Fear is our ultimate protector. It keeps from doing way more dumb shit than we would do otherwise. This is a good thing, when you realize how much dumb shit that you’ve done despite the protective response of fear, right?
But like every emotion, fear is a double-edged sword. While meant to protect us from epic stupidity, it often cripples us into trying nothing at all. It generalizes like a mother-fucker, insisting that everything around you is a potential “Danger Will Robinson!” moment. Fear can move from ultimate protector to hobgoblin asshole in 60 seconds flat. And like the Shel Silverstein poem above, fear tricks us into thinking we are safe and then unveils itself as the little manipulator that it is…turning our fear of failure into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do you have fears that are taking up more of your time and your energy than you want them to have?
Are you willing to start working with them in a different way?
Ok, that was a bit of a trick question. You are still reading so that means that at some level you are (maybe, just maybe) looking at tackling a particular fear…even if your initial response in reading that questions was “Oh, hellz to the no!”
But let’s start with this. Just picture what life would like like without this fear. We call this the miracle question. If you woke up tomorrow after the Fuck Fear Fairy had visited you in your sleep and your fear was no longer part of your equation, what would you be doing? What would you be thinking? What would that feel like? How would that affect your relationships?
Here is the sneaky part. This exercise helps you figure out what you want life to look like. It may not (let’s face likely no way in hell well) happen overnight. But it DOES help us figure out how to be our own damn Fuck Fear Fairy. You are your own agent of change. You got this, rock star.
This may be a big thing. I get that. But my next question is this: What is one small doing thing that would help you get to that miracle existence of No Fear. What would be the first thing the Fuck Fear Fairy would have you do?
Seriously, small tiny itty bitty thing. But a DIFFERENT thing than what is going on now. Because shit rarely changes because of other people (unless those fuckers make it different-worse instead of different-better). But shit really can change when WE change.
Fear’s rightful place is as an information giver not decision controller. YOU are the decision controller in the end. It takes work to reclaim your autonomy from fear, but it is an absolutely doable thing.
One different doing thing. One prescription from the Fuck Fear Fairy. What’s your starting point?
Fuckboy entered mainstream linguistics (at least on social media) after Vanity Fair ran a piece in August 2015 entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse.’” If you missed it, it’s been archived on their website.
Who ARE these douchebags, FFS? Wealthy, entitled, privileged, hetero, Anglo 20-somethings. It’s not that they are scoring mad pussy that’s the issue. It’s that they are such assholes about the game.
The article defines fuckboys within this culture, but it’s a larger problem than that, in the end. A response to the piece, written by Alana Massey and published in the Pacific Standard offers a better definition:
Fuckboy is not a dating style so much as a worldview that reeks of entitlement but is aghast at the idea of putting in effort.
At my son’s urban high school, fuckboy is synonymous with any lame-ass behavior. Since an F-bomb will get you detention, you just hear “…booooooooyyyyyyy” followed by a slow clap if you are caught making a dick move or a dumb mistake.
Of course, the term predates this argument. Like any cromulent new word, it originated in the gay community as a nicety-aside version of rentboy. Before that, it referred to your classic bottom. The word made the rounds and evolved as words do.
Nowdays? Fuckboys, for lack of a better definition are just assholes.
Hell, being a rentboy isn’t a dick move if all cards are on the table. Being a bottom certainly isn’t. Even being a booty-call champ is perfectly legit as long as everybody is up front on the sitch. Everyone needs a little side piece for when you are in a relationship dry spell, amirite?
I'm your puppet. I love it.
But today’s fuckboys are manipulative shits who think they have every right to work people over in order to get what they want. Go Google “fuckboy warning signs”…I’ll wait here until you get back.
Hella lot of articles out there, right? Lots of people getting slammed upside the head by the Fuckboy Play Book in their attempts to navigate the dating scene. Yup, Gay, straight, all points in between…fuckboys have flooded the market.
This can only mean one thing.
Enter Dr. Faith with her highly unscientific Fuckboy Field Guide so you know how to spot these taint stains before they get their hooks in and you are getting bombarded with 2AM messages inviting you over for Netflix and chill.
But even better? Like any other field guide, mine is rated for rarity. So make it a scavenger hunt next time you are out on the scene. And let me know how many sightings you made and points you scored. If you tag one on the ear before you release him back into the wild, your next Americano at Local is on me.
The Hipster Fuckboy: Dude. He’s so ubiquitous you should almost get negative points for spotting one. Especially if you are downtown. Bro has a man bun and cuffed jeans (the better for you to check out his vintage Fluvlog boots, my dear). He is wearing cologne that smells like wood smoke, but he has never, not ever built a campfire. Unlike your authentic urban dude, the Fuckboy hipster is going with the trend in hopes of scoring play. He’s never read Camus and while he says he is heading the Farmer’s Market in the ayem, he’s really means Carl’s Jr for a sausage biscuit.
Mating Call: I just found the most amazing beard oil on my last trip to Portland. Wanna feel?
The URL Fuckboy: Does this guy even exist outside his parent’s basement? Doubtful. He’s on Tinder, Grindr, and PoF. He follows you on Instagram and Snapchat. He requests pics. Noooo, you knooooooow…reaaaaaaal pics. Wanna go meet for coffee? Um, can’t. Huge project at work. Or sumpin. But isn’t too tired to text you at 2AM wanting to “chat.”
Mating Call: Can you send me another pic? You’re sooooo hot.
Status: Common. Unless it’s all the same guy with multiple server networks all tied together. Who the fuck knows at this point?
The Military Fuckboy: In San Antonio? Also pretty common, though perhaps worth a few more points than the omnipresent hipster. The Military Fuckboy is out of uniform, but wearing a tight shirt so you can see how well his hard PT work has paid off. He makes sure you know he’s being deployed any minute now (so don’t expect him to be around for the long term, baby…otherwise HE TOTALLY WOULD).
Mating Call: Let’s do it for our country!
Status: Fairly Common (at least in military towns, YMMV.)
The Broken Spirit, Sensitive Soul Fuckboy: He just got out of a long term relationship. He has a beautiful daughter he shows you pictues of. He’s a teacher, or a prison social worker, or a nurse. He cares about people and he’s hurting hurting hurting from his past relationship. He’s wearing Dockers and drinking Bud. Is this even a good bar? He hasn’t been out in over 10 years, you know. He just saw this place and came in on a whim. But after you get freaky you never hear from him, except for the crabs he left you with. Hasn’t been out in ten years, my ass.
Mating Call: My biggest fear is that I will never find love again. And it haunts me, you know?
Status: Diminishing numbers. We used to be overpopulated on these guys, but Parks and Wildlife set up a hunting season on them about a decade ago and numbers have greatly diminished.
The Gap Year European Green Card Fuck Boy: Parents have money, and he spends it. He is “on break from university” and traveling the US. He is wearing Italian loafers with no socks and has a vaguely European accent (French? Italian? Who the fuck knows?). He makes sure to take off his jacket (worn over an open collar shirt) so you can see it’s Armani. And yet he never seems to shell out any cash for his own drinks. The fuck? He says he will be in town for the semester, but suddenly gets called back home because his Grandmother is dying. Timing coincides with you giving up the cookie, too.
Non-Mating Call: Your eyes…how do you say it in English?…they speak to my soul.
Status: Diminishing numbers. Value of the Euro falling and all that.
The Neil Straus OG Fuckboy: They are vintage, real deal PUAs. And their lines haven’t changed a bit. They are older, still single, and still think they have years to go before it’s time to settle down. Dad bod for days. Maybe even Grandpa Bod. Hoping you will throw them a bone (or at least a boner) for their tired, ass lines. Have Viagra, will travel. At least they pick up the bar tab.
Mating Call: I’m sure someone as attractive as you is waiting for someone. But do you mind if I flirt
with you for a few minutes while you wait?
Status: Endangered. They’re aging out. Just like Danny Glover, they are getting too old for this shit.
The Lesbian Whisperer Fuckboy: Ooooh, I hate this dude. He hangs out in gay bars specifically to scope the lady-lovin’ ladies, or he hangs out in straight bars and hones in on the lesbian who got roped in to hanging out with a group of female friends. He pretends to just want someone to talk to, drops lots of tie, attention, and understanding, and worms his way in. He plays a slower game, but the end goal is the same. He wants to convince lady lovin’ ladies that they might be down for some D with the right, sensitive soul. He gets bonus points if your gold star (and he WILL be trying to find that out as soon as he can find an opening to ask you).
Mating Call: I really relate to you, I’ve always felt that I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. I love women but really don’t identify with other straight men.
Status: Rare, fortunately. But hella dangerous when found in the wild.
The FTR Fuckboy: Total fuckboy asshole that falls and love and changes his evil ways, just as Carlos Santana demanded. Is now a loving, devoted family man. Etc. Etc.
Mating Call: Thanks for the offer, but I’m on my way home to my soul mate and our beautiful children.
Status: Mythical creature. Stop spreading rumors that they exist.
How often are we really in our bodies?
For brief, glimmering moments every once in a while?
Even for individuals who practice mindfulness, we are constantly disrupted by our arising thoughts. We note this (“thinking!”) and return to the breath. Lather, rinse, repeat. And sometimes…for a second or three we are just breathing. Then taco trucks and to-do lists crowd back into our heads.
Even when we escape the mind chatter for a millisecond, the focus on breath is only one form of body awareness. It is a very small part of the entirety of the weird-ass organism we drive ourselves around in every moment of our conscious being.
When we talk about our 5 senses, we talk about how we use them to organize information from the outside world, but rarely do we use them to register what is going on inside of us. In reality, we are receiving internal sensory information on a constant basis but are rarely connected to that experience. There is nothing wrong sense-driven corrections being an automatic process. This is how our body and brain are designed to function. Continuous information seeking and responding and adapting to our surroundings based on that information. Micromovements to huge course corrections on a continual basis.
But sometimes the wiring goes wonky. You know. Our body and mind are over-eager and over-protective and start sending haywire messages that are overanalyzing current experiences and anticipating dangerous and damaging future experiences based on our past experiences.
It’s the very definition of a trauma response.
Any living animal will respond to changes in light and shadow. From amoebas to Homo sapiens, we perceive threat and duck. The difference between us and amoebas is that we can (at least on a good day), become aware of our instincts and challenge the efficacy of our ducking patterns.
This means being more aware of the interplay between our external and internal sense messages. And learning to tolerate our duck response without needing to always duck.
Want to get an idea of where I’m going with this? Try this exercise, adapted from Peter Levine’s fantastic book In An Unspoken Voice:
How did your awareness of the experience change once you were entirely dependent on your internal sense messages? Was it disconcerting at any point? Comforting? Did anything shift or feel different in how you connect with your self?
You know what’s utterly unfair? Not getting awards as we get older. No ribbons for best team player or exceptional effort after about age 11. And I call shenanigans. Successful adulting deserves some serious external validation (and not of the kind my former boss delivered by saying “I sign your paycheck, don’t I?”).
My 18 year old is living on her own, totally on her own, for the first time. No adultier adults to keep her in line. I know my dad is slipping her money, but other than that, she’s having to deal with Real Shit ™ for the first time. I get texts all the time of all the things she didn’t really pay attention to now slipping into her consciousness.
“Um, so how long to boil an egg?”
Put the eggs in the cold pot of water, bring the whole thing to a boil, turn off and cover and let it sit for 20 minutes.
“Holy SHIT, almond milk is FIVE BUCKS!”
Lactose free is cheaper than what you were used to me buying and you won’t get sick off that like you do regular milk.
“You know what sucks worse than going to work when you don’t feel good? Having to go to the grocery store after work when all you want to go is go home and cry.”
“I really, really, REALLY miss your cooking.”
That you made fun of your entire life for it being so healthy? Crap food ceases to be fun when it starts kicking your body’s ass, dunnit? Time to get a crockpot and start throwing some stuff together.
The essential message in these messages is “Adulting, amirite?” She’s wanting a gold star for getting her crap together….and don’t we all?
Here is my list of things we should all TOTALLY get adulating awards. Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments below!
1) Saying “Sure thing!” instead of “Fuck You!” anytime asked to do anything unreasonable or inane. Especially in a work-type situation.
2) Having stashed enough money in savings to cover the emergency vet bill for your asshole, elderly cat instead of buying the Burberry trench coat you really wanted.
3) Putting out the trash late at night when you remembered it gets picked up in the morning. Even when it is really, really cold. And raining.
4) Eating kale.
5) Getting the oil change BEFORE getting the pedicure.
6) Not leaving expletive-laden note under the windshield wiper of the fuckwit who can’t park in just ONE FUCKING SPACE in a parking lot. Even though the asshole deserves it.
7) Putting a bra back on at the end of the day when you’ve already gone home and taken it off when you realize you need to make a run to the store.
8) Folding and putting away the laundry rather than just wearing it out of the basket until the basket is empty and it’s time to rewash everything again.
9) Ironing. Anything. For any reason. Ever.
10) Proper self-care instead of cake-batter therapy.
Have you seen the new Netflix/Marvel series Jessica Jones? So many people are all abuzz about it. I have a hard time sitting down and finishing one episode of ANYTHING, let alone binge out on an entire season of something in the space of a few days.
But yeah, Jessica Jones is that good.
It’s empirically good storytelling, with a female lead writer (Melissa Rosenberg) writing kick-ass female lead characters navigating plot lines that pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. But beyond being action-packed, the series is very much a brilliant portrayal of abuse, trauma, sexual assault, violence, and PTSD survival. Which sounds miserable, I know. But it is done brilliantly. Joss Truitt, Feministing.com contributor, nailed it when she wrote:
Yes, this is a “superhero” show with a female lead, but Jessica Jones is so much more. The show does what we all got excited about Mad Max: Fury Road doing this summer: it’s a story about the aftermath of sexual violence that doesn’t include gratuitous rape scenes, one that takes on issues of violence and patriarchy head on without replicating harmful tropes. But Jessica Jones goes further than Fury Road by making survivors the central characters, and making their trauma and recovery the meat of the show.
What I appreciate most about the story is that it doesn’t fetishize rape. You do not see the sexual abuse that both Jessica and Hope experience at the hands of Kilgrave. Instead, the story begins and carries through the aftermath and the healing process. And the series is stronger for that decision.
The aftereffects of the experience are clear, and infinitely more important than the acts themselves.
I’ve discussed the shows with clients, friends, and colleagues. I think it has enormous potential to be healing, and open up avenues of discussion for many people who have experienced traumas in their own lives. Because I do so much work around trauma and PTSD, I immediately went out searching for some questions, discussion guide type articles about the show to share with my own clients and with other therapists who may want to use the show in group settings and the like.
Which meant I had to get off my ass and write some. If you think of any others, please share them and I will add them to this post. Let’s crowdsource this with all the awesomeness that is the interwebz! If you have any great experiences using the series therapeutically, I would love to hear about them (and share them here if you feel comfortable with doing so).
A couple of caveats:
While I haven’t had anyone yet tell me this show was triggering for them, it sure as hell could be. Be aware of this potential, and take good care of yourself as I hope you do anytime past memories stir up in your present life. Life is already difficult, so if you find watching this (or anything!) that causes more harm than good, it’s more than OK to take a pass.
The questions in this guide will contain spoilers. Because, duh, they are meant to be used to discuss the series after it’s been seen. If you read the questions first and realize that this study guide hits up some major plot points, do not come torch my village, mmmmkay? You were warned.
Jessica Jones Discussion Questions:
1. In the first episode, before we even know the entire backstory of Jessica’s relationship with Kilgrave, we see evidence of her PTSD symptoms. She struggles with using alcohol to medicate, she struggles with personal relationships, and she experiences flashbacks. She uses a grounding technique of reciting street names from her childhood as a way of keeping herself in the present when the flashbacks take hold. Have you ever used similar grounding technique? What has worked best for you?
2. In what other ways can you relate to how Jessica has managed her trauma? In what ways were you experiences very different?
3. Jessica is by no means the only trauma survivor in this series, and this quote from Episode 4 (in a monologue toward Audrey Eastman who lost her mother and blames all “special” humans for that loss) shows her fury with the experiences of individuals who lash out at those around them due to their past traumas:
"You think you're the only ones who've lost people? You think you're the only ones with pain? You think you can take your shit and dump it on me? You don't get to do that! So you take your God damned pain and you live with it, assholes!"
– From Episode 4, AKA 99 Friends
We all have instances of hurting others because of our own histories, and have all been hurt by others struggling with their own pain. How do you apologize when you find yourself reacting against those around you? How do you call out people reacting against you in a way that shows empathy to their experience without excusing their actions?
4. Because the show explores the many facets of the traumatic experiences many individuals face, we also get to see how individuals care for and support each other. For example, Trish was abused as a child. Her experiences brought them both closer, and they created the family each needed and were lacking for different reasons. How have you created the support networks that you have needed in your own life? How have you been able to support someone else’s healing experience because of your own?
5. Jessica continues to argue with Malcolm about attending the support group for individuals who have been victimized by Kilgrave. She states that “someone has always had it worse” as a way of dismissing her own experience. Have you ever found yourself minimizing your experiences in the same way? Had other people minimize your experiences in a similar manner? How do you find a balance between maintaining perspective while honoring what you have been through? How do you respond to others who struggle in that regard?
6. One group member states that processing his experiences has been pointless because in the end, he still hasn’t gone his son back. Long lasting or even permanent consequences are often a result of traumatic experiences. Is there a point in discussing these issues if you can’t change your circumstances? Why or why not?
7. Malcolm struggles with what it means to be a good person. As someone who had a traumatic past and was studying to become a social worker, becomes another victim of Kilgrave, he wants desperately to do things to save humanity. He mentions his upbringing, in a family that did good works and prayed for people. He asks if it’s all hopeless in the end…is everyone just out for themselves. His experience, in essence, is a crisis of faith (that shows signs of resolving in the last scene of the last season 1 episode). Have you had similar struggles with maintaining hope for the world? Was your process similar to that of Malcolm’s? How did you work through it, or how are you working through it now?
8. Some people may argue that Kilgrave uses literal mind control to manage his victims, while in real life individuals have a choice about the abuse they suffer and endure. This topic is handled exceptionally well when Kilgrave makes the argument to Jessica that he deliberately didn’t control her mind for enough time for her to be clear of his powers, but she chose to stay. Jessica countered by saying that while the control wasn’t literal, she wasn’t able to get his presence out of her head long enough to act in such a way to escape him. This is very true of many people who suffer ongoing abuse…the control feels very real and literal and escape seems impossible. Have you had a similar experience? What would be your response to someone who didn’t understand how literal abusive control can feel?
(If you are looking for a domestic violence safety plan that helps you remain safe whether or not you choose to leave, this one from the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence is excellent.)
9. The show has been viewed as very sex-positive, something that Melissa Rosenberg addressed beautifully in her Los Angeles Times interview:
It's interesting, I've never thought of it as sex-positive as much as, again, real, grounded sexuality and the expression of it. I have zero interest in portraying female sexuality as anything other than empowering and as a very natural part of our makeup. I was not handling it with kid gloves. I'm not interested in these romantic, pretty, hand crawls up the back, thing. I really wanted a very visceral experience of these characters, it's another facet of who they are. Because it's Jessica's story, you're experiencing it from her point of view. Between her and Jeri Hogarth and Trish Walker, these are all characters who are sexual beings like any other women and it was very much about allowing that to be the case. Again, just being honest with who these characters are.
I love that about these characters. That they are sex positive, but in a matter of fact way that is a facet of their personalities, rather than something that is paraded by the writers through each episode. However, intimacy can sometimes be a struggle for individuals after a trauma. While sex positive, you can see all these characters struggle with their intimate relationships, and trusting their respective partners in a very real way. What are your perceptions of how sexual intimacy is portrayed in the series? What have your experiences been regarding sexual intimacy? Is there anything about how sexual intimacy is portrayed in the series that you relate to?
(For more resources on intimacy after sexual assault or abuse, check out this handout from the University of Alberta, the Sexual Effects Inventory by Wendy Maltz, and The Consent Commandments).
10. Also in the Los Angeles Times interview, Libby Hill and Rosenberg have the following exchange which I love:
The audience isn't necessarily rooting for Jessica to heal or change, so much as they're rooting for her to keep being herself and being awesome at being herself. She's not a "strong woman" trope, she just is who she is.
There is a healing process with the trauma that she's gone through. But that's still a part of who you are. You don't become a different person because you've faced your demons. And who she is, is fantastic. We never want her to change that.
Wounds heal, but scars are forever.
Jessica is so clearly a flawed hero. She struggles on a continual basis with the after effects of her experience. She questions her judgement on a minute by minute basis. She doesn’t consider herself a hero at all, stating:
"They say everyone's born a hero. But if you let it, life will push you over the line until you're the villain. Problem is, you don't always know that you've crossed that line. Maybe it's enough that the world thinks I'm a hero."
In trying desperately to free Hope, Kilgrave remains at large for weeks, much to the fury of those around her. She takes responsibility for the deaths he causes in the process, even in Hope’s eventual suicide. Jessica has to find herself and stay to true to her sense of justice, despite how Kilgrave has altered her world. She is as imperfect as the rest of his, and her scars are reminders of her experience. What kinds of scars do you carry, either physical or emotional? In which ways have you changed? In which ways have you remained true to who you are? How have your experiences led you to be stronger? What would you want people to most know about your experience?
“One has to gaze upon the dead, cremate them and bury their ashes – then begin to tell their story. Remain silent about the dead, and they’ll never leave you in peace.”
Full disclosure: Joseph McBride is a friend of my husband’s. He tolerates me, as well, in all likelihood due to bemusement that my husband (also a Joe) finally gave up bachelorhood at age 43. So when he sent a copy of his new memoir, The Broken Places, it was kindly addressed to both of us.
I doubt he intended me to read it and then review it through the lens of a therapist with an awful lot of experience working with individuals with complex trauma histories. But just like he will always be the cool guy who co-wrote the screenplay for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, I will always be the therapist who views intimacy through the lens of trauma experiences.
So clearly, he’s way more fun at parties than I am.
Joe’s latest book offers itself as a memoir of both the author’s childhood and adolescence, replete with a honest portrayal of his breakdown and stay at a psychiatric facility. Additionally, the story takes us on a journey through McBride’s first love, a young woman he met while at this facility, who wove in and out of his life until her untimely death when she (and Joe) were both in their early twenties.
Except it’s not a memoir. Not really. And it’s not a treatise on first love. Or an homage to the brilliant and shattered Kathy Wolf. At its core, The Broken Places is a trauma narrative. It’s about a childhood so intense, it causes an emotional shattering in the teenage Joe. And it is about his connection to a young woman, also shattered and also trying to find her way home.
Plato’s Meno is a Socratic dialogue on the nature of virtue. Plato asked “How do you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”
How do you, indeed? How do you realize your own empowerment when you have never, in the entirety of your life, experienced it?
Joe shares a letter sent to him by a friend and colleague of his mother during his period of institutionalization, a man named Marty Parnelli. In this letter, Parnelli encourages the psychotherapy available to him in this setting:
Most people blindly accept their conditions as intellectual, emotional, and moral pygmies, and are content to vent their frustrations by merely complaining about their negative situations. If one can recognize how, when, where and why he became stunted, then at least he starts thinking, and perhaps he starts to understand that he has a problem. His thinking about the problem will keep him from itching about the situation; and so long as he thinks there is a chance – and the hope – that he can solve the problem. If he solves one such problem, he can probably solve other and more complex problems.
One gets the feeling that the individuals on staff there to provide this service were dismissed as inept and useless. This is often the perspective of patients. Honestly, this can often be an exasperatingly accurate supposition. So instead, Joe and Kathy turn to each other for support, both drowning and holding onto each other in the process…in an effort to rescue themselves. McBride notes the unsustainability of the relationship near the end of the book:
I thought about how I was going away to a promising new life and abandoning her to unending emotional chaos. I felt there was something almost cannibalistic about our relationship, as if we could not both be healthy at the same time. She had rescued me once; didn’t I owe it to her to repay the favor? Well, I’d tried damn it. I’d tried every way I knew. She seemed saner in the hospital, and happier when she was craziest.
Exchanging his family home for an inpatient facility (and shortly thereafter, university) gave McBride some space to heal. But, as he notes, forming a bond with a deeply hurting and complicated woman mimicked the relationship he had with his mother, which was the impetus for his hospitalization in the first place. Kathy become his tether to the feeling of emotional hopelessness. He moves forward in many ways, but also continues to return to her. He felt responsible for her, as he had his own mother for all of those years.
In the final letter Kathy sent to Joe, she stated “I’ve gone where I belong and I know I will be happy.” Kathy never found her place of hope through empowerment, the healing Parnelli desired for Joe. It is unclear if Joe had yet done so, at that point.
But here is my guess (and doubtless he will rebut kindly if I’m wrong): Much of our work in trauma informed therapy is to help our clients find a safe place in which to find healing and meaning within their story. We fight our stories, most of the time. We fight because we feel no control over them. They become the pygmies Parnelli warned against. We complain of them rather than own them.
And they fester until they eat us alive. For Kathy, this was a literal experience. Because these broken places that Joe writes of are deep and painful and fester within us. We let them scab over and ignore them for a while, perhaps years or decades on end. But eventually they infect everything. They either kill us or we find a way to heal.
That’s what a trauma narrative does. It serves to move away from complaint into ownership. This is our best chance at moving forward. We are marked forever by these wounds, but have regained power over our lives. I think this was Joe’s ultimate task here. To let go his family, to let go Kathy, and to create a memoir that healed his past wounds. Joe would never be the same for these experiences. No one ever is. That was Parelli’s main point, likely unbeknownst to the teenaged Joe who first read that letter.
The Broken Places is an examination, in the end, of Joe’s scars. And blessed are those scars that
serve as reminders that we have healed.
1) Let people merge in traffic. Even if it means you miss the traffic light change. Unless you are bleeding or performing surgery, your day will not be remarkably altered.
2) When people are serving you smile, make eye contact, call them by name if they are wearing a badge or tell it to you. Ask them how they are doing. Acknowledge how hard they are working and how busy they are. Put down your damn phone when talking to them. Say please and thank you. Generally acknowledge their human presence.
3) Ask for a service individual's boss and compliment their customer service.
4) If you have a great coworker, send them an email thanking them for their good work with specific examples. Copy their boss. A staff member told me last month that an email I sent her doing so kept her from resigning.
5) Compliment people. Their great shoes, hat, earrings. Knowing you are recognized positively is worth more than you realize.
6) Provide tangibles. If you can't afford to bring someone a coffee, can you bring them homemade cookies? Write them a note?
7) Slow down. Breathe. Drink hot chocolate. Watch a movie. Wear fuzzy socks. It isn't a race you can win, so stop running.
8) Do this all year, not just during the holidays.
9) Make this list viral, I want a kindhearted, connected, low stress holiday season. Let's turn this ship around starting now.
10) Then go take a nap.
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.
“People count on us to be passive. They deserve to be punished.”
When I saw that the first book chosen for The Militant Baker online book club was Dietland by Sarai Walker, I was curious. It has passed under my radar, as most fiction does nowadays. If I need a fiction escape, I pick up a paperback at a bookstore, read it in the tub, and then pass it on to a friend. I haven’t gotten real sustenance (pun intended!) from fiction in many years. And I’m not knocking that…there is nothing wrong with Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.
But appearances are deceiving because Dietland is clearly not any of these things. The cheerful cover lends itself to how the book opens. It’s another version of chick-lit, right? Well written chick-lit maybe, but one of the many “find yourself and then find a man” tropes of a novel on the market.
Dietland is way, way more. Within the first third of the book, the formula veers off wildly… into farce, metaphor, satire, allegory, or melodrama. Call it what you want, but the book uses a narrative plot of wild extremes to remind us of something important. As Annalisa Quinn wrote in her review of the book:
I've never dropped anyone out of a helicopter. But Dietland resonated with the part of me that wants, just once, to deck a street harasser. At the very least, I wish an incurable itch upon everyone who has catcalled me on the street. I wish food poisoning and public embarrassment on everyone I've heard make a rape joke. I wish toothache and head lice and too-small shoes upon every stranger who has told me to smile. Which is to say, sometimes I forget I'm angry, but I am. Dietland is a complicated, thoughtful and powerful expression of that same anger.
The novel tackles rape culture in a brilliantly, subversive way. There is a movement afoot within the novel, two of them actually. There is a group of women, Calliope House, reclaiming their lives, and identity. They are trying to navigate an unjust world with an authentic voice, supporting each other with comfort and safety. Reminding each other not to harm anyone, not even our own bodies, in the quest to fit into the world around them.
It is no accident that the leader of Calliope House is a therapist, and one of the researchers she is funding is a social worker. The home is full of PhD level writers and activists and academics. They are working to awaken the slumbering beast that is the power of an aware woman.
But there is a second group, known simply as Jennifer, who attack this culture of women being attacked by men and attacking each other and themselves… with literal guns blazing.
And as with other movements (for example, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Freedom Fighters in contrast to movements of the same era, headed by Malcolm X with the Nation of Islam or Huey Newton and Bobby Seale with The Black Panthers), the groups start to intertwine and the gentle become angry. They may not always agree with the tactics, they may not utilize the same tactics, but they understand. The novel uses the following exchange in a TV talk show format to demonstrate this leaning to the far and angry left.
On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”
“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delaney.
“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad man who might get us … Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”
“For God’s sake, Nola. You’re going to get us both fired,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delaney.
The book challenges the idea of bending our wills and our bodies to the wants and desires of heterosexual men. The challenge of the heterosexual mating dance and sexual empowerment is gentler than other messages with the novel, but there nonetheless. Attraction between women and exploration of one’s sexuality through masturbation are tied in to the larger plot threads. A larger body…a woman’s larger body… the message is, can be soft, comfortable, beautiful, appealing, and exciting.
Sarai Walker reminds us of something important with her use of a Virginia Woolf quote, spoken from one character to another, near the end of the novel: It is far harder to kill a phantom than reality. We have become so immune to the saturation of rape culture and misogyny and heteronormativity in our daily lives that we simply don’t blink. It’s both ubiquitous and nebulous. How do we kill a phantom that large?
Walker is certainly not intending a massive Jennifer movement in reality. As in the book, chaos would ensue . But the idea that we could wield our power to remove violent images? Disallow the behaviors of violent individuals through our daily actions? To stop funding industries that perpetuate rape culture and the objectification of women? That we can do.
We have the power of our numbers, our votes, our dollars, our relationships to say no. If we start to blink, we start to respond.