Tybee Island with my Sister: Pictures tell the story.

My last day on Tybee Island started, of course, with sunrise.

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After coffee and spending some time on FB and eating cereal and so on, it was time to go bike riding with Julia.  Here’s what we had planned:

Yes, intrepid bike riders, pedaling around the island.

Instead, both the bike shops were closed – it was Monday.  Apparently, that’s the wrong day for bike riding.

So what could we do?

fullsizeoutput_18a0We walked to the pier, got some woman to take our picture (with the sun in our eyes and my hair all over the place.)  Then we went to Fannie’s on the Beach, where we had a lovely plate of steamed oysters.

img_2164Content with that, we wandered the streets of Tybee for a while, especially Chu’s Department Store.  We were tempted by the hoodies and t-shirts, admired a bowl, glanced at the fishing supplies, and thought about buying some Savannah honey.

Eventually, we decided we needed a glass of wine.  Back on the street, there were so many places we could have gone – and we chose Doc’s.  Julia thought it looked like a bar we knew back in the day – Hikes Point Bar and Lounge, to be exact – and indeed, it did.

It was actually much darker than the pictures.  Thanks, i-phone.

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We enjoyed a glass of wine, and had some conversation with the bartender. Overhearing her phone call with her 11 year old daughter had me remembering my days of motherhood in all too vivid color.  And it made us laugh.  The bartender was glad that I could reassure her that it does get easier.  Or different anyhow.

After all that, we had worked up an appetite, so we went to find our menfolk and get dinner.  Stingray’s was an easy choice for dinner – Julia and I split the seafood platter.  Oh. My. Goodness.

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And a good time was had by all.

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Lessons from the Hot Tub

I was in Florida for work.  Pulled a muscle in my back getting dressed (yes, you can do that.) Decided to hang out in the hot tub during the pre-dinner break.  It was cloudy, no one was swimming, and I chose the hot tub that was empty.  Relaxing in the heat, water pounding against my back was heavenly.

I was in the area marked “Adults Only,” but when the man with his young daughter appeared and asked if I minded if they joined me, I didn’t mind at all.  The little girl was maybe 3, curly blonde hair, pink bathing suit, pink plastic sandals, still wearing her little inflatable life vest.  She was shivering.

“The pool was too cold for her, ” the dad says as he slides down into the heated whirlpool.  “Here honey,” he says, “Get in, this is warm.”

But she pulls back, shakes her head, “no, no, it’s too hot.”

He shakes his head.  “It’s not too hot, come on, get in.”

I laugh, “Like Goldilocks, that pool’s too cold, this one’s too hot – where’s the ‘just right’ pool?”

Dad continues to urge little Goldilocks into the pool, until she agrees to sit on the side. She dips her feet, still encased in little pink plastic sandals, in the water, then pulls back, “no, too hot.”

“No, it’s not,” Dad insists.  “Just try it.”  He grasps both her ankles in one hand and pulls her feet into the water, holding them there.

From the other side of the hot tub, I’m at eye level with her feet.  I can see her resisting at first, trying to pull away, but he holds firm.  He doesn’t release her ankles until she relents.  Then he lets go.

“See,” he says, “It’s not too hot.”  She doesn’t say anything.  She’s still shivering, even though her feet are in the water.

Goldilocks’ grandfather comes by.  “You should get in there,” he says, all gruff.  “Go ahead, get in!”  She shakes her head.

Grandmother comes to join us.  “It’s too hot for her in here,” she says, looking at me rather than Dad.

I smile, “And she knows that!  That’s why she’s not all the way in.  She already knows it’s too hot.”

Grandmother agrees, “She’s little bitty, she doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her, it’s too hot for her.”

Dad ignores us.

Mom, holding a baby, comes to sit on the edge of the tub.  We chat a bit – where are we from, how long are we staying, and yes, the water is really hot.  Goldilocks is still sitting on the edge of the tub, feet in the water, shivering.

“Are you cold?” says Dad.  Her teeth are chattering, she nods.  “You should get in,” he says, “Want me to put you in?”

She shakes her head, “No.”

“Hot,” she says.

“Come on,” he says, “I’ll just dip you to the waist.”

“No,” she says, softly, but the head shaking is a bit frantic.

“It’s not too hot,” he says, and he begins scooping water in his hand and pouring it over her legs.

Remember, I am at eye-level with her feet and legs.  I watch him pour water on one leg while she pulls it up, trying to move it out of his range.  He switches to the other leg, and she pulls that one out, shaking her head, “No.”

She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t protest loudly, she doesn’t have a tantrum.  She is a good girl, our little Goldilocks.  But she keeps trying to get her legs away from the relentless stream of water that feels too hot to her.

I leave the hot tub.  I can’t stay and watch her Dad – by all other evidence, a kind and loving Dad – I won’t stay and watch him teach her that how her body feels doesn’t matter. That her saying, “no,” is pointless.

In a wildly inappropriate moment, I want to ask his wife, “Is he like that about sex.  Does he try to talk you into it?  Does he keep doing stuff you don’t like while he tells you, yes, you do like it?”

Ok, time to go.  There are three hot tubs in this hotel.  I don’t have to give up my hot tub pleasure, I just move to one that’s empty.  And from that distance, I ponder.

I may be oversensitive.  The election of our racist, misogynistic President has heightened my already acute awareness of how we control female bodies.  That Dad wasn’t “abusive.”  He wasn’t scalding her.  He wasn’t even mean about it.

And he gently and relentlessly showed her that how her body feels doesn’t matter.

It’s not like he was making her take medicine, or get vaccinated.  No health or safety reason to override her need to be comfortable in her body.  He ostensibly wanted her to enjoy herself.

The women around her acknowledged that she was right – that her body was right – they agreed, the water was too hot for her.  But they didn’t offer any help.  They could have brought her a beach towel.  She could have sat on the edge, quite cozy, wrapped in a big fluffy towel.  I don’t think it even occurred to them.

Maybe I’m making too much of it.  But I keep seeing her skinny three year old legs, pink plastic sandals still on her feet, trying to pull away from the water.

And I keep thinking that somewhere in this story is the reason some of those white women voted for Trump.  If you learn that it doesn’t matter what your body wants when you’re three, if you learn not to trust your own best instincts at three years old, when do you learn to trust yourself?  How do you know that it matters?

 

 

With Appreciation

The last couple of trips my partner, Dee, and I have taken to Mexico, he’s been having some issues with mobility, so we’ve needed a wheelchair to get from one flight to the next.  It’s been awkward and odd and amazing.

Overwhelmingly, I am grateful that airports have a system designed to allow us to travel.  I had no idea.  When we ask for a wheelchair, a staff person is assigned to push it.  That person may go with us to pick up luggage and take it though customs, walk us through immigration and document checks, and go through security.  They may be with us for 15 minutes or for hours.

It’s no longer just me and Dee traveling, we’re a little parade.  Dee and the wheelchair and the staff person, me, and often a second staff person with the luggage.  There are some benefits.  We breeze through immigration and customs now.  No waiting in line for security.

The staff people are invariably nice and helpful.   In Mexico City, they don’t always speak any English, which matches our lack of Spanish speaking skill, but Dee makes an effort to communicate and they do too and it all works out.

Well, that one time when we wandered around the airport for about 3 hours trying to find our luggage and figure out what we were supposed to do to get a flight the next day was not so much fun.  Our person kept stopping to ask different people for advice, they would speak rapidly in Spanish, with some gesticulating, and I wasn’t sure what he was even asking, much less what they were saying.  Then he would be back, taking the wheelchair in hand, heading off in some direction, and all I could do was follow him.  At one point, he gestured to me that I had to go through some security check – I didn’t know why, but the security guy spoke a little English, and he explained that they needed me to look for our luggage.  So I headed back into some baggage area, while our guy and Dee headed off in the opposite direction to “los banos,” and I did wonder what would happen if I came back and they were just gone.

What would I do then?

But they were there when I came back, and I had the luggage too, so it was all good.

We had a young woman in Charlotte who was warm and reassuring.  “Don’t worry,” she said, “You’ve got plenty of time to make the next flight,” and of course she was right.  In Charlotte, their system involved her getting us to the right cart, which then carried us on to the right gate, where they had a wheelchair to get us to the door of the aircraft.  The young woman and I chatted for a minute or two – she’s just working at this until she can get a job with one of the airlines, and then she’ll be able to travel.  She was telling me about the many places she wants to go, and I hope she gets to do that.

I’ve begun to see the networks of people who staff the airports and the way they relate to each other.  Sometimes, our person – our helper? I don’t know what the right term is – but sometimes they’re really outgoing, flirting and joking with everyone along the way.  Sometimes they’re more quiet, but alway helpful and kind.

Yesterday, we left Mexico City, landed in Dallas, headed for home.  The wheelchair attendant (there, does that sound better?) is a soft-spoken woman, wearing a burkha.  Her name tag reads “Ayisha.”   She is pleased to hear we have three hours between flights, “Plenty of time,” she says, “No need to hurry.”

She directs us.  “You’ll need your passport and boarding pass,” or “show him this form with your passport,” telling me, “follow me,” or “you go ahead.”  We move a bit more smoothly than usual.

We are delayed at security.  “Only two wheelchairs can go at a time,” she says,  “so we just wait.  Sometimes, people get so upset, but it’s ok, there’s lots of time.”

We get to customs, and she helps us scan our passports, answer the appropriate questions (no, we have not visited a farm) and get our pictures taken.  With our printouts in hand, we are heading on, when a male voice behind us says, “Ayisha, help her with this!”

She turns, I turns – Dee is up ahead just a bit – and there’s an older woman in a wheelchair in front of the machine, passport in hand, saying querulously, “I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know how.”

Ayisha says to the man staffing the wheelchair, “You can help her,” but he turns his head away, and the woman in the chair says again, “I don’t know how to do this.”

I think Ayisha is going to say something sharp to the man, I think she starts to, or maybe I just want her to, but she doesn’t.  Instead she takes the woman’s passport and shows her how to insert it to start the process.  She gently and kindly walks her through the couple of minutes it takes to complete it.  Then, without waiting for thanks, she turns and we move on.

“Why didn’t he help her?”  I ask.

“Oh, he’s very  – busy,” she says, in a tone that I think means he thinks he’s too important to do that.

“But – he was right there, he could have helped her,” I say.

“Yes,” she agrees, “He could have,” and she says it in a tone that allows me to let go of my own frustration at what seems like him being unreasonable.

We pick up our luggage – two bags, about 40 pounds each – and Ayisha stacks them on a cart.  She takes the wheelchair with one hand, the cart with the other, and starts off.  “Oh, I can help with that,” I say, meaning the luggage, but she laughs.  “I’ve got it,” she says.

I’m a bit awed.  Often the wheelchair person will take one bag and ask me to push the other – which is fine if we aren’t going miles.  And sometimes they’ll recruit a second person to help.  But she’s handling both wheelchair and baggage as if it’s nothing.  “I’ve been doing this job for 15 years.  Sometimes,” she says, “I push two wheelchairs.”

She hands the luggage off again effortlessly.

We’re about to get on an elevator – there’s a couple standing there with a full cart of luggage, about to go up.  Ayisha says, “Are you going to check your luggage?”  They shake their heads no.  “Are you looking for a taxi?”  Nods this time.  “You need to go that way,” she says, pointing.  Off the elevator they come, heading down the hall in the right direction.

“How did you know they were going the wrong way?”

She shakes her head, “Easy, you don’t need to go up with luggage.  You either go that way to check in baggage, or the other way to go out.  You don’t go up.”

We are pre-TSA, but are delayed while they check Dee’s hands for evidence of explosives and pat him down from head to toe.  “He is new,” Ayisha says, talking about the security guy.  “He doesn’t have to do all that, he was pre-TSA, but that guy, he’s new, new ones, they always do too much.”

She delivers us to an electric cart, “You stay with this cart,” she says, “Don’t  take any other one, this one take you all the way to your gate.”  I assure her we will, and thank her profusely, as she sends us off with a smile and a wave.

I hate for Dee that he’s had to use a wheelchair.  I would not have chosen this experience for either of us.  But I am left with such lovely images of the network of people who make it possible for us to travel.  So many times, I’ve seen wheelchairs at the end of the ramp as I exit the plane, without giving them another thought.  Now I feel connected to the people who do that work day after day.   And to Ayisha, who did it with such warmth, dignity, and grace.

 

 

Thoughts about Racism as a Social Disease

This  article  – Confronting Racism as a Social Disease – just derailed my morning timetable.   I was going to post it on Facebook with a little commentary, but it is too rich, and I have too much to say about it, to get away with a FB post.  So here I am, writing about it instead.

The article, by Deborah Peterson Small, is well worth reading, so I encourage you to do that first.

I’ll start here – the last two paragraphs:

The Black Lives Matters movement—dealing with the immediate victims of trauma as a result of encounters with police and violence—could benefit from an alliance with people in the therapeutic community. I’d like to see poor communities of color served in the same way when tragedy strikes them as middle-class communities are served. It triggers me every time I hear that therapists are offering counseling to people traumatized by the latest shooting disaster but aren’t going to Detroit or Chicago or East New York or any of the mostly black places that are experiencing the same tragedies every day.

I’d like to see therapists acknowledge that when black young people are arrested and put in handcuffs and locked in cells, that’s a traumatic event. What do white people think it feels like for young black people, the descendants of slaves, to be handcuffed and sent to jail? The United States is a nation of people traumatized by centuries of pain as the victims and perpetrators of forced migration, forced extraction, and forced exclusion. Our collective pain is one of the root causes of violence in our society. If ever a society needed to put itself on the collective couch, it’s us.

I have been preaching that, or some version of it, for a long time.  Starting in the mid 90s, I worked in a community that was experiencing a sharp increase in gun violence and homicides. I began to see how that impacted the community.  I saw that when someone got killed, the impact rippled out through their family and friends, through the people who knew them, people who lived close to them, and so on, all the way into the community health center where I was, touching the therapists and staff there too.  The victims were often people we knew, and if we didn’t know them, we knew their mama, their children, or their next-door-neighbor.  Or maybe we knew the person who killed them.

I sometimes tell the story that in those days, I would get up and look at the newspaper first thing to see if anyone I knew got killed the night before.  My view of the world had changed.

At the time, I started thinking about the impact of slavery over generations, how that might affect the people descended from those who had survived it, and I talked about it to anyone who would listen.  Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.  Joy DeGruy describes it the way I was thinking about it, and I was thrilled when I found her work.

So trauma is “my thing,” and has been for a long time.  I get so excited when I see a call-out for therapy like in this article.  I’ve looked for ways to do that work – through workshops or therapy or anything for a long time, without real success.  Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough or long enough, or maybe I’m not the right person to actually do it.  But the work needs to be done, so I get excited when someone else says it.  Yes, yes, yes.

The first part of the article, more directly about racism as a social disease, made me think about a discussion I was involved in at a workshop on diversity.  The facilitator asked if we confronted and challenged racism when it was expressed by clients in our individual therapy practice.  It was a great question because it creates some tension for therapists.

On one hand, we are committed to keeping the client’s goals first.  We are not supposed to have our own agenda.  I’ve argued with more than one therapist who works with children that no, I don’t think it would be more helpful for the mother to work on her parenting issues, that yes, she needs help with parenting, but she needs to work on resolving her own trauma issues first. Yes, the needs of her kids are super important, but if we want her to be a good parent, her own needs have to come first.

So I don’t think I can interrupt the flow of a therapy session to say, “You know, that thing you just said was a pretty racist perspective, can we talk about that for a minute?” unless it’s pertinent to the client’s goals.   At the same time, I am committed to dismantling racism, so if my client says things or does things that are racist, how can I not challenge it?

The article points out:

“… the other part—never really talked about—is the harm that comes to white people from living in a racist society and the way in which it distorts their perspectives of themselves. Knowing that the conversation you have about yourself is inconsistent with what’s true, and feeling a constant need to preserve that image by obfuscation, projection, and denial, generate a permanent inner sense of shame.”

So one thing I can do – and I hope I already do this – is to be open to opportunities to challenge those ways of thinking when I see them connected with my client’s goals.  Of course, first I have to look for them and challenge them in myself.  The beauty of being a therapist is that it makes you do all this damn hard work on yourself first so you’re able to be there in a way that is helpful for others.

If I’m standing in awareness of how stereotypes and racist tropes have affected me, and if I’m aware of my own privilege, and how it impacts my life, then it’s possible for me to communicate those concepts, and challenge others, when appropriate.  As is so often the case, whether we’re talking about trauma or racism, it comes back to making sure I’m doing my own work first.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the article or how you incorporate anti-racist work into your life, or what you think can be done to help people deal with the trauma around us.  In the meantime, I’ll work on getting my morning back on track.

 

 

 

Kim Davis: Is she acting as a “Lesser Magistrate?”

I’ve read lots of articles about Kim Davis, the clerk in Rowan County, Ky and her defiance of the marriage equality law.  Living in Kentucky, it’s particularly interesting to me.   But I haven’t seen anyone in the mainstream talking specifically about the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate and whether that doctrine applies to the stand Kim Davis has taken.

According to Wikipedia, the doctrine of the lesser magistrate dates back to the time of John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation.  Simply put, it states that if the government is wrong, individuals still have to follow the laws, but magistrates – people in public office – have a right and a duty to stand up against the laws.  Which makes sense.  They have a duty to defend their people from tyrants.  But ~

Fast forward to 2013 and Matthew Trewhella, author of The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate, available here on Amazon.  {No, I’m not suggesting you buy it, but I’d rather you check it out on Amazon than on his website…}  Trewhella says:

“America has entered troubling times. The rule of law is crumbling. The massive expansion of Federal government power with its destructive laws and policies is of grave concern to many. But what can be done to quell the abuse of power by civil authority? Are unjust or immoral actions by the government simply to be accepted and their lawless commands obeyed? How do we know when the government has acted tyrannically? Which actions constitute proper and legitimate resistance? This book places in your hands a hopeful blueprint for freedom. Appealing to history and the Word of God, Pastor Matthew Trewhella answers these questions and shows how Americans can successfully resist the Federal government’s attempts to trample our Constitution, assault our liberty, and impugn the law of God. The doctrine of the lesser magistrates declares that when the superior or higher civil authority makes an unjust/immoral law or decree, the lesser or lower ranking civil authority has both the right and duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. If necessary, the lower authority may even actively resist the superior authority.”

Then I found this website, that blogs about the doctrine of the lesser magistrate.  They are thrilled with Kim Davis.  According to them,   “What Kim Davis has done is not about religious liberty – it is about reining in a lawless federal judiciary.”

If she, and others who resist issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, are following the doctrine, then they don’t actually want the state to find ways to accommodate their religious beliefs.  Their goal is to keep the state from issuing licenses – from acting in ways that their religion deems immoral.  As the blogger says:

“The clerks (and others) do not want to have to lay their hand to this great evil (by issuing marriage licenses), but then promote a change in state law so that people can still do the evil – just not through them. This is not true interposition.”

The blog then goes on to complain that the clerks “seem to be taking some bad advice from politicians and lawyers.”  I agree with them, but not the way they mean it.  They’re critical because it looks like they might settle for having a new system that would issue the licenses without them.  “True interposition” doesn’t work like that.  According to the website:

When standing in interposition against wickedness, lesser magistrates – like county clerks, judges, or legislators – should understand that their primary duty is to protect those who reside in their jurisdiction against the aggression of the tyrant – not to protect themselves.

Not only does the interposition of the lesser magistrates protect the people in the jurisdiction of their office against evil – but it also abates the just judgment of God.

Kim Davis (and others) are attempting to stand in the gap. Their fealty to the Lord does not allow them to join the higher authorities in their rebellion against God. But, it is all an utter failure if they proffer actions to see the evil accomplished another way (via a website at the statehouse). It is not true interposition.

So don’t be confused by discussions about religious freedom.  This is not about an individual’s right to act in accordance with her conscience.  It’s not about the need to make accommodations.   The intent is to stop the government from acting in ways that are against her religious beliefs.

No, she can’t win this battle.  In my worst fantasy, her attorney is encouraging her to see herself as the first of the Lesser Magistrates to stand up to the immoral, tyrannical government.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe he’s not helping her envision herself as – oh good grief, yes, seriously, the Rosa Parks of her time.  I think he is.  The website, after a lot of talk about why the Supreme Court can’t “make laws,” says:

What Kim Davis has done is not about religious liberty – it is about interposition, it is about honoring Christ, it is about reining in a lawless federal judiciary.

It is now incumbent upon all other magistrates – sheriffs, district attorneys, judges from all spheres of government, and legislators from all spheres of government – to rally around Kim Davis, interpose on her behalf, and defy a lawless federal judiciary.

It is now incumbent upon the people to rally around Kim Davis and assure her of their support – with their persons, with their finances, with their prayers. They must also prod their state and federal magistrates to interpose on her behalf and defy the lawlessness of the federal judiciary.

So don’t be surprised when Kim Davis goes back to jail.  Don’t shake your head and say, “WHAT does she want?”  She wants to lead the lesser magistrates into battle to defy the Supreme Court.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Then Whose Fault Is It?

{Reblogged from my website:  http://faustaluchini.com/blog/}

Just as I was beginning to write my last post, I ran across this article entitled: How to Land your Kid in Therapy. The author, Lori Gottlieb, starts off expressing her relief (as a parent) that parents don’t have to be perfect – that the real goal is to be a “good enough” mother. Then she talks about her experiences as a therapist. She describes how her first clients clearly suffered from having parents who were not emotionally nurturing. Then she begins to describe some other clients:

Imagine a bright, attractive 20-something woman with strong friendships, a close family, and a deep sense of emptiness. She had come in, she told me, because she was “just not happy.” And what was so upsetting, she continued, was that she felt she had nothing to be unhappy about. She reported that she had “awesome” parents, two fabulous siblings, supportive friends, an excellent education, a cool job, good health, and a nice apartment. She had no family history of depression or anxiety. So why did she have trouble sleeping at night? Why was she so indecisive, afraid of making a mistake, unable to trust her instincts and stick to her choices? Why did she feel “less amazing” than her parents had always told her she was? Why did she feel “like there’s this hole inside” her? Why did she describe herself as feeling “adrift”?
The author spends the rest of the article explaining what the parents of her young clients have done wrong to create young adults who “have it all” but are still not happy. Drawing on the most sound psychological theory, she explains how over-protecting your child from disappointment, giving them too many choices, and treating them as if they were “delicate tea cups” puts today’s young people at a disadvantage – and “lands them in therapy.” She describes what parents can do to keep from handicapping their children in this particular way.

It made me laugh. I don’t disagree with her – in the ideal world, parents would know how to provide exactly the right amount of protection balanced with the right amount of laissez-faire. I’m sure there are parents who know when to negotiate and when to stand firm in exactly the right amounts. And maybe their children grow up to be perfectly well-adjusted and happy in all the right ways.

I don’t know any of those parents, or their kids either. Maybe they exist – I just haven’t met them.

But I appreciate a person in their twenties who “has it all” and still feels that something is missing. I don’t think it means there’s something wrong with them – I think they’re on track to discover who they are and their purpose in life. I understand that they may be a bit miserable, but I don’t see any reason to hold their parents accountable for that.

Good grief, in order to be perfect parents – including being just the right kind of flawed – would take some phenomenal perfection. Ridiculous. Some people have trauma-laden pasts to heal from, others may suffer from lack of experience with difficulties – but everybody has problems. Going to therapy is one way to learn how to deal with whatever your struggles are.

Being anxious, depressed, unhappy, bored, or miserable might mean we need to make changes in how we live. It might mean we need to accept some things about how we live, or about the universe. We might need new skills or a new perspective. Maybe our childhoods were traumatic, or maybe they were “too easy.” The question is still not “What’s Wrong With Me?”

And the answer is not, “Well, here’s what my parents did wrong.” Don’t misunderstand me – if you had a traumatic childhood, as many people do, there is healing work that you need to do. If you had parents who thought you were supposed to make them happy, you have healing work to do. And if your life was so easy that you’re a bit spoiled – well, you still have work to do.

I’m pretty sure that we’re all scarred from our childhood, not to mention adolescence. Our parents are only human, and they carry their own scars. Most of them do the best they know how to do. Figuring out where your parents went wrong is not, actually, the goal. It might be a place to visit, a little exploration might help, but that’s not the end of the journey.

So if the question is not, “What’s wrong with me,” or “Where did my parents go wrong?” then what is the question?

Sometimes, just figuring out what the question is takes time and energy. Sometimes, it’s about looking at the things that have happened to us, seeing them with adult eyes and a new perspective. Looking at the rules we’ve learned about how the world works, deciding which rules are fact-based and helpful, which ones aren’t. Figuring out what we feel and where we stand and who we are. Ultimately, the question becomes, “Given all the things that I’ve been through, given the things about my life that I can’t change, given all my goals and dreams and needs, what do I need to do to be ok? Right now, what do I need to do to be ok?

What’s Wrong With Me?

(Reblogged this from my website at http://faustaluchini.com )

Several times lately, in mid therapy session, I’ve suddenly realized that my client’s biggest problem may be the that there’s nothing wrong with them.

No, I don’t mean the problems are “just in their head.” And I don’t mean they don’t have problems. But they’re struggling to figure out “what’s wrong with me” – what diagnosis, what deep-seated flaw, what horrible defect needs to be cured – because if they could just figure that out, then they’d know what medication, what therapy, what correct course of action would fix them.

But – what if they don’t actually need to be fixed? What if there’s not actually anything dreadfully wrong with them? What if the real problem is that they believe there’s something dreadfully wrong with them, and they’re putting their energy into trying to figure out what it is? What if that’s the wrong question?

There are a dozen ways I can talk about this from a clinical perspective. I can talk about schemas and core beliefs. I can talk about negative self-talk. I can talk about mindfulness and moving toward radical acceptance. I can talk about the just world theory and the existential challenge of answering the question “Why do bad things happen to me? And all those things apply. But what if we can make it simpler. Consider this.

If I believe that the problems I’m having and the anxiety and depression I feel are because there’s something inherently wrong with me, then of course I want to know what it is. But in looking for the answer, every uncomfortable feeling and every painful event become just more evidence of my failings.

Like this:

My husband said something mean to me. It’s my fault because I should set limits with him. My first husband was like that too – I just attract the wrong people. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My 14 year old daughter feels like she doesn’t fit in. I never felt like I fit in, it’s probably my fault she doesn’t either. If I knew how to fit in, I could help her. My boss said something the other day and I think it means she thinks this new guy is doing a better job than I am. I’ve been there 10 years, why doesn’t she respect me more? I must be awful. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

And then they torture themselves, trying to figure out “what’s wrong with me.” What if that’s the wrong question? What if the husband is having an existential life crisis and just feeling irritable? And what if the daughter doesn’t “fit in” because she’s super creative and bright? What if “fitting in” isn’t actually the goal? What if it’s ok for the boss to praise someone else and it doesn’t mean anything about her other employees?

What if “What’s Wrong With Me?” is just the wrong question?

???

???

Making Sense of the Duggars – Why It’s Not About Josh or His Sisters

I’ve read dozens of articles about Josh Duggar and his family – lots of people with lots to say.  They agree that Josh, starting when he was 14, molested at least 4 or 5 younger children, some of whom were his sisters.  They agree that he “confessed” and his parents responded by sending him for “treatment.” Apparently, the victims forgave him.

Some articles condemn Josh and his family, some defend them, some seem to delight in the fall from grace of this family that was quick to judge others.   Some worry about the victims.  Some condemn other people for judging the Duggars!  None of that is particularly helpful.

But just ignoring it isn’t a helpful response either.  When abuse happens and it’s hidden away, it will, eventually, tumble back out of the closet. When it does, the most effective response is not to shove it back in the closet, or to ignore the skeletons dancing in the living room.

When it became public knowledge that Catholic priests had been molesting children, and we realized the Church hierarchy had been carefully covering it up, we needed to talk about that.  We needed to pull the problem into the light so people could identify ways to stop it.  It was important to determine the factors that had allowed so many people to turn their heads and let it continue.

The problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church went beyond individual priests who abused individual children – it was a systemic problem that supported the abusive priests at the expense of the children.  It was a system that encouraged secrecy and shame, and that had to be exposed before it could be remedied.  (Not to imply that the process is complete.)

The Duggars promoted themselves as an ideal family system, and we need to understand what happened.  Not the details of the abuse, or information about the victims.  And not just wringing our hands and talking about how awful-horrible-terrible it is.  That may be satisfying, but isn’t helpful.

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, and Feminism offers helpful information.   In What Did Josh Duggars Counseling Look Like, she introduces us to the material used in seminars offered by Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute – which is where they sent Josh for counseling.  The whole article is worth reading, but at the heart of it is this outline for “Counseling Sexual Abuse.”

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I work with many adults who’ve been sexually abused as children.  If I wanted them to feel responsible for the abuse, I would start with this outline.  Then, after I’d thoroughly doused them in guilt and self-blame, I could encourage them to seek forgiveness and find redemption in their spiritual growth.  For the victim this is a cruel perversion of the actual process of healing from abuse.   For the perpetrator, it’s an opportunity to blame the victim and feel forgiven without much effort.

This model of understanding sexual abuse explains a lot about why the situation in the Duggar family was handled the way it was.  But ~ but ~ HOW can they think that’s how it works?  For example, their emphasis on modesty as abuse prevention is applied to very young children – even three and four year olds.   How can that be?  It’s as if they’re living in a different reality.

And in a way they are.   Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes shifted my understanding.  People with progressive sexual ethics and people with conservative sexual ethics don’t share a paradigm for sexuality in general.  Suddenly, lots of confusing difference clicked into place.  Compare the two:

Sex

When you break it down that way, it makes perfect sense.  Consent is not a biblical principal.  Consent can’t be a biblical principle because the Bible is patriarchal, and consent implies equality.  In the Duggar family, for sure, women are not on a par with men.  Women are considered inherently different and naturally submissive to male leadership.  This creates an artificial power differential based on gender.

As a therapist, I know that children who are abused by their parents often blame themselves.  Because they depend on their parents for survival, it’s safer to believe that their parents are good and that the abuse was somehow their fault than to believe that their parent is unfair and cruel.  I can speculate that women in a severely patriarchal household are motivated to consider their male head of household in the same light.  If the family leader appointed by God is not basically good and trustworthy, then where does that leave those who are dependent on him for guidance and direction?

Nope.  It’s much safer to follow blindly with your eyes closed.  Easier to accept logical contortions than to  break away.   And I don’t say that lightly – Libby Anne provides dozens of links to “survivor blogs” – leaving this kind of family is incredibly difficult and painful.

For those of us not bound by such extremes, it’s tempting to believe we are somehow better than the Duggars.  Smarter, maybe.  After all, we know better than that.  It couldn’t happen to us.  But before we settle too deep in that comfortable space, let’s remember that we live in a patriarchal culture too.  It’s easy to see the traps other people are caught in, harder to see when we’re tied up in traps of our own.

The challenge is to move beyond “that’s awful-horrible-terrible” – even when it is.  The goal is not to demonize others and not to be “better than them.”  The goal is a world rooted in equality – regardless of gender, race, class, or ability –  a world where victims’ voices are heard, and oppression is not the norm.    And that movement – that change – has to start inside each of us.

After 50 – Another View

I’ve been pondering on a couple of articles I read lately.  In Aging while female is not your worst nightmare,  Lori Day poignantly describes the impact of ageism – summing it up in these words:

“The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.”

I remember my mother talking about feeling like she wasn’t heard, at meetings,  interacting with sales clerks, and even in groups of friends.  She was much older than 50 when it happened to her, but she was frustrated and indignant.  Often, it was that thing that happens to all women sometimes – Mom would be in a meeting, she’d suggest something, and no one would say anything.  Five minutes later, someone younger, or male, would suggest it and suddenly everyone thinks it’s a great idea.  It used to drive her crazy.

But at least Mom gave me advance notice.  I knew this was coming someday.  Day, who is 51 or 52, bemoans the fact that no one warned her.

“I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street.”

She ends the article with a call to action:

“Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped.”

Good advice.

Then I read this article.  Women Over 50 are Invisible? I Must Have Missed the Memo.  Erica Jagger challenges the narrative that aging brings a new level of discrimination.  She says:

“I could look at myself and see a middle-aged, cash-strapped, over-worked, and occasionally overwrought single mom. OR I could see a survivor who shed her Stepford Wife shell and now isn’t letting anyone dictate how she should live, who she should date, or what kind of sex she should have.”

She attributes her sense of well-being, despite being 52, to her attitude.

“Shrugging off society’s death knell to mature women takes audacity, something every 50-plus woman needs if she doesn’t want to go gently into that good night. Feeling invisible stems less from one’s appearance, and more from the value we put on other people’s often shallow judgments of middle-aged women. I think it’s my refusal to listen to the messages telling me I’ve passed my expiration date, and my determination to create a brilliant second act, that makes me seem younger than my years.”

So I’ve been pondering these articles and my own experience, thinking about the women I know, and trying to figure out where I stand.  I think…

Fifty is not actually old.  It may be the beginning of the crone stage of life, but just barely.  At 50, I began to celebrate life.  I realized that I really could do anything I wanted, without seeking anyone’s approval or permission.  I took risks and made life changing decisions.

In my 50’s, I grew into myself.  If something didn’t work out, I quit doing it and tried something different.  I spoke up and spoke out (not that I was exactly shy and inhibited before) and I expanded my world.

But I also remember being 35 and in graduate school.   In the middle of class, some older woman would raise her hand and I would roll my eyes, thinking, ‘Here we go again,” as she started a long and slightly off-topic tale of her experiences.    I felt bad for doing it.  I did.  But sheesh.  This woman (and there was more than one of her) had a story for every single situation, you know?   Being old doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or make all your words golden and not every occasion has to be a sharing opportunity.

I’m almost 60.  Well, just turned 59 – same thing.  My life is super good – I have a career I love, with enough variety to keep me happy.   I live with my partner, who I love.  He’s fun and interesting, and we’re comfortable with each other.   We have enough money to cover all our needs and many of our wants.   I have delightful friends, who I enjoy; activities that keep me busy and are rewarding.  I have amazing grandchildren, and even though one of my daughters lives very far away, we’re still close, and thank goodness, we live in the age of Skype and air travel.

I would not trade any part of my life for a chance to be younger.  It took me 59 years to get here, and I have no desire to go back to being 40 or 30 or 20 – and, absolutely-no-way-in-hell, not a teenager.

So I’m not young.  I’m a crone, and proud of it, but just beginning to come to terms with it.  I don’t quite know what it means yet, or how I will grow into it.

Some thoughts I consider:

1.  It’s ok to need help.  (I know, of course it is.  Particularly if it’s you that needs help, and not me – it’s totally ok for you.)

2.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.

3.  It’s ok for other people to figure things out for themselves.  Even if I already “know” the answer.

4.  Sometimes, my right answer is not actually the right answer.

5.  No matter how wise I am, not everyone is obliged to listen to me or agree with me.  It’s up to me to say the things I think need to be said.  I don’t have to make anyone hear me.

6.  It’s ok if someone explains something to me that I already know.  Even if I learned it the hard way, before they were born.   It’s ok to just agree with them.  I don’t always “already know,” and they can’t read my mind.

8.  I am headed toward death.  Seriously.  People my age die all the time and only old people say, “But they were so young!”  If I get to die without a long layover in dementia, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I’ve noticed that as we age, often, we simplify.  We move to smaller places, strip our homes of everything except the most necessary or treasured belongings.

Maybe we strip our egos too, gradually scale down from strong active leader to wise consultant.  From star to supporting character.  Maybe our voices need to become softer so that other people can find their own voices, so they’ll be ready to carry on without us.

I’m not there yet – let me be clear – I’m not stepping aside right now.  Life still has plenty of challenges and surprises for me.  But I am letting go of some things, and feeling ok about it.  Working on figuring out how the “growing old” thing works.

I can almost envision a time of being truly retired.  Maybe not til I’m 80, but someday.  I’ll take a leisurely walk on the beach every morning, read for sheer pleasure, and enjoy all the small moments.   I won’t have a long to-do list to put off doing.  If anyone wants my advice, they’ll have to email me, or call, or come visit.  They’ll have to ask me what I think.

I’ll spend time with loved ones, family and friends.  Maybe I’ll write, or volunteer to read at a nursing home or kindergarten.   I’ll have little projects that will enrich my life without any effort to change the world – and do it content in the knowledge that y’all young people are out there working hard at all the things that matter.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

 

More Airport Adventures

The morning we have to leave Puerto {which we don’t much want to do} I’m talking to the women at the front desk of our hotel, Natalie and that-other-blonde-woman, whose name I don’t know.  One of them says, “You’re leaving today?? Ohhhh, hmmmm, well, you might want to go very soon.”  They exchange looks, nodding seriously.  “Yes, I wouldn’t wait too long.”

“What?  Why?  What? Our plane doesn’t leave til 4…” I am baffled.  Natalie is German and occasionally I have trouble understanding her English, maybe I’ve misunderstood?

“Well, we heard – I don’t know if it’s true or not – we heard they are trying to shut down the airport.  You may not be able to leave if you wait.”  It takes me a minute to process this.  Seriously?  Then – “‘They’ who?” I say.

“The teachers, the teachers are protesting.  Usually they shut down the road to the airport.”  With a shrug, “Then you cannot ride all the way in, you have to walk with your suitcases, but you can still get there.  This time they say they are shutting down the airport and no one will be able to leave.  But I’m not sure.  I heard this, but I don’t know if it’s true or not.  I will tell you when I find out more.”

“Ok, great, that would be helpful,” I say.   I’m trying to decide whether  to panic, and then I shrug too, “I guess if we can’t fly out, we’ll take a bus to Mexico City.  Our plane doesn’t leave there til 9 tomorrow morning.  No point in worrying about it.”

But it feels a bit like I’m in a bad novel, you know?  The kind that makes me anxious because I think they won’t “get out” and bad things will happen and all that.  But here in real life, I’m just not too worried  I go back to our room and pass this information on to Dee, who is also not too worried.  Whatever.

When Conan gets to the hotel, we share this possibility with him, and he says he’ll call his cousin and find out more, but no one really knows.

So we get packed, and load up the car, pick up my daughter from work and have lunch.  Lunch is in a small, non-touristy restaurant near the Mercado- the same restaurant we had lunch in when people were leaving after the wedding in February, so it may become our traditional farewell lunch place.  Paulina, Conan’s mother, insists on paying the tab, which is nice of her.  Lucia is cranky, which may also be a tradition, she was cranky at lunch that day in February, and I remember Holly or somebody taking her out and walking up and down the street with her.

Memorable lunch moment this time – Julia has distracted Lucia with some delicious rice water, and Lucia is playing with the empty glass.   She offers her Mommy some pretend rice water.  Julia “drinks” from the glass, and says “Ahhhh.”

Lucia smiles and asks, “Good?”

Julia, “Yes.  Delicious.”

Just a moment’s pause, and Lucia says, “Say ‘thank you,'” in the Exact Same Tone of gentle prompting that her mother uses.

And what can Julia say but, “Thank you!”

I’m trying to hide my laughter, but omg, I’m cracking up, it’s so perfect.  Timing and tone, Lucia captures pure Julia.

Anyhow.  Lovely lunch.  Then on to the airport.  We take a cab as well as the car – Julia and Lucia and Paulina and I are in the cab, Conan and Dee in the car with the luggage.   Conan asks the cab driver about the protest and the airport, and the driver is reassuring, “O, si,” he’s sure we’ll be able to leave, but we might have to park and walk.

As we get closer to the entrance, there’s a line of traffic.  Some cabs and cars have pulled over, stopped, just sitting on the side of the road.  A couple have turned around and are coming back on the wrong side of the road.  We make our way through them for a bit, and then we can’t go any further.  We get out of the cab, Conan and Dee pull the luggage out of the car.  Fortunately, we’ve crammed our carry-ons into the larger suitcases, so at least we only have two bags and our backpacks.

We can see now ~ It is a protest.  Not a huge protest, and it’s very calm, but there are a bunch of people – kind of like a loose picket line – that we’ll have to pass through, and the gate to the road – a huge metal gate – is closed.  The road is definitely blocked.

So Conan goes to park the car somewhere; the rest of us get the luggage and start walking.  We don’t really have far to go, and I’m relieved to see a small gate on one side of the entrance, with guards on the other side.  As people approach it, they’re opening it and letting some people through.

The guards are armed of course and the protesters aren’t teachers.    “We always just assume it’s the teachers,” Julia says, but it isn’t this time.  Googling it now, I find this story:

9-hour blockade by Popular Revolutionary Front

It is ~ just a little bit scary.  Not dreadfully scary.  Just a little bit.  Ok, the armed guards scare me.  They always do a little bit, even thought they’re super polite.  And the line of people protesting is peaceful, but there’s tension in the air.  Anyhow.   We walk through without any problem.

When we get to the gate, the guard has a list, they ask for our names,  and – good news – Dee and I are on the list.   They open the gate ~~ there’s a van waiting, we won’t even have to walk the rest of the way ~~ we hand our luggage through, they put it on the van ~~  and i realize ~~ we’re going to have to say to good-bye right here, right now.  This is it.   No, oh, wait, no ~~

I turn to Julia ~ she’s looking panicky too ~ holding Lucia, and pregnant, ~~ and I start to say good-by and hug her, only I start crying, and she starts crying, which we had both planned on not doing ~ and Lucia looks worried ~~

and I say to the guard, “Can’t she come back? with us?” and Julia says it in Spanish, and ~~

~~ then the guard says, “Si, yes, si, come on,come on, you can back go too,” and Julia says, “Really?” and her face lights up and  I quit crying.  They assure her, yes, yes, she can go, and she says, “But m’esposo?” and they assure her that he can come too, when he gets here, and then we get on the van and go on up to the airport.

Whew.

I don’t even quite know why that’s such a big deal, but it was.  We still don’t want to leave, but it’s somehow better saying good-bye after we check in rather than having to let her go right there at the gate in the heat and in the middle of the protest and all.  Paulina waits for Conan and they join us just a few minutes later.

Sadly, we do our good-byes and then Dee and I are on to the next stage of our adventure.

When I look back, it seems a bit surreal.  I wish I had pictures of what it was like, the protesters and the gate and the guards and all, but you know, it was not really a photo op.   I can’t do it justice with words though.  You really had to be there.