Wednesday, December 31, 2014

American Gun Violence

This could be an article complaining about police and American brutality against black and brown men and boys, or about violence in our American culture in general. Rather, this piece is about living in a society where gun violence leads to many unnecessary deaths of adults and children, and what we can do to change this fact.

I am not against all guns. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta where my family hunted and ate their kill. Now, the enormous amount of gun sales and the types of military artillery available to the public have escalated, and kids are growing up playing first-person shooter video games nonstop.

When I was a young, single woman living on my own, my father offered me a pistol for protection and asked me to learn to shoot it in case I ever needed it. When I birthed a child, I gave it back due to its dangerous presence in our home.

On December 31, 2014, an Idaho toddler reached into his mother’s purse at Walmart, pulled out her legally concealed weapon, shot and killed her with three kids watching. How will those children ever make sense of this accidental but extreme violence? The toddler shooter will never erase the visual, the horror, and the facts.

Last week, I watched a video from The New York Times: No Guns for Christmas. I paused to wonder what I can do as an individual to halt gun violence: emc=edit_th_20141223&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=58340336&_r=0&assetType=opinion

I believe in nonviolent action as a way to solve problems and have written much about issues of social justice, civil and human rights, violence, women’s rights, and income equality in the past. What I can do is to speak up again.

I understand we live in the Deep South. I understand that some people love to hunt or just shoot guns for sport. At Christmastime, my brother and I used to shoot down mistletoe from trees with a pellet gun. But, viewing this video where a young black man holding an air rifle at WalMart gets so quickly and inhumanely killed, makes me not only sorrowful but full of rage. Watching a 12 year old black boy get killed by police in Ohio within only 2 seconds of visual sight breaks my heart. When will our nation directly address and resolve these issues of unnecessary gun violence? And, why is there not more recourse when police kill so irresponsibly? If we stay silent, all victims’ blood is on our hands.

Doing nothing is an action. During 2015, please get more actively involved in the solution to this problem of gun violence, working together with others to discover new ways to decrease human and police brutality and accidents. We can change this tragic trend if we commit to this action. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

'Tis the Season to be Jolly?

’Tis the season to be jolly? Unfortunately, not for everyone.

For some people, the holiday season brings along with it no joy or peace but depression and despair. I am offering some hope.

I wish that all people could be joyful and peaceful on any particular day. But, that just doesn’t happen. We sometimes ignore or neglect those loved ones and others who seem down during the holidays because they make us uncomfortable. After all, depression can seem contagious. Or, we may want to fix it for those people and we may get irritated or sullen if they don’t take our advice.

Instead of trying to talk others out of such negative feelings like being disheartened, lonely, or anxious, what if we just acknowledge or accept that they may just be feeling those ways? What if we pat them on the back, figuratively or physically, and say that we are there for them during this season supposedly full of happiness and light? Maybe then, these people might feel a tiny bit of connection with and understanding from us. Or, maybe they won’t.

We cannot talk anyone out of their feelings. Not children, not parents, not friends. Life just doesn’t work that way. Yes, we would love for others to feel better. We also wish we could help them, but trying to tell a hopeless or depressed person that they just need to count their blessings and be grateful for what they do have, is like sticking in a knife and twisting it. That kind of talk often prompts them to feel worse. We, then, have to deal with our own feelings of being powerless to change their lives for them.

We psychotherapists have full offices at this time of year. Those without loved ones often feel terribly alone, and those who do have a support network can sometimes feel bad too because of conflicts within that group, maybe feeling excluded, rejected.

Those of us who do experience joy, peacefulness and hope can surely be available to help those less fortunate. But, how?

I recommend to all who know anyone who may be suffering around this time of year: Get in touch with just one such person. Tell them that you are thinking about them. Ask them how they are doing, and be prepared to listen if they want to tell the honest truth. Then, look deep inside yourself and see if you can remember a time in your life when you were feeling down, angry or upset. Did anyone reach out to you during that time? You can draw upon your own compassion for those in pain, even if their behavior is obnoxious at times. Respond to them with love and caring, or just listen and reflect their feelings. Know that you may have added just a tiny bit of meaning and connection to their experience during these often troubling holidays.

'Tis the season to be giving.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marriage equality will not solve sexual orientation discrimination issues: Study finds economic vulnerability in states that allow discrimination

With growing acceptance nationwide toward marriage equality, the state-by-state approach as it regards employment non-discrimination and other forms of inequality for LGBT people has created a "good news, bad news" scenario for many, including those of us in Tennessee.

Good news: Marriage equality has gained traction and momentum in the last few years, a movement on the cusp of positive transition throughout the nation.

Good news: The Federal government has just announced protections for transgender workers, according to LGBTQNation, stating that:“The U.S. government is now interpreting federal law to explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination against transgender individuals. The Department of Justice says transgender individuals are covered under Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Progress is being made.

Nashville mayoral candidate Megan Barry agrees this is a good thing, and also acknowledges the bad news for Tennesseans. "I’m happy to see that the federal government will protect transgender Americans from employment discrimination by state and local agencies," she told me. "However, we still have a long ways to go to eliminate all forms of discrimination in the workplace. No person should ever be denied employment based on their race, religion, national origin, gender, or because of whom they love.”

Good news: Discrimination of LGBT people has decreased over the years and many Americans are happy about that change.

Bad news: Over half of the states in our United States have not passed non-discrimination laws.  How the new Federal ruling affects states will soon be determined.

A new report from the Williams Institute finds that “LGBT Americans in the 29 states without state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation consistently see greater disparities than in the 21 states with such laws, including less social acceptance, greater economic vulnerability, especially among African-American LGBT workers, and wider household income gaps.” The report maintains that with the legal landscape of rights and protections for LGBT Americans shifting from state to state, LGBT Americans are suffering. We live in one of those places, the South. This may come as no surprise, but what we do about this is what matters.

Many LBGT people do suffer in the South. Think about the studies that illustrate the health disparities between African Americans and white Americans. African Americans have higher health risks than white Americans on average. Friends of mine in the Civil Rights Movement talk about the breaking of the spirit of those who are oppressed, those different from the majority, those who have less power and presence in our government. Breaking people’s spirits leads to serious physical and emotional health problems, to rage, apathy, depression and despair. Productivity decreases in workers, suicides increase, and families are torn apart.

Good news: Because of these disparities, the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed a federal LGBT non-discrimination bill to address discrimination in credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service and public accommodations for all Americans.

Perhaps if this bill passes there will be fewer differences between states in terms of how LGBT people are treated and respected. We can hope that the nation and our leaders respond affirmatively to this bill. Please speak to your legislators and other leaders about all of these issues.“Viewing gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination already covered in the law is a huge step forward for the safety and prosperity of transgender and gender nonconforming people," Chris Sanders, from the Tennessee Equality Project, said. "The safest course is to back up the federal interpretation with court precedent and federal, state, and local laws that explicitly protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. So the work continues.”

One day maybe we will be able to say that we are One Nation…. indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We are all connected

We are all connected.

I am the hovering hawk.
I am the dainty dog.
I am the powerless person.
Rest in Peace, Brave Bean.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Plea for Rationality during Elections

Many variables exist when people vote or don’t vote during elections, very few of them having to do with rationality.

People often vote with their gut, a strong feeling about who or what is right or wrong. There are many studies about voting behaviors and at least one party seems to do a great job at convincing voters to vote sometimes against their own best interests, geniuses at marketing and playing upon people’s fear, and perhaps upon their hope and greed.

We all want the American Dream.  If the 1% has a bunch of money, then we want to vote for leaders who represent the 1% because we think that we may be able to achieve that Dream, too.  Unfortunately, these candidates are beholden to those wealthy 1% and will vote for tax benefits for them while asking for more taxes from the middle class and the poor. How does that  sync up with the best interests of the middle class or the poor?  What about voting for what is good for everyone and not just for what I think is good for me?  

Recently, Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse, Vanderbilt philosophy professors, spoke to the League of Women Voters about their new book, Why We Argue (And How We Should): A Guide to Political Disagreement. They discuss how we act upon beliefs about controversial moral issues. We watch and listen to the media. We devour sound bites without educating ourselves about what is real, factual and true.

Much brain research suggests that our first impressions about people are solid and don’t often change, even when we are presented with hard, cold facts.  Aikin and Talisse describe how we are influenced by the positive charisma of certain personalities.  If we watch a debate, we often believe what the most charismatic individual says even if he or she is inaccurate. Charm and even candidates’ good looks can win races on both sides of the aisle. We vote for the person or party much of the time and not about ideas or a platform of issues and planned actions.

Our country elects its leaders with a majority, so that a large portion of voters who voted against an elected candidate are miserable and dissatisfied, leading to terrible voter morale. Why vote at all?

It is a hard job to be an educated voter and election outcomes are highly influenced by the actions of those who don’t vote.  Tennessee recently had the lowest voter turnout except for Texas.  Why is that? 

Maybe partly because the poor can’t easily take 3 hours off from their jobs to vote. New early voting restrictions and voter ID laws rule out many, and some seem not to care.  Are we willing to live with laws decided by only 1/3 of our eligible voters?

Let’s do the hard work. Let’s look at all the facts, make rational decisions, and help everyone vote.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Violence Interrupted

The answers to decreasing violence in our society are not simple. There are many complicated, complex parts of our American system that need changing, and it will take us all working together to create and implement new ways to deal with violence within ourselves and between each other. 
As long as human beings walk the earth, some violence will occur.  Although we cannot eradicate all violence, we can manage our laws differently and focus on the mental and emotional health of our people to reduce the amount of tragedy among us.
Change begins with a shift in some of our beliefs about life and health. America teaches us that “healthy” often means “success” which can harm people and the earth. Some win and some lose. Competition reigns and only recently has collaboration been adopted as a possibly better way of doing business, supporting agreement instead of the winner takes all.  As long as there are people there will be conflict, and we should devote our attention to working through those conflicts nonviolently, if at all possible. Two of my hopes are reducing our own violence, verbally and physically, toward others and ourselves, and supporting laws that minimize access to assault weapons.
Unfortunately, when states like Tennessee and Georgia allow guns in all sorts of public places, then accidents, suicides, and impulsive acts and planned murders are more likely to occur. Also, as long as the large gap between the wealthy and the poor continues and as long as there is a death penalty, violence continues.
We live in a society that praises those who support both war and drone use with other countries, and who support violence within America in more subtle but no less harmful ways, like through increasing poverty by new laws and practicing different types of justice for the poor and the rich.
One belief that needs to be reexamined and changed: that girls'/women’s behavior prompts boys/men to violence.  If a male isn’t able to succeed whether by income, sexual prowess, vocationally, or socially, females are often blamed and accused, then targeted with violence. This is horrifying. We are grounded in a violent history: when the first settlers came to America, they moved and slaughtered our native people, displaying the greed that lives on today. Some of us take what we can get no matter that human beings or the earth suffer. This pattern is a circle. Violence begets anger, rage and despair which begets more violence.
Even though an antidote to violence may be compassion and love, all the love in the world will not completely stop violence.  Faith alone cannot stop violence.  We are a country full of bullies, angry, fearful, anxious and depressed people.  We need to deal with these feelings that so many share. Only if we work together will we have any chance of creating the space for a positive change in our current beliefs and in our systems.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ending Life

As Tennesseans vote in this current statewide election, which includes voting on whether or not to preserve the right to privacy regarding women’s making their own decisions about reproductive health, we hear a new debate: whether or not people who are terminally ill have the right to make decisions about how they will die.

Voting No on Amendment 1 will help women, their families, and their doctors make careful decisions about abortion, whereas this newer debate concerns those who are suffering and dying horrific deaths.

Look at the cover of People magazine ( death-with-dignity-compassion-choices). Young Brittany Maynard has chosen the time of her death. Her brain tumor and her move to Oregon have given her this choice. Doctors described her potentially terrible dying process and because of Oregon’s law, Brittany has decided to die with her friends and family on November 1st, choosing not to suffer needlessly during the last few months she has left to live.

Parents’ choosing whether or not to end a pregnancy is fraught with a great mixture of feelings, including agony and confusion. The decision to abort is not made carelessly nor easily by most women and families who face this crisis. This is a heartrending time that greatly impacts the mother and her family.

Some terminally ill patients who have been told that their deaths will be full of pain and loss of capacities, and that medical procedures will not be able to reduce this torture, can choose in just a few states to ask their doctors for a prescription they will use to end their lives. This is death with dignity, death that is far less painful and horrible for the patient, their families and friends.

Both abortion and physician-assisted death are very difficult decisions not to be made lightly.

How many of us have suffered while watching our beloved parents or friends go through a horrible process of dying? In the past, my father and adolescent brother had to hold my grandfather down while he was in the throes of great pain while he died from cancer. More recently, I had to hold my father down after doctors gave him medications that sent him into violent shaking prior to his death. These events leave ongoing scars and distress for all of us.

Human beings take death very seriously, and we all suffer when making such final decisions about life. Vote No on 1 during this current election, and then let’s talk about Tennesseans’ creating better laws that allow for dignity in the death of those who are suffering tremendously and who are actively dying.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An adolescent crime of extreme violence

A Hopkinsville, Kentucky 15 year old boy has allegedly been sexually assaulted by three men and two juveniles (with more arrests possible), leaving him with life-threatening injuries in an intensive care unit.  These 17 through 20-something year olds also allegedly videotaped the event then shared the video by cell phone. There is so much wrong about this tragedy, I am not sure where to start.  The topics to be explored are gang rape, voyeurism, the developmental stage of adolescence, and violence.  Alcohol and drug involvement is certainly a question as well.

First of all, there is nothing sexual about sexual assault.  This is not gay sex nor any type of consensual sex.  This is a violent action toward a young boy by older boys when the younger boy was perhaps unconscious. Without knowing all the details about the relationship between the victim and his perpetrators, or the motivation for this particular criminal act, we can say that this primitive, gang or mob-like behavior is related to issues of “power over” another, violence, and rage.

This kind of violence happens in our culture that was born in violence specifically with the genocide of American Indians by European settlers.  Our society continues to promote physical violence in all sorts of ways from war mongering in the name of freedom to football as a national sport, rewarding its celebrities with riches while damaging their brains and bodies for our benefit. I am reminded of The Hunger Games, a metaphor for this type of violence: violence as entertainment for the public designed to distract us from the harsh realties of life. We are all somewhat complicit in such violence by our votes, or lack thereof, and by our acceptance of violence as the status quo.

Emotional violence is another matter. Competition reigns in our world. Emotional violence can be extremely damaging, prompting enormous anxiety, depression, fear and paranoia.  These kids, the victim and the perpetrators, are all products of our culture of violence. Each person involved in this event will suffer huge consequences to be played out the rest of their lives.

Sharing the videotape relates to voyeurism and bullying, male bonding, competition and humiliation.  Perhaps some of the perpetrators have been sexually assaulted themselves but this is still a tragic crime.  Rage can result from such victimization. Peer influence also impacts behavior, and explains how even “good” boys can participate in acts of horror when they take their lead from alpha males. 

This kind of gang behavior and single sexual assaults are found in every community in our nation, and especially on college campuses.  Alcohol and drug use increase such violence.  Ours is a drinking society where alcohol is not only well accepted but supported.  Alcohol itself is still legal whereas other, less harmful drugs are not. Football viewers get drunk on Sunday football afternoons, resulting in increased acts of domestic violence toward women.  We also have to wonder about how the levels of testosterone in males influence mood resulting in irritability and increased anger and hostility.

I have not heard speculation about the boys’ sexualities, nor does it matter.  Remember that rape is rape and is about violence not sex. Using a object to sodomize a young boy, perforating his colon and damaging his bladder both illustrate the severity of this particular violent act. How this event has damaged this young boy’s psyche is a longer and perhaps more tragic story as it follows him the rest of his life.  And, by the way, why isn’t there more media attention given to this crime?

Sharing the sexual assault by video is a violation itself. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed and they have not yet developed the full brain function needed to make good decisions. They often act out recklessly and riskily, sometimes forever changing their lives with poor decisions they have made during this fragile period of human growth and development.  Death and injury are prominent in this age group.

There is no recipe for who becomes a perpetrators or a bully, but there are some characteristics of adolescence and family dynamics that contribute to the likelihood of such violence.  Add in alcohol and drugs, and a perfect storm can arise.

If you know anyone who has been raped violently, you know that this one act has changed them forever. You can’t undo Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Yes, there are mental health treatments, alternative therapies and techniques that can help victims survive and learn to deal with their shame and horror.  And, the impact spreads, affecting not only them but their families and friends, neighborhoods and cities, creating much fear about safety for our young people.  What can we do about this kind of violence perpetrated on our children by kids not much older than they?  Let us shine the light on such treacherous acts and work together on violence in our culture.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Hidden Epidemic: Homeless LGBT Youth

Living here in the Bible belt and across the nation, the LGBT community often experiences a hostile environment, illustrated by this current sign in Portland, TN: tenn-causes-controversy-23516.shtml  Some say this “concerned Christian” group is expressing their freedom of speech, but we know that this kind of billboard promotes fear, societal shame, and anger, especially toward all of the youth who view it.

Chris Sanders, Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), says of this signage, “We are obviously concerned about how these messages contribute to LGBT youth homelessness... At their best, faith communities can bring people together around shared values. This [billboard] message is divisive and picks on vulnerable gender and sexual minorities in an area where there are few resources.” Chris adds that this kind of religious fervor can motivate parents to eject their LGBT kids from their homes, prompting severe psychological and physical distress, which is sometimes fatal.

A recent Rolling Stone article points out that while life gets better for millions of gays, the number of homeless LGBT teens keeps growing: forsaken-a-rising-number-of-homeless-gay-teens-are-being-cast-out-by-religious- families-20140903  In the Rolling Stone article, when a young college student told her pious parents she was gay, one answered: "I don't know what we could have done for God to have given us a fag as a child.” Although this young woman hoped her parents would come around in time, they completely cut off all emotional and financial support to her. She was left with nothing. The Rolling Stone further reports that social service workers believe that family rejection partially explains that an estimated 40% of the homeless youth population are LGBT when they make up only 5 % of the total youth population. More kids come out earlier to their parents than in the past and teens are cast out out of their homes prior to finishing high school. LGBT kids are seven times more likely than their straight counterparts to be the victims of crime, often violent ones.

When young people are rejected so completely by their parents, imagine the toll on the child. Their once loving, supportive parents now turn their backs on these young people, prompting much suffering. During the past several years, the LGBT movement has focused on laws around marriage equality, changing 'don't ask, don't tell,' and obtaining adoption rights but hasn't been dealing as much on the homeless youth epidemic. The tide may now be changing.

LGBT youth are at risk because they often lack access to medical care, they attempt suicide, use hard drugs, and are more likely to be arrested for survival crimes. Some turn to survival sex. Also, for children who have grown up in sheltered, religious homes, their ability to cope with and handle homeless life is significantly decreased. And, if a child chooses to stay in the closet so parents won’t resort to extreme measures, they often suffer from depression, panic attacks, and sometimes get suicidal while they live a lie with great fear of being found out. This is no way for a child to develop into a healthy adult.

The bad news is that in June 2014, Nashville’s Oasis Center was forced to close its Transitional Living (TL) program due to the lack of available funding sources. Three years ago, Oasis lost federal funding for the TL program which had been functioning since 1992. Prior to June of this year, Oasis spent more than $700,000 to cover the federal funding loss, according to Pam Sheffer, Program Director for Just Us @Oasis Center.

The good news is that Pam is trying to coordinate several Nashville shelter programs to increase their access to homeless youth by initiating a Task Force to develop plans for youth’s immediate needs, like places to sleep: #streetfreesleep. Although many have already joined the Task Force and have volunteered to create solutions to this problem, Pam would love to have more people involved. The Task Force has developed mid-term and long-term goals as well. Please contact Pam if you would like to help out in any number of ways:, (615)-327-4455.

We are all in this together. We need to help our LGBT youth experience hope and find better ways to live without so much risk of danger, marginalization poverty and misery. What are you willing to do to help out? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blaming the Victim

How easy it is to blame the victim.  Most of us have made that mistake even when we don’t believe in doing so. How does this happen?

When bad things occur, whether it is sexual assault, domestic violence, police brutality, or plain ole bullying, we wonder: did the victim participate in this tragedy in some way?  Is he or she partially responsible?

We human beings want to discover any and all explanations possible about how an act of violence happens.  Yes, we blame the perpetrator primarily.  No child asks to be sexually assaulted by a parent.  No woman asks to be knocked out in an elevator. No black boy in the street asks a white cop to kill him even if he is noncompliant. 

So, why then do we wonder if Janey Rice had something to do with her husband’s punching her out cold?  Why do we wonder if Michael Brown had done anything approximating the severe punishment of being killed by a white cop?  We are a frightened and vulnerable people, sometimes paranoid while living in a world where terrorists behead Americans and Brits, and where college frat boys rape young women just because they can.

We want to control whatever we can, we want to protect ourselves and our children, and some of us also want to protect the poor, and brown and black males who are targeted far too frequently by the police.  We want to explain how these tragedies can occur and once we understand the dynamics, we fantasize that perhaps we can prevent this from happening.

We also find ourselves evaluating and judging victims unconsciously, without intending to do so.

The police seem to have their own code of ethics and have covered up for each other when “accidents” or mistakes occur.  We still wonder about the victims, hoping that they did just one thing to provoke their perpetrators, so that we can tell ourselves that if only we don’t do that one thing, we and/or our kids will be safe.  Not so.

A violent crime can happen to any of us, no matter who we are or how much money we have.  What is important is for us to provide support, services and thorough investigations into violent acts without prejudice toward any one group or funding source. We need to stop our sloppy police and justice work that ignores victims’ rights and justice for all.

We also need to explore our own biases, our beliefs about who did what to whom and why.  There are so many variables that enter into a criminal act, much should be examined instead of our developing hasty and uninformed conclusions.

Blaming the victim is too simple and ignorant.  Let us educate ourselves and others so that we can develop a wider lens to view these problems instead of blaming the victim and letting the perpetrator off one too many times.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Domestic Violence: Inside a Man's Head

We cannot decrease domestic violence without first getting inside men’s heads.  I do not condone physical violence of any sort, but until we understand the abuser, we cannot change the pattern.

I am not defending men’s actions. It is always wrong to hit others, but our culture also contributes to this problem.  Our country fights other countries in the name of freedom and liberty, politicians fight, and boys fight on the playground. Women may learn to fight with their words more than with fists, but boys and men are often taught to fight back physically.

A man leaves work, a bad day.  His boss told him that his job may be cut.  He is the primary breadwinner, having agreed that his wife stay home with their 3 kids.  If he loses his job, what will happen, what about their debts?  One of his few enjoyments in life is going to the neighborhood bar on his way home, drinking a beer, or six.

His wife texts, asking where he is. He texts her that he is at his mother’s and will be home soon.  Later, as he walks in the door, his house is a mess, the children are loud, the baby is crying, and his wife looks like a homeless woman, trying to cook amidst this chaos.  He growls, throws down his jacket and grabs a beer from the refrigerator.  His children shrink away and go to their rooms.  His wife asks him again where he has been, claiming that she called his mother who hasn’t seen him.

A flood of shame and rage assaults him both from his wife’s shouting and from inside his own head. He is not hallucinating but he loathes himself while hearing these phrases: “You good for nothing drunk!  Why can’t you make more money, we can’t live on your pitiful salary!   If you were a real man, you would ask for a raise.  What’s wrong with you?”  He feels like a failure and has always been told he would never amount to anything.  His wife’s voice colludes with his own internal voices: “Why are you always so mad, why do you drink so much?”

The man finishes his beer and tries to drive away in the car.  His wife pulls his arm, begging him not to go, that he might get a DUI. He doesn’t care, he might as well be dead instead of live one more moment making himself and everyone miserable. No one cares about him except for his money.  His wife won’t sleep with him anymore, and his kids look at him with fear and hatred. All he wants to do is say “STOP!”  But, that isn’t manly, it’s shameful and weak. He lashes back not with his words but his fist.

What can we do to help this man and his family?  What services or interventions might change some of the variables that create this perfect storm of domestic violence? 

Tennessee Abortion Amendment

Imagine that it is the year 2017. You are a 15 year old girl who does well academically and has a good relationship with your parents. After two weeks at church camp, you are glad to begin school again. Then, you find out you are pregnant. You wonder how to handle this, feeling alone and frightened. A pregnancy will embarrass and disappoint your parents tremendously, your dad being a respected church elder.

You fell hard for a 17 year old boy at church camp. It surprised you when he pressured you to have sex with him and although you didn’t really want to, you didn’t want him to stop dating you either. After sex, he dumped you for another girl. Your heart was broken but you mostly felt embarrassed and ashamed that you let him have sex with you.

If Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution had been voted down in November 2014, there are professional consultation services available to you. You can talk with a doctor or another healthcare provider, who might help you talk with your parents, or find the services you need. With much thought, reflection and consultation, you decide to get an abortion with your parent’s consent, a safe medical procedure.

But, if Amendment 1 had passed in 2014, here is what may happen. Since then, Tennessee legislators have introduced and passed bills so there are few if any legal, professional abortion services available. Since you know how distressed your parents will be if they find out about the pregnancy, you ask friends to help you decide what to do, and they find someone who will abort your pregnancy. You get the abortion, and go home.

Now, imagine yourself as this child’s mother or father. Your daughter has been such a gift to the family, so loving and kind. Then, one day she is sick with a fever, cramping. You figure it is her period along with a virus and urge her to stay home from school, and then you will take her to the doctor if she doesn’t feel better soon. The next day when you go off to work, she is pale, so you set a doctor’s appointment for tomorrow. Tomorrow is too late. When you return home, you find your child dead from hemmoraging.

All because Tennessee stopped granting the right to privacy and to choices about female reproductive health. In 2017, abortions in Tennessee are no longer available. Your beloved daughter is dead unnecessarily because she got butchered by an untrained abortionist. This feels like the 1940’s, but it is the year 2017, and the Tennessee legislature has made it almost impossible for a teenager to make an informed decision with her doctor, family and faith leader about what to do because of an unwanted pregnancy.

Your daughter is dead. You wish you had voted in November 2014 against Amendment 1 so that this type of tragedy had never happened. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Pitfalls of Football

Though there is some good news in knowing that the Dallas Cowboys have added Michael Sam to their practice squad, you can’t help but wonder if the St. Louis Rams were a bit homophobic in cutting him.

Michelle Garcia, writing in The Advocate, noted that the Rams as an organization, the coach and the cut itself may not have been specifically homophobic actions, but our culture is still homophobic, especially in the football arena. Michael Sam’s coming out, being drafted and then being cut illustrates why sports guys feel the need to stay in the closet given all the hubbub around such events. It takes a well-put-together guy to be open, honest and able to handle all the media hype and reactions to him. Some say that guys should take lessons from the women in sports who deal with sexuality issues more easily and openly.

American football is also full of sexism, toxic masculinity, and physical trauma, damaging our football players’ heads for life. Players are taught from day one not to “play like a girl,” to be a super masculine guy. And yes, NFL players make great gobs of money, and “choose” to play this traumatic sport. But how do we deal with our own enjoyment of watching the game, knowing that the prognosis for the players’ health and well-being is poor?

When the NFL recently came down hard on domestic violence cases, we may cheer their decisions. But, when we look closely at this decision, it is also troubling that the Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Roger Goodell, will be the ultimate judge and jury regarding who gets to play football. Just look at the way he handled the Ray & Janay Rice case prior to yesterday.

The NFL also reeks of racism: the white “plantation owner,” Goodell, lords over his “slaves,” taking whips to them for what is perceived to be their insolence or insubordination. The white slave owner is also marketing his business mostly to whites and makes huge amounts money off (many) blacks, while damaging their bodies at the same time. We Americans are complicit in this set up as well.

These new punishments for NFL players – who have been only accused of domestic violence – include sitting out of some games, losing some of their income and sometimes their entire jobs. I want women to report abuse but this new decision may backfire in that regard. African-American women especially do not want to criminalize their black partners who are already inordinately targeted by police and justice systems. 

After TMZ released the video yesterday of Ray Rice beating his fiancĂ© – now his wife – in public earlier this year, we are all celebrating his firing by the Baltimore Ravens and questioning the NFL and Commissioner Goodell regarding how much they knew prior to the TMZ release.

Most frightening of all, though: what do you think is happening in the Rice household today? Right now? 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hands Up, Don't Shoot

The USA Today (8/15/2014) reports that white policemen kill blacks 400 times a year, according to a 7 year study that ended in 2012.

When unarmed children like Michael Brown, and so many others, are gunned down by white policemen, these tragedies can seem purely racial. After all, this type of killing happens much more often to black and brown children than to whites.

I participated in a recent Moment of Silence on 8/14/2014 in downtown Nashville, a peaceful, nonviolent protest against police brutality attended by hundreds of black, brown and white people. I was quite pleased to see Nashville police calmly wandering within the crowd and occasionally talking to people. Some participants claimed that police violence is an issue for blacks only. Others argued that this is an American issue, a problem for all, not just for black people.

Police brutality is a problem for us all.

Amidst a myriad of concerns about such tragedies, I will highlight a few: One is how we define the term, “children.” Many people somehow view teenage boys as grown men, as if they aren’t adolescents displaying typical adolescent behaviors. While it is true that some teenage boys can be large, aggressive, and/or dangerous, why is it that police shoot and kill these unarmed children? Much less unarmed adult black and brown men?

Even if an unarmed kid has been involved in a robbery, jay walked, or acted belligerently, why do police get to decide if the child lives or dies? That decision is not in their job description. They are to enforce the law, not act as judge or jury.

However, another concern is that our police, whether they be white, black, brown, men or women, sometimes experience acute chronic stress, fears that they or others will get hurt, anger at people who commit heinous crimes or who thumb their noses at law enforcers. Hopefully, most police are trained well and know how to handle themselves ethically and dependably during crises. But, when people live under constant threat, some may act out in disturbing ways. What can we do about this?

How can we teach our police to react effectively and calmly when threat occurs, and to make quick, non-lethal decisions even when they are scared and/or angry?

I am also horrified by the prison industrial complex and the militarization of our police departments. For-profit prison corporations’ make more money when prisons are full, and color matters a great deal in our judicial system. Unequal sentencing is a known fact, victimizing blacks and impoverished, marginalized people.

As Michelle Alexander states in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, our judicial and prison systems have become our new forms of American slavery, blatant and barely disguised. Does killing black children reflect this slavery motif that white land owners are in charge and can do whatever they want to blacks?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reevaluating Our Priorities

Gloom and doom abound if we listen to or read the news. We are so saturated with traumas like war, poverty, beheadings, inequality, greed, gun and drone violence, that we can’t think clearly. We can only react.

We need sweeping overhauls in our government and in our spending for America’s future health. But, changing our systems can be a highly complicated and difficult maneuver.

As part of the global community, the U.S. provides support and protection to other countries by giving away billions of dollars in aid, selling weapons to other countries, and spending much on defense. Then when other countries use those weapons and money to harm our allies, we are appalled, and we want to barge in and save the day. John Kerry calls it: “Defeating Terror…:”

Experts who discuss the evolution of our capitalistic society say that capitalism began partly to help increase the middle class.  However, our current style of capitalism has gone awry and now directly contributes to the widening gap between the poor and the rich, shrinking our middle class. How can we change this trend?

When greed takes over, companies move their industries overseas where they pay less for labor, harboring the income that could have been taxed here, prompting vast unemployment. When the top 1% takes in 1/4 of the nations’s income but also controls 40% of the country’s wealth, something has gone terribly wrong. 

When elections are bought by the richest and by huge corporations, they get their wishes fulfilled, but the rest of us don’t. When the Koch brothers pump money into our state to convince Tennesseans that judges should play politics instead of act as impartial jurists, we witness how power and money change the course of our lives.  Our country and state will be doomed if this kind of stratification increases, or continues as it is now.

The U.S. is headed for a major upheaval. Our political leaders are so divided that little work gets done. Our gun happy citizenry may end up fighting their own civil war in the name of the freedom to carry, and the freedom to protect themselves and stand their ground, believing their individual rights are more important that our communal rights.  When police brutalize unarmed black and brown boys and men, the community has now begun saying, “We have had enough!”

We need to analyze this complete mess, the whole picture, including the Middle East crises, border children issues, climate change, and where to bomb next. If we continue to only put out fires each day, we will never change our priorities, or flourish.

Although more discreet, covert and subtle than some other groups, perhaps the U.S. has become like some other terrorist organizations. Is that what we want for ourselves, our children and grandchildren?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Floating for Life: A Nashville Adventure

Imagine you are suspended.  Your body feels light, weightless. You are totally safe and able to move, breathe and relax. This is not a dream. What you may be looking for is an adventure at Float Nashville.

Picture your best massage, meditation, your best after-sex glow, the times when you have felt that momentary sense of ecstasy that lifts your spirit, your mind, all of you. Floating suspends our bodies with no supports other than a thickly epsom-salted water which holds us gently, no fingers, hands or equipment manipulating us, no hard or sharp edges. The customer service is excellent and the price is right.

Here are some of the benefits of floating: relaxing without gravity pulling you down, soothing the pain of arthritis, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain.  Floating lowers blood pressure and decreases inflammation while minimizing the stresses we feel outside of us and inside of us. A wonderful opportunity and a great supplement and adjunct to exercise, sports, psychotherapy, yoga, physical therapy, medical treatment, and massage. Amy Grimes, the owner, and Mark Chessir, the Float Master, say that endorphins are sparked, dopamine is stimulated, and that there is research to back this up. The results may surprise you.

My first float felt like freedom but words cannot truly describe my full body, mind, heart, and spiritual experience.  I am not sure I have ever felt totally free before, but when I floated in a tank at Float Nashville in the darkness with no sounds, just with myself, I felt free. It felt like when I dream about flying. Yes, flying in the air, like a bird, carefree and adventurous. No work to be done, no children to care for, no money to make, no conflicts to handle. Totally free for 90 minutes, just floating and dancing without hard impact. While suspended in this way, I stretched and swayed, and found myself luxuriating in the movement and stillness, much like I imagine I might have in my mother’s womb.  

Some people wish to return to the coziness and safety of the womb, at least for a little while.  In the womb we are held gently, nourished and nurtured inside our mothers, and I think babies feel bliss, just hanging out, growing and being.  So too in a tank.

Some people talk about “going home.”  Some say death is home.  Maybe retreating to the womb in a float tank is also like going to a lovely, heaven-like sanctuary without having to die first.

I may sound like an hysterical used car salesman but this ain’t no snake oil. A floater is in complete control of the specifics of the float: the light and dark, closed or open tank, the length of time floating, and more. Some people might liken this adventure to sky diving, running, rock climbing or race car driving.  Those may be thrilling but can include some risk, danger, pain, or even death.  Not so there in the dark with no one or no thing invading your space. This is far gentler.

If you want to know more about this process, I encourage you to schedule a float after reading about it on the website: Oh, I am sure floating doesn’t heal all wounds, diseases or pains but it surely is delightful, and whatever it does or doesn’t do can be evaluated by the scientists.

Check it out. I highly recommend it. A shower, warm tea, chocolates, aromas, music and lotions await you as you are reborn, crawling out of the tank toward solid ground, not really sure you want to leave this dark kingdom.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Longing for Peace and Calm while Feeling Fully Alive

Needless to say, my title is a contradiction.  How can we feel peaceful and calm while also feeling fully alive? Can this be achieved?
Although many of us hunger for peace and calm, the real trick is to be able to find some peace while also feeling fully engaged in life, being able to tackle life’s challenges and manage a whole range of emotions, still being somewhat grounded, centered, and safe.
I used to think that we all just long for that ideal mother who can give us everything we need: food, drink, nurturance, comfort, filling up those empty spaces inside us, or soothing those jagged parts of us to create comfort and joy. Nowadays, I know that no one person can humanly supply all that for us, and we can grieve that fact.
We all want to feel loved, nourished by others, by our work, by our children, friends, family, and by life itself. But, too often, life becomes either hard to deal with or sometimes even boring and mundane. We wonder why we are here, what is the purpose of our lives?  Then, when we are upset, what we may want is for someone to hold us, to listen to us and to truly understand us.  That can be hard to find. In my psychotherapy practice, I hear daily about how some people have grown up with parents who weren’t fully attuned to them, didn’t seem to really understand them, or listen to them with great empathy.  After all, parents have their own lives and stresses, and parenting is not a job that any of us can do perfectly. 
Those people sometimes grow up rarely feeling good about themselves, always feeling a little different, or misunderstood, and can be confusing even to themselves, even when they have had good lives, filled with all the trappings of a good family, fun stuff, opportunities, and more.  With that kind of background, they may wonder, “Then, why am I feeling so bad (or blah)?”  Good question.
Babies and kids grow up in this world being fully dependent on caregivers for all of their needs.  Certainly trauma can occur which is tragic; but even when that doesn’t occur, people wonder why they just don't feel good. Some parents are excellent but there are lots of other variables that affect children and their self esteem. Some people never ever feel quite good enough, and some feel fraudulent as if they are just acting a part and can never really just be themselves. We compare ourselves to others, knowing someone is always more successful, smarter, or better looking. 
For whatever reasons, many of us do have a hunger for more or different, for something that we haven’t quite found even within ourselves.  Although we want to engage in life and to connect with others and ourselves in deep and meaningful ways, too often conflict occurs and reinforces some of our bad feelings about ourselves.  So, we learn to soothe ourselves as best we can, often in destructive ways, with comforting substances or behaviors that can become compulsive or rigid. We look and long for something to help us feel better, to help us feel alive but at the same time we want comfort and peace.  No small request!
We get discouraged and sometimes feel desperate to find some way, any way to feel better. And, we long for safety and passion sometimes both at the same time. So, how do we find that thing that really works for us, helps us, so we don’t go through life feeling all alone so much of the time?
Some find help in religion, meditation and other spiritual practices. Some find that if they can still their minds and let flow through them all those harsh internal judgments, they can sometimes let go of some of those old mean messages.  Forgiveness is often necessary. But, sometimes we can’t do it all on our own.  Sometimes we need a family member, a close friend, and/or a minister or rabbi to be with us through this hard journey called life.
Since psychotherapy is my career which I dearly love and enjoy, I find that the best way I can help someone is to be with them, to listen to them carefully, to try to understand and then help them understand who they are and what has happened to them in their lives.  Then, we can both seek together some new ways to think about or be in life perhaps a rewriting of life's narrative. I believe that therapy is a sacred space where people can come together with the intention of finding better ways to understand themselves, others and their lives.  In doing so, people can feel reborn, blossom like never before, and feel transformed, because they have committed to undertake an exploration, with another person beside them, as they discover what is missing and what might be done so that they can feel better than ever. 
Psychotherapy and life's journey can take much time and energy. But what can be more valuable than this process? Because if we feel better, the world and people around us feel better, our children are better cared for, and our relationships and our work improve.  We can help the world more effectively by helping ourselves, and we can do both at the same time.
One day, if you haven’t already, or even if you have done so before, give yourself the gift of seeking inside yourself to discover who you are and how you can feel better.  Give yourself a gift that may create in you more peace and calm, while you can also feel more fully alive.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

D-I-V-O-R-C-E in Tennessee

That dreaded word: Divorce. An average of 50% of marriages end in divorce these days. As often as it happens, divorce can still be one of the worst times in a family’s life. You can help minimize the pain of loss and separation in a divorce by educating yourself as to what type of divorce process might be best one for you to use.

Couples who divorce and the dynamics between the partners are as unique as snowflakes, complicated and difficult to understand. We all know that marriages can go wrong for a wide variety of reasons. And, no one size fits all.

Trying to work on your marriage is often the recommended first step, to explore ways to stay married and become more satisfied. Talking with a therapist, a spiritual advisor, or other professional can help you determine whether a divorce is a reasonable process to use to improve your and your family’s lives in the long run. Some couples stay together and some split, a decision not to be made lightly.

When considering a divorce, there are several ways to proceed. Attorneys can give legal advice about how to divorce. Mental health professionals, attorneys, and financial advisors can also help a couple evaluate the situation and explore various divorce processes. Here are some:

1. Print divorce forms from the internet and work together. I advise you to let an attorney review your work.
2. Explore the process of mediation. A listing of Rule 31 mediators can be found at: http://
3. Talk with a Collaborative Divorce professional. Learn more at:
4. Contact an attorney to litigate the divorce, an adversarial process using two attorneys. This may mean that you will attend a trial in court, or that your attorneys will help you create a settlement to be offered to the court.
5. If you are unable to afford an attorney, contact the Legal Aid Society in the Middle TN area:

You need to consider whether or not you want to get divorced in a somewhat amicable way or whether you want to fight with your spouse. You also need to think about costs, whether you have enough money to enter into what can be a lengthy litigation, or work together to develop a mutually agreed upon, durable agreement. Do you want to work with your spouse on your plans for the future, or let a judge make decisions for you and your family? Child support, spousal support, and a parenting plan are all areas for consideration as you transition from a married family to a divorced one.

Everyone suffers during divorce because divorce brings out issues about love, loss, separation, betrayal and safety. If you have decided to divorce, hopefully you can take charge of your divorce by deciding what type of divorce process fits best for you.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Letter to TN's Governor Bill Haslam about Amendment 1: Women's Reproductive Rights

Dear Governor Haslam, 

After reading your recent statements about your support of Tennessee’s Constitutional Amendment 1, which will be up for vote in November 2014, I dare say that many women and men are horrified.  If this amendment passes, women’s reproductive and gynecological health will be in the hands of our state legislators rather than being decided upon by women, their families, their doctors and their faiths. Do you really care about the safety of women, families and babies?

You say that with this new amendment, you and state legislators have no plans to create new rules, however, passing this amendment gives carte blanche to all future politicians - elected officials - to do what they choose about women, no matter how traumatic.  What could be more tragic than the rape of a girl or woman through an attack or incest who will then be told by her state legislature that she cannot have an abortion?  That she must birth this child created by a criminal act even if she is only 12 years old?  What about pregnant women who have been diagnosed with cancer, who need chemotherapy?  Are they to risk their lives for a microscopic  embryo?

A  recent Vanderbilt University poll found that 71 percent of Tennessee voters oppose the idea of giving the legislature more authority to restrict abortions. Many conservative, moderate, and liberal women are agreeing on one thing: that we all want the privacy to make such personal medical decisions with our doctors and our families. This is not a partisan issue. It is a right to life issue.  It just depends on whose right to life you consider.  We are pro-life and pro-rights for women, those of us who want to protect ourselves, our sisters, mothers, and daughters from having to suffer unduly because of an accident, illness, or an attack.

The one partisan issue, related to your majority party, Governor Haslam, is your desire to cut  welfare and food stamp programs.  Agreeing to this amendment means more women and children will need these programs if abortions are limited. 

Also, how will men in this state feel if they decide to have unprotected sexual intercourse with a woman, when there is no alternative to the birth of their baby who will need their support throughout life?  What if a condom breaks? Perhaps men won’t feel so safe either, if this amendment passes.

One problem with this amendment is that the wording is complicated so if not read carefully, some may think that they are voting “yes” to preserve the rights that women now have when in fact the opposite will occur. That’s some cagey writing, an attempt to confuse voters.

Governor Haslam, if you care about your wife, daughters, son, and all babies who need to start out life with love and support, you will reconsider your support of this amendment.


Barbara Sanders, LCSW
Published in The Tennessean, June 5, 2014