This. Just This.by Matthew Williams, Bestselling Author
‘Matthew, you’ve changed…’
Yes, that’s right, I’ve changed. A lot. Depression and divorce will do that to a man, you see.
Well, I say that, but that’s not necessarily true is it? Sometimes life has to keep throwing the same old shit at us time, and time, and time again, until we finally get the point: maybe I’ve got something to do with this. Maybe it’s not so much that things have to change, but that I have to change. And when that happens, when we make the changes in ourselves that life, in its infinite wisdom, demands of us, then the way that life shapes itself around us changes too.
Which all sounds very well and good, in a modern, hippy-dippy, pseudo-cod-philosophizing bullshit kind of way.
But actually, it happens to be true. I can prove it.
In 2006 I had a severe mental breakdown. A lot of people don’t like that term but, having gone through what I went through, that description seems very apt. I was broken inside. I was suffering from severe depression and was off work for five months, and then, after medication, counselling and support, I recovered.
Life was beautiful, I had a wife, two beautiful children. And then, in 2013, depression knocked me to the floor again, determined to keep me there for good this time. Somehow, someway, I climbed back up. Then things really got interesting.
In 2014 my wife told me our marriage was over. Everything I knew, everything we had built, was gone. Just like that. That day in August 2014 something changed, and life would never, ever be the same again.
Suddenly, life was nothing but change. Moving house, moving house again, and moving house again. Making new arrangements for how best to co-parent our children. Going through the legal process of divorce. Dating. Bloody hell, dating! Meeting people and never seeing them again, starting new relationships only for them to end almost as soon as they had started, new hopes swelling and subsiding as predictably as the tides.
Changes to myself too. New haircut. New clothes. New tattoos. All of these were important changes, but they were surface changes. The real changes were much, much deeper.
December 2015. Something changed. I sat down at my tablet and I wrote. I didn’t know what I was writing but I knew I’d never written anything quite like it before. But I knew, I just knew, that I had to write it. And I had to share it. And so, that night I became a blogger. I became a writer.
As the weeks went on, I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote some more. Since that day I haven’t stopped writing. Because of that compulsion, that strange compulsion that came from nowhere, in that single moment, I began to change. And life began to change around me.
I wrote about divorce, about being a single parent, about dating, about rejection, about depression, and suicide, and counselling. About hope, and faith, and the lessons that life had set out ahead of me that I knew I had to learn. About transformation.
Through writing I discovered my voice, my unique talent, my gift and my blessing, through which I could build a new life with a greater sense of purpose, and a greater sense of myself, than I had ever felt before.
In the past five years my life has changed beyond all recognition. And through it all, I have changed. I have transformed. Not because I wanted to, but because life demanded that I had to. Because when everything I knew had been lost, I needed to find out just who I was and just who I was going to be. I didn’t choose to change, I didn’t want to change, but life demanded that I must.
I answered life’s call. I wrote, and through writing I have made the greatest transformation. Through these significant, formative years, I have created a permanent record of the lessons that I have learned and the changes that I have made.
In 2013 I was Matthew Williams, mentally ill, broken. Now, as 2018 begins and because of those changes that life forced upon me, I am Matthew Williams, published, bestselling author, and mental health champion.
Transformation is real. It happened to me.
About the Author
Something Changed by Matthew Williams
Matthew Williams' bestselling first book, Something Changed: Stumbling Through Divorce, Depression & Dating, is available to buy now in paperback and eBook versions via Amazon.
The Longest Journey Starts with a Single Step—Why Stop with Twelve?by Jem Tovey
When I first managed to quit drinking, I was very aware that I had only achieved abstinence. If I were ever to achieve sobriety – especially a long-term, happy sobriety – I knew that this would require a level of commitment I had seldom, if ever, demonstrated in my life to date. Six days before my 45th birthday, I celebrated my first six months without alcohol in more than 30 years. I hadn’t exactly been “white-knuckling” it, but I had certainly restricted my social life in a way that I knew wouldn’t be sustainable in the long-term. I’d only been out once in that time – to a close friend’s wedding – and to be honest I was getting a bit cabin crazy.
So, I did what I usually do when I need to know more about something – I turned to Google.
Although the situation has changed and improved in the intervening years, at that time nearly every resource, forum or blog my search returned was AA oriented or affiliated in some way. It would be fair to say that the Twelve Step approach dominated the recovery scene, the situation approached hegemony in fact.
At first, this didn’t really bother me. After all, AA had been around since 1935 and seemed to be the “brand leader” in recovery from addiction so they must know something, right? However, on the forums I couldn’t help but notice what I can only describe as a certain fundamentalism; characterised by verbatim quotes from the “Big Book”, repetition of slogans or clichés and a tendency towards cyber-bullying of dissenting views. The reason I couldn’t help but notice, was that a lot of this ire seemed to be directed at me.
Looking back, I can see how this came about. In sobriety terms I was still just some “cocky kid” full of pink cloud evangelism, I was keen to share what had worked for me and that was bound to rankle with a lot of people. Also, I’ve never been someone who just accepts whatever I’m told without challenging it. If I were to see someone advising another poster that they should just quit the booze “cold turkey," when I had been told by my doctor that this could cause dangerous fits and seizures, I would disagree with them. If I were to see someone disparaging anti-depressants (particularly SSRIs) as “happy pills”, I would challenge them.
In other words, I was probably a complete and total pain in the ass!
Eventually, and in retrospect quite wisely, I gave up on changing the world and concentrated on finding a cyber-environment more suited to my temperament. Initially, this meant joining a secular group whose whole raison d’etre was providing an alternative to the 12 Step approach and later founding a small group where other like-minded misfits could find a safe space to find and share mutual aid. Sadly within a couple of years, my co-founder lost his partner in tragic circumstances and the group folded.
However, this foray into helping others had given me the bug and I decided I was going to be a counsellor and alcohol treatment worker. So, I called up a local charity specialising in helping people with addictions and asked “How do I get to work with you?” The very nice man who answered the phone replied, “Start volunteering and working towards a counselling qualification, then start applying for jobs."
I did just that, and within four years I was working for the very same charity and that man was my counselling supervisor!
I’ll never accept that, in matters of faith or sobriety, there is only “One, True Way.
— Jem Tovey
I’ve now been working in the recovery sector for 6 years, mostly with dependent drinkers but also drug users and helping to run a needle exchange. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about addiction and helping those who are afflicted by it, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have all the answers and there are no magic bullets. Another significant development, which occurred just before I celebrated my 2nd soberversary was that I had returned to my Christian faith.
My maternal grandmother, Nana, had passed away when I was just four years old, but before she did she taught me to read; giving me my lifelong love of words and also arranged my baptism in the Methodist chapel in which she worshipped. She insisted that I be old enough to understand the ceremony and give my own responses and with hindsight, it seems to me now that she was equipping me with the tools for recovery, long before I even had a problem.
I hadn’t been an active worshipper since I was twelve years old, but walking through those big wooden doors that Sunday to a warm, loving welcome, felt like coming home. Very soon afterwards, I decided to become a full member of the church in order to serve as a steward. A prerequisite for membership was that I complete the Alpha Course, which had the effect of deepening my faith and increasing my discipleship.
A welcome side effect was a growing realisation that I WASN’T the centre of the Universe and maybe those crazy steppers, with all their talk of God and a spiritual solution, had a point after all – who knew?
The net result of all this was that I gained a fresh appreciation of the 12 step programme (I’m a Brit, by the way, so that IS the correct spelling.) I’ll never be a regular meeting-maker; although I would certainly attend one in a crisis, and I’ll never accept that, in matters of faith or sobriety, there is only One True Way. But, I have come to a fresh appreciation of at least some of the steps:
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. I’m guessing that sitting in the corner of my living room, crying uncontrollably whilst rocking back and forth repeating “I don’t know what to do” qualifies under this heading?
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Yes, I actually did this. 2500 years ago, the Buddha taught the benefits of labelling our emotions and experience as an important part of mindfulness meditation. I wrote down several pages of guilty memories and anxious feelings and then I burned them. I felt unburdened.
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs. Formal confession isn’t a feature of Methodism, I do however I pray several times daily. In doing so, I acknowledge to God that I’m not perfect, but ask for His help in ensuring that everything I do is done in a way which honours Him and gives Him the Glory.
Steps 8 & 9. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all & Made direct amends to such people wherever possible , except when to do so would injure them or others. There now follows something of a fudge; I didn’t actually make a list, and I certainly didn’t check it twice. However, over the first few months of my sobriety I initiated many conversations with family, friends and loved ones to apologise for my previous behaviour and ask humbly for forgiveness.
The incidents I broached were perhaps comparatively minor – nobody had died or even been arrested – but I had certainly caused hurt, anger and embarrassment. Without exception, my amends were accepted unequivocally and in fact, most people affected to not even recall the events to which I was referring. I have a strong suspicion that this says more about their tact and decency than the paucity of their memories.
Just as powerful to me though, has been forgiving those people who in my opinion have hurt or wronged me in some way. I have italicised those three words because, as my dear mum used to say: “People don’t do things because of you, they do things because of them.” Ultimately, we all act in accordance with our self-interest 99.9% of the time and the hurt feelings of others is little more than unavoidable collateral damage.
Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. (my italics) This, for me is crucial. When I was drinking my life was full of drama and I was so wrapped up in my own insecurities that even to acknowledge to myself any culpability in a situation was inconceivable. Nowadays, I realise that it’s OK to be fallible and when I mess up, I fess up. Of course, admitting to our errors is only half the story, we must also repair any related damage and ensure we don’t repeat our mistake.
Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. At this point, I don’t want to enter into a philosophical discussion of what does and doesn’t constitute a spiritual awakening – I’m very much of the opinion that if someone believes they’ve had one, then, by definition, they have.
My own spiritual awakening consisted of a deepening of my Christian faith and a feeling of a greater engagement with my friends, family and the world in general. I am very open about my past as a drinker and my subsequent recovery and always try to provide a good example of how enjoyable and full this sober life can be.
The Chinese philosopher Laozi once said that, A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and sometimes all we can do is keep taking the next right one.
After all, why stop at 12?
Jem Tovey is an addictions councillor, an advisor, a person living in long-term recovery, a writer, and an all around great guy. More links to come soon!
I'll Never Stop Being Resilient & Fighting for Truth
** TRIGGER ALERT **
by Rachel Thompson, Regular Contributor on TIR
I’m sorry you have to read what’s next. It was hard to write and I hope you will stay with me for the rest.
Do you know what it’s like to be ordered to lick a man’s penis ‘like an ice cream cone’ when you’re eleven years old? I can’t imagine most of the population can comprehend that.
Because a man forced me to. More than once.
When the police eventually questioned me, after more than a year of various forms of abuse, I didn’t tell. Terrified this giant of a man, an army sergeant with a gun who lived next door, would kill my baby sister, I kept quiet. But my eyes dripped tears of tales untold, an admission of guilt owned by the intentions of men.
Eventually, I did tell. Two trials — taunting, haunting, harrowing, narrowing my world between him and me once again. “How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?” I wanted to scream, in words I didn’t know how to utter as I testified, twice, before God and man and him, specifying in impolite, forensic detail the ways he abolished my soul.
Telling isn’t justice, and justice isn’t handed down when victim blaming is first on everyone’s mind. Why are survivors forced to own our abusers’ intentions? He got eighteen months, then moved back home -- right next door and mere feet away from my window -- for another eight years. Long, slow days full of his kids’ accusatory stares and his wife’s accusatory lips.
How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?
How Do Survivors Become Responsible for Crimes We Didn’t Commit?
People tell survivors we are somehow complicit if we don’t tell. We are told he will hurt someone else if we keep quiet and it’s somehow our fault he is a criminal who will continue to commit crimes. We are to blame for the behavior of men.
It’s all very easy for non-survivors to make these statements. Do this, do that, and done. One, two, three. They cannot comprehend why we wouldn’t want to tell.
Have you been on online lately? The myriad of reasons survivors don’t report is justifiable and lengthy: shame, fear of job loss, not being believed, minimizing our own experiences, bullying, ranking the abuse…it goes on. The worst part, however, is the verbal abuse people pile on, full of judgment about situations of which they know nothing.
The immensity of survival isn’t so facile, though, is it? The ulcerating pain in my stomach that reminds me of the terror, even forty years later. The powerlessness as I slide into a dissociated state of nothingness, the only area of my being he cannot invade. The daily flashbacks, something I’ve learned from an early age to redirect to happier thoughts so I don’t break down into numbing blankness or worse, go back to his world. Again.
What were you wearing? What didn’t you stop it? Why didn’t you tell anyone when it happened? Why didn’t you fight back? Where’s the proof?
What's amazing is the questions people ask me and other survivors of sexual trauma (particularly rape survivors), as if we had the intention of becoming the victims of sexual predators. Let’s flip that language, that paradigm, that fucked-up thought process. Let’s ask these predators: Why did you do it? Why didn’t you know it was wrong? Why didn’t you tell anyone you raped her? Why didn’t you stop?
The Reality of Reporting Our Abuse
If you look at the statistics of reporting, most sexual crimes go unreported. Those that do are rarely prosecuted. Lawyers go out of their way to discredit witnesses for lying, wanting attention, or being unreliable (particularly if they had been drinking). What’s so terribly sad is the end result: victims don’t come forward and report because who wants this kind of attention?
Given that not every sexual assault victim is raped (and even if they are, not every victim undergoes the invasive rape kit procedure, and even if they did, not every rape kit is processed), how can we possibly provide the proof people need to believe us? And my god, why should we have to?
Why is the assumption that survivors (regardless of gender) are lying? For all that awesome attention people give us? In all studies of false reporting crimes, false rape reports are lower than other crimes, despite what the Internet and MRA groups tell you.
I’m not here to debate statistics, because people are not stats. I’m here to focus on survivors.
When will people stop blaming survivors of sexual trauma for being survivors of sexual trauma, and start focusing on why this happens? Do those who blame survivors understand that the crime itself is not about sexual gratification but about power?
Sexual abuse, assault, rape and harassment aren't political acts. They are acts of control and they all cause harm.
There is no scale of best to worst. It’s all bad.
We see much made about this candidate did this, or this director did that. The #MeToo stories these past few months are both heartbreaking and yet, empowering for many of us.
For those who continue to make it a Democrat or Republican thing, please stop. Hold abusers accountable not because of their politics, but because of their crimes.
What is behind this phenomenon of blaming victims at all? We don’t blame people for being robbed, or shot. Why do we blame survivors for being sexually assaulted? There is no logic there. There certainly is no compassion.
Some tell us it’s on us, the ‘victim’ (in the legal sense of the word) to not put ourselves in high-risk situations. We should “know better,” particularly women, who may have worn a skirt one inch too high or a top one inch too low (because clothing creates the situation for rapists to rape, apparently, or who may have taken a business meeting that put us in a high-risk situation. This always makes me laugh ruefully as if we can predict when someone will make the choice to sexually abuse someone else. As if men are mere animals who see a flash of skin and turn into mindless monsters without thought or free will or the choice not to sexually assault or rape.
How disrespectful is that to the good men of this world?
The issue here is, again, people relentlessly placing blame for a criminal’s behavior on his victim, thus removing the responsibility for the crime from the criminal. In fact, the language here completely removes the criminal from the sentence. The onus is on the victim to not get raped, as opposed to the rapist to not rape:
Rachel is molested.
- versus -
The neighbor molested Rachel.
See the difference between those two sentences?
In my situation, at the age of eleven, I, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, would take turns getting scooter rides with the Pied Piper. This guy had grooming down: he’d give us candy—it was fun and not something our parents would do with us. Most non-survivors won’t understand or take into consideration something like grooming, yet it’s always part of an abuser’s arsenal, particularly with young children. They make us feel special, wanted, and cherished. Said the spider to the fly.
Sexual abuse of any kind is a conscious decision made by an abuser. Child molestation, sexual assault, and rape are crimes, make no mistake about it, and what happens to survivors is criminal. Regardless of what happens to our abuser, our sentence is lifelong. The effects of sexual trauma are long-term: PTSD, anxiety, depression, migraines, even immune disorders.
So why didn’t I speak out initially, unprompted by police?
Terror, for one. I truly believed he would kill my baby sister, or worse, my entire family. He had a gun, and he told me he would use it.
Grooming, for another; convincing me nobody would believe me Why would I have reason to doubt an authority figure? He used my naiveté against me, as most abusers do.
And finally, my introverted nature. Never a loud, gregarious child, I withdrew further into myself and my safe, imaginary, quiet world of stories, where little girls destroyed monsters, not the other way around.
In this impossible situation, this sick abuser steals my innocence, my being, my soul.
Eventually, I find all the scattered pieces and pull myself back together; broken, chipped, yet still capable of breaking through the enormous barriers of fear and shame to tell my story and help others feel less alone.
We All Heal Differently
How? Therapy and meds helped immensely, but I didn’t get the help I intensely needed until my mid-thirties after the birth of my daughter when my world came crashing down — how could I keep her safe? All my carefully swept carpets broke apart and I became an anxious, panic-stricken shell (you can read more in my books and posts about how I worked through that).
What helped me most? I gave myself permission to write my first book dealing with my abuse experiences, Broken Pieces. With prose and poetry, I delve into what it was like to live the pieces of who I became after the abuse, not understanding how the abuse affected me as a girl, a woman, and a mother. Releasing Broken Places a few years later, I continue sharing my story of survival and the after-effects of the abuse.
The response was astounding – people (primarily women, but many men, too) contacted me with their own stories of sexual abuse and still do almost daily. I released the first book in 2013, the second in 2015. I’m writing Broken People now. With the initial release, I felt blessed by their gift of trust, yet stymied by how to help them (beyond giving them information to RAINN, a wonderful organization for rape, assault, and incest survivors), as I’m not a shrink.
Connecting with Other Survivors
So, I reached out and connected with the fabulous Bobbi Parish, herself an incest survivor and author, and founded #SexAbuseChat, which Bobbi and I co-host every Tuesday on Twitter, 6pm pst/9pm est. All survivors are welcome. Each week we discuss different topics affecting survivors. You can view previous chats by going to our public Facebook page (likes welcome!), so even if you’re not on Twitter, feel free to look through our chats.
I also started @SpeakOurStories with Dr. Shruti Kapoor, founder of @SayftyCom (whose goal is to help keep women safe worldwide). The SOS platform is to give all survivors, regardless of gender, a safe place to share their stories – anonymously is fine – and offer resources to get help. Submit your story here.
We all heal in our own way. We all deserve to recover in our own way. What survivors don’t need is for family, friends, and total strangers to blame us for crimes we did not commit. We don’t sexually abuse ourselves. We don’t want pity; we want support, compassion, help, and love.
For one tiny second, put yourself in my small shoes at the very beginning of this piece. Close your eyes, and feel what I felt. Now open your eyes. Poof. Gone. It’s nice to make that go away, isn’t it?
Survivors can’t do that. In the best of circumstances, we work through it, creating a good life just like anyone else. We can and do thrive.
Believe us. That’s all we ask.
Rachel Thompson, Author
If you have been sexually assaulted or know someone who has, please connect with RAINN.org here.
SPECIAL TIR EDITION – DOWNLOAD FOR FREE NOWRead by Terry Burns, Voiceover Artist & Professional Actor
*Editor's Note: It's been a real gift working with so many creative types sharing transformational stories on Transformation is Real. Two notable artists are Young Sung Hero—the distinguished author of Innervisions, all original addiction-recovery fiction—and the other is Terry Burns, a UK actor and voiceover artist. I cannot emphasize how blown away I was listening to Terry's production of Young's story. It's not just the expertise of his reading, but also the sound effects and timing that make it so completely rad. Listen here directly or download a copy here now. Believe me, you'll be glad you did.
A Fictional Account of the Obsession of Football (And "What to Do About It.")by Mark GoodsonTony wore a red plaid shirt and sunk into the leader’s chair, a brown recliner.
The brim to his black biker’s hat hung over his eyes and an unshaven face—his scruff an uneven sprinkling of white and black hair, like salt and pepper over cooked steak.
“My name is Tony, and I’m a football fan-addict.”
“Hey everyone. I see a lot of new faces out there tonight. So I think I’ll take a moment to dispel some myths that are circulating about who we are.”
“We are a group of men,” Tony paused and looked to Pauline who sat in a window cut-out, blowing cigarette smoke out into the night, “and women, who do not find it necessary to watch football to give our lives a sense of thrill or purpose. We are not marriage counsellors, although many a member has recovered their marriage by following our suggestions. We are not psychiatrists, although members claim a restoration of sanity. We have no political or religious or media affiliation, even though Hank over there’s got more news on the state of our sad nation than is fit to print.”
A chuckle came from the room, a side annex to a Presbyterian church. The walls were lined with books, mostly in the religious canon, and furniture that looked like a Salvation Army showcase, mismatched and made comfortable over years of wear.
“We are here together,” Tony said, “because our football fanaticism has dominated our life. Since the advent of the NFL App, a year-round NFL cable channel, and a college bowl schedule that fills three calendar weeks, we have been overwhelmed. It has taken hold of us. Left us no time to be fathers, husbands, employees—”
An “Ahem,” came from the window. “Or mothers too . . . you dumb fuck,” said Pauline. Half the room laughed.
“Yes, or mothers,” Tony said. “Tonight, we have a treat. Bill here has been two years without watching a game, checking a score, or even reading Bleacher Report. He is here to tell us how he did it. Bill,” Tony turned to the chair next to him, “the meeting is yours.”
“Thanks Tony. My name is Bill and I’m a football fan-addict.”
“Hi Bill,” said the room.
“Two years ago today was a great line-up of Sunday NFL football. It started with a 9 a.m. London kick-off, Raiders vs Chiefs, and ended with the Sunday night-cap, great rivalry game, Packers-Vikings. That was the last time I watched football on T.V. I’ll never forget the date because it is also,” Bill paused in the yellow and brown striped arm-chair. He sniffled and wiped some nasal discharge with his gray hoodie, “my son’s birthday. When the third quarter of the Raider’s game started, I told my wife I was sick. I told her I couldn’t go to Chuck E Cheese for his party. I couldn’t leave the couch. Something wouldn’t let me,” he paused.
Tony handed Bill some tissues from the Kleenex box on the table. “Thanks,” said Bill. “See, what Tony and you men taught me,” Pauline scoffed audibly, “ is that I can’t control what I watch when I start watching. I need to stop watching. Period. That’s the simple answer. And the sooner you understand that, the better. For some of us—it’s too late,” Bill paused again.
Tony leaned forward in his seat and pat Bill on the back. “Tell them Bill. That’s why we’re here.”
Bill nodded. He took the neck of his gray hoodie and wiped his entire face in a dramatic swipe. “When my wife and my boy got home that day, and I was on that damn couch, with a plate of nachos under my chin, my wife said ‘that’s it’ and she took the boy away to her mother’s. That was the last day my wife and child were in my home.”
Heads nodded around the room. Pauline hadn’t taken a drag of her cigarette which was becoming like an ashy snake between between her fingers.
“What do I do on Sunday’s now?” Bill asked, causing several in the room to lean forward from their chairs. “I excersize. I play football. Seven on seven, old man league type stuff. And on Monday night’s? I come right to this room every week and hear what other people do when they’re not watching football. During the Thursday night showcase? That’s my night with my boy. I take him to dinner.
“And maybe my wife will have me back. I tell her I stopped watching. But I made so many promises in the past, she doesn’t believe me. She sees I’m different, though. She says things like, ‘you look good.’ But here’s the crazy part. I’m not doing this for them. I may get them back, I may not. But it won’t change why I’m in this chair. I’m doing this for me.”
A round of applause followed with some murmurs of “that’s right” and “that’s it,” before Tony took the meeting back under his control. “Who else would like to share?”
A man in a blue suit raised his hand. “I’ll share,” he said. The thick knot of his red tie was loose and off-center. “I’m Steve. I’m a football head.”
“Hi Steve,” said the room.
“I’m new to this sharing thing so bare with me.”
“There is no wrong way to share,” Tony said.
“Well here it goes,” began Steve. “I knew I had a problem on Thanksgiving the other week. My wife made this spread. She loves the hosting stuff. We had family in from all over. My brother, sister, their kids. My in-laws. She had the tables set the night before. Had everything ready. I had one job: take the dog for a walk. That’s it.”
Steve sat back. He used his wing-tip brown-leather shoes to prop his folding chair back on its rear legs. “When the family was gathering and talking about this and that, and report cards and jobs and all that mess, I kept feeling that itch. The Lions were playing. It was Thanksgiving. That day belongs to the Detroit Lions. Everyone knows that! I grew up watching Barry Sanders dance on the screen like a warrior-ballerina. What was the score? How did the first half end?—is all I could think about. I told my wife I’d be in the bathroom. I sat up there and watched the entire second half while my family helped my wife finish cooking and plate the food. I said ‘I’ll be right out’ more times than I can count. But when my wife let out the ‘Steven!’ I knew I fucked up. Sadie, that dog of ours, took a steamy shit under the table as my wife was serving the butternut squash soup.”
People laughed. Steve rocked forward in his folding chair and looked around like he was about to pick a fight. When he remembered where he was, he chuckled with the room.
“And that’s it. The shit that kills me. I share it and can laugh at it in here. When I walked downstairs and smelled that dog shit, and everyone was seated all nice at the table and looking at me with that what the fuck Steve look—they don’t get it. You do. And that’s why I come here. You people get me.”
Steve let one more button loose and pulled down on his tie some more.
“You get me,” he said. “It’s like, I don’t need to explain who I am in here. You guys—”
“I need to share,” interrupted a voice. The man who spoke looked haggard. He wore light Khaki pants and his undershirt. The undershirt, originally white, had yellowed over years of slow and steady grime.
“My name is Fred.” And Fred waited, forgetting what was supposed to follow.
“Hi Fred” and “Hi Fred” and “Oh, Hi Fred” came in an arrhythmic cadence.
“It’s my first time here.” Fred sat stiffly, fighting his re-upholstered lounge chair with a bolt upright posture. “Do I say I’m a football fanatic or a football fan-addict? I couldn’t tell.” asked Fred.
“We’ve found that, as a group,” Tony said, “describing our relationship to the sport of football as fanatical is insufficient. There is something else at work. Something that separates the fanatic from the fan-addict. Only you can identify what you are. You can just start with, maybe, who sent you here.”
“The God damned Giants did, that’s who. Did you know you can subscribe to the New York Giants youtube channel? Did you know that if you started watching the highlights, the press conferences, the analysis now, you could watch a new video for all eternity? At least I think so. I’m not done testing the theory.”
A few laugh. Others clap. Fred removed his fingernails from between his teeth and smiled.
“My boss called me in today,” he said. “Said my productivity has slowed to a point that the company is losing money over me. He asked me why and I told him I had troubles at home.”
Fred looked around the room making eye contact, growing confident. “Troubles at the home. It’s a God damned Youtube channel. How could I tell him that? I couldn’t! I told him ‘give me a week. I’ll turn it around.’ And he said, ‘you better.’”
Tony nodded his head. “Fred. I didn’t turn it around. I worked ten years in the Target Corporate Sales office. My thing was clients. I took them to games. I had tickets to football games all over the country. After the recession hit in ‘07, clients left. I had to explain to my boss who I was going to all those games with. Who was I travelling across the country to see? Thursday, Sunday, Monday nights? Wild cards? It wasn’t about the clients anymore. It wasn’t about the work. It was the games.”
Fred sat back in the lounge chair, his mouth agape.
“And what these men have taught me,”—a “son of a bitch” came from the window—“is that it’s really not about the game either. It’s deeper than that. It’s the thrill. I’m hooked on the thrill. What sort of man,” Tony cleared his throat, “what sort of person is content sitting behind a desk, running errands for his spouse, cleaning the leaves from the fucking gutter.”
Groans of agreement circulated the room.
“We’re built for the hunt. The chase. We’re built for the thrill. And we’ll find it. And if the only place we get it is on the couch on Sundays, or watching those fantasy stats tick away, or witnessing that come-from-behind two-minute drill—then that’s right where we’ll go.”
“What takes it away?” Asked Fred, as if he and Tony were the only two in the room.
“How about the thrill of honesty. How about the thrill of naming the demon you’ve been hiding since you bought NFL’s Sunday Ticket or Red Zone package. How about the thrill of saying, ‘this is me.’ What you say Robert?”
The room pivoted towards Robert, seated in a rocking chair, his legs crossed. He bridged his hands, his thumbs to his chin, and rocked pensively on one foot. “My name is Bob, and I can’t stop watching football once I start.”
“Hi Bob,” said the room. The room was silent after that. Bob’s presence, his cropped hair, thick bones, and deep-laid jaw stirred the anticipation.
“In the days of our grandfathers,” Bob began. Pauline did not interrupt. “We weren’t behind desks, or sucking up to clients. We were in the fields, the factories. We built the homes we lived in, and wrestled satisfaction away from the listlessness of life. Then society takes it easy on us. Society takes the toil away. We creature away in our comfort, crawl into our beds like meek little lambs. Shit, men, think about it! When you’re washing machine breaks, you don’t fix it; you buy a new one!”
Pauline rolled her eyes but the rest of the men shook their heads with indignant agreement.
“Then there’s this game of football. Titans, gladiators do battle. Athletes bread like Secretariat coordinate their battle plan before our eyes. The sanctity of war, gentlemen. The advance and the retreat. Blood on the turf. Men risk and sacrifice for the great cause of glory, of victory.”
No one in the room dared to move or fidget. Bob stood up and continued. “Religion used to elevate the soul beyond our bestial existence—beyond the base necessities and the brutal requirements of survival. Man needed a sedative then, a respite from the primal expressions of force that the world demanded of him. What now, men? Society is our sedative. We are sedate, numb. And football is the new religion. Not to tame us, but to unleash us. And we worship it, not to neglect our families, but to pay homage to the final fading relic of what it means to be a man.” The men in the room were creeping collectively to the edge of each seat. One scooted too far and had to stand up and pace the room.
“What takes it away?—shit. Castration.” Bob turned to Fred in his yellowed undershirt. “Nothing will ever take away your urge to conquer and collide with your fellow man. Nothing. Sure, it helps to talk about it. But if you want real solutions, you get it out in one way or another. Come on down to the wharf each Wednesday night. I can show you then. This here’s the talk, but that’s where the action is. Show up then and you’ll get your thrills, all right.”
The hour was filled with more stories of crippling fandom and re-birth. When the hour ended, members of the group exchanged numbers, shook hands, and patted each other on the back.
Steve got home and took his dog for a walk. When Fred opened the door to his house he went straight to his computer to get an advance start on a report due the following week. Bob drove his pickup truck to the motor home park where he lived and spent the night chopping up the wood of an Oak tree that fell on the property.
Pauline was the only one who, upon returning home, immediately turned on Monday Night Football. The only thing better to Pauline then watching a group of men grovel and stumble and make themselves vulnerable about a silly game was to watch a stadium of over 100,000 of them cheer and root and waste their purpose away.
About the Author
Mark Goodson has been sober since 2007. He found writing to be the creative foundation for his recovery from drugs and alcohol. He's also a former football coach, fan (addict?), and just a super guy (editor's note). A poet until he ran out of money, he now teaches English and raises his two kids with his supportive wife. He blogs through his website, The Miracle of the Mundane.
He's always eager to see where his writing will lead him next.
How One Woman's Wounds Transformed into the Gift of Sobrietyby Kimberly K., Living in Long-Term Recovery
You know what the best part of my day is?
You know what was the worst part of my day was while in active addiction?
I could end it right there because it basically says it all. I went from wishing death to just not being quite ready for it. I found within these past four years of sobriety that I actually have things to live for and truth be told I am actually excited about it. What a profound statement for me, of all people, to make. I would’ve never imagined I could ever feel that.
I was fifteen when it all began. My addiction came on quite rapidly from the beginning. By the time I was twenty-one I already knew that something was cohabitating within me, and that it had focused its efforts towards my self-destruction. I saw no way out but in death. I was suicidal and my lack of self-worth had diminished. I had already surrendered to my leader.
I am like a child experiencing all of life’s blessings for the first time and I do this hand in hand with my son.
— Kimberly K.
I continued to torment myself until the age of thirty-one. That is almost seventeen years of living this unrelenting curse filled with hate, rage and complete repulsion. But everyday I am further and further from it, I am stronger, wiser and it is truly a blessing.
My name is Kim and I am an alcoholic.
This is who I am before I am anything else. I am also a mother, a daughter, a girlfriend, a sister and a friend but I am alcoholic and will be for the remainder of my life. The moment you forget this, you may be in some trouble and I advise you check yourself.
My sobriety date is November 29, 2013. I’ll give you a quick recap of what that day was like for me. It was early morning the day after Thanksgiving. I was still drunk from the night before, my husband at that time had been arrested for his third DUI. He left our home after a domestic dispute and ultimately ended up in jail. I was drunk, hysterical and out of my mind, in the midst of all this chaos however, I was blessed with a moment of pause. That pause later I concluded was given to me by my higher power. In my mind I saw my son, my beautiful innocent boy running around the house is his one piece jammies. He was smiling and giggling as young babies do. His happiness I was jealous of. How dare I rob him of a peaceful home filled with love.
How unfortunate that he was born into this chaos. I knew at that moment that if I continued down this path I would lose him. He wouldn’t have a mother and maybe not even a father. I was there for him, yes, but only in flesh, my mind and body were in the possession of my other self, my self created demon.
From that day forward I have not had a drink or a drug. I am a mother, daughter, girlfriend, sister and friend and I am present. I show up. People count on me and I deliver. I wake up every morning clear headed and on point armed for the day. I feel untouchable. My days are filled with gratitude that ooze out of every part of me.
I finally feel that peace that I have desired my entire life. My mind has settled and my wounds have healed. I have overcome the intolerable. I have known pain, so I am grateful when I feel happiness. I have known hate, so I feel blessed when I experience love. I have known loss, so I cherish life. I have known financial hardship so when I am given something, whether big or small, I am thankful. I have known chaos, so I pause when I hear silence. I live in the moment and I live day to day.
I am like a child experiencing all of life’s blessings for the first time and I do this hand in hand with my son.
Sobriety does however does come at a cost. You will experience pain, do not be afraid to feel it. You are an open wound and you will bleed. So bleed.
You are allowed to not know who you are anymore, or if you can make it, or how will you fix it or how you will live without it. I am here to tell you that you can. Stop, breath and cry if you have to. Scream at the top of your lungs and do not be ashamed to dismiss people from your life. It may not have to be permanent. You have earned your right to do that. You have chosen a path of transformation that will blow your damn mind.
So go ahead, blow your own damn mind.
My name is Kim and I am an alcoholic. In my desire to give more to what was given to me, I started a blog about my life. My story. The before, the during and the after. I hope to inspire and educate others. I hope my story of success becomes your story of success. Here is a link to my blog!
How To Make Recovery More Than Just About You by Claire Rudy Foster, Regular Contributor to TIRBeyond "Me"
Recovery pride and recovery advocacy are powerful social change movements. I should know, because I take part in them. My activism is an important part of my recovery. I get to work with groups likeFacing Addiction and the Portland Alano Club to make sure that people like me are visible, heard, and validated. I’ve shared my story many times in order to help break the stigma that surrounds addiction. I also lead writing workshops for people in recovery and teach others how to reclaim their power through their personal stories.
I’m in the middle, as much as I can be. I’m doing my part.
I know that what I contribute is helping to effect change, even in small ways. Every time I open my mouth, I’m validated. When I share my story, I get a lot of support and encouragement. Someone always reminds me that my honesty is helping someone else. Keep it up. People say that they relate.
I hope that’s true. After all, silence is what kills us. Less than 10% of people with substance use problems will seek any kind of medical attention, treatment, or therapy.
We are literally dying because we’re afraid to speak up. We’re taught that addiction is a dirty illness: advocating for ourselves puts us at risk. We could lose our homes, families, insurance coverage, jobs, and more if we speak up.
Yet, some of us are.
We are the lucky ones.
But raising up a recovery that doesn’t belong to white, yoga-loving, coffee-sipping woman is a little dicey. As long as recovery paints a pretty, inclusive picture, we’re good with it. Show the ugly side, or the non-conforming side, and all of a sudden, nobody wants to participate.
— Claire Rudy Foster, Author of "I've Never Done This Before"
Those of us who have stepped forward to publicly self-identify as addicts—or people in recovery, or whatever you want to call yourself—tend to have a few things in common. We are usually white. We’re middle class. Educated. Overwhelmingly, we’re heterosexual.
Although there’s a 50/50 split between the sexes, women tend to be more vocal and more likely to interact with recovery-related content online. So, the odds are good that, if you’re reading this, you’re a smart, sober, white, cis woman. (Hi!)
People like me have the privilege of being visible.
Honestly, addiction is not a new phenomenon. Our attention is on it now, sure, but this is a recent development. We have a highly visible physical wellness culture: now, recovery is the hip new thing. As long as recovery is tied into health or spirituality, not a specific identity or political agenda, it gets plenty of media attention.
Glennon Doyle Melton holding hands with Oprah? Fine.
Recovery-positive rallies and 5K races? Fine.
But raising up a recovery that doesn’t belong to white, yoga-loving, coffee-sipping woman is a little dicey. As long as recovery paints a pretty, inclusive picture, we’re good with it. Show the ugly side, or the non-conforming side, and all of a sudden, nobody wants to participate.
Recovery is becoming a lifestyle brand, and its neatly packaged idea of what sobriety "should" look like hurts people who don’t have access to it.
The American drug epidemic has been happening for decades. We’ve suddenly started paying attention because, all of a sudden, opioid related deaths started affecting white, middle class people. People who look like me: young, white, suburban, feminine. People who are relatable.
Yet, the death tolls and related crime rates aren’t that different thanthe crack epidemic that destroyed black communities in the 80s and 90s. Because addiction, blackness, and poverty are criminalized in our culture, the black leaders who advocated for stricter drug laws were run down by the punitive War on Drugs.
Until it is equally safe for a working class, queer, black, trans man to say “I am addicted” and have pride in himself as a person in recovery—as it is for a wealthy, straight, white woman who does the same thing—our movement cannot call itself a success.
And today, white advocates like me can share our stories publicly, with little risk. Our privilege protects us from the factors that keep so many people in active addiction. People like me are commended for our bravery when we “come out” about our drug use.
Yet, I beg to ask the question: how are we really brave? Comparatively, we have little to lose.
Recovery has hit the mainstream. The policy changes and political involvement at the grassroots level is notable: hundreds of thousands of parents, friends, and people in recovery are speaking up and demanding federal involvement in the drug crisis. Those voices are loud, and they are effective.
The White House has said that it may declare a state of emergency around the epidemic, which would unlock millions of federal dollars for groups, clinics, and nonprofits who are working to help people get into recovery. Everyone knows someone who’s experienced addiction. It’s an issue talked about everywhere, from living rooms to board rooms.
Recovery is trickling down. But I wonder if it will reach everyone who needs help, or pool around a few media-friendly faces.
Why does someone like me get to do that, and not a poor, crack-addicted person of color, who lives in a rural area? Why is my story held up, and not hers?
The truth is it's because addiction doesn’t discriminate, but recovery does.
I suggest that unless the recovery movement becomes truly inclusive, it will only repeat the oppressive patterns that have dogged all social justice movements. Until it is equally safe for a working class, queer, black, trans man to say “I am addicted” and have pride in himself as a person in recovery—as it is for a wealthy, straight, white woman who does the same thing—our movement cannot call itself a success.
Until we pass laws that protect all people with substance use disorder from police violence, workplace discrimination, and exclusion from social services, we cannot say our movement is about justice. Until we all have the ability to celebrate our recovery openly, without fear of recrimination, our movement will not be complete.
Recovery for some is not recovery for all.
Beyond Memes & White-Centric Workshops
According to theNational Association of Drug Court Professionals, 80% of inmates have substance use problems, and over half of the population is clinically addicted. “Incarceration rates in the U.S. are nine times greater for young African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34 years.” What are we—the vocal, predominantly white recovery mainstream—doing to help those young black men? Posting inspirational memes? Attending pink-washed consciousness-raising workshops?
Those things are not bad, but they barely scratch the surface of what needs to be done. It’s easy to cop out, and say, “I need to take care of myself.” Sure.
But where does self-care end, and community care begin? Those of us who are lucky enough to shed the stigma of addiction easily, with minimal consequences, must do more for the people who struggle with the same illness.
I’ve been in recovery for more than a decade, and I’m grateful for what I have. I also know in my heart that my happiness and security is not enough. Me, feeling good, is not enough. The minute I got sober, and decided to stay that way,I became part of the recovery movement. I may not have known it at the time, but my involvement in this movement is the thing that enables me to stay sober. “Service work,” as it’s known in the 12 Step programs, helped me grow in my recovery. It turns out that, if I want to stay sober, I must help build a world that makes it possible for other people to have what I’ve attained as well.
Now, I call my elected representatives regularly to make sure that addiction is a top issue for them. I have worked recovery hotlines, spoken to recovery groups, and helped connect others with the resources they need to stay sober. I march in rallies against oppression. I donate to groups that support recovery for diverse communities. I’m learning how to talk to outsiders about recovery, and help break the stigma of our illness.
I have a strong recovery community, but I recognize that it’s more important to talk to people I don’t know—people who haven’t heard the message yet. This keeps me on the front lines of the recovery movement and helps make sure I don’t backslide into addiction.
Trying to make recovery seem attractive isn’t sufficient for me. I am definitely not a Recovery Barbie. I need actual, real-life, hands-on experience. No hashtags. A selfie is not service, for me. What I do isn’t difficult, but it asks me to look outside my comfortable bubble and do something for someone whose life is very different from mine. Even someone like me—who is not exactly a shining beacon of spiritual purity—has opportunities to help, in large and small ways.
My recovery depends on helping another person, not just helping myself.
What if we changed the conversation from self-care to someone-else care? Radical self-acceptance is great, but it’s just the first step. Even one person can have a huge impact in their neighborhood, community, town, and state. All you have to do is look beyond your own yoga mat.
Ask yourself, what do I have that other people do not?
For example, what if we created recovery-positive, inclusive spaces for people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, HIV-positive people, young people, and other marginalized groups? What if we actively reached out to people whose experiences of addiction were totally different from our own, and listened to their needs and concerns? What if we thought, how can I help instead of what do I need?
If recovery is not “intersectional,” is in incomplete. I’m doing my part to see past my own horizons. I believe that the future of our movement—that’s my future, and yours too—depends on it.
*Editor's note: To read more about how recovery is more than just "recovery stuff," check out Daniel D. Maurer's new book Endure. You won't be disappointed!
Claire Rudy Foster is a regular contributor to Transformation is Real. Her critically recognized short fiction appears in various respected journals, including McSweeney’s, Vestal Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She has been honored by several small presses, including a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She is afraid of sharks, zombies and other imaginary monsters. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
How to Stop Worrying and Discover Resilience to Bounce Back from Daily Stress & Ongoing Traumaby Daniel D. Maurer, TIR Founder & Award-Winning Author
I dig space movies. Books, too. I voraciously and willingly gobble up that crap like a Bengal tiger in a Houston zoo who just got its first meal after a week of cleanup from the hurricane.
But I've never seen the movie "Enemy Mine." Mostly because it looks dumb. Really, really dumb.
Plus, read the recap!
Love means never having to say that you’re ugly in the extravagant fantasy film Enemy Mine. Earthling Dennis Quaid is Davidge, one of many space warriors engaged in a bloody extraterrestrial battle against the Draconians. Crash-landing on a faraway planet, Davidge is forced into an “up close and personal” with the Drac (Lou Gossett Jr.), a repellant, reptilian creature. Evidently a bivalve, the Drac gives birth to a baby Drac just before expiring. Now a reluctant foster father, Davidge tries to keep himself and the baby alive while the war continues to rage all around them.
— - "Enemy Mine," the Movie
Oh. My. Gawd.
I digress; so let me get to the point: which is that the title of the movie IS catchy. I stole it with the title of this piece.
Which, now that I'm thinking about it, the title of the movie has absolutely nothing to do with my point.
The point I'm making is that my fucking mind is sometimes my fucking enemy. Let me tell you how . . .
Sorry for the F-bombs. But it's true.
I've had a few hard weeks, mostly because of some stupid choices I made. (No. I haven't relapsed.) What I found is that the more uptight I get about my health, my distorted will, my work, my family . . . the worse things get with my health, my distorted will, my work, and my family.
I obsessively worry, even when I know better. Worrying achieves absolutely nothing. And as I wondered about the evolutionary benefit of worrying—since I know that other people do it, too—I went back to the tools I've been given and the reading I've done about it.
Because, hey . . . I'm still worrying—still rolling this shit around in my brain like a State Fair taffy puller—and I want it to stop!
I've done quite a bit of research for my new book, Endure: The Power of Spiritual Assets for Resilience to Trauma & Stress. The stories in it are flipping amazeballs. They immediately draw you in, and they were a delight to write. (Remember "Dan the Story Man?" Yeah. I like stories.) But I found making the connections between spiritual assets and HOW they made a person resilient to daily stress was lots tougher. Way more difficult, actually. It required that I read, read, read what's already out there. All of the connections between resilience and spirituality I finally connected the dots and got it down in the book. But there were other discoveries I found along the way, too.
One of them was about how human beings are the only animal on the planet who worries. And the only one whose mind can become an enemy rather than the God-given gift it is.
What I stumbled on about worrying is that all the other animals in the world live in "Immediate Return Environments." Human beings, however, live in "Delayed Return Environments." (*Note: I first stumbled on this distinction between Immediate Return Environments and Delayed Return Environments in The Mysteries of Human Behavior by Mark Leary. It's worth listening to his lectures.)
What am I talking about? Let me show you . . .
The Immediate Return Environment
Let's say you're looking out your backyard window and you see a deer.
Nice deer. Pretty deer.
The deer lives in the woods behind a house in a suburban development. Occasionally, he sees people looking at him. Sometimes, in the fall, he notices a goofy-looking, overweight guy in camouflage climbing a tree with an unnecessarily complex bow in one hand and a quiver full of aluminum sticks with plastic feathers on one end and razor-tipped instruments of death on the other.
But, mostly, the deer doesn't worry. No wait. That's not right. The deer DOESN'T worry at all.
Instead, he deals with what's set in front of him at the moment.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the deer and you as you look out your window at him is that nearly every decision the deer makes provides an immediate benefit to his life. Right then. Right now. In the moment.
When he is hankering for some food, he walks over to munch on your azaleas.
When he sees the above-mentioned fat camouflaged bow hunter, he dashes away.
When it's that time of year and a whiff of a peculiar scent of cute little Ms. Doe wafts in his nose, he follows it, hoping to get lucky.
On any given day, most of his choices as a deer—like what to munch on or where to snooze or even to avoid a hunter—provide immediate consequence on his life. He lives in what researchers call an Immediate Return Environment, because his actions offer immediate rewards.
The deer's life (and the lives of all non-human animals, in fact) lives completely within the moment.
If you think about it, most of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately. If you work hard at your job today, you'll score a paycheck in a few weeks. If you make the effort to be on time to a date, you may just find the love of your dreams. The truth is that modern society is designed to delay rewards until later.
This is also true of our problems! Human beings think about how to solve their current dilemmas by imagining how things could pan out. This is the ROOT of worrying! And it's precisely how our MINDS can become enemies instead of allies.
While a deer is worried about immediate problems like avoiding fat bowhunters and wandering out into your yard to graze on your lawn to satisfy itself, many of the problems human beings worry about are difficulties set in the future.
The hard part is that our brains weren't really designed to live in the incessant worry of a Delayed Return Environment! It wears on us and we're NOT RESILIENT to the stress constantly hailing down around us like a Twitter feed dominated by Donald Trump.
The truth is that human beings evolved in an Immediate Return Environment. As hunter-gatherers, we did have to prepare for a tough winter, but the fact remains that, mostly, we just got our food day-to-day and told stories around campfires. When a problem arose, we dealt with it and our worry was relieved. Life was hard, but immediate. Modernity has changed that.
Before I go further, I want you to know that my recent book deals with these issues in greater depth and with WAY-cool stories from other people and how they found assets to help them recover their lives.
But the short of what to do about OUR ENEMY MINDS and WORRYING? Keep reading . . .
How to Stop Worrying and Discover Resilience to Bounce Back from Daily Stress & Ongoing Trauma
First off, a disclaimer: I still worry and I'm not perfect! Like you, I'm striving to continually transform my life into something better.
But, let's face it, that's hard!
However, here's what you can do to make a difference. It's quite simple, actually.
Shift Your Focus Elsewhere
Instead of worrying about things over which we cannot know the outcome in the distant future, adjust your attention to the NOW. That's easier said than done, especially if you're a constant worrier like I am. But if you find the spiritual assets to become resilient, you'll soon see that day-to-day life becomes easier.
Here are a few things that I do that seem to help me shift my focus on the present moment:
I Write: Not everyone will dig this one as much as I do, but I've written and published four books and spent countless hours at my computer composing freelance articles, editing others' works, written blog posts like this one, typed furiously away answering emails, and occasionally kept a journal. There is something about writing that brings me into the NOW better than any other activity. I think it has to do with focusing hard enough to compose a sentence to read like I want it to. Flow comes. I love it. Writing's definitely a gift that anyone can choose to embrace!
I Walk & I Talk: Every day, my wife and I walk our German Shorthaired Pointer, Lazarus. My wife has a different goal in mind—she wears a Fitbit and "needs her steps." For me, it's a time to check in with my family and hash through the day. Sure, sometimes I worry. Sometimes my mind becomes an enemy, but that's where talking comes in. Speaking with another and genuinely listening ALWAYS seems to calm me. It brings me back into the now.
I Meditate & Pray: One of the points I make very strongly in my recent book is that spirituality doesn't have to be a scary thing. It also doesn't have to be something that's off-putting or exclusive, either! Religion can be so exclusive. Religion can put you off, for the very reason that it has dogma and "insiders" & "outsiders." That's not my religion and it's certainly not my spirituality. Spiritual practices like meditation (and spiritual assets) can calm your body, transform your mind from the enemy it's become back into the ally it honestly is, and bring you back into the NOW, back into the realm of Immediacy. It's the place we're meant to live.
The mind was never meant to be an enemy. Worry doesn't have to win the day. Practicing spirituality in the way that works for YOU is what it's all about!
Now, if I can just find a new sci-fi novel or movie I want to read or watch for this evening . . .
Daniel D. Maurer lives in long-term recovery in Saint Paul, Minnesota. A Hazelden author and public speaker, Daniel spends his time drinking lattés, hitting meetings, spending time with his family—and above all else—writing. His new book, Endure: The Power of Spiritual Assets for Resilience to Trauma & Stress took three long years to write. It is Daniel's opus magnum, and you should get it . . . if, for anything else, the stories will immediately draw you in and you can find the resilience you've been looking for to ENDURE.
Resilience from Trauma Can Be Built Through Education, Sharing, and Hard Workby Rachel Thompson, TIR Regular Contributor
One of the main reasons I share my story about surviving childhood sexual abuse is so others won’t feel alone. But, there’s another reason: I didn’t understand (honestly, nobody did) growing up the short-term and long-term effects this kind of trauma would have on me.
It was why I checked my windows every night. Why I was convinced my next-door neighbor dad (my abuser) would break in and kill me or my family. Why I had panic attacks. Why I developed migraines soon after, that I still have to this day. Why I became acutely self-conscious and extremely perfectionistic.
Why I still have many of these experiences, decades later . . .
The psychiatric and medical community has only recently begun to understand how developing brains are affected – and this is forty years after my experience occurred.
Rape Culture – Ugh
I realize that asking the general public to have any concept of what trauma does to children (and even adults) is asking a lot, yet we are constantly bombarded by people who demand sexual abuse survivors ‘get over it,’ which is unbelievably callous as well as ignorant. And yet, not surprising.
An example from Twitter: “Getting picked last for dodgeball can be just as traumatic as rape, but you don’t see me whining about it on social media.”
Another example I received on Twitter (as I am writing this post): “Oh ffs. P*ss off with the trauma,” in response to sharing the visual you see above:
As I mention in Broken Places: just because survivors are open and share our experiences doesn’t mean we are ‘whining.’ The issue here is most people have zero concept of trauma’s biological, chemical, and physiological effects on surviviors’ brains and bodies — and now I understand why this is . . .
Unless you are a survivor, why would you care to find out?
Non-survivors make assumptions about what it’s like to be us, when they know nothing whatsoever about it. Invalidating and minimizing another’s criminal trauma, our lived experience, the narrative we never sought to own but now have branded on us for life, somehow makes them what? Feel better about themselves in some way?
Rape and childhood sexual abuse are not only criminal but are actually also considered crimes against humanity. So, comparing sexual assault to being picked last for dodgeball is a false construct. And kind of weenie.
There’s a certain strength of character to survivors that non-survivors will never experience, and good for them. I hope they never do. We are still here and we are still fighting every day in ways they cannot fathom. Making negative comments about us is so… cute. I want to sit them down and ask politely, “Do you know what we have been through?” with my best resting bitch face.
Comments that aim to denigrate us do nothing more than show a complete lack of character, as well as reinforce our magical powers.
As with any situation, if it doesn’t affect you personally, you likely have zero interest in it. Therein lies the issue: why are people who are not survivors commenting on what survivors SHOULD do? How we should feel? How we should react?
Why do non-survivors care about how survivors live our lives? What’s it to them?
What Happens To Survivors After Trauma
I‘ve been on a mission to learn and share as much information as possible about what trauma (any kind of trauma) does to survivor brains since I started writing my first Broken book back in 2010, so I could understand why I have daily flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares, depression, migraines, an acute startle response, and more.
You can’t look at me and know that I’ve had daily flashbacks of being sexually abused for FOUR DECADES. That I haven’t been able to have a man hold me while I go to sleep in any relationship, ever, until my recent guy. That I wake up screaming in fear. That if my children slam a door, I jump three feet and inexplicably cry for an hour. That I want to tell people “live through this, motherfucker” when they compare the trauma of breaking a pencil lead to being raped.
But, I don’t say any of that. Because I don’t want to bring people down. Because I don’t want people’s pity, or for them to view me as fragile. Because there’s more to me than ‘survivor.’ Because they don’t deserve my resting bitch face.
Because they are not worthy.
Writing about my experiences as a survivor has helped others understand they are not alone. Connecting with professionals who study and treat survivors daily is incredibly eye-opening, so I want to share six articles and studies which will help you, survivor friends, understand why you feel what you feel.
I know I’m on the right path because rape culture, ignorance, and cruelty still exist. I don’t know why people spew venom on sexual abuse survivors when we did nothing wrong, but they do—which is not our problem. However, we can educate and arm ourselves with scientific data on how trauma affects us.
Information About Trauma You Can Share
So, the next time you run across Dodgeball Dude or I-Don't-Get-Trauma Girl, please send them one of these articles.
Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.
The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being.
The original ACE Study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 with two waves of data collection. Over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California receiving physical exams completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors.
The CDC continues ongoing surveillance of ACEs by assessing the medical status of the study participants via periodic updates of morbidity and mortality data.
There is SO much information here. Start with the basic assessment, then move on to what it means. In particular, you can learn more how survivors are prone to these disease states and why (I was particularly interested in headaches, as I’ve suffered from debilitating migraines since my teens):
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. You can read more about the symptoms of PTSD and what to look for here.
This chart is particularly enlightening – by breaking down what happens to each section of the brain (referenced in Dr. Burke Harris’ TEDTalk above), you get a much better idea of why survivors behave and react the way we do. As I say when I share this chart, ‘this is your brain on PTSD.”
It’s important to note the incidence of PTSD is higher in survivors of rape, CSA, and sexual assault than other types of trauma.
94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape.
30% of women report symptoms of PTSD 9 months after the rape.
33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime. (Source: RAINN)
The brain's reactions in response to PTSD. Image Source. (Used with permission.)
PTSD typically takes the form of nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of guilt and shame that can surface right away or years after a trauma. But it can also manifest in physical ways, like chronic pain, intestinal problems, muscle cramps, or, even paralyzed vocal cords. For 94 percent of survivors, symptoms last at least two weeks; for a full half of them, they persist for years, even decades—sometimes long after the victim thinks she has laid the ghosts to rest.
Consider the women, some now in their sixties, still grappling with the effects of decades-old alleged assaults by comedian Bill Cosby. German researchers found a third of women raped during World War II had PTSD symptoms nearly 70 years later.
— Carrie Arnold - "Life After Rape."
Boys and Girls are Affected Differently
Among youth with post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found structural differences between the sexes in one part of the insula, a brain region that detects cues from the body and processes emotions and empathy. The insula helps to integrate one’s feelings, actions and several other brain functions. The study is the first to show differences between male and female PTSD patients in a part of the insula involved in emotion and empathy.
Abuse and How it Affects DNA
Does this sound like science fiction to you? Well, it’s not. “Recent evidence from molecular studies has shown that telomere length - a measure of cellular aging - is strongly influenced by a broad spectrum of stress. Telomere erosion might be accelerated by traumatic stress, and traumatic stress has shown to be associated with the risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and immunologic conditions.” (Journal of Trauma and Treatment)
Not only does abuse affect the survivor’s DNA (telomeres, to be specific), but can also affect future generations!
Pretty mind-blowing stuff. The link above is really scientific and not light-reading, I’ll warn you right now. But, I feel it’s important to include here because it’s a new and fascinating area of study.
Survivors Are Worthy
More than anything, I want any survivor who is reading this to know they did nothing wrong. We didn’t sexually abuse ourselves. I understand so much more now about living with the effects of trauma — with the fear, shame, and guilt, as well as the mental and physiological effects mentioned above — and now take an active part in my own recovery, something I never understood was even possible before.
We can all address and work through these burdens with various types of therapies, medicine, research, reading, and connecting with other survivors (please, join me every Tuesday on Twitter for #SexAbuseChat with survivor/therapist Bobbi Parish). Please remember that there’s no shame in asking for help. None of us can do this alone.
You are worthy. We are worthy. Of respect, love, and understanding. Of help. Ignore those random, ignorant trolls unless you can use them to help spread your message, as I have. Then by all means, have at it.
Images in the Public Domain. From Top Left, Clockwise: Vintage Halloween Costume (Unknown), Ben Turpin (ca. 1930s), Audrey Hepburn (1957), Margaret O'Brien (ca. 1946-47), Lucille Ball (ca. late 50s), Marion Davies (Silent-Film Star from teens and 1920s).
How My Diagnosis—and My Sense of Humor—Have Become Major Assets to My Resilienceby Sean Paul Mahoney
August 11th, 2009 was a lot of things, but hilarious was not one of them. Tragic? Panicked? Emotional? Yes, yes . . . and hell yes. But funny? Not so freaking much.
See, that hot, muggy Santa Monica afternoon was a roller coaster of all the emojis (except for the laughing face one), because it was the day I found out that I am HIV Positive.
Before I continue, let’s get something out of the way. I knew at the time that HIV would not end my life. I was well aware that it was 2009 and not 1989. HIV Positive folks were now living long, happy lives.
I also knew you knew this too because you told me. You told me this repeatedly as a matter of fact and usually without me asking.
Good lord, people. Here’s a hot tip: when someone tells you they have HIV(or any disease for that matter) for the love of God, don’t share that your cousin or your cousin’s coworker or a neighbor's cousin has HIV and they seem happy and really healthy. That’s like trying to tell a homeless person not to be upset because you saw that movie where Will Smith played a homeless guy and everything worked out for him. It’s just not helpful.
A newly diagnosed person like I was knows all of this, but give a brother a few moments to feel sad and figure some shit out, will ya? Personally, I have found, “I’m sorry to hear that” or simply, “I love you” to be more helpful, for what it’s worth.
So yeah, I knew that it wasn’t the end of the world, but I also knew I wasn’t exactly dancing in the streets so then what?
Well, immediately and upon the advice of people who didn’t try to smother me with examples of people they knew with HIV, I cried. I cried for days, actually. See, the timing of this diagnosis really blew. I was just 7 months sober and had ended an 11 year relationship.
I remembered blubbering to my sister on the phone, “Oh great. What’s next? Now would be an awesome time to find out that I also had a brain tumor or that I was adopted.” It felt like 2009 was the year I could not catch a freaking break. It felt like getting sober had only opened bigger cans of worms and my health was just the latest casualty.
Crying and having friends bring me food was about all I could handle for the first week. While I knew that HIV could be treated, I also knew that an addict like myself could use this diagnosis for a relapse of Shia LaBeouf-like proportions and therefore I tried to stay as close to other sober people as humanly possible. I’m glad I did, too, because it was through them all of it started to feel a little less heavy.
“Meh. You take your pills and stay sober and it’s no big deal,” my friend Rick, who was also sober and HIV positive, told me one night on the way home from a meeting. That he was so cavalier about something so life crushing was mind boggling. I mean here was my defining moment to be really, really dramatic and he doused it with an incredibly simple answer. He was right, though.
Getting sober had taught me the sooner I could get into a solution, the better I would feel. After 7 months of hearing people in meetings laugh about the horrific fallout of their alcoholism, I also knew that the sooner I could find some humor in all of this, I’d really start to feel better.
The great and dearly departed Carrie Fisher once said, “If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” I identify with this on a deep, spiritual level that only a fellow smartass can. Being able to laugh and make others laugh has been my golden ticket ever since I was a little kid growing up in an alcoholic home.
My sense of humor had saved me from getting fired, from getting my ass kicked by bullies and from slipping into the abyss of depression, which also happens to be another illness that I’ve been gifted with. Now it was time for my sense of humor to save me from relapse, from shame and from myself. By talking about it in meetings and laughing with other people, I started to see that those well-intended folks who blurted out unwanted advice were right about their cousin: I was gonna be okay.
And more than that, it all started to get sort of funny.
LAUGHTER IS HEALING RESILIENCE TO BOUNCE BACK INTO LIFE
Sure, having a fatal but manageablecondition's in and of itself is not really the stuff of comedy gold. But taking 7 pills a day that make me pee at 4am like your grandmother?
That’s pretty funny.
Also funny? An extremely sassy nurse at my HIV clinic in Venice once struggled for several minutes to find a vein that would deliver the goods, I quipped, “I would have been a terrible junkie.” She replied, “Child, you would have been out of business.” I also live-tweeted an anal pap, pretended my medications were the names of my adopted children (“Prezista! Isentress! Come in here and help mama cook dinner!”) and generally started to lighten the hell up.
Why? Because the reality was this was something that I was going to live with for the rest of my time on the planet. Laughing has made something painful and seemingly so insurmountable feel less powerful and more human. It's made me a more resilient, authentic human being.
Now, 8 years later, August 11th is just a day. Sure, it’s a day that changed my life . . . but it doesn’t carry the weight that it once did. I take my meds, I stay sober, I help other people, and I laugh a lot. And that’s the thing they never tell you about your sister’s neighbor's cousin with HIV: he laughs and probably all the time. Because he really needs to.
About the Author
Sean Paul Mahoney is a writer, playwright, blogger, tweeter, critic, podcaster, and smartass for hire. He's also the founder of the wildly fun and interesting blog Seanologues: Conversations with Sean Paul Mahoney. There, you'll find him and many others talking about pop culture, music, movies, and lots and lots of television. Sobriety, food, and generally the fun core of life also come into play. He lives with his family in Portland, OR (which includes Larry the cat!)
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