Therapist Days Hidden in A Treasure Box

At times, this therapist’s work can be lonely. And it’s a rare occasion to experience the kind of positive or negative feedback even a formal performance review may offer. We are instead stuck with the ever constant looming audit from insurance companies and oversight boards. We fret as the “not good-enough” barfs on us sometimes.Tiny letters carry threats to return “their” money in an act of shame for our lack of paperwork perfection. Time and again I want to call my my faceless-nameless overlords and demand they spend time with me and my people before they lay down their box checking judgement.

Yet- the alternative is to become pretentious and only see those who can afford to care for their mental health out of pocket. And for that reason alone- I refuse. As a therapist, I am responsible for serving my community- ALL OF IT. So, (per usual) I own my giant rebellious size 11 personality and do my best work and say, ‘Just Bring It.’

We are good at what we do. But the outcomes are elusive. Did I truly have an impact and participate in my client’s meaningful change? Did I have anything to do with that lifting of depression and anger? Did the examination of profound loss lessen after being carried for years?

What’s even more tricky is that if done well- the work MUST ALWAYS be theirs. And so the gratitude that may show up cannot be gobbled up like you’re some damn super star! My people must revel in their own pride because they are the ones in it for the long haul.

I tell my people that the goal is to no longer be needed. Those are sad days for me. Good! Wonderful! But still sad melting right over the top. It’s not my job to see ‘til the end of the story- but I still wonder. I sometimes still want to hold their hand when the moment is rough shot with pain- but I shouldn’t. And I won’t.

No matter our presence, sometimes dark days will turn bleak and then to death. We have lost many in what would be a seemingly short career, but we are all too fully aware that if we genuinely sit with the shame of abuse, deprivation, rape, domestic violence and not just the exaggeration of life taking but the real fear of being killed; there isn’t always a simple answer out. These are breath taking days, ones where even this avid yogi forgets to breathe. I want just one more chance to tell them that they mattered to me and in my less enlightened moments, believe that somehow my words would count to create a change and the darkness might share a moment with the light.

On many of those dark days when I ache and I am certain the imposter police are coming for my precious credentials and perhaps my whole career, I turn to my treasure box. As many of my people have grown—taken in sweet deep breaths of happiness and moved on, many have given me small gifts and cards. In full disclosure, one did give me a pair of shoes (which is beyond hilarity) and I still wear them when I need to be brave with this often alone world.

I will find a quiet moment, open my treasure box and read my cards and am reminded that although I may feel lonely, I am not alone. Perhaps in that moment I have forgotten that I can do good work or even that my work matters. Reading love notes of kindness allows me to come back home again to myself, taking deep belly breaths.

Even more elusive is this space- my writing. I could just jot my wild thoughts in a journal and leave it just for me. But I have just kept figuring that if I can and do feel alone – Can I possibly be the only one? I cannot be the only human that worries that their work will just not matter? I don’t care if you are the up and coming Mother Teresa or local hired hit man, we all want to believe the work we put out into the world matters! So I write. I write to the masses of crickets chirping but I mostly write – and love – and be my own therapist. The entirely altruistic act fades quickly on me. I am well aware of the deep interconnectedness we experience and just the chance for good will trickle down towards my daughter who I love more than anyone.

My performance reviews are found in watching someone emotionally wake up to their lives and from time to time in a card found in my treasure box.

In those notes I cherish, I will return to my breath and rediscover my way. But like my brave face shoes, there have been a few things that won’t fit snugly in my treasure box. I cherish not the thing or even the card, but the words and sentiment in the giving. If I cared for things, I would have been a banker and fretted over my money rather than people.

Those words are reminders that just perhaps we matter. Perhaps the daily grind does have a purpose. Perhaps I am not alone and I have and can continue to use my transformation in the service of this one little world we inhabit together.

In my previous armored up and angry Mean Self life, it was easier to be confrontational than it was to offer gratitude. It can still be difficult today. So when I receive it or give it in my own words, I relish the bright red glitter magic it brings.

Absolute – PURE – MAGIC.

And for that, I am Grateful.

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Why The Phoenix Rises

Five years ago, in 2013, the staff of The Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia took a chance on this survivor/therapist in the hopes of perhaps a little fundraising and likely a whole lot of chaos. To date, we have raised close to 70,000.00 dollars and it goes without saying there has definitely been some chaos. I have this terrible problem of being the kind of ‘Go Big or Go Home’ type of woman and tend to manage to swirl in a little crazy with my philanthropy projects. Still, none of our very committed staff and volunteers cannot say there is no fun going around! Phoenix Rising 5k has become something I believe many in my community take great pride in being a part of.

2013 was also the year I began this Blog, leading down a path of being public about my position as a survivor. I hoped my own coming out and sharing my rising would create a depth of love and support for others in my community. I still continue to feel afraid sometimes when I hit that ‘publish’ button, but I certainly have heard the reverberation from my fellow survivors over these last five years. Phoenix Rising has not only allowed me to continue in my healing process, but has also provided a safe place for other survivors to give back. This was an unexpected gift and one I gather up in my heart every year as I watch so many volunteer, sponsor and pound the pavement asking for donations, silent auction items and support.

In January of 2013, I sent out my first call for support and the responses of love and generosity were tremendous and many continue each year. You will find below that first email I sent and many of the kind responses I received. Today, I do not share these for pats on my back (although I do keep copies of them in treasure box for rough times) but to show you- my fellow trauma survivors- that shame dies when we speak it. We can die to our old selves and rise up again out of the ashes, beautiful and reborn like the phoenix.

January 2013

Dearest Friends and Family,

There was a time in my life when I felt fairly certain that I would not live to be 37 years old. Not because of some melodramatic twenty something drama, but genuinely, that my soul had been taken and would never return. I was sexually abused from the age of 6 to 11 and until college carried the grief and self hatred that not even my enemies would have for me.

In my office bathroom, you will find a movie quote, maybe just a cliche’, but the start of a real life for me. One of my best friends in college was close to his own feelings of suicide and once he returned after a break from the stress of what to make of himself, he said, “You better get busy living or get busy dying.” That is what I have been doing ever since. I am a therapist today as a part of the giving back that I was given. If it weren’t for him and the therapists that walked with me along my journey, I am certain that this path would have been cut short.

So today, I stand at the precipice of one of my life dreams. I have wanted to publicly give back to my community in a way that would model for other survivors as well as create a legacy that we as a community could support. What has been most overwhelming, is that the moment I verbalized to my loved ones that this race was something I wanted to do, NO ONE and I mean, no one, once, questioned me or suggested that I could not.

So here we are….this race is real and I am sending you this email to ask that you consider being a part of my history…..and then, make it your own. One in Four women over the course of their life time will be sexually assaulted and One in Eight boys by the time they reach the age of 18.

All of the proceeds go to support our only Rape Crisis Center in Middle Georgia. I will be happy to send you the shirt from across the miles. If you cannot register, sponsor. If you cannot do either, get the word out. If you cannot run, walk. If you cannot walk, come and be together on what will be one of the most special occasions in my life. If none are possible, be with me in spirit and know that you are with me. I may have known you all of my life, or for just a small amount of time, but we all know that sexual abuse affects us all. I will not remain silent and I will no longer carry the shame of a victim. I am a survivor and this is my chance to create a community of survivors. Please consider taking part now and every year to come……

And The Loving Notes that followed:

I am so incredibly honored to know you.

Words cannot express the depth of gratitude or the love my heart and soul hold for you, Allie. I am not sure you will ever fully understand the critical role you have played and continue to play in my life,not only to help me overcome my own crises and hurts to regain the sense of self I had lost, but also to help and guide me as I strive to serve the young people in our community.

Your email subject, The Phoenix Rises, struck a chord with me which prompted me to want to make sure you know how much you mean to me……..My last tattoo, designed and applied during the time in my life when I was your client, is a Phoenix 🙂 How fitting to me that you, the person who taught me how to rise from the ashes, also chose that same symbol to describe your own journey.

You are so precious to share this. I would NEVER have known that was in your past. I have actually marveled at how humble and down to earth and transparent you are (rare in a person so evidently intelligent and gifted). I recall when you were doing our ethics

workshop last year, I had a quick image of an adorable, precocious little red headed girl with her Converse sneakers. You are a walking miracle, Alicia. I opened the registration to fill it out and it is the same w/end we have reservations, but I will surely plan to be there next year! I also was molested as a child during an intensive (seemed to me) 6 month period when I was 4 yo. You are a radiant gift from God and I pray the run will be all you have dreamed and that it will grow exponentially over the next years.

The day I meant you I know where was something special and powerful in you. I am soooo proud of you. I would miss it this year but u would be in my thoughts.

Alicia…I have not previously been aware of your survivor status, but am, of course, not surprised given the statistics you mention in your message and given my work of now 40 years as a therapist. Not surprised, but deeply saddened and sorry that you have experienced such trauma, pain and grief. I am very grateful for the work you are doing and for the very public attention you are bringing for the need to continue to bring abuse out of the shadows. I think I am committed to an out of town trip for that weekend. If I can change those plans I will.

Thank you for sharing with me; I had no idea that you went thru that!!  But as you said, you are a SURVIVOR. And that is wonderful!!!!! I have found over the years that so many people do not want to share their“true” life stories. I guess my life has always been an open book because growing up in a small town, everyone knew my family business. I am a HUGE believer in sharing….and I always encourage others to do the same. Hiding behind something does not make it go away. But not everyone is me….LOL!!! You have taken a tragedy and turned it into triumph!!! That is the kind of happy ending I love to hear!!

Alicia thanks so much for your transparency and your vulnerability….it is refreshing and so inspiring. I am so happy for you and that your journey to this moment has brought you full circle to a place of peace and giving. I hope that you will have the time to not only give, but to receive the fruits of your accomplishments! You really deserve it.

See You on Saturday April 1st

Phoenix Rising 5k

Event at 3:00pm, Race @ 6:00pm

Live Music, Silent Auction, Bounce House

Find more information on FaceBook:transformativetrauma

LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

Southern Gothic Dancin’

We rolled into Milledgeville, Georgia in 2002; straight off the little highway connected to many other little webbings of other tiny highways with their distincly black and white signs declaring you have just entered into nowhere land. I will never forget passing onto the street that was one long strip mall of cheap clothes and fast food wrappers. I sank and swore under my breath as I died just a little. I was trapped on this ant farm of tiny highways that led to nothing of substance. This big city girl was being squeezed and stuffed into small town life. I couldn’t breathe and only did some of the strangest things breathe life into my caged up heart.

Milledgeville, it turns out, is an icon in lunacy. Growing up in Georgia meant that you may be threatened with being sent to Milledgeville to live at the Asylum. Taking up some two thousand acres, The Georgia Lunatic Asylum established in 1883 was once the largest mental health facility in the United States. Then called many other less kind things, it housed between 13-15 thousand patients. Practices, much less medicine was scarcely humane and people were sometimes chained to walls, children placed in crib cages and overall treated with less decency than my own pets. Legend has it that some of the less ill could be taken home to clean and cook for you and the residents had their own garden. It was said to have one of the largest laundry services on site making the hospital more like its own city. Some physicians and staff lived in tiny houses settled right next to the massive buildings that housed room after room of mentally ill patients. Without much regulation, most anyone deemed ‘sick’ could be left there and because of the lack of staffing, sometimes the patients became the workforce treating the other patients. Now some twenty five thousand patients are buried on the grounds of the hospital creating fuel for the often haunted gothic stories that have become apart of Georgia’s history.

By the 1960’s a governed decentralization of mental health facilities began and the onset of stabilizing medications for the severely mentally ill along with recognition that mental health issues did not constitute removal from society, created the slow disinegration of the once massive city. By the time I arrived for my volunteer orientation at the Powell Building in December 2002, less than half of the community was being used and many buildings were already condemed and haunted by its past.

I was sent to work with a professor and part time psychologist where the acutely physcially ill were housed and made an apparent impression that quickly led to a paying job, office and a behavioral health partner to work with. Stationed with the severly mentally ill geriatric patients, I was schooled in how many mental health disorders looked in their clearest diagnosis and through this lens, I learned more than I could ever offer them, affording me the ability to learn and understand their world view from living with them eight hours a day, five days a week.

And it was the little things that even school could not teach me that informed me of their world view. It is true that with the onset of major mental health disorders like schizophrenia and Bipolar I disorder, the brain is more suspectable to dementia due to the malformations occurring physiologically. Some clients liked to hoard wads and wads of paper while others wore their lipstick wild, drawing farther outside of the lines when less stable. Others signed their name as famous presidents and during the difficult times, many would yell, call me names and wildly run naked through the hospital. I loved them all dearly.

Over time I would find ways to be supportive without being overbearing. I learned to slowly slip out some of the garbage hanging about my patients clothing. Of course it always gave way to more later, but at least there was room made for the hunt to continue later. I would politely ask to help adjust my patients makeup as she went for a big outing like a dance at the auditorium or to shop. And I considered it a compliment to receive a good tongue hammering from one of the once stotic church ladies who kept loads of waded up tobacco in her mouth while spewing her ugly fuck language at me. Perhaps I learned a thing or two about flinging around my foul language from her.

I realize now what a debt of gratitude I owe them. Being a part of their lives gave me the foundation for what I continue to use today as I am in relationship with so many who will never exhibit the extremes I have known, but perhaps, like all of us, have a touch of madness that can be connected to those that showed me what it was like to live with in its most pure form. We would like to believe we are really somehow eons away from the Central State Hospital resident. I believe this is a disservice to my people then, as it is to us collectively now.

I would be entirely remiss to not mention my fellow behavioral specialist and friend Charles. He was known as the quienessential ‘jack of all the hospital trades’. It would not be odd to see him on his way to a treatment team meeting for a resident with three different tools in his hand and some part-a-sum-em that he was steadily fixing that broke. He had his way of making life in the hospital run smoothly, whether it was to create a calming effect on an irrate resident to fixing the dishwashers so the cooks could carry on with their work day. He would often make sure the once entirely too godly church woman had her tobacco, a vile behavior to her visiting friends. We were amused at her way with cuss words, especially when the tobacco ran out. I learned so much about how to be a good human in his presence and offer love where it often faded away in our quiet and isolated world of Central State Hospital.

All these distant memories occurred long before my own kiddo was born and in just these past few weeks did the two collide……And I promise, this next thing, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

Fast forward to 2016. It’s a cold and dreary evening and my daughter and I are so excited to get ready for her first middle school dance. We prep with a new dress from Grammie, ballet slipper style shoes and a sparkly purse to make all the pretty things shine. Just a week before we execute our marvelous plan, I realize where we are going…….I am taking my kid and dropping her off to the newly acquired auditorium AT THE CENTRAL STATE HOSPITAL. RIGHT NEXT TO THE MAIN BUILDING ENTRANCE. I have died and died laughing. I wanted to call up Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess and beg her to listen to this story. I always understood that southerners joked about happily parading around their crazy, but I had no idea that they would send my kid right up in it!

As we ride into the back side of the campus, I squeal in delight showing her the building I worked in, where my office was and the people I adored there. I can see her rolling her eyes from the back seat as she says, “Mom is taking herself a trip down memory lane.” She is not amused and said, “This is why everyone said I was going to a dance at the asylum.” Lawd. What could I say but ‘Yes honey, yes you are.’ We passed the main hospital where residents stayed when they were physically ill and told her stories of life on the inside.

We cruised right by the Powell Building, the main entrance and I pointed and said, “This was where the residents went if they became actively psychotic.” Lyra gasped and said, “That sounds scarey! Did you have to handcuff them?” I unknowingly but nonchalantly said back, “Nah, we would sometimes just wrap them in a sheet, especially when they got naked.” Silence. And the next building over is the drop off point………… I swear, I swear, I CANNOT make this shit up. I still remain amused and astonished all in one.

Still….none the less…How can you not be in love? ❤ ❤

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                                                                   LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

When Father Comes Around,Part I

I last saw my birth father in 1994 at the age of 19 when I was getting ready to leave for college. Somehow my grandmother got in touch with him, mostly a mystery as to how, and invited him to come see me before I left. Memories of him for the most part are iconic, as if I quickly painted a portrait crystallizing the moment because I knew there would be so few.

He sat in my Gram’s rocking chair out on the enclosed porch of her Kendallwood house. It was one of my favorite homes and we shared it for eight months before I shipped off to Alabama for a southern style college life. He always wore one of those grey fidora hats with a fancy feather in the side to cover his bald head and this time a pair of boot leg jeans with his blaring red beard. He always said my mother was the cause of his baldness from the early days of beauty school, but I know better. We drove around in his gold dated Honda and he showed me how his police detector worked, illegal in California, but that was always part of his problem. He played Pink Floyd from the CD player and when he learned my appreciation for the old school, quickly gave it to me. It is the one and only possession he ever gave to me. He told me how proud he was of me and wanted to know all my big plans. He always spoke of his big changes, plans of stability, frequent phone calls and relationship.

It was AWKWARD. All awkward. My relationship with my mother was strained, yet as we drove by her neighborhood in town, I felt like I was betraying her and my Dad. My step-Dad–DAD- the person who had shown up for me during the worst of the unconsolable adolescent years. And I knew, despite wishing for real wishes and magic, this would be the end. The only thing that frequently changed in my father’s life was his address.

The years rock by along with years of therapy. During the end of my first round in college I recall my therapist suggesting seeking out my brothers who were last known to live in Texas. I suppose I was not ready and only did many years later. For us siblings, we are a reminder of him, our one and only vague link to each other and understandably, not the brightest of subjects to discuss. With a little energy, I found them and once again- the father.

You might imagine I attempted to find him through various ‘where are my people’ searches, but instead, I knew where to look. Arrest and conviction records often tell a succinct story and one can always hope that the gaps are the bright spots where he fell off the radars of law enforcement. The luck of living in a small town affords me the ability to ask for a first look help. But how do we openly invite that kind of shame into our lives? No one would fault me for a convicted felon father, but they would also just know. And just wonder. Hell, I couldn’t blame them, I certainly wonder how a man with an active drug addict and felony conviction a mile long (probably not much exaggeration there) have any part in the life of a successful therapist; much less partnered for 19 years with happy kid and no arrest record to speak of??!!!

I recall lining myself up along the pew of the jail. Literally, and I hope you can see the irony in the church pew as your place to sit as you await your fate at the jail. It was a visiting day and people came from all around to love their orange jump suited people through the heavy glass. There were creases in every inch of the officers uniform, but the people were sloppy and disheveled having honest reason to loose track of themselves while the orange people blared ugly in their lives. My blue sear sucker suit and red sude heels stood out. Clearly, I was not them and yet had my life been about chasing orange uniforms, me and the thick glass would have been best friends.

Apparently the officer supporting my ‘let’s conquer the daddy issues’ had read one too many of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books and as he began considering fishing around in the dregs of my life, he asked me what my purpose was. The dragon tattoo girl sought out her father to kill him. I think I was past that stage, but did have to giggle that my life could reflect a fiction thriller. And so the online pursuit began and eventually he popped up in jail….and then prison. Again. A petty theft led to more probation time and I very shamefully write that his love affair with the police was very short tempered and he allowed a dog to attack an officer. He went off to prison for that bullshit to complete his time and when I arrived at this knowledge, he had been released with no further probation and a last address.

I sent a card. I wanted him to know he may be lost, but I was not.

He had a successful daughter and grandchild. I couldn’t want anything from him.

But it was returned, floating between here and there for weeks.

And many more years collected dust on the relationship table of me and him.

Then, just this year during the cold dark days of January, the phone call came from a nurse named Esther. A little biblical and breath taking. I assumed she was Jesus’s messenger and delivering the news that he was gone and I was the only connection left, the glue that held what was left of my Gregory family. I was panicked and alone. My namesake, one that I have kept unchanged, was potentially further broken down while I waived in the wind of the Gregory name.

As I picked up the phone to call back, my hands shook in fear and anticipatory sadness. Was it just easier to keep him the iconic memory and could I withstand the change that was about to plop like wet poop into my lap? I just didn’t know……But my silent sister Glennon Melton (that gurl NEVER calls me) tells me that we can do hard things and I say that if the next step makes you squirm and uncomfortable- its likely the next right one.

So I called to hear the voice of Esther and learn of the news she had to share. Either way, the dust would rise and make noisy floating specks in the suns rays on our relationship table…………

My Mother Didn’t Teach Me to Hate: Compassion First

I grew up in the naiveté of Northern California, a place where I thought the only match of Us vs. Them occurred in movies and television. My neighborhood was wild with diversity and that was easily reflected in both our work and personal lives. My Dad is of Hispanic descent and grew up the majority of his life in an all African-American foster family, sometimes making my nuclear family the only white people at my larger family gatherings. There was little discussion of race in our house and I believe, much like not experiencing religion shoved upon us, it left me with less scarring of the heart when it comes to issues around race and ethnicity. This is not to say there weren’t consequences with the lack of discussion. It led me to believe that the days of racial and ethnic divides were behind us and only when I moved to Alabama for college and saw the literal dividing line of the railroad tracks did I realize I lived in some bizarro cosmic bubble where my utopia obviously was solely in my own head. I remember feeling like the wind had been torn out of me and I spent the majority of my college years building up my knowledge and understanding of what I severely lacked.

As for my understanding of myself as female, it was rotten from the sexual abuse I endured and to this day I am still called that girl with all her “women’s lib shit” by some of my family. Then, I was just angry and hungry to hurt someone back the way I was hurt. I had a low level of understanding about what it meant to be a feminist, but I knew that word gave me some small amount of power and autonomy. I am afraid my mother thought I was just going to be a lesbian because despite her own open ideas about some things, she refused to buy me a dirt bike or Converse shoes. (Hey Mom- I have seven pairs of them now, including some mint green low tops- and I have a pair on my Christmas wish list.) My college experiences have allowed me to grow and understand myself in context of this belief system. I have learned to be fierce and cunning as a feminist rather than running around clumsily cutting people with knives.

Interestingly, sexuality was a conversation on the table. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician in 1978 in San Francisco and the waves of HIV positive (mostly) males followed in the Castro District. We watched Phil Donahue parade around the gays like the new world wide pariah and although when the rubber met the road it may have been a different story, my mother openly told me she didn’t care who I loved. As an aside, sex was also on the table and given that we were a blended family, we had loads of fun making fun of my parents’ sexual activity at the dinner table. I know- weird huh?!! However, this is one of the many aspects of my family I am grateful for.

Despite my very staunch belief in participating in our civic duty to vote, very few adults in my life did and I recall very little about politics until I was 18 and participated in my first election. Then, I was limited in my understanding and did not want to vote for Clinton simply because Al Gore’s wife was the head of the PMRC ! Freedom of speech was very important to me and EVERY heavy metal CD that I purchased had one of those parental advisory stickers on it! Thank goodness my mother didn’t care or I would have died a horrible death as an outsider in my own peer group. We were known as the “Stoners” back then. I think the equivalent group today are the “Emo” kids, although neither us tend to use substances as much as the label implies.

Only in this most recent election did my parents take part in their civic duty and voted. And I have participated in the last seven presidential elections and hope to participate in many more in my lifetime. As a feminist, I do not take lightly the sacrifices made in order to participate in this privilege.

I know what you must be thinking…..either ‘what is your point lady?’ or ‘Ah, hell. She is about to politic us over the head-and I have had enough.’ Hang in there with me; I have got some good stuff for everyone.

Like many, in the days following our recent election, I have run the gamut of emotions. From afraid to angry followed by puzzled and making cynical jokes. I am not sure even those who voted for our President Elect- Donald Trump really believed he would actually do it, while so many others had their emotional heart set on having our first woman president. 110 out of 116 polls were wrong and so few of the experts that may have had some knowledge appeared to ZERO political voice. This is the dawning of a new era and whether or not you are excited or appalled, the sun shall rise and change is coming.

So let me begin by speaking to my fellow democratic brothers and sisters. I am an avid believer in equality for ALL people and there have certainly been times in my life when I have twisted my life into a pretzel to fit into some perfect ideology, however, if a liberal thinker is to grow and change, we cannot play the game of Us vs. Them. Who are the people that primarily voted for our next president? Yes, it is true that the non-college educated white male was the majority of the group while 42 percent were females. Some may be considered the “self made man” who have some wealth through hard work and time. Many live in the rural areas of our country and perhaps a very small percentage (as things like violence and hate continue to be) of this group is interested in maintaining sexist, racist and xenophobic ideologies, but most- just like you– are complicated and intricately different humans. I don’t want to in any way make excuses for the ongoing “isms” that exist in our country, however, if we are going to make any headway in working through the shame that we carry in this nation, we must grow our lens.

I have had the unusual pleasure of living in the rural south for the last 14 years. And when I say rural, I mean like I live with a mere 20 thousand people in the county. Like everywhere I have lived, there are those folks who just aren’t my people (and yes I do mean asleep at the wheel assholes) and the few that I find ways to create meaningful connection with. And it has little to do with politics. I find that, in general, people who live in rural areas are very much the salt of the earth. Yes, in these parts of the country there is more fear that stems from a lack of exposure to the unknown and sometimes cultural knowledge. As I have found my way to fold into this rural community, I have found a tremendous amount of kindness and generosity that I never experienced living in a large city.

There are many complicated elements of a typical life in a rural small town. There are still young teenagers working at the grocery store and sometimes if you want to get out of there quickly, you better put your head down and not do the usual direct eye contact and speaking because you may get caught in a conversation while your ice cream melts in front of you. I share names and history with the people I bank with and collect my pharmaceuticals from. I see them out in town and we speak and share stories of our children and family. This crosses ethnic and racial backgrounds. Is it all lollipops and rainbows? No kids. That’s ridiculous. None of us live in Oz. But my southerners try to live in the world a little like we are supposed to in church; we are expected to be kind and although not ideal, I surely miss it when I leave to go home to California where not one human will smile at me walking down the street.

Some of the reasons we have to accept their votes are due to the abject poverty in which many live. There remains a weekly food bank and local ministries that provide clothing to our community. The overwhelming majority are white families that are struggling to survive. Eleven of the schools in my county are considered Title I schools; meaning that a high percentage of children are eligible for free lunch. Programs have begun popping up during the summer time just to feed these same children because it is a known fact they are going without food. To demand that this part of my community have clarity on something like the higher good related to race relations and whether I am being treated fairly as a woman becomes a ridiculous prospect to a person trying to make enough to feed their family each day. This does not mean we let all the privileged white folks off the hook. I am asking that we pull the lens back onto the entire country and examine how we can show compassion even when we are frightened and understandably angry.

As for the many who voted for our new president-elect and do not fit into the catogories described above, the disenfranchisement with government and the lack of connection with the everyday American has led to this severe uprising and perhaps a silent revolution with the intention to reclaim the government away from the seasoned politician that is often bought out by the lobbyists swarming every crevice of our United States House and Senate. With this considered factor, perhaps those are the true ‘liberal’ thinkers who wanted to revolt in their own way through their vote. Of course, the outcome remains to be revealed.

This leads to my thoughts to my fellow Republican brothers and sisters. It is true that whenever their person is not the chosen one, there is a major let down that often follows for several days. This election has already shown to be something more than this. For many, the grief is in multiple layers and some is the loss of a wish that America is less racist, less sexist and more accepting of the LGBT community than ever before. This election showed the entire world that perhaps that is not true just yet. I know for myself as a trauma survivor, I spent years rebuilding that layer of grounded trust that humans were potentially less sexist and have a greater willingness to protect little children than in the past. And for now, the results have attempted to shake that foundation. Honestly, it is all a reminder that our fears are not unfounded. I felt betrayed and once again back in my naïve young life of Northern California, just wanting the fear to subside. For so many minority and marginalized people this was just another amplification of the fear they live in everyday and it warrants our concern and honest understanding.

Change did not have to come packaged in a man that had such terrible vitriol, spewing hatred and causing the trickle to ride all the way down to my daughter’s sixth grade class where a young African-American student was excited about the Trump victory to only hear another student say they ‘shouldn’t get so excited, they are going to be sent back to Africa!’ I am afraid that Trump did not really understand the consequences of rallying the hate that resides within all of us and will now have to spend a fair amount of time putting out the sparked hate fires that have been spurred on by his rhetoric.Voting for Trump did not necessarily symbolize that you are sexist, racist or xenophobic; that you don’t hate. It does represent a lack of care about the marginalization of people not like you. The fear of being abandoned or rejected is a kind of shame that makes us all want to vomit.

Further, it has been a long time wish to see a mirror rather than possible attempts at reflection. Although HRC was a long time politician and a member of the elite establishment, it was a great time to follow the first African-American male president with our first woman. I understand this is not in of itself a good reason for a vote. However, how many voted for Trump simply because he was NOT a member of the establishment and could overlook many things others could not? In the faces of so many young women who wept, we are anxiously waiting for someone to have the highest office in the country reflect who we are as women. And then to get the extra smack in the face while already down has made the pain and damaged feelings even deeper.

We still have a LONG way to go.

Maybe this reminder will allow ALL of us to do more.

We need not swallow that bitter fruit of hatred.

Hatred cannot be our way. Lacking compassion and taking the angry way out cannot be our answer. I was given many mixed messages as a kid, but hating others was not one of them. My Mom and Dad taught me the face of kindness and how a deeply giving heart can win over even the surliest of men. I have watched them just keep at their intentions of kindness even when I am sure the sour neighbor is plotting how to blow them up. And most of the time, their love wins. I believe in the freedom of speech and I am grateful we have a mechanism to protest and be heard when we are passionate about something. This passion cannot come forward without compassion for all Americans. Take the time to work at understanding each other and continue to draw the lines of connection that already exist, but may remain unseen. We are ALL connected within the intricate and complicated lives we lead and if this once naïve girl from Cali can find her connections in rural living, I will remain hopeful and proceed with compassion first.

So now, let’s get to work.

Audrie & Daisy Film Screening

Wednesday, November 30th at 6:00pm

Wesleyan College, Taylor Amphitheater

Public Film Screening of Audrie & Daisy

A powerful documentary about sexual assault and social media

JOIN US FOR FOOD AND DISCUSSION

Hosted By: The Crisis Line of Central Ga and Reflections Psychotherapy, LLC

 

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An Ode to The Wind…and My Husband

Do you know what my husband said to me recently? Like seriously, he had to be all Zen Master on me and had the NERVE to say that maybe (just MAYBE) I needed to sit and be quiet sometimes.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT????? I mean really, for the love of all things like Christmas and Halloween and just plain ‘ole noisy shit…..ME?? I need to remember to get quiet? And sit. And breathe. Just a little.

Well, okay. He (eyes rolling) has a point.

A few weeks ago I was lamenting about our decision to stay closer to home to save for a big trip to Japan next year. I was half whining about the emotional sacrifice (oh yes-poor me and my first world problem) because staying at home like a stay-cation is uh, NO. NOT an option. I couldn’t stop looking at all the dust kitties collecting and multiplying my cats. Talk about a total vacay-buzz kill. I decided long ago that I am a steward to my sanctuary and it may just fall to pieces if I just sat there. I know it’s totally silly- but #truestory. I am not so good at lounging around for long periods of time in my own house. You could say, ‘You can give a girl some yoga pants, but nothing will wash away the high strung behaviors’.

I am WAY better than I used to be. My own anxiety would make my anxiety anxious. And sometimes I still work myself into a windex and laundry frenzy. So- I listened, reluctantly and definitely rebeliously and went outside. I sat down. I just watched. My husband commented on how in the Zen practice we do the laundry when we do the laundry. We cook when we cook. But we also stop and notice…..and just stop and notice. For the Zen practitioner- it may be all day!! How ludicrious. Turn it all off, ALL DAY! I might die early from being in my head that much.

We spoke of how we would pass those folks on their porch just watching the day pass by. Sometimes we will see them on the way to and from where we are rushing off to. Southerners definitely have some lessons to teach us.

So I watched the sky and imagined myself picking at it, making shapes and listened to the breeze. A hummingbird passed, whooshing over my head. Something I would miss if I were moving. Of course I noticed cobwebs and the bushes overgrown- but I left them. I sat and breathed in the day. And before long, I felt better. It was like a took a whole vacation right there on my own front porch. I am reminded that home is ME and peace is found in the simple things.

If you have just ten minues- sit outside. Watch the world go by. Learn the way of the southern rocking chair and Zen masters. Gratitude and peace are waiting for you.

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Tiny Atrocities

#theupsidedown

Ever been in such a strong life rhythm that you have somehow muted the swirling static brewing underneath? Welp, that’s me and this thing- this kind of depression I am emerging from.

I am calling it a Facebook Depression. Everything is so seemingly normal on the outside but on the inside, my brain was eating Facebook Cheetos every day, numbing out on the junk food of social media. There are many constants I have constructed- all of which would give anybody the idea, nothing but happy lives here. I traditionally call these the “non-negotiables”; eating well, sleeping enough, getting regular exercise, and practicing self-care. Got all those in place and it would seem that it’s all being done well, maybe even great. Somehow, I lost sight of the deep down darkness and rather than keeping it close, it slipped shut to the underneath.

Perhaps that sounds lovely- to live within the light. However, that naiveté sounds more like being emotionally asleep at the wheel. For the emotionally awake human, that should petrify us more than dipping into our own upside down. And yet, I had successfully placed a wad of sweet cotton candy between me and my darkness. I tricked myself into thinking my life was a daily success when in fact I was sucking down the social media nitrous.

I genuinely cannot place the Why? And it could be simply a lack of neurotransmitters executing the appropriate happy party in my brain. It has all been so sneaky and undercutting, I have to say I am half fascinated with how devious the mind can be. And although the why is elusive, I am beginning to understand what has been missing. Given these revelations, it would seem careless on my part to not write down and share those tiny atrocities that created the cotton candy barrier of numbness.

I won’t lay blame solely at the feet of Marc Zuckerberg, he may not be very happy about that. But really, when social media takes over our brains we don’t have to face the fact that focusing becomes lost on us. I felt like my social media turned into a modern version of the body snatchers! For realz- my brain after hours was just pure mush. It also becomes the presiding excuse as to why so many other things are not occurring.

I stopped enjoying and doing many of my regular things- like reading and writing. When we set down our passions and grab handfuls of Cheetos, we are in trouble. I was “reading” stuff on Facebook, but not the pile of books growing like kudzu in my room. I wasn’t even writing about the fun stuff, much less examining my upsidedown.

I stopped crying. I get that for many the crying would become the problem, but I am a feeling person in a suck it up world. Losses in my life have passed me by without a tear. Another close friend was sucked away by a better town and job because sustainability in a small town is so difficult. I witnessed another divorce massacre and many were lost in the process. Through it all- not a tear.

I stopped dancing. It is a common phenomenon to dance in the kitchen, the bathroom and certainly in the car! Just a few days ago I discovered a new artist, Ben Rector and flung myself around my bathroom floor, doing a jig like I had new legs! Before- Nada. No matter how loud or poppy the music, that spark just did not ignite me, instead I was drool and unimaginative as I got ready for the office each morning.

I made myself believe a different future stopped on its axis. Perhaps for some, happiness is sought in the regularity of life’s rhythms, but for many the consequences are great. I am left without freedom of choice. I can wish for nothing and dreaming starts to become a distant pastime. Worse yet, I convinced myself that the consistent drumming without the variation of change was a good thing.

I was constantly worn out at the end of the day, at the end of the week. This gets sticky with the number of medical issues I have that straight F.U.C.K. with my ability to master the difference between interacting physical and emotional difficulties. Keeping up with the physical ailments are a necessity, but when physically I am ‘all clear’ and still carrying around invisible sand bags- there’s a definite problem. Perhaps the larger discussion is around doing what Shauna Niequist calls “fake-resting” in her book, Present Over Perfect. I may be at home in my pajamas being comfy and having the appearance of lazy, but I’m cooking, cleaning and tidying up all day. Noticing the spots of dust and clutter and “gravitating towards this inside movement” that really turns out to be nothing less than work.

I spent more time feeling like intimacy was unpaid labor rather than a fun night at the private disco. This part of life is always tricky because for us trauma survivors, many other things are wrapped up in intimacy and I recognize no matter how hard I work at this part of my relationship, it will always remain work.

We all have a completed shadow self that resides right below the brightness we share with others. When we stop taking the time to reflect and notice, the pain can slip away into the depths of our deep down darkness. It’s worth our while to see both and be both. It seems an important part of ourselves is lost when we attempt to live in either for too long; the sun will give me cancer and hanging out too long in the dark upsidedown will be like being force fed forgetting.

You may look at these and think, “Uh, lady-I never did dance, how could my lack of coordination be a depression problem?” Of course, these are just my little depressions. What we actually need in our lives goes beyond getting sleep and exercise and dancing just may not be your thing. There is value in going beyond the non-negotiables and seeking out those telling signs that inform us about our health- mind, body and spirit. These tiny atrocities occur when we fail to embed the simple soul work. Do you relish in the last trickles of warm water running down your face as you turn off the shower water cleansing you? How often do you take the time to notice the created atmosphere while your kiddo dances wildly to music, you sing with broken abandon and all the while the smells of homemade food bubble in the back drop? Perhaps you may find just the right dance steps flowing between the dark and light of your life, relishing in the many reasons for our own created happiness.

The Genetics of Sexism

 For #AudrieandDaisy

In a culture that continues to lack the ability to rise to the occasion to view both males and females as equal participants in society, it is going to take all of us in of our communities to make meaningful changes in the genetics of sexism.

I am continually baffled by the notion that my culpability for being female needs to be the only thing questioned when a crime has been committed. However, I am left with the recognition that we are losing in our ability to raise our boys. We lack the courage to even recognize that the derogatory and covert remarks against women continue to be at the heart of why males will blur the lines between a comment or gesture and criminal behavior. If a female is supposed to just tolerate whatever is said or how she is touched, no matter how subtle or direct, then what are we actually saying to half of our society?

Let me answer that question for you: We continue to inform our boys that girls are just a commodity, no different than my messy nightstand. And if you are not clear about how your behavior is not potentially translated into the blur that becomes rape, let me provide just a few examples of what this looks like from the perspective of a woman.

  1. Sexist behavior is when your first inclination in evaluating a female person in the public is to judge what she is wearing and whether she behaved appropriately.
  2. Sexist behavior is when a male orders their partner to do something for them without consideration of her needs much less her existence.
  3. Sexist behavior is when you grab at a female in public expecting her to follow your expectations or assume your gesture is simply a form of play.
  4. Sexist behavior is assuming that another female will give you attention simply because you asked for it and if she does not respond in a ‘nice manner’, you become self-righteous in an attempt to knock her humanness off its block.
  5. Sexist behavior is assuming that when a female speaks up about the horrible thing that happened to them, you say, ‘they just want attention’.
  6. Sexist behavior is hearing others making derogatory remarks about a female and remaining silent.
  7. Sexist behavior is calling a woman who has sex a whore while the males are champions making notches on bed posts.
  8. Sexist behavior is downgrading a woman’s success, basing it upon luck or what other people gave her.
  9. Sexist behavior is having an even higher standard for women, expecting her chastity and accomplishment to be pristine in order to be worthy.
  10. Sexist behavior is assuming that a girl or woman is a “bitch” because she speaks her mind and has an opinion, especially if it does not suit you.
  11. Sexist behavior is being told that ‘you should know your place’ when as a woman you state a clear opinion that does not favor men’s behavior.
  12. Sexist behavior is continuing to overlook one’s unacceptable behavior in the name of some false higher good labeled as politics or position.

 

I wish I could say the concept of rape culture was not real or true. And if it’s not clear what rape culture is, refer back to my examples and make the connection. I would hand over limbs in an effort to wake up our culture to the fact that our subtle acceptance of sexist jokes and seemingly little things is at the heart of why young boys and men continue to rape and why we continue to tolerate it. And each time we are either a participant or witness, another sexual assault is built upon the sexist comment tower we created. I know it is a difficult challenge to swallow the notion that our process addiction to daily sexist behaviors creates this monster, but it does.

This is exactly why when a sexual assault occurs in our neighborhoods- we want to separate ourselves and lay no claim to the possibility that a crime could have occurred. We would all have to admit that we played our part in the acceptance of the process that leads men to believe that women are things and not humans. It is why in watching the documentary Audrie and Daisy, Daisy stood zero chance at a fair opportunity for justice. Wanna know what rape culture looks like? Watch this movie and hear the words, REALLY hear the words of several of the officials. One just couldn’t believe that their beautiful golf course wasn’t the more important topic in their town than a young girl who was sexually assaulted.

We are called to something better than this. We should demand a concentrated effort on recognizing our own biases and ask ourselves, for once, honest questions about our own internal struggle and what we accept on a daily basis that creates the monster of rape. Monsters are not born, as written in the documentary, they are made. And if we are the tower’s architects, then it could take very little to obtain the permit to burn that shit down. We would not condone words or actions built on the misogyny of sexism. This does not have to be our DNA- we can shut off this belief that somehow the presence of a vagina automatically implies less than. Perhaps one day, a young woman like Audrie will not take her own life in an attempt to escape the rape culture she lived in.

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My 25 Truths

My 25 Truths, Challenge Accepted

  1. I believe in Love and relationship. The deep messy ones where we are left with grime on our faces, but we can say without doubt; we have loved fiercely. It seems to be all we have when everything else washes away. And for me, it is the only thing that makes all the other pain of life worthwhile.
  1. I am not in love with children. I like the idea of them, but they seem so grabby and handsy that I get anxious and worried they will just slide through my hands like Jello. It’s not polite for a woman to say she would rather not hold your kid or gush over its smooshed up face, but I would rather not. Now, when they are mine- it’s different. I experience this electricity in the bond. That seems to override the fact that I feel like I am holding a gigantic chicken nugget.
  1. My body is a vehicle not an ornament. I love how strong and graceful it can be. I get excited by the experience of owning power in my bones, like there’s hidden magic I can unlock by building muscle. I am not impressed by corporations selling me skinny and I am certainly not interested in people who judge me by some odd made up standard of beauty.
  1. Vulnerability is beautiful and sexy. Breakdowns are beautiful. I know it seems the opposite of sexy, but we were not meant to line up like drones in the “I’m fine” crowd- that is made up crap to keep us sterile and lonely. Being vulnerable will mean taking risks and making mistakes. It will mean being bold with our love and daring ourselves to have the kind of relationships we deserve. It will remain as superficial as jam on toast if we don’t dig deep and share the guts of what we’re made of.
  1. Food is the most amazing gift! I love to eat and although not entirely true (see #3), I do exercise, in part, so I can eat. Given that women are supposed to be small and invisible, it’s generally wrong for a woman to even act like she likes food! We are supposed to pick at it and pretend we aren’t starving. I get hangry if I skip meals so, not to worry, I will enjoy EVERY bite!
  1. Being judgmental is a kind of toxic venom that we slowly inject ourselves with. But I am still guilty of it. Just noticing when we are sizing another person up and sending them kindness instead can change your entire perspective on yourself. I realize when I am super judgey, I am simply caught in my mind with MY junk taking up precious real estate in my head.
  1. I am truly silly and love to laugh- especially at totally inappropriate and clever things. Like REALLY inappropriate things. And given that being happy is the most rebellious act, I love to be silly in public and make others laugh- or worry.
  2. Practicing yoga is the one thing that keeps me from committing murders. It would be nice if I were as even toned as my husband….but I’m not. The price of passion is getting fiery mad at shit you don’t like. Yoga reminds me to come back to my center, sit and be quiet.
  3. There are some people who are just more lovely and special than others. I have the distinct pleasure of loving many of them.
  4. Writing cleanses my soul. When I am not doing that in some way- I lose sight of the observer in my own life…..and am likely going to be in trouble.
  5. I like my music loud and to drive my car fast. My husband rolls his eyes so far in the back of his head when he gets in my car, I swear they roll into the back seat. In the recent years of spontaneous dancing, I have turned into a pop princess. Sometimes the bass in my Prius (yes, you can laugh) is up so high the back window bounces!
  6. I think my choices in cussing are simple. It’s my daily ‘Fuck You’ to the patriarchy that continues to attempt to tell me I should remain a silent bystander to some other man’s life. I even have a ring to go with it. I like to point at it when my trainer tries to tell me what to do (although I do pay him to do that).
  7. Although I readily sunburn like a mutha-fucker, the ocean is a healing place. It’s a sanctuary in the blistering oppression of people.
  8. I like things. I don’t generally have issue with things. I like to shop for things- especially shoes. However- I am not attached to them. They can come and go- if you need it, it’s yours. I value the expression and meaning behind those things much more than stuff itself.
  9. I don’t believe in soulmates- but I am a complicated bird so I do believe it’s tough to really get me. Not because I pretend, but mostly because I don’t. Men generally appreciate confidence only if they can capture and box it. It takes a special human to take the risk to love a wild bird. I believe my spouse is a rare soul who can weather the death and rebirth.
  10. I am a most tender soul. I will cry at commercials and cuss you out for an injustice. Both are an alert that I am hurt and I may get stuck in those painful feelings for days at a time.
  11. My daughter says she believes I could beat someone up. I half palm plant my face and am half impressed with the astute observation of my 11-year old. I am happy she can see women who are self-assured and are not afraid to take a stand.
  12. I believe in equality. ……. every kind, without borders or exceptions. My middle class white mind continues to need to learn. I find listening with an open heart serves this conviction.
  13. I believe we are both human and divine. The many stories we hold precious speak to this desperate desire to know the divine within. We struggle instead to worship others rather than follow our own divinity.
  14. I believe in therapy. Next to being a mother, it is the biggest privilege to be in the presence of another person’s emotional sanctuary. Given that we are all feeling humans- we should not do this alone. Having a special person to walk the journey who will have your interest at heart over EVERYONE else is an experience we should all have in this messy life.
  15. I believe in kindness. Given that I still struggle with my judgey pants and my daughter is aware of the asshole prowess, it is always a work in progress.
  16. Life is stunningly harsh and joyous. I’ve learned that when people are seemingly “fine all the time” – they are truly not showing up in their lives. If things don’t fall apart a few times, I am afraid you are just not doing it right. Rigging it all together with tethered strings makes for one holy monkey mess (as my friend would say) when the shit hits the fan.
  17. I am a trauma survivor and I know I’m not alone. I know that so many of us carry the deep shameful burden of a past that haunts us. If we only gave ourselves the freedom to speak our most breath taking truths, shame would die and the war we rage on inside of ourselves could wave the white flag of surrender.
  18. The need to stop and reflect is like needing the breath. Therefore, I believe in therapy. And Yoga. And Writing and pajama days!….and whatever allows you to slow it down, and watch the wind. We need all the kinds of self-compassion our minds can muster. I try to speak to myself with kindness and give myself the same kinds of breaks I do to others I love.
  19. I accept ambiguity and change. I try to hug them like old friends and offer them a seat at my table, give them warm food and yummy treats. Occasionally, I want to starve them out with stubbornness. It never works and is a clear reminder that growth’s invitation can’t come without them.