Accepting Unacceptable Behavior

Detaching from the Donald.

john-kasich-rips-trumps-unacceptable-behavior-1038x584Families in recovery are taught they don’t have to accept the addict/alcoholic’s unacceptable behavior. They learn that their lives have value beyond suffering and repairing the chaos the alcoholic/addict causes through their disease. “Detachment” is the tool used in recovery to separate oneself from the abusive behavior. Once the family member has detached, the addict/alcoholic is left to suffer the natural consequences of their actions, and sometimes they choose recovery for themselves as a result. Even if they don’t, the previously affected family member is living a healthier life without the constant chaos caused by the sick behavior of another.

What does detachment look like? Here’s an example: your drug addicted loved one steals from the other people in the house. You explain calmly that they are not allowed back in the house until the missing money is returned. Then you change the locks. You can still meet the family member outside of the house, give them rides, find them a rehab–whatever–but they can’t rummage around the home stealing your stuff.

This is hard enough in a family setting, when the abuser is a suffering alcoholic/drug addict whom you once loved or still love. But what do we do when the abuser is the president of our country?

I’m not making a joke here. Yesterday I hit my limit, and I can tell by the Twittersphere than so many others have too. Nevertheless, because we are not in a family setting, the average citizen has no power to put “natural consequences” in place for DJT. Only Congress does, and they will move slowly (if they do at all). Even individual Congress members, or entire Congressional blocs, have no power to check his abusive behavior.

Detachment, in this case, is impossible. We can avoid news, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, email, radio and overhearing other’s conversations, but his actions will affect us whether we pay attention or not. Our healthcare will change or disappear, our rights to birth control, travel, voting etc will be threatened or lost. Those of us who disagree with his agenda must continue to pay attention and engage, no matter how upsetting.

And many of us are. And many of us are suffering as a result. Those of us in medical fields have been talking amongst ourselves about the rise in stress-related disease. Not just mental health issues (anxiety and depression have spiked in the last five months), and not just the threatened loss of health coverage, but also things like chronic pain, digestive issues, sleep issues, migraines–all of these are exacerbated by emotional stress. There is also the issue of very real violence against groups targeted by DJT supporters inspired by his hate-speech. Women, people of color, the poor, and immigrants are being hit especially hard. And these groups make up the majority of Americans.

This situation in our country is currently similar to that of a child trapped in an alcoholic home. Just as the child is dependent on the alcoholic and has no power to leave, most of us depend upon a functioning and predictable government, and we can’t simply move to Canada.

To make matters worse, we are told by DJT supporters and certain news outlets and the entire Republican party that we are wrong, the news is fake, and we are hysterical snowflakes. This kind of gas lighting drives any sane person crazy. Our country is like the alcoholic household where the other parent or the siblings are in denial and tell the child that they are the crazy one, Dad is fine, stop making trouble, even as Dad is throttling family members and destroying household stability.

What are we to do?

The recovery model advises we find support in a group where people understand what we are going through. Meditation is helpful, so that we can soothe our own stress response. Use the Serenity Prayer: Accept the things you cannot change, but more importantly, for self-efficacy and sanity, CHANGE THE THINGS YOU CAN. Remember that this too shall pass. In 3 years and change, this will pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Always Stand Up to Racism

So I love my job taking care of medically fragile children in schools. I love the hours, the vacations, the fact that I get the same days off as my own kids, and I love the children I take care of. I love the problem solving and the physicality and independence. I feel like I’m doing something positive and worthwhile.

But I have one complaint: one of the schools in which I work is located in a town that has been tried and found guilty of systematically denying housing to people of color.

Needless to say, this town went heavily for the Prez-elect.

In the classroom where I work, most of the kids are being raised in pro-Trump households. These kids are given to saying things like, (and I heard this just last week): “Over the Christmas break I played a blah, blah video game and my team’s name was Trump’s Wall. We were awesome.”

At this point, one aide who knows my family whispered to me, “Did I hear that right?” and I said, “Yes you did.”

But other than that, I kept my mouth shut.

I did not take this child aside and tell him that my own son was taunted at a recent wrestling match with “Build the wall” chants. I did not explain that Trump’s Wall is not something everyone feels equally enthused about. That “the wall” is used to tease brown kids regardless of their citizenship status, and therefore has become a racist meme.

I didn’t speak up because I know I am behind enemy lines, and I need this job, and I like this job and I want to keep this job.

And that, rich white folks, is the reason poorer people of racial and ethnic minorities don’t always correct you when you say something offensive. It’s not because what you said is okay, or because they were okay with it. It’s because they don’t live in the same bubble of safety. So the next time you hear someone getting away with something offensive, or the next time you feel you can’t possibly be racist because no one has ever called you on it, not even your co-workers of color, think again. Maybe no one has called you on it because, like me, they value their paycheck.

And guys, it goes the same for women. Just because they didn’t call you out on your comment, it doesn’t mean they were good with it. It just means they need the job. So stop using other peoples’ silence as an excuse for continued bad behavior.

You all know the difference between right and wrong. Stop pretending you don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving vs Resentment

My mom calls Thanksgiving a “family day”. But like many American families, the family I’m hanging out with over the long weekend has members that suffer from addiction and alcohol abuse.

Some members have recovery, some don’t need it, some need it and refuse it. As a healthcare professional, I try to view substance abuse through the lens of disease. But as a family member, I find myself slipping into judgement. I find myself resenting how much slack I have to pick up for incapacitated members. How I have to keep my temper around their bad behavior. Even though I didn’t cause the situation, can’t control it, and can’t cure it, I have to manage myself and so much else because of it, instead of being able to relax.

The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, asks us “Would you add to the aggression?” I would really like to answer, “No.”  So I ask myself, “Would I be so resentful if they suffered from Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimers?” But despite all my training in the disease model of addiction, I still find myself snappish and tense and unpleasant when it comes to substance abuse.

So clearly it is my job to work through my resentments. After all, the users aren’t going to change on my account. So if I want peace in my life, I need to make it. First, I need to accept my feelings of resentment. Once I really sit with that uncomfortability, I can see  the grief and loneliness underneath the judgement. The sadness that I don’t have a relationship with X, because X has a relationship with alcohol instead. The loneliness that comes when I can’t connect with Y because Y is drunk or hungover.

Gratitude is supposed to be an antidote to resentments. I make gratitude lists in this tiny beautiful notebook that was given to me by a friend in a similar situation.  Thanksgiving is supposed to be all about gratitude. But this holiday I am struggling.

When I struggle emotionally, I retreat to intellectualization. I find it interesting how the universe provides endless versions of the same lesson. Right now the political situation mirrors my personal life. I am resentful about choices other people have made, and I have to do more work to ameliorate those choices that other people have made, and I resent that. But I can’t change this situation to suit me, so I must work with my discomfort and find a way to be okay anyhow.

I am grateful that my mother is alive and healthy and with my kids and me on this holiday weekend. I am grateful there was no traffic, no accidents, no car issues. I am grateful to have such luxury problems: I’m not running for the border in Syria while bombs are dropping, I have a home, I have too much food, I have clothes, a job, health…I have made so many gratitude lists it’s easy to rattle the blessings off without feeling them. But at least the exercise makes me realize my problems, in the scheme of things, are small. I’m whining because I’m not having a Norman Rockwell holiday. Well, who does?

But I can’t belittle my grief and loneliness either. They deserve a place at my holiday table because they are real, and if I simply say, “Nope, you’re just evidence of my spoiled First-World whining, out you go!” and show them the door, they creep back in anyhow. So I’ve got a lot of work to do. I haven’t figured it out. I can’t wrap this up with a homily.

How do you handle the holidays?