Slow with Liquor

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Nelsan Ellis, known to most as the character Lafayette Reynolds, a gay, V-dealing short-order cook, medium, cousin to Tara Thornton, and friend to Sookie Stackhouse on the series True Blood, died July 8th, 2017 of a heart attack. More specifically, Ellis died of complications following heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Ellis, who, in real life, had a wife and two young children, was only 39 years old when his attempt to put down the bottle killed him.

I can’t claim to know the full extent of Ellis’ alcohol abuse, or whatever other factors might have contributed to his untimely death. But the thought that his efforts to end an addiction to alcohol was what ultimately killed him should give us all pause.

Lafayette with a drink

Ciao, bitches!  Ellis has left the building.

The good ol’ U.S. of A. still has a massive alcohol problem, in terms of use, perception of use, and understanding of impacts. Sure, we’ve gotten all M.A.D.D. and managed to sharply decrease drunk driving—or, rather, to at least make drunk driving illegal and unacceptable—for the most part. Still, almost a third of all deaths in automobile accidents involve alcohol.

President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis raised a big stink about declaring opioid addiction a national public health emergency, citing a 142-deaths-per-day figure for deaths by drug overdose (which includes all unintentional drug overdoses, not just OD by opioids, which sits at 91 per day for 2015).

And while opioid abuse has been climbing towards alarming, our nonchalance about alcohol abuse is still confounding.

If you look at deaths in the United States directly attributed to alcohol, they are at about the same level annually as deaths by gun (including both homicides and suicides), or annual deaths in automobile accidents–or right around 80 deaths per day.

But when you factor in all the deaths involving alcohol…those primarily attributed to alcohol (diseases, alcohol poisoning, and such), and those deaths where alcohol was a significant factor (car crashes, suicides, homicides, all other forms of accidents involving alcohol) then the total number of alcohol-related deaths rises to over 230 per day (albeit, intruding on other categories of death).

But how many of us, in our puritanical, cold-turkey, I-can-quit-anytime-I-want culture of addiction-denial and personal responsibility even realize that heart failure from alcohol withdrawal is a thing?

Sure, we’ve seen movies, TV shows, and even documentaries depicting the horrific sickness and potential death that comes from withdrawing from opiates–“kicking” heroin being a dramatic staple of drug addiction stories. But how often do we see any depictions of the danger of alcohol withdrawal, or any kind of realistic portrayal of the dangers of alcohol use and abuse?

As a culture we celebrate drunkenness and binge-drinking…until we don’t.

Think of a recent comedy you’ve seen, or at least a recent R-rated comedy. If it had scenes involving alcohol, what happened in those scenes, and what messages were conveyed? I’d venture a guess that the messages included the idea that binge drinking is, at its least problematic, an awesome escape from life stressors, just a way to cut loose and have fun; and that at increased levels, binge drinking is still pretty hilarious—leading to some wildly comedic pratfalls and other scenarios involving what would probably be fatal, or at least permanently-disabling, head injuries—all played for laughs.

Moving beyond such comedic depictions, chronic, excessive drinking might become marginally less comical over the course of a film. But, ultimately, movies tend to show us that people who chronically drink are able to get it together and turn their lives around in the space of a montage, or perhaps following a heart-felt speech from a loved one. Think Trainwreck, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, How to be Single, or maybe as far back as Knocked Up—I could go on and on, and back through decades of movies. But at least I now realize that I spend a ridiculous amount of time watching comedies on DirecTV.

Such messages of hilarity are typically upended in more ‘serious’ fare, like Flight, starring Denzel Washington, or Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. Or, at least they’re sort of upended.

In Flight, Denzel’s character, Whip Whitaker, saves (most of) an airplane full of people by flying while wasted, then tries to quit, but relapses, then corrects the alcohol relapse with cocaine, in order to become jury-pleasing honest and speak beautiful truths.

In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, realizes what a disappointment he’s become, and we flash forward from Blake staggering off stage to throw up massive quantities of Jack Daniels between alleyway dumpsters and nearly losing a friend’s child in a mall, to several months later when he is clean and sober, and everything is hunky dory—except that he doesn’t get the ‘girl’ who is about half his age.

Beyond just Hollywood portrayals, think of how you, and other people you know–friends, family, co-workers, online acquaintances–talk about alcohol. A stray comment about the urgency of a drink to take the edge off some negative experience. Expressing a desire to wash away the workday with a bottle. An impending vacation where one intends to aggressively day-drink, evening drink, and late-night drink.  Drinking memes suggesting alcohol is just a comically enjoyable part of life.

I don’t mean to get all holier-than-thou. I’m more-than-guilty myself…of the drinking, of the denial, of the comments and laughter about, at, and around drunkenness. I’ve got no end of irresponsible drinking stories to spin—going back decades. As a matter of fact, I’m currently nursing a vicious bacon-grease burn that was birthed into this world by the midwifery of a bottle of Kirkland brand vodka.

And I don’t want to suggest we all drop our sense of humor.  Just maybe stop and think about it awhile.  When drinking is played for laughs, or treated as just something we all do, how much longer does it take anybody to get serious about problem drinking? How much easier is it to stave off the idea that maybe we should tone down the booze intake?

I also don’t want to imply that Hollywood is responsible for anybody’s personal decisions and habits. However, we as a culture endorse a lot of pro-booze, and pro-binge-drinking messages, while slapping a little “drink responsibly” disclaimer in tiny letters and hushed tones, after our big, bold cries of, “Hold my drink! Woooooooo!”

On the other hand, we portray opioid abuse as a disturbing descent into hell, and a national emergency.

Perhaps that’s because, except when alcohol abuse results in a sudden, accidental death, or the relatively rare withdrawal-based-heart attack like that suffered by Ellis, death by alcohol is often a long, slow process, while opioid OD seems much more shocking, short-term, and immediate. We’re allowed to see alcohol abuse as amusing…something people might grow out of after a few (or a few years of) wild exploits, whereas opioid abuse seems like a wholly disturbing, sudden collapse into hopelessness.

But we need to look at whether those perceived differences are real, or just a matter of cultural acceptance versus cultural rejection, normalization versus novelty, and indifference versus shock. We, as good ol’ Americans, enjoy our drugs, and, like all things American, X-treme is where it’s at!  Be that a quick-and-painless death by extreme, or a decades-to-death extreme.

So, I’ll just bring this all to a close with a quote from Ellis’ character, Lafeyette…

“All the shit I done in my life – the drugs… the sex… the web site. I did it so my life wouldn’t be a dead-end, and this is where I end up. Now what kind of punchline is that?”

Or perhaps just…

“Ciao, bitches.”

(Drink responsibly, and all that…there are plenty of ways to find help, like via your insurance company, or https://www.aa.org , where you can find local meetings…not that I’m endorsing any particular source of help or another…call 211 or a local crisis line if you want to look for some other options…crisis line locator at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/our-network/ or perhaps https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help –the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, where “find help” is even in the name of the link).

 

LGBTChaos in the Military: Another Trump Distraction?

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It must have come as a surprise to many in the military community to learn that major DoD policy decisions are now being made under advisement of “generals and military experts” who provide secret counsel to a demented old man tapping away at his tiny phone keyboard with his tiny thumbs, as he sits atop his porcelain throne in a 3 a.m. constipation rage.

(Note to President Trump: Steve Bannon staggering drunkenly around the oval office in a Napoleon hat is not a “general”, and your son-in-law Jared is not a “military expert” in spite of your need to believe he is super-human in both physical and mental capacities as a justification for why your favorite daughter chose him over you as a breeding partner.)

Trump trans tweet turd

The fuzzy turd of Donald’s logic.

There is actual evidence, Twitter- and otherwise-based, that Trump supported the rights of the entire LGBTQ community, and advocated for everybody just calming the f*ck down about bathroom laws, and all that other genital-fixated nonsense as recently as last year.

Trump lgbt flag

Hey–look at my totally-not-staged prop-flag!!  I’m so progressive!  Psych!!

But that was before he had the neo-Nazis…er, I mean the Brown shirts…er, I mean the alt-Breit folks whispering in his ear about the threat non-masculine men and masculine women pose to the good ol’ US of A in general, and the U.S. Military in particular.

When President Trump wasn’t trying to play shapeshifter to fit the desires of his loyal, yet indiscriminate, yet hyper-discriminatory base, he shouted out his support for “The Gays” and anybody else who fell anywhere near that camp. President Trump was cool with anybody who wouldn’t get too upset about him grabbing their pussies, or anything else they might potentially bleed out of if the grabbing got a bit too intense. Or so he said.

But now that he knows the terrible expense of gender reassignment surgery, and how that money could be much better spent on his weekend trips to his own resorts, he needs to protect the American taxpayers from such wastefulness, so that he might funnel those funds to himself.

So, f*ck transgender people who would put themselves in harm’s way to serve in the U.S. military! We can safely say they are doing nothing more than risking their lives just to finance their elective surgery, and maybe pass on state secrets to people who shouldn’t have them…like maybe their friends in the Soviet Union…wait…that’s not what we call it anymore…is it?  Anyway, they’re clearly in it for themselves…right?

Given Trump’s history of valiant service to this country, we can trust that he has the best interests of the military community at heart…and the LGBTQ community as well…just like he has always come out in favor of all Americans at all times, and has never used divisiveness and distraction for his own benefit.

Russia what?!?  Russia who?!?

God bless our Commander in Chief…for what it’s worth.

 

A Searchlight Soul

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Chester Bennington completed suicide by hanging on Chris Cornell’s birthday, just over a month after Chris Cornell completed suicide by hanging on the 37th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide by hanging.

For those unfamiliar, Bennington was best known as the lead singer of Linkin Park; Chris Cornell was best known as the lead singer of Soundgarden; and Ian Curtis was best known as lead singer of Joy Division.

Now, Linkin Park’s music makes me want to grind my teeth, spit, and curse—and not in a good way. And I never got into Joy Division beyond owning a ‘greatest hits’ collection for a few years as an undergrad. I am, however, a big fan of Soundgarden, as well as another of Cornell’s bands, Audioslave—not such a big fan that I ever made it to a concert. But, living in Seattle, I would see members of the band at other bands’ shows around town in the way back of the early 90s.

cornell dark

How would I know?  Cornell from ‘Fell on Black Days.’

I have no idea if Cornell’s suicide was related to Curtis’ beyond coincidence. But Bennington’s was directly connected to Cornell’s. They were friends, and, from what I understand, Bennington took Cornell’s death particularly hard. Both Cornell and Bennington had struggled with addiction and mental health issues during their lives.

But the takeaway shouldn’t only be that a life marbled with addiction and mental health issues leads to suicide. That makes it too easy for people to distance themselves from suicide, its causes, and our potential susceptibility to its draw.

In the wake of a loved one’s death, thoughts of suicide can arise or increase, and suicide attempts climb.

In the wake of a loved one’s death from suicide, those thoughts and those attempts climb significantly higher.

There are those who have criticized Curtis’, Cornell’s, and Bennington’s suicides by pointing out that they had achieved success, or had spouses, friends, children…all of which should have somehow prevented them from committing suicide, much less having thoughts of such.

That’s a natural impulse—to want to point out why we never would have killed ourselves in similar circumstances. But it’s also false comfort.

Just try to imagine finding yourself in a space where money, success, and a loving family can be discounted as not providing enough impetus to go on living. Imagine finding yourself in a space where you actually feel the people who care about you most will be better off without you. Imagine being so deep into that thought process that you can’t find your way out—that it seems completely logical—that suicide actually seems like the only rational decision.

I could get into explanations of survivor guilt, or what grief can do to people, or the impact of knowing that a friend reached the conclusion that suicide was an appropriate response to the world around them–a world that you were part of.

But I’d rather you think on how declaring yourself immune to something, insisting you are completely separate from some problem, is the first step to blocking your understanding of that problem…or worse, blocking your compassion toward others affected by that problem. You can feel for the families and friends of those who complete suicide without feeling the need to condemn the dead. That condemnation does nothing to help the grieving, or anybody else, least of all you.

 

 

 

Bumblebees Don’t Care About Your Stupid Photos

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Okay, when I say bumblebees don’t care about your stupid photos, what I really mean is that the bumblebees I know don’t care about my stupid photos.  Maybe the bumblebees you know are willing to pose, and your photos aren’t as stupid as mine.

But the bumblebees I know got sh*t to do.  No time for them to worry about my composition or framing or the light, or even sitting still for just a second or two.

With a seven-grillion megapixel camera built into every phone these days, I suppose I’ve gotten impatient with the whole photography process.  I see something that looks kind of cool, I snap 4,000 pictures in the space of a minute, from a variety of angles, then look through the shots on my computer, and see if anything is good, or at least good enough to be cropped and otherwise manipulated.  If it doesn’t work out, oh well.  Digital trash bin.

Not like the days of Fotomat, or dropping your film roles, carefully tucked into an envelope marked with sensitive personal information, into a department store box only marginally different than a garbage can, just to have those carefully-crafted, preciously staged moments returned to you, developed into blurry 3 x 5 mementos or grainy 4 x 6 keepsakes–suitable for framing or shoebox storage–all at a cost of about $12 a pic (adjusted for inflation).

Regardless, I wanted to get some cool pictures of this bumblebee on my tomatillo plants…because I thought of it one morning on an impulse while I was out watering whatever plants needed it.  Perhaps predictably, most of my shots turned out like this (yes, cropped and otherwise manipulated) one.

Second Best Bee

Yeah, that’s a bee in there…a bumblebee.

I’ve been overjoyed that there is apparently a local hive of these guys who have discovered the container garden on my deck–because there are plenty of them visiting every day, and they are getting at it.  I don’t know that I’d call them peaceful, because they are working so hard, but they seem content in their busy-ness, focused on the task at hand, and not worried about anything that’s not directly interfering.  I really wanted a good shot of one with the full ‘saddlebags’ on its legs.

But, this was the best shot of the bunch, in terms of actually being able to tell it might be some kind of a bee.

Best Bee

Totally a bumblebee. Upside down, with its wings looking like legs or something, but a bumblebee.  You see why this is so great…right?

Since the results of my impromptu bumblebee shoot didn’t convey anything of what I was hoping to capture, I’ll leave you with this.  On the day I took these photos, my brain started singing “Bumblebees on my Tomatillos make me happy”…to the tune of John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, of course.  So, maybe the syllable count is off, but you can try it yourself.  I’ll leave this here for anyone so unfortunate as to not know the song being referenced.

And maybe that doesn’t really speak to you anymore than my rushed photos.  Maybe I should shoot some video next time.

At any rate, happy gardening–with wishes that you are staying contentedly busy, or able to enjoy watching the world work its magic around you.

Good Will Hunting, Dumb Hollywood Therapy

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

I still enjoy Good Will Hunting. Along with a fun romantic comedy, it involves an entertaining dramatic representation of therapy—emphasis on dramatic. I mean, therapist Sean Maguire chokes client Will Hunting in their first ever session, FFS. Despite what the filmmakers would have us believe, this is not a valid technique for establishing rapport or ensuring appropriate transference with clients who have suffered abuse–even when therapist and client are both from south Boston and the client just shit-talked the therapist’s dead wife.

Choking one’s client out is, perhaps, an overly dramatic example of countertransference, Will standing in for anyone who ever questioned Sean’s path in life. But in this instance, it’s used to contrast Sean with the other stereotypically bland, wimpy therapists Will is introduced to—George Plimpton as a self-aggrandizing stuffed shirt of a psychologist/author, who readily succumbs to Will’s mock-flattery, and then is horribly offended when Will calls him out as being gay and closeted; and a hypnotist, who is similarly offended when Will, pretending to be under the throes of hypnosis, begins describing sexual abuse as if suppressed memories are rising to the surface, only to begin reciting the lyrics to, then singing, Afternoon Delight.

Good Will Choking

Good will choking.

Sean is a different kind of therapist, though. Sean is a manly therapist. Sean lifts weights. Sean is a Vietnam Veteran. Sean is a hard drinker. Sean jabs back at Will’s, snidely well-read comments with a mix of self-deprecation and equally snide rejoinders. That is, until Will crosses the line, and Sean throws Will up against the wall of his office and threatens to “end” him. Getting through to Will is going to take a tough guy therapist. Someone Will can identify with. Someone who has no qualms about using physical violence to break the ice with a client who has suffered a childhood of abuse at the hands of, from what little we hear about it, hard-drinking tough guys.

It’s somewhat odd that nobody thinks to see how Will might respond to a female therapist, given that women greatly outnumber men in the therapy field. Gerry Lambeau, Sean’s college roommate, now math professor intent on harnessing Will’s genius, says he approached five therapists with Will before settling on Sean as a last resort. But if there were women among them, we don’t see them. In fact, we don’t really see any women in this film, aside from Skylar, Will’s love interest. Beyond Skylar, the only other woman in the movie is in the form of Sean’s memories of his sleep-farting wife.

Even more odd is that we don’t learn anything much about Will during the therapy sessions. We hear a great deal about Sean’s wife, how he met her, how that connects to a super-important baseball game, her “imperfections”, and how she died. We learn about Sean watching a friend die in combat. We learn about places Sean has traveled.

Until the second-to-last therapy session, Will doesn’t do much, except tell a joke, crack wise, and listen as Sean accuses will of being a chickensh*t little boy who doesn’t know anything about the world, or love. We hear more about Will’s past in one serious conversation he has with Skylar than in all his therapy sessions.

On top of that, Skylar is the only real thing Will ever talks about—but only in one therapy session—or two, if you count the one where he mentions that he broke up with her. Also, Will admits to having been abused in that second-to-last therapy session, but saves most of those details for his serious talk with Skylar.

I suppose much of the impetus behind Robin Williams’ portrayal of a monologuing therapist is some bland idea about the therapy with Will being therapeutic for the therapist, who has checked out of his previously brilliant professional life to teach psych to barely engaged students at Bunker Hill Community College. But the idea that’s conveyed about therapy is that the therapist can drone on about her/his personal life, then challenge the client to change behaviors and attitudes, and that will inspire the client to heal her/his own (similar) conflicts. This is not how therapy works. In fact, I would guess that most people would get more than a little annoyed at a therapist telling personal stories in order to point out how much more s/he’s experienced in life than the client.

Of course, it would make sense that Will would be content to let a therapist run his mouth while Will sits in silence, since Will doesn’t feel he needs therapy, and is only meeting with Sean to satisfy a legal arrangement Lambeau put in place to get Will out of jail. Having dealt with plenty of people in court-mandated therapy, I can say Will’s resistance to engaging in therapy was probably the most realistic aspect of the film.

Still, despite his almost complete lack of engagement with the therapeutic process, Will achieves a “breakthrough” near the end of therapy, all in the space of one session where Sean speaks of his own history of abuse, tells Will repeatedly, “It’s not your fault”, then initiates a hug with Will. Of course, Will then becomes a sobbing mess.  A sobbing mess who is, after all these years, healed.

Good Will Hugging

Good Will Hugging…or, rather, Good Will on the Verge of Hugging.

Sean spells out the idea of such breakthroughs in a lecture he gives to his disinterested community college students in his introductory scene, stating that breakthroughs come from trust built between therapist and client. But because of the way the story plays out, we are presented with the idea that the key to the therapeutic process is therapists sharing their own personal histories, opening up to clients in an astounding absence of professional boundaries. Through such sharing by counselors, along with presenting a few (largely unanswered) challenges to clients, the film suggests that clients will come to a point where everything becomes clear, emotions spill out, the client can go get a high-paying job as a corporate mathematician, and then run off to win back the potential love of said client’s life.

All this because if there’s one thing Hollywood likes to tell us about therapy, it’s that everything falls into place once a person has a moment of emotional catharsis.

Yes, Will’s attachment disorder and fear of abandonment, which Will diagnoses himself (or perhaps, repeats from earlier encounters with therapists in the Foster Care system?) is magically overcome by being a wiseass for several sessions, listening to Sean tell deeply personal stories, and then engaging in a hug with his therapist.

In a sort of defense of the lack of realism in the depiction of the therapy, Will does point out to Sean that, “You f*ckin’ talk more than any other shrink I seen in my life.” To which, Sean replies, “I teach this sh*t, I didn’t say I know how to do it.” Unfortunately, as a defense it is pretty weak. The movie still shows that even poorly-executed therapy gets impressive results, that therapists just have to be a friend to their clients—Will even tells Sean “I thought we were friends” in a scene where Sean kicks him out of his office for resorting to sarcasm in the face of Sean’s questions about what Will wants to do with his life—the only instance of Sean setting any kind of boundaries with Will.

In short, Sean mirrors a lot of the bad behaviors of other adults in Will’s past—aggression, threats, a lack of boundaries, mixed messages, and frequent insults—and it works to heal what those same behaviors, and a heap of violence and abandonment, broke in Will.

Ah, the magic of Hollywood therapy.

And now…one final note about Good Will Hunting–Elliott Smith’s song “Miss Misery” is infinitely better than that terrible, overblown Celine Dion cliché-fest “My Heart Will Go On”—which beat out “Miss Misery” for the Oscar all those years ago, and continues to torture all of us in grocery stores and waiting rooms on a near-daily basis.

Don’t believe me?  Then listen to this…

Gardening Tips for Chaotic Containering

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Who doesn’t love a good gardening metaphor? Okay, I don’t either. That is, I mean I don’t love them, not that I don’t doesn’t love them. They tend to the obvious. Now I guess I’ve got gardening puns in there, too. Tend. Gardens. Get it? Bit of a stretch? Fine.

Actually, I should say this is more about a container-gardening metaphor, since that’s what’s really involved here. Except for the pumpkins, they’re in a small, cleared patch in the front yard, the only place we could put them where they get enough sun and space. Or where they get enough sun until near the end of the growing season, when the towering, menacing evergreens on my neighbor’s property cast shade even to that one, small, usually sunshiny patch. There’s perhaps another metaphor in there about not letting your neighbor’s shade keep you from growing your biggest pumpkins, except that my neighbor’s shade actually does tend to cause problems with the pumpkins getting enough light just when they need it most. So, maybe just stick with the idea that your neighbor’s shade can keep your pumpkins from growing. No solution offered. Of course, maybe I’m just exaggerating the problems my neighbor’s trees are causing me, and I’m just not that good at raising pumpkins.

But I digress.

At the beginning of the (container) gardening season, my (container) garden looked like this.

Deck Garden

Everything all neatly ordered, in nice straight lines.

Except the process of getting to that point was haphazard, more so than usual. Typically, I’ll do a count of the pots, from the previous year, minus any that aren’t going to make it through another season, and make a run to buy soil and enough starts to fill the pots that I’m not going to plant with seeds, along with any replacement pots. I have a general idea of how many of each type of plant I want to grow (mostly tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers).

There are always a few things that throw off the equation—pepper starts that are only sold in four-packs or six-packs, finding a new (to me) breed of tomato that fits into the Northwest growing season. So I make adjustments.

This year, though, I didn’t take the usual steps. I bought plants from five different stores, across several different trips made primarily for groceries, not matching the collection of starts amassing on the dining room table and in the garden window to the number of pots waiting out on the deck.

By the time I finally stopped myself, I was a good ten pots short of what I needed to handle the starts I bought, plus the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and sunflowers I was planning to plant from seeds.

So, I went out and bought more pots, along with some soil, and then some more soil. I didn’t realize until later that the last batch of soil I bought was marked “not recommended for containers.” Since I’d already made it home, and hauled it up onto the deck, I took the warning in the same way I take those frozen food “not recommended for microwave use” warnings that are followed by instructions for microwaving, when I probably should have taken it more like the warnings on dishes that say “not safe for microwave use.” One can hope the end result will be nothing worse than the kind of disappointment one feels on biting into chewy, soggy, unevenly-heated taquitos, rather than the violent arcing and flames of a metal-rimmed dish. At any rate, if I die later this summer from gastrointestinal distress and renal failure brought on by fertilizer-based toxins ingested in a jalapeno pepper, you’ll know what happened.

A few months down the road, the garden now looks like this.

Garden Deck Expanded

The straight lines gone, as the containers had to be staggered, shifted, and spaced further apart to accommodate the garden that once fit onto one end of the dining room table. They’ve encroached further into the territory where the table and chairs are. If I’m going to barbecue, it’s going to get tight.

So, now, to get that metaphor going…we’ve got elements of planning and preparation vs. just getting stuff, orderliness vs. disorganization, efforts to contain and control vs. the expansive power of life requiring us to change and adapt.

Or, we could just abandon the need for a metaphor, and I could just leave you with this profound thought:

That’s the funny thing about growth…things get bigger; they need more space; your deck’s gonna get messed up.

Happy Mid-2017!

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

So, we’ve hit the halfway point of the year. Actually, that happened at noon on July 2nd, 182.5 days into 2017, 182.5 to go.

Back in January, amongst my other more and less comical resolutions, I resolved to write more frequently. That resolution has been a colossal failure to this point in the year. Not counting my year-end/new year resolution posts, I’ve only done one other post in 2017. And that was about a friend who died last spring. Beyond that, I’ve started a dismally small number of pieces that never quite cut through my brain fog to land on the blog—the point of the work dulling, the edge slipping in the process of writing.

Horse in the fog

In other forms of writing–which I also resolved to get back into–aside from work-related stuff, I’ve not made it beyond a short note, or even a thought. I’ve reverted back to the lazy habit of thinking that if something is all that great an idea to pursue, I’ll remember it; and that it will take root and grow until inspiration or some other magical motivational force takes over, snowballing into a finished project, fully formed.

Truth be told, it’s not just the writing.  So far this year, I’ve struggled to motivate myself to do much more than the things I absolutely have to. I enjoy my paid work despite a number of daily challenges I could do without. On my days off, I imagine all the things I will take care of, and then force myself to get through only a fraction of them. Still, if I scale things down to the immediate and personal, I’ve got plenty of those things people call ‘blessings’, but have to fight to maintain proper focus when looking at them.

I know what I need to do to get beyond this malaise. I also know why I’m not—which involves a number of factors. I’ll leave the self-diagnosis, and those elements that fall into ‘exterior locus of control’ out of the picture for now, as well as the tactical therapeutic moves, aka coping skills, I know to engage. I’ll just work on engaging them.

And along with that, I’ll resolve that, at this point in the year, I will knock out two posts a week for the rest of the year, to catch up to my planned schedule. If the posts suck, or are half-formed, well, that’ll have to do. Right now, the point is to get back in the saddle, even if I’m not sure exactly where my horse went.

See You in Hell, My Friend

by

J.C. Schildbach

An impulse buy one morning, exhausted and mildly intoxicated. I worked nights, and so did she—back when we worked at the same place. Whiskey in the morning isn’t all that unusual when morning is your evening…and drinking a lifestyle choice.

I didn’t make the connection until I got it in the mail and thought, ‘Why the hell did I buy this?’

It was a screen-printed sweatshirt, a mock-Christmas sweater, featuring a modified version of the “Sigil of Baphomet”—an inverted pentagram, with the head of “The Goat of Mendes” inside, and the Hebrew for “Leviathan” spelled out, one character between each point of the star.

a-baphomet-xmas

But where was I going to wear this? I wasn’t going to any Christmas parties, and haven’t been in the mood to wear any sort of provocative T-shirts since, maybe, my Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to F*ck” shirt back when I was in college.

Wait…there was also “Thanks a lot, God”…which I printed and sold…a friend’s design.   And a few more are springing up now, including some fart jokes and worse. Let’s just say that within the last decade…wait…I thought of something else. Ok…moving on.

Eventually the fog lifted…Winnie the Pooh worshipping Baphomet…that’s the post she messaged me not four days before she died in her sleep. It came across as a still image, although it was supposed to be a .gif—an altered version of Pooh exercising in front of a mirror.

pooh-baphomet

Her death wasn’t expected at all. She’d had health problems—but not of the terminal kind, as far as I knew—and apparently, as far as she knew.

It wasn’t until roughly two months after she died (and at least 5 months before I ordered that sweatshirt) that the memorial service was held, on her birthday, in the early evening sun of Golden Gardens Park in Seattle.

I was reminded that night that we all know people in different ways. People remembered her as intense and potentially off-putting, while also supportive, nurturing, and teaching. There were tales of wild, dumpster-diving/reach-for-the-brass-ring adventures; and stories of sage advice, a kind word, a wisely snide comment.

Some minor celebrities were there…people whose work I knew, and admired.

I kept quiet…mostly.

The last time I saw her—in real life/face to face—was when we went out to breakfast at a dive up the road from where we worked. She had taken a new position, and was moving off the grave shifts we shared. We were celebrating her new position, and the end of our overnight shifts together.   We enjoyed Bloody Marys, Biscuits and Gravy, and hash browns.

(A few months later, I would move on, too, to another organization entirely).

On that morning I picked up the tab…but only because 1) I have a limited capacity for showing affection/appreciation otherwise, 2) I was essentially her supervisor on those shifts, so it only seemed right, and 3) we had a vague plan for a future gathering where she would get me back.

That final night, while slapping together a playlist on my laptop, I inadvertently started playing a song by Ghost…or Ghost B.C. if that’s how you want to be…”Year Zero”…which our other shift-mate instantly recognized (the chants of ‘demon’ names are hard to miss if you’re familiar with them—Belial, anyone?).

It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with the band. She messaged me later in the day, saying she couldn’t believe she had never heard of them before.

Yes, ours was a soft Satanism, a casual Satanism…something difficult to fathom for those who take matters of eternal life all too seriously. And out of fear of…or concern for…those very same people, I hesitated in completing this post all those months ago…shelved it, sat on it, failed to put it together once and for all.

I neglected to process the grief in a way that made sense to me…or that made sense to the friendship I had with her. I just added it to the list of other head-kicks and gut-punches I was enduring, ignoring, and stuffing…waiting for a time when I assumed the blows would stop landing, and I might be able to crawl off to a dark corner and heal.

For her part, she was Buddhist…or something like it, I suppose. We enjoyed our dark humor more than we ever engaged in any deeply spiritual or religious discussions. I’ve got no legitimate religious/spiritual label for myself. Raised Lutheran, self-converted to agnosticism. My wife accuses me of believing in ghosts, but denying they (or any other spiritual beings or energy) exist.

True enough…but also false enough.

My co-worker and I shared a penchant for self-destruction, and self-sabotage, largely tamed by age to a kind of resignation that we weren’t really capable of being bad people…although we still kept trying to prove to ourselves, and a few select others, in small, stupid ways, that maybe we were.

She was only seven years my senior…so her death still brings shock…even after the steadily-increasing numbers of deaths I experience each year, many involving people right around her age. But most of those are prefaced with diagnoses and attempts at treatment, along with the actual spectre of specific forms of death…usually cancer of one kind or another…not the vague idea of ‘health problems,’ or a good night’s sleep unexpectedly becoming an eternal sleep.

Her picture…the one distributed on postcards at the memorial service, the lyrics to Patti Smith’s “Memorial Song” (“It is true I heard/God is where you are”) printed on the other side, is propped up on my desk at home…a reminder of…what? Not to blow off life? A reminder of the idea that we’re all gonna die sometime…maybe soon?

desk-cyndee

I don’t know

It’s there.

It makes me smile.

Sometimes it scares me into thinking I better get off my ass…but not necessarily acting on that scare.

But, always, it brings me back to that same, old, silly idea…born of tauntaun rides, and sub-par 80s metal…

(Then) I’ll see you in hell, (my friend).

Imagine Han Solo fronting Grim Reaper, or Steve Grimmet, clad in a red, pleather jumpsuit, heading out into the rapidly-dropping temperature of Hoth…or don’t. I really need to learn how to work with Photoshop to get these images out into the world…or not.

At any rate, “See you in hell” isn’t an insult or a threat, but a badge of honor among those who carry themselves as…well, I suppose ‘antiheroes’ is as close as I’m going to get…the people plugging along, trying to do good in spite of themselves…not bucking to be perfect—because who the hell cares about that?—but struggling to be human in a way that supports all other humans, or as many of them as we can tolerate, and…well…all those other damned living things.

So, yeah…

I’ll see you in hell, my friend.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions 2017

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Is there a statute of limitations on when New Year’s resolutions just become resolutions? I’m going to go with two weeks, since that allows me to fit this in.

In years past, the resolutions have been (intended as) a comedic venture, topped off with a dollop of at least one sincere resolution. But 2017 is arriving without a lot of my usual smartass spirit. Personally, things are moving in some pretty positive directions, quelling some of my natural tendency toward smarmy negativity. On a larger scale, things are potentially very scary, with all manner of sleazy, old (mostly white) men trying to bankrupt/kill/crap on everybody and everything that they can…and maybe, in light of recent allegations, also trying to get peed on.

I’ll try to keep it light and all, but…uh…whatever…here are my New Year’s resolutions for 2017…

  1. Use real bookmarks, ffs. Yeah, so this hardly seems like an ambitious goal. But I figure, why not start with something totally doable. See, whenever I start up a new book, I tend to grab the nearest, least necessary (for other purposes) flat item to use as a bookmark. Recently, this has begun bothering me in increasing degrees, as if it is some baseline, pointing out my overall laziness—especially since I actually own numerous bookmarks—from the kind of free things that come from book stores or in the mail, to fancy, laminated, yarn-tassled, and even metal bookmarks, stamped with inspirational quotes and whatnot. If I’m going to continue resisting the encroaching press of digital reading devices in favor of real paper-and— well, ‘board’ doesn’t exactly sound right, as in ‘board books’—but books with paper and covers of various substances, mostly derived from trees and other plants—then I can at least take the time to pull a decent bookmark from my scattered collection to honor the passing of the pages.
  1. Be in the world…at least a little more. One of those aforementioned positive personal changes is that I will be moving back to a schedule where I will be awake at semi-normal hours, and off work at hours when some other people I might want to see might also not be stuck at work. When your schedule is, as mine has been for the last 13+ months, overnight, including weekends, you don’t tend to just drop into parties, or dash out for a hike or a movie or a meal because a friend or two found themselves with some free time. You tend to spend your days off trying to force yourself into wakefulness during enough daytime hours that you can take a stab—or at least a weak swing—at normalcy…normalcy being things like not drinking a beer or three at 8:00 a.m., because that’s when you’re winding down from work…normalcy being things like not having to take a vacation day or two just to see some friends who live in the same flipping town, but don’t live on the same schedule as bats and opossums…normalcy being able to know for sure whether your months-long feeling of fatigue and dread is really something akin to clinical depression, or just the result of your work schedule. Looking forward to knowing that staying up late, or a lack of sleep, is more a lifestyle choice than a career-centered choice.
  1. Be in the world…like, beyond the personal. I realized recently that all my “community involvement” in recent years has slipped down into the realm of cash donations, and the occasional phone call or (usually online) petition. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. I sign up for regular online donations with various organizations…at least until the ‘card on file’ has to be replaced due to security breaches, or one of numerous other reasons banks use to perpetually switch out the cards they issue, and I find myself ignoring the emails about my payments not processing. Still, there was a time…like the bulk of my life prior to my later-in-life stint in grad school, where I was engaged with the people around me…all trying to make a difference and shit. I rode along with my mom doing meals-on-wheels when I was in elementary school. In fact, the bulk of my pre-adult “community involvement” was whatever my mom enlisted me to do…and my mom’s level of community service was, and still is, legendary—well, at least among a cluster of Lutherans in suburban Oregon and at least a few other far-flung places. As a parent, I obsessively volunteered at the kid’s school(s)—and occasionally with her sports teams—up until she hit Jr. High–because, for most of that time, I was working out of my home—until that previously mentioned grad school stint hit. Did I mention I’ve never been a particularly high-energy person? Anyway, I want to find some way back into community involvement…charity or not…although my adjusted schedule still might make that a bit tricky…unless I want to donate time in the mornings before I go to work. Maybe I’ll just make sure I reinstate all those security-threatened, lapsed payments to various organizations.
don-bob-gor-hair

–Will the presence of this ^…make this ^ more popular?  …Or should I just stick with this ^?

  1. Go full Bob’s Big Boy with the hair. I feel like I might be cribbing this from past years’ resolutions. I almost always have some kind of hair-based New Year’s resolution, and really, you can only make so many different hair-based resolutions when you’re a guy working an office-casual job. Anyway, if you’ve ever seen the mascot for Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, you know that his thick head of hair involves a part on one side, leading into a wave that culminates in something that—well, looks like an actual wave—like, on the ocean—or maybe like a shark fin and its wake as it cuts through the water. At any rate, I usually blow off getting my hair cut until I’ve got that basic Bob’s Big Boy thing starting up. Once my, as Frieda would say, naturally curly hair (although, really it’s more naturally wavy)—makes it past the 2.5-inch mark, every strand that is able clusters into a group, and fights to look like a surfer’s dream…or surfer’s nightmare…in fibrous protein form. With the Donald moving into the Presidency, sporting that ridiculous, spun-candied-glass, televangelist-inspired, hairdresser’s nightmare on top of his head, I figure my Big Boy wave will come into fashion—or serve as a sign of the impressive power that I wield. In conversation, I may have to start spitting out sentences more incoherent than those that I usually use (no small feat), so that people will realize I have a power haircut a la Tyrannosaurus Rump, and that it’s not just more of my lackadaisical grooming combined with sleep-deprived babbling. Either that, or I’ll just start getting it cut more often, so I don’t have to deal with the waves at all, and will only have to endure M telling me my latest haircut makes me look like a gorilla. But, secretly, I think she likes my gorilla look, so…

Finally…

  1. Write more, write often, write regularly—or alternately—Less wasting time on social media…more clogging up my small corner of social media (as well as writing for reasons beyond social media). When I started the blog, the idea was to do a post a week…I figured that was a fairly modest goal, although coming up with topics, and writing anything that I feel like sharing can be quite the challenge at times. 2016 proved exceptionally rough, since upwards of 70% of all media attention was devoted to some assclown who is apparently about to be the most powerful man in the world, finally matching his beliefs about himself with a cliché people frequently use about the job he is about to take over. Of course, that only left 30% of media attention to be divvied up between things Kardashian, things involving lesser reality-TV stars, and every other thing happening in the world. Whatever the specific ratios, it was difficult finding the motivation to knock out pieces about how people should maybe not use mental-health diagnoses as insults, and perhaps try to make it a bit more difficult for people in the U.S. to shoot each other, when that aforementioned assclown was able to get so much media attention by suggesting that insults are the answer, and violence and vindictiveness are just good ol’ American solutions to political problems. So, yeah–may have to tune a lot of that out, to prevent the reeking verbal diarrhea of short-fingered vulgarians from getting me down, and allowing me to count myself out.

Well, so much for keeping it light. Umm…is it too late to say ‘Happy New Year’?

2016 Resolutions in Review

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

It’s time, once again, to take a look back at the year…or a look back at things I said at the beginning of the year, about what I intended to do this year…and rate just how well I did at fulfilling those intentions.

So, without further ado, here are those resolutions, and what I did about them.

Resolution 1: Be less informed. This resolution was basically a response to the constant deluge of stupidity, in the form of “news”, that was Donald Tyrannosaurus Rump—and the need to step away from that from time to time. Granted, while it was nearly impossible to escape the wall-to-wall coverage, in almost all forms of media, of T. Rump’s every infantile Twitter rant, as well as the ugliness of his words in general, and his face in particular, it was also almost impossible to keep up with the sheer number of tantrums he threw…threw all the way to the mother-grabbing White House. Now, thanks to a cluster of citizens with a firm grasp on fictionalized information, a deep sense of misplaced anger, and an enthusiastic appreciation of childish insults and threats (so long as those insults and threats are directed at “others”), combined with numerous additional factors, not the least of which is citizens who decided it was more entertaining to allow the world’s deadliest military and largest economy to be turned over to a nightmarish clown lacking the appropriate level of self control required to manage a Twitter account, than it was to vote, we get to listen to this cotton-candy-coiffed, deranged man-baby every day for the next four years…assuming he doesn’t get us all killed sometime before then. I’d call this resolution a draw in that I was able to tune it out from time to time, despite its ubiquity, if it weren’t for the fact that we’re all losers in this scenario. But, what the hell, the U.S. was really only an experiment in democracy anyway.

bangles-clock

Time, time, time…look what’s become of…well, all this schtuff.

Resolution 2: Take better care of my toenails. Well, this falls into a much lighter category than Resolution 1. And, I’m happy to report, it was a great success…well, by my standards anyway. Of course, my standards for toenail hygiene are somewhere between those of the ‘Lost Boys’ (the vampires, not Peter Pan’s young chums) and your average elderly sloth (the rainforest beasts, not your lazy relatives). The success of this resolution can be attributed to the fact that, early in the year, I bought a really kickass set of nail clippers. I won’t get into how a Squatty Potty ™ may have also played a significant role in making this resolution a big win.  But, there you have it.

Resolution 3: Read books, not Internet comments sections. In explaining this resolution last year, I mentioned an “unhealthy addiction to reading the comments sections following articles on the Internet.” Thing is, though, you don’t just resolve to stop an addiction. An addiction can mar your brain, and lead you in devastating loops of destructive behavior. That said, I’m marginally better at walking away from comments sections after I get that initial taste. But steering clear entirely…nope. As for reading more books…I did a terrible job of tracking my reading on Goodreads this year…and since the Internet has become a substitute for me remembering anything…I’m just going to say, I read plenty of good stuff. There were even long stretches of days where I would get up, make some coffee, and read through at least one chapter–each– of two different books before accomplishing anything else with my day. Strangely enough, I read a number of autobiographical and clinical works involving addiction and mental illness, as well as plenty of fiction involving gods fighting gods fighting humans, and other generally apocalyptic funfests. At this time, I’m actively reading four different books, less actively reading at least three others, and may have abandoned another two or three altogether, so…uh…I’ll get back to you (or not) when I have a better, more quantifiable answer than all that.

Resolution 4: Enjoy what I ingest. The first thing that came to mind when I considered this resolution was that I repeatedly ordered cases of Soylent from Amazon. That is not a solid indication that I was taking the time to really enjoy the preparation and consumption of food. It is a pretty clear indication that I found a workaround for the annoying task of eating—substituting a pre-packaged, liquid, protein-based meal for actual food. Hell, the commercials for Soylent pushed it as a way to save all that wasted time that’s involved in eating lunch. Beyond that, I can say that I did enjoy plenty of meals throughout the year, prepared by the wife, the kid, friends, family, various professionals, and myself…most recently, a wonderful Italian Christmas stew (okay, I don’t know if ‘Christmas’ is really part of the name of that dish). There was happy hour at an Irish pub on the Washington coast where we purchased a yet-to-be-obeyed Irish cookbook, Omakase on our anniversary, and a different form of omakase at a different restaurant for the kid’s graduation. Weird weather made for a strange gardening experience over the spring, summer, and fall–massive tomato bushes in constant need of trimming, that didn’t start producing fruit until late July, overly productive cucumber plants, barely-productive bell pepper plants, an abundance of shishito peppers that we’re still working through, and a months-long trickle of snap-peas. Oh…there was also that ‘let’s see if we can grow corn in containers’ experiment, which was semi-successful, in that we could grow corn…but had no idea when to harvest it, as it never really got “corn-sized.” But, triumph of triumphs, I actually managed, after many years of on-again/off-again attempts at growing pumpkins, to produce a few gourds big enough for the Halloween knife and fire. But, wait—this was supposed to be about eating and enjoying. I’ll count this a success, on many fronts, including a deep reduction in the drunken consumption of frozen pizzas and chili dogs, and a sharp uptick in the consumption of smoothies and salads…drunken and not. And, hell, the Soylent was even much better than a lot of things I could’ve been ingesting, so…

That brings us to…

Resolution 5: More pretty bows?

Okay, here is where the whole concept of measurable goals really becomes important…or fails to become important. This ‘concept’ of ‘more pretty bows’ came to me in what I thought might be a moment of true inspiration. But I didn’t really have a solid idea of what it meant, or how to achieve it. I made a little meme-ish thing (an earth-and-metallic-toned photograph of bows, with greyish letters spelling out ‘more pretty bows’) that I posted at my desk at work…y’know, my real job. But I realized just a bit ago, that when I re-located cubicles, I had lost or tossed that little meme-ish thing. It’s probably stuck to the back of some other thing that’s still at my desk. Or it may have been stuck to the back of some other thing that I threw away. But…as much as it was supposed to be about prettying things up, or appreciating beauty, or whatever…it really didn’t amount to much. I won’t call this a failure. But I won’t call it a success either. So, I suppose it’s like most of life. Which is beautiful enough in its not-success/not-failure. Or is that its not-failure/not success? Or is it just failure that’s going unacknowledged? Or success that’s going unacknowledged?  All of which is beautiful in itself…or not.

Anyway, peace out, 2016. Smell ya’ later. You were a year.