Archive | June, 2016

If I Wanted Your Unsolicited Advice, I’d Ask For It

27 Jun

We’ve all been there. At that baby shower or office function or social gathering where someone feels compelled to give us unsolicited advice. Not that we were asking for it. Yet that never seems to stop someone from telling us what we should do with our careers, our relationships, our hairstyles, or our investment portfolios while we’re holding a cocktail enjoying ourselves.

The meta messages here are “something is wrong with you” and “you’re not working hard enough.” Because if you were doing it right, life would be different.

Whenever someone starts pontificating about how if you just did x, y, and z, then your life would be just like his or hers, be on alert. Instead quietly say to yourself, “Dear people, there is nothing wrong with me. I repeat, there is nothing wrong with me.” Then get back to enjoying your life and listening to your own inner wisdom.

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting feedback from others can be very helpful. When we ask for it or when individuals ask if we’d like to hear their thoughts. We can then take or leave what we hear accordingly, but being pummeled with unwanted feedback is like being hit with a bull dozer.

Yesterday I was talking with an individual whom I’d only just met that morning. That didn’t stop her from giving me her two cents on what she thought I should be doing with my life. She’d known me for less than a half hour, yet made a number of personal recommendations. I wasn’t aware that my life needed fixing but apparently it does.

I then gathered my belongings and headed straight to the golf course where I’d planned to have lunch. Later that evening I had my neighbors over for drinks. Because there is nothing wrong with me.

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And there is nothing wrong with you!

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Just Give A Shit

22 Jun

In 1984, Time magazine arrived at my home one day along with Newsweek and US News and World Report. My father subscribed to all three. I remember looking in horror at the cover stories about the San Ysidro McDonald’s shooting. I couldn’t fathom such violence. I also couldn’t fathom how anyone could heal from witnessing such carnage. I instinctually knew that most people don’t fully recover. I remember thinking this was the beginning of the end of world as I knew it. Yet if you had told my young high school self that by 2016, mass shootings in the US would be the norm, I would have wondered if the sky was falling.

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For the last six years I’ve done contract work for the National Council for Behavioral Health certifying individuals across the country to teach a public education course called, “Mental Health First Aid.” The seminar equips the general community to assist someone in emotional distress. A student in one of my classes summarized the core values of the curriculum as “giving a shit.” “How tough is it?” he said. “Just give a shit. It’s not rocket science.”

As the Senate yet again vetoed measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, “Just give a shit” ran through my mind. Think about what it would be like to be a survivor of gun violence. Think about what it would be like to be Gabby Giffords, one of your own, a senator whose life and health was irrevocably changed because of a mass shooting.  Think about what it would be like to be a parent of a child at Sandy Hook or a victim, survivor, or loved one of someone at Orlando. Think about the vicarious trauma of the emergency response team, or the physicians having to operate, or the physical therapists helping with limb rehabilitation, or the psychotherapists trying to resuscitate a human soul. How hard is it to have empathy? How hard is it to use that empathy to effect change? As humans, we are not entirely helpless. If we can send people to the moon, why can’t we work on this problem?

Can anyone feel anything in a moment of silence? Most of us need at least ten minutes to settle into a state of meditation and reflection. Are we even thinking of the victims or are we reflecting on what we want to eat for lunch? Because that is the way the mind works. It takes a certain degree of quiet and spaciousness for the mind to settle. Unless we’ve experienced loss ourselves, sometimes we can’t put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Yet we can imagine…

Sadly, in my six years of teaching I have interfaced with most communities impacted by mass shootings in this country. I have seen the psychic bullet wounds.

Yes, anger is a healthy response when something is inherently wrong.

I also understand my emotions well enough to constructively express and contain them. When people do not know how to manage anger and have easy access to guns, pulling a trigger can have devastating consequences. Much of violence stems not from mental illness but from poor anger management skills, lack of impulse control, and a very quick and easy way to discharge those feelings for immediate gratification. Unfortunately, what is a quick solution for some, creates a lifetime of pain for others.

Our nation has a terrible problem and if we don’t start giving a shit, we’ll all have blood on our hands.

 

Trauma and Recovery

16 Jun

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The amount of trauma in this world is overwhelming. Our reactions to it vary depending on the hour. Sometimes we’re raw in the moment, flooded with affect; other times we’re completely numb. That is the nature of trauma.

Two weeks ago on my drive to San Diego to see clients UCLA was on lockdown because of an active shooter on campus. I listened to news of the murder/suicide on NPR while thinking of people I know who work on campus there. A week ago I was thinking about a high news profile rape case. This week on my last drive to San Diego to see clients, I thought about Orlando.

I changed my backdrop on FB this evening to one of myself walking into the ocean with my board not out of sensitivity in regards to this week’s tragedy but because in the light of the unspeakable, the only peace I feel comes when I think of the ocean’s foam and salt that attempts to purify the chaos of human plight.

Judith Herman’s classic, Trauma & Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, although written in 1992, is still a great introduction to how the soul can be ravaged by trauma. For all of us impacted by trauma and who care about the recovery of the human condition, it is an important read. She writes, “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until stories are told…. The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma” (p.1).

“Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force… Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning” (p.33).

Because of this rupture we must all find a modicum of control, connection and meaning. Because of the unspeakable, we must learn to be silent and to listen when others need to speak. We must also learn to tell our stories and to have the courage to eventually disrupt the narrative and create new stories.

As Gloria Steinhem once said, “The personal is political.” Likewise, the political is personal.

When the UCLA story broke, I wrote a blog post that I then deleted. I was too struck by how many shootings have intersected with my teaching work during the last few years: I’ve been involved with communities impacted by the Gabby Gifford shooting, Sandy Hook, the Boston marathon bombing, the Aurora incident, and the list goes on and on.

So I think of the sea. And beauty. And people’s longing to connect and heal. And the power of the human spirit to endure in the wake of the unbearable. In the wake of what not should be.