Category Archives: Mental Illness

Nurturing Little Humans – Creating Healthy Adults

Say what you will about Facebook, it can serve as an enlightening peek into human opinions, I said, as a master of understatement.

A friend shared this picture a while ago. She commented that she’d prefer her children feel comfortable coming to her, so if they did something stupid like drink at a party, they would feel safe calling her for a ride rather than try to drive impaired. There will be consequences for drinking, but they made a mistake that can be fixed, rather than a potentially devastating, life-changing decision.

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The first and fast response, from the father of a small girl, was one word – BULLSHIT!

His argument eventually boiled down to he is the boss, he is the authority, his child fears punishment, and his child obeys because she is afraid. He actually said, “I would rather be feared than loved.”

I suspect he will get his wish.

I am not a parent, I knew decades ago that it would not be good for a child or me. I like children, but motherhood was not a good idea, since mental illness is heavy in my family, and I didn’t want to hurt a child during either a manic or a depressive place. I wasn’t willing to take the risk. It is precisely because I like children that I chose to not have them. What my mother did was due to her illness, and a response to all of ours. Nothing that happened was due to malice on her part, it was a reaction to an illness that was not her fault, an attempt to turn a blind eye to how absolutely broken we were. She did not set out to be abusive.

This man, however, not only set out to be abusive, he bragged about it. “My child is afraid of me, as she should be. I would rather be feared than loved.”

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I’ve had parents try to shut me down by saying, “you’re not a parent, you don’t know, you can’t have an opinion.”

If we’re talking about proper bedtimes, getting the child to eat some damn food – “What do you mean you want mac&cheese with no cheese, but still with orange color, OMG I’ll just melt an orange crayon on it then” – (that’s a direct quote, by the way,) the headaches my friends suffer, then no, I don’t understand, especially since I never see it because I’m auntie and I get perfect behavior. Sorry parents, that’s the way it is.

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So with everyday struggles like that, I agree 100%. But if you belittle them, demean them, call them stupid, or hit them when you are angry, that’s very much my business. It’s everyone’s business. (I’m not entering into the debate about physical punishment as a concept, strictly of objective abuse.)

Now, a parent is absolutely going to screw up. My friends are good and wonderful, loving and intelligent parents, but sometimes that child decides he absolutely will not wear those red socks and forcing them to wear the red socks is the worst affront to a human person in the history of the world and if you don’t give me the yellow socks I swear to the old gods and the new that I will scream so loud your ears will bleed, and you will be late to your job, and now you have to feed me the food I will not eat! NO! Now I want to orange socks! (That quote is exaggerated for comedic effect, but only just.)

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A toddler is a toddler, no matter how long the nose.

 

In such a situation, the parent may overreact. We are all of us human.

The thing is, the little child is also human, and wants to be understood and has an ego and a need to be heard and can’t yet communicate what they want. They have bad days like we all do.

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Overreacting is not necessarily the bad thing, as long as we’re not talking about actual abuse. Going back to that child and apologizing and then talking about it can help a hurt, possibly angry child feel validated and respected. It also sets a good example of human behavior, yes adults make mistakes, parents are not infallible, might is not right, and you have an absolute right to be human too.

No, I’m not a parent, so the regular day to day frustrations I can’t speak to. But this, I certainly can. We all can and should.

I don’t believe that anyone is irredeemable. The potentially abusive father there can absolutely find a better way, make amends, and become a better person.

He could decide to work with his child, to change his fear-based approach to parenting. He could do all of these things, and I would applaud him.

But for that little child, it could be too late.

Children look at the grownups around them for guidance, to learn how to be adults and what to expect from adults.

A little girl with an abusive father, she may grow up to believe that’s what she deserves, and there are plenty of men who will agree with her. She may internalize the lesson of fear he is bragging about, and take from that low self-worth, or respond with anger. At the very least, she will put in her heart the fear and pain from physical and emotional abuse. This is the place she should feel safe, and the first man in her life.

Little boys can learn might is right, and bully the children in school and later, their partners. They can also be filled with a heartsick pain that may not be addressed since they were most likely raised to believe that men should be strong and asking for help is weak. That’s toxic, and it’s how unhealthy men are made, and it’s how abuse is passed on. We all suffer, society suffers, and the man who believes he cannot ask for help is in pain. A little boy is no less worthy of protection, safety, and humanity than a little girl.

This father bragged about causing her pain and fear. He bragged about it on a public post.

These are about the biggest red flags that can fly. A parent who is comfortable enough to loudly and proudly proclaim this, I fear what goes on behind closed doors.

No, I’m not a parent, so I can’t comprehend the day to day frustrations and power plays and envelopes being pushed.

But I can watch out for them, I can look for red flags that are visible from space. I can speak out. We all can and should.

Children are not playthings, they are not going to obey commands or do anything to please you at all times or submit to your authority without question.

You’re thinking of a dog, and you shouldn’t have one of those either.

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“I don’t think so, buddy.”

 

Imprints in the Fog – A Halloween Tale

Hello! It’s Halloween, my favorite holiday, so I thought I’d share a spooky story.

Some of this is true; the history, location, thing I found, the man I met. Otherwise, this is a work of fiction. Happy Halloween!

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A disturbing thing happened yesterday.

I decided to go for a walk out by Land’s End, where a long, twisty trail runs through flowers, trees, hillside. Off to the right as I’m walking is the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the foghorns. Since it was foggy and lovely, the horns were playing their tune, such a perfect day.

I kept walking down the familiar narrow path until I got to the long staircase to Mile Rock Beach. It’s a tiny spot, covered in logs and rocks, just a little spit of sand really, but very beautiful, and I had it all to myself.

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I perched on some driftwood and watched the waves crash; it fills my heart to see that. Honestly, I’ll take a rocky ocean with dramatic waves over a calm blue sea any day of the week. After a while I walked over the wet, slippery rocks that join to another little beach, and I found the strangest thing.

There are a lot of old WWII remnants around the City, Fort Point I guess is the best known, but there are random machine gun nests and gun turrets in the Presidio and around, so coming up on a ruin of some sort is not really unusual. But this was different.

It looked like a building that had collapsed from erosion, also not uncommon here. Every now and then you may find a tombstone from one of the old cemeteries, back when they moved them all to Colma. Except they didn’t always move them, some of the tombstones were repurposed, the bodies forgotten. Now and then, they turn up. Renovations at the Legion of Honor went poorly, at least for whoever found the first coffin, and the anonymous fellow no longer Resting in Peace. It’s all part of our spooky history.

But this baffled me. It looked like it had been a bathroom, judging by the tile. The graffiti told me I was far from the first to find it, and a decaying vulture had been there for a while, but I still felt like an intruder.

Since I have photos, I won’t spend too much time describing what it looked like, but what happened, I couldn’t capture on my phone.

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My mind has been cluttered, in fact, I went on this walk to clear it out a bit, so when I heard someone say my full name, Susanne, I whipped my head around to see who was there, and how did they know a name I haven’t used since I was about 11? Occasionally when hiking out here, I’ve come across a man who lives in the brush. The first time I saw him, he was standing by his tent, holding a couple of plastic gas cans that I assume he filled with water somewhere. We both froze, each afraid of the other’s response. I just walked slowly away; he passed me a little while later in another spot. I’ve seen him a time or two since then, but I’m relatively certain he’s corporeal. I wonder who he is and what he has seen out there in the trees and fog.

After a scan of the beach and it’s many hiding places, I convinced myself that my ears played a trick on me. “It was the waves crashing, that’s all. Sussssannneeeeee…a wave, that’s all.” I poked around the ruin a little more, and I found an intact room, plumbing fixtures still attached, one small porcelain sink, but no toilet or shower. I expect they had been on the other side.

I tested the floor, and it was solid. I started to imagine, who used this room? Was it military? It looked like it, and that wouldn’t be uncommon here. But where did it come from? I know the area well, and there was no structure like this up on the cliff. What kinds of things did they worry about, what kept them awake at night? What made them blissfully happy? If this was a WWII bunker, how did they deal with the stress? Although the City was one of the best places they could be during the war.

It hit me as it does sometimes. Most of these soldiers could have been my sons. Now, they’d be 90+ but then, just kids. Just kids in this tiled box in the fog and the horns.

“Susanne….”

I heard it again. I turned too quickly, slipped on the slick tile, and landed awkwardly on my left thigh. I sat there for a moment, very aware how defenseless I was, how vulnerable, when I heard a rustling in the trees, and the sound of feet trying to navigate the moss-covered rocks. My heart was pounding, and I breathed with my mouth open, so I wouldn’t make as much noise. From where I was I stared directly at the dead vulture, all the feathers on its wings splayed out around a neatly picked ribcage. I wondered how often it feasted on human flesh. I couldn’t shake this morbid thought as the squeak of rubber soles got closer, and the pain in my hip got sharper, the fog turned so thick it was light rain, and I couldn’t see much through my glasses. I thought, “That poor vulture won’t get to enjoy me.” I and covered my mouth and laughed quietly at the disturbing thought.

Just then the footsteps stopped. Slowly, and now soaking wet, I scooted down the floor to the opening, braving a quick glance. My heart raced and pounded like a timpani, deep breaths couldn’t calm it down. All around me, going about their business, men made of fog and shadow, wearing uniforms, dissolving in the wind, and reforming, going about their day in silence. I sat with my jaw hanging, in terror and fascination. And then one of them turned and looked directly in my eyes. He saw me. He reached out his hand and said, “Susanne.” then dissolved as the fog billowed, and reformed slowly in front of me, body wafting in the breeze as he regained form, not two feet away, beckoning me to join him. “Susanne.” was all he said. Although frozen, I felt my hand reach back to him, when the fog horns went still, and the little beach echoed with the sound of one lonely trumpet playing “Taps.”

All of the soldiers, including mine, looked around with sorrow in their cold, empty eyes, and then a look of quiet acceptance passed on their faces as they faded into the fog and the horns returned.

I got up as quickly as I could and realized I would be able to walk across the rocks. As I arose, I saw a figure near the cliff, but he was human. A gust of wind cleared the air for a moment. The young homeless man who lives in the brush was standing there with a battered trumpet tucked under his arm. He stared at me for a moment, saluted, and started the climb up the cliff.

Whatever happened to those boys, so many decades ago, I hope they have peace now. That this was just an echo in time. But since there is a sentry with a trumpet, I expect they come back now and then.

I wonder if anyone has ever taken that boy’s hand?

Tragedy and the Best of Us

We had another small earthquake up here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was 4.5, large enough to rattle me awake and cause my metal Hello Kitty charms to wave on their stand, making a creepy “clinky clinky” sound. This one sort of rolled and lasted in my mind, a long time. The one we had earlier this month was a single hard jolt. Both of these scared the crap out of me, but the one last night lasted long enough to cause me to get out of bed, throw on some clothes and boots, grab glasses and phone, and wonder where Crazy Legs got to. Chris is on his own, he’s a human, he knows what’s up.

Anyway, my brother-in-law was kind enough to remind me that the quake last night happened three days before the 30th anniversary of Loma Prieta, aka, “The ’89 Quake.” I mean, I would have put that together using my superior counting skills but still, that was a bit of a punch. I remember it, of course, and like everyone in who experienced it, we all have a story to tell.

I still lived in Fremont with my ex-husband. We, like so many others, this is important later, sat down to watch the World Series, Oakland A’s vs. San Francisco Giants, affectionately known as the Bay Bridge Series. (The Bay Bridge runs from Oakland to San Francisco, that’s important later too.)

I lived in a fairly typical suburban apartment, outside entrances, two stories, we were on the second, and the buildings formed a square around a pool.

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In defiance of all logic, I have a picture of that apartment, looking out the kitchen window, the pool down by the lights, Mission Peak in the distance, obligatory 1980s crystals hanging proudly.

The game hadn’t started yet when the couch shook. We had a pendulum light above the table which we, and every Californian with a swinging device, looked at as sort of a poor man’s Richter Scale. It was swinging, so we sat in cat-like readiness and then, wham! it hit. It was powerful and seemed to last forever. We bolted to the door, got down the stairs in about two hops, and huddled up with all our neighbors. I mentioned a pool earlier. One of the clearest memories I have at that point is a mini-tsunami happening, large waves on either side left the pool about ¾ empty. It was utterly surreal and beyond creepy.

After a while we went back in. We still had electricity, so we turned on the news. I remember a newscaster reporting with nothing but a single bulb light, and then we saw two things I will never forget and will never leave my heart.

While it did look like San Francisco was burning to the ground (they kept showing the same footage over and over, my friends elsewhere were terrified) what hit hard were the Bay Bridge and the Cypress Structure.

An entire section of the bridge collapsed, stopping on the bottom deck. The bridge was replaced a mere 24 years later. Yes, that is completely unacceptable.

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But what sticks out for me, what has now become local lore, is the collapse of the Cyprus Freeway and the local response to it. I won’t describe any of the deaths, you can look it up if you like, because this isn’t about gory details, it’s about the people in the area who came to help, regular people with no training and no reason not to simply run the other way, but chose to run toward the as yet not understood danger, carrying their ladders they use to wash their windows, paint their houses, or any number of mundane things, put them up against the freeway and start trying to save the people trapped inside.

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See, the Cyprus was a double-decker freeway, and the top simply pancaked down. When my ex-husband and I watched, and realized what had happened, and saw the smoke coming from the inside of the two huge layers, we just cried. It was too much. But these amazing people, this happened on the Oakland side, they didn’t flinch, they didn’t pause to wonder, they simply went and helped and surely saw gruesome things. I cannot, I literally cannot, comprehend the bravery and selflessness that took.

Oh, I mentioned the importance of the World Series. Normally at that time, there would have been far more cars, but because of the World Series, people left work early or stayed home. That’s something to be thankful for, I suppose.

For us, life went on as normal. We lost a couple glasses, but there was no other damage. The pool was refilled, the building inspected, we didn’t lose anyone, so we got off easy. I am very aware of that.

San Francisco was not burned to the ground and was quickly rebuilt. Our flag is a phoenix rising from flames, so we are no stranger to this.

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Which makes me wonder, when does a terrifying tragedy become a proudly told legend? I have to pause when I realize ’89 was 30 years ago, so there are people with 10-year-old children for whom this is a legend. So we tell these stories, like I just did, as if we were telling a story of adventure to the grandchildren, regaling them with tales of survival that have become nearly romantic.

San Francisco had a famous disaster in 1906, imaginatively named “The ’06 Quake and Fire.” I expect a good number of you know about this, but for locals, especially those of us with family who survived, this is a point of pride, both for the family connection, which shows deep roots in the City, and also the fortitude of the survivors who rebuilt and moved on from a far worse disaster than ’89.

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For the record, my Grandmother was 5 at the time and remembered it pretty well. I’ve written about that before so I won’t go into it here too much.

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Grandma is on the bottom, Belle Chapin. The name may sound familiar.

Every year there is a commemoration at Lotta’s Fountain at the exact moment it hit, 5:12 a.m. Because of the who-the-hell-is-up-at-that-ridiculous-hour time, I had never been, but in 2006 on the 100th anniversary, Chris and I did go. Standing in the giant crowd, waiting for the clock to hit the witching hour, a man turned to me and said “Survivor?” I knew instantly what he meant, did I have a family member in the quake. When I said yes, we started telling our stories and became a cluster of wide-eyed people eager to tell our tales. Unfortunately Chris, being from Houston, was quickly moved aside.

“After the 1906 earthquake, dazed survivors looked for anything left standing to congregate around. Lotta’s Fountain served as a meeting place for people to be reunited with their loved ones.”

The Loma Prieta Quake, (Loma Prieta was the fault that broke) is 30 years old on October 17, 2019. It is not the distant past, not to me, but to some, it is just a story told by the – ahem – older people and photos and video and one extremely unfortunate movie. It is books and horror and stories that will break the hardest heart.

But do you know what it is for me? What I try to hang on to? A story that I’m happy to say gets nearly equal time?

Those people in Oakland who risked their lives and mental health by climbing into the collapsed freeway and speaking kindly to strangers and as gently as possible getting them out of the cars to safety. Those people are true heroes, those people are the best of us. Disasters do bring out the best in us, most of the time.

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I have no idea if I would have been one of the brave. I hope I never have to find out. When the footage came on, all I could do was cry, there was nothing I could do to help. And maybe that was part of it, feeling helpless. Maybe it’s just because I was a sheltered 21-year-old suburban girl with little sense, and went on with my life very quickly.

Maybe if I’d been there, I would have helped in some way. I like to think so. But until I’m in a situation like that, I can’t say. Even now as a 51-year-old City girl with a lot of scars, I really can’t say.

We don’t have to wait until the next Big One, or whatever natural disaster your world is prone to, we can be the best of us right now. Even some small gesture, to your own abilities, can make a world of difference.

In the meantime, I would very much appreciate it if the Ring of Fire just settled the hell down.

 

Here are some resources for disaster preparedness. Stay safe everyone!

Ready – Disaster Preparedness

Red Cross

 

Own Your Truth to Help Others

It’s normal for me to be extremely honest about what’s happening in my life, that’s how Nightmares and Laughter is designed. But my life is only a framing device for the real point of this page. I started it specifically to try and help others like me. In other words, I am the scene, you are the story. Since I was in a really bad place the last week, I’m hoping it can be useful.

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What’s happening is not going to stop anytime soon, (the building is being sold, vulture lawyers and buyers will try to bully all of us, and may try to kick us all out.) I cannot stand this sort of unknown, the constant fear, I don’t feel safe, will we lose our home, how badly will they treat us, how ugly will this get? I know I will see the other side, but right now, I’m scared, and I don’t like that. It is just the cherry on the top of a number of other sorts of stresses so it just broke me. Chris was on a much-deserved vacation, so getting a letter with several lawyer’s names listed and vaguely threatening wording was too much. I fell apart for like a day and a half. What I’m describing is human, it’s normal, it’s perfectly ok. We all break sometimes, there’s no shame in that. I’m saying this to you, as well as to remind and convince myself.

But we had a tenant meeting a neighbor organized, (the lawyers do not want people talking to each other, they want us scared and unaware of our rights,) and it very much helped.

During the meeting, we all said what our biggest concerns were. Mostly they were similar; Chris and I would most definitely have to leave San Francisco, the city we love, and possibly the Bay Area. This infuriates me as a 3rd generation NorCal native, I can’t even afford my hometown, but I digress.

One of my dear neighbors is having a very hard time. As she was speaking my heart ached both because really, she has it worse by far, and also because I want to help. That’s my mission on this page, and that is what I want to do in real life.

Some of you know that Belle Chapin is a pseudonym. I started it that way because I was nervous about self-revealing, about what that could mean to my future, especially as I look for work, what it could mean in general due to stigma. I leave it that way as sort of a firewall I guess, between trolls and my identity, but I’ve mentioned it several times, and of course, posted photos of myself, so that’s sorted.

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Yes, I love Halloween, but this picture was taken in June. That’s Ermastus.

Now, I’ve done so on this blog. I used my real name on my book. The circle of people in real life who know is getting larger. But I didn’t know quite how comfortable I was with it until yesterday when that lovely woman was speaking, and I told her without thinking that I have bipolar disorder and I understand mental illness so please contact me if you need to.

As soon as that left my mouth, I pulled back inside. My inner monologue went straight to “Oh shit! I said that out loud, in front of humans.” I tried to get a grip on what this meant, what I had done. The toothpaste will never go back in the tube, so whatever someone brings to the table is how they will see me from now on. I don’t know many of these people at all, so unlike telling friends they will not be seeing it from a place of affection, but just strangers who live in my building. I have no control over what they will think of me or take from this. But the words simply left my mouth with zero thought other than explaining common issues that could be helpful. If I had told someone trying to get sober than I’ve been there, it would be the same. And what if I had? Would that feel different?

Actually yes, it would. I would have been more comfortable having announced, so to speak, that I’m an alcoholic, than that I have a mental illness. I think that’s worth looking at for all of us who fear stigma.

I mentioned I’m looking for a job. It’s common now for there to be a spot to enter a website. I’ve thought about linking to this blog. I’m proud of it, I’m happy with what I set out to do, I’m a decent writer, and I hope I have helped some people. But so far I haven’t, not once. Why not? Why shouldn’t I?

Because I’m afraid, is the short answer. Still, after all this time, I can’t bring myself to do it. And yet yesterday, in the middle of a room of people, many of whom are strangers, I reflexively blurted it out. It simply felt like the right thing to do to offer help.

I am the scene, you are the story. I set the plot, and you, my readers, who are largely strangers, take whatever you need, want, or not, and tell your story. That’s what I want, that’s what Nightmares and Laughter is supposed to be. But I can’t help a larger number if I hide away afraid. If I can’t bring this mission into my real life, how can I be of service? What if the person I’m listening to is too afraid to talk about it, and my revealing to them is a comfort, they’re not alone, I’m there for them. That’s the mission of Nightmares and Laughter. How can I fulfill that if I am afraid?

Stating it head high, matter of fact, unflinching, could illustrate that there is no shame in it, it’s nothing to hide, nothing to hold quaking in your heart. If I can’t do that, I am not true to myself and no help to anyone else.

I feel better now having found out our rights, and what exactly is going on with the building’s purchase. I feel better knowing we are not in immediate danger. Getting out of my own head and reaching out to someone else helps. We are not alone. Someone cares. Having the sword above our heads is a dreadful place for me, but I’m back on my feet. But last week I was not. I started an article in the midst of it, but it will wait until I have a clearer head to edit.

I leave you with this advice, when you are depressed, or in whatever state you find yourself, watch that internal monolog. Mine gets really ugly and vicious toward myself. Does yours? Someone said to me once, “If a friend came and told you they were feeling those things, what would you say to them? Would you tell them they’re stupid and worthless?” No, of course not. What would you say to them? What would you do? Nurture? Affirm? Would you talk softly to them? You are worth all of that and more.

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Here are two resources for you, if you need them.

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
1-800-273-8255

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Reclaim the Morning, Remember the Night

Chris is away for a couple of weeks, taking a well-deserved break. He’s traveling alone, which we both do now and then. It’s a different experience to travel by yourself, you can do whatever you want, change your mind at a moment’s notice, or you can stay in your hotel for the entire day, eat local junk food, and watch an Austrian show called “Kommissar Rex” dubbed into the language of wherever you are, but not English, yet it remains my favorite show about a German Shepard police dog who catches bad guys by jumping over things and knocking them down.

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I have no idea what this says, but I know I love this show.

It works well that we are both the kind of people who have to be alone sometimes. I get overwhelmed by noise and wearing the mask that one must wear that says “Hey, you know, I don’t own a set of dishes I found at an abandoned camp in the redwoods that was overgrown and forsaken, kitchen cupboards creaking in the wind, rotting bunk beds awaiting tired campers, dishes discarded and strewn about…”

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 I do. I totally do.

So when one of us travels, the other gets to be alone, and that is a nice break.

I made a list of things I’d like to do during this time, because making lists is one of my superpowers, things like organize the drawers, clean all the rooms, put stuff away so it looks less like an abandoned camp for forsaken children and holy crap I just got an idea for a story.

I’ll write a couple of articles, work on the two books I’ve got going. I’m also starting “Parks and Recreation” for the umpteenth time, but that’s just the way it is.

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I can pretty much do it line-for-line now, but I can’t do math in my head.

So this morning I woke up, shuffled out of bed, fed Crazy Legs, grabbed my coffee and I realized something – I remember everything that happened yesterday. I remember what I did last night, I remember when I went to bed, I turned off the “Parks and Recreation” where Leslie thinks the tops of carrots are marijuana plants and has a stakeout with Tommy and they find out that Andy is living in the pit and then…sorry. I love that show.

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His Majesty, The First of His Name, Crazy Legs, gets breakfast before I get coffee.

But I remember that I turned it off, went to bed, and this morning I woke up and I felt great.

Many people are probably wondering what the big deal is, you woke up and had coffee, so what? But anyone with an addiction, or alcoholism in my case, knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ll explain. In the bad old days, when I woke up in the morning, step one would be to lie still and figure out exactly how hungover I was. Was my head spinning? If I moved, did I have to bolt to the bathroom? How bad was my headache? Am I, in point of fact, actually in my bed?

After a physical assessment, next came the worst part. What did I do last night? What’s the last thing I remember? Did I blackout again? Did I see anyone, talk to anyone on the phone or email? Many times the memories were like little filmstrips, the kind we used to watch in grade school. Just a flip of a picture here, a face, a loud crash. Did I break something? I don’t remember. So I’ll stay in bed as long as I can and then nothing bad happened. It’s the alcoholic equivalent of the monster can’t get me if I keep my limbs under the covers, except the monster this time is of my own making.

A quick peek around to see how everything looks, and either a sigh of relief or a gutting regret, and a quick run-through of ideas on how to explain whatever it is. And then back to bed, a day will be wasted, projects forgotten, goals washed away. Tearful vows to never do it again, and then doing it again, in my case, for decades.

It has been a long time since I’ve had a drink, and for the most part, it is gone from my present thoughts. But now and then, like this morning, it occurs to me. I got up, stretched, took my meds, fed Crazy Legs, got my coffee, and sat down to write an article. I feel great, the day is ahead of me, I have many things lined up, and I have time to work on them. It has been so long that I frequently forget the bad times. And that’s good, kind of.

I used to ride a motorcycle. (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.) A long time ago, I got a bike, learned to ride, got pictures to look at when I was “old” say, 50 (I’m 51 now so younger me shut it already.) Anyway, I had some fun, got cut off at a four-way stop and dropped it, so I have the all-important crash story, (not so much a crash as an “I didn’t know how to respond so I popped the clutch and the 650 took me down.”)

I’ve heard that the two most dangerous times for a rider are when they are new and scared, and when they are experienced and confident. There should always be, not fear, but the realization that you are a soft, water-filled body wrapped in leather or Kevlar, sitting exposed and going very fast. Be aware of that, and don’t try anything stupid. For me, I rode for a while, but I never got over the fear, so I sold it.

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 Looked all bad-ass, totally was not.

In early recovery, one is very much aware of the danger of relapse. The fear of the shame, the pain, the lost dreams, lost jobs, lost children, etc. is raw and works as an excellent deterrent. The first time I said, “My name is Sue, and I’m an alcoholic.” was profound and earthshaking. It was also not the last time I’d start with a 24-hour chip. Or the second to last time. I got a year chip and later gave it back. Early recovery is a dicey time, especially if you don’t address the reasons you’re drinking or using in the first place.

In the time since my last drink, I’ve started this blog, and I’m proud of it. I’ve published one book, and I’m working on two more. I’ve painted, explored mixed-media, watched “Parks and Recreation” like four times, and lived a life where I wake up and know what I did the night before, and don’t have to run through an inventory of possible horrors before I get out of bed. I’m confident and this, just like riding a motorcycle, can be a dangerous time.

That voice that says, “Aw, it’s alright, you can handle it. You’ve proven you can be sober, just have one drink!” can be quiet for a long time, but it’s always there, waiting to fuck you up.

Two kinds of people don’t get that, those who do not have an issue, and those who do. The second group is threatened by your sobriety, they need you to drink with them, so they don’t have to face their own demons. They want to sabotage you, and they will try very hard.

If you are in early sobriety, be very aware of this, and try to catch it earlier than I did.

Many years ago, two decades anyway, I had a dear friend, my best friend, who took good care of me when I was still drinking. She was nurturing and said exactly what I needed to hear. She was the strong one who took care of me until the very moment I started to find my feet. Once I stood and began to get better, snipes and passive-aggressive comments, subtle digs at my worth, accusations of getting arrogant, would begin until I believed them and fell. And the “mothering” continued, until one night when I was falling into a depression but didn’t want to relapse. So I called her.

By this time, my dear friend, my rock, was using heroin. She sat and listened to me intently. Then she stood, dropped her pants, and showed me the bruises where she had been shooting up because her arms were no longer viable. I stared in utter disbelief and shock. When she covered up and sat back down, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It’s ok, we can be addicts together.”

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Apologies to any addicts for whom this may have been difficult. Addiction is ugly, and people need to understand that.

That was it. Even for my fragile mind, that was the end. Chris and I were newly dating, and when I told him what had happened, he was apoplectic. He said it was as if I were drowning and she threw me a cement lifesaver. It was the validation I needed; I had second-guessed myself for so long.

People may do this, to one degree or another. They may try to sabotage your hard work, your important work. They may try to convince you that you are weak.

You are not weak. You are as strong as a person can be, whether you feel that way or not. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You went one day without a drink or drug? Stand up tall and be proud of yourself. Twenty-four hours without your drug of choice? You are awesome, simply amazing. Let no one tell you otherwise.

However you may feel about A.A. long term, go and say those difficult words, “My name is xxx, and I’m an alcoholic.” They may be hard to say, you may not say them loudly, you may break down, that is all ok. Any of these reactions are appropriate. Those people you’re talking to, they are there because they are also struggling!

And when they offer a chip, a 24-hour chip, raise your hand, walk proudly to the front, and take that chip with you. An entire day without a drink becomes two days, becomes a week, becomes a year…you can do it!

It’s a cliché, I know, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. If I can do it, after decades of terrible mornings, after losing jobs, living in squalor, after a childhood spent drunk to hide the pain, if I can do it, you can do it.

You can do it. You really can. Please don’t let anyone tell you differently.

You are worth it. You deserve happy mornings.

I believe in you.

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If you need help, please call.

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 

Vulcans, Emotion, and Childhood – Why Star Trek Matters

As I write this, September 8, 2019, it is the 53rd anniversary of Star Trek’s premier. (The Original Series, pedants. Don’t even start.)

I always get a little misty about this, because Star Trek means the world to me. I wrote about how much Close Encounters touched my heart, so I’m going to wax poetic about Star Trek too, and the real lessons to be learned. And Spock. Just a lot of Spock.

I don’t remember the first time I saw the ocean or knew about the redwoods, and I don’t remember a time I didn’t know Kirk and Spock and all my friends. I have no memory of seeing Star Trek the first time, it was just ever present. (In fairness, I don’t remember the first time I saw the visual acid trip that was Sid and Marty Croft either, but I digress.)

What was it about this sci-fi show that was canceled when I was 1-year old that moved me so much?

I loved that Starfleet Command and Academy were here in San Francisco and Marin. Did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge is the only one still standing because of course bridges are no longer required, but they left it because it is simply too beautiful to not exist? Remember in “The Voyage Home,” how proud Sulu was when they saw it? “San Francisco. I was born there.” <swoon!>

Quick fun fact –Starfleet was located here because it’s where the U.N. Charter was signed. Ok, I’ll stop.

My irrational adoration of this City aside, Star Trek hit a lot of buttons for me. The Salt Vampire was genuinely terrifying, nothing else on the show scared me that bad, and actually it still creeps me out.

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I know it’s a sympathetic character but, sheesh!

The episode “Mirror Mirror” filled me with undefinable joy that perhaps I will expand on at another time. Suffice to say, Bearded Spock. Bearded Spock, my first boyfriend.

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Bearded or not, I loved him so very much. He was handsome, brilliant, and without emotion. I wanted to be a Vulcan since I was very little. Actually, I wanted to be T’Pring, but without the stupid decision, but anyway.

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Even Kirk is shocked, and he’s about to fake-die.

I would stay in the bathroom and hold my eyebrows up at the corners to see if they would stick that way. I used the words “fascinating” and “logical” all the time. I tried to be smart like him, well-read like him, I played guitar because I didn’t know where to get a Vulcan harp. To this day I want that glowing red animal thing he had in his quarters. Luckily Chris is also a nerd, so if we could find one it would go directly next to the dining table. For the life of me, I can’t find a picture of it.

To my child mind, being a Vulcan meant no pain, no sorrow, no regret, no fear. If I had no emotion, I was free, really. I couldn’t get in trouble for expressing increasingly volatile emotions, because I wouldn’t have any. I’d just raise an eyebrow and flash an amused little smile.

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Ok, he was high here, but still.

Being emotionless would be impossible, of course. A human can’t be devoid of emotion. Vulcans aren’t either if I’m honest. Sarek for example, Mr. “You should have gone to the Vulcan Science Academy, not Starfleet Academy I won’t talk to you until you give me your blood.”

Anyway, to kid-me the whole Star Trek world seemed ideal. Food on command, twinkly lights and poof! you’re anywhere, pretty sweet. That brings up something that has always bugged me, though. In “The Enemy Within” why didn’t they just send down the shuttlecraft? Maybe it was too cold for that too. But damn, that bugs me.

So, being emotionless is impossible, what is the alternative? If we follow Trek canon, I suppose I could be a Vulcan from their distant past. For those who haven’t spent their lives in front of the T.V. box, Vulcans used to be emotional and warlike, until they got all enlightened and went too far the other way.

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Wasn’t all bad.

The thing to do is find that middle way, that balance between modern Vulcan and ancient Vulcan. Between the Vulcans who tore each other apart and the ones who could never tell their mothers they love them. (From “The Naked Time,” which is also the episode with the best off-hand line ever, when Sulu calls Uhura “fair maiden” and she says “Sorry, neither.” Perfection.)

Star Trek taught me other lessons about honor, friendship, communal good. Trying to emulate Spock actually helped too, I think, because he was inconsistent, he broke his own rules. He was a scientist, but he also loved music. He was logic and dignity personified, but he went to jam with space hippies. He had no emotion and no capability for love or friendship, but his reactions really didn’t bear that out.

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“Jim!”

In our lives, I think we need both and a middle ground. Sometimes we do put up a hard shell to get by. That’s fine, that can be important. But we also need to be able to be passionate, to let ourselves be blissfully happy and climb a tree, to be so in love that we forget who we are for a bit, and sometimes we need anger. Sometimes anger is appropriate. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, we fight. But if we must it should be as defense. Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701 – don’t even start!) had a mission of exploration – a five-year mission, if you will – but she also fights if necessary, frequently with Klingons, aka Star Trek’s Daleks. I like Romulans better, honestly.

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In my Top 5 Episodes, and that’s totally not Sarek.

It’s the human condition I think, to try to figure out when to use emotion, and when to curb it a bit. Do I need my passion right now? Is this worth getting angry about? Is this, as a friend put it, the hill I want to die on? If you decide it’s time to be heard, be heard. But be safe.

One of the constant messages in Star Trek was equality among all races, genders, species. Gene Roddenberry wasn’t exactly subtle with this subtext, to the point now and then of being a bit heavy-handed.

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Pictured – subtlety.

But it was a different time, the late ‘60s. Some people, including women, lost their minds because Nurse Chapel was so strong. There was a Russian on the bridge, and a Japanese man, and a, well, some people actually said Spock was a devil, because pointed ears. Sometimes I weep for humanity.

But these characters, these stories, they reached more than a messed up little kid in the suburbs. They made a real difference. Here’s a link to an interview with Nichelle Nichols, Uhura. Yes, Roddenberry saying “a black” hits our ears wrong now, but take it for the time it was said, and hear the story she tells.

Star Trek was just a show, a sci-fi T.V. show that could be written off as fluff. But it wasn’t. Looking at it now, the cheap costumes, the plywood sets, the saltshakers McCoy used as medical instruments (no, seriously) sure, they look cheesy. But look deeper. Try to imagine it’s 1966, and you’re an impressionable kid. There is likely something or someone you relate to.

Many scientists cite the show for sparking their interest in astronomy or what have you. Sometimes it gave a person a glimpse of self-worth, of dignity, of pride.

Remember what MLK told Nichelle Nichols? About how she was a symbol now, a non-stereotyped black character?

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“Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house. ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’

So no, it’s not just a show. It made a major difference in many lives, in myriad ways. And it is relevant still. Despite J.J. Abram’s best efforts, it will live forever.

Live long and prosper.
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Halloween is Coming!

Is it Halloween yet? Trick question, it’s always Halloween.

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Wedding gift.  But of course.

When the chill comes into the air and the days get shorter, Chris and are giddy waiting for everyone else to start putting out spooky things and black clothes and Addams Family memes. Then we put on our best boots and long coats, go to the Halloween stores and skip across the parking lot singing “It’s the most wonderful time…of the yeeeaaarrrrr…..”

A few years ago we were picking out some serving dishes shaped like skulls and a nice print for the living room. A young lady working there asked us if we needed help. “Can I help you find anyt….oooooh, you shop here for all year, don’t you?” We giggled prettily and skipped away. Yes, we do shop there for all year. Our goal is to be Gomez and Mortica and I think we’re well on our way.

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Every home should have a plague mask.

We love the fog belt in San Francisco, where there are many ravens hopping around being ravens, crows forming murders, fog horns singing a mournful song to the sea. Sorry, got lost in thought.

It’s normal to enjoy being scared, or Stephen King would be a copy-editor. As adults we know these things can’t really hurt us. But it gets us right in the fear receptors, something deep inside, whatever it is that scares each person. A big one for me is dread, what isn’t seen. I don’t like jump scares, I like the gut squeezing build-up, or the just barely perceptible mumbling or the thing that morphs into a menace that shouldn’t be.

fear 4
If you know what this is, you’ve seen one of my favorite scary movies ever. (The Haunting, 1963 if you haven’t.)

As an adult, I know that none of this is real but as a kid, oh it’s serious business. This happened when I was about 7 or 8, and it was one of the best moments of fear-imprinting ever, so I share it with you. (Fear-imprinting may not be a thing, I just thought it sounded cool.)

We had gone to visit an aunt who lived outside Chicago in a huge old three-story house, with dozens of closets to play hide-and-go-seek, and a giant basement. As a girl in a one-story ranch house with no basement in suburban California, this was utterly alien to me. But as bizarre as the basement was, it was the furnace, a coal furnace, that blew off the top of my vivid imagination head. I had never even conceived of such a thing, and except for a steam locomotive, I’d never seen coal used as fuel.

One day, I went to the basement alone, it must have been a game of “Truth or Dare.” I pulled the chain of each bare light bulb as I went down the stairs, step by squeaky wooden step, and down onto the cement floor of this otherworldly space, and walked slowly forward, my eyes on my feet. I could hear my heartbeat and very little else. A few more steps and then…I looked up.

And there it was, this giant beast. It was staring right at me! It had many red, rectangular eyes, angry eyes, but its mouth! Huge, gaping, glowing yellow and white. I stood, unable to move as it fixed its red eyes on me, as it frowned its open-mouth frown. What do I do? All I knew is that it was going to devour me messily with a great deal of noise that no one would hear because I was way down in the basement which was larger than my entire house. After a lifetime fit into a minute or two, it hissed at me! A long, cat-like hiss. I was going to die.

fear 3
It didn’t look like this, but this one looks like Bender from Futurama and that’s funny.

I have no memory of running through the paths of boxes, Christmas ornaments and forgotten toys to the stairs and up, but the next I knew I was in the brightly lit kitchen. I told my older sister and brother what had happened and they responded exactly the way an older sister and brother would, they laughed themselves dizzy.

I had kept my eyes on my feet because a long-accepted rule of kid-lore states, “if I can’t see the scary thing, it can’t hurt me.” The rule includes the subset “if my limbs are under the covers it can’t get me.”

Is this really kid stuff though? Is it any different than horoscopes or T.V. psychics? It’s a very small step from “there’s a ghost in my closet” to “there’s a ghost in my closet, call the Ghost Hunters.” It’s the same need, I think, to be afraid of something we know deep inside can’t hurt us, but we believe just enough to be afraid.

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 Ermastus is offended by the stereotype, quite frankly.

Anyway, when you watch a scary movie, especially a slasher type, there’s always that moment when someone does something that makes you think “No! Don’t go there, do go toward the sound, you dumbass!” Then you’re annoyed because nobody would ever be that stupid, I mean, who would ever be that stupid?

Um, about that.

Chris and I were visiting friends in Petaluma. It was a cold night and there was steam coming out of a manhole cover, that’s normal. But we got closer and heard what sounded like both metal scraping and a sort of growl. Did we – A: Cross the street with some urgency B: Note it, and walk around it or C: Walk right up to it, stand on either side, lean over and say “ooooh, what’s that noise?”

C. We did C. We would have been dead before the opening credits. Now when we watch scary movies and someone says, “Nobody would ever be that stupid.” we just sort of glance away and munch our popcorn. Yeah, nobody would be that stupid.

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Would not put it past me.

Sometimes as a skeptic I get called on to help someone logic out of a situation they can’t explain. Sometimes that answer is very, very funny.

Imagine this setting. A big group of us are camping beside a river. It’s dark, some people are getting as crazy as near 50-year-old people do. (Wooo hoo! We’re gonna stay up until 11 tonight!) We weren’t really roughing it though, there was a building with toilets and showers.

So I’m sitting there near the fire, and two of my dear friends run down the path from the bathrooms, linked arm in arm, scared and laughing, wanting me to go with them to check out a ghost in the bathroom. Ok, fine. I set down my sparkling water, and off we went.

As we walk into the bathroom, my girls are giggling but also scared (I really should have messed with them.) “So it looks like your ghost has great taste, it carries a Louis Vuitton bag.” That was the first clue. Ghosts don’t have jobs, how can they afford to buy stuff? Think about it! Anyway, I moved further in and I heard the “ghost,” who was a woman, by herself in the shower, and was in fact moaning.

No ghost, just a woman with little shame and a lot of stamina.

So we laughed that release of tension laugh, and we talk about that to this day. So yeah, it’s not just kids who do this, most of us do to some degree or another.

One doesn’t have to be Gomez and Morticia year-round like we are to love Halloween. It’s just fun, it’s fun to be something or someone you’re not, just for a night you give yourself permission to be silly or play pretend. It’s not just for kids, dammit! You can go play too! Go look for the creepy monster in the basement, do the mind-numbingly stupid thing and lean over the manhole that clearly contains a chain dragging monster waiting to break free, or investigate the ghost with a designer bag and needs that just can’t wait.

It’s August 21 as I write this, just a little over two months until the big day. I do love Christmas, but it’s a different animal. I try to be a little Dickensesque and keep Halloween in my heart all year. Play, laugh at absurdities, be nice to kids, and never, ever go toward the creepy sound in the attic barefoot, dressed in a flimsy nightgown and carrying a candle.