My son found the stash of extra Christmas lights yesterday and asked for permission to hang them around his room. He’s always liked decorating his own room for Christmas, down to one of those Charlie Brown Christmas Trees that plays an obnoxiously tinny version of the iconic Vince Guaraldi arrangement. He’s almost 16 but seriously digs Christmas as a magic time where cool doesn’t matter.
I turn 41 in a few days and feel the same way. But then, I never much cared for whether or not I was cool.
He drug me in to his room to show me that he had run the length of the room with icicle lights and I had an immediate memory to an experience that I had working at a partial hospitalization program many years ago.
The program (now defunct) had a large cafeteria room that also served as the group room for the evening program that was mostly comprised of seniors, as it was big enough to hold wheelchairs, walkers, and all of the apparatus that often become more necessary with old age.
Because it was also the cafeteria, it was rather sterile…and had a tendency to smell like boiled green beans and sloppy joes.
I decided, that year, that we would decorate for the holidays. I brought in a bunch of Christmas lights from my own garage and strung them around the room. Then the group members and I cut out snowflakes, using purloined paper from the copy machine.
Standing on chairs and tables, I strung them all off fishing line from the ceiling.
My thought, with the project, was to discuss how we all started with the same piece of paper and blunt scissors and all ended up with something entirely unique. But all came together as a cohesive group in the end.
Something like that anyway. When you ran a seniors group 5 days a week, you got desperately creative for themes and ideas.
After the room was done, we turned on the twinkle lights and turned off the overheads. The snowflakes glowed above our heads.
There was a collective intake of breath and everyone in the room, as once voice, breathed a quiet “ooooooh.”
When I asked group members what the snowflakes represented, I got an immediate answer I never expected.
One young lady told me “I am this snowflake.”
I was thinking…yes, exactly this, she knows where I’m going.
But then she shocked me.
"People see all the ugly parts, but they don’t know how beautiful I can be. I am this snowflake because I am not my diagnosis. I am so much more than that, and can be just as beautiful and magical as anything else in the world."
My favorite moments as a therapist have always been the selfish ones…when my clients helped me in my human journey, more than the times I helped them.
We all have so much more under our surface appearance. I think we know this, most days. But I also think that we worry that the things under the surface are dark and ugly, when the truth is anything but.
The things under the surface may be larger than anything we could possibly imagine. They may be raw and vulnerable and sometimes painful to bring up.
But it is also the place where we are our most beautiful. And magical. We aren’t just unique…we are uniquely worthwhile. Slowing down to make those connections in the people we love, and within ourselves, is what the holiday season is about.
(Reproducible for educational purposes only.)
1. Consent cannot be given by people who are drunk. Or under the influence of drugs. Or hard core medications. People under the influence are already doing seriously dumb stuff, like craving those 2/$1.00 tacos from Jack in the Box. So don’t add something to their regret list that has larger and longer term consequences.
2. Going through a lot of emotional stuff can be just as bad for your decision making process as being drunk. If someone is stressed out or dealing with a lot, they also may not be making the best decisions. They may be seeking comfort and we often equate connection with others as sex. If you think someone isn’t making a good decision, suggest that sex be put on hold and be there for them in other ways. Something that won’t embarrass them a week from now.
3. Consent isn’t static. So I let you borrow my car last week. Maybe you brought it back with the gas tank empty and full of Jack in the Box wrappers so I don’t want you using it again. Maybe you took fantastic care of it, but I don’t want you using it again for whatever reason…I’m heading out to Jack in the Box myself, maybe? Either way, it’s still my car, not yours. You don’t just march in my house, grab the keys off the counter, and take off in my car because I let you do it last week. No consent equals Grand Theft Auto, right? Agreeing to something on one occasion does not mean consent forever.
4. Consent for one thing isn’t consent for another. Someone gets naked in front of you? This is an excellent sign, yes. Is it consent for any specific sexual activity? No. Agreeing to any kind of activity isn’t agreeing to all of them. Making out doesn’t mean oral sex is cool. And oral sex doesn’t mean penetrative sex. It’s a salad bar. Wanting croutons doesn’t mean you also have to have bell peppers, yanno?
5. Consent isn’t silence. Someone may not actively say “no” but being passive isn’t a “yes.” Many times individuals don’t speak up because they are freaked out or don’t know how to. They could be quietly freaking out, or quietly enjoying themselves. But you don’t know if you don’t ask.
6. Consent needs to be informed. Are you sleeping with other people? That’s ok, it’s called dating not getting married for a reason. Have an STD? That happens, too. Moving out of state in a week? That can impact future plans a bit. Potential partners need to know any information that may inform their decision about sexual activity. Be grown enough to have the awkward conversations.
7. Consent is a community obligation, not just a personal one. We need to help support each other with grey areas of consent. Speak up if you see someone in an uncomfortable situation and back up their right to say no. Friends don’t let friends listen to Nickelback. And they don’t let them get into situations where they are not really giving consent or not really getting consent from their partner or potential hook-up. If you see someone at a party, for instance, getting into a danger zone, then be the protective wingman. And if the DJ plays Nickelback, it’s time to leave altogether.
8. Having to convince someone is not consent. You aren’t trying to win a court case by wooing a jury member. You’re awesome, right? If they aren’t into enough to realize that and you have to convince them then they don’t deserve your awesomeness. If you get a “wellllllllll, I don’t knowwwwww” respond with “that’s cool, let me know if you change your mind” and then step away from the sex.
9. Consent doesn’t just mean the right to say no, it also means the right to say YES. Shaming people (ie. calling them hos) because they choose to engage in sexual activity makes active, enthusiastic consent way more complicated. Affirmative consent is difficult for many people (usually women) because they think that an enthusiastic yes means they are slutty, and that they are supposed to pretend they DON’T want sex therefore must be “convinced.” This sends mixed messages to their partners. When are we supposed to “convince” and when are we supposed to just stop? If everyone is sexually empowered, no one ever has to be “convinced.”
10. Consent is more than just sex, it’s about boundaries in general. You should get people’s permission to touch them for any reason (e.g., “You look like you could use a hug right now, would you like one?”). Consent extends past physical boundaries, as well. You should never force your will on others. Don’t share other’s information, experiences, images, or things without their permission. Don’t make plans on their behalf without their permission. Don’t force them to share information with you or anyone else if they are uncomfortable doing so. No matter what you think is in their best interest, unless you are their legal guardian, let them make their own decisions. You do you….and let them be them.