America we’ve given you all and that’s not nothing (or Narcissus needs a drink)

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America
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
*
*
*

I have spent a lot of time reading about narcissism lately. I have my reasons I won’t go into here. An unexpected outcome of this research is the realization almost every politician in the Democratic primary is above average on the naricissim spectrum, some just as high as Trump. One in particular. The one who had to drop his bid in 1988 because he was exposed as a pathological liar and plagiarist. The one whose toxic masculinity led him to challenge someone to a fist fight recently. The one who has assured the billionaires “nothing will change.” And a relationship with a narcissist, my dear reader, only ends one of two ways: you wake up and leave or they suck the life out of you. The Democratic electorate has chosen the latter. It is narcissist versus narcissist in 2020 (it has been before, to be fair) . We will all lose no matter which one wins. If Biden wins, we are left with an America still under the conditions that created Trump and we will either get another Trump or …. Trump. Do you really think leaving the White House will make Trump go away? He has created a movement and they will follow him where he leads. The presidency,  my dear reader, may become significantly less relevant. The question is, will the movement Bernie is driving remain intact to counter it?

 

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I think of the people most affected by all this and I cry. My addiction patients in rural Pennsylvania, their children. They don’t even realize just how different much of America is living. And most of America doesn’t realize how they’re living. If they did, I’d like to think things would be different. But narcissists are very good at gaslighting and projecting and lying. Lying especially. Lots of lying. And if you’re a decent, feeling, empathetic human being, it is hard to resist. It is hard for for you to conceive that such a person could exist. Someone with no empathy and no remorse. Entirely self serving with nothing to limit what they’ll do to get it. Try to imagine. It should scare you. Terrify you.

I believe most Americans are decent people trying to get by in the face of a lot of hardship. I see it in my office everyday. Not just my most vulnerable patients, my middle class medical marijuana patients too. The cop with PTSD who had to retire because of it and now has no insurance or income to pay for the therapy he so badly needs. The single mom of an adult son with autism, trying to get services that aren’t there, trapped in her house. Chronic pain patients that were abruptly kicked off their pain meds once doctors started facing consequences for over-prescribing, not offered any help for withdrawal or to manage their pain. And I see the upper middle class patients who benefit from the system but have so much anxiety and depression, the money does them no good. And still they hold onto it tightly, unwilling to see letting some of it go would not only save so many struggling; it would save them too.

Greed is an illness. An ugly dark emptiness that cannot be filled and will not stop making you hunger for more. Like any addiction. Are the heads of the pharmaceutical companieds just projecting then? Turning so many into addicts so they can see themselves? And Trump, who will never have enough cheering angry supporters or enough money. He pulls the worst from us, feeding off negative emotions and chaos as narcissists do. Projecting onto America the darkness inside of him.

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I do not mean for this post to sadden you or leave you feeling hopeless. Indeed, that is exactly what a narcissist wants. I want you to see that once you know you’re dealing with a narcissist, you begin your steps towards recovery. Leaving is not easy. They will try to suck you back in. They will love bomb you, bring you flowers and tell you how wonderful you are. But if you stay strong, it gets easier in time. And the best part? The thing narcissists hate most is someone who heals and is happy and strong. Our revenge would be a healthcare system that takes care of us, universal childcare, a Green New Deal, a living wage, an end to mass incarceration. Our revenge would be joy. Like an army of Care Bears shooting out beams of love and kindness and hope from our chests. They would keep trying, but with no one to reflect their image back to them, narcissists wither. Like Narcissist himself, when the reflecting pool they’re so addicted to dries up, so do they. And we, America, will have won.

***

America, by Allen Ginsburg

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that jetplanes 1400 miles an hour and twentyfive-thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.
America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they’re all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother Bloor the Silk-strikers’ Ewig-Weibliche made me cry I once saw the Yiddish orator Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don’t really want to go to war.
America its them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
Berkeley, January 17, 1956

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight (or, the fault in our star)

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losing my religion:  southern term for losing one’s temper, “flying off the handle,” going insane  etc. Note that the R.E.M. song of this title has nothing to do with religion, despite the common misinterpretation of the phrase.

Oh, life is bigger
It’s bigger
Than you and you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

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I don’t remember which one became my patient first. I think it was Him. But it could have been Her. He was initially more memorable. He liked to show me pictures. Of his woodworking and antiques he’d restored. Of his boys. Of the squirrels they’d killed that year. I asked him not to show me the squirrels but he did anyway. She was quiet. Told me about the jewelry she made and the things she grew in her garden and foraged for in the forest. I do remember the day I realized they were a couple. That he was the he she talked about and she was the she he talked about. The “Ohhhhh” moment. The “oh wait, she’s *that* She and he’s *that* He!” It happens a lot in my rural practice. Six degrees of separation is not a thing in rural northwest Pennsylvania. It’s more like two.
*
They started coming to their appointments together eventually. They would tell me about their garden and their yard and the retaining wall they were battling to put up. And they would tell me about things addiction patients in rural northwest Pennsylvania tell you about. Meth and heroin and jail and stealing from the people you love and five year old kids calling 911 when their mom overdoses. They’d both been clean a long time, but everyone had relatives and friends still lost in it. They were no exception.
*
They gave me things. A piece of amethyst they’d hunted and extracted themselves. A small glass vase with a flower from her garden. She gave me gardening tips, foraging tips, taught me some herbalism.
*
They were always late. Always. That was a given. And that was okay. As long as they came. Sometimes they mixed up their days and we’d get a call a couple days later and fit them in the schedule for another day. I always held my breath until they called. Because you never know. You never really know if something didn’t happen and if they’re really all right.
*
And so it happened that they came in a week or so after their appointment in early February. I wasn’t at my office in northwest PA so they came to my office in Verona. Sam got to meet them for the first time. They got to see my other office, which is fairy tale themed. I knew she’d like it.
*
She wasn’t herself that day, though. She was sad. So damn sad. He had to talk for her for most of the appointment because she couldn’t stop crying. She’d been depressed. But it was more than that. She’d been having pain in her side a while now and it was getting worse. She’d gone to the ER and they’d drawn blood work which came back with an abnormality but when they tried to get an IV in so they could run some imaging tests, the nurse couldn’t get it. They kept poking her over and over and she ended up leaving the ER.
*
I asked her some questions to see if I thought she needed to go to the ER right now (it had been a couple days since leaving the ER and she hadn’t gone back yet). Based on her answers I told her I didn’t think it was an emergency but she needed to go back and get the test done. I said maybe she could try going to a different ER where the nurses were better. We talked about her depression and I started her on an antidepressant and told her to email me in a couple weeks to let me know if it seemed to be helping at all so we could work on the dosing.
*
I had a crystal sitting there. Malachite. A pretty dark green stone. I’d been feeling for a couple of days I was supposed to do something with it. An odd feeling kind of hard to describe. Like, restlessness. But with a stone. And before she left I took it and said, here, I want you to have this. And she told me she had something for me too. It was a necklace she’d made but she’d felt timid about giving it to me. But when I gave her the crystal, she said, she felt okay to give me the necklace.
*
He said, (or maybe she said?) that it was fitting because it had a star on it and pointed to my walls. The room we were in has a Sleeping Beauty theme and is covered in stars. (It is based off something I wrote about kids with PANDAS battling the disorder and emerging from it, like sleeping beauties waking up). I took it and told her I loved it. And I did. When I went to put it on, the chain broke, so I put it in my pocket. My back jeans pocket. And we walked out together and said our goodbyes. And Sam said they were sweet and I said I was worried about her. And I was.
*
Somewhere between there and my kitchen, I lost it. The necklace, that is. I realized it later that night and told myself, it’s here somewhere. It’s not gone. It hasn’t fallen off planet Earth. You’ll find it (this is the same thing I say to my children when they are panicking over something they’ve lost. I find it is helpful to give myself the same talks I give them pretty often). I looked a couple places I thought it must be (the cubby over my coat hook by the front door, the back pocket of those jeans I’d since thrown in the hamper) but it wasn’t. Over the next few days I looked a few other places and it wasn’t there either. I tried to remain calm.
*
Then a week later I found it. I was trying to dig a quarter out of my left coat pocket for a cashier, in line ahead of a grumpy resentful old man in the Giant Eagle “12 Items or Fewer” lane and I pulled it out instead. I was relieved. He didn’t care. At all.
*
I went to coffee with a friend that morning (please note: this is a rare occurrence) and stopped in at the crystal shop across the street (please note: this is not a rare occurrence). It had been quite a while since I’d received that amethyst. A lot had changed. And I now frequented the local crystal shop (thus, the malachite). I was browsing on this particular day and saw a necklace with a stone in it that looked like the one my patient had given me. I excitedly drew the necklace from my left pocket and held it up side by side to the other and they were an exact match. I told the women in the shop the story of the necklace and asked what the crystal was. They told me and I asked if I could take the little card that had the name of it and its meaning and they said yes. And they said how sweet it was my patient had made me a necklace. And I said, yes she’s very sweet.
*
The next day I was answering the phone (Sam was out of town and I was like a dad on a laundry detergent commercial, drowning in ineptness with a lost look on my face, trying to perform basic office functions). I was relieved when a familiar voice spoke back to me. It was him. And then it happened. One of those moments. One of those moments that create a Before and After in your life. He told me she had cancer. One of the really bad ones. There’s no such thing as a good cancer. But there are such things as really bad ones. That’s what she had. I stopped breathing for a few seconds. Parastalsis slowed. I got goosebumps (the medical term for that is piloerection. It’s the same thing that makes a porcupine’s quills stand up when it sees a predator. It’s supposed to make us look bigger and scarier, in theory. It does not, in practice). In my head I thought, “Fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkk.” I did not say this to him. I asked how she was. I asked him a series of questions trying to get more medical type details. I tried to get him to say something that would make me realize he’d gotten it wrong and it wasn’t actually cancer. It didn’t work. He said she was resting but I should call her later. I said I would. Even though I was scared to. Because there’s nothing really great you can say. Because you’re a doctor and you’re supposed to fix people and this is not something you can fix.
*
Her palliative care doctor called a little while later while I was on the other line with someone considering making a medical marijuana appointment for anxiety. They had a hundred questions and, in the end, said they’d call back once they decided what to do. I listened to his voicemail and frantically wrote down his number and called him right back. He was nice. God help me, he was a genuinely nice, caring doctor. If you knew doctors like I know doctors, the way they actually talk when there aren’t patients around, you’d know how rare a thing that is. He hadn’t seen her yet (the appointment was for the next day) but he wanted to touch base with me since I prescribe her a controlled substance and his role was pain management (also prescribed substances).
*
When I talked to her that night (well, to her voicemail), I let her know the pain doc was good people and would take good care of her. And he did. We have texted and talked since then, each step along the way, She and I. He and I. And even the palliative doc and I. There is more to it than this, various details you might not expect. But the heart of it is this: a really beautiful human being is sick with something she likely won’t survive. She is in a lot of pain. And the man who loves her is doing an amazing job supporting her through it. He is an unlikely romantic hero. Not a sappy, trite one. A genuine romantic hero. And she is a warrior. Strong and smart and intuitive and kind and creative and honest. And she is so damn young. Too damn young for this shit.
*
And so it was that I came to wear a star necklace everyday (I ordered a new chain for it the day he called with the news. I kept it in my pocket until the chain arrived). And so it was that I came to wear that necklace the night I ran into a good Christian I know.
*
The Good Christian looked at it in horror. Genuine fear in his eyes. And he said, “Have you lost Jesus?” He was distressed. I looked at him and said, “What?” And he pointed to my necklace and said it was a witch’s necklace, a Wiccan necklace. I said, it’s a star. A patient made it for me. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost Jesus. He looked… freaked the hell out.
*
And I thought of the word the palliative care doctor had used when he told me about her CT scan. Innumerable mets. Meaning, the cancer had spread to so many spots, the radiologist gave up counting. I remember when he told me that I wondered, at what point do they stop counting? 10, 20, 100? Maybe that particular radiologist was lazy and she really only has 3. But that’s not likely. When he used that word, innumerable, the hope I’d held out faded away. And I began to focus on how we could all support her in finding peace and being comfortable and doing the things with her last months she’d like to do. Because, lets be honest, doctors very rarely actually fix patients anyway. So maybe this very nice palliative care doctor and I could help her with these things. Hopefully I could be of use.
*
I thought of that word, innumerable. And I thought of the cancer growing inside her. And about how brave she is. And how sweet her he is. And I looked at this Good Christian and saw something in him. A different kind of cancer. One with innumerable mets to the soul. Dark and sticky. Inoperable. Incurable.
*
And I thought, this patient knows more about Jesus than you ever will. Because Jesus is love. And she is full of love. And she has brought joy and love to so many people. And she will keep doing that. Despite it all. She will keep inspiring other people to love. And she knows that I love her. And she lets me love her. And loves me back.
*
And that, dear reader, is not something the Good Christian is capable of. Not something he even understands. And that is why a necklace can inspire a look of dread and disgust in him. A star. An innocent little star.
*
I told my kids a bedtime story tonight. The boy in the story was looking up at the night sky when a shooting star appeared. My daughter got so excited and was urgently shouting “make a wish quick! Before it’s gone!” She was nervous the boy in the story would miss it. Because everyone knows if you make a wish on a shooting star, it comes true. Because that is what stars are for. To wish upon, to make our dreams come true as we sleep beneath their lovely glow. They’re magical. And shooting stars? They’re actually little burning meteors,  magical, glowing rocks. Kind of like amethyst or malachite.
*
If taking comfort in that means I’ve lost Jesus, dear reader, then consider me lost. Because not every sleeping beauty wakes back up at the end of the story. Sometimes her true love kisses her goodnight one last time. And releases her to shine down on us and remind us of who we are, innumerable stars in an endless universe connected to one another always.

 

***

Oh, life is bigger
It’s bigger
Than you and you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up
That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up
Consider this
Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
But that was just a dream
That was just a dream
That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
But that was just a dream
Try, cry
Why try?
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream

Good Friends Are Hard to Find (or, My Brother from Another Mother) (or, Tacos Fall Apart Sometimes and We Still Love Them)

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It’s the Kalenda of March today. You may have heard of the Ides of March (especially if you took Latin at Indiana Senior High like I did) but probably not the Kalends of March. It is the first day of the month. It comes from the same roots as the word calendar (thank you, Latin class. You rock) and was part of the newly formed Roman calendar which was no longer lunar like all those before it (see, for instance, the Hebrew calendar which leads to holidays falling on different days each year). The lunar year is made up of equal months that follow the waxing and waning moon. The Roman calendar had to make up the idea of a Leap Year to reconcile its imperfection.

And so here we are on the Kalends of March, the day after February 29th. That pesky day that tries to make up for the illogic of the Roman calendar. The moon and it’s cycles have always been linked to the Divine Feminine and Nature, so it is no surprise the Romans wanted it squashed. 

March is my birthday month. I will be 41 on the 24th, a few days after the spring solstice. My 40th year has been intense, to say the least.

Some good, some bad, most of it both. 

With me through all the ups and downs have been a few people I managed to stay close to despite the relative isolation I found myself in in recent years. One is a wonderful fellow PANDAS mom, one a good friend from college who was with me through the Jeremy ordeal, and one is my friend and coworker, Sam (he says I can tell you his name. I always get consent, dear reader).

Sam came to my practice at the suggestion of my husband. He recruited him. And for that I am eternally grateful. Sam is warm and sunny and kind and just fills you with positive energy from the second you meet him, whether by person or over the phone as many of our patients do. I cannot tell you how many patients pause in their appointments and say, I have to tell you Sam is wonderful. I say, oh I know! And they look at me very seriously and say, No, I mean it. Truly wonderful, (as though I’m not convinced) I was so nervous when I called here and he made me feel so comfortable and so much better. Never let that one go! I’ve even had patients try to hire him away from me (no joke). They send him chocolate covered strawberries and give him birthday gifts. When I told our grove city patients, who have only talked to Sam on the phone since he doesn’t come up to the grove city office with me, that he was coming up in March, it was like I’d told them a celebrity was coming. The excitement was palpable and real. 

Sam was with me through a lot this year and always there however I needed him to be. He never tried to tell me what to do as I tortured over some big decisions. He listened. He heard me and allowed me to talk it out to figure out the answers I already knew deep inside. He laughed with me. He sat with me as I cried. We drank champagne sometimes; other times we talked about how damn unfair some of our patients lives are and how we wish we could do more. 

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More than once he has run something badly needed to my house at 10 at night (not sure what my neighbors thought he was putting in my mailbox but I can assure you it was all perfectly legal). More than once he has either run my son Mies to school when he missed his van, run my office with me completely unavailable tied up in court, run inconvenient errands for me or ordered me rose water pistachio ice cream (vegan if course) when I really really needed it (and run it over to my house of course. The man runs). 

Sometimes we bitch about men together, even though Sam is a man. Sometimes he lets me bitch about women to him, even though I am myself in fact a woman. I know there’s nothing I can say to Sam that will make him judge me or love me any less. (Well maybe there’s something but it would have to be pretty extreme). 

Sam has reminded me I am a good person. That there are parts of myself I’ve pushed down so many years that deserved to rise back to the surface. That it’s okay to be a contradiction. That it’s okay to not be okay. Because everything is going to be okay. And it is. 

So it is not just female friendship I am reveling in now. The Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine are in us all. We must embrace both. Sam does that beautifully. He is a fabulous moon, orbiting with me. I no longer orbit any person. But I make my way through space , through the cycles, pulling the tide in and out, with some wonderful fellow celestial bodies. You can keep your Leap Day. We will take the solstice and the mother moon (and some champagne lunches from time to time).

Love that seeps into your marrow

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I am sitting here at my old dining room table but my mind is somewhere else. This table that once held so much meaning, about the past and about the future, now feels so hollow and dead. This house is no longer my home. Was it ever? It was lonely. Lonely house, lonely bed, lonely heart. How different things are now.

My heart is full. My bed no longer feels lonely. My house is very much a warm and cozy home. Something this house never was. 

Couple at a table holding hands

Lesbian couple at a table holding hands

As I wrote about here, I have recently found a soul connection with a good female friend. It is a spiritual thing, love. When you are truly connected, feel known and understood, it is not something of the surface. Not hollow. It goes into your heart and soul and seeps deep into your bones to the marrow, into the osteocytes and osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Into the matrix of your skeleton, changing your vibration and energy and that of those around you. It is contagious. It resonates through my house and my children. 

And so my mind is somewhere else as I sit at this table I once sat at, but which was never mine. A table where many words were spoken but few actually heard. We have a very different table now. One where all of us are heard. And none of us are alone.

A Return to Intimacy

I haven’t had female friends in a while. Like, a while a while. I’ve been living a fairly isolated life which is now expanding out into the world. I have several good male friends but now, for the first time in a long time, I have a good female friend. The intimacy and joy is magical. I am vulnerable, I am known. And that, after all, is what all of us are searching for.

We have raised little girls for so long to wait for their Prince Charming to complete them, but women hold a special place that men cannot. For so long, we have encouraged competition and division. Why? Because there is so much power in solidarity. So much power in vulnerability and intimacy and affection among women. To not isolate ourselves in marriage to the exclusion of female friendship is powerful and dangerous.

She is not Prince Charming. She is a fellow Princess. And I am so lucky to have her. And she me. If Prince Charming rides by we’ll probably ask him to come back after we’re done talking. Or maybe not at all. Because we are enough.

Love Written on the Hands That Hung the Stars

There were scars before my scars
Love written on the hands that hung the stars

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I have a routine for my medical marijuana appointments. A bit of a script. My receptionist-slash-friend I’m sure gets sick of hearing a muffled version of it through the door a dozen times a day. I was back in the office today for the first time in two weeks and I fell right back into it. It concludes with a brief education on the different forms of marijuana offered at the dispensary (… the third form is a tincture. It’s a liquid form that sprays or drops into your mouth under your tongue and absorbs in through the inside lining of your mouth. It takes fifteen minutes to kick in and lasts about 3-4 hours. It’s a discrete form to use if you’re in a situation where you wouldn’t want to be vaping and it’s easy to get small, tightly controlled doses…). There are visual aids. I am very attached to them. As I was going through them today I noticed with embarrassment that my nails are covered in sloppy, chipped pink nail polish. I tried to kind of fold in the top of my finger at the knuckle but it looked awkward so I told myself patients really aren’t focused on nail cosmetics in such a moment and I moved on.

I let my daughter paint my nails New Year’s Eve after I finished painting hers. I offered to paint hers to help her calm down. I don’t remember what she was upset about but painting her nails did the trick. Letting her paint mine took her from okay to happy. She’s in a flare of her autoimmune condition right now, so it was a gift to see her smile.

I’m in a time of transition right now and life is not easy. Transition isn’t supposed to be easy. I’m kind of sick of recurrent transitions at this point to be honest with you, but it is what it is.

I find myself in a situation I have never been in in the forty years I’ve been alive: I am not living with anyone who is constantly gaslighting me. Stop and consider that. I am not walking on eggshells and neither are my kids. Which means I’m not walking on eggshells to keep the gaslighter happy but I’m also not walking on eggshells trying to protect my kids from the gaslighter. There’s no eggs, folks. Just hardwood and recently installed shag carpeting that is really quite nice and soft. We all walk around the house, run even, and there isn’t a yolk in sight. No little bits of shell sticking to the side of the bowl or hiding in our scrambled eggs. Nada.

We are light. We are safe. Even when we are tired and stressed and hangry, we are free. Free to feel whatever it is we’re feeling and talk about it and draw about it and write about it. Safe in knowing we can lose our temper and then feel bad and apologize and we will forgive each other and talk about it and things will be okay. We will still love each other. We can be vulnerable. We can say what it is we want and know we won’t be shamed for it. (We might not get it, but we won’t be judged for wanting it and asking for it). We can try out different looks and hobbies and foods and goals and dreams and then change our minds and no one gets upset. We have privacy and boundaries.

I have never had this and neither have my kids and that’s incredibly fucked up. Period. I literally didn’t realize it was possible to live this way. For forty years. It’s like being trapped in a one woman cult. At least in a cult you have someone with you.

The center of our family is no longer a gaslighter that we must keep balanced. We are the center of our family, all of us. Each of us gets to be our own person.

I need to tell you the difference this has made.

Our immune systems function better. Our anxiety has plummeted. The picky eaters are much less picky. The anger levels are down. We sleep better. All four of the kids have noticeably matured. Things flow like they’ve never flowed.

We have people back in our lives we couldn’t have before. Good people. We are not an isolated cult anymore.

I’ve found myself listening to the same music I did ten years ago, during the time I met my most recent gaslighter. During our courtship. Songs about being broken. Songs about love saving you. About struggling ultimately making you better. It reminds me of who I was then. I was sad and struggling to hold myself together enough to graduate medical school. Surviving. Two sons with a horrible disorder no one was diagnosing or treating correctly. Me with my own severe PTSD no one was diagnosing or treating correctly. Living with my original gaslighter, the source of me. Wanting so badly to get away but so afraid to at the same time. So ashamed of myself. Wanting redemption so badly. To be saved in some many ways. Into the lion’s den she went. A decade she survived.

And I have emerged, my children in tow. Blinking back the bright sun.

I’m glad my kids didn’t have to wait forty years for this. I’m glad I did this. It was hard. It is hard. But most things worth doing are.

That’s one of those things I always tell my kids.  And it is not a script.

The cut is deep, but never deep enough for me
It doesn’t hurt enough to make me forget
One moment of relief is never long enough
To keep the voices in my head
From stealing my peace
Oh, control
It’s time, time to let you go
Perfection has a price
But I cannot afford to live that life
It always ends the same; a fight I never win
Oh, control
It’s time, time to let you go
I’m letting go of the illusion
I’m letting go of the confusion
I can’t carry it another step
I close my eyes and take a breath
I’m letting go, letting go
There were scars before my scars
Love written on the hands that hung the stars
Hope living in the blood that was spilled for me
Oh, control
It’s time, time to let you go
Control
It’s time, time to let you go

Epstein is not a freak and neither are you who stay silent

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Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire pedophile, died in a presumed suicide a few days ago. I cannot get over how similar his plans were to Jeremy Noyes’s, my perp from med school who now sits in federal prison in Arizona.

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I am not just referring to their love of raping children. Jeremy often spoke of having a private island or farm where he would propagate his colony of child sex slaves and work towards creating the perfect race through the use of bought DNA. So did Epstein. In fact, Epstein spent millions seeking the advice of Harvard scientists , hosting a conference on his private island at one point.

Jeremy spoke frequently to others like him online. There was a whole community. I told myself they were lying, that it was all just a sick fantasy world. But, clearly, it was not.

I am a doctor who treats patients for PTSD. They tell me about the powerful men who’ve taken their childhood. They have no reason to lie to me. They don’t speak about it publicly. Oftentimes I’m the only person they’ve told.

Jeffrey Epstein is not an isolated case. He is not a freak. His crimes do not die with him.

There were so many people who knew what Epstein was doing and they did nothing. Made zero effort to save these girls. I cannot comprehend it. I can’t. I risked my life, my children’s live,s my career, everything. I risked everything to try to save one little girl. How is it that children matter so little that we would allow this go on? I didn’t understand it with Sandusky and I certainly don’t here.

It is not a conspiracy theory to not believe Epstein killed himself. In fact, to accept the story that this was suicide is a choice to talk yourself out of obvious reality. Men like Epstein don’t kill themselves. I know. I knew a man like him very well. Epstein’s case clearly held the potential to expose just how widespread the culture of child trafficking is. The media can try to shame me into not saying this publicly all they want. If their lame attempts work on you,you’re part of the problem too. Real shame comes if you have lived as a child sex slave. Shame you will never completely heal from. Boohoo to you, dear reader, if speaking out on this could be embarrassing for you. What would the neighbors think? The real question is, what are the neighbors up to themselves? This isn’t rare.

The choice to turn in a man like Jeffrey Epstein, like Bill Cosby, like Jerry Sandusky, like Jeremy Noyes, is difficult to follow through on but really quite simple to decide on. It is not a morally ambiguous situation. You will never find such a clear ethical quandary: try to stop a child rapist or not. You will not lie on your death bed at the end of your life and say, my only regret is that I turned that predator in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem very many of these people are likely to lie there and regret the fact they didn’t. And that truth makes it ever more difficult for survivors to heal. The truth that they’ve done nothing wrong is easy to see, but accepting it and moving on is the most difficult thing anyone will ever have to do.

I still feel some level of shame when I look at this. I still remember how I was made to feel by my medical school, the medical community as a whole, my family and complete strangers talking about me online. I spent years believing I was a crazy slut and bad mother. I wasn’t even consciously aware of it, but it drove everything I did. Like the trauma itself, the afermath almost cost me my medical career. It almost cost me my life. It stole a lot of things from my children.

Speaking truth is the only antidote to shame so I will tell my story over and over, to anyone willing to listen. I will tell you the heroic parts and the horrific parts and the parts that might make you not like me. To remind myself I did nothing to be ashamed of. They did. And to remind all my fellow survivors out there they’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. They are goddamned heroes and all the many people who failed to protect them are the ones who ought to be ashamed. And that, dear reader, might include you.

June 19, 2008 (or, Tequila!)

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It was raining this morning as I headed out for my run. Ten years ago on this day, though, it was hot and sunny. I know this because I can remember the beads of sweat rolling down the back of my legs as I sat in my green minivan in that long, heavy, black Land’s End skirt I’d bought on clearance a few weeks before. My air conditioner was broken and the van churned out warm air as I sat staring down at my phone.

I’d programmed the phone number for the Pittsburgh field office of the FBI into it a couple months before under the name “Hope.” It was finally time to call. I knew he might kill me. Knew he might kill my two boys. Mies had just turned 4. Max was 2 1/2. I asked God to please protect them but told Him if something happened to them, I knew it just was what it had to be. I had to turn him in. I could never face my babies again if I didn’t. I didn’t want them to live in that kind of world. Abraham, I am feeling you, brother.

I operated purely through adrenaline at that time. Until he was arrested in August. And released on bail to a local podiatrist. And jailed again since he, ya know, had threatened to kill me and my kids and all. And then as I fought to stay in school as my med school slut shamed me and tried to get rid of me. Once the adrenaline stopped flowing continuously later that Fall, the real hell began. PTSD.

I wanted to give up but I somehow got to a place where I told myself, this isn’t it. Someday things will get better. You will watch your babies grow up. You will become a doctor and take care of your patients. You might even get married and have more babies. Maybe a daughter. Maybe. I fought off the hopelessness. I convinced myself there was possibility.

Here I am ten years later. With five beautiful kids (including a sassy-sweet daughter). With a handsome, devoted husband. With a practice of my own, complete with amazing patients I care about more than I knew I could. Healed of my PTSD. Having forgiven Jeremy and even Sylvia, the head of my med school, and all those professors who betrayed me. Training for a semi-impossible obstacle course race with my husband and a trainer, for goodness sake. A trainer. More than I dreamed possible.

I am so grateful to God my babies are alive. That I am alive. That I am a doctor. That I have the husband and kids I do.

I skipped work today and drove through the country to Deer Lakes park to go running. The rain and grey gave way to fluffy white clouds and sunshine in a beautiful blue sky. I held my hand out the sunroof as I drove. I felt the sweat run down my legs from my run as I drove.I sang along to Tequila! like a fool. I’m sure I looked and sounded ridiculous.

I pray the little girls he hurt find the peace I have. I pray he does too.

I am so grateful for today. I am alive, I am free. Thank you God.

Tequila!

Until then, rape culture will thrive

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A few things have happened in Pennsylvania recently that we should find encouraging. Bill Cosby was finally found guilty of sexual assault and two friars were charged for protecting a priest who they knew was molesting children. The near complete absence of legal consequences for rapists and those who stand by and do nothing about them is horrifying. That it may slowly be changing is a victory for activists. I felt a swell of hope when they announced the Cosby verdict. I belted out some Kesha on my drive home and cracked open a cider as I told my husband the news.

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But as this tide shift begins, there are certain things that must be said.

I have been seeing patients in my office for medical marijuana certification these past few months since Pennsylvania’s first dispensaries opened. It is amazing work to do. I hear so many heartbreaking stories of patients not only suffering illness but being abandoned by the medical system, struggling to hold onto hope. Their diagnoses range from cancer to pain to ALS to autism to seizures. And PTSD.

As a certifying physician, I am simply assessing if a patient has one of the 17 qualifying diagnoses Pennsylvania has designated to receive a medical marijuana card. As such, patients bring records from their treating physician and I use those records along with a history and physical exam to determine if they do indeed have the condition and are appropriate for medical cannabis therapy. They come to me because their physician either doesn’t believe in cannabis or, more often, recommends it for them but cannot certify them. A physician in Pennsylvania must go through a special process in order to be able to certify for medical marijuana and many physicians are reluctant to do so for a variety of reasons.

When I see a patient for PTSD I ask them about their symptoms, what other treatments they’ve tried, how long they’ve had PTSD and how its changed over time, and what their treatment goals are for medical marijuana. I do not ask them for the details of their trauma. It’s not medically necessary for what I am doing with them and just as I’d never perform an unnecessary pelvic or rectal exam, I am obligated as a physician to avoid being unnecessarily intrusive on a patient. If you’ve lived trauma then you know talking about it can be a more vulnerable and difficult procedure than an internal exam.

Still, patients often tell me their stories. I hope it is because they feel safe with me. I hope it helps them to speak their truth to me. It certainly helps me to hear their stories. It makes me a better physician and a better human being.

For the most part, I just listen. There are rarely words powerful enough to reflect back to them what they have just told me. I know it and they do too. Trauma is a language like no other. Sometimes I say to them, that’s horrible. I can’t imagine. I’m so sorry that happened. Sometimes I just listen and look and they know that they’re heard and that’s what matters.

I say nothing here of anyone’s story. Of any specifics. Anonymous or not. But I will tell you, dear reader, that something has surprised me. After spending all these years learning about trauma, thinking about trauma, writing about trauma, speaking to other rape trauma survivors, I have taken something new from it.

Many of my patients have gotten PTSD from being in prison. I wasn’t expecting that. And it makes me think of Jeremy. There was a time in my trauma healing process where I savored the idea of him being attacked in prison. I’m not proud of it but I do accept it as part of my journey through PTSD to the other side. It is not something I allowed myself to get stuck in. I believed before I ever met Jeremy in the importance of the corporal act of mercy of visiting the imprisoned. I recognized the inhumanity of our criminal justice system. And that wasn’t something I was going to let Jeremy take from me.

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I cannot imagine how hard it would have been to let this idea go if I hadn’t been one of the extremely rare few whose attacker actually gets prosecuted, found guilty and imprisoned. I have a safety and a sense of justice that is almost unheard of (even in the case of convicted rapists, it is rare they get the 45 year sentence that Jeremy did. I need not worry about the day he gets out and comes for me. I did not face the indignity of him getting a slap on the wrist sentence). Letting go of anger and the desire for vengeance when justice is denied seems almost impossible.

What I cannot excuse or validate is the similar sentiments expressed by those not involved in a particular perpetrator’s trauma. We have all heard and seen on the interwebs the comments of so many people when someone is found to be a rapist or child sexual predator. They make comments, some purely serious and others sickly comical, about the fact they hope the perpetrator will be raped in prison. An eye for an eye, a rape for a rape.

It perpetuates the idea that prison is a place where the “regular” prisoners will institute vigil ante justice and give these deserving sexual predators their come-uppance. Not only does it violate morality in its wishes for violent harm of the sexual perpetrators, it presents a narrative of prison where those who’ve committed so called victimless crimes are seen as being free from being targets of violence. Prison is a macho sort of wild west where unsavory elements make up for their crimes by using their lack of obligation to societal norms to take care of the dirty work of making these rapists pay appropriately. They atone for their sins and satisfy out blood lust in one fell swoop.

The reality is that prison brings trauma to every prisoner whether they’re their for drug possession, repeated DUI, writing bad checks or murdering their mother. And the reality is, most prisoners are there for something like drug possession or writing bad checks and end up being punished not with time away from their families, home and work, but with assault, both sexual and non. They live in a constant state of fear and hypervigilance. They suffer violence, witness violence and are forced at times, in order to survive, to perpetuate violence. This is something those of us who’ve experience protracted trauma can identify with. This is trauma. This is hell. And no one deserves it. Not even rapists and men who kill their mothers. And certainly not twenty year olds who made a stupid decision and got caught (I speak not here of rich white twenty year olds who make stupid decisions. They don’t go to prison). Their sentence may only be a few years but the PTSD lasts the rest of their life. It is not moral. It does not benefit society. And it deadens all of our souls as a culture for perpetuating this brutal system.

When you call joyfully for anyone to be raped, whether they themselves are a rapist or not, you are promoting rape culture. You are ensuring little girls will go on being raped. I realize it makes *you* feel better and that’s just great because it’s all about you, but you sacrifice the bodies, minds and souls of little girls and boys and women and men.

No one deserves to be raped. Period. Ever.

We do need justice for survivors in this country. I am glad that Bill Cosby and these friars and Jeremy Noyes will be held accountable and it is vital for ending rape and for providing survivors what they need to heal. Prison as we have it in this country, however, is not the answer. When will we establish a humane justice system that truly serves victims and keeps us safe as a society? Until then, rape culture will thrive.

No Fear in (I) Love (New York)–or, Our Lady of Perpetual Selfies

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I got to go to New York this week. I love New York. Well, to visit anyway. Wasn’t so crazy about living there in grad school, but glad I did it. I feel very comfortable getting around the city when I visit now. And it stirs up a lot of happy memories.

I planned my trip carefully. There wasn’t much free time outside the conference I was there for, but I made the most of it. I went straight to Chinatown from Penn Station when my train got in. wonton garden. Go there the next time you’re in New York. Damn good Chinese comfort food.

I bought some Asian pears from a fruit stand on the sidewalk on my way there like I used to when I lived there. I took in the energy of the city. Whether you love New York or hate it, you have to admit it has a life to it that you feel in your cells.

I went to the top of Rockefeller Center before I left. I was the first one in line actually so I stood on top of New York by myself for a moment. I’m not one for views to be honest with you. it drives my poor husband crazy sometimes. He’s big on views. We used to go on hikes and get to the top of a big hill or a small mountain and he’d say, “Look at that view!” He couldn’t believe how underwhelmed I was. Guess I’m not a visual person.

I looked at the city below me and took pictures. Got some panoramic shots for my son Max. He’s a big fan of panoramic pictures. Guess he is a visual person.

I was hoping, quite cliché-ly, that going up there would help give me some perspective on my life.

I’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed lately, Taking in the suffering of addiction and PANDAS patients is draining sometimes. A lot of my patients have been having especially bad weeks lately.

And so has Max.

Sometimes it feels impossible. Like I’m living the Book of Job. I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes. Most of us anyway. Just one difficulty on top of another. Enough already.

It helped to get away from Verona, to spend time with a group of entirely new people, to spend some time alone too. Some calm and stillness.

Standing on top of New York wasn’t especially helpful though. Not my thing. Mountains, buildings, planes. Views don’t do it for me.

I stopped at a French bakery to get my sweetie some sweets and then on to my last stop before catching the train home. Back to reality.

I went to St. Patrick’s. St. Patrick’s is where I found God 15 years ago when I was 23. It wasn’t intentional. I went as a tourist, but from the moment I entered, it hit me. And I’ve never been the same.

I walked in now, 15 years and what feels like a few lifetimes later. I decided to pray by the statue dedicated to the Holy Family. Our family has not had peace for so long. We need peace so desperately in our house. I put my candle offering in and went to light my candle, to carry my prayers up to Heaven long after I’d left the Cathedral and headed home. But a tourist using a selfie stick and her phone to take pictures pushed me out of the way so she could extend her selfie stick over the candle and get a good shot of the statue. Really? Do you get at least a few minutes in Purgatory for that? I of course instantly forgave her and moved over to the candles on the other side and said my prayers and left my offering. I prayed for peace.

I then went to my favorite place in St. Patrick’s, the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. An area generally occupied by immigrants from various parts of Latin America. And me. She’s the only vision of Mary ever to appear where Mary is pregnant. So very… motherly.

Mary’s a mom so I know she gets me. So I let it all out. Told her everything while tears streamed down my cheeks and tourists walked by. I asked her for some rather specific answers, not expecting an immediate reply, but Mary’s an awesome mom and got right down to it.

Insight into who I am and how to treat my children and my patients. And insight into what is really at the heart of these things that trouble us all.

I feel renewed. Centered. In terms of my family and my medical practice. I have been living fearfully but there is no fear in love. I have not wanted to take care of myself, to be happy, because it seems selfish to take care of myself when my baby can’t, when so many of my patients and their families can’t.

It’s not a sustainable way to live. And it’s not good for my patients or my kids. I have known this intellectually for a long time. But it was always in my head, an idea unrealized, without form.

In the Catholic Church we are sensual. Protestants have formless ideas, a weekly service with a sermon that nourishes the mind. But Christ was both fully Man and fully God. We are physical creatures in this world. And so we have sacraments and incense and statues. Monks chanting and and holy water and the body and blood of Christ physically within us.

It is this smelling, hearing, tasting, touching, seeing that evokes the presence of God in us. Physical creatures seeking to know something so hard to grasp. I got up from the kneeler and looked at Our Lady one last time. I looked up at the great stone arches high above me. Took in the stained glass images of Christ and the Saints. And I felt so… protected, content, loved. Like I was home. The way a perfect home would be. What home should be. Peaceful and warm. A place you can be completely vulnerable and know you will be safe.

I realize something now. It is not that I’m not a visual person or I don’t like views. It’s that I like to look up instead of looking down. Not to see myself high above the small world below but to see the vastness of it all above and feel how small I really am. Part of something much bigger. Something very good.

No fear in love.