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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firing Bill O’Reilly: a few thoughts from a broken feminist

rts12tlpI felt a sense of righteous vindication upon reading that Fox has let Bill O’Reilly go. I was one of the many women writing letters  by email and on Facebook to companies that advertised on his show. Thanks to the work of women’s rights organizations like ultraviolet and NOWI knew who to write to and what to say. I explained to my children that every small action the resistance takes is making a difference. The pawns are falling: the resignations of Milo Yiannopolous, Roger Ailes, Michael Flynn, the recusements of David Nunes and Jeff Sessions, and Jason Chaffetz deciding not to run in 2018, are all precursors to the eventual, inevitable, downfall of DJT.

We deserve a moment to relish the sense of accomplishment we feel after taking out the trash.

But this morning my daughter and I had a conversation about music. At the moment, she’s into music that denigrates women: “b**tches and h*s” lyrics by men who slap their girlfriends around. I tried to explain to her that she’s internalizing those bad messages, and that it wasn’t healthy.

She wasn’t buying it.

After all, why should she listen to me? I’m a broken feminist. I talk the talk, I even try to walk the walk, but there’s a part of me that’s so deeply damaged, I continue to accept unacceptable behavior from men ALL THE TIME. I still make myself nice, and small, and agreeable, just to fly low under the radar. I have not realized my potential, and it’s likely I never will. I’m like many American women: I’ve been a victim of sexual violence, both attempted and completed. The attempted left a 21-stitch long scar on my right hand; I sliced it open scaling a chainlink fence in a burst of adrenaline to get away from two attackers after my car broke down on the side of the road in Brooklyn. The completed acts left internal scars that despite years of therapy, have not healed. These scars affect my ability to have healthy adult relationships with men, both in work environments and social environments. My workaround is that I limit myself by sticking to female dominant work settings, and I work primarily alone. I don’t ask for promotions or raises because the bosses are male. I’ve tried a few times, but after being shut down I’ve given up.

The resistance is female for a reason. DJT’s voice turns our stomachs. He has the cadence of our predators. He has the same cold, dead eyes. He has their sensibility. That the predator-in-chief is still in his position, despite what he’s admitted to, and what he’s suspected of doing, wounds us and our daughters daily.

I am so proud of our every accomplishment in resisting this juggernaut of sexual predation. And I am so grateful when men, like the Patriots, join us. But I am afraid for my daughter. The end of allowing predatory men in positions of power can’t come soon enough for her or millions of girls like her.

 

 

 

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?

 

Twelve-Stepping the Election

 

 

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It’s been a few days since the election, and I’ve had a little time to crawl into my cave and lick my wounds. I’ve read a few blogs about how we will survive, and a few about how bad it really is.

Personally, it is likely that my family and I will be largely okay. We are protected by the facts that we live in one of the bluest states (though not the bluest area), surrounded by diversity (so we have protective camouflage). My husband and I are both employed in jobs that will not disappear no matter what trade deals do or do not happen, and my children will get a decent education no matter what happens because our state has its own very stringent standards.

We have the privileges of money in the bank, home ownership, education, employment, good health, and geography. Many others don’t. The mother of one of my clients (for those of you who don’t know–I am a private nurse for medically fragile children) was gutted. Devastated. I worked that case the morning after and the first thing she said was, “I don’t know what will happen with our insurance.”

Because for all the people who thought the Affordable Care Act was bad, there are many who thought it was pretty good. Not perfect, but workable, fixable. See, if you don’t have a chronic illness, or loved one with an expensive medical situation, you might not realize how important it was that lifetime caps were lifted under the ACA. In the past, before “Obamacare”, an insurance company could cancel your policy after you’d spent a million dollars. Well, it’s pretty easy to reach a million in the first few years of life if you’re one of the children I take care of. So to all you people who want to repeal and replace, what’s your plan for these kids?

I also worry deeply about the environment. We were making such strides with the Paris Accord, stopping Keystone XL, and preserving wild spaces. Now, we have a climate change denier coming in who is likely appointing a climate change denier to the EPA. So we don’t despair, our family spent yesterday donating money to causes we care about. Another privilege of ours is that we can do this. We can decide to charge a donation to our not-maxed-out credit card. It’s a little balm to the burn. Unfortunately, it will likely be the most vulnerable of us that are affected by environmental insults. Many of those red staters  who voted the man in will be flooded, drought stricken, or sickened by weakening of EPA air quality standards.

It’s hard to watch people make choices that are not in their own self-interest. But I see that all the time as a nurse. When I worked in the hospitals, I constantly detoxed addicts and alcoholics. They could be yellow and swollen with failing livers, and we’d work to bring them back from death, send them off to rehab, only to get them back a month or two later and detox them again.

But as they say, you can’t deny someone “the dignity of their own bottom”. You have to let them hit it hard enough that the lesson is learned. Hopefully you can keep them alive long enough that they get to learn the lesson. Sometimes they don’t.

It feels like America is hitting some kind of ugly, hate-filled, fear-inspired bottom. If you ever have had a loved one  destroy their life with addiction, you might recognize this awful feeling. It’s sickening to stand by and let it happen, but some Americans may have to bottom out before they realize it’s time change. Meanwhile, I have to accept where I’m powerless.

I am powerless to change the choices of others. Whatever their reasons. Regardless of how I feel about it.

And even though I can clearly see the train wreck that’s about to happen, I can’t step in front of the train and stop it. I have to stand to the side, gathering supplies, readying myself to pick up the broken pieces. Save who and what I can, starting with myself, and then spreading outward to those who want my help.

Helping and changing what I can is the way I will recover from this sickening situation.

So I’ve had to twelve-step the election. I’m using the wisdom of the recovery movement to get through. Keep it in the day, one day at a time. Don’t quit before the miracle. Have the courage to change the things I can, while letting go of the things I cannot change. All the while praying for the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

Caring for Children Post Election

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It’s awful when the bullies win, but sometimes they do. A child I love dearly has been dealing with this: the bullies get to do what they do, and it’s up to her to figure out how to take care of herself in spite of it, because there really are no repercussions to their actions, despite the concern and apologetic handwringing of school administrators. (See: When “Victim” Looks Like “Crazy” ).The bullies haven’t done enough to get expelled or suspended. And they laugh at being verbally chastised.

Laws are laws, after all.

It’s awful when the bullies win on a larger  stage, too. Because despite how you feel about the US election, if you are a thinking adult who cares for children, you must recognize in your heart that the language he used was the language of bullies. Calling people “loser” and “pig”, denigrating their differences, interrupting with “Wrong!”, physically menacing, verbally threatening, and a myriad of his other tactics are the tactics of bullies, and we do right to teach our children to avoid behaving that way, because of course we don’t want our children to behave like that, do we?

Or do we?

My children are understandably upset. They’ve only known the Obamas, who, whatever you may say about their policies, have been a scandal-free, positively classy example of good behavior. Also, my son has been taunted at school that he is going to get deported. I have reassured him that his citizenship is full and final and irrevocable.

But  is it? Look what happened to the Jews in WWII, or the Japanese on our own soil.

This is all I want to say about this.

What I really want to do, post election, is take care. Of myself, my children, my clients, my mother, and my community.

Self care so far means sleep, healthy food, a media blackout, classical music in lieu of NPR, and reaching out to friends and family. Stepping up the yoga, meditation, and prayer. Shutting down conversations that make me feel violated. Donating money to causes I care about.

Care for my children looks much the same. I advise them to focus on what they can do to make their lives and futures better. I advise my son, a news junkie, to take a break from it.

I welcome anyone’s thoughts about positive self care after this wounding, ugly election. As a nurse and mom, I want to focus on healing–not finger-pointing, blame, or handwringing angst.

How do you take care of yourself and your own?

 

 

When “Victim” Looks Like “Crazy”

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Last night I took an 11 year old child for an emergency psychiatric evaluation.

The hospital was actually very nice as far as psych ERs go, because it specialized in pediatrics. There wasn’t much wait time, and the place was clean and bright, and we were spared frightening visions of adults in acute phases of their illnesses.

The staff was also very nice: the child had to be seen by a medical intake team, a psychiatric intake doctor, an medical nurse practitioner, a social worker, and a psychiatrist over the course of five hours. Everyone treated this child gently, and they even gave us dinner while we waited.

But it was still scary. Because it was a psych ward. And in a psych ward you are locked in a room with no doorknobs and no moveable furniture. It may be painted like a foggy forest of beech trees, and the floor has sparkles and tiles shaped like friendly marine animals, but that doesn’t hide the fact that everything is smooth and there is nothing that you can break off and sharpen, and nothing that has loops or protrusions, so you can’t hang yourself off anything.

And the security guard has to sweep a wand over your shivering torso. And the nurse takes your can of ginger ale  pours it into a paper cup. The adult you’re with says, “I see what we’re doing; do you want these?” and shows her the plasticware that had come with your meal. The nurse takes them, of course. Sharps.

So of course you sit there wondering if what the bullies said about you is true. Maybe you really are crazy and imagining it all.

And unfortunately some of your friends had mistakenly thought they were in an after-school special and got a visceral thrill perpetuating the drama that you were acting “crazy”. They thought the fact that you muttered to yourself, because you were too afraid to speak aloud, or because it was the only way to calm yourself, looked like schizophrenia, and they felt so caring and important reporting that to the school psychologist.

After all, the school’s investigation had concluded that there was no clear evidence of bullying. Or if there was, it got lost in the shuffle of blaming the victim.

(I would say there are many explanations as to why questioning other kids didn’t turn up hard evidence.  Maybe the harassment was mostly below the radar, and some of the witnesses sided with the perp because they didn’t want to be next in the line of fire, and sometimes the events happened in unwitnessed moments.)

So “crazy” seemed possible to the administration and the school psychologist. Because the accused perpetrator seemed entirely rational, and you had been reduced to such a quivering, hysterical mess, and was no longer a reliable reporter. Crying so hard, so shut down, you couldn’t tell your side of the story or advocate for yourself.

But that didn’t mean the bullying wasn’t happening. It didn’t mean you were hallucinating or paranoid.

And so a lovely, fragile child, who maybe was predisposed to victimization because of certain qualities beyond their control (a rough start in life, a quirky personality, not very resilient, certain learning deficits, minority status, isn’t as popular, blah blah blah…) was told none of their peers corroborated their perception of events. Therefore, maybe the events weren’t happening. Maybe it was just in your paranoid, hallucinating head.

The end result was the best possible in such a case. No psychosis. Just an acute episode brought on by a perfect storm of prolonged, unrelenting stress: a move into middle school, the adoption of iPads for nearly all schoolwork, oncoming adolescence, and most of all months of harassment from the “popular” kids. I was glad to hear from medical professionals, instead of school administrators, that it was just as I had suspected. I was so happy to be able to tell this child that there were adults who believed, who had seen far too many cases like this, where the victim ends up in the scary place, trying to prove their sanity, because they can’t prove their victimization.