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Archive for September, 2010

Hey I’m a Rich Lady

Heather and Family:  Can’t get any better than this.  I’ve been blessed beyond measure.  Miss them SO SO much.

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They talk about coming out of the closet when you’re gay as being hard.  Well, folks, there’s another confession that might be even harder. And the stigma that goes along with it has repercussions you can’t imagine.  I’ve seen it happen in the lives of people I’ve known over the years. And I read about it in the press regularly. I don’t understand why people react the way they do but…it’s a fact of life.  So, it’s not without a considerable amount of self reflection of the impact this might create in my life that I write my next sentence.

(Gulp….Exhale)….

I was sexually abused as a child.

It was during my divorce with the help of my therapist that I finally came to grips with what happened to me. The details don’t matter–although it’s VERY important to me that the world knows it WAS NOT my father who abused me. But like in so many cases of sexual assault with a child it was a family member who I should have been able to trust who abused me.

It’s also important to understand it wasn’t one of these situations where it was a repressed memory in which I might have been manipulated by my therapist into “remembering” something that really didn’t happen and he planted the seed of this memory. No, sadly, I carried these memories for years.  It was something I remembered and coped with throughout my childhood, teen years and finally adult world. The whole experience marked me for life.  Abuse is something that’s almost impossible to overcome.

I was reading an article my son posted on Facebook yesterday about the whiplash that has impacted the lives of the lawyers who defended the largest  group of boys molested by priests in a class action suit against the Catholic church.  One of the lawyers told the press “What happens to kids when they’re abused and what happens to their brains when they are abused is something that we don’t know how to fix.” (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gxDxEIP-onf-8jsSzHwzft6j0W2wD9IE7KM80) The article was about the impact defending their clients had on the lives of their lawyers. Hearing their stories and learning what the abuse did to their clients was traumatizing to many of the lawyers. They had breakdowns, divorced, left their profession–they just couldn’t cope. Somewhat akin to the impact of second-hand smoke–I call it the second-hand abuse syndrome.

Reading this article brought it all back to me again.

And I believe it–I do think it impacts the way your brain functions.  It affected so many of the relationships I had in my life–even with women. I learned during therapy that it can be a root cause to the life-long struggle I’ve had with my weight.  Women who’ve been sexually abused often try to hide themselves behind extra weight in an attempt to make themselves as unattractive as possible to avoid the attention of men–even those men they WANT to have a relationship with.  I’ve had sleeping problems all my life that ebb and flow based on the stress I’m under–another tell-tale sign of abuse.  Children of abuse–particularly women–have horrible trust issues and can overcompensate in social situations by behaviors that some consider inappropriate. I know that when I begin to feel overwhelmed I talk more and more. And even though I know it’s happening and want to SHUT-UP  I can’t–it’s like a snow ball rolling down a hill that just can’t be stopped.  Even though today I KNOW and understand what’s happening I’m not in the driver’s seat it’s a force that seems to be stronger than me.

I remember as a child how I would disassociate when I’d begin to get overwhelmed–I think a therapist would tell me that what I did was really depersonalization–in which I’d watch what was happening to me as if I was standing outside my own body–but the point is it was a common coping mechanism children of abuse use. I’d also go into a “slow motion” kind of flow–it’s hard to explain what this is like but when I began to share all these memories with my therapist he steered me to a book that described my coping mechanisms to a “T”.

Used to be whenever anything got too much for me–feeling overwhelmed by the demands of school, or the tasks at work, or the stress in my marriage–I’d slip into these states of self-protection that I used as a small child when I needed something to help me deal with the unwelcome advances of my molester.  As I got older I found I turned to these mechanisms less–until my divorce that is.  During my separation and divorce I found I was getting reacquainted with those old “friends”–and whether I wanted to invite them back or not they helped me cope through a particularly traumatic period in my life.

I think recovery from abuse–all kinds of abuse–is much like recovery from alcoholism.  You don’t recover.  You never get over it. But you make a daily commitment to move forward and beat those forces that haunt you.  And you try to forget.

Before my mother died I confronted her about what happened. When we talked she knew the truth of what I was saying and never doubted what I shared with her. And even though she said she was sorry we both knew there was nothing that could be done about it. I’m sure she lived with her own constellation of regrets. She thought she was leaving us in a safe place but it wasn’t. I wasn’t angry at her–indeed I felt considerable compassion for her and wondered how much of my own life history was a shared one with my mother. And to be honest, I don’t know if there were overt signs about the abuse and if my parents had looked more carefully if they could have figured out what was happening. There was so much less awareness then compared with today about abuse–maybe they just didn’t know what to look for.

But we do today.

And so I’m sharing this very difficult confession with you today in hopes that anyone who reads this and has a small child in their life who they love beyond infinity will take all due diligence to build a protective cocoon around those precious jewels.

  • Don’t assume that all your family members are trustworthy.
  • Don’t assume it’s only men who molest children.
  • Don’t assume your children will tell you when they are being threatened.
  • Don’t assume it won’t happen in your family.

Take steps TODAY to protect them from something that could be a horrible horrible force in their life.  It’s YOUR JOB to protect your children. DON’T WAIT–tomorrow may be too late.

Kathy Smedley (http://www.protectkids.com/abuse/abusesigns.htm) shares a list of possible physical and behavioral indicators of child sexual abuse, some of which are:

  • Waking up during the night sweating, screaming or shaking with nightmares.
  • Masturbating excessively.
  • Showing unusually aggressive behavior toward family members, friends, toys, and pets.
  • Complaining of pain while urinating or having a bowel movement, or exhibiting symptoms of genital infections such as offensive odors, or symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Having symptoms indicating evidence of physical traumas to the genital or anal area.
  • Beginning wetting the bed.
  • Experiencing a loss of appetite or other eating problems, including unexplained gagging.
  • Showing unusual fear of a certain place or location.
  • Developing frequent unexplained health problems.
  • Engaging in persistent sexual play with friends, toys or pets.
  • Having unexplained periods of panic, which may be flashbacks from the abuse.
  • Regressing to behaviors too young for the stage of development they already achieved.
  • Initiating sophisticated sexual behaviors.
  • Indicating a sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person.
  • Engaging in self-mutilations, such as sticking themselves with pins or cutting themselves.
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities, like school or school performance change.
  • Asking an unusual amount of questions about human sexuality.

The following links are good sources to go to to learn more about the signs of abuse and how to protect your children.

http://www.sandf.org/articles/Signs.asp

http://www.essortment.com/all/signsofsexual_rxxy.htm

http://www.stopitnow.com/warnings

http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/sexual-abuse-signs.html

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Freedom of Choice

Folks you really need to read this post.  It’s going to be controversial for some of you but I think you all should read it. It’s insightful.  It’s liberating.  It’s refreshing.  It brings me hope. And it’s just not the post itself it’s the comments that people make in response to it.  http://www.scarymommy.com/gay-marriage/#comment-49681

I believe in choice around a wide range of issues from what political party you belong to and how you vote, to the religion you choose, to whether to have an abortion or not, or who you marry. Choice is an uncomfortable subject for many people who want to keep choices clean and simple–to a black and white response to the myriad number of things we have going on in our lives that are not that easy to categorize or navigate.  More importantly, offering choice means that people have options to do things that you don’t like or agree with. Therefore, you can not control the decisions that others make and how their decisions impact social movements and the social fabric of a country and culture.  So, it becomes a very threatening concept.

There are no easy answers to any of this.  And it’s a painful experience to watch the process unfold as people vote for people who represent them in the political forums of the world that make the legal decisions that support choice or kill it dead. And I hope if the day ever comes when I have to support that you have the right to make a choice on something I don’t believe in I will fight to the bitter end to allow you to have that freedom in your life.  This is my promise to you whomever you are–even if you don’t hold out the same promise to me.

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I am beginning to wonder why stress in my life follows me around like a devoted little puppy dog.  I’ve made excuses for years that it’s having so many kids and living in other cultures than my own and that my job is SO stressful since it’s so political. And, I’ve convinced myself that these are the underlying reasons for all that out-of-control feeling that is increasingly becoming the constant companion in my life.  But lately, I’m really beginning to challenge the veracity of those reasons.

But the day of reckoning has come and I really need to face the fact:  yes, the puppy does follow me around but it’s not because of those reasons.  There’s no doubt these things are all true and contribute to a chaotic life style. But, no, it’s not those things.  It’s because of all the bones and doggie biscuits that I drop behind me to keep the little fellow chasing after me.

And what, may I ask” I hear you say, “just what are those bones and biscuits that you drop?”

Well, upon some serious self-reflection and psycho-analysis these are the conclusions that I’ve reluctantly come to admit.

  • I have a really hard time focusing. So many things seem like a really good idea to me (and they ARE good ideas) that I chase after one thing and then another.
  • I’m disorganized. I try to organize my life, my office, my papers–but it’s a never-ending task that is bigger than all my endless efforts to contain it.
  • I can’t remember things. Not only does this make me forget important things (like commitments) but it also makes it almost impossible for me to remember all how I’ve tried to organize things.
  • I over commit. I don’t like to let people down and I am particular reluctant to let people down when they ARE down…it’s hard to walk away when someone just needs a friend to listen to them.
  • I waste time. And I waste other people’s time.  It’s hard for me to really gauge the time constraints on people’s time and when I’m trespassing on their precious moments to focus, and organize and meet their commitments.
  • I have difficulty prioritizing and triaging the tasks in my life.  Everything think about everything I need to accomplish in a day, a week, a month as being created equal and it’s not.
  • I have a lot of trouble getting closure.  This is closely linked to my problem with focusing and certainly contributes to the vast array of half-baked things I do but it’s a much deeper issue than just taking on too much–it’s about closing doors and finalizing things that I just can’t face letting go of.
  • I’m lazy.  To those who know me well this may seem surprising because I’m generally know as a hard worker and as someone who is more than willing to take on my share of the workload. But deep in my soul is this aversion to WORK.

It’s not easy to come out of the closet on this personal trait–and failing. But as painful as this self-deprecating admission is…I don’t think I”m ever going to get rid of my companion and de=stress until I accept it’s me and not my circumstances.

So, I’m just asking–would anyone like a really cute puppy?  He’s house-broken.  And he’s free to a good home.  And I have lots of bones and biscuits I can give you free. Just give me a call at 1-STRESS FREE.

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I have a really good friend here in Egypt.  Her name is Kellie. She and her husband are missionaries working for the SDA church in Cairo. Joel, her husband, is the treasurer of the local union and Kellie finds an assortment of good works to volunteer at of interesting and challenging things including teaching English and math at a local Sudanese refugee school. I think her plans include volunteering with my friend Laila in Garbage City in Cairo this year but whatever she does–she engages full throttle and makes a difference.

Although they don’t earn much even by local standards they live really well. I’m continually amazed at the way Kellie manages to stretch their meager monthly allowance–not only providing really well for their daily needs but also sponsoring around 15 students at the local school run by the church.  Despite the 10:1 differential in our monthly salaries I suspect they generally eat better than I do—better meals, better prepared–and certainly with better company since I generally eat by myself on most nights.

So, whenever we get the chance Kellie and Joel come and become my weekend guests.  We prepare food and eat meals made of things they can’t afford to buy full of cheese, sour and fresh cream, cream cheese, pickles, diet soda, potato chips, ice cream–you name it.  If it’s bad for you—well then it’s on our menu. We also do a marathon DVD watch–all the latest movies from side aching and pants wetting comedies, to tear jerking touchy feely dramas to the action packed thriller. But mostly we talk and bond even closer than we already are. Each time they come it’s a real treat for me and they leave me wanting more of their gentle, easy-going company.

So, with Eid upon us again and a lapse of several months since we last got together we arranged to spend part of the long weekend together. And not unlike previous visits–we ate until our stomachs ached (she makes a darn good apple pie–need to get her recipe–what a fantastic crust), crunched on popcorn as we chuckled through “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and the “Waking of Ned Devine” (you gotta watch this movie–it’s a classic English (well really Irish) comedy in the ranks of the Full Monty).  And we talked.

A good deal of my conversation centered on the problems I’ve been having getting my landlord to fix things that are breaking down in the apartment.  Before I left on my home leave the AC kept breaking and I kept losing my water because of broken pipes.  Since coming back there seems to be a problem with the water heaters–the one for the kitchen doesn’t heat the water hot anymore and I have to flick the switch to the plug on and off for a bit until it finally kicks in.  A big nuisance to say the least but more worrisome is the reason behind why it’s shorting out.

And then there’s the on-going toilet problems.  They continually run. This bothers me a lot in large part because Egypt is a country where fresh water is a real concern.  So, toilets that continually run and lose precious water is more than an annoyance. It’s akin to a crime in my opinion.  But all my efforts to get the toilets fixed have netted very little improvement.

So, just before Kellie and Joel were preparing to leave to go back to their side of Cairo (and their own set of apartment woes) Kellie says to me, “ah, Diane since you might be having some guests coming before too long I should warn you there’s a bit of a toilet problem in the bathroom by the guest bedroom.”   In her effort to explain what was wrong she says to me, “And, what’s that thing beside the toilet…what do you do with it?”

“Oh” I says…”it’s a bidet.  Haven’t you seen one before?”

“No” says Kellie.  “How do you use it?

Well, to be perfectly honest–I haven’t ever used one–including the one in my own home–so I don’t really know.  So, together we decide we are going to google “How to use a bidet?” and clear up any confusion we may have on exactly how to use one.  And we did.

And for you all NOT in the know like Kellie and I were–you straddle them folks.  And according to your preference you either face towards the controls–or back up to them.  For one of the most enlightening and entertaining discussions on how to use a bidet the correct way….you can’t beat The Poop Report written by Colen Bowell. (Hey, I am NOT making this up!!)  I’ve copied the link to his explanation here for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

http://www.poopreport.com/Consumer/Content/Bidet/bidet.html

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Many times I wonder if I fit in my own society anymore. I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the debate that goes on around me. And I increasingly see that I am forced to take a stand on issues that are left of center because the right of the political debate is leaning out so far in extreme.  And if life is about navigating your way along a route–walking down a street to some unknown destination–then I think I’m on the side that is less traveled. Indeed, I often wonder if I’m walking pretty much on my own much of the time.

I listen to the dialogue around issues important to me and my heart breaks. Sometimes I shudder in fear over the mean spirited exchanges that take place between the different parties and groups and wonder where we are headed as a people, as a country, as a world. The recent polarization over the health care debate in the US is just one among many things that I watched from afar that caused me great consternation. It was clear that those who “have” really have almost no concerns about the many who “don’t have”.  Sometimes it seemed like they blamed the less fortunate for reasons that are no fault of their own.

I recently participated in a thread on facebook about the man in Florida who plans to burn the Koran on the anniversary of September 11. The discussion evolved into one that addressed more broadly the way targeted groups have been discriminated and mistreated against over the centuries.  Seemed to me some of the contributors challenged whether or not what is happening today is really that different–and even that bad–given the way societies and cultures “operate”.

It was clear from reading the comments folks were pretty much on one side or the other–there really was no middle of the road position. Sadly, the discourse became so vitriolic–the person who initiated it eventually removed it from her page. I must confess the mean and hurtful comments that some wrote was a reaction I found somewhat symbolic of the mean-spiritedness that burning a holy book represents.

I think the majority of folks around the world would agree that September 11 is date that will reign in infamy in history because of the actions driven by hatred and bigotry of a small group who were misguided and thought that what they were doing was following God’s will. No doubt this man in Florida believes he won’t be killing anyone like the terrorists did on September 11–he’s just making a symbolic statement by destroying something he believes is evil.  But mark my words–if he follows through with his intentions and there are folks who are hurt or killed because of what he does–he is no less culpable than if he pulled the trigger on a gun and shot someone to death.

Sadly, the man in Florida is himself symbolic of a growing class of people who see the world only through their own lens and who make no attempt to try and see things through the eyes of the “other”.  And a world that’s driven primarily by self preservation and one’s sole interpretation of the meaning of life, one’s religion, one’s world view—is a world that does not bode well for anyone’s self preservation and future.

I supposed there are many who would argue my world view has been tainted by the places I’ve lived and the cultures I’ve come to know. If, by chance, that is true then I guess all I have to say is thank God I was given the opportunity to experience something beyond myself and my small corner of the world. And if this experience means I am destined to walk alone on my side of the street–well, then bring it on.

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that at some point  in our lives we all have to decide where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there.  So, tell me, which side of the street are you on?

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Well, I’ve been on my home leave and on hiatus from the blog (to be honest it felt like I was abandoning my  child).  Unforgivable I know for those of you who are faithful readers but…other than I was having a fantastic time visiting with my family—I had NOTHING to write about.  Hard to believe I know but….tis true.  I filled my days with nothing other than good company, good food, fun shopping and lots of floating about in my pool.  Tough like but c’est la vie and some poor soul has to do it so WHY NOT ME???!!!!

BUT… I had the most serendipitous encounter on my way back to Cairo.  So, here’s what happened—I was sitting in the airport in Atlanta and sat down near these three guys:  two were dressed in really BAD clothes–I mean they looked like they were living on the street–unkept, old worn out clothes–I mean they DID NOT look like someone who was ready to begin an int’l trip.  (well, two of them looked that way anyway.) If they’d been in their 20s I would have figured they were college kids ready to head off on the adventure of their life–back packing around the continent.  But these were OLD guys.  Well, at least in their mid to late 40s —too old in my opinion to be taking off on some carefree kind of adventure like that.

But, they were friendly.  And they were French.  And in typical fashion when the scruffiest looking one of the lot smiled at me I smiled back.  And then I said something stupid like–“well, headed off to Paris–long flight…”  And he responded “oui” and began recounting one of the most incredible tales I’ve heard in a long long time.

I was right on one score:  their clothes were old, worn out and something you’d get at a goodwill or really bad thrift store.  But I was mostly wrong.  The one guy wasn’t really with them.  He’d met them in a hotel two days earlier and became attached to them and fascinated by their tale just like I would quickly become.

Appears these guys were ending up a phenomenal summer’s adventure that was reminiscent of the comedy “planes, trains and automobiles”.  But their adventure was no comedy–more like a disaster story. So, without more preamble here’s their tale.

One month ago, three French guys headed off for the summer adventure of a lifetime.  Over the course of the summer they’d traveled together for over 40,000 miles that included traveling by plane, trains, cars and finally a sailboat. They were on the last leg of their journey sailing back to France.   They began their ocean leg in the boat in Senegal.  The captain figured they were a good three days from their destination in France with good and HARD sailing.  They were just past Cape Verde when they met up with a fourth guy:  his name was EARLas in HURRICANE EARL.

At first they were doing okay weathering out the storm but eventually the waves and winds got the best of them and their vessel==the Idem–became disabled to the point they put out a distress call.  From what I could understand (they talked rather excitedly as they told me the story and some of their French was just beyond my vocab–my sense they were using a fair bit of profanity I don’t know in French as they shared their experience. ) Anyway, the boat was seaworthy but their navigation equipment was no longer working.  They figured they’d be able to save the boat eventually but it was clear they needed to get into something that could handle the storm better.  From what they said the waves were pretty daunting in a vessel of their size.

They were thrilled when a big cargo ship responded to their SOS.  They could see it heading in their direction and were relieved to know their ordeal was coming to an end.  But then their joy turned to concern and finally–HORROR as the ship that was about 20 times bigger than them just kept coming at them and eventually rammed them and split their boat in half  violently throwing the three of them into the freezing cold water.

Fortunately, they had on their life jackets but –and here the details become a bit sketchy–the ship that came to their aid had no “des droits”.   Technically that means no “rights” but it wasn’t clear to me if they meant the Legal Right or the right equipment to rescue them.  But regardless of the reason for over 30 minutes they were pounded in the treacherous waves and repeatedly thrown and rammed into the side of the ship before they were rescued out of the water.  Although none of them were badly hurt they had hypothermia, minor abrasions, some sprains, lots of bruising and some REALLY bad headaches.

I guess the captain of the rescue boat was apologetic about ramming their ship–that’s another point that wasn’t too clear—whether it was the weather that caused the ship to unfortunately ram them or just poor steering on his part. But, nonetheless their vessel eventually sank and with it all their stuff. Everything: shoes, clothes, computers, cash, credit cards, medicine, cameras–and most importantly–their passports and all other forms of ID.

The ship that rescued them had been heading to Charleston, SC when it turned off course to come to their aide.  Rules dictated they had to return on course and head to their original destination.  I guess they took really good care of them and in an effort to help them get over their flashbacks kept them full of really good stuff–the best quality whiskey they had on board.  Good or bad–it worked–and they shared with me that the trip across the Atlantic is pretty much a drunken BLUR.

About a week after being rescued they arrived in Charleston where they were met by the authorities and taken in to custody until their identities could be verified.  Although I guess by time they arrived their families and the French government had been contacted.  The insurance company for the shipping lines put them up in a hotel and gave them a limited amount of money to get a change of clothes –and a little bit of money to buy their meals and lots of that wonderful forgetting juice–whiskey and vodka, and scotch.  And the French consulate gave them a “passport provisoire” that let them stay in the US until they could get the first flight back to Paris.

While at the hotel they met a French speakikng PhD student from Africa who helped them navigate their anglophone environment.  Ah…I forgot to mention they spoke no English other than to say…”We make love in France –help to good-bye bad flashback.”  (How wonderfully French don’t you think?!!!)

Anyway, I digress.  So, the French PhD student was heading to the airport the same day as them and helped them through all the security stuff–since they spoke no English.  He took them to their gate and stayed with them until an hour before his own flight left in another terminal.  And while sitting and chatting with them –that’s when I became a part of their incredible story and adventure.

It turned out they really were two nice men who’d survived a hair-raising ordeal.  And indeed, they did look scruffy–they didn’t have enough money to buy decent clothes, some shoes, shaving equipment AND their precious “forgetting juice.”  So, they bought second hand clothes and flip flops, forgo the shaves and got themselves some high quality premium alcohol.  Can’t say I really fault them or second guess their choices.

I became a big unnerved they might have bad karma and bring bad luck with them when our flight was delayed by almost an hour because the brakes on the airplane had to be changed. (Get the connection right? Boat can’t stop–plane can’t stop?)  But alls well that ends well and we made it safely to Paris and the plane stopped just fine.

I’m sure their story of what they did over their summer vacation will be on the internet before too long.  They showed me a picture of their boat and told me the press had already contacted them and planned to meet them in Paris to interview them.  Can’t say I’m surprised.  It’s an incredible story.

So, the moral of MY tale: You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn if you just respond to a smile and say something rather stupid like, “Well, headed off to Paris–long flight…”

Happy and safe travels to you all!!  I suppose some of you are wondering–what happened to the third guy?  Did he die from his injuries or something?  Nope nothing so dramatic. Seems he got out on an earlier flight that day heading to Paris. Maybe, he like me. thought his companions just had some bad karma or something.

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