Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Did You Get in Your Bag?
A #Fat-Shaming Letter!

Everybody who's ever been an American kid can remember the thrill of Halloween: the excitement of deciding what to "be," the fun of dressing up and showing off to our grandparents and teachers, the excitement of going door to door "in disguise" to get treats from the neighbors.

And remember this part? Comparing the goodies with our friends?

This year, there's a nasty letter circulating on the 'net, that some woman calling herself "Cheryl" purportedly claimed to a radio station that she intended to hand out to those children she deems "moderately obese," instead of candy.

My hope is that "Cheryl" really enjoys cleaning TP and eggs off the side of her house.

What makes the Charlie Brown clip funny, is that we know and trust that adults wouldn't really give some kids candy, and give another child a rock. The inherent unfairness is obvious.

Now, there is some chatter that "Cheryl," and the letter itself, are a prank and it's not going to be passed out to kids after all. This is a good thing.

But here's what I find disturbing and a sign of sickness in our society.

That while most people are in agreement that the idea is horrific and cruel, a minority are openly expressing their support for "Cheryl" and this letter. They think the way to solve childhood obesity is by shaming fat children.

Basically, fat people in our society are treated much like Jews in early 1930's Germany - it was not only accepted, but expected you would harass them. (Mind you, I'm talking about the time before Jews and many other people were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, when they were "only" being spit on and beat up.)

Like Jews wearing a yellow star, or people of color living in a primarily white-skinned community, or those in a wheelchair, fat people never "pass" as "normal" people.

But unlike being a person of color or Jewish, being fat is a choice, right?

Actually, scientific evidence is pointing to many signs that obesity is very complicated. There are genetic factors, environmental factors, links to the influence of various poisons and chemicals that now permeate our bodies in a way they didn't a few hundred years ago. And there is also substantial evidence that people on various medicines "blow up" or lose weight, and it has nothing to do with willpower, diet or exercise. In a poignant rant on my other blog, TL Hamrick said:
As a person who was painfully thin until my early twenties, and struggled (and still struggle) with weight, especially at about age 30, when my PCOS went into full swing. I spent a good part of my 30's overweight or obese, lost weight, kept it off for about 2 years, received a treatment/implant that caused my diet/exercise to fail and gained it all back, plus... and lost it again. Now I am on the too skinny side due to a serious health issue that I am recovering from, and will I ever be morbidly obese again?
I hope not. But... if I am, I will continue my striving for health at any weight, and the body comments? Do. Not. Want.

Shaming People Doesn't Work - But Let's Do It Anyway

Let's put aside medical issues, and all the other reason people may be too fat. Let's accept (for a moment) the premise that there are many people who CHOOSE to be overweight because they are lazy and undisciplined, yada yada. Let's accept the (now scientifically disputed) premise that being even moderately overweight is unhealthy.

Therefore, as a society, we want to help these people lose weight.

What's the best way we, as a society can do this?

Scientific studies (I know, again with the science!) point out that shaming, whether self-shaming or shaming by frenemies and outsiders, not only doesn't work for long-term weight loss, it actually has been proven to have the opposite effect.

Okay. So when we point out to people that a) people are fat for many different reasons, and b) fat-shaming doesn't work, they stop, right?

That Would Make Sense, But No

I have found, though engaging with people on places like FaceBook and various chat boards, there are some people (OCPD? who knows?) who insist on their right to continue bullying fat people, even fat children, because "they are disgusting." Because "it's for their own good."

They express every intention to continue to hate on fat people, even fat children, who are at the mercy of genes, medicine, and parental control, for being fat. While at the same time, they want to assume the high moral ground. They want credit for being "good people," they are deeply offended when people call them even mild things like cruel or "willfully ignorant" or bullies.

But they are bullies.

My ex was like this, too, and that's one of many reasons he is my ex. He thought he was doing me a favor when he would tell me that I would look really good "if you lost another ten pounds" or when, if I dared to eat a modest lunch, he'd curl his lip in disgust and make a comment about me "pigging out again."

Even when I tried to talk to him about how harmful what he was doing was, to me and to our relationship, he could not adjust his settings.

If you are one of those people who feels justified in making negative comments about fat people (or skinny people, or white people, black people, people of a different religion, whatever), it's not because THEY have a problem.

It's because you do.

Have you ever been bullied about your weight?
Are you aware when a fat-shaming message comes out of your mouth?
Your thoughts?

Friday, September 6, 2013

When The Body Says No

When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us.
Why do some people get sick, become disabled, or even die from diseases like cancer, ALS, Alzheimer's, while others with the same exposure to environmental toxins never get sick? Why do some people get cancer that goes into remission, and others, like my mother, die from it?
Studies at the US National Cancer Institute found that natural killer (NK) cells, an important class of immune cells we have already met, are more active in breast cancer patients who were able to express anger, to adopt a fighting stance and who have more social support.... The researchers found that emotional factors and social involvement were more important to survival than the degree of disease itself.

I am still working to absorb and learn the many lessons this book presents, both for myself as a human being, as a daughter trying to come to terms with the death of my mother and of others I've loved, and (probably least importantly) as a writer trying to create believable characters.

We often treat our bodies as if they are separate from our hearts, minds, and emotions, kind of like a biological automobile. As if a health "breakdown" is a purely mechanical problem that can be fixed by diet, exercise, the right pills, and adjusting air pressure in the tires.

Reality: Emotions affect the body.

Watch a scary movie. Even though you are in no physical danger, doesn't your heart pound, your breath get tight in your chest? Read a sexy novel. If it's good enough, you'll feel rigidity in certain body parts, wetness in others. Receive a gift. From your partner, tickets for a dream vacation may make you feel happy and excited; from your cat, a squirming rat may make you feel queasy.

When the Body Says NO examines studies and examples of psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology: the way the body's nervous system, immune defenses and endocrine or hormonal apparatus all work together. (Called the PNI system in short, because psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology is a mouthful.) It looks at patients for whom Dr. Maté has consulted, as well as more famous case studies, from Stephen Hawking (ALS) to Betty Ford (substance abuse, breast cancer) to Gilda Radner (ovarian cancer, bulimia) to Ronald Reagan (Alzheimer's).

Stress - More Than A Feelin'

Stress consists of the internal alterations – physical or not – that occur when the organism perceives a threat to its existence or well-being.
Stress - if a bear appears - can save your life. Stress triggers the PNI system to send, "Let's get the hell out of Dodge!" or "Stand and fight!" messages throughout the body.

Just like circulation to the extremities will shut down in freezing temperatures, because you can survive without a toe, or two, stress (temporarily) shuts down the systems that kill cancer cells or other long-term threats, process food products in the digestive tract, and more. Like Scotty on Star Trek diverting all energies to the warp drive, your body gives "all she's got, Captain" where it thinks it will be needed, on a totally automatic level.
The stress response is nonspecific. It may be triggered in reaction to any attack – physical, biological, chemical or psychological – or in response to any perception of attacker threat, conscious or unconscious. The essence of threat is a destabilization of the body’s homeostasis, the relatively narrow range of physiological conditions within which the organism can survive and function. To facilitate fight or escape, what needs to be diverted from the internal organs and muscles, and the heart needs to pump faster.

Whenever stress occurs, even when we don't consciously feel stressed, changes occur in our bodies.

Stress, as we will define it, it is not a matter of subjective feeling. It is a measurable set of objective physiological events in the body, involving the brain, the hormonal apparatus, the immune system and many other organs. Both animals and people can experience stress with no awareness of its presence.

That whole "with no awareness of its presence" aspect cannot be overemphasized. The physiological effect on the body is the same whether we are aware or unaware of stress. Especially for children who experience recurring stress, the state of being stressed can become the New Normal.
Eventually, having unmet needs or having to meet the needs of others is no longer experienced as stressful. It feels normal. One is disarmed.

Recurring or chronic stress (such as being an abused child, or watching a parent be habitually abused by his/her partner, while being unable to intervene), being neglected, leaves permanent marks, both on the immune system and other bodily defenses (think of the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf), and in the relationship patterns we form later in life. We are more likely to choose life partners whose behaviors mirror those we knew growing up, whether those behaviors were healthy or unhealthy.
For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol... To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided.
Chronic stress actually changes the way our brains function.
In people who’ve experienced chronic stress, the prefrontal cortex and related structures remain in a state of hypervigilance, on the lookout for danger. Pre-frontal activation is not a conscious decision by the individual; rather, it is the result of the automatic triggering of nerves pathways program long ago.
In situations where the body's balance is continually disrupted in response to a perceived threat, the balance of the body is thrown out of whack, And whenever that happens, cancer, or other long-term diseases, have the perfect opening to take over.

Natural Born Killers - The Body's Best Friend

In a healthy body, there are NK cells, which serve as the body's Angels of Death.

Just like in any factory, the body frequently produces cells which which would be labeled abnormal or flawed, but inside the body, there is no TJ Maxx or Nordstrom's Rack to send "irregular" material.

NK cells track down abnormal cells, such as cancer cells and destroys them, so that the majority of cells in the body are healthy and functional.

There have been many cases where the NK cells have caused full remission of cancer, most significantly in cases of melanoma (skin cancer). Why this cancer and not others? Why in some cases and not others? It can't be wholly attributed to DNA, environmental toxins (or lack thereof), but to family systems and work environment systems.

When the Body Says No refers to several studies in which tiny clumps of cancer are often found in an elderly person's body after death from other causes. Perhaps as we age we all have tiny clusters of cancer growing in our bodies, which our NK cells routinely eliminate before they are large enough to be detected.
In short, for cancer causation it is not enough that DNA damage occur: also necessary is failure of DNA repair and/or an impairment of regulated cell death. Stress and the repression of emotion can negatively affect both of those processes.

The Blame Game

On thing that has made me uneasy in reading similar books, such as Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life, is my perception (or misperception, perhaps) that the victim was being blamed for his/her own illness. Dr. Maté debunks that idea:
Blaming the sufferer – apart from being morally obtuse – is completely unfounded from a scientific point of view.
He doesn't even jump on the easy way many shrinks do - it's all the mothers' fault. While be acknowledges that hurts/patterns learned during childhood or generationally may have a lasting effect:
Emotionally draining family relationships have been identified as risk factors in virtually every category of major illness, degenerative neurological conditions to cancer and autoimmune disease. The purpose is not to blame parents or previous generations or spouses but to enable us to discard beliefs that prove dangerous to our health.

The point of doing so is that we can recognize and interrupt those patterns, rather than repeat them.

We are not doomed, the helpless victims of our genes and environmental toxins and terrible childhoods, destined to get sick and not be able to do anything about it. I think that's a good message.

Differentiation: Dance Space of Champions

Remember the wonderful rehearsal scene in Dirty Dancing where Johnny (Patrick Swayze) explains to Baby (Jennifer Grey) "This is my dance space, that is your dance space"? Everyone needs good physical and emotional boundaries to be healthy.

When we are born, we have no boundaries. We assume the whole world, including Mother, revolves around US. We don't understand or realize that Mother is a separate being, that she doesn't feel our hunger, wet diaper, tummy cramps at the same instance we feel them.
A fundamental concept in family systems theory is differentiation, defined as “the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one's emotional functioning.” The poorly differentiated person “lacks an emotional boundary between himself and others and lacks a ‘boundary’ that prevents his thinking process from being overwhelmed by his emotional feeling process. He automatically absorbs anxiety from others and generates considerable anxiety within himself.”
Later, we realize that when we are scared, hurt, cold, etc., Mother doesn't necessarily share our feelings. Just as we don't share her feelings. But in some cases, we will be emotionally enmeshed with Mother (or Father) and take on the role of protecting her:
The child of an unhappy mother will try to take care of her by suppressing his distress so as not to burden her further. His role is to be self-sufficient and not “needy”...

What it all boils down to is a lack of clear boundaries.

Boundaries are that thing that says: 
This is my dance space, this is your dance space. 

When boundaries get confused within the body itself, when the body cannot recognize, "This is ME; this is Other," then we get diseases where the body's immune system doesn't defend against intruders, but is so confused it attacks its own cells, as is the case in MS, ALS, schleroderma, and other auto-immune diseases.

Anger - The Emotion We Love to Hate

Especially as women, we are socially conditioned to think of anger as a "negative" emotion. If we are "nice girls/women," we won't get angry with people.
“I never get angry,” a Woody Allen character says in one of his movies, “I grow a tumor instead.” Throughout this book we've seen the truth of that droll remark in numerous studies of cancer patients.

Here's the problem: we can't control being angry. Anger, according to this and other research, is the natural reaction of an organism to perceived loss, or threat of loss. Picture an angry wild animal warning another off his/her kill (see the bear, above). Usually animals do not fight to the death over a meal or a mate, but the creature with the biggest display of anger wins. "I won't let you take this from me" is the message.

Being angry is not about being a Mean Girl. It is not about going into a rage.
If you ask in physical, physiological terms what they are experiencing in their body when they feel rage, for the most part, people describe anxiety in one form or another.

Allowing oneself to feel angry in the appropriate circumstances can be an empowering experience.
The repression of anger and the unregulated acting out of it are both examples of the abnormal release of emotions that is at the root of disease.... The real experience of anger “is physiologic experience without acting out. The experience is one of a surge of power going through the system along with the mobilization to attack. There is, simultaneously the complete disappearance of all anxiety.”
I had just finished reading When the Body Says No, when in October 2012, my super-kind, beautiful friend Sidney Patrick died of a heart attack, in large part due to cirrhosis of the liver. She was 43.

She epitomized the disease-sufferer profiled within this book; swallowing feelings with food, drugs, or alcohol, always being kind and supportive of everyone but herself.
The inability to process and express feelings effectively, and the tendency to serve the needs of others before even considering one’s own, are common patterns in people who develop chronic illness. These coping styles represent a blurring of boundaries, the confusion of self and non-self on the psychological level.

I remember telling Sid's mother, shortly after Sid passed, "I am so angry." I was hurt, I was grieving, but over all, I felt so angry at the waste, at being deprived of my friend, who I loved and needed.

I remember so many conversations with Sid; whenever the subject would turn to her, she would divert the conversation as swiftly as possible to other people. She was wholly uncomfortable addressing her own needs, hurts, and dreams. Her long-term boyfriend was mentally ill, often called her names and verbally abused her, even when she was in the hospital, yet she did not want to be cruel enough to "abandon" him.

She did, belatedly, realize that something had to change. After being released from the hospital in August 2012, she told me,"If I stay with him, it's going to kill me."

That is the exact same feeling I had, after being diagnosed in 2009 with "unusual" breast lumps and cysts, which spurred me to break with my then-boyfriend in 2010.

Sadly, Sid was right. She left him in September 2012. If only she had left a month or two earlier...

Betty Ford, Betty Koschin Diehl, and Breast Cancer

Betty Ford was, of course, the first Lady of the United States of America, wife of a fairly ambitious politician. My mother, Betty Koschin Diehl was, comparatively, a nobody; eldest daughter in a family of four children. She signed up to serve in the military (Coast Guard) during WWII, as did many women. Besides the name, both women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the same approximate era, and received similar medical treatment.
Research has suggested for decades that women are more prone to develop breast cancer if their childhoods were characterized by emotional disconnection from their parents or other disturbances in their upbringing; if they tend to repress emotions, particularly anger; if they lack nurturing social relationships in adulthood; and if they are the altruistic, compulsively caregiving types.
Betty Ford's mother was a perfectionist; Betty never felt as though she measured up to her mother's standards. Betty Koschin's mother: also harsh and demanding.
The emotional repression, the harsh self judgment and the perfectionism Betty Ford acquired as a child, through no fault of her own, are more than a “good recipe for alcoholism.” They are also a “good recipe” for cancer of the breast.
Both Betty's had husbands whose professional and emotional needs came first. My mother suppressed anger, definitely, though her husband was a "rager." Altruistic, compulsively caregiving - yep. Additionally, in her last year of life, my father decided to transplant our family to another state, away from my mother's supportive network of family and friends.

My mother's breast cancer, which had been in remission, returned, and killed her. She was 49.

Emotional Competence - Who Dat?

The goal of When the Body Says No, and life, isn't to whine about what a raw deal we got (think about that scene in Slumdog Millionaire where the way out is through the outhouse), but figure out what tools we do have, and work toward becoming emotionally competent. Regardless of how we were raised, we can do this.

Emotional competence requires
  • the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress;
  • the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries;
  • the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past. What we want and demand from the world needs to conform to our present needs, not to unconscious, unsatisfied needs from childhood. If the situations between past and present blur, we will perceive loss or the threat of loss where none exists; and
  • the awareness of those genuine needs that do require satisfaction, rather than the repression for the sake of gaining the acceptance or approval of others.

We may have had little control about what happened to us as children, but we can take control of how we handle our emotions now. By taking control, that doesn't mean pretending life is all kittens and rainbows, or suppressing "negative" emotions like anger or fear, but learning to recognize what we feel, when we feel it.

When the Body Says No closes with seven specific "A" areas of healing:Acceptance, Awareness, Anger:
Since anger does not exist in a vacuum, if I feel anger it must be in response to some perception on my part. It may be a response to loss or the threat of it in a personal relationship, where it may signal a real or threatened invasion of my boundaries. I am greatly empowered without harming anyone if I permit myself to experience the anger and to contemplate what may have triggered it.
Autonomy, Attachment, Assertion, and Affirmation.

This post is reblogged with permission from Writing in Flow.

Have you read this book? What did you think?
How do you deal with anger?
Do you suppress any emotions (that you know of)?

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Sewage Pipe or Treasured Gift?

For several years before I began dating my (suspected OCPD) ex, my tabletop Goddess fountain was one of my favorite pieces of ?art? ?soul-nurturing?

The symbol of a female figure as a constantly renewing spring of life-giving water, inspiration, abundance, and nurturing, is an ancient one. My Goddess fountain became part of a growing impromptu altar, surrounded by candles, flowers, photographs, and small but significant knickknacks.

At one point in my life, distraught over the breakup of a love relationship, I carelessly reached for some books on a nearby shelf. Several fell on the fountain, breaking her into bits. I glued her back together - seamlessly in some spots, rather crookedly and badly in others. This distressed me, and yet, was quite appropriate, because I felt that my life, too, had been broken and put back together, many times.

You can see the breaks and holes on the right side.

In the basin of the Goddess's lap, and in the water below her, I placed small stones, rocks, and shells. Some had been gifted to me by friends and family, or gathered with a significance - one from the back yard of my childhood home, for example, or as knickknacks from a place I visited. Others were simply pretty; polished sea glass placed for visual effect.

When my ex and I decided to move in together, I carefully drained the water, and packed up my Goddess fountain, along with the rocks and shells, a favorite photo of my mother I generally placed near her, and carefully labeled the box. After all, it shouldn't take long before we worked out where everything would go, and she would be flowing again for both of us.

Partway to being reassembled.

You will not be surprised to find that there was never a "right time" to unpack her, never a good place for her to be set up. As my Goddess fountain stayed boxed, dry, and immobile, I too became increasingly dried up, spiritually, creatively, emotionally, even sexually.

I'm not saying that one caused the other in some creepy superstitious way, or that my Goddess fountain is possessed of supernatural powers, like the Chuckie doll from the horror movies. Simply that the environment I lived in, with the increasingly anxious and controlling OCPD behaviors of my ex, and my then unaware acquiescence to them, was unwelcoming to a free and joyous spirit. Closed off to spontaneity, creativity, messiness, and free-flowing expression.

One of the first things I did when I decided to move out, away from my ex, was to choose a location to set up my Goddess fountain once again. Before I even had a bed or a couch!  Since at that time we were still "dating," my ex often weighed in with opinions about how I should set up and furnish my new place. Some of it I listened to; other bits I ignored.

One family in my new apartment complex had a four year old child, who was curious, as kids are, about his new neighbor. I gave him the nickel tour of my new apartment, and he loved the small Goddess fountain I'd set up in my office.

A few weeks later, he had a present for me, for the fountain, and gave it to me in the presence of my ex. A small shard of broken pottery.

After the child departed, my ex looked at it dubiously. "It looks like a piece of old sewage pipe to me. Yuck. You should throw it away."

I decided instead to clean it thoroughly, and put it to use. In my most recent cleaning and re-establishing my Goddess fountain, I incorporated several new stones picked up in my travels. And I've been looking at that chunk of terra cotta and contemplating it again.

Health is something I've really decided to focus on this year.
The green shale is from Mt. Shasta.

To me, this piece - of what well may be a chunk of old sewage pipe - is also a symbol of my new life. A gift offered freely, with love, friendship, and childish joy. That's what I want in my life.

To my ex, it was just some nasty piece of trash, and though I tried to explain to him why it was valuable to me... he didn't get it, couldn't get it.

That sharp difference in philosophy and attitude towards life is why, three years "out" of sharing a home, I haven't regretted a minute of it. I feel deeply sorry for him, because all his rules and obsessions don't make him feel happy, safe, or loved, and never will.

But I am joyful, creative, and free-flowing, once again.

Clean and reassembled.

The natural beeswax candle I also picked up in recent travels.
Do you have symbols that are significant to you, ridiculed by a partner?
(Mind you, I'm not talking about a hoard!)
What do you do to keep your life free-flowing and refreshed?
Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bud Clayman vs. Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper is, to conventional wisdom, HAWT. Yet another BC, once upon a time, was also HAWT.

Here's Bradley Cooper depicting Pat, from Silver Linings Playbook, with Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and an all-star cast:

And here's Bud Clayman in OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie

What's the difference, besides Bradley Cooper being an actor who can quickly move on to The Hangover, Part Eleventy-Seven, or the next Hollywood flick?

Not so very much. As I discovered when my friend Sidney Patrick and I caught a showing of OC 87 on my birthday last June, BC (Bud Clayman) was sexy, charming, and smart... before mental illness tackled him.

There is no vaccine against mental illness.

Catherine Zeta-Jones
Cover of Catherine Zeta-Jones
It happens to smokin' hot men and sexy girls. (Charlie Sheen and Catherine Zeta-Jones, anyone?)

It is not nearly as glamorous in real life as in the Hollywood version.

Drugs have real side effects, like weight gain and sleepiness, which is why many mentally ill people resist or refuse to take them. They also have real co$t$, which is why some people who would take them, if they could only afford then, aren't on their meds, or are taking half the recommended dosage.

I was blown away by the lineup of pill bottles prescribed to Bud Clayman, to keep him approaching normalcy.

via OC87
And yet, I have to applaud Bud's courage in fighting his way back to sanity. It takes a hella lot more courage to swallow the pills, than to not swallow them.

Wheelchair Warriors Are Our Heroes. The Mentally Disabled? Not so  much.

Except in Hollywood. Hollywood loves the Drama of Mental Illness. But it generally glosses over the ugly dangly bits. Casts glamorous actors and actresses in the parts of the mentally ill, and almost never allows them to get fat, too dirty, or otherwise unphotogenic.

Cover of "Girl, Interrupted"
Cover of Girl, Interrupted
Maybe you've seen some of these:

  • Psycho
  • Sybil
  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Girl, Interrupted
  • Rainman
  • The Fisher King
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • Black Swan
  • Matchstick Men
  • The Aviator
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Lars and the Real Girl

There are hundreds more.

IRL (In Real Life), the people struggling with mental illness or developmental disabilities, like autism, can't call "cut" at the end of the scene and go back to "being normal."

I very much enjoyed Silver Linings Playbooks, which I caught on my friend Sid's birthday weekend. Sadly, unlike OC87 which she and I watched together on my birthday weekend, I had to see Silver Linings without her, because only a few months after OC87, the long term effects of living with a mentally disordered partner, and alcoholism, had taken Sid's life.

I encourage you to buy, rent, or stream, the much lesser known documentary OC87.

And support mental health issues. Via contributions to NAMI, and encouragement to your government representatives to provide funding and research grants for mental health issues.

Today, you may be one of the few lucky ones, with no family members or loved ones affected. Tomorrow?

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why Does He DO That? Introduction (Part 5)

We are reading, and, I hope, entering into a healthy discussion of the book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Please, do buy your own copy - both because I won't be excerpting all of it, and because this author deserves our $upport.

From the Introduction - How To Use This Book

<snip> You may feel ashamed of having a partner who sometimes behaves in unkind or bullying ways, and you may fear that people will be critical of you for not leaving him right away. Or you might have the opposite concern: that people around you are so fond of your partner that you question whether they will believe you when you describe how mean or abusive he can be. But, regardless of these anxieties, it is essential not to stay isolated with your distress or confusion about what is happening in your relationship. Find someone whom you can trust - it might even be a person you have never considered opening up to before - and unburden yourself. This is probably the single most critical step you can take toward building a life that is free from control and abuse.

If your partner’s controlling or devaluing behaviors is chronic, you no doubt find yourself thinking about him a great deal of the time, wondering how to please him, how to keep them from straying, or how to get him to change. As a result, you may find that you don’t get much time to think about yourself  - except about what is wrong with you in his eyes. <snip> I’m hoping that by answering as many questions as possible and clearing away the confusion that abusive behavior creates, I can make it possible for you to escape the trap of preoccupation with your partner, so that you can put yourself - and your children if you are a mother  - back in the center of your life where you belong. An angry and controlling man can be like a vacuum cleaner that successful woman’s mind and life, but there are ways to get your life back. The first step is to learn to identify what your partner is doing and why he does it, which is what the pages ahead will illuminate. But when you have finished diving deeply into the abuser’s mind, which this book will enable you to do, it is important to rise back to the surface and from then on try to stay out of the water is much as you can. I don’t mean that you should necessarily leave your partner - that is a complex and highly personal decision that only you can make. But whether you stay or go, the critical decision you can make is to stop letting your partner distort the lens of your life, always forcing his way into the center of the picture. You deserve to have your life be about you; you are worth it.

Shame Helps Keep Us Silent
If we have a partner who is abusive, it's hard to admit, even to ourselves. After all, we chose him (or her). Were we stupid - or blind? Besides, we have continued to stay with a person who treats us this way - what is wrong with us?

We may buy into his argument that we make him angry. Unfair as it seems, sometimes, it is still less unpalatable than admitting s/he is an angry person who would find reasons excuses to be abusive no matter what we did or didn't do.

Living with an abusive person becomes a Through the Looking Glass world where everything is backwards; they behave badly, we feel ashamed.

And yet, when we do begin speaking out, we find help, support, validation. The Emperor has no clothes, after all.

Disclaimer: The information and opinions posted here, and any comment responses, are not to be considered professional advice and are not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you are involved in a relationship that includes physical, financial, and/or emotional violence, please contact a professional for help and assistance.

In the US:

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

International Resources linked here.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Does He DO That? Introduction (Part 4)

We are reading, and, I hope, entering into a healthy discussion of the book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Please, do buy your own copy - both because I won't be excerpting all of it, and because this author deserves our $upport.

From the Introduction - My Experience Working with Angry and Controlling Men:
Counseling abusive men is difficult work. They are usually very reluctant to face up to the damage that they have been causing women, and often children as well, and hold tightly to their excuses and victim blaming. As you will see in the pages ahead, they become attached to the various privileges they earn through mistreating their partners, and they have habits of mind and make it difficult for them to imagine being in a respectful and equal relationship with a woman.

From the Introduction - How To Use This Book

One of the prevalent features of life with an angry or controlling partner is that he frequently tells you what you should think and tries to get you to doubt or devalue your own perceptions and beliefs. I would not like to see your experience with this book re-create that unhealthy dynamic. <snip>  listen carefully to what I’m saying, but always think for yourself. If any part of what I describe about abusers doesn’t match your experience, cast it aside and focus on the parts that do fit. <snip> If you come upon sections that don’t speak to you - because you don’t have children, for example, or because your partner is never physically frightening - to skip ahead to the piece that can help you more.

Some women will find it being alone with this book is too difficult because it awakens feelings and realizations that are overwhelming. I encourage you to reach out for support from trusted friends and family as you go along. While reading this book is likely to be clarifying for you, it may also awaken awareness that can be painful or distressing. <snip> Again, don’t be stymied by the word abuse; the hotline staff is there to listen to you and to help you think about any relationship in which you are being treated in a way that is making you feel bad.

One of the biggest battles I had repeatedly with my ex is he tried, like Orwell's Big Brother, to control my thoughts. He would frequently begin a rant at me with, "You think blah blah blah," and at least that ticked me off enough that I refused to follow him down that particular rabbit hole.

Just like nobody gets to put baby in a corner, NOBODY gets in my face and TELLS me what I am thinking or what I "should" think. The full frontal assault was almost always a fail.

Other mental manipulations - and I am not sure they are/were all conscious - were much more successful at twisting my thoughts and perceptions, to get me to "behave." Acting hurt/wounded by something I said or did. The compliment with a sting in it, "You look good in that color, and if you just lost another five pounds, that dress would look fantastic." Those are the kinds of messages that kept replaying in my mind, planted seeds of doubt. Bruises are easy to recognize and point to, but the slow poisoning of heart and confidence through planting those ugly words and thoughts is much dirtier and more insidious.

Human beings all want others to do what we want, and are manipulative, to a certain degree. If I have a difficult subject to bring up with my boss, for example, I will wait until he is in a good mood (most of the time, luckily for me) and he has an open window of time (that one's more difficult) to really think about my issue and discuss it. Is that manipulation, or common sense? How about letting your partner know that you really, really want to see a certain concert or movie?

Where manipulation turns into abuse is when there is the lack of respect and an equal relationship. In most societies, even Western ones, there is an open assumption that "the man is the head of the house," and so sometimes, it's hard to see where an abusive attitude begins. Isn't church/temple/mosque/society telling the man that he is supposed to rule over "his" woman? If one party believes that he (or she) has the right to dismiss without discussion an idea or plan floated by his (or her) partner, it's not a relationship of equals.

My ex found it nearly impossible to compromise. He wanted to have things his way, the superior way. On occasion, he would allow me to have things my way, but there was very little of the give and take and negotiation that happens in a relationship of equals.

Once when I had described what I wanted, and why, he was (again) locked into the black-or-white thinking, and nastily accused me of  "always wanting things my way." I became so frustrated that I got very sarcastic with him.

"No," I said. "I am trying to work this out together. That's what grown-ups do. I put what I want out on the table, here," I gestured to the right hand side of the coffee table. "You put what you want out on the table, there," I gestured to the left hand side of the table. "Then we work together to try to meet in the middle and find a way for both of us to get our needs and wants satisfied. A win-win. That's what grown-ups do."

I think, in retrospect, that part of his issue was that he either didn't have or couldn't verbalize a position, but felt compelled (demand-resistance, knee-jerk reaction) to say no to what I was proposing, no matter what it was. He simply couldn't let me have the "win" of  "Yes, that sounds like a great idea."

I found it very difficult to work through this book and consider how much of it applied to me.

Yes, my boyfriend often called me names, had jealous spats, wouldn't work together with me. Yes, he frequently liked to refer to women as bitches - but he was only joking.

Even now I have a very hard time talking about it as abuse. But it was.


Disclaimer: The information and opinions posted here, and any comment responses, are not to be considered professional advice and are not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you are involved in a relationship that includes physical, financial, and/or emotional violence, please contact a professional for help and assistance.

In the US:

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

International Resources linked here.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Does He DO That? Introduction (Part 3)

We are reading, and, I hope, entering into a healthy discussion of the book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Please, do buy your own copy - both because I won't be excerpting all of it, and because this author deserves our $upport.

From the Introduction - My Experience Working with Angry and Controlling Men:
For roughly the next five years I worked almost exclusively with clients were coming to the program voluntarily. They generally attended under heavy pressure from their female partners, who were either talking about leaving the relationship or had already done so. <snip> The men’s main motivation for seeking counseling was the hope of saving their relationships. It was common for them to feel some guilt or discomfort about their abusive behavior, but they simultaneously believed strongly in the validity of their excuses and justifications, so their feelings of remorse would not of been enough in themselves to have kept them in my program. In those early years, the clients I worked with were men who used far more verbal and emotional abuse and physical violence, although most of them had been physically intimidating or assaultive on at least a few occasions.

<snip>...with the result that court-mandated clients started at first to trickle and then to pour in the doors of our program. These men often had a much greater propensity for physical violence than our earlier clients, sometimes involving the use of weapons or vicious beatings resulting in hospitalization of their partners. Yet we observed that in other ways these men were generally not significantly different from our verbally abusive clients: their attitudes and excuses tended to be the same, and they used mental cruelty side by side with their physical assaults. Equally important was that the female partners of these battering men were largely describing the same distresses in their lives that we were hearing about from women who would been psychologically abused, showing us that different forms of abuse have similar destructive impacts on women.

<snip> my colleagues and I have been strict about always speaking to the woman whom our client has mistreated, whether or not the couple is still together. (And if he has started a new relationship, we talk with his current partner as well, which is part of how we became aware of the ways in which abusive men continue their patterns from one relationship to the next.) It is through these interviews with women that we’ve received our greatest education about power and control in relationships. The women’s accounts also have taught us that abusive men present their own stores with tremendous denial, minimization, and distortion of the history of their behaviors and that is therefore otherwise impossible for us to get an accurate picture of what is going on in an abusive relationship without listening carefully to the abused woman.

Their Attitudes and Excuses Tended to be the Same

I've heard many people argue that verbal abuse isn't real abuse. I've even made the same argument, myself. But if the abuser who hits "only" with words, dirty looks, and contemptuous body language, has the same attitude, and same goal - to cow and intimidate his/her victim, to make him/her "behave," as the abuser who hits with a closed fist, then it really isn't so different.


Different Forms of Abuse Have Similar Destructive Impacts

Sticks and stones... words will never hurt you, right? Unlike the well-meant childhood fibs about Santa and the Tooth Fairy (sorry if I'm blowing it for you), the LIE about words not hurting us could not be more untrue. I bet everyone reading this, everyone I know, can remember a stinging insult, a painful accusation or comment from our childhood and teen years.

Loser, weakling, incompetent, stupid, untrustworthy, clumsy, selfish... The terrible thing is, even as an adult, if someone we love and trust says something negative about our character or personality, and it hits us in an emotionally vulnerable spot, we'll keep "playing the tape" over and over again in our minds.

If someone tells me, "You're extremely short," I can easily laugh that off. If a stranger who is angry at me tells me, "That's awfully selfish of you," I can usually laugh that off as well - maybe she is trying to hurt me because I didn't go along with her selfish agenda, maybe I was behaving selfishly in that one particular instance.

But I don't want to think of myself as a selfish person. So if my partner says to me, "I can't believe how selfish you are. You're always thinking about yourself, never about other people," I will obsess endlessly over it - especially if he said such a thing more than once. This person knows and loves me. He wouldn't say something like that simply to hurt me. Maybe I am selfish. Hoping to win his approval/praise, I would jump through any number of hoops to prove to him that no, I'm not really selfish. No matter how much it cost me to do so.

And of course, there were always more hoops.

Disclaimer: The information posted here, and any comment responses, are not to be considered professional advice and are not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you are involved in a relationship that includes physical, financial, and/or emotional violence, please contact a professional for help and assistance.

In the US:

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

International Resources linked here.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Does He DO That? Introduction (Part 2)

We're start reading, and, I hope, entering into a healthy discussion of the book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Please, do buy your own copy - both because I won't be excerpting all of it, and because this author deserves our $upport.


From the Introduction:
Another central goal of mine is to offer assistance to each woman who is struggling with how she is being treated in a relationship, regardless of what label she may put on her partner’s behavior. Words like control and abuse can be loaded ones, and you may not feel that they fit your particular circumstances. I’ve chosen to use the term abusers to refer to man who use a wide range of controlling, devaluing, or intimidating behaviors. In some cases I’m talking about fiscal batterers and at other times about men who use or insult their partners but never frighten or intimidate them. Some of the men I described in the pages ahead change moods so drastically and so often that a woman could never feel sure what they are like, much less attach a label. Your partner may be arrogant, or may play mind games, or may act selfishly over and over again, but his better aspects may make you feel that he is miles away from being an “abuser.” Please don’t let my language put you off; I’ve simply chosen the word abuser as a shorthand way of saying “men who chronically make their partners feel mistreated or devalued.” You can adopt a different term if you know one that fits your partner better. <snip>

If the person are involved with is the same sex as you are, you have a place here too. Lesbians and gay men who abuse their partners exhibit much of the same thinking, and most of the same tactics excuses, that abusive heterosexual men do. In this book I’ve used the term he for the abuser and she for the abused partner to keep my discussion simple and clear, but abuse lesbians and gay men are very much in my thoughts, right alongside of abuse straight women. Of course, you will need to change the gender language to figure relationship, for which I apologize in advance. You will also find a section in chapter 6 where I speak specifically about the similarities and differences in same-sex abusers.

Similarly, this book includes stories from men from a very wide range of racial and cultural backgrounds. Although the attitudes and behaviors of controlling and abusive men vary somewhat from culture to culture, I found that their similarities greatly outweigh their differences. If your partner is a person of color or an immigrant, or if you are a member of one of these groups yourself, you’ll find that much of what this book discusses, or perhaps all of it, fits your experience quite well. <snip> I further discuss some specific racial and cultural issues in chapter 6.


I never wanted to label it abuse.

He was sick, he was stressed out, he had a momentary lapse... And I absolutely loathed the word "victim" as applied to myself.  I am loving, smart, capable, and strong - how could someone like me be a victim?

Reality? He had a pattern of being controlling, demeaning, and verbally abusive to me.  I had a pattern of making excuses for him, and refusing to call it abuse - even to myself.

In the beginning, during the courtship or honeymoon stage, he treated me like he thought I was wonderful, special, valuable... almost all the time. That special treatment never entirely disappeared - and that is why we stay. We keep getting glimpses of who we think the real person, the kind, loving person is, under all the crap, and think if we just did - something - right, better, found the way to explain, we could once again have that incredible relationship with the person we loved.

Like those rats in experiments, where if sometimes when they push a bar they get a treat, and sometimes an electric shock, we'll keep pressing that bar, hoping, that next time, it'll be good.

via Wikimedia Commons

Once more, on the male-female thing

Bancroft's book is (primarily) about male on female abuse. Our discussion, here, is not predicated on "bad men; helpless victimized women" because although there are a number of factors that often give men an unfair societal and legal advantage, yes, women abuse men too. Do not feel if you are a man being abused by a woman, that this book and our discussion has little to offer you. Please buy the book and read along.

Disclaimer: The information and opinions posted here, and any comment responses, are not to be considered professional advice and are not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you are involved in a relationship that includes physical, financial, and/or emotional violence, please contact a professional for help and assistance.

In the US:

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

International Resources linked here.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why Does He DO That? Introduction (Part 1)

We've begun reading, and, I hope, entering into a healthy discussion of the book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Please, do buy your own copy - both because I won't be excerpting all of it, and because this author deserves our $upport.


From the Introduction:

(Photo credit: Robbie Wroblewski)
I’ve been working with angry and controlling men for 15 years as a counselor, evaluator, an investigator, and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge from the 2000 or more cases with which I have been involved. I have learned the warning signs of abuse and control that a woman can watch out for early in a relationship. I’ve come to know what a controlling man is really saying, the meaning that is hidden behind his words. I’ve seen clues to recognizing when verbal and emotional aggression are heading toward violence. I found ways to separate out abusive men who are faking change from those who are doing some genuine work on themselves. And I have learned that the problem of the abusiveness has surprisingly little to do with how a man feels - my clients actually differ very little from nonabusive men and their emotional experience - and everything to do with how he thinks. The answers are inside his mind.

<snip> who can use what I have learned to help themselves recognize when they are being controlled or devalued in a relationship, to find ways to get free of abuse if it is happening, and to know how to avoid getting involved with an abusive man - or a controller or a user - next time. The purpose of this book is to equip women with the ability to protect themselves, physically and psychologically, from angry and controlling men.

To prepare for writing this book, I first generated a list of the 21 questions that women most often asked me about their abusive partner, questions such as:

"Is he really sorry?"
"Why do so many of our friends side with him?"
"Is he going to hit me someday?"

and many others. I then built my explanations around these concerns to make sure that women would be able to look here to find the information they urgently need. <snip>

Is He Going To Hit Me?

via kenfotos at freedigitalphotos
That's probably the #1 question for those who've been in a relationship where they have felt verbally battered and deeply frightened, but not yet hit... yet. And there are no guarantees; however, there are warning signs, which will be covered in this book. (Another reason I urge you to buy it now.)

That a person feels s/he has the right to degrade and belittle you is not a sign s/he respects you and values you. If s/he has "accidentally" hurt you - stepping on toes, an elbow in the wrong place, etc., this could be a real red flag that more is headed your way, especially if the response was not an abject apology on the part of the offender, but more a "well, you shouldn't have gotten in my way" attitude.

While many verbal abusers never "graduate" to physical abuse, it is well documented that verbal and emotional abuse always precedes physical violence.

Do not take your safety for granted, ever. 

If you are in a situation where your partner hurts you - even if it is "only" with words, please contact one of the hotlines down below and begin working out an emergency escape plan, even if as of right this minute, you feel sure you will never need one. Especially if you have children at home.

Worst case scenario if you have an escape plan and never need it, is you have "wasted" a few hours. Worst case scenario if you don't have a plan and need one, is it may cost you your life.

I never thought my boyfriend would hit me, either.

Till he did.

Disclaimer: The information and opinions posted here, and any comment responses, are not to be considered professional advice and are not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you are involved in a relationship that includes physical, financial, and/or emotional violence, please contact a professional for help and assistance.

In the US:

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

International Resources linked here.

Your thoughts?
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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why Does He DO That? Terminology Intro

We're going to start reading, and, I hope, entering into a healthy discussion of the book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

 Please, do buy your own copy - both because I won't be excerpting all of it, and because this author deserves our $upport.


From the Note on Terminology:

In referring to angry and controlling men in this book, I’ve chosen in most cases the shorter terms abusive man and abuser. I’ve used these terms for readability and not because I believe that every man who has problems with angry or controlling behavior is abusive. I needed to select a simple word I could apply to any man who has recurring problems with disrespecting, controlling, insulting, or devaluing his partner, whether or not his behavior also involves more explicit verbal abuse, physical aggression, or sexual mistreatment. Any of these behaviors can have a serious impact on a woman’s life and can lead her to feel confused, depressed, anxious, or afraid. <snip>

via Wikipedia Commons

<snip> Controlling men fall on a spectrum of behaviors, from those who exhibit only a few of the tactics I describe in this book to those who use almost all of them. Similarly, these men run a gamut in their attitudes, from those who are willing to accept confrontation about their behaviors and strive to change them, to those who won’t listen to the woman’s perspective at all, feel completely justified, and become highly retaliatory if she attempts to stand up for herself. <snip> The level of anger exhibited by controlling man also shows wide variation, but unfortunately it doesn’t tell us much in itself about how psychologically destructive he may be or how likely he is to change, as we will see.

In addition, I have chosen to use the terms he to refer to the abusive person and she to the abused partner. I selected these terms for convenience and because they correctly described the great majority of relationships in which powers being abused.  <snip>.

No Gender Discrimination In Our Discussions Here

Mr. Bancroft's experience is with male abusers; he does not have the training or experience to address female-on-male abuse situations, therefore in this book, he does not address it, though he briefly covers controlling and angry dynamics in gay relationships. In most modern societies, even though "we've come a long way, baby" the reality is that men (in general) possess much more political, social, and economic power than women, and in second/third world countries, the power men hold over women is even more extreme. Men kill women and send them to the emergency room much more often than women kill or seriously injure men.

via David Castillo Dominici
at freedigitalphotos
This does not mean that female-on-male violence, especially emotional and verbal abuse, does not frequently occur, or that women in individual relationships cannot be just as angry and feel just as justified as the Angry and Controlling Men of the book title. Sadly, I know many men who've experienced abuse from their mothers or who have lived or still live in abusive relationships with a female partner.

Therefore, if that is your experience, please buy the book and follow along; you will almost certainly gain valuable insights.

Why Does A Discussion about Domestic Violence Belong on a Blog About OCPD?

Some may argue that there is little to no scientific evidence that domestic violence is linked to any mental disorder, including OCPD. I agree - there is no scientifically proven link. My counter-argument is that if the questions are never asked, how reasonable is it to assume that no links exist? Because of stigma and shame, both mental illness and domestic violence are vastly under-reported, under-studied, and misunderstood.
I would also add that statistics show people with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims of a violent crime than perpetrators. No intent here to demonize the mentally ill.

I can state that in my personal experience, and that of many other people with whom I have traded stories, domestic violence and mental illness or brain injury is often linked. This is part of the dynamic that influences our decision to stay in an abusive relationship, perhaps longer than we should. We perceive our partners not as deliberately abusive, but as sick - and what kind of heartless person would abandon a partner suffering from cancer, or heart disease?

Reality - it doesn't matter why we are being abused. Being abused hurts.

Disclaimer: The information and opinions posted here, and any comment responses, are not to be considered professional advice and are not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical or mental health professional. If you are involved in a relationship that includes physical, financial, and/or emotional violence, please contact a professional for help and assistance.

In the US:

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

International Resources linked here.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Queen for a Day

Doesn't everyone want to be treated like a Queen (or a King)? At least for one day.

There used to be a extremely sadistic TV show on that premise: women would come on the show and compete in telling a sob story - from Wikipedia:
Often the request was for medical care or therapeutic equipment to help a chronically ill child, but sometimes it was as simple as the need for a hearing aid, a new washing machine, or a refrigerator. Many women broke down sobbing as they described their plights, and Bailey was always quick to comfort them and offer a clean white handkerchief to dry their eyes.

The harsher the circumstances under which the contestant labored, the likelier the studio audience was to ring the applause meter's highest level. The winner, to the musical accompaniment of "Pomp and Circumstance", would be draped in a sable-trimmed red velvet robe, given a glittering jeweled crown to wear, placed on a velvet-upholstered throne, and handed a dozen long-stemmed roses to hold as she wept, often uncontrollably, while her list of prizes was announced.
Not only were they milking the misery of the "winner" for all it was worth, imagine being one of the losing contestants who'd put it all out there, but not "enough" to garner the highest on the "applause-o-meter."

An easier way to score a crown was eating a particular brand of margarine.

I begged my mom to buy that brand, because I coveted one of those beautiful crowns so much, and though my mother told me it was a trick on TV, she caved in and bought it once, so I could find out for myself.

The disappointment was almost as bitter as the margarine.

Anyway, if anyone deserved to be treated like a Queen, it was my mother, but she would never go on a radio or television show to whine about her life.

Mom and her younger brother
She was the oldest of four, and the target of much nit-picking by my (suspected OCPD) grandmother. She signed up for the Coast Guard and served with honor during WWII.

Afterward, on the rebound from a prior relationship, she met and married my father. Also a WWII veteran, smart, and charming as all get out when he wanted to be.

Probably NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).  They had three daughters, me being the "bonus baby." Not long after that, breast cancer came along.  In those days, the way it worked was, you found a lump, they put you under and sliced you up. You found out if it was serious when you woke up, depending on how much of your body they'd carved away.

In Mom's case, pretty serious. They took her breast, the underlying chest muscles, the lymph nodes, and some of the muscles from under her arm.

Yet she would still smile at everyone.

I believe in the picture, below, she was still recovering from the surgery, because she had to wear those loose-fitting muumuus for some weeks (months?) afterward.

It was Mother's Day

I thought she should be treated like Queen for a Day. It was my idea, but my sisters joined in helping me make a "crown" out of, I think, a brown grocery bag, which I decorated with crayon and tinsel from our Christmas decorations stash. We put her on the "throne" with a fancy goblet of possibly wine, possibly fruit juice. Am not sure if the cushion under her arm was to add the royal touch or because she physically needed it in her recovery.

Prematurely silver hair ran in the family.
The glasses and the silver hair make her look old, at first glance,
but she was only mid-forties here.

I thought - I still think - she was absolutely beautiful, and I was so proud of her, so happy to have her as my mom. She was, in fact, the Best Mom in the World, though some silly people didn't realize that.  And I am still proud of her, and a little of myself, that I did make the effort to let her know how special she was to me.

And yet.

I cannot but think, now, that if only she had made a few different choices... Mom was my model for self-sacrificing relationships, for being sweet and kind and loving to everyone. No one had a bad word to say about her - not at her memorial service, five years later, after the cancer recurred, nor in the years that followed.  My sisters' husbands, who knew her in the years before she died, loved her to pieces. Who adores their mother-in-law?

I have come to believe that putting everyone else first, all the time, and allowing others to treat us badly, can, in fact, make us sick. Sick to death, even.

Doormats wear out.

My mother was a product of her time and her culture, and possibly even the influence of an OCPD mother. She followed all the rules of being nice, being polite, taking care of everyone but herself.  She was loved, yes, but only on rare occasion was she the one being pampered and taken care of.

Today is her birthday, and I'm missing her, of course. But I am also thinking that it would please her tremendously to know that I have learned from my own mistakes, and from her life.

There's a formula now, that we should put  51% of our efforts to ourselves, and no more than 49% to everyone else in our lives, added together. I can't help but think, if my mom had done that, she might have lived past my 10th birthday, and my life  - many lives - would have benefited tremendously for her continued presence in it.

Loving someone is never a mistake. But neglecting our own hearts, souls, dreams, and bodies, in the name of love, can kill us. Figuratively, or literally.

Do you believe in giving up everything for love?
Have you learned to save nurturing for yourself?
Do you have any life lessons from a loved one who's passed on?

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