She said no.

I just read a news story about an 11-year-old boy who killed an eight-year-old neighbor girl because she said no.

She didn’t say no about sex. It wasn’t over something so charged with emotion as sex.

It was over a puppy.

He wanted to see her new puppy and she refused. So he went inside his house and picked up a gun and shot her.

It is so easy to say that this is a matter of a parent not locking up their guns. He was easily able to open up the closet door, pull out a shotgun and shoot this girl in the chest, killing her instantly. That is certainly an issue. But more than gun-control, we need to have people control. How have we gotten to the point where young boys feel that the way to deal with rejection is to kill? How have we gotten to the point where being told “no” means someone has to die?

It is to the point where we really shouldn’t be afraid of Muslim men with guns. What we need to be afraid of are young white boys with guns. They are responsible for far more murders in America these days than anyone else.

This has nothing to do with “America being a Godless nation” as some commentators say. You don’t need religion to know you should not kill someone.

Perhaps violent videogames are to blame. Perhaps neglectful parenting is to blame. Perhaps this kid (and all the other ones, too many to name) were left alone for too long, ignored, left to fend for themselves, unguided, unwanted. Perhaps it is all of this, and more. Whatever the reason(s), we as a nation need to figure it out soon, because too many deaths have already occurred.

I feel the root of this particular murder is the word “no” – and how he handled it.

If he didn’t kill her over this, it is entirely possible that he would grow up to assault or rape a different woman who told him “no”. Is this what our society has come to, where women cannot say “no” for fear of being harmed? Is this what our society has come to, where men can’t hear the word “no” without causing harm?

There was no way to predict that this would have happened. He asked to see her puppy. She said no. So he killed her. Something doesn’t add up. This equation does not lead logically from one step to another. And that is the problem. We say we want to stop gun violence, but deep down if we are being honest we really just want to not be the victim of gun violence. It has become random, uncertain, chaotic. Anyone can be a victim.

Long gone are the days where attacks follow a logical pattern. Someone was abused for years and kills his abuser. Someone was in a “bad” part of town and got mugged. Someone got into a fight and got shot.

These days, just going to school can be dangerous. Just going to the movies can get you murdered. There is no logic to it. All the victims are innocent. Often they aren’t even known by their murderer.

Why are there too many guns and not enough parents teaching their children right from wrong? Sometimes it isn’t even as easy or simple as that. Sometimes the parents need a few lessons themselves. Often the parents are less than stable. Giving birth does not suddenly improve intelligence or aptitude. It isn’t a surprise when their kids go off the deep end.

Stronger gun laws will only result in a greater imbalance. More “bad” people will have guns. They don’t obey laws anyway, so gun laws will benefit them and harm everyone else. It is too late to regulate guns – there are too many out there. What we need is to regulate people.

We need to teach our children from an early age how to handle loss, rejection, and pain. We need to teach them how to deal with their feelings, good and bad. We need to teach them how to be with other people in healthy ways, ways that are life-affirming. We need to teach people how to have dialogue versus having debate. We need to teach people about many other cultures and ways of thinking, so they learn there are many ways of seeing and understanding.

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Container

We need containers for our feelings just like banana bread needs a container in order to shape it in the heat of the oven. The container gives the feeling shape. The container is a ritual or a practice.

We have to have places to put our feelings. Rituals are the way to do that. Western culture has some rituals and ceremonies for how to handle big events – birth, marriage, graduation, death. But it doesn’t have rituals for much of anything else. Perhaps this is why so many people suffer from depression and anxiety.

When your culture doesn’t have the tools you need, you have to make your own.

Feelings are difficult to handle. Our culture tells us how to handle the feeling of having to go to the bathroom, but not other feelings. When you have the feeling that you have to go to the bathroom, you need to know what to do with that feeling otherwise you will make a mess everywhere. If you have that feeling you know what to do because you’ve been trained. That feeling you have is what lets you know that there something that needs to get out.

Other feelings are harder to figure out, but they are just as important to get out. There isn’t a physical thing that needs to come out of you, but there still is a need to release that feeling. Emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain will manifest in physical ways. Just like with having to go to the bathroom, you need to know how to deal with it.

When you have a sensation of tension in your shoulders, chest, or gut it is a sign that you have a feeling that needs to be processed. The poet Rumi reminds us that grain has to be broken up before it can become bread. But I’ll add that in order for it to become bread it has to be mixed together with other ingredients, poured into a form and put into the oven.

Difficult feelings aren’t ever alone – we aren’t just grain that has been ground up. And the form is our practice. It gives shape to our feelings. What do you do to stay balanced? Do you drift through your days, or are you intentional?

Our practice is our form, our mold for our feelings. If we don’t use it, our feelings will pour out all over everywhere and be a big mess.

When I found out that my coworker had died unexpectedly, I felt a pain in my stomach. I chose to sing it out. Rather than yell or cry, I chose to give it shape. Deep from my gut I sang out a long clear note, simply saying “Ahhhhh……” for as long as I could. Then I took another breath and did it again and again until I released the tension. I have since found out that this is from yoga. It is called “Lion’s breath”, except in yoga, you just breathe out hard. Here, I sang.

I have also used the technique “praying in color” to process my feelings. I have created some other art and started a prayer book that I will use to memorize prayers. I did all of this in his memory. I have chosen to use what I already do to stay balanced as a way to honor him and acknowledge his passing.

And, of course, I’m writing.

It doesn’t matter what you use to process your feelings – whatever form you use is good, as long as it works for you. What matters is that you use it.

Don’t wait until the storm hits to have a place to go.
Don’t wait until something bad happens to have a practice.

If you stick with your practice every day, then you will have something to rely upon when the inevitable happens. It will help you keep your balance and not get swept away. It doesn’t mean that you escape your feelings – it means that you don’t let your feelings overwhelm you. You still have them – they just don’t have you.

Angry is just a feeling.

It’s okay to be angry.

“Angry” is just a feeling. It is the same as being tired or being hungry or having to poop. It is a sign that something is lacking or there’s too much of something. It as a sign of imbalance but it in itself isn’t a bad thing, and it’s okay to feel it.

You don’t have to explain it. It can just be. It is what you do with it that matters. It’s not the feeling itself, it’s the action you take when you have the feeling that matters.

When you’re hungry do you overeat? When you’re tired do you sleep too much? What do you do with these feelings?

Perhaps having to go to the bathroom is the best example.

When you have to poop do you poop right where you are, or do you go to the bathroom? Do you wait and wait and wait when you have to pee, until you feel like you are going to burst? Or do you take care of it right away, and in a healthy way that is good for you and those around you?

To poop right where you are isn’t healthy, and it isn’t considerate of others. To wait and wait to pee might be considerate of others if you are in a meeting, but it isn’t healthy for you.

Going to the bathroom is learned. That isn’t instinctual. We had to learn how to handle that natural occurrence. I propose that dealing with anger is the same.

It is possible to learn how to deal with this natural feeling in a healthy and safe way, one that is healthy and safe for you, and for those around you.

Some things that work for me –
Go for a walk.
Have a hot bath. Bubbles help.
Write.
Paint.
Deep, focused breathing.
Prayer.
Playing the drums.

Think about the things you do when you are happy, and try one of those when you are angry. Sometimes that is enough to flip the switch.

No matter what, don’t try to escape your anger by using intoxicants. It isn’t about escaping it, it is about allowing it a safe way to get out.

Consider a balloon. The pressure builds up and builds up, and the air has to get out somehow. Either it can get out the way it got in (the neck), or the balloon can burst. Burst balloons don’t work as balloons anymore. They are broken bits. We are like that too when we don’t let our anger get out in a safe way.

Now, in the middle of all this it is a good idea to think about why you are angry. What about this situation is making you feel angry? Does it remind you of some earlier situation that went wrong? How did that situation make you feel? Was there someone in your past who taught you how to react in this particular situation?

You can unlearn old habits and take up new ones. You are forever able to rewrite yourself. Nothing is permanent. Just because it always has been that way doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. The past does not predict the future.

You can’t escape anger, but you can redirect it and you can learn from it. Anger is a part of life, just like night is a part of day. It isn’t bad, in and of itself. It is what you do with it that matters. Use it wisely and it can teach you a lot.

Finding home without a map.

We had a dog when I was growing up who was named Chumley. My brother picked him out, and my brother named him. Somehow, though, the dog ended up becoming my dog, and not in the good way. Somehow I, the younger sister, ended up having to make sure the dog was fed and watered and walked. This turned out to be a regular occurrence with my brother and pets. He’d get them, and then I’d have to take care of them. Perhaps this is part of where I learned to be a caretaker of others and not myself. But this is not that story.

This story is about a time where Chumley ran away. Most dogs know how to stay in the yard, but not Chumley. That dog was a wire haired fox terrier, and they aren’t really mentally intact dogs. Those dogs are a bit high strung and wild. They really aren’t the best around small children, and sometimes I think they really aren’t the best around themselves. They get a bit excitable all the time and kind of lose their minds.

Chumley was an inside dog in the biggest possible way. If we let him out without a leash he’d just run and run and run. Even with a leash it was hard. He was always straining at the leash, pulling me along, nearly choking himself to get to the next place. He made a hoarse, desperate sound all the time as he pulled ahead. The walk was a real workout for my shoulder muscles and not really very fun. I suspect it wasn’t very fun for him either.

He was so scattered that he even had to poop inside. We had newspapers in the kitchen, and that is where he would go. I can’t even imagine how I thought that was normal, to have food and crap and pee in the same room. It was what was introduced to me as normal, though, so I went with it. I didn’t know otherwise.

One time, before Christmas, he got out. He slipped out of the front door and went running. He kept running. Before we even realized it he was gone gone gone.

Days went by.

It was getting colder. It wasn’t too cold, because it was Chattanooga, and white Christmases are really rare. Brown with mud was more like it. But it was cold-ish, and this dog wasn’t an outside dog, and how was he eating and getting water? What was happening to him? Was he OK? Was he dead? There was no way he could have defended himself against another dog. He was like the clown of the circus.

Maybe we looked for him. Maybe we didn’t. I don’t remember. I hope we did. I could tell you that we put out an all points bulletin and stapled “Lost Dog” flyers on telephone poles, but I’d be lying. I don’t know if we even got in the car and drove around, calling out his name.

Maybe we just thought he wanted out.

I can understand that. I can empathize with that.

He didn’t choose to be there. He wanted to be out. He wanted to eat grass and poop outside and sniff other dog’s butts. He wanted to roll in mud puddles.

He wanted to be a dog.

And we weren’t letting him.

So, he was gone, for days.

Just about the time that we thought he must be dead (at worst) or adopted by another family (at best), he came back.

But he didn’t come back alone. There was this other dog with him. There was this smallish mutt beside him. Some dog that we’d never seen.

I played all over that neighborhood, and I knew every dog within a three mile radius of my house. I didn’t know this dog.

Somehow, this dog, this strange dog, had found Chumley and brought him back home.

I have no idea how he knew where Chumley’s home was. I have no idea how they communicated. All I know was that it was three days later and Chumley was dirty and tired and his feet were bloody from all that running outside, but he was home.

And I understand some of it now.

Sometimes I’m Chumley, and sometimes I’m the mutt. Sometimes my husband is Chumley, and sometimes he is the mutt. Sometimes we have to take turns walking each other home.

And sometimes home isn’t where we feel at home, but we stay there anyway. And sometimes “home” is more about the places in our heads and our hearts, rather than where we sleep and keep our stuff.

And sometimes all we want to do is run away as far as possible.

Sometimes I don’t feel at home in my self, my being, my “me”. Sometimes all I want to do is run away.

Sometimes I go up to my star stones. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I take a hot bath. Sometimes it is so bad that I have to do all three.

Sometimes I’m so upset and angry that I’m on fire and I don’t even realize it.

Sometimes the person I want to run away from is my husband.

Sometimes I want him to fix this fire burning in me, to put it out, to stomp on it and then call for a firetruck. Sometimes I want him to know what to do, what to say, how to stand just right that this fire will die down to a pretty little candle, contained in a glass dish. Something simple. Something safe. Something easy.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed at the bonfire of my emotions and feelings and I’m on fire and all I want to do is light up everything around me and leave it all a charred, smoking hulk of rubble for the forensics team to walk through and try to figure out what happened two days later when it cools down enough to be safe to pick through the pieces.

And then it turns. It changes.

I’ll have been gone for three days, or three minutes, or three hours. No matter how long, I’ve been right here, but I’ve been gone in my hurt and anger and loss and pain.

And somehow he finds me, and brings me back home.

Christmas, and bottled up feelings.

I hate Christmas. I don’t hate the idea of it. I hate the execution of it. So painful. So hard. So tedious. Many Christmases I’ve washed down with a bucket of tears and a side of regret.

One was with my boyfriend, now husband. We met with his brother and then wife at a Mexican restaurant. Jeff gave him presents. Scott gave both of them presents, some of which were from me. I got nothing. Not even a token something. I wanted to go sit in the car and cry. I wanted to remove myself from all of it. I wanted to just leave, because it was obvious that I didn’t matter, I didn’t count.

I didn’t leave. I sat there, being ignored. I ate my chicken enchilada and chalupa in silence. I drank my sweet tea. I held in my hurt and my anger and my sadness.

I cried all the way home, wee wee wee, just like a little pig.

Sadness and anger are the same thing. They are signs that expectations aren’t being met. They are a sign that what you think should happen isn’t happening.

Perhaps I need to lower my expectations. Perhaps I need to not care so much.

Life was a lot easier when I was stoned. Things didn’t hurt as much. Feelings were further down. Pain didn’t last as long.

Last year was another painful Christmas with that family. I’m married now, and I’ve known them for ten years. The years previous were awkward. I kept feeling like nobody knew what to get for me, and that I didn’t know what to get for them. Since there was a new member added to the family I decided to go to the effort of getting each person to fill out a gift list. I asked each person what they liked and didn’t like. What is a good present, and what is a terrible present? I figured it would make it easier. I gathered the lists from each person and made sure each one got a copy of all the others. There. Done. Everybody knows what everybody likes.

When Christmas Day came, I made sure that each person had at least two presents from me. Some were handmade by me. All were picked with that person’s wants and personality in mind. Somewhere in the middle of the opening of presents I realized that I had gotten two presents. Two. For me. That is all. And one of them was a blanket. My sister in law got a similar blanket, but hers was in the color I liked.

Why did I go to the bother of that list?

Why do I go to the bother of caring?

Why do I keep allowing myself to be hurt by these people that I did not choose?

When I commented on my Facebook page how hurtful that Christmas was, my sister in law insisted that I take it down. She’s a therapist. You’d think she’d know something about pain and hurt, and how dangerous it is to suppress it. She cared more about her husband’s feelings than mine. That is her right. I should have taken it as a sign of who she really is.

Once again, I don’t count. I don’t matter. I’m ignored, and forgotten, and left out. I’ve asked my husband to tell his family that it would be easier if nobody bought presents for each other this year. That way, everybody would save money. That way, no feelings would be hurt. He hasn’t taken the time to do this. It would be really embarrassing to show up at that house with no presents and they actually, for once, got me something.

Perhaps I shouldn’t go. Perhaps I shouldn’t care. His mom has had cancer all this year. She should be dead by now, according to the doctors. It is a big deal that she is even still alive. Perhaps I’m just not caring. We are all dying, and it doesn’t make anybody special. She announced that she had cancer before Christmas of last year and it was super difficult – people pretended like everything was fine.

I’m sick of pretending.

Being emotional and getting upset is embarrassing. It is right up there with vomiting or defecating in public. People can’t handle it when your insides come outside. They want you to take it to a private place and do it all by yourself and clean up the mess. Don’t show. Don’t let anybody see that things aren’t fine.

But sometimes you’ve bottled it up for so long that it doesn’t come out in a clean way. Sometimes it doesn’t come out when you want it to. Sometimes it bubbles up and out and over and it leaves a big mess right there, all over you, standing there, right in the middle of the room.

Glasses for mental health

What if anxious and nervous is your normal? What if it isn’t something wrong at all, but just your way of being?

Think of it as the same as needing glasses, or a hearing aid, or an orthotic shoe. There is nothing “shameful” or “wrong” about these conditions. We can’t control the fact that we are different from “normal”. We can’t control the fact that we need a little bit of help to fit in with everybody else.

Why do we think we have any real control over our emotions?

Some of our emotions are trained into us. We are taught to behave and react in certain ways, some of which aren’t that useful. We get that from our parents. What if some of our neural pathways are different genetically as well? Forget nature versus nurture. They both have an effect.

What if we aren’t to blame for feeling afraid or angry or hesitant? What if that is just the way we are? What if we stop trying to define these feelings as “bad” and we just accept them for what they are?

There is a big push in society for everybody to be the same – but we aren’t. We all look different – but we can have surgery to all look the same. We can wear clothes to make ourselves look smaller or taller or skinner or have curves in different places. There are girdles and pads aplenty to make you fit in and make you look more like everyone else.

There are things to make you fit in mentally as well. There are pills if you are depressed or manic, or eat too much, or don’t eat enough, or have anxiety, or ADD. There are pills to counter every state of humanity.

But why fit in? Because it makes them feel better, or you? Wouldn’t it be healthier for them to see you being you? When you are honest about who you really are, then you are giving everyone else permission to be themselves.

I say we all just take off our masks and say that we are the way we are, and that is OK.

Handshake

Have you ever listened to the odd sound that a fax machine makes when it is trying to connect with another fax machine? There is a weird series of sounds and whirs and chirps and whistles. This series of sounds is called a handshake. Machine number one is trying to figure out what frequency machine number two is on so it can send the fax correctly. When they are able to properly connect it is the same as two people shaking hands.

When people shake hands they are communicating in a basic way. At a primal level they are saying they don’t have any weapons in their hands. Simply to touch another person is a big deal. We have a lot of rules about personal space. It is seen as rude to get too close to someone. People stand about a foot and a half away from each other in line. But to shake hands you have to get within that space.

Just offering to shake someone’s hand is a big deal. They can refuse. They could want a hug instead. There is a bit of jostling about to figure out where the other person is coming from, and what they want out of that interaction.

What about a wave, or a smile? Have you ever noticed that if you wave “hello” to a stranger they will invariably wave back? The same is true for a smile. The saying is “laugh, and the world laughs with you, cry, and you cry alone.” Substitute “smile” for “laugh” and you are on to something.

When I was at Cursillo I cried a lot. It was overwhelming. Symbolically it was Christmas and Easter and my birthday and my wedding day all together. It was a lot to a take in. I cried out of surprise and joy and relief. Towards the end I knew that we were going to be standing in front of a huge crowd of friends and strangers and we were going to be welcomed into the Cursillo family. We were going to have to stand up in front of them and answer the line “Christ is counting on you” with “and I am counting on Christ.” I had a pretty strong feeling I was going to cry, because I’d cried the whole weekend anyway. I prayed that I wouldn’t cry, but while I prayed I heard the answer.

Sometimes it is important to cry, because it lets other people know it is ok to cry.

It is as if we need permission to have feelings. By leading the way with a difficult emotion, it frees up others to have that emotion too. There is a sense of relief. Nobody wants to be the first to cry, but they definitely need to and want to.

It is very healing to let others know they can have feelings, that it is OK for them to let them out. Our society is really heavily into the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip. “Boys don’t cry” – yes, and then they grow up to be abusive and have heart attacks. Boys should cry. Girls should get angry and yell. When girls get angry, they are told they aren’t “ladylike.” Our society tries to shape our emotions as to what is OK and what isn’t. And then we have huge rates of depression and addiction and emotional disorders.

Let them out. Let others know it is OK too. If you stuff emotions in you get out of shape. Pressure builds up. Go ahead. Cry. Yell. You’ll feel better. Then go for a walk and maybe some yoga and a nap and have some decaf tea with your teddy bear.