Monday, December 28, 2009

To the New Decade

Cuz we're all sick of the last one.

FD likes to go over the events of the year in December, has been obsessing about this for about a week. Between the two of us, without a blog to record them (for this is not that kind of blog), we try to remember what has happened to us and to the people we know. It's a long list of remembers.

I've just come from my mother's house, refreshed from a nap on her sofa. The day has started, as usual, at nine in the office, but I cut my afternoon hours to go to the funeral of a close friend, an expected passing. In our community it is tradition, following the service, to follow the mais, the dead person, to the grave, literally walk behind the casket. These days bodies are flown to different destinations, different cities, even countries. So we walk behind the hearse in the cold, the rain, whatever the weather, to say goodbye.

Our friend wasn't a rabbi, he was just a regular guy, but special of course, to us.

The rabbis of two synagogues eulogized David, spoke of his faith and acceptance of disease, this gorgeous, positive man, his sweet-disposition, how he and his family moved to Chicago thirteen years ago. He helped build two synagogues, two renovations of older buildings, one edifice now more beautiful than the next.

The rabbis of each shul claim him. It wasn't with money, although I could be wrong, but surely with time, that he gave of himself. Everything takes time, all worthy projects. They speak of him in one of the new synagogues, and after the speeches, we follow our friend, on foot, to the next.

It's really cold, and me being a cold kind of person anyway, cold-intolerant, wearing a short, fall jacket, could easily opt out of the march down the busy street, but it doesn't feel like an option. Maybe reading the stories from the Holocaust, the survivor tales, has changed me. I make an association, cold is an obstacle, nothing more or less, and of course, this isn't Poland, dead of winter, 1942. And that awful awareness of the elements and the coldness of death, too, disappear.

I meet up with FD at the destination, and he greets me with, "I felt I had to walk, even though it's really cold; that it was an honor to accompany him." Right there with you, dear.

We walk together to the car in no particular hurry and he continues, "Let's stay together the whole day. I won't go back to the office. I'll go with you, wherever you're going." He knows that I'm picking up my mother, taking her to visit my father in the hospital, but there are errands, things to do. The day is full like every other day.

"Sometimes," he says, as we buckle ourselves in, "I think you don't need this kind of thing as much as me, just being together, that I'm not so necessary."

Such bait. I reassure, explain that this isn't so, and why. You might call this emotional intimacy.

We swing over to the grocery store to pick up an anniversary cake for my parents. I blank on the year, how long they're married, but have the number 64 in my head (wrong), so I tell the woman behind the counter, "Just write on the cake . . ."
Mom & Dad, 64?
FD picks up champagne and sparkling grape juice, not sure if they'll let my father have a little champagne or not, and flowers, tulips. I pick out some cards, one from us, one from my mother to my father, forgetting to buy one from my father to my mother. Neither of them is in a position to buy the other anything.

We pick up Mom at her house. She's waiting at the front door. She doesn't know we're going to have a little party in the hospital room to celebrate her anniversary. FD and I are very excited.

Dad is sitting up in a chair, dressed. His hair is getting kind of long, in the hospital eight days. He's happy for the company but short of breath, six words to a breath, at most, sounds a little like the Godfather. He suggests, as we begin to sign the cards in front of him, that we get some post-its, write on these so we can recycle the cards.

You see, everyone's green these days.

But the cards are good, spot on, and we save them, so we sign them and hand them over. We don't stay long because he has work to do, it is time for rehab and if he isn't rehabbed, then what is he doing here, anyway? We want to keep him out of the hospital, but we're in no hurry. Every new decision is stressful. It's hard on my mother to shlep here every day. And she's lonely living without him, vulnerable, too.

It isn't easy staying awake on the drive back to the house, but I can't say this, of course. I flop on her sofa, asleep before I've even closed my eyes. While I nap she brushes off an old winter dress coat of hers because I've complained about being cold in my jacket, and haven't bought a new coat for myself in twenty years.

I wake up in a start and eventually ask FD. "What must it be like for her to see me age like this, crash on her couch like I just did? I was out for an hour!"

"We see our kids getting older," he philosophizes.

Not the same. Anyway. We start recollecting, without a blog, the year.

There have been other friends who are now gone, young people, at least we think so, one who left us at 50, suffering in silence, telling no one about her disease. A teacher. We call teachers in our community, stars. These are our stars. We lost a star.

Only about five weeks ago we lost another dear friend to a heart attack, 62. Playing raquetball. We escorted his body to the cargo hangar at the airport; he had a ticket to Israel for burial in the holy land. His mother, already there, reportedly said,
"I can accept it. I just can't believe it."

The week after that we heard that yet another member of the community had passed away in Spain, and the Spanish authorities want to embalm the body, not a Jewish tradition, unless the community, the family, comes up with $70,000 for transport on a private jet. Somehow this money is found. But an important person talks to another important person and the commercial airliner takes the body, as is.

And so it goes. Two of my uncles leave us, one younger than my father, one older.

People lose jobs, people lose lives, and we understand that 25% of all Americans are in danger of losing their homes. We watch, experience these statistics like everyone else, and worry.

Meanwhile, (K"H*) my brother-in-law has a new lease on life, a new kidney, not an easy find in your sixties, and my father, although gasping for breath, has a fistula and with the help of dialysis, could live for many more years. My grandson, an infant, has a heart that is whole. The surgeon who sewed it up is a doctor without borders who does this surgery on 13 year olds in impoverished villages, children who have not, until their surgery, lived a not-blue day in their lives.

We've had many new babies in the family, and marriages.

We have this idea, in my culture, that it's all decided, everything that happens to everyone in the world is decided on the Jewish New Year, a holiday that rolls around in September or October, depending upon the lunar cycle. We take off time for the holidays, look deeply into ourselves, our behavior, the things we've done, that which we haven't done, and we apologize, mainly to one another, for our greatest deficits, which we feel are communal, social. Then, ten days later, we fast for twenty-five hours, face our King, own up to our garbage, vow to do better, and hope for the best.

But since everyone else reviews their year at the end of December, some of us do this, too. We look back to look forward, as the snow falls and the temperatures drop into the single digits.

And it's New Years.

To you and yours, may it be happy, healthy, safe, and full of love,


*K"H means, basically, the evil eye should leave you alone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Julie and Julia

It's raining in California. Raining for days and days. Who knew it did this? The first day it stopped after a few hours, embarrassed. The kids got home from school all excited just as the sun came out.

"Bubbie, come outside! A rainbow!"

Even the rainbows, dear friends, are better in California. Imagine, all across the sky, all the colors of the . . .

But I live in Chicago, and I work in Chicago, and on Monday, all things being equal, I'll be back on United returning home to Chicago. My patients know that this hasn't been a vacation, not in the usual sense of the word, and my parents, the flip side of the sandwich, understand. Sometimes you go where you're needed most.

Anyway. This run to the west coast is keeping me busy, care-taking a little, baby-sitting some, car-pooling, playing catch, eating more than usual, playing a lot of SORRY (I'm learning to hate this game, am thinking when they knock off my piece they should say SORRY and mean it).

"Bubbie! Let's play hide and seek!"


"I'll hide, you seek."

"Okay. But wait. First you have to tell me where you're hiding."

He wasn't born yesterday.

Somehow the days fly by when you're up for the 5'oclock shift. Morning hours are best for me, is the truth, and it seems same goes for the little guy, 8 months old. We g-vid FD (some say Skype, as in Kleenex, as opposed to tissues), munch on bananas, throw a few Cheerios on the floor.

Babies make blogging impossible. I can barely get the coffee made. No idea how you Mommy Bloggers do it. Hats off, or is that, shoes.

Last night we sent the male gendered (except for the one under one) out to see Cirque du Soleil, free tickets, gratis their aunt and uncle. Under such circumstances, house to ourselves, infant asleep, 45 minutes for sure, no make that an hour, we had the DVDR warmed up and popcorn popped, the type you pop in oil, a real pot, no pre-bagged microwave weirdness, please. Tonight's pick, Julie and Julia. Empath Daught has read the book,* but all I know is that this is a true story and that Julie Powell blogs and whips up Julia Child recipes.

A film about a blogger and food. We're there, right?

Meryl Streep, Amy Adams. Pretty fabulous, is all I can say. So much cooking, whipping, melting, chopping. Blogging. It made me miss this, blogging, blogging like old times, every day, or almost every day. Watching Julie blog makes me miss the process, the writing, the obsessing about it.

You know how it is, your mind wanders to what you'll write about, in my case whether or not it will be about therapy, or me, my life, FD, maybe some shtuss in the news (shtuss rhymes with "moose", Yiddish for stupidity or foolishness) or an opinion I just have to share, some bias, or rant, maybe a book, a film. Could I get back to this every day?

Nah. Not for a while. But I can see it happening someday.

(Risk of spoiler coming up if you haven't seen Julie and Julia.)

As much as this ridiculousness, the blogging, has the power to take over, become central in our lives, what we look forward to above all else, the pastime of pastimes, make that the mother of all pastimes, it doesn't have to take us from our real face to face relationships, assuming we're lucky enough to have these. It really shouldn't.

Sure, it's important to put our deep thoughts out there, and it's not narcissistic, despite what people think, rather writing in this venue is a craft, an amusement, and definitely therapeutic. Associated with relationship destruction, too? Shouldn't be.

Thousands of great writers with terrific blogs, none so incredible, so interesting, so important that writing and publishing can't wait. If the loved ones are grumbling, not feeling the love, then this should be a red flag, if there is such a thing, about the place of blogging in our lives.

You know we can be hypo-manic (or hypo-caffeinic) when it comes to this. Who are we kidding. We'll get up early tomorrow, or stay up late tonight, or pop out of bed at three a.m. It can wait until then. Those of us who read online are a patient, loving lot. We'll wait our turn.

And every good draft is better with a little editing the next day, imho.

Thanks Colombia Pictures and Nora Ephron for a wonderful film, and to Julie Powell, for your book and blog, and to Julia Child. We watched her all the time when I was a kid. Save the liver, don't throw it away. Thanks because there's nothing better than watching a terrific chick flick with your daughter and your grandson (she let him stay up late), almost nothing. The guys, for those to whom this applies, have their equivalents-- football, the Bourne Identity, Ultimatum, whatever blast 'em up thing it is they prefer to watch.

Throughout the movie the baby kept saying,
"Am I ever going to get to eat that stuff she makes? She's amazing, isn't she? It's the teeth. The teeth. When do I get these? They seem so useful."
To think I introduced him to butter just the other day, so ironic.

Needless to say, it may be difficult to get his parents to trust me alone with him again any time soon.


* Julie Powell has a new book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession . She talks about it 0n DoubleX

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Richmond Gang Rape

National Public Radio's Richard Gonzales tells us that he grew up in Richmond, California. He and the other citizens of Richmond are finding it hard to believe that a 16 year old girl could be gang raped at the local high school at Homecoming.

Homecoming is supposed to be fun. The home team is going to win! Today's story:

The city of Richmond, Calif., continues to wrestle with the effects of a brutal attack on a teenage girl who was gang-raped at her high school. Some of the suspects in the case may enter their pleas in court Tuesday. At least 20 people saw the October incident but did not intervene.

Instead they took pictures.


The home-town journalist rightly blames poverty, the loss of new jobs in an industrial town that succumbed to crack cocaine in the eighties and hasn't exactly bounced back. Yet optimism had returned. Indeed, this "rough place" launched several kids each year to college, despite rising unemployment. It's hard to study when you've lost your home, a nice home. Like everywhere else, foreclosures are rife in Richmond.

The guidance counselor:
"The dehumanizing actions of these young men is frightening. Where was their humanity?"
A student tells us that she walked into the bathroom to find a naked girl. CNN reported the crime last October.
As many as 10 people were involved in the assault in a dimly lighted back alley at the school, while another 10 people watched without calling 911 to report it according to police.
Hundreds at the school condemned the attack on their schoolmate, steamed that outsiders recommended a quarantine be placed on the school. A senior:
"This happens everywhere, why single us out?"
Oy vey. She's right. Don't single out this school. Single out every school. Start teaching our children right from wrong, that sex is something that can be lawful, or not. There's a lot to know when it comes to sex, like it requires informed consent.

A rape crisis worker tells us that to rape you have to "other-ize" distance yourself sufficiently to detach, not care. In other words, de-empathize.
"Where there's no hope, empathy is hard to find."
I don't know, maybe. No doubt depression contributes to insularity, apathy. But nobody's tested those ten boys for depression. What you're going to find is anger, is my guess, and objectification.

What's objectification? Objectification is taking the human out of the body, seeing the body as a source of pleasure, like food. It is an object to be beat on, like the dog, on a bad day, or to be punished, like a kid who has acted out. When parents beat their children they are objectifying them, denying their humanity. You hurt? I don't care.

Rape is all about this. I don't care. You are here for me, nothing's going to stop me. One blogger writes a post Why Men Rape tells us the following
Sociologists have discussed women as objects, commodities to be bought or stolen—the pornographication of women, a process by which men relate to women as pornea, a Greek word for whores.

This perception of a woman’s body as property or a commodity is grounded not just historically, but in contemporary metaphors, language, and common slang for sex. Like:

Sex is a hunt, a conquest: I’m going to go out and get a piece of ass.

Sex is instruction: I know how to show a woman a good time.

A review of the literature into the etiology of rape indicates that overall, men who rape have rape supportive attitudes, misinterpret social clues, and blame the victim.

Younger offenders learn from their families, peers, or the media that their role in a relationship is to take the initiative in sexual relationships. This is called the dominance theory.
There's more. It's way down on the side-bar.

So sure, poverty contributes something to this mix. But I wouldn't overdo it. It's less about not having money, more about having human decency, understanding female sexuality, and knowing, really knowing, that you have no right, even if you think you love her or she loves you, you have no right to take her sexually, not without her full, informed consent.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Different Thanksgiving Story

Lodz ghetto, circa 1939.

Hard to believe that anyone would be sitting around on Thanksgiving reading blogs, but here I am, writing one, so there are probably a few of you reading. Mostly recipes.

Last Saturday I was a little down. And sometimes, when things are going wrong for me, when life feels more than out of control, I like to read about the Holocaust.

Crazy coping strategy, I know, but it works every time. There are many collections of stories about the Holocaust, and I happened to have had one on hand, a survival story. Here's a mini-review, not on the level of one you might find at Jew Wishes, but it is what it is.

Sisters of the Storm, (from the Holocaust Diaries series), by Anna Eilenberg-Eibeshitz is the story of two young teens trapped in Lodz, Poland, a ghetto established by the Gestapo in 1939, a home to approximately 200,000 Jews, surrounded by barbed wire. According to
". . . inhabitants vegetated in wretched wooden houses comprising 31,271 apartments. Sanitary conditions were disastrous. Apart from the lack of food, only 725 apartments had running water. There was no sewerage, no coal or wood for heating the rooms, no warm clothes and shoes. As a consequence, 21% of the ghetto population died in various epidemics, of starvation or were frozen to death."
No turkey, baby.

Those who survived only survived to be deported to concentration camps, Auschwitz in particular, and the gas chambers. An estimated 6 million Jews were murdered in this war, another 6 million non-Jews fell to the Nazis, as well.

Here are a few hungry people on the way to Auschwitz in a rare photograph ostensibly to die.

Anna witnessed the torture and murder of family and friends, including her mother and brother. She survived the ghetto to be shipped like cattle, in a cattle car, hundreds to a car, little air to breathe, no room to move, certainly no bathroom facilities. From the crowding of Lodz to Auschwitz. You must know what happened there. I can't go into it now. It's a holiday.

It's hard to read these things, stories of survivors, but hard not to. On page 90 the author describes how her 22 year-old brother, before his death from tuberculosis, married knowing that the Germans intended to eradicate the Jews. Anna's brother contracted tuberculosis on the job, an occupational hazard, carrying human waste. He married with the intent to have a child, to stick it to the Nazis, to say, "You can't stop us. We shall survive, we will continue."

Ms. Eilenberg-Eibeshitzs writes (italics in parentheses are mine) :
My father came home one day with a very pale face. I tried to talk to him, but it took him a long time before he was able to speak to me. It seemed that he had seen Brocha (Anna's new sister-in-law)walking in the street, and she was obviously pregnant. I understood why my father was so firghtened; pregnant women were a favorite target for the Nazis. I offered up a silent tefillah (meaning prayer) that everything would be all right.

I grew more and more worried as the days passed by. . .I gradually came to understand that Brocha had been taken for deportation. (The Nazis killed mother and child as a matter of course. Babies filled in the gaps in mass burials before the Nazis came up with the Final Solution.)
Generally you hear a woman is pregnant and the response is joyous, gleeful. Happy.

Sisters of the Storm becomes more and more violent, more and more impossible to read, gut-wrenching. You wonder, you really do, when you read about such torturous conditions, starving people sleeping, if you can call it sleep, on dirty floors, punished with dirty (yellow) water for days at a time. Their simple crime? Genetics, race. You wonder how anyone can survive such conditions, always at the other end of the boot, slapped, beaten, waking to new corpses in the barracks. Grieving, fearful.

Do you become immune? I don't think so. Do you become skeptical? Suspicious of others? Jaded. Certainly. But many survivors kept their religion, stayed observant even within the camps, to the degree it was possible. Their faith somehow kept them going.

Survivor stories are told less often these days. The survivors of World War II are in their 70's, 80's and 90's. They are leaving us. We go to museums to hear them speak to us from videos, through headsets, or we read books to remember them. My cousin works for the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, travels all over the world to tell the story of the Holocaust, tells people that history can and will repeat itself. He recently spoke in Mumbai, a city on the watch for terrorism, bombs. It is the most heavily populated city in the world, the trains are mobbed at all hours of the day. We must not forget. Everyone is vulnerable to hatred.

Everyone takes something different from survivor stories. For me it's how amazingly little we need to survive (when it comes to food) and how precious survival, life, really is.

Lo aleinu
, we say in Hebrew. Such things should not happen to us. We mean, really, that these things should not happen, and we're thankful, that we're not suffering, not like they did in the camps. We feel better somehow, telling ourselves, whispering some kind of talisman, a quick nod of thanksgiving. No one, none of us, should ever have to be hungry like that, should ever have to suffer like that. No one should. Lo aleinu. The downside of life can get pretty down.

My favorite journalist, Peggy Noonan, writes for the Wall Street Journal, and last Saturday she wrote a piece about being thankful. We're Still Here After a Rough Year--We're serving up a new gratitude this Thanksgiving. I liked it very much and am copying it below because we are thankful this week, as Americans. Last year was a difficult year. Our country, once a super power, is less super, we all agree. We don't trust, we are afraid of the future. But it's better now, today, than it was a year ago. We survived, she's suggesting.

And all I can think is,

Survival is surely relative.

Happy Thanksgiving.


*For those of you new here, shul is Yiddish for synagogue. I wrote this last Saturday night.

Here's Ms. Noonan's piece.

Last Thanksgiving, it looked as if a hard year was coming, and it was and it did. The holiday was shadowed by a sense of economic foreboding—Wall Street failing, companies falling and layoffs coming. It isn't over—no one thinks it's over. But the mood of this Thanksgiving looks to be different.

An unofficial poll of a dozen friends yields two themes: "We're still here," and, "I am so grateful." Almost all experienced business reverses, some of which were deep, and some had personal misfortunes of one kind or another: "I am thankful that my mother's death was fast and that she did not have to suffer," wrote a beloved friend. But something tells me that a number of Thanksgiving dinners will be marked this year by a new or refreshed sense of gratitude: We're still here. I am so grateful.

I felt it the other night, unexpectedly, in a way that reminded me of the anxieties of last year. I had been away from the city. I was in a cab going down Fifth Avenue. I hadn't been there in months. I looked up and suddenly saw, looming in the darkness to my right, the white-gray marble and huge windows of the Bergdorf Goodman building—tall, stately, mansard-roofed. Its windows were covered, but some lights were on, and there seemed to be people inside. They were preparing its Christmas windows. Something about the sight of it caught me—proud Bergdorf's, anchor of midtown commerce. It looked exactly as it looked 10 years ago, 20, only better. Because it's there. New York has been so damaged by the crash, and last year at this time small shops, the ones with the smallest margin for error, were closing. And now I see more that are opening, and Bergdorf's is preparing its Christmas windows. The sight of it came like an affirmation. We're still here. I am so grateful.

What are you most thankful for in 2009? I asked an old friend, a brilliant lawyer who lives in a New York suburb. "I saw my 6-year-old son run a mile, and catch a bunch of fish," he immediately replied. He saw his wife, a journalist, "dodge the firings" in her office. He still has a job, too. All of this sounds so common, so modest, and yet, he knows, it is everything. A child caught a fish, he ran, his father saw it. "Broadly," he added, "I am grateful to America for its freedom, for its yeastiness and, at times, its noise. Dee Snider belting out 'I Wanna Rock' is so America."

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Heidi Stevens

My friend Robert wrote, "I am thankful that I lived to see a person of color sworn into the office of President." He takes heart that America has set a new face toward the world. "I am thankful and proud when I am in London and people ask me about my president and show great interest in him." And, "I am thankful that my friends survived the global financial disaster. I am thankful America survived it."

A real estate lawyer in Washington emailed, "Whether you agree with the policy decisions made by the new administration or not, let's be thankful that our economy did not fall apart since last Thanksgiving."

A Washington journalist: "I am thankful that this is still a normal country, with predictable common-sense reactions to excesses. The American people served as a counterweight to the excesses of the Bush years, and are now serving as a counterweight to the excesses of the Obama years."

A friend who emigrated from Nicaragua 21 years ago and lives now in New York knew right away what she was thankful for: her still-new country. "I'm mainly grateful that I could raise my son in freedom. I could vote for the first time in my life. I could express my opinions without being shot on the spot, jailed, or exiled like my grandfather. I could sleep through the night without fearing for my life. I could work and buy food without rationing."

My friend Stephanie is grateful that she got health insurance despite a pre-existing condition. Another friend, an academic, was grateful to have been raised in America that taught well the rules of survival—perseverance, discipline.

Jim, who owns a small business, told me that as 2009 began, with all its troubles, "the number of frowns" he saw on the street "was overwhelming." He decided to take action. "I now make a conscious effort to smile at people in the street, in a bus, while waiting in line. It's such a simple form of connection, and it only takes one smile returned to make a difference in my day, and I hope the same is true for the other person smiling back." He hopes to start "a smiling epidemic" in Chicago.

My friend Vin said, when I asked him what he was most grateful for in 2009, "I remember reading that survival rates for breast cancer have been improving. I remember thinking: Thank God."

I am grateful for a great deal, especially: I'm here. I'm drinking coffee as I write, and the sun is so bright, I had to close the blinds to keep the glare from the computer. When I open the blinds, I will see the world: people, kids, traffic, dogs. Too many friends have left during the past few years, and it reminds us of what death is always trying to remind us: It's good to be alive.
More Peggy Noonan

Read Peggy Noonan's previous columns

click here to order her new book, Patriotic Grace

And after that, after gratitude for friends and family, and for those who protect us, after that something small. I love TV, and the other day it occurred to me again that we are in the middle of a second golden age of television. I feel gratitude to the largely unheralded network executives and producers who gave it to us. The first golden age can be summed up with one name: "Playhouse 90." It was the 1950s and '60s, when TV was busy being born. The second can be summed up with the words "The Sopranos," "Mad Men," "The Wire," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "ER," "24," "The West Wing," "Law and Order," "30 Rock." These are classics. Some nonstars at a network made them possible. Good for them.

I leave it to others to dilate on why TV now is so good and movies so bad, since both come from the same town, Hollywood, in the same era. But there is a side benefit to televisions's excellence, and that is the number of people who follow a show so closely, and love it so much, that after it's aired they come together on long threads on Web sites and talk about what happened and what it means. People use their imaginations and unfocused creativity to add new layers of meaning and interpretation. "You know that was a reference to 'Chinatown.'" "Did anyone notice what it meant when Peggy told Mr. Sterling 'no' when he asked for the coffee? A whole revolution captured in one word!"

Those threads are golden. We rightly discuss the fact that media now is fractured, niched and broken up, that we no longer watch the same shows or have the same conversation. But what's happening now on the Internet after a good show is a conversation, a new one, and it's sprung up from the technology that helped do in the old one. How ironic and predictable, and another cause, however small, for gratitude.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Your Depression and Your Kids

My mother always tells me, when I go back to the year my brother passed away, We acted like we were fine so we could have a life, so we could still have friends. We didn't want to lose them, too, our friends, being sad all the time, and we didn't want it to affect you. We still had other children.

And of course we, my younger brother and I didn't want to upset them, our parents, so confused and aggrieved, so we didn't talk about it, either. As a result there was very little family grieving or overt depression.

The silver lining, if there can be such a thing, is that we did make some family resolutions about how we needed to interact with one another in the future. We upgraded the family intimacy with these rules, and held by them, honor them to this day. They're mostly about showing affection.

I think a lot of families handle loss the way we did, don't talk about it. I would venture to say, most.

Whenever I share personal things on the blog, there's a reason, and it's not so you should think you should do things my way. Any ersatz personal solutions you read about here (usually involving dinner) might have been right for me, the right way at the time, but maybe could have been the wrong way, let's talk. A family coping strategy is only as good as what follows the enactment.

We suggest coping strategies in therapy all the time, knowing that sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes a therapist knows something will work (we just know), and sometimes we know that it's a long-shot and we'll tell you It's a long-shot. Or sometimes it's a sure thing, but something gets in the way, like life.

Let's move on, get away from grieving, move over to feeling sad, tired, teary, and withdrawn, typical symptoms of depression. What's a mother or a father to do, what's a a parent to do, when depression is crushing? Disabling? What do you do when active parenting becomes very, very hard?

Are you supposed to be honest with your kids about your feelings? Maybe. How honest? Answers are based upon the circumstances, and certainly upon the ages of the children. A five year old who sees his mother napping is likely to be good with
She's tired.
Spare the kid the details if you can get away with it.

But should we hide our tears indefinitely? Depression can go on and on and on and on. Even if we want to hide them, the problem, of course, is that hiding tears is rarely possible with children. Most of these creatures are empathic, can sniff the sadness of a turtle. This is why, frankly, the nap concept is a good one, and often does refresh, removes the tears, if soaks the pillow. If you can sleep, it's a gift, try to rest a little, if only to refresh the program if the refresh button still works. Even if it doesn't.

I'm not trying to minimize the pain, as if to say a nap cures depression. I know how debilitating it is. Sometimes there are no tears at all, you know what I'm talking about. Sometimes the cloud is hanging overhead all day long, all week-long, and the burst never happens. There are coping strategies, like CBT, where you try to stay rational, try not to sink into despair and self-pity, and surely the support of a significant other, if one of these is around, is invaluable, as is a good friend. Therapy. Crying on an available shoulder.

But not the child's. The child will think about this, worry about this, find homework meaningless, and carry a parent's depression to school the next day. Or maybe not. But why take the risk?

Spare the kids your tears. Nothing makes one sadder than Mommy or Daddy's tears. And when the tears can't be helped, a quick recovery is best, for sure, a performance is in order, if a performance is possible. If this is a major affective disorder with depression, a 296.23, or .33, recurrent, severe, or a bi-polar disorder, a 296.89, acting may not be possible, minimizing the negativity may be impossible until medication begins to lift the brick off your head.

But if it is possible, when caught by your kid in the act of depression, a nod to Sometimes people just feel like crying, nothing's really wrong is a good nod. You will not always be able to get away with this, but if you can, by all means.

Isn't such emotional dishonesty wrong, you want to know? Shouldn't we be honest with our kids?

Not in my book, not if it's going to make them sad. What do they need this for, our sadness? They'll have their fair share, don't worry, in life.

That said, adult children can handle a lot of sadness from their parents. They feel esteemed, even, depending upon what we tell them, that we trust them with our honesty, our raw emotion. It is a compliment when I share with you. You are trustworthy.

And yet there's such a thing as emotional incest, mostly when it comes to the little ones. When the child is anxious because a parent has disclosed things prematurely, things that are difficult to forget, this can be considered emotional incest, invasive and traumatizing.

It is our job as parents, some of us believe, to sanitize life, to make life feel okay for our children so that they can do their job, which is to play, without distraction, to learn how to make friends, to practice being a friend. (There is surely too much emphasis on academics these days, you know, it should be outlawed, this intensity to achieve, makes children want to kill themselves.) No childhood is worry-free, there will be upsets, but you control what you can.

I saw a movie last night on a DVD AWAY WE GO, starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.


Although it's a little too sad for someone like me, I loved the people in this film, the young couples, friends and siblings of the protagonists, especially one couple who adopted a bunch of children and wouldn't let them watch the Sound of Music beyond the Good Night Song. They can learn about the Nazis when they're a little older, is the thinking.

John and Maya look for friends and relatives in different cities. They want to move somewhere, to settle down where they have connections, support. It is lonely, even in a loving, good relationship, without people.

The story (thanks to Sam Mendes, director, and writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida) lends an answer to that question,
What do you do when parenting, active parenting, is very, very hard?
It really is about social support. Maybe Mommy ran away, or maybe she's just tired, but if she has this, social support, or if Daddy has it, if someone has it, then there could be an aunt or an uncle, someone who doesn't mind filling in that parenting role. Or a close friend, or a grandmother-- someone the family trusts, emphasis on trusts.

A very social work-y solution, indeed. I'm open to others.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Do You Do With a Drunken Pilot?

The Wall Street Journal reminds us that the real terrorists are we.

We spend hours in line at security to reveal our weapons and gels, while a breath away from comatose, there in the cockpit of the airplane, the captain at the controls . . .

is snockered.

I don't know about you, but when I board a plane, I try to catch a glimpse of the pilot, try to reassure myself that this guy has had enough coffee for the flight. He tends to look like a marine, which is reassuring, and once in awhile he will be a she. Sometimes he'll have a drawl, sometimes will have that clip to his speech that says, "I'm all business. Get your laughs elsewhere."

In any case, you hear a lot as a therapist, so you worry about the shape of the captain. Pilots are people, too, and like everyone else, they work hard and some of them play hard. It can't be easy working hard if you've played hard the night before.

Maybe some of us are neurotic fliers and worry needlessly about dying in an airplane crash, especially because it's a quick and easy way to go. But that's not why we buy our tickets.

Susan Caray tells us the story.
The United Airlines pilot arrested this week in London for alleged drinking before taking the controls of a 767 jetliner to Chicago might have his pilot licenses revoked and could spend two years in jail.
And my kids wonder why I save all of my morning prayers, afternoon prayers, you name it prayers, for air travel. You need a lot of these, you know, if the pilot is going to be impaired.

Ms Caray continues:
The pilot, Erwin Vermont Washington, also could wind up back in the cockpit, through a rehabilitation program run by the Air Line Pilots Association union and a long but well-trod route to redemption blazed by a number of pilots over the years.
This is reassuring, it really is, that the union for the pilots offers rehab for substance-dependent pilots. Perhaps last week's latest wake-up call will wake someone up. All over the country, indeed, I hear pilots telling their loved ones,
"I'm going into rehab! Forget about the holidays. This is more important!"
My guess, however, is that no one will.

This is because a drunken pilot is a pilot in denial. Mr. Washington, last week's drunken pilot, had a swig of the hooch shortly before take-off. That's definitive denial, a pilot with a problem that won't ground him, no sirree.

Does anyone know this song?
"Drunken Sailor"

What do you do with a drunken sailor,
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
Earl-eye in the morning!


Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning
The next verse is one from my tribe, I'm pretty sure, although my father denies singing it to me. I thought he learned it in the Navy in the Pacific:
Hit him in the head with a wet salami,
Hit him in the head with a wet salami,
Hit him in the head with a wet salami,
Earl-eye in the morning

Alcoholics at the helm of the family car typically tell their partners on any given night out,
"I drive just fine."
Which makes me think that more people need to buy salamis, and soak 'em well. Don't hit anyone, what responsible clinician could recommend that, for it is futile, but keep the salami around.

We don't want our pilots slowed down, retarded from alcohol, none of us want that. Should we revive this classic song, the salami could serve as an aversive stimulus. Hanging in the kitchen, perhaps the cockpit, too, the sausage might become a symbol of sobriety. Consider this an upgrade.

Rehab would be great, don't get me wrong, but since no one's racing to that solution, we really do need to come up with a better one, something a little more acceptable than deli. Vegans are insulted as we speak. A modest proposal coming right up.

Isn't there a little contraption, a breathalyzer that you can use for your car that won't let Old Red start-up if you have a level?* A level is a blood alcohol level above .08, but states vary. The car won't start until the driver takes the breathalyzer test and passes. Lose the test, lose the keys, or may as well, for they are useless.

The Air Line Pilots Association should consider lobbying management at UAL to install breathalyzers on every plane. They need to protect us, the consumers. We like living. We're not in denial.

Denial means that someone struggling with alcohol dependence may not think he's too drunk to operate a vehicle. Should that someone be a pilot, the vehicle an airplane, this makes him a terrorist, a time bomb.

The FAA ultimately has to do something about this; it's not unique to United Airlines. The industry has to do much more than offer rehab. Something has to bring these guys down to earth.

Oh, and most people avoid rehab, you know, until it's too late.**


*In random conversation I suggested that any official in the organization could administer a breathalyzer test to pilots prior to take-off, de rigeur. Then FD told me about these gizmos you attach to the dash. Much more elegant. Although obviously, it will ground us for who-knows-how- long while the airline scrambles to find a replacement. I, for one, won't mind the wait.

**And until they do, there are plenty of great recovery websites on the Internet.

I found it!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Wanting to Kill Yourself, But Not Wanting to Kill Yourself

This is such a great topic and I've avoided it for too long. But a comment on an old post reminded me that you have to hear the other side of suicidal ideation. This is sanitized a bit. The bold font is mine.

I am a victim of a violent crime by a person in my family. Now I am planning on being a psychologist/counselor. I know that it will be difficult but I want to be there for those who have gone through this situation and I want to let them know that they don't have to let this ruin their lives. Depression is one out of many symptoms, I know, but is it normal to have the desire to kill yourself every time you remember your past? I have had trust issues because of this, so I sympathize with all the victims out there and only wish that I could bring forth justice in all their lives.

I'm not sure where, "Just shoot me," entered my particular vernacular. Some of us say this then put a cocked index finger to one ear, click, pretend to off ourselves, and everyone laughs.

Anyway, I've been saying it a lot when I hear about things in my personal life that leave me speechless, make me shake my head, as in, "What now? What next?" When I'm frustrated with people.

What's interesting about, "Just shoot me" is that the person who says it obviously doesn't mean it, is just signaling frustration with life's impossibilities. We can't control most of it, certainly not the behavior of other people. So we laugh it up, say, Shoot me.

I give up.

Which implies that someone else wins, but it's okay. We concede the victory with relief. Let it go.

I think this happens on a much deeper psychological level in trauma victims. If a person suffers a trauma, even secondary trauma (hears about someone's trauma and feels the pain), it can trigger suicidal wishes and fears.

Immediately after a trauma or during the trauma, the thought, I would be better off dead is seeded in some neuropathway. Then you get the emotion, the fear, the terror, or it's there first, doesn't matter. But the reasoning, the thought processing about the event becomes unconscious, and that happens rather quickly. All that remains for eternity is the conclusion, I want to die. Sort of stuck like a broken record. You can turn off the juice, but someone keeps turning it on when you least expect it.

And the fears remain, associated with the conclusion, better off dead. You never wanted to die, you never wanted to be raped, to use a common example, or sexually harassed, perhaps, but the thought and the fear originated at the same time, under heightened arousal, and became inextricably linked in the brain.

Our brains are simply out of control. You would think they would get a grip.

But no. Get a bad thought, link it with a negative event, and there's your negative thought, warmed over easy again and again with the thought of the event. And then, the evolved negative emotion, the depression that lingers beyond fear. Fear may have burnt itself out. Maybe not. Just shoot me.

If you grow up with someone who is suicidal you are literally fed this thought with every suicidal threat, wish. You could be a happy go lucky kid, someone with a fairly happy little neurotransmitter, and you listen to the gloym and doym and you think, Oh, for crying out loud. You don't get a corner on suicidal ideation, I have my own, damn it. And you do, not because you want it, because you breathed it.

Hard to be tough sometime, hard to have great boundaries, to know,in your heart,
This is not what I want, this is not who I am. This is merely something I thought once, under a great deal of stress.


It's something someone else wanted, under stress. But it has nothing to do with reality, not mine. I really don't want to die, I certainly haven't the guts to kill myself even if I did.
But here are these stupid thoughts, coming home anyway.

So I wrote her back, said something like this:
Not to answer you personally, but hypothetically people do have what I call "normal" suicidal desires and fears, and these mean absolutely nothing, meaning, people who have these desires and fears would never in a million years kill themselves. You might be one of these people, probably are. That said, for sure, you gotta get therapy to work it out and you really can work it out. Reading about it on the Internet probably won't cut it.
So you want to know, don't you, what happens in a therapy that works it out?

You go over the trauma, for there usually is one, even if it is imagined. Some people have amazing imaginations and they make themselves upset with their own creativity. Doesn't matter if it's real or imagined, most of the time it's real. You go over it again and again, line by line, verse by verse, and examine your responses, how they were normal fear generated thoughts under stress and how wanting to kill yourself rather than face others in the shame of it all felt like a normal solution.

Then with your therapist you do a cognitive behavioral therapy. You challenge the date on the inserted thought.
Wait a minute. The date on that thought is August something, 2004! It's now November, 2009! That thought has expired!
And you let it expire, die a natural death.

You challenge your shame, you say,
And I did nothing to deserve this! Why should I kill myself over something that happened to me?
As my daughter is fond of saying, Most of the time things happen to us. And she's right. We can take responsibility, sure, and we should, and we should rectify whatever we can, make whatever amends are necessary, do whatever we can to right life, but owning things to the degree that they make us sick? Forget that.

Be charitable, pass them along.


Friday, October 30, 2009


I just cleaned the refrigerator because Michelle (not her real name) from Blue Cross Blue Shield called to inform me that because I am a "high volume" provider; they're coming over to audit my charts.

That will be the start 0f one of my upcoming posts.

And you want to know why I don't blog more often. You know I want to talk to you, and it kills me that there's not enough time. I'm not even responding to comments and am late in posting them, too, intend to do it, still plan to get back to them, for sure. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, or something like that, and all I can say is that there's a lot of stuff on the proverbial plate, it's spinning madly, and
I'm sorry.
That said, please know that I read every comment and appreciate every one of them, and believe me, I learn more from you from this process than you could possibly realize. Indeed, one reason some therapists last in this field, don't totally burn out, get infected from so much pathology, is that we learn from every person we see, from everything we hear, everywhere. We might complain on occasion, but everyone does, you know.

It's been said before, this job is interesting, challenging. You have to stay on top of new knowledge, although you might rely on a foundation. Professionals have to keep learning, that's what differentiates them. Our WOW! really is a wow. It isn't placating, it isn't fake; there's no agenda. When the learning comes from others, it's illuminating. And a lot more fun.

So we're grateful that people share their lives with us, feel privileged. The first thing we tell patients as they button up their jackets to leave, maybe after the first visit, the second, third, fourth or fifth, etc.
Thank you for sharing all of that. It can't be easy, I know that it isn't. Thanks for trusting me.
When I started this blog, honestly, I did not know what to do with comments. They freaked me out.

Oh, no! This person thinks I'm her therapist! What will I do with this comment/email? What if she takes something the wrong way, uses it as personal advice, isn't seeing someone else, a real flesh and blood human being who can intervene and go,
Call 911! You need to be in a hospital!
Meaning, I could be responsible for something bad!

This blew me away, more-so than an occasional stalker threatening me and my family, or a BCBS auditor.

Which is why there are all those caveats in the margins that say,
I ain't your therapist, get one somehow, please, please, please. This is for your edification, is all, and it's fun for me, okay?
And you know I mean it, get therapy if you can, hence the title of the blog.

And yet, by all means, we can talk, we can share information. There's no one shutting us down, and why would there be? It's a mutual admiration society. So what I'm saying is No, to those of you who have asked if I'm giving it up.

And one day, no promises, I'll blog about it, tell you everything. You did sign that HIPAA form on the sidebar, right?


Being Right Part Two

I thought there might be a Part Two when I posted Part One of Being Right. Sometimes there has to be a Part Two.

In Part One we find me hopeful about people changing. It takes time, but even people who have to be right all of the time can change, can yield the point with or without therapy, if you play them right. A family systems approach works better than CBT, a cognitive behavioral therapy that falls with defensiveness on deaf ears, as in, What do you know?

Part Two, I'm sorry, is more depressing. I find that I can't change some people, not without medication to chill them down. They'll never yield the point, never be wrong. They're simply too afraid. And they have a disorder, probably.

If it's Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type, an Axis I disorder, you can't blame a person for being quite sure that there are enemies out there, that people are persecuting him. He's right about this, absolutely sure; they're listening through the telephone, the computer. Voices and imagined events are real, no convincing otherwise.

These are delusions. Even with help, without medication delusions can be hard to dislodge. Try and convince people who suffer from them that they're wrong. Good luck.

Being right is also a feature of Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD), an Axis II, and we can't blame people for personality, either.

Nowhere does the word "delusion" appear among the diagnostic indicators of PPD (listed below) but the features imply that sufferers are delusional by virtue of their unfounded distrust. Because they hear no voices they're not technically delusional. It is their faulty construction of reality that makes them suspicious of others, not voices in their heads.

You can have both, an Axis I disorder like depression, addiction, or anxiety, and an Axis II, a dysfunctional personality. The latter can cause the former. People can get depressed because others don't like them; they can't look in the mirror to see how difficult they are to love. Hospitalized for the whole gestalt, even CEO's billionaires, people ostensibly doing just fine, functioning at the top of their game, get mentally sick.

Personality develops in childhood as our genetic predispositions are slapped with reality, the world out there. Some traits lie dormant until challenged by the hand we get, our families, friends, teachers, our luck. Yes, you actually can blame the family, and you can blame others (try that boarding school, orphanage, the Nazis, or a father who liked your little brother better) for bringing out the worst in you.

The problem is there's no pointing any one finger at any one person. Everyone's a product of someone else's stress in transgenerational theory, people who victimize have probably been victims themselves. If you go genetic, you have to start with Adam and Eve and all those other mamas and papas.

Surely some features of personality, especially the cute ones, the positive ones, aren't snuffed out with negativity, and they're genetic, for sure, our cadence, how we talk, joke around. We see our mannerisms in our children and grandchildren, we know they haven't copied us intentionally. There's wiring in there. Yet we all talk like Seinfeld. Would I lie?

The environment gives the nod, the go-ahead to both the good and the bad.

In Part One we discussed how when childhood stress is bad, as it is under the roof of abuse and neglect, unconscious decisions to cope with it aren't always good. Without parental coaching, how's a kid supposed to know what to do? So children make decisions, as in, T
Trust no one.
Don't tell me, I'm wrong. You're clearly wrong, and you're scary, and
You're not the boss of me now.
We call attributing, or casting unwarranted negative aspersions to people paranoia, and we're not talking the pot smoking kind. You can change that by getting straight, you know.

When paranoia rules in an otherwise normal personality, as in Paranoid Personality Disorder, there's no yielding the point, no being wrong about people and their intentions. The person suffering from paranoia is sure, 100% sure that. . .

He stole that money!

She cheated me out of the property!

She has my ring and won't give it back.

He thinks I'm stupid. I'll show him!

Very difficult to convince people like this that they are wrong about this, no matter how much cajoling, flattering, affirming, validating, you do.

Okay. Maybe with a lot of sex. But even with physical affection, I don't know, the odds are that the paranoia will come back again under stressful conditions.

This is why, by the way, medications are helpful, they help people buffer stress. It is also why some people don't want to take them. They don't want to be left vulnerable to exploitation and harm, psychologically "buffered" from the pain.

Here are the features of this intractable disorder.

301.0 Paranoid Personality Disorder:

A. A pervasive distrust and suspicion of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by 4 or more of the following:
(1) suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her

(2) is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trust-worthiness of friends or associates

(3) is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her

(4) reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanins into benign remarks or events

(5) persistently bears grudges, is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights

(6) perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack

(7) has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner.
B. Does not occur exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia, a Mood Disorder With Psychotic Features, or another Psychotic Disorder and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a general medical condition.

No fun. Partners, spouses and children are often accused of cheating, lying, having affairs, manipulation. Friends and children of friends, housekeepers, baby sitters, business associates, deliberately plotting behind their backs. People look at them the wrong way, people wrong them, think they're oblivious, stupid.

These are angry people. Suspicious. Not obviously, sometimes, they won't always tell you their suspicious, but surely. Telling you might give you an edge.

There is a strong association with child abuse, and you can see why. If you can't trust your own parents to take care of you and protect you, to show you that they love you, that they believe in you, who can you trust? Or if you lived in a concentration camp, and every authority was a killing authority, every uniform or bunk mate a possible snitch, you learn to read aggression in people, even when there isn't any. You misinterpret facial signals, body language, tone of voice.

You learn to trust only yourself. You become impenetrable, are perceived by others as tough. Deep down you want others to adore you, to tell you that you're wonderful, and you may behave as if you believe you really are, but you're really not sure. This thread of insecurity runs through most personality disorders, you know.

People who suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder are often afraid to put themselves in situations that are intimate, it makes them feel vulnerable, weak. They won't initiate an intimate conversation, and have buried their issues deeply, don't participate, necessarily, or appear disconnected, laugh when they shouldn't. Makes sense, right? How can you let a potential enemy get close? That's just plain dumb.

You don't make yourself vulnerable, tell people your true feelings, your fears, your sadness, if there's a chance of being punished.

That's another reason you have to be right, too. So you don't get punished.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Being Right

You wonder, don't you, why it is that some people can never be wrong? Even caught, busted, backed into a corner, they'll lie to your face, tell you they didn't understand the question, or that you're interpreting what they said incorrectly. Never wrong, can't be.

It is everything to them, everything to be right. I'm sorry isn't in the vernacular. Nothing to be sorry for if you're always right.

If it's an acquaintance, you can let it go, maybe laugh it off privately, placate your friend. You intuit that this person needs validating, an emotional lift, an ego boost. Applause. So you give it. It's cheap.

If it's a colleague, someone on the team at work, or a fellow committeeman in an organization, a herd of industrial psychologists can't budge this person, will throw arms up in despair, slap together an agreement nobody likes. You just can't negotiate with some people.

When it's the boss, and it often is, well, you know who is right, and it isn't you.

Ditto, maybe, if it's family. History proves resistance futile, so you coach the kids,
Don't bother arguing with ___(Dad, Mom, Uncle Herb, etc.).
It's a waste of time.
Those of you coping with this emotional system come to therapy, usually, because someone else can't cope with this person. And the someone else won't let it go, insists upon arguing with the one who has to be right. Maybe it's a child or a teenager in charge of the revolution, or maybe it's you, finally fed up, sick of letting the baby have his bottle. Everyone in the family feels this negative emotion; it's palpable. Family and/or marital therapy is an attractive option.

Mainly because there's no sex in the marital relationship anymore, so changing this is an incentive for therapy. Anger's just not sexy. Or one of the kids is off "doing his own thing."

The ones stuck being wrong all the time are the ones who volunteer for individual therapy. The therapist is empathetic, knowing how difficult difficult people can be. It's not easy always yielding, always being wrong, for if you live with someone who is always right, and you disagree with that person, then you're always wrong.

Which feels bad. You might even come to believe it, too, that you really are more wrong than right, especially if you start out in the relationship a quart or three low in the self-esteem department. If you start out full, you'll find it runs out easily if you're always wrong. (This is systems thinking.) Like the Dementors in the Harry Potter books who whoosh down and sap happiness from others, steal it, make it theirs; you get sapped of self-esteem, happiness, no matter how well defended.

Generally we think you get this valuable commodity, self-esteem, maintain it or lose it, too, in a social process: direct communication or meta-messages, messages embedded in messages, body language, tone of voice, spacial positioning. These all communicate one's value, good or bad. Very little gray in most messages like these.

Such a humbling experience, too, being on the receiving end. Our partners, our parents, are supposed to be the home team. They are supposed to value us, validate us, tell us we're smart, we're good. People are supposed to be pleasant to one another in caring, intimate relationships.

Like FD will tell me, "You're not so bad."

It helps to have positive feedback, and the running hypothesis here, surprise surprise, is that people who have to be right all of the time didn't get positive feedback when they needed it most, during childhood. Those critical years, the formative years, really are critical, they are formative. And they can be wonderful, full of awe and wonder, or not.

The have-to-be rights never experienced wonder years. No happiness or wonder for them.

Those of us who adore our children, who praise and encourage them, who use reason when they're out of line, as opposed to beating on them in one way or another, believe children should stay in wonder for as long as possible. We know that the world is full of let-downs, disrespect, wallops, lumps. Nobody knows us out there, few care, really, how we feel. If we have three good friends, we are very, very lucky.

By and large, life's about taking the punches, coping with rejection. And our friends and family, people who care about us, buffer that.

You apply for a job and there's not so much as a rejection letter for non-candidates. We used to get these, Thank you for applying. . . but. . . letters. Now we know that if there's no call back, there's no job. No communication is communication.

Thus the Rodney Dangerfields are everywhere, getting NO respect. No "I value your opinion, your thoughts, your skills." That's why parents have to do it first, get a quart of three into us when we're little, hope it keeps. Value, validate. The words sound alike. A giving thing, this expression of someone's worth. We don't have to agree with our kids, with anyone necessarily, to say, Wow, now that you've explained it, I see why you feel the way you feel.

That's validation.

In the Chicago Public Schools there's a new program, the WOW program. Teachers are supposed to say WOW, no matter what a kid does.
"You didn't do your homework? WOW, I imagine you just didn't have time!"
Implicit respect. Wow, I see why you feel the way you feel.

No need to add the but; it's not a compound sentence. Validation means no qualifiers necessary. If I didn't ask for an alternative opinion, why give it to me? I may still be glowing in the Wow. The but can come later. And if there isn't any communicated respect, no validation, which takes some time, actually, in discussion, it's likely there's no interest in alternative thoughts and opinions.

This is the rationale behind the intervention you read on this blog relatively often, validating without regard for receiving validation in return, or unconditional validation in communication. Here the one who is always wrong (according to the one who is always right) patiently validates the one who clearly needs to be right.

To do this and not lose your mind, you actually need to know your subject, why he or she needs to be right, which can be very personal, very intimate information. But if it's a parent, or a partner, you have the right to know.*

So you snoop around and find, in all probability, that there's abuse in this person's background, shame and abuse, verbal, physical, emotional, psychological. This person has been labeled
stupid, retarded, fat, a wimp, a loser, maybe a fool.
Something. He or she may have been slapped silly for being so dumb. Stupid and dumb are operative words. Children should be seen, not heard, you can assume this, in families like these.
A child learns to stay invisible, is afraid to venture an opinion, knowing that the opinion isn't wanted, commands no respect.

You would think parents would naturally know, would simply have the empathy necessary to know that kids need to be asked an opinion now and again, that they need to feel important, to have a say in their lives, that this is how they emerge from the Petree dish of family with some self-esteem, a modicum of self-worth. We all need the You are important message. You are someone very capable. Without this type of messaging a person suffers a hunger, a growling in the tummy that won't quiet down.

Although I like to think that a corrective relationship feeds the beast.

Childhood abuse and emotional neglect is transgenerational, zips right past go, starts somewhere in the lower branches of the family tree and grows, like ivy, up. Subsequent generations might copy the behaviors of aggressive parents, identify with the aggressor. But it is not so simple as this. More likely, if one has been muted, called stupid often enough, shut down, there is still a thinking brain, a healthy vector of self that whispers, mouths silently to the aggressor, on more than one occasion during childhood,
"Actually, I'm not always stupid. You're stupid. You know?"
This voice grows louder inside, this shoot of a child's budding identity, this personality in progress, and grows very rebellious, even, over time.

I call it the Survivor Ego. Maybe others have other names for it. I've never read this in a book, to be quite honest.

The silent scream volleys hard,
"I am not always wrong, I am not always stupid, and damn it, one day, you'll all have to listen to me because I am not going away. You will contend with me when I am older. I live!"
The beginning of the oppositional personality.

Having been shut down for so long, the Survivor Ego lives to revel in expression, thrives in the countering of opinions, thrills with the power of final say.
"I live, okay? They didn't kill me. Won't somebody please notice?"
It is a micro-decision of youth, to respond this way, rather than cower every time, yield every point. It is the black/white of borderline. And the decision is unconscious by adulthood, that decision that turned the key, for evermore, the one that cheers the adult child on. "I'm right!" It's like a drug.

So you see why there has to be some psychotherapy, some good old fashioned psychodynamic therapy, to end the reign of terror, and the one who needs it is in no hurry, feels no need to get it. But when it happens, a person can change.

The change, albeit unstable at first, maybe forever, yields the point, many points, to significant others. The changed individual feels compassion for others, even empathy. This is possible for the memory of his history empowers him, substitutes for the other drug, having to be right all of the time. They believe me. They get it. They know I'm not stupid.

And when being right feels irresistible, when Mr/Ms Has-to-be-Right slips?

A raised eyebrow is enough, assuming you've agreed on that signal. In family therapy we're big on such things, signals.


Just my opinion here, as usual, what you pay for when you read this blog.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Human/Animal Rights

National Network to End Domestic Violence Hands down, one of the best resources on the web.

A personal fave, the chocolate Labrador retirever.

Short story:

A patient, someone who is weighing whether or not to leave an abusive spouse, a spouse who will not get help, tells me, "No human being has the right to hurt another."

Uh, huh. Go on.

Then she asks, "Don't you agree? Does anyone have the right to hurt anyone else?"

Probably not, probably not. And yet, it happens. And you have to get out of that when it does, even if it means abandoning, hurting the one who hurts you. Hurting that someone else, the one who has been hurting you, has to happen, it's a part of the process, and most people would agree that even if it's going to hurt, even if there's risk, you might have to go anyway.

You're not punishing, you're just going, I like to say. Nobody's punishing anyone.

And there are risks, safety risks, which is why support is so, so important. So many qualifiers when it comes to these things.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The month is really brought to you by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and if we reach way back, the Family Violence Prevention and Service Act of 1984. But when I searched "domestic violence awareness", surprise surprise, the NNEDV didn't show at all.

Somebody did their SEO* homework, that's for sure, and a collaboration between PAWS and the American Humane Association grabbed the top spot with a feature on the Pets and Women's Shelters Program. Social service providers are matching up pets and abused women to alleviate stress for both, kill two birds with one stone. Not the best metaphor, admittedly.

At first I was confused. The whole idea, really, throwing women and pets into the same sentence. But pets are vulnerable, and women and children are vulnerable, too. Almost anyone, male or female, can find himself at the end of someone's boot now and again.

This is really pet therapy, using pets as therapeutic agents. Animals have healing powers, provide comfort to humans. There's even a genre of specially trained Therapy Dogs that pad into nursing homes and residential treatment centers. These uncomplicated creatures are only in the biz to give and to take love. They haven't much else to do, really, and they're furry. So why wouldn't victims of violence love to love them?

Some might prefer to have the rent paid, or a fur coat, maybe, but then the PETA people would be on them about that. There you are, recovering from an abusive relationship, hugging your fur coat, and someone throws paint on it.

The PAWS idea makes sense to me, however. PAWS stands for Progressive Animal Welfare Society, by the way. I've suggested to parents, on occasion, referring to an occasional very, very sad kid,
"This kid needs a dog."
Or maybe a cat. Or a bird. Or a fish tank. But the dog, well, a dog is (wo)man's best friend, proof positive, everyone knows. You've seen Lassie, Rin Tin Tin. I'll take that chocolate lab, if you don't mind.

It's amazing how fickle we can be, some of us, after burying a faithful pet. You would think that replacing him is the next step. But service complete, we sometimes let them go, decide that taking care of a dog is too much work, too big a commitment, come to think of it. And have you seen the price of heart worm medication lately? I hope the Pets and Women's Shelter Program is going to pick up the tab.

Let's move on. There's so much to know about domestic violence, like one out of four of us will fall victim in our lifetimes. Check out what the President of the United States says.

And the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

and the US Department of Justice.

Don't miss the Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP)

I like their mission statement a lot:

The Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP) supports the rights of all women and girls to live in peace and dignity. Violence and all other forms of oppression against all communities of women and their children must be eliminated. To change belief systems and practices that support violence against all women, the DVAP recognizes and promotes the participation of the entire community in building social intolerance towards domestic violence.

And they have resources, things a person with heart could do to work towards eradicating domestic violence, give it a shove out the door, make it one of those zero tolerance things.

The idea that we should work toward eliminating violence and all other forms of oppression against all communities of women and children, fantastic. I would add, toward men and pets, too.

It's all very much like, "No human being has the right to hurt another."



SEO, as in search engine optimization, the science of getting a website to the top of a Google, Yahoo, or Bing search. See my sidebar.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Mamas and the Papas Indeed

California Dreaming?

I'm not feeling sorry for myself, but it's been four months since I've seen my West Coast kids and grandkids and that's a little long, even with Google-vid and chat, texting and email. Even with those pictures that pop up everywhere. Nothing helps when I get like this.

Although talking, especially about things that are intimate, helps tremendously.

Over the phone my daughter tells the story about my five year-old grandson,

"Mommy! I put a birthmark in my book!"

Undoubtedly, the stuff of the Mommy Blogs, and you can laugh at the telling, but I would have loved to have been there. I understand his Mommy had a hard time keeping a straight face.

We can talk about our marvelous virtual world, how we keep in touch and all that, but there's nothing like the real thing, the real humans. The touch of your children, the smiles of their spouses, the hugs of your grandchildren.

We'll get to Papa John in a minute.

It cost me a few bucks in gifts, not bad at all, especially since Southwest takes the bite out of baggage, doesn't charge. They're so funny at Southwest, so laid back. None of the attitude:
You're dirt, why should we even let you stand-by.
It's all:
Chill out. We'll get you there.
And there are plenty of places to plug in devices.

So I filled a nylon duffel with various throwing things cuz the kids like to play catch with me, and real kid toys-- puzzles, Disney-Rummy, nothing too expensive. September, birthday month, passed uneventfully so there had to be a few cards, too. Cards are a big deal in our family. You can forget the present, but it's unforgivable to forget a card. I didn't forget, just didn't get to it.

I always freeze, too, when it comes to what to write in them. Maybe everyone does. My solution is to edit the Hallmark text, flip it to get it right.

A favorite pen in hand, I went at it at the airport, two hours to kill. My chauffeur had to make it to a class.

I wanted to buy a magazine, too.

When I told my chauffeur that this was the plan, a latte and a New Yorker, he asked me why we canceled the magazine subscription.
"I couldn't get a good waiting room rate. One thing about The New Yorker. It's going to cost you."
But the cover, all about Iran and the economy, did nothing for me. Not the story about the gangs of Rio, either. Must be a plot to ensure that Chicago gets the Olympics. Chicago and Rio are the top two contenders. And the winner is. . .

We find out tomorrow. Apparently the city that hosts the games will suffer from a plethora of special, but empty new warehouses and big buildings when it's all over.

I picked a different magazine altogether, US, all about fashion and celebrity gossip. Wouldn't you rather look at models and movie stars? The boasting front page:
Mackenzie Phillips' Horrifying Confession.
Who could resist such a thing? And a buck cheaper.

If you haven't been paying attention, Mackenzie Phillips, born to John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and socialite Susan Adams (one of John's many marriages), tells all in a memoir of her wild and crazy days behind the set of One Day at a Time.

For most of us, starring in a hit television show would be wild enough, but Mackenzie's drug addled, depraved father seduced her, made things even wilder for his daughter. He made her his lover and the affair lasted ten years. I've heard it several times,
I'll teach you how to love someone.
This is the family child molester's favorite line.

I haven't read the book, but Ms. Phillips was all of 17 at the beginning of the sexual relationship, so we can say he seduced her. Even if she was head over heels in love with her father, that she was a minor is reason enough to rule out informed consent. That alone makes the act criminal. Minors can't consent to sex, not legally.

The Mamas and the Papas. California Dreaming. I Saw Her Again. Be careful who you worship when it comes to rock stars.

Mackenzie confesses to cocaine and heroin addiction, and we know that under the influence informed consent isn't possible either.

But let's get real. This is incest, internationally taboo.

John Phillips isn't around to talk about it, so for all we know the book is a pack of lies. If I hadn't heard more than a few handfuls of these stories first hand, I might think so, too. Ultimately Mr. Phillips passed away a victim of his own vices, heart failure at 65, eight years ago. Gave Mckenzie some time to write a book.

Now the question is,
Is this a good thing, to write a memoir? Maybe it hurts innocent people.
And the answer is,
Maybe yes, maybe no.
I read that her sister Chynna wasn't thrilled when she heard about the publication of the book and that it came as a surprise, not that she doubted the veracity of her sister's work. Chynna uses one of my favorite phrases, These things affect other people to explain her feelings. She has kids. Mr. Phillips had grandchildren.

Publicizing secrets comes at a cost, usually. It has to hurt innocent people, airing the dirty family laundry. In family therapy we talk about this as a process, especially when it comes to exposing incest, and suggest discretion.

Timing is everything when telling the kids, especially. They want the people they love to be infallible, perfect. (Who wants a predator for a grandfather?) This is why these confessions are frequently limited to a best friend, a trusted clergyman, surely a therapist. Therapists generally will work up a plan, make it thoughtful, considerate of everyone.

It has to be hard to break it to youngsters when a previously trustworthy family member can't be trusted anymore. So we might suggest tabling the discussion until they can understand what it's all about, if at all possible. Of course, if your aunt writes a book, it's hard not to hear about it.

Some secrets can be toxic, is the truth, they hurt people who hold them in. We have to talk about what has happened to us in life. We have to talk to someone. And exposing them ultimately might protect others from making the same mistakes. Awareness of danger is a good thing. We can learn from others and we like the details. Those of us in this business are traumatized hearing them first hand, but for others, the juice quenches a certain prurient curiosity.

The US interview goes on to say that Mr. Phillips also did time in a penitentiary for dealing drugs, and one of his sons calls him things I won't publish.

Living perpetrators of sexual crimes can get better. No one has to stay a creep forever. We have them on their knees in therapy, some of us, have them beg forgiveness. That helps a lot.

Hopefully Mackenzie did some healing writing her book. We wish her well. Sister Chynna's apparently a popular vocalist (I'm not always up on this stuff). I'm going to check out her work, see if it will help me get over the thought that I won't be listening to the Mamas and the Papas anytime soon.

Thanks to all of you who commented below, who recommended songs, movies, books and websites about this topic. It's clear that many of you already know that when we talk about sexual abuse, we're talking emotional scars, social isolation, and psychological/physical reminders of this kind of "love".

The whole thing makes me, personally, want to avoid the 'zines, the expose's, the memoirs. I'll stick to chick lit, maybe.