In The Land of Boudin with a dash of Fleurty Girl

There is a part of the world that does not go unnoticed and its unique flavor is a gift. I have had the honor of being in intimate relationship with the Cajuns for the past 16 years. You may know them to serve their rice and politics dirty, but I know another side.

In September of 1997, my now spouse brought me home to Cajun land for the first time. I had no idea my presence was a first for him. I met his parents and grandmother with delight and the next day was suppose to meet his other grandmother at her house. With growing anxiety, we show up and initially, Ma-Ma and a few people are there…….But, before I could swallow and calm my nerves, there stood to be what I now know as EVERYONE. Aunts, uncles, cousins piled into the little brick house in Scott, Louisiana to get a peek at the fair, red head from California. It was like the seventh wonder had shown up at Ma-Ma’s house! Many called her “Honey” and she spoke quietly from her recliner with an old, slightly rusty stand up cigar stand next to her. They laughed and joked….. and played a game of twenty questions with me. Despite my fears, all was done in the spirit of love and a desire to show the warmth and grace that cajuns possess.
Over the years, there are many things I have learned from the Cajun people that we can all take a lesson from. Now, it is not fair to romanticize anyone and I do not want you to believe that I am naïve enough to think that I really mean Candy Land, not Cajun land. I see hurt and struggle, the tussle of broken family relationships and the SAME dysfunction as any where else. There are just a few life lessons that we could adopt if they are missing in our lives. If you ever slip away from these important truths, take a trip to the land of boudin and you will be called back to the joy that the Cajun people embody.

What you have is not what you are.
I often run when I am home in our small town of Carencro and it is not uncommon for a slightly worn down trailer with tarps on it to reside next door to the circa 1930’s home. Neither seem to be angry about the other, it is just where life went. The oddest sight seems to be me jogging past them as they wave good morning to me. I always imagine that these neighbors are there for one another. In all, I have never met a more generous group of people. There appears to be a quiet understanding that we have to make it together in this world. A Cajun persons worth does not lie in the fancy car or clothes, it lies in family.

Cajuns Silent Middle Name: FUN
As an adult recovering from the lost ability to play, if you need to remember how to spend time having fun, come and spend some time with the Cajuns. I have seen 80 year old people get up a cut a rug to the accordion at PreJean’s on a Friday night. Hell, the accordion player is likely twice my age! You can come any time of the year and there is a festival and possibly a parade going on. My spouse told me how many days they got off for Mardi Gras every year, just to go to parades! No matter what, there is always bingo and dominos. My mother in law sometimes plays three games of Bo-Ray a week with her friends!

Food MUST be SuperbImageve
What other culture do you know that has the following: gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, couche-couche, etouffee, rice dressing, crawfish pie, alligator on a stick, and everything starts with a roux!

Don’t Be a Religious Zealot
Most Cajuns would identify as Catholic, say it “Cat-Lick”, but they are not afraid to remember the fun rule. Drinking and dancing and praising God can all go hand in hand. It would not be odd to hear there is church on Sunday and learning how to do Reiki on Wednesday. Spiritual growth can come from many difference avenues. If you are Catholic, nothing is going to change those cultural roots, so try away, a Cajun knows you will still come home.

And home it has become for me…..For the love of tradition, family and most certainly food, there is nothing more unique than that of a Cajun. Love you big Big!!

And if you have never visited, here are a few things you may learn, a little on the lighter side

1. If You’ve ever wore shorts at Christmas time.
2. You pronounce Lafayette as “Laffy-ette” not “La-fy-ette”.
3. To “get down” from the car is not a dance move.
4. To be called a ‘Coon-Ass’ is not a derogatory term.
5. If you really mean something, you say the word twice: “We love you big Big!” (the first time just means very).
6. If you are giving directions and you need to go a long way in one direction: “You go straight-straight.”
7. Also, when giving directions you use words like “uptown”, “downtown”, “backatown”, “riverside”, “lakeside”, “north shore”, “west bank”,”down the bayou” or “across the river”.
8. You plan your wedding around LSU football, baseball….and hurricane season.
9. You greet people with “Ha’s ya momma’an’dem?” and hear back “Deyfine!”
10. Every so often, you have waterfront property.
11. When you refer to the geographical location “way up north”, you are referring to places like Shreveport, Little Rock or Memphis, “where it gets real cold!”
12. Your burial plot is six feet over rather than six feet under.
13. You’ve ever had Community Coffee, sometimes with chickory.
14. You can pronounce Tchoupitoulas but can’t spell it. (also, Thibodeaux, Opelousas, Pontchartrain, Ouachita, Atchafalaya,).
15. You don’t worry when you see ships riding higher in the river than the top of your house.
16. You judge a Po-boy by the number of napkins used. “Amen! You Got Datrite!”
17. The waitress at your local sandwich shop tells you a fried oyster Po-boy “dressed” is healthier than a Caesar salad.
18. You know the definition of “dressed”.
19. You can eat Popeye’s, Haydel’s and Zapp’s for lunch and wash it down with Barq’s and several Abitas, without losing it all on your stoop.
20. The smell of a crawfish boil turns you on more than a new coat .
21. When you go to buy a new winter coat, it is what most people refer to as windbreakers.
22. You “wrench” your hands in the sink with an onion bar to get the crawfish smell off.
23. You’re not afraid when someone wants to “ax you something”.
24. If your child is being misbehaving, “He is so Canaille!” (Say it: “Ku-nye”).
25. You don’t learn until high school that Mardi Gras is not a national holiday.
26. You don’t realize until high school what a “county” is.
27. You believe that purple, green and gold look good together (and will even eat things those colors).
28. To Call a Cat you say, “Here Menoo-Menoo.”
29. Your last name isn’t pronounced the way it’s spelled.
30. You know what a nutria rat is but you still pick it to represent your baseball team. “Geaux Zephyrs!”
31. To be embarrassed is to be “Haunt”.
32. You have spent a summer afternoon on the Lake Pontchartrain seawall catching blue crabs.
33. You describe a color as “K&B Purple”.
34. You like your rice and politics dirty.
35. When given the choice for Governor between a KKK leader and Edwin Edwards it’s a difficult decision.
36. You pronounce the largest city in the state as “Newawlins”.
37. You know those big roaches can fly, but you’re able to sleep at night anyway.
38. You assume everyone has mosquito swarms in their backyard.
39. You realize the rainforest is less humid than Louisiana.
40. You can list all the ingredients of a gumbo or a jambalaya.
41. You go ‘somewheres’, it may be ‘nowheres’ or you might be fine with ‘anywheres’.
42. When you’re in Baton Rouge you know the difference between the old bridge the new bridge.
43. If you ever had to wait for the bridge to “come down” so you can get home
44. If you don’t pull for the Saints, who else would?
45.You know that everyone has had the ‘freesons’ at one time or another.
46. You “make your groceries”, “save the dishes” and have an “icebox”.
47.You don’t clean the floor you, “Pass the Mop”.
48.You know when it’s appropriate to use “Tony Chachere’s”.
49. The four seasons in your year are: crawfish, shrimp, crab and KingCake.
50. If something hurts, like all the Cajuns with side splitting laughter right now, ”Oh-Yi-Yi!”

P.S. If you like my Cajun T-shirt, Check out http://www.Fleurtygirl.net
for all things Louisiana!

 

All Things Brene’ Brown

ImageThe Trickery of Perfectionism

 I recently attended an event where I was faced with questions about my own worthiness. Could I walk into the room and remain present, be who I really am? Or would I slather on the paint of perfection? It can be seductive to make your life ‘look good’ to the rest of the world. Hiding mistakes and getting mired into the need to appear like you have it ‘all together, all the time’ is flat out trickery, both for you as well as others. The very idea that a road to perfection exists sounds more like hell than anything I have ever considered. Yet daily, I hear people fearing they did not do something perfectly, that they are not the perfect person and must continue to trudge away until they finally check off the box; Perfection.

When we attempt to follow the path to perfection, a core truth emerges. We see ourselves as not worthy of love and belonging. We fear so intensely that if anyone, even those closest to us, knew who we really were, everyone would believe that we are not worth being loved. So we hide behind pretty cars, perfectly manicured houses, sweet smiles and starched dresses at church on Sunday morning. We paint the perfect picture to everyone around us, even to ourselves, in an attempt to hide the fact that we are flawed, imperfect and maybe even worse, that we struggle.

It can be rather annoying as a therapist when others expect me to have the answers to every relationship question. I must have the “perfect family, perfect child and the perfect life.” Whenever I hear that, I stick out my tongue and feel like I must be swallowing vinegar. Perfectionism is an unattainable, magical place much like fairies and superheroes. Frankly, I want nothing to do with unattainable. Instead, it is healthy for us to find our way towards good enough. This does not mean relinquishing ourselves from goal setting or making plans about our future. But, if we do it with the expectation that perfection is necessary; we will inevitably be left feeling alone, unworthy and unsatisfied with our results.

You might be wondering what I did when faced with the question of fitting in? As adults, we are challenged to not shrink and become small, or race in and try to gobble up all the feelings of not fitting in, thereby forcing ourselves to become someone we are not, trying to be perfect. Well, the truth is, I struggled. I allowed myself to become small and wanted to just disappear. I did not remain present as my truest self. Although I actively work on seeing myself as good enough, that moment got away from me and I shrank. I allowed myself to operate from a place of unworthiness and my best self did not show up. I am imperfect and I struggle. When we see ourselves as good enough, a mistake does not lead us to place that puts our worth on the line. Instead, when I left, I emotionally chewed threw it with the people I love and reminded myself of these words I created that are now an art piece in my home:

In Our Home………

We Honor Vulnerability

Teach and Practice Compassion

We Cry, We Give BIG HUGS…….

We invite Beauty in being Ourselves

We are Imperfect

We are Good Enough……….

All Who enter……shall receive our GIFTS

May we each strive towards our best selves; flawed, sometimes troubled and full of struggle. You are good enough, just the way you are. You are imperfect and therefore beautiful, because you struggle, just like me. 

Here Comes DragonCon 2013

I am late to the party, no doubt. I have been participating in the glory of DragonCon for just a few years and just this year, I learned there was an underlying stink around the entire event. Many more than I, have been aware of the sex abuse allegations that have been haunting the DragonCon leadership. Not to mention many people have boycotted in an effort to make their voice of dissent known. Just a few weeks before the leadership was able to successfully disentangle themselves from all things Edward Kramer and his ongoing sex abuse trial, I wrote this piece in an effort to give voice to sexual assault survivors. Although there has been success in removing Kramer from a leadership position, I still believe what I wrote has merit in that those that deserve to be heard remain silent. You will find me at DragonCon wearing my teal ribbon with pride. If you want to know why, read on, knowing that this is my attempt to allow the silenced to be heard.

  

Do Something That Helps: A Differing Vision on Boycotting DragonCon

Originally written July 2, 2013 

If you have ever been in love with superheroes, vampires, zombies, the paranormal, video games, fantasy and science-fiction, Anime, or cartoons; this blog is a must read. You may be unaware, but the largest all fan based convention with all the above love affairs, complete with costume and camaraderie, take place in Atlanta every year during labor day weekend. About 50,000 people gather from all over the world to share in their love of all things chic-geek. From an outsiders position, those that truly run this country, are who show up. The brightest and most creative minds come together to be accepted and nurtured in a space that celebrates the numerous talents of both the celebrity and individual. Big names like William Shatner and George Takei From Star Trek to Nicholas Brendon from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But the real heroes are those that toil over their personal costumes and seek out moments to be enjoyed and respected for their creativity; reflecting their love of a genre of work.

Unfortunately, a dark cloud hangs over this magnificent conglomeration of creativity. One of the original investors of DragCon is a man named Edward Kramer. Kramer is currently being charged with six counts of child molestation from 2000, but has been able to successfully postpone trial, get out of jail and had been free to move about the country until 2011 where he was caught with another adolescent in a hotel room in Connecticut (AJC News, April 26, 2013). It appears that the other investors have attempted to untangle themselves from Kramer because, as a share holder, he is required to continue to receive a share of the profits from the convention (Atlanta Magazine,

March 28, 2013).

Now, you may love your superheroes, but we all love to love a villain. In an effort to take away Kramer’s money, which likely goes to lawyer fees, many have chosen to boycott DragonCon. Both individuals, promoters and celebrities have attempted to use their voice of dissent in an attempt to either shut down DragonCon all together, or at minimum to tell the other investors and DragonCon Board that they are not doing enough to stop their money from going to Kramer.

As a sexual abuse trauma survivor myself, I agree that the DragonCon bosses are not doing enough. The ongoing and repeated choice to create a hush-hush environment about these facts continues to not only create a dismal cloud over every person attending, it perpetuates and grows the shame of silence for all trauma victims and survivors. I can understand and support an individuals decision to not be associated with a potential pedophile, but I do not support those that are in power to continue to take the stance of silence. Although there is some growing conversation of how they would like to disentangle themselves and believe that no one would want to willfully be associated with even a hint of victimization, taking no meaningful stance on this issue simply creates an opportunity for real loss.

When I began just a few years ago attending DragonCon, I was NO believer. My spouse is the smart, sharp geek who loves all things Stars Wars and is currently shaping the world through his professional work to broaden what we literally understand about the universe. I, the psychotherapist, was going along for the ride. In absolute truth, magic happens at DragonCon. People who often struggle with feeling that they don’t fit in and are misunderstood, maybe are awkward in this every day world that expects conformity, come to breathe in the memory that they are not alone. Even if little of what DragonCon offers is not exciting or interesting to you, just being present with others who live out their truth and give up what the world pressures them to do, can be meaningful to any human being. As a trauma survivor, it continues to encourage me to live out loud and honor my whole Self, accepting and honoring those parts of me that for much of my life was silenced and shamed.

So, it may seem unlikely that I would want to openly support, with my money, a man on trial for sexual molestation. Although it is true that money often speaks loudly, nothing has the power of supporting and honoring survivors more than embracing and speaking its realities. I understand that the institution of DragonCon would like nothing more than to make Kramer and his ugliness go away, but avoidance, pretending it does not exist and not inviting a forum to speak these truths are the choices being made. These choices are the hallmark of why sexual abuse and all forms of trauma continue to occur every single day. I have personally known the shame and continue to watch others be potentially destroyed not by the abuse itself, but the shame associated with the silence.

1 in 4 women will be victims of sexual violence over the course of their life time, while between 1 in 6 and 1 in 8 boys will be victims by the age of 18. How many attendees, promoters, merchandisers, celebrities, hotel staff, artists, DragonCon staff and volunteers are victims and survivors? How many of them have to potentially loose their moment of emotional glory or even their paycheck to financially hurt one perpetrator? Instead, why not embrace would could be the perfect moment to open the dialogue and truth telling that is required for a trauma victim to move towards seeing themselves as a survivor. Yes, I understand this convention is not one big group therapy session and no, there is no track for trauma survivors. I understand that DragonCon had no intention of taking on such a monstrous taboo, but here it is. Continued decisions to operate by silence do not honor victims and instead continue to give growing voice to all the Kramers in the world. The question now is, who will speak louder?

If the voice of the people and the voice of all trauma survivors is what deserves to be heard, there is a simple solution. During DragonCon, wear a teal ribbon, the symbol of hope and support for all sexual assault victims. Allow it to create a conversation and recognition that it is ok to talk about sexual abuse. It is ok to speak the words, ‘I am a trauma survivor’. It is ok to advocate for change through education and support. I will wear mine for myself and for each of Kramer’s possible victims to let them know; they are not alone. If we are bigger and more powerful than the pressure of the outside world, and I am confident we are, we can become real superheroes in one simple act. When we say, ‘I won’t go because of Edward Kramer’, we give more power to his voice. When we give open voice and dialogue for healing, every day courage becomes an extraordinary act. As fellow DragonCon members know, this is how we change the world.  

 

* Begin Here

I have always wanted professional writing to be something I could put on my resume, but a friend once told me that I lacked the ‘fire in the belly’ to make that a reality. I have learned over the years that I do have fire, but it is more like heartburn that fades quickly with a glass of cold milk. I tend to do well with writing short pieces, making blogging a natural connection I have openly resisted, until, this obvious moment.

I chose the title of Mental Health Hack as a signal to a reader that it is not necessary to have polished edges (even perceived ones), especially those of us in the mental health field. I find it terribly disheartening that even in 2013, so many struggle with preconceived ideas about what a mental health professional does, let alone who they really are. I can be just as clumsy and lost in my mind as the next person. My best friend would say that ‘we are brilliant one minute, but are known to hide our own Easter eggs the next’. Now, please, let’s be hopeful that you discover eloquent moments through pieces I have and continue to write. However, no matter how much I am aware that judgement constrains our joy, I have been known to rant about how tired I have grown counting the number of women wearing their pajama pants to the grocery store.  

So, here are a few commitments I make to you if you choose to read my writing:

~ I will impart what I understand to be true for me around issues related to our emotional health and well being. I hope to do this in an honest and genuine fashion, one that communicates something meaningful to you.

~ I intend to be REAL. I want people to know there are helping professions out there that laugh at sixth grade potty humor just as well as themselves.  For me, writing is sometimes a form of play and if I can’t be authentic and have fun with it — then I don’t wanna. 

~ There are a few quirks about myself that I intend to share. I like to think of them as aspects of my childhood that I truly enjoyed and as I re-remembered who I am, through my own therapy, I have returned to them with fierce love.

~I will often link ideas back to an emotional premise, but I believe there is intrinsic value in just being REAL. If I am going to do this with a whole heart,  I must impart my whole Self, not just the parts that know how to effectively spit out the psycho-babble I have learned over the years. Image