Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Christianity as a whole at times strikes me as a remarkably edited view of God."

- Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God

Friday, May 27, 2011

If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they will never harm another, and they will come to find
they hold everything you want.

If you put your hands on this oar with me, they would no longer
lift anything to your
mouth that might wound your precious land –
that sacred earth that is your body.

If you put your soul against this oar with me,
the power that made the universe will enter your sinew
from a source not outside your limbs, but from a holy realm
that lives in us.

Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and the future?
The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities
will find no rest.

Be kind to yourself, dear – to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.

~ Rumi ~

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sexual Desire

"Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men."

-Ali ibn Abu Taleb, husband of Muhammad's daughter Fatima and founder of the Shiite sect of Islam

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


What will
our children do in the morning?
Will they wake with their hearts wanting to play,
the way wings

Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered
the strength from the planets that all men and women need to balance
the wonderful charms of
the earth

so that her power and beauty does not make us forget our own?

I know all about the ways of the heart - how it wants to be alive.

Love so needs to love
that it will endure almost anything, even abuse,
just to flicker for a moment. But the sky's mouth is kind,
its song will never hurt you, for I
sing those words.

What will our children do in the morning
if they do not see us

~ Rumi ~

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Dear sisters, all we do in this world, whatever happens, is bringing us closer to god. "

- Rabia of Basra (717-801)

Sunday, May 22, 2011


"Love so needs to love that it will endure almost anything, even abuse, just to flicker for a moment." - Rumi

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Every star above
Shines for a woman

And every woman on earth
Shines for a man

And every man in the world
Shines for himself

So hear my words woman
Love me for what I was
And forget me tomorrow

- Mustafa Sadek

Friday, May 20, 2011

Leaving my Addict-Relationship gave me More Energy for ME!

I am completely amazed and grateful for the amount of energy available to me now that I am out of my relationship with an addict.

Whereas for many years I barely had the energy to get through my day and struggled with headaches and constant colds, here are just a few of the wonderful things I am working on now.

- Heading up a 6-hour Blues Concert-Fundraiser for the food bank in my community

- Chairing a mentor program for children in my church.

- Moderator-elect at my church.

- Interfaith work in my community and in the world at large.

- Work for equality for gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

- On the Board of Christian Education at my church.

- Work with the Muslim community on a community center we have dreamed about for 16 years and is now coming into fruition.

- Time to volunteer and be present at my children's schools.

- Writing a children's book about the Girl God. I found an amazing illustrator and the book is now almost completed.

- Writing another children's book with a team about Muslims and Christians.

- Finishing my certification with Imagine a Woman International.

- Composed vows to myself with a dear friend and did a ceremony of commitment to ourselves to remain loyal to our own lives and dreams.

- Time to learn Kundalini Yoga and Meditation - both of which have helped me with my own healing and strength.

- A wonderful relationship with a fully evolved, conscious man who adores me and treats me as an equal partner.

- More time to be present and in the moment with my children.

- Many more smiles and love all around!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy Birthday Malcolm X

"If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that's not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that's not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven't even begun to pull the knife out. They won't even admit the knife is there."
- Malcolm X

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye

"The promise of beauty, of being desirable, lulls the young woman into existential limbo where everything is measured by the one who is to come. The kiss that Sleeping Beauty waits for, however, is not that of the Prince. She's waiting for the embrace of her own being." - Madonna Kolbenschlag, Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"My Addicted Son"

Definately one of the best, most heartbreaking and most memorable reads regarding addiction. It helped me understand a lot and realize that I was not alone. Sheff's book, beautiful boy, was published a few years later and is also a favorite.

One windy day in May 2002, my young children, Jasper and Daisy, who were 8 and 5, spent the morning cutting, pasting and coloring notes and welcome banners for their brother's homecoming. They had not seen Nick, who was arriving from college for the summer, in six months. In the afternoon, we all drove to the airport to pick him up.

At home in Inverness, north of San Francisco, Nick, who was then 19, lugged his duffel bag and backpack into his old bedroom. He unpacked and emerged with his arms loaded with gifts. After dinner, he put the kids to bed, reading to them from ''The Witches,'' by Roald Dahl. We heard his voice -- voices -- from the next room: the boy narrator, all wonder and earnestness; wry and creaky Grandma; and the shrieking, haggy Grand High Witch. The performance was irresistible, and the children were riveted. Nick was a playful and affectionate big brother to Jasper and Daisy -- when he wasn't robbing them.

Late that night, I heard the creaking of bending tree branches. I also heard Nick padding along the hallway, making tea in the kitchen, quietly strumming his guitar and playing Tom Waits, Bjork and Bollywood soundtracks. I worried about his insomnia, but pushed away my suspicions, instead reminding myself how far he had come since the previous school year, when he dropped out of Berkeley. This time, he had gone east to college and had made it through his freshman year. Given what we had been through, this felt miraculous. As far as we knew, he was coming up on his 150th day without methamphetamine.

In the morning, Nick, in flannel pajama bottoms and a fraying woolen sweater, shuffled into the kitchen. His skin was rice-papery and gaunt, and his hair was like a field, with smashed-down sienna patches and sticking-up yellowed clumps, a disaster left over from when he tried to bleach it. Lacking the funds for Lady Clairol, his brilliant idea was to soak his head in a bowl of Clorox.

Nick hovered over the kitchen counter, fussing with the stove-top espresso maker, filling it with water and coffee and setting it on a flame, and then sat down to a bowl of cereal with Jasper and Daisy. I stared hard at him. The giveaway was his body, vibrating like an idling car. His jaw gyrated and his eyes were darting opals. He made plans with the kids for after school and gave them hugs. When they were gone, I said, ''I know you're using again.''

He glared at me: ''What are you talking about? I'm not.'' His eyes fixed onto the floor.

''Then you won't mind being drug-tested.''


When Nick next emerged from his bedroom, head down, his backpack was slung over his back, and he held his electric guitar by the neck. He left the house, slamming the door behind him. Late that afternoon, Jasper and Daisy burst in, dashing from room to room, before finally stopping and, looking up at me, asking, ''Where's Nick?''

ick now claims that he was searching for methamphetamine for his entire life, and when he tried it for the first time, as he says, ''That was that.'' It would have been no easier to see him strung out on heroin or cocaine, but as every parent of a methamphetamine addict comes to learn, this drug has a unique, horrific quality. In an interview, Stephan Jenkins, the singer in the band Third Eye Blind, said that methamphetamine makes you feel ''bright and shiny.'' It also makes you paranoid, incoherent and both destructive and pathetically and relentlessly self-destructive. Then you will do unconscionable things in order to feel bright and shiny again. Nick had always been a sensitive, sagacious, joyful and exceptionally bright child, but on meth he became unrecognizable.

Nick's mother and I were attentive, probably overly attentive -- part of the first wave of parents obsessed with our children in a self-conscious way. (Before us, people had kids. We parented.) Nick spent his first years on walks in his stroller and Snugli, playing in Berkeley parks and baby gyms and visiting zoos and aquariums.

His mother and I divorced when he was 4. No child benefits from the bitterness and savagery of a divorce like ours. Like fallout from a dirty bomb, the collateral damage is widespread and enduring. Nick was hit hard. The effects lingered well after his mother and I settled on a joint-custody arrangement and, later, after we both remarried.

As a kindergartner, when he wore tights, the other school children teased him: ''Only girls wear tights.'' Nick responded: ''Uh, uh, Superman wears tights.'' I was proud of his self-assuredness and individuality. Nick readily rebelled against conventional habit, mores and taste. Still, he could be susceptible to peer pressure. During the brief celebrity of Kris Kross, he wore backward clothes. At 11, he was hidden inside grungy flannel, shuffling around in Doc Martens. Hennaed bangs hung Cobain-like over his eyes.

Throughout his youth, I talked to Nick ''early and often'' about drugs in ways now prescribed by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. I watched for one organization's early warning signs of teenage alcoholism and drug abuse. (No. 15: ''Does your child volunteer to clean up after adult cocktail parties, but neglect other chores?'') Indeed, when he was 12, I discovered a vial of marijuana in his backpack. I met with his teacher, who said: ''It's normal. Most kids try it.'' Nick said that it was a mistake -- he had been influenced by a couple of thuggish boys at his new school -- and he promised that he would not use it again.

In his early teens, Nick was into the hippest music and then grew bored with it. By the time his favorite artists, from Guns N' Roses to Beck to Eminem, had a hit record, Nick had discarded them in favor of the retro, the obscure, the ultra contemporary or plain bizarre, an eclectic list that included Coltrane, polka, the soundtrack from ''The Umbrellas of Cherbourg'' and, for a memorable period, samba, to which he would cha-cha through the living room. His heroes, including Holden Caulfield and Atticus Finch, were replaced by an assortment of misanthropes, addicts, drunks, depressives and suicides, role models like Burroughs, Bukowski, Cobain, Hemingway and Basquiat. Other children watched Disney and ''Star Wars,'' but Nick preferred Scorsese, David Lynch and Godard.

At 14, when he was suspended from high school for a day for buying pot on campus, Nick and my wife and I met with the freshman dean. ''We view this as a mistake and an opportunity,'' he explained. Nick was forced to undergo a day at a drug-and-alcohol program but was given a second chance. A teacher took Nick under his wing, encouraging his interest in marine biology. He surfed with him and persuaded him to join the swimming and water-polo teams. Nick had two productive and, as far as I know, drug-free years. He showed promise as a student actor, artist and writer. For a series of columns in the school newspaper, he won the Ernest Hemingway Writing Award for high-school journalists, and he published a column in Newsweek.

After his junior year, Nick attended a summer program in French at the American University of Paris. I now know that he spent most of his time emulating some of his drunken heroes, though he forgot the writing and painting part. His souvenir of his Parisian summer was an ulcer. What child has an ulcer at 16? Back at high school for his senior year, he was still an honor student, with a nearly perfect grade-point average. Even as he applied to and was accepted at a long list of colleges, one senior-class dean told me, half in jest, that Nick set a school record for tardiness and cutting classes. My wife and I consulted a therapist, and a school counselor reassured us: ''You're describing an adolescent. Nick's candor, unusual especially in boys, is a good sign. Keep talking it out with him, and he'll get through this.''

His high-school graduation ceremony was held outdoors on the athletic field. With his hair freshly buzzed, Nick marched forward and accepted his diploma from the school head, kissing her cheek. He seemed elated. Maybe everything would be all right after all. Afterward, we invited his friends over for a barbecue. Later we learned that a boy in jeans and a sport coat had scored some celebratory sensimilla. Nick and his friends left our house for a grad-night bash that was held at a local recreation center, where he tried ecstasy for the first time.

A few weeks later, my wife planned to take the kids to the beach. The fog had lifted, and I was with them in the driveway, helping to pack the car. Two county sheriff's patrol cars pulled up. When a pair of uniformed officers approached, I thought they needed directions, but they walked past me and headed for Nick. They handcuffed his wrists behind his back, pushed him into the back seat of one of the squad cars and drove away. Jasper, then 7, was the only one of us who responded appropriately. He wailed, inconsolable for an hour. The arrest was a result of Nick's failure to appear in court after being cited for marijuana possession, an infraction he ''forgot'' to tell me about. Still, I bailed him out, confident that the arrest would teach him a lesson. Any fear or remorse he felt was short-lived, however, blotted out by a new drug -- crystal methamphetamine

When I was a child, my parents implored me to stay away from drugs. I dismissed them, because they didn't know what they were talking about. They were -- still are -- teetotalers. I, on the other hand, knew about drugs, including methamphetamine. On a Berkeley evening in the early 1970's, my college roommate arrived home, yanked the thrift-shop mirror off the wall and set it upon a coffee table. He unfolded an origami packet and poured out its contents onto the mirror: a mound of crystalline powder. From his wallet he produced a single-edge razor, with which he chipped at the crystals, the steel tapping rhythmically on the glass. While arranging the powder in four parallel rails, he explained that Michael the Mechanic, our drug dealer, had been out of cocaine. In its place, he purchased crystal methamphetamine.

I snorted the lines through a rolled-up dollar bill. The chemical burned my nasal passages, and my eyes watered. Whether the drug is sniffed, smoked, swallowed or injected, the body quickly absorbs methamphetamine. Once it reaches the circulatory system, it's a near-instant flume ride to the central nervous system. When it reached mine, I heard cacophonous music like a calliope and felt as if Roman candles had been lighted inside my skull. Methamphetamine triggers the brain's neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, which spray like bullets from a gangster's tommy gun. The drug destroys the receptors and as a result may, over time, permanently reduce dopamine levels, sometimes leading to symptoms normally associated with Parkinson's disease like tremors and muscle twitches. Meth increases the heart rate and blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to strokes. It can also cause arrhythmia and cardiovascular collapse, possibly leading to death. But I felt fantastic -- supremely confident, euphoric.

After methamphetamine triggers the release of neurotransmitters, it blocks their reuptake back into their storage pouches, much as cocaine and other stimulants do. Unlike cocaine, however, meth also blocks the enzymes that help to break down invasive drugs, so the released chemicals float freely until they wear off. Methamphetamine remains active for 10 to 12 hours, compared with 45 minutes for cocaine. When the dawn began to seep through the cracked window blinds, I felt bleak, depleted and agitated. I went to bed and eventually slept for a full day, blowing off school.

I never touched methamphetamine again, but my roommate returned again and again to Michael the Mechanic's, and his meth run lasted for two weeks. Not long afterward, he moved away, and I lost touch with him. I later learned that after college, his life was defined by his drug abuse. There were voluntary and court-ordered rehabs, car crashes, a house that went up in flames when he fell asleep with a burning cigarette in his mouth, ambulance rides to emergency rooms after overdoses and accidents and incarcerations, both in hospitals and jails. He died on the eve of his 40th birthday.

When I told Nick cautionary stories like this and warned him about crystal, I thought that I might have some credibility. I have heard drug counselors tell parents of my generation to lie to our children about our past drug use. Famous athletes show up at school assemblies or on television and tell kids, ''Man, don't do this stuff, I almost died,'' and yet there they stand, diamonds, gold, multimillion-dollar salaries and fame. The words: I barely survived. The message: I survived, thrived and you can, too. Kids see that their parents turned out all right in spite of the drugs. So maybe I should have lied, and maybe I'll try lying to Daisy and Jasper. Nick, however, knew the truth. I don't know how much it mattered. Part of me feels solely responsible -- if only his mother and I had stayed together; if only she and I had lived in the same city after the divorce and had a joint-custody arrangement that was easier on him; if only I had set stricter limits; if only I had been more consistent. And yet I also sense that Nick's course was determined by his first puff of pot and sip of wine and sealed with the first hit of speed the summer before he began college.

When Nick's therapist said that college would straighten him out, I wanted to believe him. When change takes place gradually, it's difficult to comprehend its meaning. At what point is a child no longer experimenting, no longer a typical teenager, no longer going through a phase or a rite of passage? I am astounded -- no, appalled -- by my ability to deceive myself into believing that everything would turn out all right in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary.

At the University of California at Berkeley, Nick almost immediately began dealing to pay for his escalating meth habit. After three months, he dropped out, claiming that he had to pull himself together. I encouraged him to check into a drug-rehabilitation facility, but he refused. (He was over 18, and I could not commit him.) He disappeared. When he finally called after a week, his voice trembled. It nonetheless brought a wave of relief -- he was alive. I drove to meet him in a weedy and garbage-strewn alleyway in San Rafael. My son, the svelte and muscular swimmer, water-polo player and surfer with an ebullient smile, was bruised, sallow, skin and bone, and his eyes were vacant black holes. Ill and rambling, he spent the next three days curled up in bed.

I was bombarded with advice, much of it contradictory. I was advised to kick him out. I was advised not to let him out of my sight. One counselor warned, ''Don't come down too hard on him or his drug use will just go underground.'' One mother recommended a lockup school in Mexico, where she sent her daughter to live for two years. A police officer told me that I should send Nick to a boot camp where children, roused and shackled in the middle of the night, are taken by force.

His mother and I decided that we had to do everything possible to get Nick into a drug-rehabilitation program, so we researched them, calling recommended facilities, inquiring about their success rates for treating meth addicts. These conversations provided my initial glimpse of what must be the most chaotic, flailing field of health care in America. I was quoted success rates in a range from 20 to 85 percent. An admitting nurse at a Northern California hospital insisted: ''The true number for meth addicts is in the single digits. Anyone who promises more is lying.'' But what else could we try? I used what was left of my waning influence -- the threat of kicking him out of the house and withdrawing all of my financial support -- to get him to commit himself into the Ohlhoff Recovery Program in San Francisco. It is a well-respected program, recommended by many of the experts in the Bay Area. A friend of a friend told me that the program turned around the life of her heroin-addicted son.

Nick trembled when I dropped him off. Driving home afterward, I felt as if I would collapse from more emotion than I could handle. Incongruously, I felt as if I had betrayed him, though I did take some small consolation in the fact that I knew where he was; for the first time in a while, I slept through the night.

For their initial week, patients were forbidden to use the telephone, but Nick managed to call, begging to come home. When I refused, he slammed down the receiver. His counselor reported that he was surly, depressed and belligerent, threatening to run away. But he made it through the first week, which consisted of morning walks, lectures, individual and group sessions with counselors, 12-step-program meetings and meditation and acupuncture. Family groups were added in the second week. My wife and I, other visiting parents and spouses or partners, along with our addicts, sat in worn couches and folding chairs, and a grandmotherly, whiskey-voiced (though sober for 20 years) counselor led us in conversation.

''Tell your parents what it means that they're here with you, Nick,'' she said.

''Whatever. It's fine.''

By the fourth and final week, he seemed open and apologetic, claiming to be determined to take responsibility for the mess he'd made of his life. He said that he knew that he needed more time in treatment, and so we agreed to his request to move into the transitional residential program. He did, and then three days later he bolted. At some point, parents may become inured to a child's self-destruction, but I never did. I called the police and hospital emergency rooms. I didn't hear anything for a week. When he finally called, I told him that he had two choices as far as I was concerned: another try at rehab or the streets. He maintained that it was unnecessary -- he would stop on his own -- but I told him that it wasn't negotiable. He listlessly agreed to try again.

I called another recommended program, this one at the St. Helena Hospital Center for Behavioral Health, improbably located in the Napa Valley wine country. Many families drain every penny, mortgaging their homes and bankrupting their college funds and retirement accounts, trying successive drug-rehab programs. My insurance and his mother's paid most of the costs of these programs. Without this coverage, I'm not sure what we would have done. By then I was no longer sanguine about rehabilitation, but in spite of our experience and the questionable success rates, there seemed to be nothing more effective for meth addiction.

Patients in the St. Helena program keep journals. In Nick's, he wrote one day: ''How the hell did I get here? It doesn't seem that long ago that I was on the water-polo team. I was an editor of the school newspaper, acting in the spring play, obsessing about which girls I liked, talking Marx and Dostoevsky with my classmates. The kids in my class will be starting their junior years of college. This isn't so much sad as baffling. It all seemed so positive and harmless, until it wasn't.''

By the time he completed the fourth week, Nick once again seemed determined to stay away from drugs. He applied to a number of small liberal-arts schools on the East Coast. His transcripts were still good enough for him to be accepted at the colleges to which he applied, and he selected Hampshire, located in a former apple orchard in Western Massachusetts.

In August, my wife and I flew east with him for freshman orientation. At the welcoming picnic, Karen and I surveyed the incoming freshmen for potential drug dealers. We probably would have seen this on most campuses, but we were not reassured when we noticed a number of students wearing T-shirts decorated with marijuana leaves, portraits of Bob Marley smoking a spliff and logos for the Church of LSD.

In spite of his protestations and maybe (though I'm not sure) his good intentions and in spite of his room in substance-free housing, Nick didn't stand a chance. He tried for a few weeks. When he stopped returning my phone calls, I assumed that he had relapsed. I asked a friend, who was visiting Amherst, to stop by to check on him. He found Nick holed up in his room. He was obviously high. I later learned that not only had Nick relapsed, but he had supplemented methamphetamine with heroin and morphine, because, he explained, at the time meth was scarce in Western Massachusetts. ''Everyone told me not to try it, you know?'' Nick later said about heroin. ''They were like, 'Whatever you do, stay away from dope.' I wish I'd got the same warning about meth. By the time I got around to doing heroin, I really didn't see what the big deal was.''

I prepared to follow through on my threat and stop paying his tuition unless he returned to rehab, but I called a health counselor, who advised patience, saying that often ''relapse is part of recovery.'' A few days later, Nick called and told me that he would stop using. He went to 12-step program meetings and, he claimed, suffered the detox and early meth withdrawal that is characterized by insuperable depression and acute anxiety -- a drawn-out agony. He kept in close touch and got through the year, doing well in some writing and history classes, newly in love with a girl who drove him to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and eager to see Jasper and Daisy. His homecoming was marked by trepidation, but also promise, which is why it was so devastating when we discovered the truth.

When Nick left, I sunk into a wretched and sickeningly familiar malaise, alternating with a debilitating panic. One morning, Jasper came into the kitchen, holding a satin box, a gift from a friend upon his return from China, in which he kept his savings of $8. Jasper looked perplexed. ''I think Nick took my money,'' he said. How do you explain to an 8-year-old why his beloved big brother steals from him?

After a week, I succumbed to my desperation and went to try to find him. I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County to San Francisco, to the Haight, where I knew he often hung out. The neighborhood, in spite of some gentrification, retains its 1960's-era funkiness. Kids -- tattooed, pierced, track-marked, stoned -- loiter in doorways. Of course I didn't find him.

After another few weeks, he called, collect: ''Hey, Pop, it's me.'' I asked if he would meet me. No matter how unrealistic, I retained a sliver of hope that I could get through to him. That's not quite accurate. I knew I couldn't, but at least I could put my fingertips on his cheek.

For our meeting, Nick chose Steps of Rome, a cafe on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, our neighborhood after his mother and I divorced. In those days, Nick played in Washington Square Park opposite the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, down the hill from our Russian Hill flat. We would eat early dinner at Vanessi's, an Italian restaurant now gone. The waiters, when they saw Nick, then towheaded, with a gap between his front teeth, would lift him up and set him on telephone books stacked on a stool at the counter. Nick was little enough so that after dinner, when he got sleepy, I could carry him home, his tiny arms wrapped around my neck.

Since reason and love, the forces I had come to rely on, had betrayed me, I was in uncharted territory as I sat at a corner table nervously waiting for him. Steps of Rome was deserted, other than a couple of waiters folding napkins at the bar. I ordered coffee, racking my brain for the one thing I could say that I hadn't thought of that could get through to him. Drug-and-alcohol counselors, most of them former addicts, tell fathers like me it's not our fault. They preach ''the Three C's'': ''You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it.'' But who among us doesn't believe that we could have done something differently that would have helped? ''It hurts so bad to think I cannot save him, protect him, keep him out of harm's way, shield him from pain,'' wrote Thomas Lynch, the undertaker, poet and essayist, about his son, a drug addict and an alcoholic. ''What good are fathers if not for these things?'' I waited until it was more than half an hour past our meeting time, recognizing the mounting, suffocating worry and also the bitterness and anger. I had been waiting for Nick for years. At night, past his curfew, I waited for the car's grinding engine when it pulled into the driveway and went silent, the slamming door, footsteps and the front door opening with a click, despite his attempt at stealth. Our dog would yelp a halfhearted bark. When Nick was late, I always assumed catastrophe.

After 45 minutes waiting at Steps of Rome, I decided that he wasn't coming -- what had I expected? -- and left the cafe. Still, I walked around the block, returned again, peered into the cafe and then trudged around the block again. Another half-hour later, I was ready to go home, really, maybe, when I saw him. Walking down the street, looking down, his gangly arms limp at his sides, he looked more than ever like a ghostly, hollow Egon Schiele self-portrait, debauched and emaciated. I returned his hug, my arms wrapping around his vaporous spine, and kissed his cheek. We embraced like that and sat down at a table by the window. He couldn't look me in the eye. No apologies for being late. He asked how I was, how were the little kids? He folded and unfolded a soda straw and rocked anxiously in his chair; his fingers trembled, and he clenched his jaw and ground his teeth. He pre-empted any questions, saying: ''I'm doing. Great. I'm doing what I need to be doing, being responsible for myself for the first time in my life.'' I asked if he was ready to kick, to return to the living, to which he said, ''Don't start.'' When I said that Jasper and Daisy missed him, he cut me off. ''I can't deal with that. Don't guilt-trip me.'' Nick drank down his coffee, held onto his stomach. I watched him rise and leave.

Through Nick's drug addiction, I learned that parents can bear almost anything. Every time we reach a point where we feel as if we can't bear any more, we do. Things had descended in a way that I never could have imagined, and I shocked myself with my ability to rationalize and tolerate things that were once unthinkable. He's just experimenting. Going through a stage. It's only marijuana. He gets high only on weekends. At least he's not using heroin. He would never resort to needles. At least he's alive.

A fortnight later, Nick wrote an e-mail message to his mother and asked for help. After they talked, he agreed to meet with a friend of our family who took him to her home in upstate New York, where he could detox. He slept for 20 or more hours a day for a week and began to work with a therapist who specialized in drug addiction. After six or so weeks, he seemed stronger and somewhat less desolate. His mother helped him move into an apartment in Brooklyn, and he got a job. When he finally called, he told me that he would never again use methamphetamine, though he made no such vows about marijuana and alcohol. With this news, I braced myself for the next disaster. A new U.C.L.A. study confirms that I had reason to expect one: recovering meth addicts who stay off alcohol and marijuana are significantly less likely to relapse.

Two or so months later, the phone rang at 5 on a Sunday morning. Every parent of a drug-addicted child recoils at a ringing telephone at that hour. I was informed that Nick was in a hospital emergency room in Brooklyn after an overdose. He was in critical condition and on life support.

After two hours, the doctor called to tell me that his vital signs had leveled off. Still later, he called to say that Nick was no longer on the critical list. From his hospital bed, when he was coherent enough to talk, Nick sounded desperate. He asked to go into another program, said it was his only chance.

So without reluctance this time, Nick returned to rehab. After six or so months, he moved to Santa Monica near his mother. He lived in a sober-living home, attended meetings regularly and began working with a sponsor. He had several jobs, including one at a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation program in Malibu. Last April, after celebrating his second year sober, he relapsed again, disappearing for two weeks. His sponsor, who had become a close friend of Nick's, assured me: ''Nick won't stay out long. He's not having any fun.'' Of course I hoped that he was right, but I was no less worried than I was other times he had disappeared -- worried that he could overdose or otherwise cause irreparable damage.

But he didn't. He returned and withdrew on his own, helped by his sponsor and other friends. He was ashamed -- mortified -- that he slipped. He redoubled his efforts. Ten months later, of course, I am relieved (once again) and hopeful (once again). Nick is working and writing a children's book and articles and movie reviews for an online magazine. He is biking and swimming. He seems emphatically committed to his sobriety, but I have learned to check my optimism.

We recently visited Nick. His eyes were clear, his body strong and his laugh easy and honest. At night, he read to Jasper and Daisy, picking up ''The Witches'' where he left off nearly three years before. Soon thereafter, a letter arrived for Jasper, who is now 11. Nick wrote: ''I'm looking for a way to say I'm sorry more than with just the meaninglessness of those two words. I also know that this money can never replace all that I stole from you in terms of the fear and worry and craziness that I brought to your young life. The truth is, I don't know how to say I'm sorry. I love you, but that has never changed. I care about you, but I always have. I'm proud of you, but none of that makes it any better. I guess what I can offer you is this: As you're growing up, whenever you need me -- to talk or just whatever -- I'll be able to be there for you now. That is something that I could never promise you before. I will be here for you. I will live, and build a life, and be someone that you can depend on. I hope that means more than this stupid note and these eight dollar bills.''

- David Sheff, NY Times Magazine February 6, 2005

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dedicated to Madeleine Albright on Behalf of the Children of Iraq

I dedicate this to my daughter, Helani, on her 5th birthday, as I can NOT imagine my life without her and I can not fathom why we do not value children EVERYWHERE as we would our very own.

Dedicated to Madeleine Albright, on Behalf of the Children of Iraq, whose Lives were a "Price Worth It."
("60 Minutes", 12th May 1996.)

" ... war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children." Howard Zinn. (1922-2010.)

It was Kathy Kelly - relentlessly, lovingly, committed to the people of Iraq, constantly risking the draconian wrath, jail terms, and impossible fines of the US., government for her compassion - who alerted me. The 'phone rang, it was 12th May 1996, and Kathy was calling from Chicago, stunned. Madeleine Albright, then US., Ambassador the the UN., had just appeared on "Sixty Minutes."

Lesley Stahl, said Kathy, had said, of the US., driven embargo on Iraq: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Albright had responded: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

Some things really are indelibly seared in to memory. I remember a feeling of disbelief; somehow even the meticulous Kathy must have some way misconstrued. Was there any way she could fax me a transcript I asked, in those, for most, pre-home computer days. Magically, she obtained one within the hour. Reading it, the images of the children I had watched helplessly, their lives ebbing away, for want of embargoed medicines, treatments, frequently the ability to perform vital surgery, flooded my mind.

I thought of the sudden look of hope, in the eyes of parents sitting by the bed of a child, as one walked in to the ward. One was from outside Iraq, perhaps there was some miracle one could work, then the look died. As did so, so, many of the small, frail little souls, their lives snatched away. Now I knew that they were a "price" that was "worth it." And with it, the realization that total evil really exists.

Iraq imported seventy percent of virtually everything. On Hiroshima Day 1990, with the implementation of the embargo rational life ended. From school books, to childrens' toys, lipstick to sanitary items, washing up liquid to shampoo, normality died. But it was the health sector, formerly possibly the finest in the Middle East, free to all, which was uniquely devastated. After the 1991 bombing, it was - literally - largely in ruins.
The viciousness with which the UN., Sanctions Committee acted, made a mockery of the fine founding words of their Charter in general and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in particular. From incubators to paediatric syringes, cancer medications to dialysis machines and equipment, from pain killers to scalpels, anti-biotics to asthma inhalers, all were vetoed.

Six months before Albright's pronouncement, in December 1995, Sara Zaidi and Mary Smith Fawzi of the Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote to the Lancet, pointing out that by August 1991, just one year in to the embargo: "baseline mortality for the under five population rose from 43.2 to 128.5 per 1,000, reflecting a three fold increase in child mortality." In their further survey (1995) under the auspices of UN., Food and Agricultural Organization: "the under five mortality rate increased five-fold." Stunting and wasting had become prevalent in a country where food was formerly cheap and plentiful.

I first went to Iraq after the 1991 bombing, less a year later, and within a couple of hours witnessed the reality behind the statistics. In what had been a flagship teaching hospital, I watched a young nurse, frantically trying to clear the throat of a perfect, new born baby boy, his young parents standing, their faces frozen with terror. A friend, a doctor from Scotland was with me, she looked round and said: "In a situation like this, in near any hospital, you know where the vital items will be, there is nothing here." We watched helplessly, as the little mite turned, white, grey, near blue, and lost his fledgling fight for life, as the sun streamed through broken, bomb damaged windows. The glass factories had been bombed - and glass too was vetoed. The baby had died for little more than cents worth of basic, plastic suction.

By 1993, mothers too malnourished to breast feed and unable to afford milk powder, fed their babies on sugared water, or sugared black tea. Virtually all became bloated, chronically malnourished and died. Doctors created a new diagnosis. They called them: "the sugar babies."

For children who survived, experts on children in war zones, warned that this was possibly the most traumatized child population on earth. With the austerity, the ongoing (illegal) bombings by the US., and UK., they had no way to recover from their experiences.

An unforgettable example was a child of about five, in a small grocery store, early one morning. He came in, in the proud mode of children everywhere, entrusted with an important errand. He bought one egg. At the time, a tray of eggs cost a university Professor's monthly salary. To go to a meal and find minute pieces of egg in it, was to be honoured indeed. The child carried it carefully to the door - and dropped it. He fell to his knees, trying to scrape it up up in his hands, tears streaming down his face. I reached in to my pocket, the shop keeper tapped him on the shoulder and gave him another one.

Two more children that were "worth" the "price", were suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia, bleeding internally, covered in bruises from their leaking capillaries and in intractable pain. There was no pain relief. The younger one, aged three, was lying rigid, his eyes full of unshed tears. He had taught himself not to cry, since it wracked his agonized little body further. I turned away, unable to take a picture, or take notes, just wanting to comfort him; but to touch would have brought further agony.

Near the door, I bent to stroke the head of the older child, just five. In a gesture which must have cost him the unimaginable, he responded as children everywhere, to affection, and squeezed my hand tightly. I wrote at the time: "I walked from the ward, leant against the wall, and knew that it was actually possible to died of shame."

Ms Albright would have been no doubt, pleased at the progress of her project in Basra. On one visit to the paediatric and maternity hospital, dear friend, Dr Jenan Hussein came running out to hug me. Then a moment's silence, and I had a near premonition. She said: "Felicity, you know those children you wrote about in June?" (It was November) "I am sorry, they have all died." They were seventeen babies in the premature baby unit, without even oxygen. (Vetoed.)

That was the visit when I nearly lost the plot. I walked in to one ward and a group of distraught women, aunts, grandmothers, were standing by a cot, of another perfect new born, who had just died. The mother had rushed from the unit beside herself in grief. I asked if I could hold the tiny still warm being. "Please, of course." I put him over my shoulder, stroked his head, back, certain I could bring him back to life, he was warm, fluid, total. How long I stroked his small form, willing him back, I do not know. Finally, defeated, I laid him down, wrapped him and we wept together.

Further down the corridor was another new born. He was in an incubator, wrapped in blankets, since the incubator did not work (replacements vetoed) in the looking glass world Iraq had become. He needed an exchange transfusion, premature and yellow with jaundice as he was. I thought I had the blood type needed and offered mine if they checked to be sure, since wrong blood is as lethal as no blood. There were no facilities to check. Vetoed. My premature son had been saved by and exchange transfusion. I looked in to the mother's eyes and resonated with her agony. We, the doctors, the baby, were all as helpless as each other.

As cancers soared (children in the mid 90's were sometimes born with cancer - an unheard of phenomenon) cancer treatments were vetoed. The cancer has been linked to the weapons used, especially depleted uranium.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority in a "self initiated" Report, estimated that if fifty tonnes of the residual dust remained after the 1991 hostilities, there would be half a million excess cancer deaths by 2000. In fact the highest estimates of that left is 700 tonnes. In 1998 a John Hopkins University study estimated that if cancers continued on the current curve, 44% of the population would develop it by 2000.

The 2003 blitzkrieg may have left 2,000- 3,000 further tonnes of DU. For years many years couples have feared having children, given the equal epidemic of birth defects, as would be expected if nuclear waste is dropped on populations.

I have written much of Jassim, the child poet, who, hearing I was a writer, glowed with delight, and took a note book from under his pillow in the cancer ward he was lying in. Could he read me his poem? Of course:

"The name is love
The class is mindless
The school is suffering
The government is sadness
The city is sighing
The street is misery
The home number is one thousand sighs. "

"Jassim", I said, finally finding my voice, if you can write this at thirteen, think what you will do at twenty. I asked if I could use his poem and credit him. He was thrilled. He never saw it in print, in many places and languages. He died before an aid agency could get the medications he needed to him, circumventing the embargo.

Just before the invasion, I asked the father of another terminally ill child, Mohammed, (10) what he would like to ask of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. He responded: "Please ask them, do they want all out children as child sacrifices?"

"Liberating" Iraq has resulted in an estimated five million orphans, one million widows, nearly five million displaced, internally and externally and an infrastructure, social distortion, medical tragedy which makes the embargo years seem mild. Between the embargo and the invasion - 1990 - 2011, higher estimates are three million dead, the unborn, new born and under fives, still paying the highest price. A "price worth it."

Happy Anniversary, Madam Albright.

- Felicity Arbuthnot

Sunday, May 15, 2011

We Need a God Who Bleeds Now

we need a god who bleeds now
a god whose wounds are not
some small male vengeance
some pitiful concession to humility
a desert swept with dryin marrow in honor of the lord

we need a god who bleeds
spreads her lunar vulva & showers us in shades of scarlet
thick & warm like the breath of her
our mothers tearing to let us in
this place breaks open
like our mothers bleeding
the planet is heaving mourning our ignorance
the moon tugs the seas
to hold her/to hold her
embrace swelling hills/i am
not wounded i am bleeding to life

we need a god who bleeds now
whose wounds are not the end of anything

- Ntozake Shange

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goddess Worship

"Goddess religion was earth-centered, not heaven-centered, of this world, not other-worldly, body affirming not body-denying, holistic not dualistic. The Goddess was immanent, within every human being, not transcendent, and humanity was viewed as part of nature, death as a part of life. Her worship was sensual, celebrating the erotic, embracing all that was alive. The religious quest was above all for renewal, for the regeneration of life, and the Goddess was the life force."

- Patricia Lynn Reilly, Be Full of Yourself p 52

Friday, May 13, 2011

Feminism Today

"It's much harder for young women today to practice feminism because so much is expected of you all. And you really see, if you watch television, that you're expected to be slim and beautiful, smart and the equals of men, but also to subordinate yourselves to men whenever thats appropriate for getting ahead. So many mixed messages leave a lot of young women feeling depressed..." - bell hooks

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Recommended Recovery Reading

These are the books that have helped me the most over the years...

Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps - Charlotte Davis Kasl, PhD

Be Full of Yourself!: The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration - Patricia Lynn Reilly

You Can Heal Your Life - Louise L. Hay

Women, Sex and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power - Charlotte Davis Kasl, PhD

Perfect Daughters: Adult Daughters of Alcoholics - Robert J. Ackerman, PhD

I Promise Myself: Making a Commitment to Yourself and Your Dreams - Patricia Lynn Reilly

The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure: A Holistic Approach to Total Recovery - Chris Prentiss

Meditation as Medicine - Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD and Cameron Stauth

beautiful boy: a father's journey through his son's addiction - David Sheff

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

- Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Today we bless mothers who sat up all night with sick toddlers saying, "It's OK honey, Mommy's here.

Today we bless mothers who gave birth to babies they may never see. And the mothers who took those babies forever to be their own children.

Today we bless mothers who attended ball games, recitals, rehearsals, etc. etc. and said, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world," and meant it.

Today we bless mothers who show up for work with milk stains on their blouses and diapers in their purse.

Today we bless mothers who put pinwheels, teddy bears, or flowers on children's graves.

Today we bless mothers whose children have gone astray, who haven't the words to reach them, and yet have never put them from their heart.

Today we bless new mothers stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation. And today we bless mature mothers who are learning to let go.

Today we bless all mothers: working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, single mothers, and married mothers. We also bless all women in life giving and nurturing roles. We thank you. We honor you. We bless you. Amen.

- adapted from a prayer of Dan Bottorff

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Imagine a Mother

Imagine a mother who believes she belongs in the world.
A mother who celebrates her own life.
Who is glad to be alive.

Imagine a mother who celebrates the birth of her daughters.
A mother who believes in the goodness of her daughters.
Who nurtures their wisdom. Who cultivates their power.

Imagine a mother who celebrates the birth of her sons.
A mother who believes in the goodness of her sons.
Who nurtures their kindness. Who honors their tears.

Imagine a mother who turns toward herself with interest.
A mother who acknowledges her own feelings and thoughts.
Whose capacity to be available to her family deepens
as she is available to herself.

Imagine a mother who is aware of her own needs and desires.
A mother who meets them with tenderness and grace.
Who enlists the support of respectful friends and chosen family.

Imagine a mother who lives in harmony with her heart.
A mother who trusts her impulses to expand and contract.
Who knows that everything changes in the fullness of time.

Imagine a mother who embodies her spirituality.
A mother who honors her body as the sacred temple of the spirit of life.
Who breathes deeply as a prayer of gratitude for life itself.

Imagine a mother who values the women in her life.
A mother who finds comfort in the company of women.
Who sets aside time to replenish her woman-spirit.

Imagine yourself as this mother.

-Patricia Lynn Reilly

Friday, May 6, 2011


The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still water, She will lead.

She restores my soul, she rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said, She won't forsake me, I'm in Her Hand.

She sets a table before me in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life, And I will live in Her house,
Forever and ever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end, A men.

by Bobby McFerren

There's Hope!

9/12 India.Arie - There's Hope (Live)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Addiction in Women

"Some of Eve's daughters choose to hide in food, work, alcohol, drugs or relationships. Our addictions function as a veil of shame separating us from the human community. At times we long for recognition. We search for magical insight or treatment that will exorcise the flawed part of us. At other times our addiction feels like a warm protective covering, behind which we hide essential parts of themselves in response to and in avoidance of the exposure, scrutiny, and judgement of others.

Isolation from others and alienation from ourselves culminate in the contraction of our lives. Fearful of exposure, depleted of our life energy, our lives become smaller. We are available for superficial relationships - the ones that don't require access to the hidden parts of ourselves. Addiction becomes our gatekeeper circumscribing our lives. We live within a very small circle, fearful of moving out to explore, to experiment, to risk exposure. If we venture out too far, the critical voices begin and we return to the safety of our contracted existence. Numbness (no feeling), boredom (predictable activity), and habit (controlled regularity) become our companions."

- Patricia Lynn Reilly, Be Full of Yourself, (43-44)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Omnipotence, not Inferiority

"Daughter of Woman, your healing task is not to become a new, improved or changed person. Rather, it is to reclaim your natural and essential self in all it's fullness. In the very beginning, you remembered yourself. You came into the world with feelings of omnipotence, not inferiority."

- Patricia Lynn Reilly, I promise Myself

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to Forgive Anyone—and Why Your Health Depends on It

Fred Luskin wants me to forgive my mother. And, while I'm at it, my father, my third-grade teacher, my passive-aggressive coworker, the woman who cut me off on the highway, and the guys in Washington who've made such a mess of things. Not for their sake, but for mine: Luskin is convinced I'll be less anxious, more upbeat, and healthier if I do.

After studying forgiveness for close to 20 years, he should know. A lean wolfhound of a man with a mop of bushy hair parted down the middle, Luskin holds a PhD in counseling and health psychology from Stanford University, where he is the cofounder and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. He's a pioneer in the burgeoning forgiveness field, and it appears he's onto something. Study after study has found that forgiving is good for the body as well as the soul. It can lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive generally have more and better relationships with others, feel happier and more hopeful, and score higher on just about every measure of psychological well-being.

The trouble is, most of us don't know how to do it. There's no playbook for forgiveness, no manual for getting past betrayals, disappointments, and hurts. This is where Luskin comes in. He's the master of forgiveness how-to. He believes forgiveness is a trainable skill that everyone can—and should—learn.

And this is why, on a sunny Friday morning, I'm seated at a conference room table at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, a therapy-training facility on Manhattan's Upper East Side. A dozen other women are with me, mostly therapists looking to broaden their skills, though a few of us have come for personal reasons. My main motivation is a painful relationship with my mother, who has a history of erratic behavior and lashing out at me (and others). Despite my many efforts at reconciliation, we've been estranged for most of my adult life. I'm here to find out if forgiveness could change our dynamic.

Luskin, dressed in khakis and docksiders, looks like he's ready to sail down the Hudson, not lead a workshop. He has no laptop, no briefcase, no handouts or notes, not even a copy of his book, Forgive for Good. He slouches at the head of the table and talks in a low, patient voice, his hands occasionally smoothing his hair. He tells us that despite what we may have heard about forgiveness "journeys," there are really only two steps in the process: grieving and letting go. Grieving, after you have been wronged, means letting yourself feel the anger, hurt, and trauma in all its original pain—but not indefinitely. "After about two years, most people have had plenty of time to process," Luskin explains. "Then they're ready to move on."

Not moving on—hanging on to resentment and rage—is tantamount to having an existential tantrum, according to Luskin. "We think the world owes us," he says. "But it doesn't. Babies die when they're born. Women are raped. Whole ethnic groups are wiped out. There's no such thing as fair. The guy who loses a parking space to a more aggressive driver thinks, "I want that parking space." A mother whose child has been murdered thinks, "I want my child to be alive." Either way, that's sometimes just not how it works."

A ripple of shock runs through the room. How can anyone compare losing a parking space to losing a child? "It's better not to get caught up in content," Luskin says. By content he means each person's individual story, the source of her anger or hurt.

No matter what the offense, he continues, the process of forgiveness is the same: You let go of anger and hurt by being mindful and focusing on gratitude and kindness. Again, the ripple runs around the table. That's it? A little mindful meditation and all is forgiven? Luskin smiles wryly. "Forgiveness concepts are simple," he says. "It's the execution that's hard."

Twenty-six years ago, when psychologist Robert Enright, PhD, first got interested in forgiveness, his colleagues thought he'd lost his mind. "They said, 'How can a scientist study something so fluffy?'" he recalls. Enright, who's now a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, takes something of a philosophical approach to his subject. He sees forgiveness as a moral imperative first (turn the other cheek because it's the right thing to do) and a practical matter second (and, oh yes, doing so will probably make your life better). "The decision to forgive touches you to your very core, to who you are as a human being," he says. "It involves your sense of self-esteem, your personal worth, the worth of the person who's hurt you, and your relationship with that person and the larger world."

Much of Enright's research has focused on people who forgive the seemingly unforgiveable—people like Marianne Rosen, 52, who volunteered for one of Enright's earliest studies at UW–Madison in the early 1990s. Rosen's father began sexually and emotionally abusing her when she was 5 years old, and by the time she was in her late 20s, she'd resigned herself to living with rage, hurt, and fear for the rest of her life. Enright wondered if forgiveness could help in such an extreme case: "The literature at the time basically said, 'There's very little the psychological sciences can do for someone so gravely wounded.'"

The study Rosen volunteered for compared incest survivors who were offered forgiveness training with those who weren't. For more than a year, Rosen met weekly with Suzanne Freedman, PhD, then a graduate student of Enright's, now an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Northern Iowa. The goal of the meetings was to allow Rosen to relive her pain and experience her grief in a safe place; somewhere along the way, Rosen made an intellectual decision to forgive her father, who had committed suicide when she was 11. "The work enabled me to see that he was not able to break the chain of abuse," she says. "And I got to a point where I actually wanted to see him. So I went to Chicago and found where he was buried, and put a pebble on top of his headstone. I remember just sobbing and finally feeling there was some kind of resolution." After years of feeling simmering resentment toward her father, she says, "I just wasn't angry anymore."

Like Rosen, the other participants in Enright's study made surprising emotional progress. Those who had gone through the forgiveness training felt less anxiety and depression, and more hope and higher self-esteem, than those who hadn't. A year later, the gains still held. The study had changed the participants' lives.

But how? Researchers are now using functional magnetic resonance imaging to see if the answer lies within the brain. A team at the University of Pisa in Italy asked people to imagine forgiving someone and then observed changes in cerebral blood flow, which signaled the parts of the brain that became more active. They found that several regions "lit up," especially areas that regulate emotional responses, moral judgments, perceptions of physical pain, and decision making. By creating this kind of neural map, researchers hope to learn more about how forgiveness works on both a physical and a psychological level.

Kathleen Lawler-Row, PhD, a psychology professor at East Carolina University, is one of several researchers exploring the relationship between forgiveness and health—physical, emotional, and spiritual. She thinks the effects of forgiveness go beyond lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. Once you forgive someone for something very painful, "you never experience life the same way again," she says. "You're more flexible, less black-and-white in your expectations of how life or other people will be. If there's one thing that characterizes people who have experienced forgiveness, it's that kind of larger perspective: I can't predict what life will hand me, but I'm going to respond to it in this way."

Like Luskin, Enright, and others, Lawler-Row believes that forgiveness is at heart a choice, one that any of us can make at any time, no matter the "content" we're wrestling with. How do we do it? Maybe the choice depends in part on how we define the idea. Forgiveness doesn't mean rationalizing or condoning abuse. And forgiveness doesn't mean a sudden case of amnesia. Marianne Rosen knows exactly what her father did and what he was capable of. She can't forget that, but she can change the story of her future. "Forgiving enabled me to realize I could create my own path," she says. "I wasn't just plopped down on this cruddy path I had to walk the rest of my life. I was in control."

For the rest of the morning, Luskin takes those of us in the workshop through some basic mindfulness exercises. We practice abdominal breathing. Through guided visualizations, we're asked to picture someone we love and imagine our hearts opening. I think of my mother-in-law, Vivian, one of the "other mothers" I've sought in my life, who died four years ago. I'm astonished to feel tears on my cheeks and warmth spreading through my body. I also feel calmer, which apparently is the idea. But it's not long before my mind leaps back to my anger at my own mother.

"When you think about a wrong someone did to you, your fight-or-flight system is aroused," explains Luskin. "Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure goes up, you feel hurt and mad. But you could be sitting here feeling how good it is to be alive on such a beautiful day. You won't always be alive, you know. So doesn't it make more sense to appreciate this moment, this now?"

It's all I can do not to roll my eyes, and looking around the table, I see I'm not the only one. I want to say: "Yes, but I don't know how to do that! I'm stuck in all these feelings! And my mother really, really hurt me!" Luskin ignores our agitation and asks us to make lists of things we've thought, felt, and done in response to whatever our forgiveness issue is. Therapy, I write. Medication. Talking to my mother. Talking to my father. Talking to other people about my mother. Not talking to my mother. Arguing with my mother. Reading books about mother-daughter relationships.

Then Luskin asks us to put a star by anything that hasn't been helpful. Every item on my list gets a star.

"Does anything on your list solve the problem?" he asks the room. A unanimous "No." "So is your response a skillful, healing way to deal with a life problem?" he says. "And if not, how do you find a better one?"

We stare at Luskin. "This is very simple stuff," he tells us for the dozenth time. "Simple but not easy. If I could boil it down to one sentence—"

He pauses, and a blonde woman sitting at the end of the table pipes up, "Don't worry, be happy!"

Everyone but Luskin laughs. "That's pretty much it," he says. "Don't worry, be happy."

I'm reminded of my first sailing lesson, alone in a Sunfish while a friend called instructions from another boat. "Get closer to the wind!" he kept shouting, to my bafflement. The wind was all around. How could I get closer?

I understand that forgiveness is for me, not my mother; that I'm the one most hurt by my anger and frustration. And I want to let go of those feelings, I really do. I want to "be happy," as Luskin would say. But we've been at this for hours and I don't have even the vaguest idea of how to do it.

At the afternoon break, I snag Luskin for a few minutes to pose a question: It's one thing to forgive something that's happened, that's over and done. But what if the person who hurt you in the past keeps hurting you over and over, in the present? He interrupts before I get the last words out. "It's not happening now, this second," he says in an offhand way. "So try again."

I take a breath, unclench my jaw, and pose a different question: "How can you keep yourself safe with a difficult person?" In response, Luskin smiles—the first genuine smile I've seen from him all day. "That's the right question," he says, beaming. "That gets rid of the blame and the enemy." And keeps the focus where it belongs, on me. "You can probably answer that question yourself," he says.

My answer, I tell him, is to keep my distance from my mother, talking to her maybe once or twice a year. He nods encouragingly. "Now, can you do that with an open heart?" he asks.

I sit back in my chair and consider—deeply, seriously, honestly—what that would mean: No more bitching about my mother. No more whining to friends for sympathy. No more self-pity. Thinking of my mother with as much compassion as I can muster, but not necessarily getting any closer to her. Accepting our relationship as it is rather than wishing it were different.
Forgiveness, I begin to see, is not about pretending you don't feel angry or hurt. It's about responding out of kindness rather than rage. It's about letting yourself feel the full spectrum of emotions—grief and anger and hurt, but also kindness and compassion. Even toward someone who's hurt you deeply.

So that's how Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie, died in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, can honestly say he wishes Timothy McVeigh had not been put to death. It explains how grieving mother Pearlie Burgess could stand up in a Syracuse, New York, courtroom last spring and forgive the man convicted of killing her daughter. And how Marianne Rosen can wish she could have lunch with her father.

I'm a long way off from that kind of forgiveness, but I'm starting to get a sense of the possibilities. I'm not ready to let go of my "content," and I don't at the moment want a closer relationship with my mother. But as we file out of the conference room, I decide on a first step—because I understand, now, that forgiveness requires a decision. You have to invite it. As I walk down Lexington Avenue in the glorious late-afternoon light, I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I picture my mother and imagine my heart opening.

By Harriet Brown
O, The Oprah Magazine (May 2011 issue)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fear of Life

"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that's life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it's actually fear of life."

-Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart p93