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self harm

Caution: Possible triggers for self harm. No disturbing images.

on self harm:

It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that self-harm is often on my mind. No, by conventional definitions I do not self harm. I do occasionally indulge in emotional overeating, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. I do, however, have both clinical training and life experience with the effects of self harm and a deep sympathy for those who feel the need.

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to mike

At my first wedding, waiting for Mike to walk to me, with my parents

Below is a very personal outpouring. I discovered my ex-husband was dying on Sunday night, and he died yesterday morning. My oldest son is his son, but my ex had cut himself off from everyone, including our son and his parents, for over fifteen years.

The marriage wasn’t a good one. I married very young and he was a much more dangerous person than I dreamed of when I married him. Still, he died alone, with no friends or family, after fifteen years away. This is the only eulogy he will be getting. It will have to do.

 To Mike:

I got a call from your mother Sunday night. She got a call from the hospital. There you are, dying, never to awaken again. The hospital wants my son. Our son. Your son. To make the decision to pull the plug.

There’s the, of course, ‘fuck you’ side of this. How dare you do this to him. You haven’t seen him since he was five. What kind of father does that to his son.

But I already know what kind. I married that kind, and then walked, and ran, away. Eaten up, so consumed by hatred and bitterness that you spread its poison to my heart too, where it lingered awhile. Determined not to be who your parents wanted you to be. You showed them. (I want you to know they both cried when they found out. Both of them.)

Turns out you’ve been dying for years, and no one knew. I only knew that you still haunt my dreams, the nightmares, the silent shaking, the ducking when Call of Duty is on the Playstation, because the gunfire. The gunfire. And yet.

In with ‘fuck you’, resting uncomfortably, is pity, raw and deep, and another anger. This me who I am now? It’s in response to you. My own ‘fuck you’. I’m going to be the better person. I’m going to be good, and generous, and compassionate, and its going to matter. That’s what I told myself, and it worked.

But never, ever, for you. And there it is. You were my first love, the one who first kissed me, the one whose phone calls made me dream for hours of our future together. Your chocolate eyes had me believing your lies for so many years. And so I mourn. You never grew, you never changed, you never learned.

You stayed stuck, and in an irony I didn’t believe until I got that call last night, you were homeless and alone all those years I was caring for the homeless. All those years I was caring for you, still. All those years I still wanted you to grow, to learn, even though it was too late for us.

I can’t let anyone see me cry over you. My son. OUR son – never knew you, save as a small boy that yes, you treated well, until you abandoned him. My husband, my husband now and always. The man I love now, who gave me everything my heart needed and wanted. I can’t hurt him with this love I still feel for you. I can’t because he knows its an echo, a shadow of something that died long ago, and he has the fresh, the alive me of today.

And you, unconscious. You still control everything. You still get your way, in the end. I have to think of you. I have to be a part of your death as I was part of your life. I hate you for that, as much, or more, as I ever loved you.

Your son will call the hospital. He will do what he needs to do. He will go to his grandparents and let them mourn with him. Through it all, he will feel very little, possibly nothing, of you. He doesn’t know you, the quicksilver grin, the rages, the anger, the jokes that were so, so cruel, and yet funny. He doesn’t know how you held my hair while I cried, while the worst depression of my life washed over me again and again, for years. He doesn’t know, really, how utterly terrified I was of you, even long after you were out of my life.

He doesn’t know, and he never will, and damn you, it’s all on you. I don’t want to mourn you. I don’t want to hope that you will be reborn again in a child with another chance at happiness, at love, at inner peace. But that is what I hope for you.

Thank you for the one truly good thing you produced in your life – your son. For him, much of the rest of your life can be forgiven.

Added later: (You died this morning, before anyone got there to say goodbye, before anyone had to make that hard, hard choice. I guess you got it after all).

Goodbye, Mike. May you reach out in the next life for the things you rejected in this one. Goodbye. May you and I both find peace, at last.


March 1965 – January 2013

Grief is a complicated thing. I’m finding myself unwillingly remembering the good in him, the things I saw in him when I married him, when I held on to the fear and hate and anger for years in order to survive.

It is time to let go of all of it. The irony of it all was that, in the end, he was another of my homeless guys. I had heard the rumors, but I didn’t believe them. Like a cat, he had always landed on his feet. I thought he was invincible. I was wrong.

He produced an amazingly wise and kind son who makes me proud every day of his life. That’s not too shabby an achievement, for all of that.

Thank you, gentle readers, for reading this. I hope it helps you when you go through your own grief at a loved one whose life course angered or disappointed you. Remember both halves, the good and the bad, and honor your feelings of grief as well as your feelings of anger, disappointment, shame, whatever you’re feeling. You’ll get through them much faster.


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Deadly Sin Wrath

Aw, hell. I was in the middle of this post about wrath when Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown,  Connecticut became the victim of  a mass killing of (among others) kindergarten students. I have completed my original thoughts, but have added, in the context of today’s events, a comment about what happened. It’s at the end of this post.

I started this series with wrath because it is perhaps the most deadly of the deadly sins — and not just because people who live in anger have a greater tendency to commit murders.  Anger creates a condition of continual stress in your body, which, over time, causes heart disease, high blood pressure, and other physical ailments.

Anger vs. Wrath

When people come to a therapist, they usually have one of three emotions that they are trying to ‘get rid of’: anger, fear, or sadness. Leaving aside for a second that “getting rid of”

deadly sin wrath

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices – Anger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

an emotion is not the answer, the key here is that anger is one of the top three most miserable emotions to live with… and it’s even more complicated than that.

Anger is almost always tied up very tightly with anxiety. Sometimes the anger attempts to hide the fear, and sometimes the fear is desperately covering up deep rage, but they appear to be paired in many, many people.

On top of its marriage to anxiety, anger also sometimes serves an important function, by giving energy to people who are paralyzed by fear or depression, to function at a more or less ‘normal level’.

Anger is a useful emotion.

That bears repeating: Anger is a useful emotion. Which is why I tell people I will not help them get rid of it, only to use it better.

It can help you identify wrongs in your life. Is someone consistently treating you with disrespect? Anger will let you know, if you let it. Are you being asked to do more than your fair share at home or work? Anger will give you a heads up. Are someone’s lies hurting you? Anger will tell you (if you let it).

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Living with HIV

Pretty Red Ribbon Gear

My sister is living with HIV.

I don’t remember when I got the call, perhaps six months or a year after my mother died, so in 2000, maybe even late 1999. I know that all the open wounds from Mom’s death hadn’t healed yet and none of us siblings were very close at that time.

She was crying. Actually, she was totally, utterly freaked out. Or maybe that was a later conversation, after the reality hit. She’d tested positive. There’d been a workplace accident, and she’d gotten blood in an open cut on her hand.  And now she had a deadly disease. And I was stunned, and devastated, and utterly helpless.

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Building an Earthship

The Preston’s home on fire

Hunter and Samantha Preston lost their home and a dear friend in a fire at their home in June of 2012, in Fort Myers, Florida. They are newlyweds with a small child and couldn’t afford insurance, so they lost everything. Their goal is to rebuild their home as an ‘Earthship‘, a sustainable home. They formed a campaign on Indigogo, which you can read about here.

Unfortunately, their campaign has stalled out and they are still far from their goal with only a few weeks left. If they succeed, not only will they again have a family home, one that is sustainable and a wonderful model for the rest of us, but they also intend to use it as the headquarters for their non-profit business, SLIE (Sustainable Living and Interconnected Education) which will teach urban dwellers in their area about gaining better control of their food chain.

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(A mindfulness meditation exercise. Get comfortable, and begin).

Shh! Close your eyes again, and now wake up slowly. Imagine.

It is the hour before the dawn. There are a few birds chirping.

You hear a car drive by, but only one, and its very quiet, as if it is trying not to wake you.

Someone has brewed coffee. You smile, knowing it will still be hot when you get up.

But not yet. 

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anger and forgiveness

Tbird is the guest author of this post about anger and forgiveness. She recently completed her conversion to Judaism after years of study. Originally from New York, she now lives outside Denver Colorado and has a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She has also been my friend for many years and is a constant inspiration to me. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do. 

Many belief systems call on us to seek out one another’s humanity, even in the darkness of people. We are asked to find a spark in the people who would hurt us or others.

The Quaker belief is that every life has value.

Universal Unitarianism holds the principle of “affirming and upholding the inherent worth and dignity of every person” at the top of their list.

As humans in the West, we are constantly told to be good, be polite, be kind to strangers, know compassion, let go of anger, and forgive. This is hard to reconcile when we know there is evil in the world; there are people who hurt children, murder neighbors, or think it’s a good idea to barbecue live kittens. How are we supposed to be nice, to affirm the inherent worth of such people?

In Judaism, the good and the bad both have a place. There is room for both anger and forgiveness.

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This little video has a catchy tune and an important message: Don’t do dumb stuff that will kill you.

For many years, an unofficial competition has raged, the Darwin Awards. At the link you will find over 400 documented cases of ‘What the f*ck was he/she thinking” for which we will never know the answer because the person died.

There’s a tendency to a great deal of schadenfreude in these cases, and to some extent, rightly so. When a person has spent his life fighting helmet laws and dies from a head injury after a car wreck it’s funny, right?

Except that it’s not. And deep down we know it, and that’s why we laugh. To err is human. “Man is the animal that laughs at himself” as Valentine Michael Smith said (via Robert Heinlein). And we laugh at ourselves because it hurts so bad. So yeah. Sometimes we abandon compassion, for a moment, because the ultimate human moment is to laugh at death, and the many, many ways we bring it on.

And then, we get back to shared joy and shared pain. We continue to try to improve our lives and the lives of others around us. We abandon judgment and embrace compassion. We seek knowledge. And still, we get it wrong. To err is human, remember?

As Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) said:

Easier To Fool

Mark Twain (from Facebook meme, originally from an image in public domain)

People believe a lot of untrue things, sometimes as many (to misquote the White Queen) as three before breakfast.

I’m sometimes guilty of that myself. But my challenge for myself, over the next several years, is to use my compassion and my ability to write to help people distinguish between useful knowledge and ‘knowledge’ that causes problems for people by preventing them from investigating further, which is perhaps one of the best definitions of truth.

The Darwin Awards (film)

The Darwin Awards (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to the Darwin awards. There are lots of dumb ways to die. We invent more every day. It’s entirely possible that you or I might succumb to one of those. More importantly, however, there are a lot of dumb ways to live, ways that hurt us and the people around us, and we don’t have a nifty internet meme to identify them  and point and laugh.

Maybe instead we shoule be looking for ways to teach, to share, and to help people, rather than laughing and judging. So yeah, go ahead and laugh. The video, especially, is adorable. And then…

Maybe its time to start identifying ways to live better, and to keep on spreading joy until there’s no room for the sort of fear and hate that keep infecting the world. Or as Lennon said, ‘Give peace a chance’.

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.. (Photo credit: LUZ-2011)

Happiness Results from Full Participation in Life

How many of us have groaned or sighed when some happiness guru or another has said ‘just think positive’? How many of us have growled at the speaker or the book and thrown the remote or the book across the room in anger?

Do you know why you get so angry? That kind of deep anger covering up an even deeper injury? It’s because you’re being asked to take half (more or less) of reality and pretend its not real. It doesn’t work, because ‘think positive’ is only a bit of the answer, and the wrong bit, at that.

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Nuni, Chloe and Maureen at Renfest

Nuni, on the left, was a pirate princess that year. The headless wench is me. On the right is Chloe, who is not nearly as fond of dressing up and thus isn’t ‘asked to.

This has been a year of many losses for me, of two legged friends and four, and I always, on  or about Halloween, which is Samhain in the Celtic calendar, and the day before the Day of the Dead celebrate the lives of those I have lost. Remembering that shared pain is lessened, I recall them.

Some I cannot name. Confidentiality does not end with death, so the two therapy participants or family members of participants cannot be named, but I do honor them.

In addition, my husband’s grandfather, David Martin, a bomber pilot in WWII and lifelong curmudgeon extraordinaire, died this summer at the age of 95, having outlived his beloved wife ‘Bertie’ by nearly a decade. 

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It’s easy to find ‘rape art’ in the rape culture

(trigger warning for rape and sexual assault discussion)

Rapists are not faceless strangers.

You almost certainly have at least one person in your personal circle who fits the definition of ‘rapist’. If you are a young man, that likelihood goes up close enough to certainty that I’m not sure you could slide a hair through the difference. In fact, you almost certainly know several people who have committed rape in your larger circle of acquaintances, regardless of who you are.

Here is a little fable that illustrates how many rapists are in the world – how normal, and every day, and every where they are. It is based on the common idea that women are responsible for preventing rape and punishing their rapists, and commits a reducio ad absurdium to underscore the point of exactly who is responsible for stopping them.

When someone tells me that rape would ‘go away’ if women would just arm themselves and shoot their rapists, I ‘entertain’ myself with imagining the world, national and local news reports on the day when suddenly every woman in the world obtains a weapon and succeeds in killing every person who ever sexually assaulted her. For the sake of this fantasy, lets imagine perfect justice – no one is killed that doesn’t deserve it, and no one escapes justice. If a rapist’s victim is already dead, your deity of choice steps in and finishes the job instead.

Rape of the negro girl, Christian van Couwenbe...Image via Wikipedia
More ‘rape art’ showing how acceptable it is

Sixteen percent of men will admit to committing acts that are legally rape if the word ‘rape’ is not used. Roughly one in three or four women (and one in ten men) are raped in their lifetimes. So the actual percent of male rapists in the world is somewhere between 16% and 33% of men depending on how many are repeat offenders and which rape victimization rate is more accurate (this numbers are notoriously difficult to pin down).

Let’s split the difference and say a quarter of all men are rapists, and include the much more rare female rapist in this statistic. (This is, of course, an arbitrary number, for illustration purposes only, and because it’s a nice ‘normal’ fraction). This means that approximately 1/8 of the world population dies on this day, mostly men, but enough women to be easily noticed.

Men (and women) from all walks of life. Politicians. Soldiers. Students. Police officers. Construction Workers. Salespersons. Business managers. Clerks. Religious leaders. Homeless people. Drug dealers. Doctors. Nurses. Fathers. Sons. Brothers. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Not a profession in the world is not impacted. Not a single community. Very few families.

Big holes in lives. Roughly one of four of the men you know, and some women too, suddenly gone. Is this an unqualified good, that the rapists of gone, regardless of whether or not it’s just? What do you do with all the people who shot them? Children, teens, adults, seniors. For some of them, the rape is years or decades in the past. For others, it happened as or a minute before the shooting.

Firenze enlevement des sabinesImage via Wikipedia
Rape is so acceptable we decorate our buildings with it.

They live under hundreds of different local law systems. Most of them will be arrested for pre-meditated murder. In some parts of the world, they will be subject to more immediate ‘justice’. So there are more deaths. Nearly a third of the women in the world are suddenly flooding jails.

I wonder how many children now have no adult to look after them? Someone needs to, but even after calling in the ‘relative brigade’, social services throughout the world will be stretched to the limit to provide emergency care.

Between the rapists who have been killed and the survivors who are now facing (at the least) an inquiry and (quite possibly) immediate lethal consquences or long prison sentences, a large percentage of the productive adults in the world are now out of commission. How do you think that would affect businesses?

So that’s the Rambo fantasy, pulled apart for the immediate consequences, and condensed down to a one day, all at a time event. Effective? No. Just? No. Does it improve the lives of those who have been raped? No.

It suffers from the idea that prevention begins at the act of rape, not in the culture, not in the raising of boys to be men or girls to be women, but at the point where a sexual predator identifies you as prey. It assumes that predators simply exist and cannot be controlled or contained, and that you, as a potential prey, are responsible to prevent your own victimization.

Wouldn’t it be just a wee bit better if, instead of holding women (and children, and men) who are being raped responsible for fighting off their attackers, we as a society hold rapists responsible for not raping? That we build a culture where rape is truly unacceptable, under all circumstances?

Don’t rape a woman who you have married, or who said no to your proposal.

Don’t rape a woman who has had too much to drink or to drug.

Don’t rape a child or elder or disabled person in your care.

Don’t rape a woman because her skirt is too short (or too long).

Don’t rape a woman because she is too meek (or too bold).

Don’t rape a man because he is too feminine (or too macho).

Don’t rape a woman because she danced with you.

Don’t rape a woman because she refused to dance with you.

If you see a friend, or a brother, or a parent, or a sister or a co-worker working to isolate someone, or get them drunk, or push their boundaries, stop them. Stop them and tell them in no uncertain terms that what they are doing is wrong, and if they follow through, it is rape. Tell them that if they won’t control their behavior, you will call the police.

If you are the victim of sexual assault, do what you have to do to survive, whether that is to surrender or to fight back, and seek help as soon as it is safe to do so – and do not blame yourself, or second guess yourself, or listen to those who will tell you it is your fault. It is not your fault. The only thing certain in a rape situation is that a rapist is involved. And no matter what, that is not your fault.

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