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If you are scared and hurting

shutterstock_310587080Therapists are supposed to be neutral and not bring their politics into the counseling room but if you’re a therapist with a bunch of different Wonder Women all over your wall then it doesn’t take too much guessing to figure that she didn’t vote for the guy who was joking about “locker room talk.” So let’s dispense with the pretending and agree that I’m as disappointed and as sad and as angry as are many of you.

So what now?

We need each other now. Some of us are going to feel more isolated and afraid than others and we need to reach out to them. Some of us have loved ones who may be feeling this more deeply because they are members of those targeted during the campaign; go to them. If you were one of the targets of the campaign, please know that there are people who support you.

I’m hearing a lot of fear from kids in my office (and in my life). Please be mindful of the media you play around them. Check in with them. Ask them what they’re hearing at school. Go to the other adults in their lives and get them on the same page if you can.

Teens can be more vulnerable than we realize. They’re idealistic and when idealism falls, it hurts. A lot. Teens who are members of groups called out during the campaign need your special support. I know that my own daughter has faced more hate speech in the past couple of months and I’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s happening in her school for the duration. You keep an eye on your kids, too, and together we’ll keep them safe.

Also, look for hope. Look for the social justice warriors who have come before us and who are among us now. It feels lonely but we are not alone.

Some Resources in Central Ohio (please feel free to leave additional information about groups you think people ought to know about in the comments below):

Black Lives Matter Columbus (their Facebook group)

Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) provides comprehensive individual and community programs for survivor advocacy and support to LGBTQI survivors of hate and bias violence, discrimination, intimate partner violence, stalking, and/or sexual assault.

Disability Rights Ohio a non-profit corporation with a mission to advocate for the human, civil and legal rights of people with disabilities in Ohio.

Kaleidoscope Youth Center working in partnership with young people in Central Ohio to create safe and empowering spaces for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Ally youth through advocacy, education, support and community engagement.

Progress Ohio the state’s leading progressive organization, composed of two non-profits: ProgressOhio.org, a 501 (c) (4) organization formed in 2006 to promote progressive causes, and ProgressOhio Education, a 501 (c) (3) organization.

Standing Up for Racial Justice (list of all the state chapters) is a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves White people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. (Here’s the Facebook group for Worthington.)

There are a lot of therapists out there who are ready, willing and able to sit with you while you grieve, cry, holler, and find ways to move forward. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. WE ARE NOT ALONE.

The perceived danger of hope

I have been thinking about family legacies of trauma (I’m working on a longer blog post about that) and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is that when a family knows that the worst things can happen, hope can become a dangerous thing. Not every family that experiences trauma is like this, obviously, but it’s common because people want to be safe. If you’re too hopeful, you might take risks and you might fail.

I think about this when I hear parents dialing down their kids’ big plans.

“Don’t expect to hit a home run right away, kiddo.”

“Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the lead.”

“Not everyone is going to get an award for this, you know.”

We don’t want our kids to be disappointed when they fail so we prepare them for failure.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” we say. But isn’t that what hope is for?

It’s true that we need our kids to be realistic but reality will do that for them. Telling them not to be excited doesn’t protect them from failure; it just adds an ugly sheen to the excited times before.

I get it, I do. There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching your child’s dreams get dashed. Ugh. Like a dagger to your own heart, I know. Our urge to mitigate that possible disappointment comes from a loving place but it’s spoils the fun and dampens the spirit.

Imagine if we did this with other things like, “Sooner or later you’re going to take a swig of milk and realize it’s gone bad so I think you should just prepare yourself for sour milk every time you drink it. I think you should mistrust the anticipation you have that the milk will be good.”

(Substitute some other example if you are dairy-free. Like apples with bruises or when your salad has the lettuce core in it. Or when your pancakes have those bitter lumps of baking soda.)

Nobody wants to live their life expecting disappointment.

So why not be hopeful? Why not get excited? And then if things don’t work out, we can hug the heck out of each other. It’ll be OK.

If you don’t do this with your kids, you might do this with yourself. You might find yourself gearing up by tearing yourself down. Whose voice is in your ear telling you to be careful? Not to aim too high? Who’s telling you to dial down your dreaming?

And here is Mel Brooks singing Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst, because Mel Brooks can make everything funny including the Judaic legacy of trauma (oh boy does this ring familiar and not just because my dad does a killer Yiddish accent):

Put down the rock

put down the rockOften our suffering comes because we have an idea of how things ought to be and they aren’t that way. The way we think things ought to be, our expectations and disappointments, they are like a rock we keep carrying around even though the rock weighs us down and keeps us stuck.

Sometimes we pick up the rock in our childhood when we get told that the way to a good life is this one particular way. Maybe the rock is our ideas about the career we want to have or the children we want to parent. We have this picture of how it has to be and that becomes our ideal, the rock that we carry into our Real Lives where things are more complicated and often uglier.

Maybe we don’t pick it up. Maybe it’s handed to us when someone tells us that we will be happier if we get prettier or smarter or nicer. Then the rock becomes the perfect self we want to be. We live under the heavy pressure of that flawless version of our imperfect selves.

So the way to happiness is easy, right? Just put down the rock.

But the thing about these rocks is that over the years we get used to carrying them. They may be heavy but we start to believe that they protect us. As long as we’re carrying them then we’re also carrying the hope that we can make them come true and that somehow keeps us safe. It’s scary to think things like, “I might never be as thin as I want to be.” or “I might never find the perfect partner.”

If we put the rock down, then what do we have to cling to? If we put it down, we have to confront the truth that we might need to learn to be happy without those things we so desperately want. And that’s scary.

I have put down rocks in my time and sometimes it’s a gradual thing. I’d try setting it down just for a minute — just around people who felt safe or just in certain situations. I’d keep that rock nearby just in case I needed its protection; it was proof that I wasn’t giving up or giving in, just taking a break.

Eventually I put it down for good and then I felt weightless, which sounds fun but can be scary. After all, if you’re weightless, how will you know if the earth is safely under you? What if you float off into space without a rock to weigh you down? What if you miss all of the people still crouching under their burdens, unable (or unwilling) to join you a few feet off the ground?

It gets better. Eventually you will realize that the rock wasn’t keeping you safe; it was keeping you trapped. You will straighten up and look around and see that right here in this minute, without your view being blocked by that big old boulder you were carrying, you can see the good things right in front of you.

That rock, it was lying. It was telling you that you couldn’t be happy until this or until that but when you put it down — put it down for good — you’ll see that your happiness is where you make it. You can find it wherever you like.

So go ahead. Put down the rock.

Of ice buckets and Ferguson

shutterstock_145318993If you are on Facebook or on Twitter or don’t live under a rock then likely you have been either witness to or part of the ongoing cultural conversation around the ALS ice bucket challenge and the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri and the resulting outcry in his community and beyond.

I was thinking about this juxtaposition today, in particular about the controversy of the juxtaposition. I’m not talking about either thing itself — people drenching themselves in ice water or a young man’s death at the hands of police — but about these two things happening at the same time and how people are managing the presence of two wildly different cultural events happening at the same time.

I’m not the only one talking about this. Orlando Jones is. And Digiday.com is. But I’m thinking more about our response to each other and what it has to say about what we need.

I have read (I’m sure you have read) racist arguments, tearful essays, hopeful blog posts. I’ve watched (and I’m sure you have watched) moving challenges, funny challenges (and of course failed challenges) and challenges starring celebrities calling other celebrities out. I’ve also watched (and I’m sure you have watched) videos of mothers testifying to the loss of their Black sons, video of people rioting, and video of people marching peacefully only to be met with violence.

I have read these things and watched these things because people have shared them on their Facebook feed.

For the most part the divide is person to person; the person who posts a challenge doesn’t post much about Ferguson and vice-versa. Sure there’s cross over but not a whole lot. (You might be seeing something different; I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.)

This is what I’ve come away with.

Life is hard, deeply deeply hard and painful and we all cope with it in the best way we can.

  • Some of us really need to see the funny ice bucket videos and laugh knowing that it’s bringing attention to a good cause.
  • Some of us really need to see people willing to engage in hard topics on fluffy social media sites, to witness their friends speaking out and risking censure.
  • Some of us go to Facebook to escape.
  • Some of us go to Facebook to be inspired.
  • Some of us go to Facebook because we’re bored during an office meeting or during a toddler’s nap and we’re just killing time.
  • Some of us do best with lots of information and discussion.
  • Some of us do best when we can ignore bad news in the places where we play.
  • Some of us do our donating anonymously and would never make a show of our donations.
  • Some of us want to feel like part of a movement, to feel something exciting happening.
  • Some of us do our political work off-line where we won’t risk relationships.
  • Some of us speak loudly, passionately and use a status update as a rallying cry.
  • And yes, some of us do things on social media to make ourselves look good without any real interest in changing the world. (Sometimes the world gets changed anyway, even if some of the people who are part of the movement are just phoning it in.)

I think mostly about how much we (each of us, individually) need each other (each of us, individually) and this is why it is so inspiring and so painful when our social media is not reflecting what we want to see in the world.

I get compassion fatigue. Sometimes when I’m having a hard week or I’m working with a client (or two or three) who’s having a hard week I just want to take Buzzfeed quizzes (by the way, I’m Fanny Price!) and read LaineyGossip.com. Other times I really need to see the passion in people whose values resonate with mine, to see their hard work and anger. I have definitely been the person posting controversial articles on Facebook and I’ve definitely been the person temporarily hiding a friend posting controversial articles on Facebook.

I personally think that the ice bucket challenge has gone viral in part because of Ferguson and because of Gaza and because of Robin Williams. I think that when we collectively get sad we desperately want to get happy and so in hard times our Facebook fills up with pictures of cute kittens and calls to action that are easy and that are part of being hopeful.

But I also get why the juxtaposition is so jarring and makes some of us angry and/or disheartened.

I see a clear divide on my own Facebook feed with very little crossover right now. I don’t pretend to know why that is individually (I have friends who are generally right in front of anti-racist rallying who have stayed mum on Ferguson; I have friends who generally decry public displays of social charity who are tossing ice water over their heads) but I think it’s because these are hard times and we are all doing the very best we can.


The Gospel According to Darkness

There’s no official video for this song; this one is fan-made. I used to listen to this song when the album first came out and just cry my head off. But good crying. Cathartic crying.

The whole album is one of my all-time favorites because it’s so beautiful — dealing with death and healing. But this song hit me so hard that even now I can’t put the CD on and just let it play (ok, I don’t listen to CDs anymore because it’s all ripped to my iTunes but this song is unchecked so it doesn’t show up unexpectedly in shuffle).

It’s the lyrics below that bring me to tears, the idea that we were all brand new babies once and that a part of us is still that vulnerable, that fragile and hopeful.

Oh, my sweet sweet darlin’…
What? you know when you open up your eyes?
Oh, I’m afraid there wont be anyone there
I’m beaming you all this light
Something’s happening…
Who is it?
I’m holding my sweet mama in my arms
Is she dying?
No, I think she’s just been born
And she looks so… sweet…
And she looks so… hopeful
And she looks so… trusting

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