Category Archives: Uncategorized

General Update

Exercise:

Haven’t been posting about it since my shame receptor burned out, but going to the fitness club is now painless.  Helpful hint if I ever fall off again:

  • Change your SHIRT AND BRA AT WORK;
  • Change your PANTS AND SHOES AT GYM.

Changing clothes is my least favorite part of the process.  I hate flapping my tits at the gym (terrifyingly packed with coworkers) while I try to untangle my sports bra.  I hate changing pants and shoes at work, because our floors are not safe to touch and my ride is waiting while I fumble with keeping shoe soles from touching work clothes.  It works well to split them.  Takes less time at each end, lowers stress all the way around.

Still need to find a reliable distraction.  One session on the treads was wrecked by having more than half of the TVs showing the same revolting right-wing news show, with the other two TVs valiantly screeching about the same stressful crazy-time stuff from the “please don’t kill people without good cause” / AYFKM end of the spectrum, with the rest being two-teams-I-don’t-care-about-playing-football-poorly.  UGH.  But I can’t read when I am treadmilling it, I hate podcasts / being read to, and my music choices always, always fail when I make playlists in advance.

Diet:

Failing so far, not worried for now.  I have a plan that is ready to execute, but I also have a workplace happy hour tonight.

Work:

Unhappy hour.  We’re all ready to quit or burn the place down.  One reason for the happy hour tonight is to break in a new team member, see if we’re heading toward jelling, or heading toward disaster.  The person seems like a dim shipwreck but we’re desperate here.

Family:

Has been better.  LOTS better.  Home-prime is alienated for both of us.  My best friends are struggling with marriages and illnesses and newly emptied nests and new normals.  My own reason for being is having surgery next month.  My aunt is guilt-tripping me to visit her before she dies, and my baby sister, who is still in her 30s, not only had her breast cancer return, but found that it’s metastasizing.  That gut-ache is too much to talk about now, or here.

Mental Health:

Visualizing what I look like in a state of rich contentment is depressing.  Had a panic attack at work yesterday, leading me to skip the gym, go to the store, have junk food for dinner, and not do as I had intended and make a plan for mental health.  Hell is certain.

 

 

 

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Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

I don’t know what makes this Egyptian, as opposed to any other North African region or nation.  Unless it is the birthplace of red lentils, I may have un-Egyptianed it by running in my own direction.  This was primarily to differentiate it from two other soup / stew dishes I make that are very similar:  a spicy tomato-chicken-peanut stew, and a chickpeas-yam-coconut milk affair.  All are flavored with what might generically be called “curry”, albeit with highly individual profiles.

Here is my first try at the recipe I see everywhere called Egyptian Red Lentil soup:

  • 4-5 C red lentils, picked and washed
  • 2 C diced onion
  • 1 C thinly sliced celery
  • 2-3 C diced white potato
  • 3 T freshly ground cumin, maybe more
  • 1 T freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns, maybe more
  • Spices:  Madras curry powder to use as a generic base; 5 spice; freshly ground coriander seed; cayenne, paprika, turmeric, saffron, bay leaf
  • ~20 large cloves garlic, coarsely sliced (~1 head of garlic, or 1/3 to 1/2 C)
  • Butter and oil
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt, fresh cilantro, lemon juice for garnish

 

Toast the curry spices, turmeric, and some cumin, then saute in butter and oil.

Add onion, saute briefly; add celery, saute until both are nearly tender.

Add potato.  Cover with water and increase heat, tasting and re-seasoning.  Go heavy on the cumin.

Add a couple of inches of water, then add bouillon to mild strength.

Re-season with saffron, coriander seed, 5 spice, hot spices, bay leaf, half the garlic, and even more cumin.

Add lentils and the bay leaf.  Slowly heat to bubbling and turn low to simmer.

When the lentils have cooked, they will lose their form.  At this point, add the rest of the chopped garlic and heat only until it is no longer raw.

Serve with or without blending, with or without garnish.

***********************

Let it sit overnight if possible — it’s divine the next day.  It’s spectacular with ham, if your dietary restrictions permit.

If I were going to merge this with my other favorite North African vegetarian soups, I would add carrots, integrate the yogurt and lemon juice, and blend.

As it is, I would recommend this as a warming winter soup or as a summer side dish, scoop-able with pita or mounded under the meat.

Fire-roasted cumin-rubbed lamb kebabs

Spinach salad with pecans, tomatoes, and sweet pickled red onion

Spicy red lentil stew served cold, with pita and lemon wedges

Torshi (a sort of fermented / pickled vegetable — Persian giardiniera)

Iced mint tea with honey and cucumber

Lime sherbet with pomegranate arils

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11/20/2017 – Fitness Log and Blog

11/17 – Friday.  Got off only a little late from work.  Saw that the coveted near-end treadmill was free and jumped on it…only to learn that the TV it faces was NOT turned to the coveted channel.  I do not know how to operate the remote, and am too timid to change a channel in front of a room of strangers who might be watching it…even if it is showing the same damned news program that’s on three other screens.  DAMN IT.

Learned that being able to tune out to cheerful home & garden reno shows is a big part of my tolerance for otherwise dead time on the treadmill.

Ate delicious tacos afterward, too — shredded beef toothpicked into a tortilla, frozen, and deep-fried, just like those at Juan’s (Irma’s) in Phoenix.  Sublime.  Hard to diet with a few days left to Thanksgiving.

Decided not to go to the gym over the weekend.  Every damned day is just too intrusive.  Maybe one day it will be part of my real self-care routine, along with brushing teeth and washing bod, but for now it is part of my work day:  go to work, go to gym, and my work day is not over until I’ve gone to the gym.

I plan to cultivate a gym routine that decompresses me from work, but for now, getting the routine in place is the key step I have to complete before I can move forward.  (Realizing that there are steps in life, one BEFORE the other, is a big deal for me, and new enough that it might slip away from my awareness.)

But the gym is not yet helping me decompress.  First I will need to lose a LOT of weight, and I will need to improve my cardiac strength.  The doctor says I’m fine based on healthy blood pressure, but when I exercise, the chest pains and overall feeling of weakness is real.

Over the weekend, I ate too much, drank too much, and didn’t sleep nearly enough.  When I did sleep, I had nightmares about work.  Part of it is the stress of my workplace, period, which involves high expectations and low support, and part of it is the misery of one of my clients.  It’s weighing on me heavily.

Over the weekend I cooked and played video games — didn’t sew, didn’t clean — and did run errands including holiday groceries.  But I woke up at three this morning and never got back to sleep.  Had to call in sick to work — I was so groggy / logy that I was not in a position to make it to work safely, maintain environmental awareness, or perform to the minimal degree of competency.  Tried to nap earlier, but I was cycling hot and cold; the best I managed was a few hours of horrid dreams (involving my job AND trying to find my lost mother AND going to a loved one’s funeral) followed by lying in bed, shuddering in and out of sleep, finally giving up and getting up.

Today I am grateful for mind-numbing video games and TV shows that are total fluff.  Chores are good therapy, but some days I don’t have the energy.  Id est quod id est.

11/16/17 – fitness log

Stress level:  Left work two hours late, still behind, high stress.  Bawling my head off for a suicidal client as I entered the gym, only to run into chipper coworkers…one of whom followed me into the locker room and chatted at length as she peeled outer layers to a bathing suit underneath, and I unpacked and repacked and re-un-packed my workout clothes to avoid flashing my tits at someone who outranks me.

There should be a special stress modifier to amplify running into coworkers in public, with bonus gold star and oak leaf cluster for being cornered in a changing room.

Exercise:  light day due to short sleep, high stress (chest pounding before I even started) and kept the incline and speed low until the end.  I cranked both a few minutes before cool down and moved my heart rate from moderate to borderline high.  Honestly, the distraction of home and garden shows, Jeopardy, and the sportsball makes the time pass for me.  36.5 minutes at 2+ mph / 2%, 3.5 minutes at 3 mph / 5%, 110 – 140 hr.

Feelings:  a little shame and self-loathing, possibly residual from work, not specifically linked to any gym activity or incident.

Breakfast:  two eggs and a tsp of butter, ~200 kcals

Lunch:  mug of saffron rice made with rich stock, probably an easy 500 kcal (~300 rice, ~200 schmaltz)

Dinner: big bowl of leaves (negligible), chicken lunch meat (100?), a mushroom and a two-inch section of small zucchini (who cares, call it 25) and some oil and vinegar dressing (200? I don’t care.)  400 total?

This would put me in good shape, but I’m about to have a large cocktail and something crunchy, so add another 400-500.  Still might be lower than usual.

Wish I could exercise hard enough to work out my ya-yas without giving myself a stroke.

 

 

11/15/2017 – fitness log

Workout status: 40 minutes walking, 5 minutes cooldown, steeper incline today, higher heart rate (120-130), currently having chest pains.

(Didn’t work out yesterday due to working two hours later than anticipated. 😦  )

Feelings:  looked forward to going to the gym; bored on the treadmill; worried about those chest pains.  Not an iota of shame.

[Maybe there is something to this whole idea of letting your feelings run their course without trying to stifle / smother / repress / out-think / overanalyze / reduce / diminish / discount / etc. those feelings in a way that most people would (inaccurately) call gaslighting.  If you would condemn your crummy ex-boyfriend for treating you that way, why are you treating YOURSELF that way?]

Body:  taking it easy means very little soreness.  Here on Day Two, we are glad to be setting a good new habit, not trying to overdo it and break routine to recover, not causing damage that will lead to delay.  A good habit can be made better.

Dinner:  bowl of micro greens topped with the meat mix for PF Chang-style lettuce wraps: pound of ground turkey and med-small onion fried in a little oil; 2 T *each* minced garlic, minced ginger, hoisin sauce, shoyu, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, and finely sliced scallions; can of water chestnuts, matchsticked; drizzle of sesame oil to finish, dressed with more splashes of vinegar and tossed with the leaves.  Tasted very good, but enough sodium to knock you down.

SUPER short sleep last night — woke at 4:13 and never went back to sleep — but I bet I sleep like the dead tonight.

 

 

11/14/2017 – morning thoughts, late for work

Working out and paying attention to fitness is reminding me of my timelines:  relationship to food, others, self.

I was a skinny, happy kid.  I liked being fancy AND I was a total tomboy.  The nature of kidness for me was minimally gendered and all about fun.

When my grandfather started molesting me, I started gaining weight.  (Family photos show a sudden transformation from a laughing, long-haired sprite to a bulky, short-haired brick with a frown and tired eyes.)  I had already been discovering sexual feelings on my own, thank goodness for that, but I was also being heavily gendered and sexualized by an adult who bought me my first pair of heels and thigh-highs when I was nine years old.  We lived in the country. I had precious little human context, so whatever I saw from people seemed like what it all must be.

Moving around made me the new kid, not fat but chubby.  My first defense mechanism was brains — staying in at recess, reading books all the time, making friends with teachers and getting their approval.  I played sports for a while, but not well.  My second defense mechanism was humor.  At that age, it was a withering sarcasm, suitable as shield AND sword, a habit it took a long time to outgrow.

Junior high unpopularity waxed and waned.  I was borderline hysterical, going from a school an hour away (where my aunt was a guidance counselor, hissing at me between classes about letting her down, she bragged about me, the teachers aren’t seeing it, I’m a laughingstock and it’s All Your Fault!) to a home that was terrifying.  We were back living with my grandparents, and I was sleeping on a cot at the foot of my grandfather’s bed, tired all the time, scared to use or leave the bathroom or be alone with him, trying and failing to do my algebra homework, crying in the shower, getting chewed out by my mother and grandmother, thinking about the night time to come.

The summer before high school, I determined to be thin, funny, vivacious, blithely indifferent to anyone’s regard for me, and keenly aware of the effects I had on others.  There was no secret hope that this would make me popular; only that I would be loved by all. (I used to think that’s what popularity was; now I know better.)  I did it.

Skinny waxed and waned in college, but morale was sunk by my first boyfriend being a churl, and second boyfriend being a charming abuser with a scorching case of borderline personality disorder.  My looks were a comfort to me, as was the admiring attention of strangers.  I loved the interim times when I could just have anonymous encounters with strangers — relief, reassurance, gallantry on both sides, a pleasant memory, without strings or feels or fuckups. Occasionally running into “silent partners” in grocery stores or social situations, with nothing but a secret smile or open chuckle of acknowledgement, a grin to the host and inside joke with a fellow guest. My hat is off to you all; you did me more good than that one night!

Weight waxed and waned with depression in my first marriage, which was a mistake, but we did the best we could until giving up in 2000.  I didn’t get TRULY fat, EXTREMELY fat, until my current relationship — which started gloriously and turned scary for me, moving to a new town, struggling during the cementing phase of the relationship, fighting a lot, having no support or resources or career — but having access to a bottomless well of beer and quality Mexican food.

Wash, rinse, repeat until 2010-2011.  Relationship happy and smooth; grief from leaving my beloved and profitable first career behind as it was no longer either; beginning grad school.

It’s 2017.  I’ve finished grad school and associateship and am now licensed.  Still very happily married, but lots of personal stuff put to the side over the years…nearly 18 years now.  Enough time to grow up and get my shit together, I hope.  But what a colossal mucking out I need.  What an enormous debt to work down.  What austerity awaits me during what should be the prime of my life.  So much starting over.

But I did my best, did what I had to to survive.  I always said I’d pay for it later, and later seems to be now.

11/13/17, appendment

For all I talked, yesterday, about needing to talk about my feelings rather than talk about my thoughts and shred my feelings with analysis, that’s exactly what I did.

How I felt: Shame, fit for a zealot in King’s Landing.

Shame:  I made all these bad choices, look at them; I’m wearing them on my frame.

Shame:  my fat and my lack of fitness are like an enormous debt run up on a secret credit card, with a super-high interest rate, that everyone can see.

Sadness:  when I was not at a gym, my bulk made me invisible; people looked away from my body.  (They didn’t seem disgusted, for the most part, and those who did were easy to dismiss — clearly they had their own problems.) But at the gym, people notice my degree of fatness.  Everyone checks each other out.  Some of these folks doubtless came from fatness, possibly even greater than mine.  But this big-bellied mess is what I brought to today’s bake sale, and it makes me sad.

Shame:  people also notice my degree of fitness, which is nil.  I am not one of the big bulky girls who have ***muscles*** and are hefting kettle bells in the weight room.  I am not one of the bountiful, cursive women doing strength/balance moves in the yoga room.  I am not one of the fluffy lionesses dancing joyfully for an hour of non-stop power in the ballroom.  I am not one of the giant girls pounding out miles on the ellipticals or in the swimming pool.  They are gorgeous and strong and lovely.  I am not them.

Sadness:  I don’t have nice workout clothes.  It’s my brain’s fault.  Nice things are too nice for me to wear generally — if I buy something nice (at a steal; it’s in my DNA), I set it aside.  If I buy nice workout clothes, I feel them as pressure, and resist the pressure, and eat to feel better, and grow out of them.

Some plain pleasure in my crummy workout clothes, combined with a notarized conviction that my low self-esteem is appropriate: my ten year old sports bra zips up the front, saving me from the struggle of pullover binding, which derails the process.  My craptacular store-brand tennies with Velcro closures help me avoid the pain of huffing and puffing while I tie laces (and have to bend, face-burning and belly in the way, to retie them.)  My old Men’s Size X? t-shirt is loose enough to smooth out some side rolls, but doesn’t hang and increase my bulk.  My workout pants, $12, are actually the nicest thing I have, and the panels are supportive, like a fancy bra.

But this is a package nobody ordered.  And the pleasures I feel are confirmations that I really don’t deserve nice things.

 

(“I wanted leis of ginger and orchid; what I ate were Lay’s, of sour cream and onion.”)

11/13/2017 – first day at the gym

So many drafts, so many saved drafts.  For now I’m done with drafting.

Bought a membership on 10/30, didn’t go until today.  Realized I literally have no suitable clothes for this endeavor.  It didn’t occur to me to rally my stud points and wear street clothes to a rich-people Fitness Club, or carry them in a brown paper bag, and carry my locker key in my teeth as I sweat.  Shopping for fitness gear when you’re fat is a hell previously dominated by the bathing suit industry — which, as a person who has always preferred sporting skin, has been long forgotten.

Log, Activity:

40 minutes on a treadmill before it booted me.  Mostly at 4% incline and 2.0 mph.  It says I burned 170 kcal, which is a ridiculously high estimate.  It says my heart rate stayed between 115-120 for over 30 minutes, which is optimal for my age (~50) and my previous fitness level (glacial).  I hope it was being stupid and generous rather than deceitful, but either way, it can’t be trusted.

Log, Sensory:

Sweating into my freshly washed hair made me want to weep.  My freshly tinted hair has suffered since moving to a town with pipe water more chlorinated than the municipal kiddie pool I splashed in as a runt, and having to wash it every day will fry it to a crisp.  But I stink already.  Not in a good way.  My temperature is so high, I wonder if I’m in stroke territory (shopping list: hair bob to keep the hair up and my neck cool.)  I’m thirsty as hell (shopping list:  water bottle) and my extremities are on simultaneously on fire and slick with sweat (shopping list:  wicking towel).

Log, Feelings:

I am paranoid about my keys in the cup holder (shopping list:  key buddy, lanyard, carabiner) and paranoid about my phone, work phone, and work badge / notch key in the locker (shopping list: better lock, possible locker rental.)  I am deeply bored (shopping list: earbuds to plug into the TV jacks on the treadmill) and trying very hard to tolerate my misery, self-loathing, and shame as I sweat and pant at a regular walking pace sustained for more than three minutes (shopping list:  therapy.)

Log, Needs:

I need to accommodate my feelings.  Not ignore them, and not cater to them.  I need to let them be them, and feel them truly, and let them fall off me.

I need to avoid thinking about my feelings — or, more accurately, I need to avoid analyzing my feelings into emo confetti that never gets fully vacuumed out of the carpet, never fully gets out of the way.  Let the feelings heal.  Don’t pick at them.  They itch, they look grody, and oh they are delicious to bother and scratch.  Notice them and let them the fuck alone.

I need to be honest about the fact that my feelings might be real, but they are not to be catered to.  Years of my life have been spent giving myself comfort, succor, and acceptance, which my mother never gave me, for all she loved me deeply, just as my grandmother did not give her daughters those things — where would she have learned to show affection, approval, encouragement?

I need to give myself those things now in sparing ways, rewards for performance, if I’m ever going to grow up and be my own goddamned parent.

And I need to avoid thinking, generally.  I have mad skills in rationalization, redirection, and avoidance.  I am a past master at justifying the continuation of behavior that is harming me.

I need to set a pace that is not so leisurely that I’ll forget to go back, but not so pressed that I’ll need to take a break and never go back.

I need to go back.

 

Panhandling: What Exactly is the Problem?

I have lived in very high panhandling zones, but I admit to not understanding the beef with it. If there are crimes of subsistence (squatting, stealing food) the problem is hunger and lack of shelter — and those are not problems I face, but problems the homeless face.  If the panhandlers harass, then the problem is harassment; if the panhandlers are assaultive, the problem is assault – and so on.  Assault and harassment (etc.) are the problems I experience personally, and I can usually avoid them or remedy them easily.   I am not sure how panhandling itself is a problem.  So far as I can tell, no one forces passersby to donate, but if they did, see “harassment”.

So are we talking about a problem I have?  Or am I trying to solve the problems faced by the homeless?   If the problem I have is homelessness generally, or drug abuse generally, then I can act on the system in ways I think will resolve those issues.  Homelessness and drug abuse in specific individuals, and particular classes of people, are problems individual persons within those groups face.

I feel a personal conviction to help people deal with their problems, if they want to accept my help and want to change their lives.  But if I have a problem with the way individual homeless people are managing their homelessness, or the way addicted people are handling their substance use, that is bullshit.

Me, in my comfy apartment, indulging in my own vices of choice, backseat driving a person who knows far better than I do what the consequences of those choices will be.  I imagine it might make a homeless person feel the way I do when my mother chides me for blowing as much money as I do on high-speed internet when my taxes have provided me with a public library card at no charge.  My mother believes that you don’t need web access, for example, to get a job that pays a living wage — that you can accomplish this by walking in off the street, using a pencil to complete a paper job application, and impressing the business owner with your earnest assertion that “any job I don’t know how to do, I can learn.”  The last time this got her a job was 1982, and she worked there until her rotator cuffs gave out and they fired her, almost three decades later.

I adore Maman, but she does not understand my lived experience.  She does not trust me to know what the fuck I am talking about when I try to explain.  She does not accept that I know my needs and resources better than she does.  But most importantly, she does not know that it is technically none of her goddamned business, and that she has no right to judge me.  She can indulge in freestyle social criticism all she wants, but she has no right to demand an explanation from me.  It is operating on incomplete data to make assumptions about my choices and then judge me based on those assumptions. (It’s also rude as hell, but that is a matter of manners, not morals.)

Analogy always fails in the end, but to take this a step further:  what if I ask her for money?  Must I spend it according to her terms?  The answer is that it depends on the agreement.  She might be more likely to lend me money if I justify need and swear that I have no other money to use to that end.  But say she were to give me money — out of the kindness of her heart, because it is my birthday, or whatever.  Do I have to spend it the way she wants me to?  Can I buy gin with it, even if my mother deplores alcohol?  Can I use it to pay for an abortion, even if my mother believes it is murder?  Is it my money, after she gives it to me, or is it still hers?

Again let me point out that she was not compelled in any way to throw me cash. Do I get to use it as I please, or not?

You can care about a person and still have unreasonable expectations and poor personal boundaries, of course, but let’s be honest: most of us in these United States were raised with the Puritan heritage of societal judgment of others rather than a sense of respect for others.  Respecting others does not mean assuming they have the ability and the inclination to make perfect choices or even “good enough” choices; it only means that you don’t get to judge or decide for others, just as they don’t get to judge or decide for you.  I’ve been asked, “How would you feel if you gave a buck to a guy who used it to buy drugs and died of an overdose?  Or would you just wash your hands of him and say it’s not your responsibility, that you’re not your brother’s keeper?”

First, I assure you that I feel sad.  People die of society’s choices and treatment all the time, and their own personal choices and behavior.  I’m sad for middle class functional alcoholics who did their best to keep up with the Joneses as they were taught.  I’m sad for rich old reptiles forever chasing money, because they loved their Daddies and their Daddies loved the dollar.   I’m sad for desperate Mormon housewives whose lips would never touch liquor but who have huge benzo addictions to match their ulcers.  I’m sad for everyone who hurts.  Am I their keeper, too?  I feel sad that people die of neglect, of diseases caused and worsened by drugs of abuse, and by exposure to the elements.  Depriving them of charity is not preventing their death by overdose, any more than my not buying them a cheeseburger is preventing their death by arteriosclerosis.

Don’t think I’m blind to the fallout in society.  But if a person gets all het up by homeless people scrounging for change and charity, making the streets dirty, and daring to expose us Good Folk to their addiction…but doesn’t get the same “we must make good choices for them since they cannot be trusted to make the choices we want them to make on their own” feelings about other groups harming society and the world at large (middle class consumption filling landfills, carnivores and coal and consumerism destroying the environment, the One Percenters living off slavery, the government bleeding dry the populace to accrue wealth and power to those who already have an excess – on and on)… then there is a disproportionate attention and blame given to a vulnerable population who is arguably the least able and/or resourced to change things — including themselves.

If far more harm is done by people who have the bottom layers of Maslow’s pyramid squared away, why is so much ire disproportionately directed away from the wealthy, the secure, the educated, the people with enough power and influence to do real harm?  You can despise all those groups, but who is most likely to suffer?  The homeless.  If you need to change something, change the system.  If you don’t feel the urge to give, don’t.  It’s that easy.  But if you are going to judge someone’s personal choices (or unpleasant necessities), maybe start with people who harm others, people acting from greed rather than need, people who are in a position to fight back.

Because homeless people get addicted for the same reasons other people do:  looking for escape from fear and burdens; looking to self-medicate pain; looking to relieve stress; looking to self-medicate mental illness (diagnosed or undiagnosed); looking to feel good for one goddamn hour for a change.  So let’s not judge them for having the same problems we do (to a much greater degree) or for handling it in much the same way.  That includes panhandling – and if you think people with resources don’t panhandle, allow me to introduce you to GoFundMe and Indiegogo and other crowdsourcing applications.

From people who are irritated by panhandlers, what I hear is that they are disturbed by the subsection of panhandlers who (a) seem to have other alternatives and/or (b) make any degree of money at it.  It offends their sense of rightness.

I am open to hearing more about the problems people have with panhandling.  It’s just been my experience that the root arguments, once the superficial BS has been lovingly peeled away, amount to, “It’s not fair that I have to work when all they have to do is beg.  I have to work, so they should have to work.”  For it was written, by Coolio and by a disputed author in the second epistle to the Thessalonians:  “(T)his we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  It’s one of the classic Christian arguments against welfare of any kind, since pauperism and penury were considered to be immoral states and poor people were not in a state of grace.  When social workers fought to decriminalize destitution, many Christians disagreed.  But if trying to subsist as a homeless person is made illegal again, how are they to live?

Losing your home (if you ever had one) does not give you a heart of gold, a farmer’s work ethic, and Lifetime Network backstory of being a plucky saint who had a run of bad luck.

The individuals that I have met who were physically able but who declined opportunities for work included those who were confident in their panhandling skills but terrified of meeting “normal” demands to perform.  After having to live like an animal (and being treated like a stray dog by society,) not everyone has the confidence and dignity to step outside the place they feel a degree of confidence or mastery.  Somehow we accept that truth if the story is an ugly duckling who learns she is foreign royalty — however will I learn the ways of my betters? — but we reject it when a person who has no place to shower and no appropriate clothing and no goddamned toothbrush is scared (or angered) by the prospect of trying to fit in with people who sneered at her on the street the day before.  The tasks of passing for normal once you have endured more than a couple of weeks of having to shit and sleep in full sight of strangers can be daunting.  Some people would rather stick with what they know instead of further damaging their shredded self-esteem.  Some folks still have a defiant bravado, still have a lot of “fuck you” left in them — a lot don’t.

The experience of homelessness is one of invisibility and humiliation and danger, and the longer the trauma goes on, the harder it is to leave the war zone.  Most of the homeless people I’ve known have been assaulted on multiple occasions, had to steal or prostitute themselves for money, have suffered horrible intestinal and UT infections due to eating spoiled food and having no reliable hygiene, and had permanent losses in health or cognitive ability due to malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of treatment for other conditions including hypertension and thyroid imbalance.  Even those with no history of mental illness suffer depression, acute stress disorder, and PTSD secondary to living on the street.  Not to mention esteem and identity issues secondary to having been ridiculed and scorned and beaten and ignored.  This taught them how to regard themselves.  I can’t blame them for not feeling able, and I can’t blame them for occasionally saying “fuck you” — if you’ve learned to fight the hand that beats you, you’ll occasionally bite the hand that is trying to feed you.

(And some folks never entered the workforce.  If you have problems with attention and are not bright enough to compensate, you won’t be able to hold down the sort of boring and repetitive job that would get you into the workforce.  If you have a sensory disorder and are not bright enough to compensate, you will not be able to tolerate the low-level noisy / hot / smelly / nasty-textured demands of low-level jobs that would provide security.  If you are a kid who is kicked out as a minor for being gay / pregnant / whatever, chances are good you will develop a history of drug use and/or misdemeanor arrests before you are even legally old enough to work — so good luck getting into Harvard, or whatever else it takes to get a job these days.)

But back to our feelings about the role of substance use and addiction in homelessness.  Some folks have substance use habits that make them homeless; others pick it up after life changes that couldn’t be handled. But we’re not talking about how the homeless feel about drugs, or whether they are entitled to experience the same stages of change with regard to addiction and recovery that people with homes and jobs are entitled to.  I’m talking about people having opinions about drug use in other people — specifically, homeless people.

I wish I could create a flow chart to help people parse out how they actually feel about substance abuse and people with addictions, since again, the feelings that come out are usually strong, but you have to wade through All The Disclaimers; the layers of How I Think I Should Feel; and the list of Societally Approved Acknowledgements Because Everyone Has Problems I’m Sure.

Whatever.  Once you get past the lawyer’s page, some of the assertively expressed opinions I’ve heard again and again include:

“Sure, I drink like a fish – but I work for my money and buy my own booze, so I don’t have a problem.”  (Functional addiction is okay, but if I became homeless, I’d magically become a teetotaler.)

“Sure, I use prescription medication to cope – probably a little too much – but I have a really hard job and all these personal issues.  My meds keep me going.  But I take only prescribed medication under a doctor’s supervision – I don’t do street drugs.”  (Because you have worries, but homeless people have no worries.  They also don’t have full access to insurance, to authorized and empathetic prescribers, and to quality mental health care.  All homeless people are, one incorrectly assumes, eligible for Medicaid, and therefore are in possession of a sufficient degree of security and subsistence to be able to engage in insight-oriented treatment, which cannot occur in a traumatizing environment, and which is typically required to get Mommy’s Little Helper – or get into rehab.)

“I don’t blame the homeless for being homeless – but I’m not going to support drug addiction.”  (Sure, fine.  No one is saying you have to give. Just keep walking.  Or if you feel comfortable acknowledging a human being who has addressed you in a non-threatening way, do so.)

“I offered to buy a bum a sandwich and he told me to fuck off.  They don’t want food, just drugs.”  (Don’t pretend that homeless addicts have never bought a sandwich or a cup of coffee with panhandled cash.  But he didn’t ask you for food, he asked you for money.  If you don’t want to give money, fine.  If you really want to feed the homeless, walk up and offer homeless people food or restaurant vouchers.  But if your attempt at charity is conditional, and clearly denies agency to the recipient, particularly in a sneering way – “I would give you money but I don’t believe you can be trusted to spend it properly – i.e., in a way I personally approve” – then you are a patronizing asshole, and patronizing assholes don’t get told to Fuck Off nearly so often as would do them good.  Take that candid feedback to heart.)

But the most honest of the statements I hear regularly:

“They’re icky.”

“ They smell horrible.”

“I said no to one and he got mad at me – what the fuck!”

“ They just make me really uncomfortable.”

“I sat next to one on the bus and he had clearly shit himself some time ago – he had that cooked-in dirt all over him — I had to get up and move.”

“That dude was tweaking so hard he had pigeon feathers stuffed in his ears and was talking to people who weren’t there,” (insert other positive or negative symptoms of schizophrenia, et cetera.)

To compare, the most recent chronically homeless client I’ve worked with presented as exactly fitting the profiles mentioned above.  A lot of staff hated this person because this person was prone to impulsive aggression, wanted LOTS of drugs RIGHT NOW, had to be coaxed to eat or wash or change clothes, and stood too close when speaking.  Just another tweaker.  Don’t bother setting up services; you know that person will just walk out and go looking for drugs again.

Knowing the person’s story since birth, from records prior to the initial homelessness and drug abuse, gave me more empathy.  Given the person’s drug-induced cognitive impairment, I might know more about TP’s history than TP remembers at this point. TP had come from an ostensibly good home, but one filled with physical and emotional abuse behind closed doors.  TP had been raised in a religion that believes there is no such thing as mental illness and that TP only needed prayer to get better.  TP got married and had a child — but spouse took child and fled when TPs symptoms got high.  TP was left penniless, homeless, depressed and brokenhearted, not trusting psychiatry, impaired by mental illness, and learning to rely on street drugs — but still young and healthy.  After being assaulted in a homeless shelter, TP could not abide sleeping in a room full of other people — it couldn’t be safe.  This led to isolation on the streets, stealing food, prostitution, jail time, and health problems including STDs galore, Hep C, renal failure from dehydration, and permanent cognitive impairment from being beaten and from living on booze and pills.  TP’s life was a direct line from a childhood trauma to the street.  But I’d give TP a buck any day.  It might go to a sandwich, or it might go for a hit.  Either way, it might keep TP from having to steal, or blowing a john.  Or getting sneered at by someone who has all the things TP lost.

So.  As much as circumstances are against some people at birth, and even those born to much may lose it and fall, there is no child on the playground who dreams of being a homeless addict.  There is no young adult who has a broad variety of options and selects homelessness and addiction as the preferred future life to build.  There is no mature adult possessed of judicial capacity and under no duress who calmly and thoughtfully declines a life of health and safety in favor of danger, discomfort, and misery.

You may not have compassion for people who are homeless and addicted.  You might feel certain that if you had a change in circumstances (due to external situations beyond your control, of course, and not any poor choices of your own) that you would perform better.  You might well be correct.  But not everyone has your confidence, your training, your health, your mental acuity, and your long history of having done well enough to feel confident you can attain that state once more.  Don’t look at all your assets and say, “If I can do it, anyone can!” – you  might be blind to how much you have going for you.  And you sure as hell have no clue what That Person was up against.

The Christians are Wearing Me Out

Sorry, Coach.  I have tried and tried to come to common ground with my former flock, and time and time again, they have made me regret it.  They get to say whatever they feel:  that God either acts or permits action; that God is Great and is In Charge; that anything not done by God is allowed by God.

They are literally on the topic of personal crime — violence against vulnerable others — and talking about how God allows it.  For Reasons.

And *I* am the bad guy for simply saying that anyone who could stop violence against the vulnerable, and does not stop it, is terrible, horrible, no-good, and definitely not worth worship.  For some reason God gets worshiped despite behavior you would not accept from an antisocial thug.

Many people I love are believers.  I used to be one myself.  When I did believe in God, it cut me *to the bone* to know that my God — the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent — saw what was happening to my early-grade-school-self and did nothing.  I broke up with God over that.  But I am unable and unwilling to break up with my family…despite the fact that they know all this and worship Him anyway.  It’s as if His need to be worshiped is more important than a child’s pain.  In their understanding of the universe, He watched what was happening to me and did nothing.  I do not give two shits what His ineffable rationale might have been; it could not possibly be good enough.

And if it sounds selfish for me to say that:  think, thou, on a neighbor kid…a grandma…your dad, your mom, your favorite person in the world…watching a child get assaulted…and staying glued to the peephole without intervening, without calling for help, without lifting a finger.  Would it not change your view of that person?  If so, why does it not change your view of your God?

And if it does not change your view of that person, why do you think that person’s inaction was okay?  Serious answers only, people.  Trusting that someone had a good enough reason, if you’re an adult, means you have an idea of what that reason might look like.  And if you are going to try to explain how an omnipotent being had to allow a child to get hurt for some reason, you don’t understand what “omnipotent” means.

Life taught me that people get to mistreat me with impunity, so I don’t ask that you explain why bad things happened to me.  Just explain why it happened to the other kids.  Why they deserved it.  Or why you worship someone who believes in harming kids who *don’t* deserve it.