December 21, 2016

Everything Communicates

Today, we continue our series with Terry Cranford, who shares some simply but powerful strategies for transforming our thoughts.

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Every breath you take
Every move your make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.
~ Sting




Just as you watched and learned from your parents, school, church, neighborhood, and culture…you’re children are doing the same.

So, if you experienced verbal, physical, emotional abuse or neglect while you were growing up, it is essential that you become, deeply, aware of your state of mind.

Because your thoughts, fueled by your emotions are creating your behavior. And, if you are experiencing dis-empowered behaviors and want to experience empowerment, it is essential that you change your thoughts.

This is an ongoing, breath by breath, practice.

Ask yourself…is there a way I am behaving that I’d like to change. You must challenge and change your patterns of thought in order to have a different experience.

Then consider…what am I thinking while I behave this way?

Typically, it’s a dis-empowered thought. Once you identify the thought, become aware of how you feel when you have this thought. Then take note of how you behave when you have that thought. This is your dis-empowered creative pattern.

The good news is that once you’ve identified your dis-empowered thoughts, feelings and behavior you get to choose a new empowered thought…notice how you feel when you think it and how you would behave given that thought.

You are literally creating new neural pathways (just like you did when you were in utero!) to support an empowered way of feeling and being in the world.

Repetition is the Mother of all skill, it is said…you must fill your mind with the new thought…over and over again, until it becomes your new way of thinking and thusly, being.


I am, undoubtedly, responsible for creating all of my experiencesaccording to the level of my thoughts. All of my thoughts and beliefs, when fueled by my feelings, move energy into motion, subsequently affecting my behavior.


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As a passionate Life & Yoga Coach, Terry L. Cranford offers yoga and life coach tools that will inspire you to change your thoughts in order to change your experiences.

• Trained Ashtanga Yoga Teacher
• Studied in India with Master Pattabhi Jois
• 20 years teaching in fitness environments
• 15 year focus customizing yoga programs
• Center of Excellence Trained Coach


LivingYOGA.biz

December 13, 2016

The Only True Change Occurs at the Level of Thought

Today, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Terry Cranford. We go way back! Terry was among the very first people to stand behind my vision of creating a program for survivors of abuse. Beyond that, she is a deeply compassionate and insightful woman, and I'm so glad that she'll be with us this week and next sharing some of her wisdom for survivors who are also parents.

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“We become what we think about. Then, it is most important
that we carefully regard our thought patterns. People and things
will respond and behave for us according to the pattern of our 
own thoughts. Others change as we change our thoughts about them. 
When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.” 
~ Victor Frankl



Our Mother’s thoughts, while pregnant, set in motion a chemical reaction, empowered or disempowered, that infuses our being in utero.

The cultural, religious, and familial beliefs in our environment create our core beliefs about ourselves until the age of two years old.

These include "I’m not good enough, I’m unlovable, or I’m innately bad."

While growing up we observe, feel and become hard-wired in our thought processes, which fueled with our emotions, creates our behavior, thusly, neglect in childhood may cause parents to neglect or abuse their own children.

An individual's developmental history, especially if it includes childhood abuse, plays a significant role in the development of who we are and our parenting skills.

We each carry with us the influence of our own upbringing and the often unhealthy strategies we developed to protect our tender hearts.

What to do?

Firstly, acknowledge yourself for your awareness level. We have to ‘see’ something in order to ‘heal and change’ something.

Then, it is essential that you attract healing support in the creation of new and empowered thought patterns in order to self-parent and have a different experience.


The only thing we can control are our thoughts. ~ Viktor Frankl


A thought repeated 10 or more times becomes a belief. Affirmations are how we re-wire our brain.

And, while in the process of healing, I’m of the mind it is vital to create a vision of the style and type of parent you want to be for your children. Remove all obstacles to living your vision. Coaching support can be very helpful.

Forgiveness, of course, of Self and others is yet another essential part of this process. Forgiveness is an essential key to healing.

Forgiveness is your peace.

“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone
free and realizing you were the prisoner.”

You do not have to go this alone! This takes time and is an ongoing practice.

Imagine the qualities you’d like to infuse your children with and begin to change your thoughts in order to change your parenting self.

I encourage you to take full responsibility for your thoughts, your parenting style and thusly your influence on your children and, thusly, humanity.


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As a passionate Life & Yoga Coach, Terry L. Cranford offers yoga and life coach tools that will inspire you to change your thoughts in order to change your experiences.

• Trained Ashtanga Yoga Teacher
• Studied in India with Master Pattabhi Jois
• 20 years teaching in fitness environments
• 15 year focus customizing yoga programs
• Center of Excellence Trained Coach


LivingYOGA.biz

November 29, 2016

Self-Care to Conquer the Struggle

Today, we conclude our series with Jen Cross. In this final post, she dives into writing as self-care and the struggles that come with that.

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It’s late where I am, on a Sunday. Outside, the evening is quiet — no birds chirping an odd night song, no owls, no turkeys announcing their victory over our November feasts. No sirens, no voices of neighbors, no train whistles, nothing. The only sounds are the clicking of these keys under my fingers, the quiet music streaming from my laptop, and the slow, persistent tick-tick-tick of the analog clock I have sitting up on the bookshelf behind me. Oh, and there goes an airplane overhead.

What are the sounds where you are right now? If you close your eyes, take a deep breath and then pause, what can you hear?
Sometimes I have to go back to the beginning. In the aftermath of this election, this might be one of those times to go back to the beginning. To go back to where I started with writing, to go back to the page, the pencil, the play. There’s supposed to be play in there somewhere, isn’t there? To return to writing as a place of radical self care.

In the beginning, I wrote my body. I wrote from the five senses: what I saw, what I heard, what I felt, what I smelled, what I tasted. I wrote what was immediately around me. I wrote what was on my table in the cafe, what the people at the next table were saying to one another, what the room smelled like when the back door opened and a blast of winter blew in; I wrote the concrete physical details of my immediate present. 

This helped to ground me, to get me into the now, to remind me that I was not lodged in my past, no matter how often I felt that way. And then, through focusing in on these specific details, I was able to write enough to be able to drop into something deeper — I could imagine a story, or to float back to a “time before this time” (as Pat Schneider likes to say it in her writing prompts) to write from a memory, knowing always I could return to these concrete physicality's: the taste of cooling coffee on my tongue, the way my neighbors purple puffy jacket had slid off the back of her chair and was about to slide onto the floor, but she wasn’t paying any attention to it because some guy had bumped into her and it turned out to be the guy she’d been flirting with — anyone could see she liked him by the way she looked away from him and studiously ignored his presence.

That is to say, I could come back up from the details of the past into the reality of the now, could move through time on the page.

What are the smells around you right now? What’s the last thing you tasted?

Going back to the beginning means returning to writing as a place to be free, a place to explore and play, particularly when the notebook has become a site of hazard and panic, when every time I sit down to write, I think, I've got to say something Important! I have to write out the hardest story now. I have to tell a real truth. I have to get into the pain, the anger, the hurt, the confusion, the ache, the loss, the panic, the fear… and after too many days, weeks, months, years of expecting that sort of writing from myself, I get less and less inclined to sit down at the page. You might not be surprised to hear that. Instead, I want to watch something ridiculous on tv, or take my dog for a long walk through the live oak grove up the hill a ways, or make another loaf of bread. Anything but write more hurt.

The trouble is, there’s a lot of hurt to write these days: my own, my communities’, my friends’, my country’s. And so I can get to a kind of impasse.

Do you ever find yourself in a situation like this, where the thing you’ve done to take care of yourself, the practice you’ve turned to for solace and clarity starts to feel somewhat radioactive, less like a space of invitation and creativity and more like a have-to, a should, an ought? 

I dunno about you, but there’s a 12-year-old girl inside me who’s not so fond of should's and have-to's, and rolls up our words and goes home, decides to quit playing if writing can’t be play at all any more.

Radical self care is a phrase I first heard in activist communities, for those of us who have been convinced or who convinced ourselves that self care is for the weak, or is indulgent, or maybe is ok for those folks over there but we, well, we have to finish this grant proposal and then write those last three poems we said we’d send to that community chapbook and then put the finishing touches on the podcast we promised to do for our friend’s organization and then do our shift at the crisis hotline and then and then and then … when the revolution is won, then we can take a break for some self care. 

But the revolution isn’t ever won; our job isn’t even about win. Our job is to stay in the struggle, and in order to stay in the struggle, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to sustain ourselves — that sustenance, those things we do to nurture our revolutionary bodies, that’s radical self care. Sometimes we have to step away from the work and give ourselves time to play, to rest, to ease, to laugh, to sing, to dance, to create, to remember what sort of life we’re working for in the first place.

When the revolution comes, what sort of life do you want to be living? What happens if you take the time, at least once a day, even for just a few minutes a day, to live that life now? How will you work? How will you play? What if you set a timer for ten minutes and wrote—try not to think too much about what to say, try not to censor yourself or edit or make yourself write it “right,” 'cause there's no such thing here—about what that life will look like, feel like, smell like, taste like, sound like? 

Follow your words wherever they seem to want you to go. And when the timer goes off, pick up the pen, take a deep breath, and maybe do something really nice for yourself—spend a few minutes snuggling with your pup, read a favorite poem, play a favorite song, or call a good friend who you haven't talked to in ages.

Be easy with you, ok? And thank you, today and on all the days, for your good, good words.




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A widely-anthologized writer and performer, Jen Cross has written with sexual trauma survivors and other writers for nearly fifteen years. In 2003, Jen founded Writing Ourselves Whole, an organization that offers transformative writing workshops, creating spaces in which the true and complicated stories of the body can emerge. Jen’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in over 30 anthologies and other publications, including Nobody Passes, The Healing Art of Writing 2010, make/shift, Visible: A Femmethology (Vol. 1), and Best Sex Writing 2008. She's the co-editor of Sex Still Spoken Here (CSC Press, 2014). Jen is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at San Francisco State University. Find out more about Jen at writingourselveswhole.org.

November 22, 2016

Giving Thanks & Finding Gratitude as a Survivor of Abuse

Today, we continue our series with Jen Cross, who shares with us a special tradition for this time of year for finding grace and gratitude even as we cope with abuse or perhaps sit down to meals with those who have harmed us.

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This past Saturday I gathered with seven other writers in a small conference room in downtown San Francisco and there we wrote and read aloud to each other as the rain fell outside, as the day opened its mouth into the afternoon, even as protestors marched up Mission Street, hollering, chanting, blocking traffic, taking up space. We wrote by way of our own protest, claiming and reclaiming our many possible voices, making room for the wise and the weird, the honest and the playful, the sensuous and the necessary.

At the breaks there was conversation about this post-election world we now inhabit, about various forms of self-care (reading, too much bad tv, travel, communion with like-minded others in resistance and rebellion, and, of course, also writing) – then we refilled our coffee or tea cups, brushed scone crumbs from our notebooks, and wrote some more.

As I sat in this roomful of writers, I found myself grateful: for their willingness to give over a Saturday afternoon to writing in community; for their creativity and words and risk; for their generosity with one another as they listened and offered feedback; for their humor and silliness and camaraderie at this time of great national turmoil; and did I say for their words?

I close every workshop session with a poem, a practice that I borrowed from a dear friend and colleague Chris DeLorenzo of Laguna Writers in San Francisco. On Saturday, I closed the writing group with the W.S. Merwin poem “Thanks,” as I do every November. It is my one annual workshop tradition. Some writers have read the poem around in my groups several times over the course of these years since I first read it. 

Can I find the words to tell you exactly what I most love about this poem, why I return to it over and over? I love it for its form—the breathlessness, the run-on sentences, the fragments of thought. Yes, there's irony here, but I read this poem through the lens of trauma, and so for me, the piece reads as one of the best articulations I've ever seen of trauma gratitude: the recognition of the horror around us all of the time and the way we — many of us, at least — find ourselves grateful anyway, grateful in spite of grief and war, in spite of how very bad things can get. 


Those of us reading this blog know some of the ways this world, and the people in it, can get very bad indeed.

I bring the poem every year because, for me, the poem exemplifies my relationship to the US holiday of Thanksgiving. We are supposed to give thanks for our blessings, to hearken back to the early days of our country’s history, a time when (the story goes) the pilgrims and Indians sat down together and broke bread, supporting each other. We are supposed to deny our real history—forget genocide and 500 years of occupation—and so this has always been a national day of cognitive dissonance. Those of us who have experienced violence and abuse and denial and secrecy at the hands of our families have an added layer of complication to navigate on this day. We know very well how to pretend like everything is all right, and we also know the deep damage that such pretending can do.

Merwin's “Thanks” is a poem that speaks to this complication, this cognitive dissonance that so many
human beings experience: even though we know everything is not fixed, or even fixable, we find ourselves grateful for something, many things, every single day: grateful for poetry, for laughter, for the flow of one word after another, for rhyme, for the way an unfamiliar metaphor can shock us awake in delighted surprise, for a rainbow over a supermarket parking lot, for resistance, for the smell of bread baking, for the noises of joy a dog makes when you scratch her head just above the eyes, grateful for anger and for the ability to cry as hard and long as we need to, grateful for cuddling on the couch after a long day at work, grateful for the taste of an apple, a fresh cup of coffee, for the wet purple Japanese maple leaves shellacked by rain to the sidewalk, for the smell of eucalyptus or snow, for that one song that brings tears to our eyes every time we hear it, for one good memory from childhood, for the ability to tell the truth(s) about our lives, for the minor scale in a favorite song, for the one bird who keeps on singing long after the sun has set, singing its clarion song into the night, even when every one of his brothers and sisters has fallen silent — for this song, for so much small and not so small at all, we are, paradoxically and continually, grateful — even though it’s true, as the poem says, everything is breaking.

This is not easy or simple gratitude: this gratitude is hard-won, is survival at its core.
May you find space for the paradoxical human gratitude that lives in you this week, even as you also make space to tell the difficult truths we are living in these days, personal truths and civic truths alike. May you find space for some words to flow on the page. May you feel, from my screen to yours, the gratitude I feel for your words as well,




Thanks 
W. S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is


From The Rain in the Trees (Knopf, 1998)

A widely-anthologized writer and performer, Jen Cross has written with sexual trauma survivors and other writers for nearly fifteen years. In 2003, Jen founded Writing Ourselves Whole, an organization that offers transformative writing workshops, creating spaces in which the true and complicated stories of the body can emerge. Jen’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in over 30 anthologies and other publications, including Nobody Passes, The Healing Art of Writing 2010, make/shift, Visible: A Femmethology (Vol. 1), and Best Sex Writing 2008. She's the co-editor of Sex Still Spoken Here (CSC Press, 2014). Jen is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at San Francisco State University. Find out more about Jen at writingourselveswhole.org.

November 15, 2016

Writing to Feel Whole in Times of Trouble

Today, we continue our series with Jen Cross, who shares how writing has helped her navigate these turbulent times.

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It's been hard to write this week. I sit down to the notebook and my words dry up. Are you triggered in the aftermath of this election? I know I am. I feel as though I’m watching my abusive stepfather given the keys to the castle, like he’s the one who just won the presidency, like he's the one that my fellow Americans actively chose to support.

I sit down to write, and what floats behind my eyes is: What words are there to say? What difference does it make if I write or don’t write, if I speak or don’t speak? I spoke before the election, didn’t I? And what good did it do to tell?

I put down the pen, turn back to Facebook, begin to scroll through the most recent atrocities, overwhelm myself to numbness.

The day after the election, I did write. I wrote how angry I was. Anger feels more powerful than fear or grief— old grief, I mean. The grief that still lives in my body, in my lungs and liver, the grief that lives under my tongue and behind my heartbeat. The young girl asking, the teenage girl asking, “Why do you choose him? Why do you believe him? Why don’t you believe me when I tell you he is hurting me? Why are you questioning me, telling me guys are just like that, telling me I need to change my attitude, telling me he was only trying to help, telling me it didn’t go the way I said, it couldn’t have gone the way I said, telling me I need to calm down — it couldn’t have been as bad as I’m making it out to be.”

I didn't write how scared I felt, how exposed, how vulnerable. I didn't write into that big question—why the abuser is chosen so often, it seems, over the one(s) they abuse?

I didn’t write about those things. I wrote rage, and then I stopped writing.

It’s an old silencing, an old quieting of the fingers, of the tongue, of the mouth — and old muteness that takes over at times like these, when what gets triggered is that old feeling of hopelessness and utter impotence.

We fought so hard. So many of us fought so hard. And still — this. Still, the abuser won.

The muteness says: nothing you say is going to make any difference. Your words aren’t important. Your voice doesn’t matter. No one can hear you — and if they do hear you, they’re not going to understand, or they’re going to downplay or deny, or they’re going to tell you right to your face to shut up.

The muteness is an old self-protection strategy. It says: Keep quiet if you want to get through this relatively safe. Swallow your screams and shouts. Swallow your rage. Swallow your indignation and disbelief. The psyche taught us something important in those years we were surviving abuse, many of us. It taught us not to speak. It taught us so many different ways to keep silent.

We come to believe the story that our muteness tells: that our voices were stolen, that our voices were taken from us.

More often, though, the truth is that we are ignored. Our voices work fine. We say no, and are ignored. We act out, and are punished, and ignored. We sometimes tell directly, and many of those tellings are ignored — and then we get in more trouble (as this new ostensible-president has threatened to sue those who have come forward with stories of his abuse, harassment, and violence).

After years of being ignored when we who have survived child sexual abuse tell (in all of the brilliant and creative ways we do tell) what was being done to us, we so often internalize the story that we are without a voice. Isn’t that easier to believe, easier even to live with, than the reality that our words and our behavior was actively ignored by those non-perpetrating caregivers and other adults who were supposed to be paying attention, supposed to be protecting us? Supposed to be listening to us?

This week, that old deep loss has gripped me every time I think about writing. And so I force myself to do it. I make bargains, promising myself I can go back to the bad-tv reruns, the bag of popcorn, after my three or five pages. Just write. Just let the words come. I am “making” myself do it because I know I will feel better, more whole, and more sane on the other side. I will feel less impotent, even.

The writing doesn't fix everything. It doesn't change what happened. But writing gives me back more of my whole self in this aftermath.

In the process of freewriting, I feel my power return—even just slightly. Just a wave of possibility. I
remember how loud my voice is, and was. I remember how eminently capable I am of telling my own truths, and in how many different ways. I remember that I can poetry my truth, I can testimony my truth, I can metaphor my truth, I can song my truth, I can nonsense my truth, I can fragment and I can puzzle it back together. I remember that no one can tell me how to tell my own story, how to language my own emotions, how to word what I was told (both directly and indirectly) never to speak.

And in the writing, I feel a little more whole – a little more broken, too, sure, but also more complete, more honest, more present.

One of the prompts I return to often, when I want to get a freewrite going, is “What I really wanted to tell you was...” or “What I really want to say is....” and then just following the writing however it flows. If I get stuck, I repeat the prompt. Write it again: What I really wanted to tell you was... Some days it works better to write it in the third person “What she really wanted to tell you was, or what he really wanted to tell you was, or what they really wanted to tell you was...”) I try to keep writing, not to stop to edit or correct: this notebook writing that I'm describing, it's not for anybody's eyes but yours. This isn't for a Facebook post or a blog. That writing can come later. These words right now, these tellings, these are all for you, allowing to flow free and powerful that voice that has been within you all along.

Thank you for all of your words in these difficult days – the words you write, the words you don't write, the words still tucked beneath your breastbone, waiting for the time when you feel it's safe enough for them to come out.

A widely-anthologized writer and performer, Jen Cross has written with sexual trauma survivors and other writers for nearly fifteen years. In 2003, Jen founded Writing Ourselves Whole, an organization that offers transformative writing workshops, creating spaces in which the true and complicated stories of the body can emerge. Jen’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in over 30 anthologies and other publications, including Nobody Passes, The Healing Art of Writing 2010, make/shift, Visible: A Femmethology (Vol. 1), and Best Sex Writing 2008. She's the co-editor of Sex Still Spoken Here (CSC Press, 2014). Jen is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at San Francisco State University. Find out more about Jen at writingourselveswhole.org.

November 8, 2016

Writing Was the Place Where I Could Be Free

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Jen Cross, amazing woman, advocate, survivor, and writer. I'm so excited to bring you this month's series in which we will explore healing through creativity.

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For nearly 15 years, I have worked with survivors of sexual abuse and others to find words for the stories they held in their bodies, in their hearts, in their hurts. I have led writing groups in which folks could put into words the unspoken, the unspeakable, and begin to experience themselves as creators as well as survivors.

As a survivor, writing has been the first, most consistent, and safest healing practice for me — before therapy or even talking with best friends or lovers. I write first, to figure out what it is I want to say to best friends or lovers or therapists. Writing was the way I thought, learned, grew.

Since 1993, I've gone to the notebook when nothing made sense, when everything felt wrong, when I was falling apart, messy, confused, scared, triggered, ashamed, excited, overjoyed, afraid — there were almost no circumstances under which I didn’t want to be writing. Writing helped me to make sense of myself. 


By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was getting up every morning at 4:30 or 5am just to have quiet time by myself, alone with candle and cup of coffee and notebook, writing into the stories of my adolescence, writing into a future I was only just beginning to allow myself to imagine. I like the ritual of it, and by that I mean regular practice, and a sense that inherent in that regular practice was some devotion to self and space. For me, this regular practice of morning writing is a way to reaffirm my dedication to writing — a way to say to writing, “my first and best breaths are still yours.”

Writing saved my life. Isn’t that true for so many of us? If I hadn’t had writing as an outlet back when I was twenty-one and trying to figure out what had really happened to me, once I got away from my mother's second husband, the man who’d been sexually abusing me, I don't know what I would have done, or who I would be now.

I was someone who’d been trained to trust no one, and did not open my deepest thoughts to even my most significant others. The safest place for me, at least in the first years of my healing work, was the page. I wanted there to be a record of what I’d experienced, what I’d done and what had been done to me. The notebook was a place for me to rage, to ask the questions no one had answers to, to say, exactly, all the secrets that his abuse had force fed me.

To this day, writing helps me to figure out what I know, what I think. I follow the philosophical lineage of Natalie Goldberg, freewriting daily, following any surprising or ridiculous thought, getting it down onto the paper and moving on, not stopping to analyze or decipher: just writing, just writing, just writing. This transformative writing practice is my exercise and meditation, it’s possibility and dreaming, it’s sometimes just working my way to get through the mire of my survivor's mind.

Transformative writing is writing that changes you in the process of its creation. A dictionary gives one definition of transform as “to change completely for the better.” Another definition: “to convert one form of energy to another.”

Writing that’s transformative is writing that surprises the writer as it’s emerging. It’s writing through which the writer maybe learns something about themselves on the other end. In my experience, there’s much writing that’s transformative. Freewriting as a practice works well for me, when I can let the writing come, can get the editor out of the way and discover after I’m done what it was that I was trying to say.

In my experience, a transformative writing practice like this one opens us up. It teaches us that we do have words (even when we have been/felt silenced, been told not to speak, or not been given the words to express what we were going through). We have body and words, a body of words, we have words of our body, we have language to describe what has happens to us, what we have experienced, what we have been. We move from silence to storytelling, and storytellers are beautiful and necessary in this world. Writing is a way to put words to things that were never meant to be spoken – and, in so doing, to undermine, one word at a time, the isolation and shame that makes rape culture possible. So thank you, thank you, for your words.


Read Part 2...

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A widely-anthologized writer and performer, Jen Cross has written with sexual trauma survivors and other writers for nearly fifteen years. In 2003, Jen founded Writing Ourselves Whole, an organization that offers transformative writing workshops, creating spaces in which the true and complicated stories of the body can emerge. Jen’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in over 30 anthologies and other publications, including Nobody Passes, The Healing Art of Writing 2010, make/shift, Visible: A Femmethology (Vol. 1), and Best Sex Writing 2008. She's the co-editor of Sex Still Spoken Here (CSC Press, 2014). Jen is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at San Francisco State University. Find out more about Jen at writingourselveswhole.org.

October 25, 2016

Reclaiming His Voice

This week, in James's final post, he shares about how his personal healing journey expanded into a global filmic odyssey, attempting to illustrate that child sex abuse is a local problem everywhere on the planet.

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From the moment I made a 33-year overdue police report in 2011, self-documenting my recovery has been an integral part of healing. The process of self-witnessing has been more than a powerful balm. It has become a place to focus my energy and talent and frankly, a great way to reinvent myself.

Making Picking Trauma’s Pocket has been a great reason to invite myself into places I’m not sure I would have gone otherwise. To date, I have filmed across Canada, the US, Guyana, Bolivia (twice) and Taiwan. January will see me in Ghana and by the end of 2017, visits to Australia plus Europe will complete the picture. 

In addition to a multitude of child sex abuse survivors, many experts have also generously given their time for interviews. Bessel van der Kolk, author of the best selling Body Keeps the Score, Richard Tedeschi, who coined the term Post Traumatic Growth and Richard Schwartz, originator of Internal Family Systems therapy are representative of the scope of the film in science, spirit, academia and therapy. Picking Trauma’s Pocket begins where most other films on child sex abuse end: healing. 

Part of the lingering harm I experienced from sexual trauma in childhood left me with a powerful shut down reflex. Every time I had an inspired thought, or took action to express my creativity, especially through music, it would be immediately be followed by a harsh counter action/thought: STOP! I know now that the reason for it is because one part of me is trying to protect myself. That the root of it exists because as a child I was further harmed for defending myself against injustice. 

And as I grew up, it was only further complicated by hyper-vigilance (*easily mistaken for ADD/ADHD). Between the two, there have been many occasions where crossing the room to get a pen resulted in a trip around the block.  Difficulty following through on my intentions became a hallmark of my lived experience. I eventually formed the opinion that I was a flawed person. 

In 2012, I met Arthur Lockhart, founder of the Gatehouse (see blog episode 1) and a short film, Illuminating Silence was born. 

It features many courageous people, some for the first time, sharing stories of hardship and recovery. Struck by the similarity between my experiences of struggle and all of the people in the film, I began to wonder about the scope and scale of the problem of child sex abuse.

Finally recognizing that my profound life challenges were resultant from crimes committed against my most vulnerable child self, I began talking openly pretty much everywhere I went. One woman I worked with mentioned that she knew of a similar agency to the Gatehouse, but in Guyana. Lockhart’s first reaction on learning this was to set up a meeting and include another woman from Ghana. 

That meeting concluded with the formation of the Gatehouse Network International, to connect organizations around the planet that support child sex abuse survivors. The only logical next step was to forward relationships the best way I know how. In person. 

The reasons why sexual trauma is so difficult to verbalize are complex. Yes, it does take courage and yes, shame is a barrier, but there is also science, validated by brain scan technology, to support the very real obstacles. This is why the names of so many organizations working with survivors have Voice in their name: because, to reclaim Voice is not simply evidence of healing. It is an act of emancipation. In my opinion, the burden of living with child sex abuse is like combining the struggles of Hellen Keller with Nelson Mandela.

I’ve read that trauma is like Medusa in that taking it on directly is unwise (Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger). Trauma is a treacherous thief and liar. It leaves survivors with unanswerable questions, such as “why did this happen to me?” and vicious untruths such as, “it was my fault”. To slay it requires indirect approaches. And that is why it has been especially rewarding to pursue imagery from my surroundings that are representative of both my struggles and my release. 

met·a·phor
ˈmedəˌfôr,ˈmedəˌfər/      
definition: a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.

In making Picking Trauma’s Pocket, a child-like wonder about the world has engulfed me. Ever looking more closely, I am lucky to live in an age where the tools available match my passion. Using a range of lenses from consumer level macro close-ups all the way to sophisticated near microscopic, I have captured scenes of frost melting, the life cycle of baby spiders leaving the nest, an adult
spider battling to devour a beetle, baby squirrels born into captivity, escaping through a one way trap door. I have filmed the stars passing through the night sky. And one of the most memorable moments was shortly after reading Levine’s book about somatic healing. A bird flew into my window and lay stunned. I filmed it for a full hour as it went through all of the stages of trauma recovery and then flew away. 

My journey of recovery has been an expansive one of looking both deeply inwards and as far outwards as I can, all at the same time. I still suffer. But the gifts I’ve worked so hard to polish are worth the effort.

Voice is more than words. For me it includes my work in filmmaking. In the making of my next project, Picking Trauma’s Pocket, I give birth to my own voice. This journey is about nothing less than emancipation. And I want you to be my witness.


You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 


Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm



--
James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.


Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

October 19, 2016

Out of the Grip and Into the Driver Seat

This week, James shares with us his up and down journey as a filmmaker and how this has led him to today, creating a film that chronicles his own story of abuse.

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Welcome to my third post for the Rachel Grant blog. If you’re joining this conversation now, previously I discussed coming into awareness at age 45 about the sexual abuse experienced as a child and then how I turned a three-decade struggle around.

At age 15, I saw a film called Fanny and Alexander by the prolific Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and felt a powerful call to the film business. It’s the only profession I’ve ever had and becoming a director was the coveted goal. As I grew up, opportunities opened up in front of me everywhere I went. 

I made my first film in middle school. The second came during a summer program. An introduction to critical analysis by a high school media teacher blew my mind. I spent four years gaining a double degree in film production and screenwriting at a university acclaimed for filmmaking. 

Eager to excel, I scraped my way into the industry between my second and third years. By the time I graduated, I had successfully established myself at the very bottom of the industry. My days as a Production Assistant started before everyone else and finished last. I was driving my own car picking up directors and actors, then working with the technical crew and making $50 a day. I felt lucky on the days they remembered to reimburse me for gas. The environment was brutally stressful and blossoming with all kinds of abuse. Alcohol, drugs, unpredictable explosive anger, sleep deprivation. I felt at home. (*Parents, be wary: things haven’t changed. The film industry is notorious. If your child goes in this direction, stay vigilant)

Being an athlete in high school left me well equipped to become a grip. You want a scaffold around that house? Sure, no problem. You want it up to or above the eves? Gassing 5-ton trucks at 14 left me with confidence around vehicles. Grips also operate camera dollies and cranes. They are the cowboys of the industry and most social rules don’t apply because they know they are needed. I was in heaven. 

Ten years later, I could look back on what most people would call an enviable life. I had worked with stars and future stars on movies, tv shows, rock videos and commercials across Canada and in New Zealand. After a year down under, I turned down an offer to stay and returned home to resume my long delayed passion to direct. Many of my crew-mates went on to work on Lord of the Rings.


I began using filmmaking as a tool to heal in 1988. Learning the Hard Way was a school project where I documented the first conversation with my parents about my brother Mark’s suicide eleven years prior. Still gripped by unresolved grief, I struck out to make my first professional drama and help myself at the same time. I managed to convince our national broadcaster, CBC, to commit some money in advance (very rare for a first-timer) and The Stone Skipper was born in 1999. It is a story about a family in the aftermath of a suicide, through the eyes of a young boy. And that’s when things went sideways.

I pulled many a favour to get The Stone Skipper made. My friends from the industry really rose to the occasion. The broadcast money paid for union actors, bought the film stock and had it processed. Everything else came from generosity, which is another hallmark of the film biz. So when the film attracted little media attention and didn’t open any doors for paying directing gigs, I was devastated. 

Bottoming out is a very personal phenomenon. You don’t have to lose $50 million dollars or overdose with a needle in your arm to get there. You know it when it happens. For me, it was returning to the only trade I knew. For the next five years I lived a slow-motion nightmare, playing out my most humiliating shame in front of the very people who had supported me. I had reached for my dream and failed. And I couldn’t even get it together to write the next film.

By 2004, I had bought my first video camera. Having never mastered cinematography in university, I had given up on ever becoming a cameraperson. Learning how to expose the film properly eluded me, so I gave up because of the false belief that I was stupid. But with video, you see the results immediately. So I began shooting everyday things happening around me and the results were pretty good. My pals in the camera department were convinced the footage was HD, even though that had only just been invented. (I wasn’t). The real opening was when desktop video editing became available.

I met Jules Koostachin around then and we became fast friends. She was a single Cree mother from James Bay, just south of the Arctic Ocean. Jules wanted to be in front of the camera and I wanted to make something. She told me she wanted to make a ceremonial dress for dancing at pow wows in honour of healing her mother and grandmother. I didn’t know what a Jingle Dress was and had never heard of Indian Residential Schools, but I trusted Jules so we began with the understanding that the project would take a year to film.

Six years and two children later, Jules danced for the first time at a pow wow with her mother at her side in the Ojibwa territory of western Ontario, where the traditions of the sacred healing Jingle Dress originate. Four years after that, I completed Jingle Dress – First Dance. Over that time the amount of trust Jules and her mother placed in me slowly dawned. Jules’ mother was interred against her will as a child for ten years in the Canadian Native Residential School system, a federally designed and funded, deliberately racist tool of assimilation. Posing as education for over 100 years, First Nations children who were forced to live away from their families were chronically subjected to horrendous physical, psychological and sexual abuse. 

In 2008, the Canadian federal government apologized and paid a nearly $2 billion settlement and established a series of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings, based on those in post apartheid South Africa. The completion of Jingle Dress – First Dance coincided with the TRC and was invited to debut at the final hearings in Edmonton, 2014.

Jules’ wisdom, leadership, compassion and friendship have profoundly benefitted my life. After sustained attempts over decades to heal myself using filmmaking, a major breakthrough happened by way of the collaboration with her. And it opened the way for me to embrace my own healing journey from child sex abuse as a positive thing to do.

Voice is more than words. For me it includes my work in filmmaking. In the making of my next project, Picking Trauma’s Pocket, I give birth to my own voice. This journey is about nothing less than emancipation. And I want you to be my witness.

You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 


Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm
--
James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.


Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

October 11, 2016

Into A Better Place

This week, James Buffin continues his story and shares about his first step into a support program that opened up much more than he could have ever imagined.

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For those of you joining this blog thread now, in the last post I shared about being triggered into awareness in 2011 about sexual abuse I endured in the 1970’s; that the shift in consciousness began with the arrest of my son’s teacher on child pornography charges.

The investigating officer in my son’s case was very kind. She pointed me in the right direction to make my own report and then referred me to a place called The Gatehouse in Toronto, where peer facilitated group programs have been running since 1998. It’s been said that the stairs to the entrance there are some of the hardest three steps you can ever take, but my intake meeting was even tougher. 

Until then, I had assumed that the chronic stress I was living with on a daily basis was simply a function of career choice. I had been a freelance technician in film and television since 1988, where the long days and months were either filled with diabolically chaotic scenarios at the mercy of extreme seasonal variations or mind numbingly repetitive banal studio shoots where we were chronically deprived of sunlight and fresh air. One of my favourite sayings about the film industry is, There’s only two kinds of people in the movies. Those who are dying to get in and those who are dying to get out. Remember, by this time I had a couple of decades under my belt and was struggling to get my own projects off the ground, but was either totally consumed by the work which I needed to pay the bills, or the worry about where the next gig was coming from. 

It was during the intake meeting at the Gatehouse where I began to recognize that the feeling of being trapped was actually something inside of me, not a real function of my external circumstances. That my inability to catch a full breath and the constant body sensations of heightened alert were not just due to a constantly changing landscape and lots of coffee. 

A crack in my perception of the world opened up in that meeting. Through it I caught a glimpse of something better. But it wasn’t easy. The cost of this new and intriguing possibility was vulnerability. 

There I was sitting in a room full of teddy bears and kids books, sharing my story with a total stranger. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a wave of fear. Would I be turned away? Or worse, would this be just one more time where after reaching out for help, the professional on the other side of the table would blankly hand me a pamphlet and invite me to another session I couldn’t afford in either time or money? 


Accessibility is a key principle at The Gatehouse. Founder Arthur Lockhart has ensured that this is upheld, so that there is never a financial obstacle to people who want help. Their core support model is peer facilitated group programs. The first one is 15 weeks, two hours a week. The second phase is co-ed (a first in Canada). After that, a constantly evolving array of programming is available that includes, but is not limited to, a partners program (another first) and art therapy. 

Tone is perhaps the greatest element that separates The Gatehouse from any other support I’ve ever experienced. The work that is done there involves going into very dark places and shining a light. And it’s one of the happiest, most welcoming environments I’ve ever experienced. I think that lightness is the foundation that allows for the heavy lifting to happen. It’s not an attempt to gloss over, ignore, displace or minimize the struggles of survivors. For example, during the phase one men’s groups, it would be typical for Art to respectfully check in by poking his head through the door. Imagine a group of 8 or 9 guys sharing hard stuff. We’re talking tears and snot. And in comes Art with a smile to say, “Hey guys, how’s it going?” To respectfully pull that off, without breaking the integrity of the meeting is what I’m talking about. That tone is contagious. I’ve never seen a happier group of traumatized people than at The Gatehouse.

Lockhart had already been doing work with documentary filmmaking prior to my participation at The Gatehouse, so he was familiar with the power of the medium. By the time I arrived, I’d already been self-documenting my story for several months. It seemed a natural fit to do some work together. One of the ways I’m giving back is to produce a video blog of empowered survivors, The Turn with James Buffin, filmed at The Gatehouse. You can see it here.

In the next episode, I will share about the genesis of the documentary film Picking Trauma’s Pocket and how it went from doing a selfie outside a police station to telling a global story. The international phase of shooting has gradually evolved into a global odyssey where I have met incredible survivors, scientists and specialists on several continents and counting.


You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 

Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm


Read Part 3...

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James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.


Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

October 4, 2016

Heal Myself – Help the World

James Buffin is no joke! He's an advocate, father, survivor, and director. When I learned about his upcoming documentary film, Picking Trauma’s Pocket, I knew immediately that I wanted to bring James on as a guest blogger to share more about his journey and this amazing project. In today's post, he shares what led him to take on creating a film about sexual abuse.

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All through adulthood I’ve tenaciously sought professional help. Alcohol. Relationships. Anxiety. Depression. Under-productivity. Alienation. Trust. Financial struggles. Anger. Overwhelmed by these problems, I would leave the helpers offices no better off and sometimes, much worse. Despite well-known professional studies linking childhood sexual abuse to all of the symptoms I was living with, until recently none of them asked if that was part of my history. My sustained efforts to get the help I needed only resulted in reinforcing the imposed belief that I was a flawed person, destined to work around problems too big to resolve. I was blindly living with the full impact of trauma from sexual abuse three decades prior and time was not healing it.

Sexual trauma is incredibly difficult to articulate. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard is that your spirit goes into hiding. It did more than harm me in the present. As a child it scarred my future by leaving me unable to fully advocate for myself about the things that were most important to me because underneath it all I had no sense of belonging. All of this resulting from a malicious attack by a sexual predator masquerading as my caregiver on a rural overnight trip.  

One of the most painful parts is career. On the outside I appeared to have an enviable life. Rubbing shoulders with movie stars. Travel. Time off between gigs. But on the inside I was forever churning with shame at not having reached a coveted goal…to make a living creating my own films. Despite a university degree in filmmaking, hundreds of connections who would certainly help me and decades of professional experience, I had the inner experience of being voiceless. What I am talking about is not entitlement. It is the impact of criminal actions that stole my innocence 39 years ago and to this day affect my ability to follow through on my most personal goals.

Make no mistake. This is not a sob story.

Uneducated and unaware of the link to my prolific suffering, I did not break the silence until my son’s teacher was arrested on child pornography charges in 2011. Outraged at the school administration’s elevation of their self-preservation above the needs of the students, a raw nerve was touched in me. In a hot, overcrowded sweaty gymnasium filled with anxious angry parents, my own experience was validated for the first time. I finally experienced what the appropriate response is to my own abuse. The most proactive thing I could do while I waited three months for police to confirm that my son’s image was not in the teacher’s collection of 40,000 files, was make the long overdue police report about my own abuse in the 1970’s. Just in case something had happened and my son was not able to disclose. He’s ok. Nothing happened. But for me everything changed. And that’s when I began filming Picking Trauma’s Pocket.

For five years, I’ve been self-documenting my attempts to articulate what the experience is of living with an invisible injury that rendered me churned up and fragmented on the inside yet calm and together on the outside. On this journey, I have interviewed hundreds of empowered survivors of child sex abuse in Canada, the United States, Guyana, Bolivia and Taiwan. Whether it’s Bolivian lawyer Brisa D’Angulo with one child in her arms and another in tow, best selling author and prolific neuroscientist Bessel van der Kolk in his office, or yoga practitioner Sat Dharam Kaur, the stories reinforce each other and yet highlight the ugly truth that there is no magic bullet solution. This film is my global odyssey to gather up stories from the corners of the planet and show at the same time how big the problem is and the beautiful diversity of our collective struggles to create a better world.   

Picking Trauma’s Pocket is courageously inspirational evidence that healing is possible. And for a world where on average one in five people are sexually abused in childhood, yet go on to adulthood without proper support, Picking Trauma’s Pocket is vitally important because many people are suffering in silence. Right now. That many of over a billion people around the planet who have been sexually abused in childhood should feel alone is deeply ironic. Sexual trauma is real. It is an invisible plague. It isn’t going away on its own. And it is scared of the light inside each and every survivor.

Voice is more than words. For me it includes my work in filmmaking. In the making of this film I give birth to my own voice. This journey is about nothing less than emancipation. And I want you to be my witness.


You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign between October 6th and November 10, 2016. 

Go here to support this amazing project starting October 6th: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm

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James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.

Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

September 27, 2016

A Beyond Survivor Shares Her Story

I'd like to to introduce you today to Cindy, who became a Beyond Survivor in 2016. She shares with you a bit about her journey and what she gained from our time working together.







"I thought [the abuse] was so serious that I was just broken and couldn't be fixed ... I would say if you are struggling or doubting, just do it, give Rachel's program a chance. You deserve better ... "


You can learn more about my Beyond Surviving program here, but more importantly, leave a comment for Cindy letting her know what you got from her story.

September 20, 2016

The Intellectual Consequences of Growing Up an Abused…and Thinking …Catholic

This week, we conclude our series with Charles Sutherland, who takes a bold look at how religion became a space of confusion and inconsistencies when set against his experiences of abuse. 

One note here for believers in a higher spiritual power, I want to welcome you to read Charles's reflections here as a perspective on how faith and religion can become distorted when used by abusers as a way to manipulate rather than an indictment of religion on the whole.

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As soon as the next academic year arrived, I left our household (which I never called ‘home’) to go far away, to a Jesuit college in Denver to where I received a small scholarship.  My father did not give me any financial assistance, and I dropped out after the first year to earn money. 

A year later, because it was less expensive, I went to Europe, to the University of Vienna in Austria for two years.  Subsequently, I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Philosophy in the U.S., and then pursued graduate studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and studied some French at the Institute de Francais in Villefranche-sur-Mer in France.  Since then I have been to 67 countries, for one reason or another, have been an international businessman, a newspaper executive, and a writer.

The traditional ‘growth pattern’ of an abused child is often a life of criminality.  Unlike many abused children, I was fortunate to have strong Scotch-Irish DNA, and a stubborn and tenacious disposition. I also ‘escaped’ into the excitement of reading, and thinking about new ideas. 

To summarize the mental development in growing up as a physically and mentally abused boy, I will quote below from my book Reflections of a Boy… Growing Up in Nebraska in the 1950s with an Irish Catholic Father.

“Today such physical and psychological abuse inflicted upon a child by a father would be criminal.  In those days it was regarded as ‘strict’ religious discipline, which was generally accepted, or even approved and applauded.  The constant quote, falsely attributed to the Bible, was, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’  Actually the Biblical quote of Proverbs 13:24 is worse: ‘Whoever spares the rod hates their children…’

In our current era, religious intolerance and fanaticism are rising again in one of history’s cycles.  Having religion physically forced upon me from an early age compelled me to dwell upon it.  Doing so provided insights and empathy into religious persecution throughout history, of which I have written elsewhere.  If someone can beat their own child for asking questions about religious doctrines, it is easy to see how believers of all faiths can promote Crusades, Inquisitions, Biblical ‘cleansing’ of other ethnic groups, wars,  and Jihads against other people, whether family, neighbors, or strangers, who do not share their religious beliefs… or illusions.  Since by their nature all religions regard themselves as ‘exclusive’ in some manner or another, to subscribe to any religion inexorably leads to being intolerant on some level.

I was instructed to seek refuge from my painful life in God and religion.  Yet, my constant questioning revealed that any refuge I sought was just a mirage, like the mirages we saw on the long Nebraska highways on hot summer days.  When we came closer to the image, it evaporated into a mist.  I was punished for asking simple and basic questions, the kind which should be easily answered – but which went unanswered or were avoided, because like other ‘believers’ my father was afraid to even think about them.  We were taught in school not to think or ask questions, with the Christian admonition, ‘The idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’

Growing up in the farm lands of Nebraska created common sense.  When crops were dry, we didn’t pray for rain.  We irrigated them.  If someone needed help, we didn’t pray for them.  We helped them.  When action was required, we acted.  According to my emerging perspective, prayer was for the lazy, the ignorant, or the delusional.  Religious ‘mysteries’ were neurotic non-sense, meant to deceive and control the uneducated.  

Through observation, I learned to disregard apologies, which I came to see as insincere acts of self-indulgence.  I saw my father and others apologize to God
and receive ‘forgiveness’ in their weekly visits to Confession, with no improvement in their conduct.  Accordingly, I also learned to have no patience for those who practice ‘forgiveness,’ whether religious people or lenient judges.  I also routinely watched self-righteous ‘believers’ enjoy the self-gratifying religious feeling of dispensing ‘forgiveness,’ rather than having the courage to hold people responsible for their actions.  Forgiveness exonerates bad behavior, inevitably leading to worse offenses in the future.  When people are not held accountable for their conduct, anarchy ultimately prevails. 

Finally, on the crucible of painful childhood curiosity, I developed a complete and visceral intolerance for dishonesty of any kind, no matter what the personal pain or consequence.  Regardless of how intelligent, stupid, rich, or poor someone may be, they can at least be honest.  Personal relationships are built on the foundation of truth, and a stable society requires honesty to prevent the fabric of civilization from tearing apart.  Honesty is a natural impulse in a child, until a religious education suppresses and distorts it.  The religious fables, to which I was continuously subjected and compelled to recite, inhibited my ability to think honestly at an early age.  These false fables of fantasy and fear are society’s most ubiquitous and pernicious disquisitions of deceit, inflicted daily upon the ignorant and vulnerable, particularly upon children.  Given the difficulties we encounter in our everyday human lives, it is morally reprehensible for self-righteous people to add imaginary fears and woes to real ones, through a litany of useful lies.

Finally, the psychology that there are divine friends in the sky who may grant us our wishes through prayer teaches children not to be self-reliable.  It delays the reality of life, that the cosmos is indifferent to our desires.  Often we don’t even achieve our objectives by working for them, let alone by praying for them.

The ancient wisdom says, ‘It’s better to light a little candle, than to curse the darkness.’  Hopefully, these honest and candid memories, many amusing, others painful, provide some flicker of light to whoever might read them – of whatever religion.  Every religious faith flounders on its own historic falsehoods, and then, in a final act of despair, the creeds’ followers eventually seek the light of reason, however dim or bright.  The sooner, the better, for all of us…

In any event, my dear maternal Aunt Marie always told me, ‘Hang in there, sweetheart.  Always remember, the first one hundred years are the hardest’.”



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Charles Sutherland was educated at schools and universities in the United States and Europe, including the University of Vienna and the London School of Economics and Political Science. As a student and international businessman for over 40 years, he has lived, studied, worked in, or traveled to over 60 countries. He has sat on numerous Boards of Directors and has launched a wide variety of business ventures and philanthropic organizations in the United States, Latin America, Europe (including the former Soviet Union), Asia, and the Middle East. He has also been Director of Development of The Washington Times, and author of numerous articles and several books, including Disciples of Destruction: The Religious Origins of War and Terrorism; Character for Champions; Red Tape: Adventure Capitalism in the New Russia (co-author); Clash of the Gods (co-author); The Poison Planters, and GMO Food Poison Handbook. He has two sons and lives in the Washington, DC area.

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