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"That could have been me" Duluth man says mental health treatment changed violent behavior

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DULUTH, MN -

When we see these violent attacks like the shooting in Parkland Florida many of us think, "That could have been me."

Often we're expressing our fear at becoming victims but Josh Bednarek said for him, it's more of a sigh of relief that in his struggles with mental illness, things never went that far.

Now he says he's proud of how far he's come.

"I'm working on my recovery as far as sobriety goes, trying to start over and rebuild my life into something more positive," he said

Having spent decades on that road, he knows how hard it was to get there, despite how easily everything seemed to fall apart.

"It was my 7th or 8th grade year," he said. "There was I guess would you call a tragedy in our family. There was some abuse with a pastor of our church with my brother and that caused a lot of chaos in my home life."

The chaos, he said made him a target at school.

"So I was left to my own devices. Searching for somewhere to belong and the crowd that I found was kind of the misfit drug using crowd."

He said it began with marijuana as a way to self medicated and escalated from there. Meanwhile, his friends began to turn on him.

"I kind of chose a path then that has impacted my life to this day," he said.

He said, it took him awhile to resort to violence.

"I reached out and I begged for help for this bullying to stop basically it didn't so I lashed out," he said. "I started basically if someone said something wrong to me or my brother, I would swing." 

Then he said, it became the easiest way to try to get some control.

"A part of me back then wanted to show them that you can't do this to me," he said.

Bednarek said he was expelled for those violent tendencies, a similar pattern he saw in the story behind the Florida shooting.

"That could have been me," he said.

According to Bednarek the difference was he was left high school before Columbine and the precedent wasn't there and he said it wouldn't have changed the fact that for his biggest target was himself.

"With me, what transpired was more self-directed," he said. "I had a couple suicide attempts as a kid. I took more of it out on myself."

As his behavior escalated, Bednarek said he eventually ended up in prison.

In recent years, Bednarek has been working with Troy Otterson at the Duluth Mental Health Center. He's been working through his bipolar disorder diagnosis and his addictions.

Otterson said, stories like Bednarek's prove there is a way out for people who feel the need to lash out.

"The feelings they have and the thoughts that they have in their heads can be worked with and we can cope with them and we can get them and that we don't have to engage in these types of behaviors to even the score," he said.

It's a mindset Bednarek said he has to work on everyday but has been key to keeping him from lashing out against himself or others.

"Just a matter of letting it go," he said. "Things were very rough. I don't believe I was treated fairly at the time but as far as the rest of my life goes, I can't use that as a crutch to excuse any behaviors going forward."

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