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In These Dark Times Practice Love and Kindness

Every time I see the latest affront to human decency perpetrated by this administration and its dark legions of slavish devotees, I make a point of doing something kind for someone else. I practice kindness.

Anonymously, if possible.

practice kindness rocks colorful

Practicing kindness doesn’t have to be a big thing, or involve money, or even a lot of time. The point is not self-aggrandizement or warm fuzzies; the point is to pump an antidote and practice kindness to combat a pathological campaign of destruction, bigotry, and vile greed back into the body of this nation.

The point of practicing kindness is to actively resist an agenda that others women and minorities, strips hungry children of food, destroys families, and trades respect and decency for jingoistic greed and willful ignorance about our shared existence on this precious earth.

My kindness suggestions are always simple, but they are also effective:

  • Feed someone who’s hungry.
  • Help someone who’s struggling with work, their kids, with transportation.
  • Support artists, writers, and other creatives who are generating the beauty we need to combat fascist exploitation and dehumanization.
  • A friendly ear and a smile; a hug.
  • A cold drink on a hot day.
  • A ride to the grocery store.
  • Speak up when you hear someone abusing another.
  • Refuse to leave unchallenged the propaganda and bigoted views you encounter on the daily, especially if they’re being used to actively attack, demean, or insult someone outside of the oligarchy’s CisHet Anglo Ubermensch paradigm.

Remember that you have far more in common with every day citizens of all races, sexual orientations, genders, and creeds than you will EVER have with a cadre of planet-crushing exploiters and fear-mongers eager to add more filthy lucre to the golden beds around which they coil like the dragons of old.

I used to agonize over who could possibly save us from this slide into brutish dystopian horror.

But I have come to realize that the light we need to banish the darkness comes from within each of us, and it is only by combining that light that we can combat the torrential flow of poison and bile.

So yes, absolutely call your elected officials. Definitely vote. Volunteer your time and resources to causes you care about. March, protest, resist.

But remember, too, the smallest acts; those tiny daily affirmations of our shared humanity, kindling a light to push back the dark.

 

Tired of Being Tired

Y’all. I’m tired.

I’m so done with fucking everything.

I am tired of almost-daily migraines.

I’m tired of being overweight.

I’m tired of being tired and I’m tired of pain so much pain, I’m so tired I can’t do anything about it.

woman with head in hands tired

I’m tired of trying to find a sex drive and energy to keep the house clean for my husband.

I’m tired of being the only person in this marriage who can put a fucking piece of sausage in a ziplock bag when it is sitting right in front of my husband.

I’m tired of being the only person at work who can do a damn thing and getting bitched out or people bitching about me. Apparently I’m the only person out of 50 that can answer any question and then nobody listens to me. Oh, yeah, you’re in trouble because you did the thing I said you can’t do and it is still my fault? Fuck off.

I’m tired of being responsible and ordering my medications a few days before I am out. I’m tired of going in on the day after I take my last medication, and I’m tired of having them tell me to come back after 2:30, I’m tired to be told, oh, no, she didn’t do anything on this prescription, I’m tied of coming back tomorrow!!

I miss the days when I was young  and not tired and didn’t give a fuck and would just go get drunk and tell the guy pissing me off to go to hell. I miss my old prescription for Ativan.

None of those things ever actually helped, but I could at least escape for a little while.

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It Scares Me In A Way

I see the elderly woman approaching us from across the mall. She is looking past me and at my children with that smile. My kids are at the perfect age to attract these smiles. They are just at the dawn of human interaction. Their speech is still garbled; their language and actions both aped from adults. They, in their search for the right phrase or movement, are often accidentally adorable.

Children at this age still act as if nobody is watching, and adults love them for it.  We are drawn to this innocence, I think, for the same reason we are interested in the behaviors of chimps or sleepwalkers.  We want to see what it is that people do when they don’t realize they have an audience.  We want to see what we would do if we didn’t think so much.

She walks carefully and slowly over to accept the imaginary ice cream cone my son offers up and wins my heart by pretending to eat it.  Taking the interaction a step further, she asks him which flavor it was.  He tells her it’s chock-lick and her smile deepens with amusement. I am scanning her face, watching her the same way I watch the face of every stranger who approaches my children. I am waiting for the clues that all humans throw off.

I’m waiting to see why she’s doing this.

And so it is that I observe her lined face slip gradually from delight to despair.  A line grows deeper across her forehead and her milky eyes fill with tears.  Her painted smile is the last to go, proof in my mind that she didn’t even see the sadness coming until it was already written on the rest of her face.  I realize that I am moving closer to her as her expression shifts, so that when the tears start to roll down her cheeks I am all but cradling her.  She leans against me, frail yet adult-sized.  I am not in the habit, anymore, of being needed by people who are not my children.  It takes me a minute.  I don’t know why she is crying.  I only know what she needs.  And I have it to give.  So I hold her.

She wipes the tears away and catches her breath.  “My husband of 49 years passed away 7 months ago.  Seeing your children makes it hurt more.  Even though they are beautiful.  The holidays make it hurt more.  Even though I love them.”  I hold her tightly, softly offering my condolences.  My son asks me why the old woman is crying, and I stumble for a second.  I don’t lie to my children, but I don’t throw around words like “death” either.  I tell him simply that this woman will not be able to celebrate Christmas with someone she loves.

And that it makes her sad.

As I say the words, my voice shakes and my own eyes fill unexpectedly.  I close my eyes against the tears, while granting myself one full minute to be overwhelmed with this unforeseen grief.  The woman catches me with my emotions and apologizes for making me sad.  I shake my head: clearing it, emptying it. “The holidays can be hard,” is what I say as I help her right herself.

They told me back then that I needed to grieve my brother as though he were dead, but to expect the process to take longer, since he is not, in fact, dead.  And although I am the type of person to tear at her flesh in hopes of getting the pain on the outside, in order to move past it, I am shocked to find that some days it is as if time has not moved at all for me.

The woman shuffles off in one direction as we continue in another.  We meet up later, at the fountain, as I am explaining to my children the concept of wishing on thrown pennies.  I have a wallet full of potential wishes, and so I do not need to accept those that the woman offers us.  But I do accept because I sense that it will give her something to be able to give to us.  I bend down, tuck my children in close.  The woman steps in, and we all throw our pennies at the count of three.

You can’t wish for people to come back.  It doesn’t work that way.  Pennies can’t move mountains.  A wish is only a goal, a direction in which to focus your thoughts.  In my world, you can only reasonably wish for the things that you have some control over.  So I toss my penny in and I hope, for all of us, that the future brings fewer and fewer moments when we are brought to our knees by our pain.  We will carry it with us forever, and we should, because it makes us who we are and it honors where we’re from.  But more and more we will be able to live with it.

The holidays can be hard.  I have always known this.  I push myself off my knees, smile at the old woman and grasp her hand for a minute before exchanging it for my daughter’s. We walk out into the cold air and breathe in the last few breaths of 2010. Soon there is chatter and laughter and bickering and sunshine against the cold.  I rub my hands together for warmth, raising my face to the sun.

And it is enough.

It is more than enough.

PTSD and Childhood Bullying – A Silent Suffering

I always thought that PTSD was something soldiers developed – I was naïve; had no idea anyone could develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After my teenage son began to get into trouble, I assumed we’d become another statistic – a family with an out-of-control teen.

After we started family counseling, my therapist suggested that I try private therapy. About a week into it, I was diagnosed with PTSD. The therapist said were several things that led to PTSD.

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can occur when something horrible or traumatic has happened in. It causes stress every time you encounter a situation is similar to the previously-experienced traumatic events.

I’ve had a few types of traumatic events. I had a rocky relationship with my father growing up and then his death was both very sudden and very traumatic. An abusive relationship with my ex. I’ve experienced abuse from my son. Lastly, I was bullied by a girl from second grade all the way through high school.

My reactions to everyday situations can be more intense than they need to be – but whenever I am in a stressful or threatening situation, I relive past experiences. It’s hell, reliving the same horrible day over and over.

Once, when I saw my grade school bully in the grocery store, while I was there with my kids and we were checking out. The sound drained out of the store. My heart began to race. Blood pumped in my ears. My face got hot. As soon as I was able, I grabbed my kids and ran for the car. I must’ve driven break-necking speeds home, but I don’t remember getting there.

I had a panic attack after seeing this woman! We live in a small town and the odds of running into her are probably higher than in other areas, but I never see her. When I did, I hit fight or flight mode, and flew! That was six years ago.

Since I began therapy, I’ve seen her again. My daughters were with me, and this time I made sure to make eye contact with her as I turned to my daughters and said, “Girls, let’s go check out. I think we’ve got all we need now!” I turned and went to check out. As we left I felt so proud of myself for facing her, and not fleeing like a chicken facing slaughter!

Thanks to the ways she traumatized me, I always tell my kids, “Don’t take anyone’s crap at school!” Recently my daughter was getting harassed by a staff member at her middle school. I contacted the principal and reported her. This woman has not bothered my daughter since I reported her; threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against the school.

Since starting therapy, I stand up more than I used to. Despite all the reasons my therapist thought that I was traumatized, I think the bully and my father’s sudden death were the two that really affected me.

I was a victim of domestic abuse, but I came to terms with it, and took a stand. I left my then-husband and married the man responsible for making me feel like I was worth more. I call him my White Knight because I was considering suicide when we met – he saved me.

My son and I have resolved many of our issues and are working on our relationship; things are getting better.

I still have issues with my dad’s death.

See, I was blamed for him dying. He died from cancer 14 years ago and afterward, I was told that being around stressed him out – caused his cancer to return after it had been in remission.

Being blamed for his death is a hard thing to overcome. But this year, I was able to make it past his birthday and the anniversary of his death (exactly a month apart) without being a total mess!

To all those out there who have been bullied, abused, or lost a loved one, don’t assume you are strong enough to deal with it on your own.

PTSD snuck up and took over my life. I’d been miserable for years because I didn’t know what I was trying to cope with on my own. I suffered for years without understanding why, until I didn’t want to live any more.

Now, I cannot imagine having missed one day of my kids lives. Good or bad, I want to be there for it all. When they graduate from high school, when they get married, go off to college, when they start their own families. I want to be there, protect them from the problems I had. To tell them, “You’re better than this!” Or smile for them after they avoid bad situations entirely!

Don’t hesitate to get help for PTSD. It really does make a difference.

I never wanted to go to therapy every week, but I am, and I am doing much better. My therapist told me last week that he thinks I am nearly ready to be done. I think that’s a remarkable thing to hear – I am better, I can do it.

My therapist told me recently that I’m a remarkable person for dealing with what I’ve experienced, and still managing to smile. I told him that despite any issues I’ve had, I have great kids and a loving husband.

That’s all I could ask for!

A Letter I Can’t Send: Edge Of Crazy: Lesson #12

my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.

dad,

i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-

i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.

lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.

we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.

lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.

when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.

i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.

and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.

lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.

you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.

lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.

you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.

remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.

mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.

and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.

lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.

you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.

lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.

the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.

lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.

in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.

can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.

you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.

lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.

you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.

lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.

when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.

lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.

and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.

lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.

it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.

lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.

I Wear The Mask

How can you explain the unexplainable?

The intangible that lives within and is expressed without but not with words…thoughts, deeds, drinks, and pills. Words seldom give justice to the turmoil within. And even when blurted out in a moment of weakness or vulnerability…if expressed to the wrong person they are still and float on the air like flotsam…better left wherever the journey began.

One might say “get a therapist” or “join a group.” Some psychobabble will surely help things along. Turn lemons into lemonade, bump inertia into movement. But, what to do without that ever-expensive, mostly elusive thing called health insurance?

Out of pocket expenses for mental health care are damaging.

So the cycle continues. The mood swings, the doubting, the bursts of mania. The decision to do one thing and suddenly another road is taken. All the while keeping things together. Feeling very little, looking very ill and fooling no one. Or maybe, just maybe, fooling everyone and that is the very problem that needs to be addressed.

The adjectives used to describe this current state are self-actualized and negative. But what is the alternative?

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly…”

No, these wings aren’t broken, my cape is not torn, I can handle everything that is happening. In the midst of accolades for “making it,” the pieces of my heart slowly tumble and quietly hit the ground while barely making a whisper.

And yet the pain is still devastating, immobilizing and nobody knows.

Admittedly this is my fault. Perhaps wiping away the facade will release magical healing powers, somehow I find that doubtful. So what if the alternative means holding it all in, weight creeping up and face looking as if I’m aging in reverse – teen years I’m back! Acne and all.

Sadly I don’t know how to remedy this. And so I sit. Waiting for the next thing in the pipeline and inevitably it comes and keeps me focused.

For a moment.

But in the quiet times (which are rare) my truth must be faced. I’m inert. Immobile. Dysfunctional and pray that someone will swoop in and take it all away. The likelihood of that happening? Nil.

And so I wake to face another day, I wear the mask and hope that no one notices.