Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Losing the Fear

Now that my ankle is almost whole, I’m back at work again. I work in the infirmary of a maximum-security prison for the mentally ill. I missed working with the inmates – running coping skills groups and “doing” counseling. It’s actually great to be back.

What makes it really great is that we have a new team leader – a young psychiatrist who excited about being there, too. He believes in respecting the inmates as human beings and giving them skills, support and hope that they can improve their lives. Just what I believe. I’m looking forward to working with him.

Yesterday, I was at a mental health conference and happened to sit with this doctor at lunch. We got to talking about the difference between working with the mentally ill violent offenders in a prison versus a state hospital (were he had worked before.) How did he do it without the help of corrections officers, I asked.

He smiled and replied that he had a team of “bouncers, bikers and marshal arts experts” who kept things in line. If a patient got out of hand, these men were at the ready and strode into danger as a fireman runs into a burning building. These men were fearless.

“Studies show that criminals seek out victims who show fear. Predators can sense vulnerability,” he said. I can attest to that in my own history – from being a child who was molested to being an adolescent who was raped to being an adult who was sexually abused. It’s the “sitting duck syndrome.” The more afraid or vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to be a victim. Makes sense.

But how do you get over fear when you’re afraid? How do you find the courage when you have no confidence? How do you stop being a victim? How to be a butterfly instead of a caterpillar? (I sound like Lion from “The Wizard of Oz.”)

Well, if we follow the example of those “mental health technicians” in the state psychiatric hospital, then we see that preparation and fitness is a big part of strength. We also see that carrying yourself with supreme confidence – that going INTO the direction of your fear and not running from it – is key. It also doesn’t hurt to have a faith in something greater than yourself to carry you through.

With this in mind, I am facing the world with my story, determined to bring hope to victims and closure for the victim part of myself. In the dead of night, my dreams tell me I am still afraid but in the light of day, with eyes open, I can face my fears and share my truth. That’s what I’m working on these days, since being back to work.

Friday, March 14, 2008

100 monkeys?

So, thanks to some of you out there in Bloggersville, I found out what the 100th monkey is. It seems there were some scientists on a tropical island and monkeys were running all over the place. The scientists decided to try an experiment – they put sweet potatoes on the beach for the monkeys to eat. One monkey tried one, then another monkey tried one, then another and another but the sweet taste of the potato mixed with the grimy dirt and sand did not make for an appetizing meal. Until….

Until one day, one monkey decided to wash it in the ocean and then eat it. Behold, a sweet sweet potato! Good news travels fast, even among monkeys, it seems, so once the word got out about potato washing, everybody was washing their potatoes. But it seems it had to reach a critical “tipping point” before ALL the monkeys partook of the secret.

Before anyone could say “monkey’s uncle,” the news had magically traveled to other islands and other monkeys were washing their sweet potatoes as well. So by the time 100 monkeys had heard about this, the whole South Seas were awash with washed potatoes and smiling monkeys. That’s the story as I understand it.

But I have a few questions about it. First of all, how does anyone KNOW there were 100 monkeys and that the 100th monkey was the ONE who tipped the scale? Second, what about the law of exponential increase (I’m not sure that’s what you call it but it’s about generations - an older monkey teaches baby monkeys and those babies teach their babies and so on and so on?) The 100th monkey effect seems to imply that the phenomenon occurred lickety-split but it actually took years (according to My last question – where did the monkeys on the new islands get the sweet potatoes? Did scientists plant them there. too? Did one monkey swim to another island with a bagful of potatoes or did they take a canoe?

I know, I know. I’m sounding cynical again. Listen, I have nothing against 100 monkeys washing sweet potatoes or 2,000,000 people trying to save the world. (Oprah and Eckhart have at least that many tuning into their webcast.) The world certainly needs saving. But to cite some unscientific “proof” as to how it will happen is, in my opinion, just one more example of magical thinking clothed as spirituality. It’s not rational. And it’s the stuff of cults. (see Lifton’s work on mind control) Each one reach one makes sense to me but that’s been around a LONG time (see the Bible.) A New Earth is nothing new.

Sorry. I don’t mean to detract from a very exciting phenomenon – a spiritual awakening on the internet. But what about the poor souls who don’t partake, those who live on islands without the proverbial sweet potatoes, or those who are too old or too dumb or too skeptical to wash them in the ocean? They will forever be in the abyss of white potatoes and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Or perhaps God, like the scientists, will intervene and drop those sweet orange morsels from the sky. One can only hope. Til then, I’ll keep trying to engage my brain and look out to sea for a better idea. Perhaps one will come to me.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

On the Ek and Opie Show

Last Tuesday, at the health club, I met a middle-aged woman dressed in black spandex. She was bemoaning how busy she was and how today was so rushed and she was not "being able to live in the present moment."

I picked up on the lingo. "So," I said, "did you listen to the Oprah webcast last night?"

"Oh, YES!" she exclaimed. "It was incredible. I'm a Buddhist and people always think I'm too religious but he made it so clear. I feel like there's hope for the world again. It's all about the 100th monkey."

100th monkey? I asked her about that and she explained how one good deed leads to another and you never can know how you're touching people and changing the planet. Then she raced out of the locker room because she was late for her Butt-Buster class. She never did get to the monkeys.

well, I thought. Here we go again. Another savior. Another urgent meassage to save the world by a born-again believer. Not that I'm opposed to saving the world because it does need saving. But this is not a new, radical message. It's as old as Jesus and Buddha and all those other bright lights. It's just a matter of listening.

Does anyone know what the 100th monkey is?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Flashback, another poem by me

Like a doctored snapshot
the mind seeks correction,
reliving another’s rough
touch, a slap on the face,
a punch in the mouth,
flight into the potted plants
on the floor and being kicked
in the side or perhaps
something deeper, a penetration
which splayed you open
like a bass as your perpetrator
leered at your exposed glaze of skin.

You flash back in sleep
and it awakens you –
a spark of terror in
a midnight fire that
throws no heat and
leaves you shivering.
No redemption in this –
only the soul’s trembling
attempt to make light
in the darkness like
a bulb flickering
then going out.

In the morning,
another flash. This time
insight. Chickadees sing
outside your window.
Crocuses poke at the earth
and fear retreats as you
rewind the film
and sock it away.
You hold yourself shaking
like a mother holds a child
after a warm bath.
You rock yourself,
swaddled in daylight.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

On Flashing Back

Today in my little Episcopal church, which I now love, we talked about the blind man whom Jesus healed. We also sang “Amazing Grace” – “I once was blind but now I see…” And for once, I didn’t have flashbacks to the cult. It was amazing.

The thing about flashbacks is you’re “flashing back” to a time of traumatic experience. It’s as though the mind is trying to bring light to a horrific situation by reliving it. But in reality, flashbacks, as anyone who’s had one can tell you, only terrify. They retraumatize the survivor. That’s why it’s so tricky to write about violence and abuse.

The point in writing about trauma is to bring light into the darkness, not to overwhelm the reader….or the writer. Sometimes, when I talk about my book, I find myself once again consumed by the trauma I experienced. I find myself remembering painful things that pull at me like a surging undertow. In order to maintain my balance and see clearly, I need something greater than myself to hold onto.

It’s hard to survive reality on your own. I’ve found I need the spiritual support of a Higher Power. Because to God, “darkness and light are both the same” and Jesus is the one who made the blind see. When I “flash back” into the darkness, I now take the light of the Spirit with me like a great lantern. That way, I am no longer blind. I see reality for what it was and is and I can thrive.