school. Still, it startled me and sent me into an anxious spiral. Heads turned, while stares of confusion and intrigue shook me to my core as I walked to the door. I knew where I was going, but no one else did. It was time for occupational therapy, a time that I dreaded, not because OT was difficult or was not beneficial, but because I would have to lie to my friends and peers in class when they asked where I went. I did not like lying, but I was so concerned about their opinions and ashamed of feeling different that I did not feel comfortable sharing anything about OT. Having the ability to share my negative emotions surrounding feeling different would have completely altered my feelings about attending OT. Rather than internalizing all of my doubts and insecurities, I could have shared the challenges I was experiencing and instead, received my friends support. I have come to realize that while growing up many people have similar experiences of feeling different and inferior to others. Therefore, I believe it is important to share my story. I feel a calling to help others open up about their feelings and share their own stories, in an effort to change the way individuals handle, share and think about their feelings and emotions. The narrative I created about myself was negative and began as soon as I was born. I was born with a left clubfoot. “A clubfoot is a deformity in which an infant’s foot is turned inward, often so severely that the bottom of the foot faces inward or even sideways” (Ortho Info, 1). As a result, I faced many challenges early in my life including learning to walk later than others, having difficulty walking, and having smaller and weaker left leg calf muscles compared to my right leg calf muscles. However, more challenging than the physical issues, were the emotional difficulties I experienced, such as feeling like there was something wrong with me. Hearing doctors say, “He may never play sports and may never walk correctly” caused an immense amount of emotional pain. As a kid still finding his place in the world and primarily wanting to fit in, these experiences had a strong effect on me and my self-image. My experience of feeling different and less than my peers increased due to another life event that rattled my self-image. When I was in fourth grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD and a visual-spatial learning disability. To address this challenge, I started seeing an organizational coach along with other support systems. The goal in receiving support was to provide additional learning and help me develop ways to deal with my developmental disability. I internalized my ADHD as bad and negative, and labeled myself as damaged. While I was always offered extra time for schoolwork or tests, I declined because I wanted to be treated the same as others. At the time, I did not understand how common it was to be diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD because none of my peers shared any challenge they were experiencing. I believe that it wasn’t the learning difficulties I was going through or having ADHD that bothered me, but rather the fact that I felt different and inadequate. All the while, many of my peers were experiencing the same challenges unbeknownst to me. It is important to note that despite frequent feelings of inadequacy and alienation, I never told anyone how I felt while I experienced these intense emotions and feelings. I completely internalized my emotions for over 10 years. Because I never shared my experiences, I was never told that anyone was battling similar challenges and emotions. For many reading this, it will be the first time you learn in detail about the challenges that I faced early on in my life. It wasn’t until recently that I learned how to express my differences, transform them into self-love and self-acceptance, and use these differences positively. I believe that if we want to improve mental health issues and eliminate the stigma surrounding them, we need to normalize people expressing emotions and feelings — not hiding them. I believe the earlier in life that individuals can become open and express their emotions, the better for their mental health. I have learned firsthand how I would have benefited from being able to openly talk about my emotions, the things that upset me and the anxiety that kept me up at night. We must foster a safe space where all individuals can feel comfortable talking about their emotions and differences. This ability to be open and be accepted is a critical aspect in individuals’ development of a positive self-image and overall mental health. Expressing one’s true emotions is a key first step in their ability to overcome a challenge or adversity. Normalizing expressing their emotions and teaching kids to share their emotions should be no different than teaching them to go to the nurse’s office when they are physically sick or have an injured ankle, similar to any other life lesson kids are taught as they grow up. We currently address children with challenges to their emotions in a manner that shuts them down both in schools and in society. Many of the behaviors kids demonstrate and are punished for in school are attention-seeking behaviors caused by a desire to be liked and accepted — I know this because I did it myself. The fact that we punish children for their behavior does not address the cause of the behavior. Children would have better outcomes and better long-term success if we work to understand the causes of their negative behaviors and focus on addressing those causes. For me, being different was one of my biggest fears growing up. To be honest, I am different from others in many ways and knew this at an early age. The problem is that up until recently, I was frustrated and scared by these differences rather than grateful and accepting of them. I learned that being different meant there was something wrong with you and you should do all you can to eliminate these differences. I was never taught that having unique characteristics and different experiences is something to be proud of. If I was not told to embrace my differences and see their positive value, then how would you expect me to come to that conclusion myself as a child? The challenge I pose to you is to take a little bit of time to honestly check in with those around you on how they are doing emotionally. The past year has been one of the most challenging years of this generation. Starting a conversation to check in on how the people you love are doing and creating a space to have these honest and transparent conversations will be extremely beneficial to all involved. I know you will get so many positive takeaways from having these conversations, because I have personally experienced feeling better on a life-changing level after sharing my own emotions and challenges with others. I am writing a series of blogs centered around my life experiences surrounding mental health with the goal of normalizing individuals speaking about their struggles and trying to teach others what I have learned through these experiences. The next piece in my writing series will focus more specifically on what I tried to do in order to feel valued due to these differences and how my efforts affected me both positively and negatively. I hope you get something out of reading parts of my story and from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading, it means the world to me. I am so grateful for your support.