Stop Saying, “This Is Not Who We Are.”

America please, seriously, stop saying, “This is not who we are.” That statement is trump_baby_blimp_getty_0categorically false. This is precisely who we are: a country that has elected a serial sex offender; a small minded, profoundly mentally ill, petty dictator President of the United States. We have filled Congress and the Courts with people who think this is a great idea; we have a malignant, obstructionist, pathological liar leading the Senate; and a woman who should be posing for advertisements for the local assisted living center leading the House of Representatives. A significant number of people running for President in the Democratic Party are or soon will be wearing adult diapers, making that job the only one we feel our elders are fit to do because we sure aren’t hiring them in the private sector to mentor young people.

WE THE PEOPLE created this mess, WE THE PEOPLE are responsible for it, and this certainly is precisely who we are. Before you start shouting that Hillary won the popular vote, I would remind you of four things. (1) Most Americans didn’t vote. (2) She won by less than one percent of our population, a stridently unimpressive margin. (3) We allowed the DNC to torpedo the campaign of Bernie Sanders so that someone who was, at best, a second choice power broker could lose the Presidency. (4) WE THE PEOPLE created the system that allows the person who lost the popular vote to inhabit the White House and WE THE PEOPLE are either unwilling or unable to change that system. So, yes, this is precisely who we are.

September 29, 2015All of the ugliness, the confederate flags, the children in concentration camps, imperialistic foreign policy around the globe, all of the misogyny, even Alyssa Milano trying to resurrect her flagging career by hoping that we will forget that actors can cry at the drop of a hat – it is precisely who we are. Denying it isn’t going to help because denying reality never helps. Protesting it isn’t going to help, because protesting simply burns off the energy that might be used to effect change.

As Thomas Merton pointed out when he wrote  …for, you see, when “I” enter into a dialogue with “you” and each of us knows who is speaking, it turns out that we are both Christ… the only way to change this is to enter into dialogue with our neighbors. That dialogue need not be about things of any substance, because what is needed is relationship. You can’t build relationship by entering into it with a political agenda, you build it by entering with no agenda beyond getting to know your neighbor. It takes time, it’s messy, and we are not always successful – but it is the only way to build relationships, decrease suspicion and mistrust, and begin to see one another as human beings rather than political pawns.

Many of us subscribe to the religion of politics, and it is an idol just as surely as golden calves are idols. Politics is a human construct and as such has only the power we give it. Relationships, on the other hand, are the point of human existence. We need to develop these relationships not only with those who are our physical neighbors and therefore are mule1probably very similar to us, but most especially with those who live across town and whom we perceive to be different from us – because they are not, and we need to overcome that mistaken belief. Most of all we must come to see that, as Thomas Merton pointed out in No Man is an Island, “…truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe.” We need to get off of our asses, and start building relationships.

Advertisements

Trauma and A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title

a bridge too far poster

implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.

Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.

a-bridge-too-far-lg
Elliott Gould.

Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.

elliot gould
Elliott Gould

When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.

Labels

Very often, we label ourselves – tall, short, fat, thin, conservative, progressive, smart, dumb, wealthy, middle class, poor, successful, compassionate, empathetic, competitive, magento-product-label-new-labelsand dozens of others. Then we only pay attention to people who carry the same labels we do. Are we that afraid of being challenged, that afraid of having our opinions changed, that sure that we are right and everybody else is wrong?

Apparently, we are. In being so sure, our world shrinks to the size of a grain of rice while we act as if we have achieved something. How silly.

America Prefers its Veterans KIA


memorial dayHappy Memorial Day, everyone! In case you haven’t been besieged by this reminder already, today is the day that America honors her fallen veterans – the only kind of veteran America really likes. As you have probably heard, you shouldn’t have too much fun this weekend. We would much prefer you be somber, but do come to the parade and other celebrations! Just remember, this isn’t about picnics and drinking, no! You must have the proper attitude to honor our fallen veterans, because America honors her fallen veterans!

The living ones, not so much.

Oh, sure, they have their special days as well. We have Armed Forces Day coming up on American as fuck shirtJune 29th, but you probably didn’t know when that day was because we don’t want to make too big a deal about our currently serving military or we might have to face the fact that we don’t pay them a living wage to put their lives on the line for our freedom. New recruits with four months time enlisted make $1681 a month, or $20,171 per year and the privilege of living in base housing free of charge to put their lives on the line for us. That’s roughly $10 per hour, plus housing and health care. Overwhelmed yet? The top of the scale for the highest ranking enlisted person with over sixteen years of service is $69,000 plus a housing allowance and health care. Not exactly a wage that reflects the value one might place in one’s leaders in corporate America, is it.

You might be thinking, we love and take care of our veterans who have completed their service! We honor them on Veterans Day, which gets a little more attention than Armed Forces Day but not quite as much as Memorial Day! What’s more, if they qualify (which they most likely don’t), they can get healthcare free of charge at our completely broken VA system where they will get the privilege of waiting months for substandard care. If you retire after twenty years as an E-6, you’ll even get a pension of $1600 a month. Stick it out thirty and leave as a E-7 and that figure will skyrocket to $2300. Try not to be overwhelmed.

If America really loved her veterans, we would provide them the best healthcare mem day saleavailable – including psychiatric services, free education, low interest loans for housing, and a host of other, much needed services. The problem is that costs money, and the government isn’t really interested in spending money on something so inconsequential as human beings. They have other priorities. They would much rather fund the next war that will create even more veterans we won’t care for or, even better, give corporations tax breaks. If you think that’s too harsh, consider the other highly celebrated memorial day subject – consumer capitalism. Don’t have fun, go to the parade, and then spend money, because if there’s one thing America does love and encourage, it’s spending. So, get out there and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could get shit on sale.

One last sticky point. Some Americans get all energized over people who kneel or kaepernick kneelingotherwise refuse to stand during the National Anthem. They carry on about how it disgraces the flag and our veterans, sometimes at the very sporting events we ask veterans to stand up at to receive our applause to honor their service and make them forget we really don’t do more than pay them them lip service in return for their service. That Colin Kaepernick and his ilk, kneeling in response to societal injustice and racism, we won’t tolerate that at our Memorial Day celebrations!

Did you know that a veteran commits suicide every sixty-five minutes in America? That our VA system is completely ill-equipped to deal with that, and you want me to get riled up about who kneels during the National Anthem? Maybe those “kneeling bastards” are the only ones who understand!.

Fuck.

What Really Matters

Westerners are bombarded with information every minute of every day. Much of it goes by and isn’t absorbed, much of it is taken in and stored for later, some of it is immediately processed and used, but taken in total it is more than we can use and is a significant cause of stress. What can we do about it?

overcome-information-overloadThe easiest intervention is to simply turn it off. Do you listen to the radio during your commute? Try silence, or if you can’t tolerate the silence try listening to recorded music without commercials – but work toward silence, because even music is information. Are you in the habit of having the television or radio running in the background when you are at home, even if you think you aren’t paying attention to it? The truth is that you are paying attention to it, even if you think you are doing something else. The more we move toward doing one thing at a time and eliminating background noise, the better off we will be.

At first, you may feel a bit uncomfortable with the reduced stimulation. That is only because you are unaccustomed to it. In fact, our central nervous systems are operating on overload. While it’s true that reducing unnecessary stimulation will make us more efficient, the most important reason to work toward it is that it will positively impact our health and our relationships.

But he’s not up there anymore!

crucifix

I can’t tell you how many people, confronted with a crucifix or other image of the crucified Jesus, say to me, “…but he’s not up there anymore!” Of course, part of the reason they are saying that is they can’t deal with the idea that Jesus ever was “up there.” It was a great problem for the people of his time, too.

Here’s the bigger issue: He isn’t up there, you are correct. Now you are up there. Are you ready to talk about that?

Looking Forward

As a people, we love looking back, but looking back is a mixed bag. The elderly love to reminisce, as I learned when I worked in long-term care. You cannot turn around in a long-term care facility without seeing a copy of a magazine dedicated to reminiscing! I have wondered if there is a hidden, archetypal truth in that folks with dementia tend to forget in reverse – the newer things first and the oldest things last.

looking backAs a trauma survivor, I have a problem in that trauma impacts memory. In layman’s terms, trauma is a terrible file clerk. Our trauma impacted brain essentially misfiles memories to make room for coping with the crisis at hand. Unless and until we address the impact of our trauma, it will seem to us that we don’t remember much about our past because our memories are hidden in the wrong file cabinet. As we go through the work of therapy, our memories gradually return because we have hired a new file clerk to sort through the tangled mess left by the trauma clerk. I know this to be true because I have experienced it.

For some of us, however, our memories and the past they represent become a prison. The door to our cell is unlocked and we are free to walk out, but we keep pulling it closed. I believe this happens because it is much easier to see ourselves as the enraged, offended party whose life circumstances are outside our control. The problem is that perspective, while perhaps necessary for a time as we come to understand how we got in the situation in which we find ourselves, becomes a self-imposed prison that limits and eventually destroys us. Many of us have seen the angry, red-faced protester screaming for peace, unable to move past their anger at past injustices to effectively work for the peace they deeply desire. looking forward

If we are going to be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi suggested, we are going to have to surrender our obsession with the past. To do that, we have to give up all hope of the past ever being different than it was. We can, and should, clearly state what was wrong about the past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past in the future, but we cannot continue to dwell in the past if we are going to have a future. To do so is to leave that ineffective file clerk in charge of the office and continue to repeat the same mistakes, all the while mystified as to why nothing changes! There is a word for that letting go of the past, that choosing not to spend all of our time seeking to change what cannot be changed and demanding reparations that will never be paid. That word is forgiveness.

Avoiding Self-Sabotage

get-out-of-your-own-way-blog-imageIf you are anything like me, you have experienced more than a few incidents of self-sabotage over the course of your life. At the time, you thought what you were doing was perfectly reasonable. You just wanted to think things through, develop a plan, avoid mistakes down the road, make sure you don’t embarrass yourself, anticipate problems, avoid conflict, make sure you took care of the details in advance, had everything down pat, knew your subject matter forwards and backwards, talked to the right people, got the right permissions, ran some feasibility studies, grabbed a nice dinner…and, to your great surprise, you never started your project.

Of course nobody wants to look like a fool, but none of us are perfect. We make mistakes. In fact, you might say that the only person who ends up looking like a fool is the person who believes they won’t make mistakes. If something is worth doing, then it is worth taking some chances and actually doing it! We can’t succeed if we don’t start, and quite often it is our fear, not of failure but of success, that keeps us stuck! We don’t know who we would be if we tried something new, so we settle for our current situation. The devil we know is better than the angel we don’t.

And, at the end of our lives, we just might find we never lived. Don’t let that happen.

 

true selfWhen we are born, we are our true selves. By the time we can communicate, we start becoming someone else so that we can please others. The problem is that our true selves get buried more and more deeply with each presentation of who we imagine others want us to be. The bigger problem is that we will never be happy pretending to be someone we are not.  Nobody can thrive living in a closet.

When I was a child it was quite popular for grown ups to ask children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Over time when that question was asked the adults started to shape our answers. When we were four years old, it was fine to want to be a cowboy. By the time we were twelve the cowboy answer was discouraged if we lived in the city. Gradually, who we wanted to be wasn’t who we wanted to be at all, but rather who everybody else thought we should be.

To move toward reclaiming your true self, the first step is to discover who your true self is. We need to ask ourselves questions like, “What do want to do right now?” You may well find it’s hard to do that at first, but over time we bet better at it. Eventually we gain enough confidence not only to identify what we want and don’t want, but also to communicate that truth to others. That really is very liberating, and the first step to becoming who you really are!