Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Entrance On Cue Copyright 2008 by Vernon R. Bradley.

The great fiery orb creeps across the dome, closely pursued by the darkness whose oozing fingers slowly but aggressively invade until every last, minute, remnant of light is blackened.  The stars are, indeed, a great sigh of relief!

The darkness always has its way with us, pawing at us, tossing us into the air, slapping us around, like a cat with its helpless prey.  The night’s magic potions allow us to see things that during the daylight are only sensed by unexpected shivers that run up and down the hairs of our arms and neck.

As you read on, hear the narrator’s voice fill the great hall of your innermost mind.  When you hear that voice drop for the final period, gaze into the shimmering space in front of and around you.  You will see clearly those haunting figments of your imagination and peripheral vision.  They will fade quickly, so don’t forget to look up and about immediately.

An army of leaves, swirling in a cloud of dust, drives across the front lawn toward the house, and with perfect choreography, divides into two columns, each sweeping down the shaded hollows highlighting the property lines between the neighboring houses.  The entire platoon disappears over the back fence, with little debris left behind.  Only the autumn winds could so predictably and successfully launch such a sneak attack at three o'clock each afternoon.

Sometimes the front and back doors would fly open and then slam, rattling the adjacent walls and windows.  Dad would shout out, "Stop running through the house!"  But the kids were quietly playing in the back yard, and no matter how often this event replayed itself, Dad was never convinced that it was just the autumn winds.

I had come to stay with him for as long as it might take.  In fact, all of us had come.  It seemed like the only right thing to do.  I mean why wouldn't we accompany him on his final laps?  He was, for better or worse, bigger than life, our father, for crying out loud.

Well, actually, there were plenty of good reasons to justify letting him go it alone, but we decided, perhaps our final opportunity for vengeance, to accompany him.

It was a feeling that I could not find a word for.  At times, it was comforting that we were all there to walk our father to death's door.  At other times, it felt very odd, a little embarrassing even, a tad ghoulish, and at times invasive, like being in the room when someone is having a prostate exam.

Despite the certainty of his impending doom, there was still a cosmos of uncertainty about the exact moment, whether it would be days or weeks or perhaps even the unlikelihood of several more months.
Since I lived so far away, Dad was puzzled that I was obviously there for more than a visit. And when I would gingerly tell him that I wanted to be there when he died, he would say, "I don't see any demise happening here anytime soon.  You might as well go home."

But I couldn't pull myself away.  I could not get on the airplane to return home.  There was something addictive to being a part of an event so big and so small and so significant all at the same time.  I wanted to be there when the time came, to run along side the train waving goodbye for as long as I could.

My youngest sister seemed to be the expert about these matters.  She claimed that Death would, at some point, actually enter the house.  "You'll feel it, smell it, touch it, almost like the fog in a horror flick.  You wait and see," Marianne predicted.  “We will all know when Death has made its entrance."

 I had been there about two weeks when we were all, including Dad, sitting around talking after dinner, and someone brought up Shirley's story.  The kids were all plugging their ears and saying, "No, no, don't tell that story.”  Marianne began to laugh, and you could tell she was going to tell the story no matter how scary or creepy it was.

She had taken care of her mother-in-law, Shirley, or Grandma Shirley as the kids called her, for the final months of her life.  Gradually, there were more and more mornings when everyone was surprised that Grandma Shirley was wide awake and cheery given that she had struggled through the previous day and night just to breathe and to remain conscious.  She just kept living.

One day the doorbell rang.  Rossi's flower shop was delivering a large arrangement of Shirley's favorites, a mixture of white daisies interspersed with bright red roses.  It was at the very instant that Marianne took the flowers from the delivery woman and brought them into the house that she knew that Grandma Shirley had but a few days, or maybe even less.  From that moment on, she could sense Death’s presence in the house.

The card said the flowers were from Doris McCoy.  When Marianne told Shirley who they were from, she just smiled.  "I know," she said.  "She told me she was going to send them."  Marianne was too spooked to inquire any further about Shirley's conversation with Doris because Shirley hadn't had a conversation with anyone but family members for weeks.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Doris came up to Marianne at the grave side service and asked if Shirley had enjoyed the flowers.  Now, here's the part that’s going to send a gentle chill across your skin, leaving every hair on your neck and arms standing straight up.  Marianne did not know at the time that Doris was one of Shirley's close childhood friends back in Michigan, and had died ten years earlier.

Dad said with a twinkle in his eye, "Well, if Death comes knocking or ringing the bell, for heaven's sake, don't let it in the front door.  At least, make it go around to the back door."

We all laughed because when we were kids growing up in the old house on Clark Street, Dad had a thing about the front door.  On Halloween, for example, he would actually block the front steps with a long two by four with a "wet paint" sign tacked to it, and another sign with "Trick or Treaters, back door."

Later that evening, Marianne said that when Death does enter the house, every thing changes.  She said it’s almost as if everyone is propelled to move the person to the other side like when a group of folks get together to move and free a car stuck in the mud.

She said that it took her a long time to feel really good about walking Shirley to death’s door because everything she did for Shirley had one singular outcome–Death.  She just couldn’t get rid of the awful feeling that once Death entered the house, it somehow possessed her and then used her.

The hospice folks continued to say that Dad's time was short.  There were more and more signs of internal bleeding, and even though Dad was still walking and talking and sometimes driving us crazy, according to them, Death was closing the gap.

Nevertheless, the days moved by slowly.  And one day, out of sheer boredom, I decided to ring the front door and then quickly run around to pound on the back door.

As I ran from the front door, out of nowhere, the autumn winds sounded their attack.  The army of leaves rustled and chased me like a pack of dogs.  As I reached the back door to pound on it, it flew open on its own.  I felt someone pushing me to the ground, and as always, the back door slammed and rattled the walls and windows in the service porch and breakfast nook.  I looked about in amazement, looking for the person who had pushed me from behind.  Then the back door reopened, and it was Dad.
"What the hell are you doing?  Is this some kind of joke?  If it is, I don't appreciate it.”  He looked at me with disdain and in my wildest imagination, I saw a figure, lurking in the darkened living room behind him, with the bright red grin of the joker.  I quickly looked down, not wanting to know if what I was seeing was real or just imaginary.  Before I could get up and without asking if I needed help, he closed the door, slamming it almost as hard as the wind.

I felt pain in my ankle, I felt embarrassed, I felt angry that Dad had not changed one iota, as he would say, and a huge lump rose to my throat.  I had to hide.  I couldn't let anyone see me like this, but as fast as Dad had slammed the door shut, Marianne opened it back up again.  She stood there and looked at me.

"I don't know what just happened, but Death is here now," she reported.

And sure enough, three days later, I waved goodbye to Dad as I ran along side that train.
And just as Marianne had predicted, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I had killed my Dad.  First of all, I allowed Death to enter the house through my chinanigans.   And as Dad showed more and more distress from the cancerous tumor at the bottom of his esophagus, I began to participate in administering the medication.  But he didn't get better.  My brain concluded that I had administered death medication and killed him.

And I can’t help but think when I meet Dad, face to face, on the other side, the first words out of his mouth will be,  “So, my boy, are you proud that you brought about your old man’s demise?”

Even though it’s been ten years since Death charged at the opportunity to sneak in the back door on the heals of the autumn winds and my chinanigans, Death persists at having its way with me.  I can sense its smugness.  It continues to laugh uproariously at its own slickness, its domination, its mastery, and its success at using me.

Late at night, when I get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink, I refuse to look in the bathroom mirrors or the window above the kitchen sink, not wanting to give Death one iota of recognition.  And when the doorbell rings, especially late at night, when I am not expecting any company or visitors, (and to make matters worse, the dogs bark and growl at the presence on the other side of the door) I always suspect it’s Death just playing a trick on me.  That familiar gentle breeze sends that chill across my skin, and every hair on my arms and neck faithfully stand at attention and terror as I struggle to get the words out, "Who's there?"

Now, this is just a story.  Well, it’s my story.  Death does not have to lurk any where in your life.  You know that, don't you?  Especially not in bathroom mirrors and kitchen windows.  Get up at night and pee, for God's sake.  And when your mouth is dry and full of cotton, get a drink, and look out that kitchen window at the sleeping universe.  Don’t get freaked out when the doorbell rings late at night.  Open the door and welcome the family member who simply can’t find their key.  Don't be terrorized by the chance of Death lurking anywhere.  The reality is Death does not have to lurk.  You will always know the exact moment that it makes an entrance.  It's never by happenstance.  It's always on cue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ambassador John Christopher Stevens was born April 18, 1960 in Grass Valley, California.  His parents were Jan S. Stevens, then the Assistant Attorney General of California and Mary J. Floris, a Native American from the Chinook tribe.  His mother was an accomplished cellist and played for the Marin Symphony Orchestra.

As a student at Piedmont High School, Stevens became active in the AFS program, and spent the summer of 1977 in Spain as an exchange student.  In 1982, he graduated from Berkeley with a bachelor degree in history, and subsequently taught English as a Peace Corp Volunteer.  In 1989, he earned his Juris Doctoris degree from University of California, Hastings College of the Law.  More recently in 2010, he received a Masters Degree from the National War College.  The National War College is an interesting program.  Check it out.

Ambassador Stevens was a career diplomat and served in the United States Foreign Service from 1991 till his death.  He served in the Middle East his entire career.  He was fluent in English, Arabic, and French.
To be honest with you, I had never heard of Ambassador Stevens until his death.  It is obvious though, from looking at his education and his career that he was not looking to become a General or a Colonel, not even a Lieutenant or a Sargeant.  He was dedicated to bringing about dialogue between our country and the Middle East, using non-military means.

He knew, as do all those who dedicate their working life to the foreign service that today might be the day, the day they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  I think we honor Ambassador Stevens, particularly we honor his diligent work of twenty one years, by continuing to resolve this insane outbreak of protest and violence diplomatically.  Our impulse to follow a knee jerk reaction to use even more violence to stop violence would be an insult to his commitment and his life.  It’d be like saying, “Sorry, Stevens, your efforts were obviously futile.  We’re going to come in with our big guns and clean up.”  And we can do that, just like in the old Cowboy movies, and then we spend how many more years watching our back and awaiting another September 11.  Vengeful people ALWAYS get even no matter what.  There is no getting the last win, the last act of violence, the last strike.  It works that way in video games, but not in real life.

Please let us honor his life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Yes, what happened on September 11, 2012 in Lybia is despicable, shameful, intolerable, atrocious, uncivilized.  And yes, you have to wonder, why, if Lybia’s security forces were able to over throw Gaddafi, why could they not stop a mob of 200 people?

Yes, it so easy for us to see these extreme militant terrorists, as monsters, as savages, as insane, uncivilized people, and it is equally easy to lump them together with all Muslim people.  And when we do that, we set ourselves up to react to this incomprehensible event and atrocity without thinking.  And in recent history, we have done that too many times at the cost of too many lives.

So, take a deep breath, breathe, STOP.  STOP thinking of how to get revenge, STOP the political posturing and saber rattling.  PAUSE for however long it takes to begin reflecting.  Reflecting on what?  On our own national history and on our own personal history.  Reflect on the parts of ourselves as both individuals and as a nation that have been or still are militant, despicable and intolerant.  Really and truly, we are not too far beyond these militant extremists or their followers in our treatment of those we judge to be potential or real enemies (our version of infidels) whether living inside or outside our borders.

As a Nation, we include LOTS of folks on our enemy or "infidel" list.  As individuals, we have a similar list.

For the religious right, for example, the enemy or infidels includes anyone who is not saved.  It definitely includes gay people.  How despicable and uncivilized is that?

For many of us, we continue to be quite outspoken in our prejudices about people of different ethnic backgrounds, different religious denominations, different sexual orientation, different political persuasions, people who look illegal, people who are illegal, and people who use food stamps or receive welfare.  They are all "infidels."  How despicable is that?  How uncivilized is that?  You know, some of you might be really surprised to find out how many of your friends use food stamps because they really need them.  Some of you encourage your adult children to apply for food stamps so they won’t be a burden to you.  So go figure!
People over 65 are fast falling into the enemy category.  In China, it is illegal to be born a female if you already have a sister.  Hopefully, some day it will not be illegal in this country to be over 65.  We are becoming one of the largest segments of the population and taking up way too much space.  We are costing the health care industry way too much money.  We are becoming progressively more bothersome to our families.  I mean they might have to take care of us if we don't die soon.  So-called old age is becoming older all the time.  Although some of you do take care of your elders and quite well I might add, there is still a larger trend to find a nice place, a nice facility, a nice home for Mom, Dad, Aunt Susy, Uncle Bob, and whoever else is still alive in the family.  Certainly not going to take care of them at home.  

Let’s go the distance here.  Our own founding Fathers may have believed in the principle that all men are created equal, but they did not practice that principle in their lives.  And in whatever way they did practice that principle, “men” referred to males and probably males who were WHITE and owned property.  Equality definitely did not apply to people of color, and it did not apply to women.  How despicable and uncivilized is that?

It is less than a hundred years that women have been “allowed” to vote in this country.  Women have yet to achieve equality when it comes to jobs and wages.  They have not achieved equality within most religious communities, and their lack of equality within many denominations is often said to be supported by God Herself.

Women are also considered unequal by large numbers of men.  I won’t say majority because I do not have the data to support that.  What I do know is that a large percentage of the men who take advantage of my services to work out conflicts with their women partners have either a conscious and outspoken view or a “low-lying” insidious, almost unconscious view that women need to know and accept their subservient place and not complain about it.   How despicable and uncivilized is that?

It has only been about fifty years that the right to vote was guaranteed for Black Americans.  At least as late as the 1960's, in some parts of this country, Black Catholics could not sit in the same section of the Church as White parishoners.  They also had to wait last in line for both communion and confession, and in some instances, pastors stood at the church door refusing to allow Black people to even enter the church.  Despicable?  Uncivilized?

When did segregation end for buses, drinking fountains, bathrooms, restaurants, sports teams, jobs, and the like?  In some cases, not long ago.  I happen to be watching Nightline in 1987, when Ted KoppIe asked Al Campanis why there were not more Black managers in baseball.  Whoa!  I could not believe that an intelligent man would not only hold his viewpoint, but actually express it in front of the entire country.  I was embarrassed for him and for us as a Nation, because I knew that probably many many people thought just like him.

I recently witnessed a black couple being turned down at a car rental agency.  I was stunned and then ashamed of myself for not speaking out.  Recently as in two weeks ago.

What about our long-standing anti-Semitism?  Despicable?  My Church was completely silent about the Holocaust, and continued to label Jews as “Perfidious” up until the mid 1960's.  Despicable?  Uncivilized?  Yes, but Christian!  I know, slap me, but Christians have been anti-Semitic for a very very long time even though Jesus is a Jew and probably more Black than White!

What is my point here?  Well we decry a group of extreme militants who are just OUT THERE.  We cannot understand their culture, their religion, what seems to be religious intolerance, their intolerance in general of the Western world, their subjugation of women, and their seeming support of terrorist activity.  You know I get that part.  What I don’t get is that we don’t see that we are still just like them in so many ways, and our movement forward as a nation has not taken us too far down the road of equality and civility.

Let's be humble enough to look at our own acts of terror in our personal lives.  How many peoples lives have we destroyed in gossip?  How many children's lives have we destroyed by telling them all kinds of things from "how stupid can you be" to "I disown you."  How many people do we put at risk when we drink and drive.  Talk about terrorism.  How many peoples lives do we impact when we continue to smoke?  Not much different from a suicide bomber.

And let's be humble enough to never forget our country's history and journey.  Not to be a dead horse, but how many Native Americans were wiped out in our pursuit of happiness, wealth, and land?  Land that was not ours for the taking.  But we did. How many Black people just disappeared off the face of the earth during our countries bout with segregation?  Only sixty years ago, we were vulnerable to the likes of Joseph McCarthy and J. Egdar Hoover.  Today we are vulnerable to thinking that those on welfare, those using food stamps, the illegals, the elderly are the cause of our declining economy.  They are our "infidels." today, and seeing these folks as the cause for our economic difficulties makes as much sense as saying a bad movie about Mohammed is a good reason for us to kill your Ambassador and burn your embassies.   

I do have some thoughts about a way to respond to the terrorism that you can read about on my Hubpages blog.  But the bottom line for me is this.  Whatever solutions we propose to deal with terrorism, let's go about it THOUGHTFULLY and INTELLIGENTLY, and with an eye to HISTORY.  Leave the revenge behind.  Leave it for the terrorists because it will ultimately be their undoing especially if we discontinue using revenge as a tactic for ourselves.

Our children deserve that we make this our mission.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I know some of you will cynically see me as a “great” Monday morning quarterback.  And that is okay.  I think, when it comes to such devastation as September 11, 2001, it’s required that each of us be good Monday morning quarterbacks.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, many people woke up having no clue that they were going to die.  Some would die just by being at work.  Some would die carrying out their day-to-day commitment to keep New York safe both as paid pesonnel and as volunteers.  Some would die from deciding to board airplanes bound for points west.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, many people woke up having no clue that they would have an opportunity to step up to the plate in ways they never imagined, some of whom have gone relatively unacknowledged, for example, the many ferry boat operators in Manhattan.

This blog is to honor all of these folks, living and dead.  I think it is important that we do not allow their sacrifices and their memories to become just that, sacrifices and memories, but rather to let their sacrifices and memories become seeds that will blossom into new awarenesses for us as a nation.

Unfortunately, I am sure September 11, will not be the last terrorists’ attack on our country, but perhaps we can learn from September 11, how to respond in the future and how not to respond.  We could do that work, that learning, in their honor.  And if we do that work, maybe, September 11, can be the last terrorist attack on our soil.

I am not a security expert, so I don’t know how to begin to even examine what happened security-wise that hijackers were allowed to board the planes.  I am assuming and hoping that we have learned from September 11, and have remedied the cracks and the holes to prevent such a well-planned multiple simultaneous hijacking in the future.

However, I think it is important that every single person responsible for security on that morning find a way to be both accountable and responsible for where ever it was that they dropped the ball.  When I say this, I am not looking for people to blame.  Blame is pointless and useless.  I am inviting all involved to be accountable and responsible in contrast to being defensive and finding excuses, even at this late stage of the “game.”

I am also inviting each of us, as citizens, to join the security folks in being accountable and responsible.  How?  Well, simply by acknowledging “obviously something went amiss” as a starter.  It was not an accident.  And each of us can share in being accountable and taking responsibility for that break-down by not complaining anymore when we are inconvenienced at the airport by those doing their job.

If we can’t get beyond excusing ourselves for security lapses or covering them up, we will revisit September 11, at a later date.  

What made us vulnerable to such a terrorist attack?  What made us so attractive to the terrorists?  I want to look at just one piece of this question.

We are all familiar with the Narcissist, the man or woman who is powerful, very powerful, and often wealthy.  They acquire and have any and everything they desire.  No one ever stands in their way, and they flaunt that no one WILL EVER stand in their way.

Many of us know these folks first hand.  We work for them, have married them, maybe more than one, live next door to them, have a family member or many family members who qualify for this ancient label, NARCISSIST.  But if not, then we know them from literature (novels and plays), from movies, from sports and the performing arts.

Most of us think of the narcissist as someone who is full of themselves.  The reality is that the narcissist is almost totally EMPTY on the inside.  There is no place inside where the narcissist can go and hang his or her hat, so to speak.  There is no internal felt sense of self.  Let me explain what it feels like to be a narcissist.

See, I happen to believe in an hereafter, but on occasion, I do question.  What if when I die, it IS just poof.  It’s over.  I’m over.  When I consider that possibility, I get a nervous feeling in my stomach, and it tends to crawl throughout my skin.  It’s almost a feeling of nausea.

Well, the narcissist carries that pervasive fear of annihilation twenty four seven.  It tends to be out of conscious awareness, so it is a low grade anxiety that drives the narcissist to find a way to know that he or she exists each and every single moment of his waking day.  And that’s where you and I come in.  Those of us who are in relationships with narcissist, those of us who look up to the narcissist or who find themselves subservient to the narcissist, we all act as mirrors for the narcissist.

When the world or the people in the narcissist’s life refuse to be mirrors, it typically enrages the narcissist, and the rage can become self destructive but more often, other destructive.  Revenge and getting more than even become a necessity for the narcissist to know that he or she exists.  Consequently, the narcissist lives under a pervasive almost unconscious fear of being attacked, and any form of criticism is an attack.  Any mistake made by those who are suppose to mirror perfectly how perfect the narcissist is, is an attack.

So why am I taking the time to look at this personality disorder, narcissism.  Perhaps, I’m focusing on the highjackers, who probably would qualify either as narcissistic or folks who, for any number of reasons, felt compelled to follow narcissists, like those who followed the likes of Jim Jones, Adolph Hitler, and yes, Osama Bin Laden.  Narcissists have a perverted charism about themselves.

But I am talking about Narcissism because we as a nation are narcissistic.  We think we are the greatest and most powerful nation in the world and perhaps in the history of the world even though so many facts point to the contrary.  One, for example, is our relatively high infant mortality rate.

We want other nations to believe that we are the most powerful country in the world and directly or indirectly we send a clear message that we are going to do whatever we damned well please no matter what the rest of the world community says.  We are not a humble nation.  We are a proud nation to a fault.

So the question is, why, as a nation, do we experience emptiness in our national soul?  What is that about?  And then why do we pick the likes of groups like al Qaeda to mirror for us that we are powerful?  And why are we so reticent to acknowledge our own evilness, our own quest to conquer the world’s resources for ourselves, for example oil.

Those groups or folks who do not like us, we virtually dare them to stop us or attack us, and guess what, one group has taken up the invitation and will continue to do so until we find a way to be in the world as a powerful nation, but also a humble nation.  We say we are a Godly nation, but our lack of humility decries our Godliness.

The first step for you and me, as individual citizens, in becoming humble is to know history.  For example, do you have any clue why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?  Start googling and find out.  This is important because we are fighting the same war today in the Middle East, a war over oil!  Little changes.

Unfortunately, when it comes to war, there are realities we do not want to face.  Perhaps the only war we have actually won, gained something from, is the Revolutionary War.  We certainly did not accomplish much by the Civil War.  Our country remains divided today along the same war lines.  We accomplished nothing in World War I except to plant the seeds for Hitler’s rise to power.  During World War II, over six million jews were annihilated.  We obviously did not stop Hitler.  Four hundred six thousand American soldiers killed and almost seven hundred thousand wounded in World War II.  I have no idea what the other countries lost.  These numbers do not look like a victory to me. 

After World War II, the French could not strip Viet Nam of their independence and were literally slaughtered in their attempt at the infamous battle of Dien Bien Phu.  For some reason, we thought we were bigger and more powerful than the French, so we decided to flex our muscles with our former ally, Ho Chi Minh, but to no avail.

And what the heck were we doing in Korea? There were, in fact, “good” reasons that made sense in that time period, but do you know what they were?  And can we learn that these “good” reasons may not be good reasons in the future?  Perhaps we need to rethink the mentality of the Truman doctrine which tends to pervade our thinking even today.

And what was the mentality that drove us into war with Iraq?  We have left that country devastated.  They are worse off today than they were before we went into save them.  Russian could not deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and what made us think that we could?  We walked away from Korea, from Viet Nam, from Iraq, and we will eventually walk away from Afghanistan, all because we have to prove our power.  But there were no victories, and there will be no victory in Afghanistan.  You gotta know that!

And we somehow forget that the greatest war casualties are the survivors and their families.  These men and women who survived are NEVER the same, and their woundedness plagues their families sometimes for generations.  I say that from working with families of World War II veterans and their generational families as well as the veterans and their families from more recent military actions.

Some of us like to take comfort in the notion of necessary evils.  But calling a solution to a problem a necessary evil is just a cover up for not having the courage to say, I don’t know what to do.  Or I know what the good solution is, but it is going to ruffle the feathers of powerful people, people who profit from the necessary evil solutions.
There is a wonderful principle in Martial Arts.  The most powerful power is UNUSED power, unthreatened power.  You might call it silent power.

In honor of all those who lost their lives on 9/11, can we begin to look at our motivation for going after terrorists?  Is there a more powerful way to go after them?  Is there a way of attacking terrorists that does not bate them into attacking us in the most perverse ways?

I think there are answers, but it requires giving up our image that we are number one, that we are the most powerful nation in the world, that we are invincible, but that requires humility.

NO, we do not have to become isolationists.     

I think I am a great person not because I am the greatest person on the face of the earth.  I am great because of the way I live my life.

As a nation, can we look into our national mirror and be at peace with the way we live our lives, with the way we treat each other, with the way we take care of each other, with the way we resolve conflict between each other, or maybe the basic problem is we don’t care how we treat each other or care for each other and we continue to rely upon prowess to resolve conflict even within our own country.  So do we each just live for ourselves?

Looking at this issue of power and shifting into a silent power is where our greatness will come.  The bottom line is we MUST be great about something other than military prowess, because that will never cut it.  It never has in the history of the world, and it never will.  And we must become great in resisting the temptation to acquire everything we want from the less powerful.

For us, September 11 was not about an attack by Islamic militant extremists.  That is what it was about for the terrorists!  Unfortunately for us, it was about our narcissism as a nation, our greed, and our complete lack of humility.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012


This is my town.  It has its own economy.  Interestingly enough, the city itself has a surplus. .
Yes, the city as a business entity has a surplus, but not everyone in the town is prospering economically.  Why are some prospering and some not?

So when you hear the politicians, the candidates specifically, talking about the economy, do you know what they or anyone means when they use that word, economy?  I googled, the economy and found an interesting article from 2008.  Cannot vouch for the folks who publish The Prime Directive, whether or not they are right or left, but I found the article helpful in understanding what we mean when we say the economy.  There are a zillion of these articles out there.  Google them.  BE SMART when you hear the politicians, particularly the candidates, refer to the economy.

I also saw for the first time, yes for the first time, an important abbreviation, GDP.  Not only haven't heard the term before, or if I did in Econ 101, don't remember, I don't know what it means.  So guess what?  Yes, google GDP.  Click on the link and learn what GDP is.

Then you have to think about unemployment.  What does that mean?  Does it mean there are no jobs?  Well, the Washington Post ran an article indicating that manufacturers say there are plenty of jobs, but there are no skilled workers to fill the jobs,  What?  Yes, thousands of jobs but no skilled folks to fill them.  Wow!  That's something you don't hear from the candidates.  And how in the heck are they going to address that?

Hey, what about this article from the Associated Press by Tom Krisher?  Economy up?  Economy down?  Economy struggling?  It's an easy read, so check it out, but there are figures there about the increase in auto sales, large pickup truck sales, housing market improving.  What?

So please, please, please.  Stop thinking illegal immigrants and welfare as the problem with our economy.  There are plenty of American Companies reporting profits.  Google and find out who and then ask why?  Bad economy or good economy, some companies and corporations are posting profits and large profits.  Illegal immigration and welfare are not affecting them.

Here's something else.  Some companies are posting profits because of their operations in other countries.  What?  Now wait a minute.  What is that about?  They can post a profit in a foreign operation, but not here.  Am I getting that?  You and I need to understand that, learn about that, and KNOW what that is about.

Now understand this about welfare.  The amount of money, the actual percentage of money that goes out in "dole" is miniscule compared to the amount of money that goes into the pockets of good people, good hard-working people, social workers, clerks, administrators working a legitimate job and receiving legitimate pay to make sure the right folks get the economic support our legislature voted to give them.  The same way that legitimate unemployed folks collect unemployment because the legislature chooses to fund the program.

Our so called poor economy has nothing to do with illegal aliens and welfare no more than it does about the amount of money that goes into fighting wars and subsidizing unemployment.

It is interesting to me that bad economy or good econmy, folks continue to spend exorbitant money on cigarettes and illegal drugs!  So just how bad is the economy?

I also heard that business is down in places like Vegas.  Now is that a bad thing?  Well, yes, jobs are effected.  But ironically people are choosing to control some of their vices, and that drives down the economy.  Wow!

I also read tonight that when people save their money, that also drives down the economy.  And when we choose to carpool and not drive very far on a holiday weekend, that also impacts the economy.  In the case of gasoline, it might work to our advantage with respect to price and demand.  And still, with the high price of gasoline, we find a way to put gasoline in the tank.  How?  So how bad is the economy?

And again, what is our bad economy all about?  It's not about jobs, unemployment, welfare, illegal immigrants.  It's about a system that you and I do not know about let alone understand.  There are plenty of folks out there benefitting from our bad economy and making tons of money in this so-called bad economy.  How? 

Obama nor Romney will NOT turn the economy around no matter what they promise or do.  The economy has a life of its own which you and I don't understand and since we don't, the economy can be used as a ploy and a promise to get us to vote.  It's time for us to stop being dooped and to stop jumping on band wagons about welfare and illegal immigrants.  The economy has little to do with either one and neither one has a significant effect on the economy.  The economy is organic and there are many built-in systems at work.  You and I don't understand the organism let alone the systems at work, but we need to. 

It's up to you and me to learn how the economy works, and then assess who makes the most sense at really addressing the economy and what will make it work to our advantage.  And I'm not suggesting the economy benefits only the wealthy or only a few.  I am only saying, it does not benefit the general population right now and why is that?  You and I have a responsibility to find out and vote for someone who will make the economy work for the franchised as well as the disenfranchised, an economy that will support the disenfranchised becoming franchised.

So what do you think?  Are you willing to google till you get it?  Get what?  A good grasp on the economy and what makes it tick, so you can vote intelligently instead of being dooped into thinking that changes in the economy have to do with issues that are totally unrelated..

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Photograph from

Do the suicide notes left behind give any clue, any understanding, any sense to Tony Scott leaping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge to his death?  And will we ever be privy to the information in those notes?  Or will we be left in the dark wondering?  If there is pertinent information in those notes, Tony Scott’s family would be giving us a gift by disclosing the information.  The information may be helpful in stopping someone else from checking out way too early.

And as these stories have gone in the past, we will probably never know what prompted Tony Scott.  But this I do know, and you know as well.  And most likely, Tony Scott knew as well.

We each carry with us conscious and unconscious secrets, personal secrets, family secrets.  And most interesting, some of these secrets are obvious to everyone but to us, the secret holder.

Last week, for example, a close friend told me that he was more and more experiencing an inexplicable rage that was beginning to ooze and at times explode all over the place.  It scared him. My friend claimed vehemently, “This isn’t me.  There is something wrong with me....I even went to the doctor to see if he could find out what’s wrong with me....”

“It makes perfectly good sense to me,” I told my friend. “It’s pretty obvious to me why you’re feeling all that rage inside.”

My friend looked at me quite puzzled.  I then insisted that he knew what the rage was all about, and I insisted that he tell me.  But, for whatever reason, crazy reason, perhaps, he allowed himself to remain in the dark.

So I finally told him all the things he had recently told me about his life including being in a thirty year marriage with a person he never liked from the start, “‘can’t stand to be around....have no respect or admiration for...’ were your words,” I reflected back to him.  “You also told me that you have been taking care of EVERYONE for your entire life, and you’re fed up with that.”

He just stared at me.  Like that was too simple to explain the rage, the amount of rage, but for any of us, standing on the outside looking in, that is a LOT, and good reason to be enraged, but it was a secret he kept from everyone including himself until it finally oozed or eeked out on its own in a conversation with a friend.

So what was going on for Tony Scott?   We may never know, but we know there was something that drove him to leap off the bridge.  We can shake our heads and say, “No, probably not.  It is just a mystery,” and allow ourselves to stay in the dark, or we can say, “obviously, there was something, and I wonder what secrets I am keeping even keeping from myself....Maybe it’s time for me to begin doing something with my secrets.”

You may not jump off a bridge if you don’t do something with your secrets, but they will eventually have their way with you.  Trust me.  You can count on it.  And hopefully my promise will not come floating into your consciousness as you are leaping or pulling the trigger or emptying the pill bottle or driving the car over the embankment or worse driving into on-coming traffic and taking other people with you.

And do not be too quick to blame brain chemistry and chemical imbalances.  Why do we go there?  Those imbalances do not occur by accident, but are triggered and set up by the over-the-top events in our life that either we choose to keep secret or have been deemed secrets by our family, including events that sometimes occur while we’re waiting to be born.  The chemical imbalance simply substantiates that a person did not have enough serotonin at the moment to put the brakes on his or her suicidal impulses.  It does not explain the suicidal impulses to start with.

The worse part about killing myself?  The legacy of suicide we leave behind for our family, especially for our children.  We set them up to also take their lives.  It will run a six generational cycle, and maybe Tony Scott was already a part of that cycle in his own family, but I do not know that.

Is suicide selfish?  Hell yeah, it’s selfish, but I hesitate to focus on anyone else’s selfishness as I have enough of my own to go around for both myself and anyone else who might need some!  I vividly remember yesterday afternoon, eating directly out of a half gallon of heavenly hash ice cream carton, and not being able to stop myself no matter how much I both gently and then not so gently reminded myself what I was doing to my health.  And I can no longer deny how selfish I was for how many years?  Well, the first time around it was 21 years, and the second time around, 16 years, that I drank and drank and drank and destroyed my health and significant relationships. 

So to sentence Tony Scott to death for selfishness is a mute point and perhaps missing the point.  But I suppose you could remember this when you consider killing yourself, for whatever reason. The pain you leave your loved ones, not just until the memorial service is over, not just for a few weeks or even years, but for generations, may be greater than the pain you think deserves your killing yourself. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012




 Yes, that's right.  You’ve been selected to interview the candidates for President of our great nation.  One on one!  No television cameras.  Face to face honesty.  No audience to play to.  No competing candidates to spar with.  Just you and the man.  So what are you going to ask?

I hope to God you are not going to ask him what he is going to do for YOU job-wise or take-home-pay-wise.  I hope to God you are not going to ask him any questions about his economic policy, his foreign policy, in fact, I hope you are not going to ask him any questions about his platform.  Come on, get real.  Do you really think there is a candidate out there who is going to tell you the honest-to-God truth about what he is really and actually going to do once in office?  First of all, there is no way he can tell you.  He has little or no control over what is going to happen once he is in office.  Get real!

Don’t even think about asking him what he is going to do about all the illegal aliens that mow your lawn, cook the food in your favorite restaurants, and frame all the new construction going on in your community.  Come on, get over it and get real!  The Native Americans wanted to throw us out too, remember?  So we killed them!  Forewarned!

Don’t even think about asking any question about health benefits. He doesn’t care about your health or your health benefits.  He doesn’t care about your life period.  Come on get real!  Why would he care?  Seriously, why would he care?  There is no room in a candidate’s life or schedule to care about YOU.

Now notice I am not using the pronoun her.  Now that is an interesting state of affairs, no pun intended.  But what’s with our country that we don’t think a woman can do the job?  And why have we not recognized the many capable women who could do the job?  How about your MOTHER, for one?   

Now here are the questions you are going to ask him.  Well, that I suggest you ask him!  Now, these are tough questions and chances are, any candidate will avoid answering them like the plague.  So you will have to repeat the question broken-record style till you get an answer.  And, of course, you will have a camera rolling the entire time.  You especially want to zoom in on the eyeballs and facial expression as you ask each question.  That initial non-verbal response will tell you EVERYTHING including the unspoken true answer to your questions.

SO HERE ARE THE QUESTIONS.  Rehearse them so you can ask them with conviction.

*When was the last time you drove around town looking for the least expensive gasoline?

*Do you have credit cards or even a credit card and what are your balances?

*What do you use those credit cards for?

*Do you have health insurance and who pays for your health insurance?

*Do you have a job besides campaigning for the president?  And how and how much do you get paid each month?

*When was the last time you went grocery shopping?

*When was the last time your car needed repair?

*When was the last time you had to call AAA and how long did you have to wait?

*When was the last time you saw marijuana plants growing in your backyard?  And how did you handle it?

*When was the last time your teenage kid got picked up for shoplifting?

*When was the last time you attended a parent-teacher conference?

*Have you tried to help your kids with their homework lately, and how did you do?

*Have you ever had an electric bill over four hundred dollars for your home or apartment?  How about over six hundred dollars?

*How much did you pay for the shoes you are wearing?  Would you even consider shopping at Payless?

*When was the last time you gave some change to the homeless guy hanging outside Starbucks?

*When was the last time you sat down on the sidewalk next to that homeless guy to tell him what you’re going to do for him when you become president?

*When was the last time you picked up a prescription and the generic form didn’t do the trick?

*When was the last time you had to wait for days or weeks for approval from your insurance company to have tests to determine whether or not you have a potentially terminal health matter?

*When was the last time your insurance company refused to reimburse for medically necessary treatment?

*When was the last time you went to therapy?  You know, psychotherapy?  How come you’ve never gone?  Not even good ol’ marital or family therapy?  So nothing goin’ on at home?

*When was the last time you had an affair?  Okay, let’s go easy on you.  When was the last time you thought about having one?

*Do you go to church and why?

*Are you saved and what does that mean?  The rest of us aren’t?

*So when was the last time you got a knock on the door to tell you that your son or daughter was killed in action?

*So what will you tell returning combat soldiers about Post Traumatic Stress?  That you’re sure that only a small percentage of them have it?

*Do you ever have a heart to heart with God?  A heart to heart where you just sit very still and LISTEN?  How many times?  How often?  What are your plans for such conversations for the future?

*What has been your addiction of choice over your life time?  Uh-uh.  Haven’t had one is not an acceptable or honest answer!  You don’t get this far up the ladder of politics and not have excruciating stress that drives you to “use” something.

*How did you deal with that addiction?

*When was the last time you screamed at your spouse, at your children, at your coworkers and what was it all about?  And did you go back and apologize and get that situation healed?

*What do you think about sex?  Do you like sex?  How does it fit into your life?  If you become president, how often do you think you will make love each week and to whom?

*What kind of toilet paper do you use?  So who buys the toilet paper in your household?

*How many times in your life and how many times recently have you changed really really nauseating diapers either of your children or your senior relatives?

*Do you have aging parents or relatives, and who’s going to take care of them if you get into the White House?  Are they going to get to stay in the Lincoln room?

Maybe my list of questions will trigger for you, the interviewer, even more relevant questions.  Yes relevant.  We want to know just what kind of person the candidate really, really, really is.  If we have a candidate who is addressing the real stuff of life, then we can have confidence that they can handle the unreal stuff of national and international politics.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012


So in PART ONE, we began to define Post Traumatic Stress by citing Criteria A.

The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.

The person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

Criteria A, is the first of six criteria listed under Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in  DSM-IV-TR)(1).  And remember, we are taking issue with the use of the term disorder.

Secondly, in PART ONE, we acknowledged out loud that we did experience a trauma. 

We concluded PART ONE noting that, sometimes, I might not remember enough of the traumatic event to say out loud what happened.  In the blog, The Gift of Post Traumatic Stress, Part Two, we talked about why this is.  So the excess adrenalin pumping through our body and our brain tends to neutralize the brain chemicals necessary for conscious or explicit memory processing in our hippocampus.  Consequently, the facts of an over-the-top event may “disappear” the way the content of a dream fades away very quickly after we wake up.

So sometimes, we will want to retrieve the facts of the events from another source other than our own memory, and it may require some courage and even some effort or work on our part, but  this retrieval can be an important part of what we do with our Post Traumatic Stress.

Why not just drop it and let sleeping dogs lie?  Well, what our brain does “remember” implicitly or unconsciously are the emotions surrounding the event.  These emotions sit in our amygdala waiting to be triggered by any event that even remotely reminds the brain of the traumatic event.  These emotions hanging around in the background, out of consciousness, leave us with a pervasive sense of impending doom, or leave us with heightened vigilance, or low grade fear, anxiety and or depression, along with a sense of helplessness.  So we live our life with a very limited range of emotion.  What emotions we do feel, we do not know why.  And at times, we feel nothing, a kind of numbness, but even that has an overlay of there’s something out of whack.  If we just drop it, we are left to live like this, and what this is, is survival mode.  The worst part of survival mode is the isolation because healthy relationships are next to impossible for us to nurture and grow while in survival mode.

These issues surrounding memory processing are what set up the symptoms we will be talking about here in Part Two.

So what are those symptoms?  The symptoms are outlined in Criteria B through D.

intrusive recollection....Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions....Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.... Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring....Intense psychological and physiological distress and reactivity at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

The intrusive recollections, the dreams, the reactivity let us know that those emotions we talked about above, the emotions that are dangling about like loose threads, are looking for a storyline with which they can weave together and make a complete story of the trauma. 

What do we mean by a complete story?  A complete story weaves together both the facts of the events with the emotions of the event which will then help us make sense of our post traumatic stress.  Once we make a complete story of the trauma, we can then weave the trauma into the fabric of our life and finally lay it to rest in our history or past. The trauma can then become a part of our life instead of dominating our life as it does now.

Okay, so concretely, what do I do now?

Again, you want to surround yourself with safe people.  Safe people, friends and loved ones, maybe even professional folks, like a good therapist, or a support group.  Safe people who will not become bored, tired, or irritated listening to you talk about your symptoms--your intrusive recollections, your flash backs, your dreams, and nightmares.  Safe friends will not become bored, tired, or irritated listening to you talk about it over and over and over and over and over and over and over.  If you are an adult, be sure your safe folks are your peers.  As an adult, leaning on a child for support, as you work through a trauma, can be traumatizing to the child.

OH YES, there are safe people for you.  If you convince yourself that they do not exist, you will never see them even when they are right smack in front of you.  THEY ARE THERE.  I know they are.  I have seen them.  They have walked me through my own traumas.  They are alive.  But we can convince ourselves that they do not exist, and when we do that, no one does want to walk with us because then we have chosen pity pot land and we tend to drive people away, not by the story of our trauma, but by our unwillingness to receive the support people have for us.

Many folks fear that telling about their symptoms is like making their friends live through the trauma themselves.  Probably not, but even if it means that, remember, you experienced the trauma and lived through it, and your safe friends will be happy to experience the trauma with you if it means you becoming again the friend they know.   And the reality is telling the horrors of the trauma to safe friends makes it possible for you to experience the trauma perhaps for the first time.  You know, full blown, from inside your skin, from inside your consciousness.  And experiencing it for the first time, will make it possible for the trauma to be processed into our hippocampus, into our past, our history.

Keep a notepad next to your bed and when you wake up from a dream or nightmare, jot down immediately what you remember.  When looking at a dream, perhaps what is most significant are the emotions experienced in the dream.  When you have recurrent dreams where you feel powerless and helpless, begin rewriting the “script.”  You will be surprised how the dream, itself, when you dream it again, begins to change.  In the dream, you will begin to feel more powerful, less helpless, and the outcome of the dream will gradually change.

When something reminds you of the trauma, begin paying attention to your breathing.  Breathe a little more deeply than usual.  Definitely avoid breathing shallow.  That will only create a felt sense that the trauma is happening again at this moment.

After you breathe for a few seconds, allow yourself to feel the emotions.  If you need to scream and you’re somewhere private, then scream.  If tears come, do not choke them back.  Breathe into them.  They will come like a wave and then leave again.

Surround yourself again with safe people, so, at a moment like this, you can have someone hold you.  You can call someone on the cellphone.  Yes, guys, have someone hold you, a man or a woman, preferably a man.  As men, we need men to support us through trauma.

When you begin to feel the feelings associated with the trauma, speak them out loud, even if only to yourself.  So, I feel scared, terrified, lonely, helpless, overpowered, defeated, hopeless, angry, sad, depressed, anxious, scared to death.  I think I am going to throw up, and let yourself throw up.  Giving voice to an emotion, literally discharges the energy of the emotion and the energy of the emotion literally dissipates.

Begin journaling each day, journaling off the top of your head with no agenda, just writing whatever comes out on to the paper.  If you do not like to write, get some kind of recording device and just talk into the recorder randomly, off the top of your head for five minutes.  Don’t censor anything.  Let me repeat that. Don’t censor anything.  You may want to be very careful not to leave your journal around or make it possible for anyone to hear your recording unless you consider them a safe person.  When I journal off the top of my head, I write almost illegibly so I don’t have to worry about anyone reading it.
Check out the book, THE ARTIST'S WAY.  Julia Cameron present a process called morning pages and morning pages would be very helpful in indirectly but directly processing trauma.   Again, if writing is an issue, use a recording device.

With the internet literally at our fingertips, you can blog about your trauma, post photographs related to your trauma.  You can create You Tube videos, featuring the one and only (yourself, silly!) talking about your trauma.

If you are an artist of any kind, you can write fictional accounts of the trauma, write poems about the trauma, compose music or choreograph a dance depicting the trauma, or give expression to the over-the-top experience on canvass, in stained glass, in sculpture and pottery, and in any other artform of your choice or talent.

You can increase your exercise routine and bring the trauma into your consciousness as you exercise.  This is an important piece.  By bringing the trauma into your consciousness while you exercise, you will exhaust the energy of the trauma.  If you simply exercise without bringing the trauma into consciousness, you will benefit from the exercise, your body will get the workout, but the trauma will remain as powerful as ever.

All of these above suggestions are ways of weaving or integrating the trauma into both our right and left brain hemispheres.  This left-right brain integration supports creating a complete story about our over-the-top event.  It also defuses the emotions associated with the trauma as these emotions become less vulnerable to being triggered.  The left-right brain integration also places the trauma into our past so we know the trauma happened and is over.  We don’t keep waking up, as in the movie Ground Hog Day, experiencing this day as the day of the trauma.

There is also a therapeutic intervention called EMDR, which directly attempts to integrate the right and left brain hemispheres by a simple therapeutic procedure involving eye tracking or tapping alternate sides of the body while one is focusing on the emotions associated with the trauma, and I think EMDR can be and has been effective in resolving trauma issues.

Catch yourself and stop yourself from saying.  When are the dreams going to stop?  What is wrong with me?  When am I going to be able to do this right?  I should have been stronger.  It couldn’t have been this bad.  Lots of people go through what I went through and don’t have all these symptoms.  Oh yes they do!  What you are experiencing is very very normal in response to a traumatic event.

Let your self-talk shift.  Wow, my dreams keep coming, but they are changing.  There is nothing wrong with me.  I am experiencing what normal people experience when they go through an over-the-top event.  I was as strong as ever and yes, what happened was really awful, really terrifying, really debilitating, really over-the-top.  It could have killed me if my brain didn’t work so wonder fully.  I am just like everyone else who experiences trauma.  We all have these symptoms.

So now, let us look at Criteria C and D

Avoidant/numbing....Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by at least three of the following:
   * Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
   * Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
   * Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
   * Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
   * Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
   * Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)
   *Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

hyper-arousal....Persistent symptoms of increasing arousal (not present before the trauma), indicated by at least two of the following:
   * Difficulty falling or staying asleep
   * Irritability or outbursts of anger
   * Difficulty concentrating
   * Hyper-vigilance
   * Exaggerated startle response

So, NOTICE, all the above symptoms are pretty normal responses to a trauma.

Of course, I am not going to want to talk about something traumatic or over-the-top as if it was a Super Bowl game.

Of course, I am going to want to avoid activities or places associated with the trauma.  Do you think the folks in the movie theatre in Aurora Colorado were back in line the next day to see Spiderman?  Probably not.

Of course, one is going to think they have little time to live after experiencing a trauma.  I survived this, but tomorrow I will probably get run over by a kid on a tricycle or killed in a drive by.

Of course, I will have difficulty falling asleep and of course, I am going to be angry, irritable, and have little if any patience.

And, of course, I will have trouble remembering important aspects of the trauma.  We have already talked about that a great deal.  It has nothing to do with our memory, but, of course, everything to do with our memory.  Adrenalin flooded our brain and literally neutralized the brain chemicals required for memory processing.  No, I am not losing my memory or my mind.

Do you notice that most of what is recommended prior to our looking at Criteria C and D flies in the face of Criteria C and D? So are the symptoms listed in Criteria C and D going to make it impossible to “tackle” the recommendations?

Well, it could work that way if you let it.  Again, a key are your safe people.  Make a commitment to your safe people that you are going to follow the recommendations and suggestions above.  Have them check on you daily or hourly.  Be accountable to your safe people, and allow them to HOLD you accountable.

Again, experiencing the various symptoms listed in Criteria C and D lets you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what you experienced was, in fact, over-the-top.  As we noted in PART ONE, be wary of anyone, even yourself, saying things like, “Hey, it was no big deal....all in a day’s’s what we do as a policeman, soldier....”  Of course, it IS what you do and what you do is to face trauma every day of your life and sometimes, several times a day and that is the point of this article.

Be wary too of anyone who says something like, “When will you face reality?  Why do you think you are so special?  This kind of shit has been going on in our family (or in our church, or in business, or in politics, or in our country, or in the world) for generations. Buck up and get over it!”

It doesn’t matter how “normal” trauma has become in our lives.  It is trauma, and if we do not do something with trauma, our brain and our soul and our relationships are going to pay a high price.

So has this been helpful?  Let me know.  I will use these FIVE BLOGS as a reference point for current news that is in any way related to Post Traumatic Stress.

I do not see Post Traumatic Stress as a disorder even if one experiences the stress for an extended duration.  Over-the-top events, trauma, is given that name because by definition, it is something that one will not get over in a day.  And yes, it will create impairment for us socially and occupationally, especially if the trauma occurred on the job or as part and parcel of our social life.

What I am willing to go out on a limb and guarantee for you is that if you follow the recommendations in this blog, and if you digest the information in the other four blogs the best you can, you will not get stuck in your Post Traumatic Stress and, in fact, you will want to move on, and you will.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Okay, so what is it we do with Post Traumatic Stress?

Well, we are going to take a look at the criteria listed in the book.  The book?  Yes, the  DSM-IV-TR)(1) which lists all the mental disorders for which a mental health professional can bill your insurance, including picking your nose while driving the car.  (Just kidding!).

Now, the criteria listed for Post Traumatic Stress in this book are very helpful in identifying how Post Traumatic Stress comes about as well as identifying the many symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress.  However, listing Post Traumatic Stress in this book classifies it as a disorder.  And that, I think, is a misnomer.  To read more about my take on Post Traumatic Stress as a gift rather than a disorder, check out The Gift of Post Traumatic PART ONE and PART TWO .

So the first thing one does with Post Traumatic Stress is to acknowledge Criteria A.

CRITERIA A (taken from DSM-IV-TR)(1).

*The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.

*The person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

So let yourself say out loud.


As described in our other blogs, our brain blocks the full impact of a trauma so we can survive it without going completely bonkers.  And as time goes on, we tend to hold on to that “blocked” or minimized version of what occurred.  For example, when someone is sexually abused, a person will often say, but there wasn’t any penetration, when in reality, any kind of sexual abuse is penetrating.  Men, in particular, when they experience trauma, will reassure me, “it was no big deal....part of the job....I knew when I joined up....other people had it a lot worse.....”

 “It only happened once,” is a classic minimizer.  Of course, it doesn’t matter if an over-the-top event occurred only once.  It’s still over-the-top and traumatizing.  Even once is more than a person’s brain can take in.  It’s like a little bit pregnant!

AND it’s okay that our brain blocks the trauma, and we subsequently minimize.  It really is.  It’s the brain’s way of protecting us from a head-on collision with the horror of the event.  And now, that the trauma is over, it is also okay to let yourself become aware of the minimizing.  Let yourself slowly drop the filtering screens and say out loud what actually occurred.

I had to shoot the man....the woman.  I didn’t think I had a choice....I tried to resuscitate the child, but I couldn’t....when I walked in the house on a welfare check, the woman had been dead for days....when I assisted the coroner in lifting up the body, I thought I was going to throw up and I can’t get the smell out of my nose.  That was last week....I thought I was helping the person by risking my own life and crawling out there with them, but as soon as I did they jumped....I remember the dog’s teeth and the pain was unbearable for a second, and then I guess I just went somewhere else because I helplessly watched the dog chew on my leg....I know he was a ruthless asshole and deserved to die, but I can’t get it out of my mind watching my bullet enter his brain....I remember the awful feeling when they informed us we had fired on our own buddies....I remember arriving at the bank and the bullets flying everywhere....I remember hearing the squeel of tires from behind me and the next thing I knew....I just can’t make myself get into a car....I have operated on, you know, zillions of patients, and I can’t stop wondering why I couldn’t save this one....I can never quite figure out why my own father would do that to me....why my mother would do that to me....why the priest would do that to me....why my doctor would even think of doing that to me....I guess I knew it was my job to take him out, but when I did, the look on his face, the blood....keeps haunting me....I was so close, and if I would have been willing to risk crawling a tad farther into the flames, I think I would have saved him, but instead, my best friend’s hand disappeared into the fire....I mean, the driver didn’t have a head, and I can get silly about it, but, well, I hope I never see that again, but I probably will....I could not believe she was picking up the knife and running toward me....I could not believe he was trying to suffocate me....I heard the plane’s engines and before I knew it, it was crashing all around me....I thought I would not live to tell this story.....

There are endless stories of over-the-top events, some obvious headline stories, others secrets, and still others stories that are probably not even thought of as being traumatic, but each of them is.  And again, it’s not about how strong you are or how seasoned or experienced you are.  The bottom line is you are not a robot, but a living human being, and you are going to respond to over-the-top events in the same way that every other human being does.

Some over-the-top events are so disguised as “ordinary” that we miss it all together.  Jack told me that he couldn’t stand watching his “Pa” pick up a chicken and wring its neck and then chop off its head with a hatchet.  Jack would run and hide, and his Pa would chase him with the chicken’s head in hand and shout, “I’m going to find you, you pussy.”  When Jack was about twelve, his Pa forced him to wring the chicken’s neck and chop off its head himself.

Jack never realized the impact of those experiences until he got sober and his wife told him that every time he got drunk and the kids would get upset, he would scream at them, “If you don’t quit your whining, I’m going to wring your necks.”  The kids would scream and Jack would laugh his drunken laugh.

It was very unsettling for Jack to confront  this sadistic side of himself that came out not only with his kids but with friends and enemies.  It was very challenging for Jack to reach a place where he could be at home with the parts of himself that were scared shitless of so many things.  Jack was so bound and determined not be a pussy that he became sadistic instead, just like Pa.  This is a good example of not recognizing and acknowledging and not debriefing a traumatic event and how it then impacts our life without us even knowing it.

And, it can be even subtler than that.  Bob told me that, that as a kid, he laid awake night after night listening to his parents fight.  He said he was torn apart inside by his love for his parents and his simultaneous hate for them.  He was not sure he wanted them to stay together but became absolutely terrified any time they talked about divorce.

When Bob got off the phone talking to his former wife, his new girlfriend said to him, “I hope you never talk to me like that.”  Bob was stunned.  He had no awareness of talking loud to or being over bearing with his ex-wife.  He thought he was simply standing his ground and not letting her push him around one more time.

Years of tuning out, successfully or unsuccesfully, Mom and Dad’s constant arguing and splitting off from his own wide range of mixed emotions, left Bob almost completely disconnected and unaware of how he sounded or how he looked whenever he was triggered.  Ah, triggered!  And Bob caught himself that night from destroying one more relationship as he was about to tell his new girlfriend that she didn’t know what the f she was talking about.

Do you get a sense that I am implying that just about everything can be traumatic?  Well, no, not everything is.  Not at all.  But when we catch ourselves becoming triggered when others are looking puzzled, so they see no connection with reality and our triggered behavior, that is a clue to us.  There is something in our life, similar to this moment, that WAS or still IS traumatic, but because our brain works the way it does, we have no awareness what that event is or was. But it is time to pay attention and to identify the event, to acknoweldge it.  

For many of us, we, ourselves, may not experience an over-the-top event, but we may witness someone else experiencing a trauma.  AND HERE TOO.  Let yourself say out loud.


We forget or perhaps don’t even know that witnessing someone else going through an over-the-top event impacts us equally profoundly and traumatically.

So a first responder may experience daily events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of...OTHERS.  The Combat soldier obviously experiences daily events that he or she may miraculously survive, but others, including buddies and innocent bystanders, do not survive.

You, as an “ordinary” person may witness your child or a close friend or even a stranger being hit by a car, falling off a cliff, being pulled out to sea by a rip tide, being attacked by dogs, being shot in a bank robbery, in a movie theatre or a fast food restaurant even.  You may walk into the garage to find your grandfather hanging from the rafters.  You may be traveling in a car with grandfather when he has a massive heart attack or stroke.  You may witness a parent or a child having a psychotic episode.  As a therapist, you may listen to your client talk about their own or a family member’s abuse or describe a psychotic episode they witnessed of a parent when they were little.

I remember one client telling me that she felt safe in her room when she heard Mom and Dad fighting.  She never knew for sure what Dad was doing, but she figured the repeated thumps had to be Mom’s head hitting each stair as Dad dragged her down the stairs into the kitchen to force her to cook him something to eat.  She never thought of the experience as traumatizing till she found herself in the identical scenario one evening with her own husband.

Well, the scenarios are endless, and it doesn’t matter that none of it happened to you.  Over-the-top events are traumatizing to the observer or listener as well.

Being traumatized as an observer or listener is a BIG CLUE as to how our brain works.  So let’s take a moment to talk about MIRROR NEURONS.

Yes, there are neurons in our brain called MIRROR neurons.  You may have figured out already what mirror neurons do.

These mirror neurons make it possible for us, from the very beginning, to learn new behavior by observing the “Giants.”  These mirror neurons also account for other interesting phenomenon.  For example, when you are kind to another person, endorphins are triggered in both your brain and the brain of the person receiving your kindness.  NOW, here is the real phenomenon.  The same endorphins get triggered in the brain of a person who is simply watching your act of kindness.  How incredible is that?  So yes, these mirror neurons are the building blocks for our developing compassion and empathy.  These same mirror neurons come into play when we are observing another person confronting trauma.

So, it is pointless to say, “But it didn’t happen to me, I was just there watching it happen to someone else.”  Well, guess what?  Because of our mirror neurons, it happened to you neurologically just as it did to the person you were observing.  And it is going to be equally traumatizing to you as well. 

To acknowledge any piece of Criteria A does not mean your are constitutionally weak.  Nor does saying out loud that the event scared the shit out of you, terrorized you, or left you feeling helpless qualify you for whimp or wuss status.  Acknowledging Criteria A simply indicates you are a normal human being and not a robot.

Now many of you experience Criteria A every day on your job.  Or if you are a combat soldier, you experience Criteria A every day for the duration of your tour of duty. 

Listen up!  That the experience is all in a day’s work or it’s just what we do every day, makes it no less traumatic or over-the-top or life threatening.  The fact that it is our job is not the same as a “pass” for our brain.  Our brain, like everyone else’s brain, will see these events as traumatic and will respond accordingly.

Yes, as a seasoned policeman, fireman, EMT, soldier, surgeon, with years of experience and training, we may have a more extensive and more effective array of survival behaviors than the man on the street, but the adrenalin still flows and flows in great quantities.

In fact, it is the excitement and the adrenalin that keeps drawing us back to our job.  But it is also the adrenalin that continues to disconnect us from our thinking and feeling brains, and it is the adrenalin that ultimately keeps us from having emotionally meaningful relationships with the people, big and small, whom we love and who love us.  It keeps us from being as close to them as THEY want us to be.

And again, it is NOT about how strong you are, how seasoned you are.  Traumatic events are traumatic for you, and require you taking the time to debrief.  And if we do not, again, when it comes to those important relationships, our most valuable and life-giving resources, like empathy and compassion, will not be available to us.  When the brain stem takes over, it shuts down our capacity for compassion and empathy.  It zeros in on one thing only.  SURVIVAL.  In fact, we will tend to resent anyone who complains about anything that hurts because obviously they don’t know what hurt really is.  Yes, you’ve thought or said those very words, haven’t you?

You know, interestingly enough, what we are describing thoughout here also applies to the person who either by choice or circumstance continues to live in a potentially life-threatening situation which, in a sense, becomes that person’s “normal.”  So, for example, a prisoner of war, perhaps a prisoner or inmate of any kind, the person in chronic pain, the person in an abusive relationship, an abusive job, the person who lives in a war-torn country, gang members. So any situation where HOPELESSNESS begins to reign supreme, and a person puts all of his or her energies into SURVIVING.  But they have stopped LIVING.  And for those of us who voluntarily choose to take on trauma as part of our work or life, we are at risk, very high risk, for “burn-out” and reaching that same place of hopelessness.

So when we are experiencing Criteria A, either once or on a daily basis, our brain works the way we described in The Gift Of Post Traumatic Stress, Part One  and PART TWO.  We go into survival mode, and we remain there till we take the time to rebalance our brain chemistry and our brain functioning.  Until then, we are disconnected both emotionally and thoughtfully.  We basically are not emotionally present or emotionally available to the people who love us and want to live with us.  We will tend to spend most of our hours feeling anxious, very anxious and rageful.  Rage, not anger.  If it were anger, we'd have half a chance (check out Real Men Get Angry).  We will tend to spend a great deal of our energy either repressing that rage or expressing it in self destructive and sometimes other destructive ways.  We will do just about anything to settle the anxiety, including a wide range of addictive behaviors.

Well, to start, how about saying it out loud to wonderful You, TO YOURSELF?   So, in the privacy of your car, your room, your office, say it out loud. I EXPERIENCED, WITNESSED, OR WAS CONFRONTED WITH AN OVER-THE-TOP LIFE-THREATENING EVENT AND YES, I WAS SCARED SHITLESS, TERRIFIED, FELT HELPLESS, AND THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE OR WISHED I WOULD DIE   If you are by yourself in an empty church, say it out loud to your God.  If you have a support group, say it out loud in a support group meeting, not once, but over and over again.  Find safe loved ones and safe friends to whom you can tell "your story" over and over and over again out loud.

So you are going to begin shifting from simply saying out loud that you experienced an over-the-top event...., to telling a story about the event.  Each time you retell the story, you may find the story changing, embellishing, becoming more dramatic, becoming more painful in content, perhaps even more painful to tell.  These are good signs because the story is coming alive and taking on a life of its own, which means it's becoming your story.

The point of your story is not how factual it is, but how well it describes the metaphorical or the full meaning of your story.  So it is not just that on Monday morning, I shot a suspected murderer.  Those are the facts.  The full meaning of the story includes all of your feelings, including guilt, shame, seconds thoughts, fear of reprisal, a whole gamut of emotions and thoughts.  Perhaps you even feel proud and justified.  Perhaps you even have a since that you finally proved yourself or you fear that some smart ass is going to remind you that you hesitated before pulling the trigger.  So not just the facts, but the whole story with all your fears, your laughter, your tears, your anger, your resentment, the whole nine yards.

What if no one wants to hear my story or folks say they have heard it enough?  Well, then these folks are not safe folks.  You haven't found the safe folks, yet.  They are out there.  I know from first hand experience.

Several years ago, I was working with a group of foster parents and grandparents when the topic of war came up.  Every one began sharing their battle experiences until a Viet Nam Veteran said that the last time he shared his experience with a group that everyone moved away from him and stopped talking with him.  So each person in the group told him that they wanted to hear his story and promised him they would not only listen but would continue sitting with him and talking to him throughout the rest of the workshop.  So he took a chance and began telling us how he had to "liquidate" women and children.  The group kept their promise.  And it was the beginning of healing for this Veteran.

Once we can say out loud that I EXPERIENCED, WITNESSED, OR WAS CONFRONTED WITH AN OVER-THE-TOP LIFE-THREATENING EVENT AND YES, I WAS SCARED SHITLESS, TERRIFIED, FELT HELPLESS, AND THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE OR WISHED I WOULD DIE, I can begin addressing all the other symptoms I display or act out rather than looking at them and saying “I don’t know why I am doing those things” OR "I don't know why these things are happening."  And it is here where we will begin in PART TWO.

So what if I don't remember the over-the-top event or don't remember even enough of it to say that I experienced....Well, the reality is that with all the adrenalin pumping in our system at the time the event occurs, it makes it next to impossible to remember, as indicated in in a previous blog.  So let yourself say whatever it is you know, and say it out loud.  We will talk about this further in Part Two.

NOW BE A LIVE PART OF THIS BLOG AND SHARE WITH US.  Share with us those events in your life that you have accepted as being traumatic.  But also tell us about those events that you minimized, for a long time, and denied as being traumatic.  And share with us the events that you still think are or were not traumatic, but other people keep insinuating to you that they were.