Shit My Sisters Taught Me

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I don’t have sisters, technically. Somewhere, in my family lineage, are two step-sisters, but we don’t talk. I don’t have brothers, either, but that’s another anecdote for another time.

Blood or marital connections are not the only thing that can make folks feel like family. I know this, because 90% of the people I have strong connections with are not related to me in any sense of the word. They are closer to me than my technical extended family, and I’m grateful for them every day.

Growing up without sisters was okay, I guess. I mean, I don’t have any point of reference other than observation of others’ lives with siblings, but I don’t think I missed out too much. Can fighting over make-up or boys be all that great?

One thing I was always envious of was the tight relationships my sister having friends had with their girl siblings. Luckily, I’ve met some gals throughout my life who’ve embraced me enough that we can interact like sisters, and so, what I missed in my youth, I’ve made up for in adulthood.

What I’ve learned from these ladies is sisters aren’t just shopping partners, or people who come for dinner. Sisters smack our hands when need be. They teach us lessons—sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently, but always with our best interest in mind.

Here are some things my adopted sisterhood has taught me:

Stand Up For Yourself-

I know how menial this sounds, but my gals really did teach me to quit being such a pushover. Probably born from them being sick of hearing me complain, they finally just said “Make a stand for yourself or no one will”.

Shut the Fuck Up Sometimes

Look, we all get lost in the spiral that is social media sometimes, and before we know it, we’re just saying stuff without thought. I thank the universe I have women in my life who love me enough to jerk me out of the spiral, and tell me to sit down and shut up. They say it because they know I’m a better person than that. They say it out of pure love.

It’s Okay to Put Yourself First

So, so many women live their lives only catering to the wants and needs of others. We’ve been programmed for generations to live this way. Having women like I do, who tell me that I’m no good to anyone if I’m not good to myself, is important. They know what it means to have a sense of self-worth, and they’ve passed that on to me.

You Own Yourself

Whether it’s a decision regarding work, or my sexuality, the women I call sisters have let me know never to sell myself to someone else. I keep control of my life, and then no one has so much power over me as to abuse me. My independence is worth more than anything else if I want to be happy.

You Will Be Accepted

This only applies to when I am interacting with these gals, but no matter what, I have a place to come where people love me enough to tell me the truth, yet not judge or harm me. It’s my soft place. It’s the place where I can fuck up royally, and it will all still be okay. They may kick my ass and tell me something isn’t acceptable, but they’ll also help me figure out how to make it right. That’s real acceptance. That’s saying “We love you enough to help you not fuck up,” which is so much better than fake acceptance or utter rejection.

Sisters have a way, man. We come together. We bond. We make life tolerable with hugs, coffee, and maybe even shrimp (Inside joke. Play along, please.). Together, we help each other traverse the chasms life tries to divide us with, so that we’ll all succeed.

Success of the Group—Not Just One

That’s what sisterhood is really about. Everyone succeeds. Everyone cries, laughs, and rejoices. So while the rest of the world couldn’t care less, we couldn’t care more for one another.

It’s the way humanity is supposed to function: Caring, loving, supporting.

Thank the stars, the Goddess, whomever or whatever sent my sisters my way. I can’t imagine life without them.

sisters

(Image source:https://www.pinterest.com/floridastateph/sisterhood/)

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Confessions of an Anorexic’s Daughter

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You only have value if you’re skinny. This is what I believed growing up. My formative years were spent hearing how my mother never wanted to be fat. I was raised hearing that fat people were unhealthy, lazy slobs, and they were no more than the brunt of the joke. No one, she made clear, likes a fat person.

These teachings were reinforced by a step-mother who told me, an already active teenager, I should work out more, and missing a few meals would do me some good.

Never mind the facts I was a healthy size for my age, I ate healthy foods, and I was active. I was not rail thin.

I assume this fouled teaching comes from the fact these women came of age in the time of Twiggy —during the 60s and 70s, when having hips or curves was something not allowed in our society. Regardless, other generations suffered because these women taught us that we should always scrutinize our bodies, and that our shapes and form were subject to public judgement if we didn’t fit the right criteria.

Pointing fingers at my mother, or making her feel less than because she had body image issues is hardly my point. In fact, I think she was as much a victim of the way society tends to try to regulate acceptable body types as anyone. Yet, the reverb from those decades that complicated the teachings of peace and love with skinny or not accepted is felt still today.

It was hard growing up in a household overhearing my mom constantly criticizing her own body. I looked at her thinking she was the most beautiful woman in the world. When she lamented how ugly and fat she was, I somehow transposed that onto myself thinking “I must be super disgusting, then”. I just knew I didn’t want to be all the things she said were horrible, but I also watched her hurting herself to be something she thought was the definition of beautiful.

During my teen years, I ran the gamut between trying on mom’s anorexia/bulimia for size, and trying to just be super athletic. I was also obsessed with the new wave of exercise programs on stations like ESPN during the mid to late 80s, and I really liked the look of the muscular, healthy women. Thank goodness. They were probably what saved me from full on anorexia/bulimia. Today, I am thankful girls can see the role models of Laila Ali and Rhonda Rousey instead of only models who are often making themselves sick to fit fashion industry standards.

By the time I was in my 30s and early 40s, I had outgrown the need to harm myself to be skinny. I’d spent years watching my mom take laxatives like candy, telling me stories like “I’ve had a hysterectomy, so I don’t have a uterus to support my intestines, and I have to have laxatives”—a story I believed when I was young and naïve. I watched her become sick and weak when she hadn’t eaten, nearly passing out. She never had energy, and was nearly always too tired to do anything. Mom was frequently sick, and I realized it was because she wouldn’t eat.

The irony in all this lies in the fact Mom always equated being fat with being sick, when it was her trying to be 100 pounds or less with a 19 inch waist that was making her sick. What mom never understood was the fact that body size and type does not in and of itself determine health. I know heavier people who are actually quite healthy and athletic, just like many of my very small-built friends. I also know many smaller framed people who are just as unhealthy as many overweight people—especially those who have lost weight in unhealthy manners.

Still to this day, mom equates being fat with being unattractive, sick, and lazy. She still makes jokes about heavy people when she sees them out. She’s also still anorexic. Her bulimia has seemingly stopped, but she still only eats very few calories a day aside from her soda intake.

Now that she’s older, the toll her eating disorders have had on her are striking. Mom has dental issues. She’s losing muscle tone all over her body, making her look older than she is. Osteoporosis is now a reality for her, causing her to have to be on prescription medication.  In short, she’s frail and susceptible to sickness more so than other people her age, and there is no talking to her about it. She denies her illness, makes excuses for not eating, and still seems proud when the number on the scale continues to drop.I realize now, she doesn’t just hate the way she looks, she hates everything about herself, and that’s the worst part of all.

I feel horrible for her, but it’s also maddening to watch someone still committing slow suicide, even with loved ones begging her to stop. It’s infuriating to watch a woman in her mid-60s who still thinks if she gains an ounce she’ll be disgusting. What’s more, it’s very difficult to know she thinks I’m a fat slob because I don’t fit her ideal body type. Even at her age, she cannot see the falsity behind the idea that people are supposed to look a specific way. It hurts me to see her not realize how much of a beautiful, intelligent, fun woman she is. It hurts me that she has never realized her own value, and that her value, as well as that of others, is defined by more than curves and the numbers on a scale.

So many of us my age were raised by people who thought exactly the same way as my mom. We’ve battled our way through food guilt and the humiliation of not looking exactly like we’d been taught we should. Many of us fought one food disorder only to end up on the other end of the spectrum, using food as comfort.

Had our parents taught us that healthy eating and exercise are all that’s important, that eating a piece of cake or pizza is fine occasionally, and that no matter what, we’d always be loved and accepted, many of us would be far healthier and happier than we are. How can we blame them, though? Society never taught them, so how could they teach us?

According to South Carolina Department of Mental Health 

  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
  • A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems

Eating disorders can be deadly. The psychological effects from believing the lies that lead to them can be long lasting, and lead to death. If you or someone you love suffers from an eating disorder, please seek help, and let us not forget, eating disorder affect all genders. Anyone can suffer this tragic disease.

(Image source:https://www.google.com/search?q=anorexia/bulimia+images&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=643&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=ZFpqVav-Bc2VyASg9IKoCg&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ#imgrc=7NKpvR70mGbC_M%253A%3BiaEls5VDDYM10M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252F25.media.tumblr.com%252Ftumblr_m6bfo348iz1r78eeno1_400.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Frebloggy.com%252Fpost%252Fdepression-edits-thin-fat-anorexia-bulimia-ed-myphoto%252F26058720679%3B400%3B327)

A Fat Girl’s Aside

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While you’re busy judging me by the size of my behind, I thought I’d make your job easier. You see, I’m real honest about who I am.

I’m short and fat. I have gray hair popping through if you could see beneath the artificial color.

My face shows the wrinkles of 43 years. My eyes a small—squinty they’ve been called. My feet are closer to those of Fred Flintstone than a super model’s.

I have cellulite and dimples, and love handles make my hips wide.

Sometimes I laugh too loud, and my voice is big if I’m excited.

I’ll never be a showpiece, not that I care. I know none of what I’ve said matters if you can be real, too.

If you look into my squinty eyes, deep down beyond the surface, you will see the outside is like the façade of an old curiosity shop housing what you’ve really come for.

Looking deep within, the shelves are lined with me. They house who I really am. There are books for each wrinkle, like the time I lost my job, or the when my son fell from the tree.

Laugh lines around my mouth have their stories, too. The births of my children, and the day I first held my grandchild are accounted for somewhere up front so all can see.

There are the symbols representing all which I hold sacred.

Pictures of my family—they sit right there at eye level.

My pen and paper are displayed on an antique desk.

Somewhere in there you’ll see a man holding me as a child in a print shop, the smell of printing ink defines my childhood.

You’ll see the time I decided it was better to live in a small home than sacrifice my time raising my children, and all over the floor you’ll find paw prints of the furbabies who have given us joy.

There aren’t curtains or closets. Everything is open for you to see, for there is nothing to hide.

You’ll see the good and the bad.

My divorce, my stupid choices, my successes, and the things of which I’m proud.

Here and there you’ll see my shortcomings—my hang-ups and pet peeves, but if you can look past those, you’ll see my sacrifices—the times I gave so much to so many.

If you look close enough, you will see a kind, intelligent, strong, loyal, independent soul who is mature enough to know that what I take with me into the beyond is not beauty, but my connections with others.

So while you’re busy counting numbers on my scales, you haven’t begun to see what lies beneath—the person you will overlook for someone who gives your arm some bling.

That’s okay, though, because whether you like me or not, I still love me.

(image source:http://www.celebquote.com/5733)

Parenting and Relationships: Choice Not Cultish Behavior

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Sometimes kids will get in your way. This should be what they tell you before you have children. Kids will get sick. They’ll cry. There will be school events, and even flat our tantrums to deal with. When you become a parent, life as you knew it changes. You are no longer the center of your own universe, and your relationship with your partner may change.

However, meeting the needs of your children probably won’t kill your marriage as this article suggests. What this author, who claims to be a physician, posits is that a strange “religion” of parenting is killing marriages because children are put first, and according to the author, this is a sin against a partnership.

Calling parenting a “religion” is about the most polarizing thing I can imagine for parents. It’s as if dedicated parents are now being equated to cult members. I do realize there are some people who do not have a life outside their children, and I might say they should nurture their own interests to some level because one day, those children will be grown. A person should not live through another person. Individuality is important for happiness, but there is an amount of individualism parents sacrifice.

When children are born or adopted in the context of a marriage, there should be a basic understanding that sometimes the needs of the adults will fall to the wayside in order to tend to the needs of the children. If both parties cannot agree to this caveat, then it would be my suggestion that they not become parents.

Being a parent is a delicate balance of me, us, them, and we. Each parent and child must be an individual, the parents must be a partnership, and the entire family must be unified. In order for this to happen, there must be an atmosphere of respect amongst all members. To say that when parents put children first it destroys the marriage, is to say that respect for all members of the group was not present.

Yes, parents need to have time for themselves both as individuals and also as a couple. This time gives them the strength they will need to make it through the times when life is cracking them about the head and shoulders. It gives them a sense of mattering—a sense of self and self-worth. However, this sense of counting also must relay to the children. They must count enough that they don’t look to other places for attention, which children are often wont to do when they feel like the parents don’t care. They must know that the parents will sacrifice for them. It is imperative parents instill in their children the knowledge that they are valued above a night out or drinks with friends so they can have their own sense of self-worth to carry into adulthood.

When done correctly, the family-centric household will value all its members equally. Sometimes, one or two members will sacrifice for the good of the others, and later, probably when the parents arrive in the fall of their lives, that sacrifice will be repaid as children care for aging parents.

Equating solid parenting with religion is just another way to attack those of us who choose one way of life over another. There is no “right” way to live. Some choose to marry. Some don’t. Some choose to have children. Some don’t. When two people choose to marry and have children, and they choose to put those children before their own needs most of the time, people should not belittle their choice by labeling them as cultish. I can’t help but wonder where the author of the aforementioned article would be if their own parents didn’t care and sacrifice for them? Maybe they didn’t. I can’t answer to that. What I can answer to is that I, too, am a parent who put my children first. Even as they are becoming adults, I can say I don’t regret one moment I gave to them.

Being a parent is tough. Putting your children first is not about abandoning your relationship with your significant other. It’s simply about making a commitment to your children–the people you chose to create-that you will always consider their well-being first, above and beyond all things. If your marriage can’t withstand your commitment to your own offspring, then I’d suggest there are other underlying issues you should explore.

(image source:http://ishareimage.com/family-support-clipart.asp)

Quick Excerpt from “Spoof”

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“We grew up with parents who did the very best they could for us. They tried hard to teach us what we’d need to succeed in life, but they failed us. Their failure wasn’t their fault, though, you see. They failed us because the American Dream failed them.”

The Sheriff walked away wishing he didn’t have to tell the boy that, break his heart that way, but someone had to set him straight. It wasn’t small-town life or the people who lived it who ruined the world for the kid. It was something far beyond anything they could ever imagine that had torn their town, Keller, apart limb from crumbling limb.

It was the citizens who were the endangered species. Sure, they’d fought for the whales, the bears, birds, fish, and even plants, but no one had ever taken into consideration it would be the biggest species on earth that the government would let fade out of existence—well not all of them. Just the unimportant ones. The ones that didn’t matter. Those outside a tax bracket that could fund a campaign. Politicians couldn’t kill them off—hell no, that’d be a crime. But they sure could let their industry die, and after that followed the livelihood, the happiness, their lives. Moving to the city was about all they had, but he’d be damned if he’d let what his grandpa helped build be destroyed in a generation. As long as he could still slide his feet into his boots, the Sheriff made sure that town’s heart was beating.

Immigration Problems Start at Home

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I get so sick of hearing people talk about our immigration problem in the United States. They all have the same tired arguments about how “illegals” (their word, not mine) are “destroying our Country.” Most discussions I hear about immigration take a fairly simplistic problem, and complicates it to the nth degree. “Build fences!” “Militarized border guard!” Yadda Yadda. The problem is, these armchair political theorists are fighting the wrong portion of the problem.

You see, there is another far more nefarious illegal partner involved in illegal immigration: US Employers.

When people cry out that “illegals have taken their jobs,” they direct all the anger at people who just came here seeking a better life the same way most of our ancestors did, albeit they entered this country sans documentation. Why did they cross the Northern border instead of migrating to countries like Guatemala? That answer is pretty simple. The jobs are in the United States, and that is where the part of this problem US citizens should be pissed about lies.

If US employers from farmers to factories to Wal-Mart weren’t willing to hire undocumented workers, the very people we hear so many complain about wouldn’t have come here in the manner they have to begin with. Don’t’ get me wrong. I’m all about personal accountability, but that’s just the point here. US employers should be accountable to the fact they hire undocumented workers—and what’s more, they should be accountable for the fact they also exploit them.

Many undocumented workers work in unsafe environments for a lesser wage than a citizen would, and without benefits, thereby making them ideal employees for these companies. Undocumented workers are barely above being slave labor. Yet, rather than US citizens being enraged that human beings are being exploited, and that it is US companies that encourage so many immigrants to enter the country illegally by way of continuing to employ them, we, instead, point our angry fingers at people who are just here to escape abject poverty.

Tell me something. Do we really believe that people who don’t even speak English are better qualified for and are stealing our jobs? No. Despite the huge communication barrier, undocumented workers are being illegally employed every day because companies know that unless they are caught doing so, they can save money by exploiting these folks. Even if the employers are caught, the repercussion is a fine…a FINE. It is still the undocumented citizen who pays the real price: deportation. So, these employers practicing unethical, illegal employment practices get by easy. Maybe, if we citizens demanded stricter regulations and punishments for exploiting human beings—and in some cases encouraging human trafficking, our “immigration problem” might come to a screeching halt. The real simple truth is that if there were not jobs here for them, immigrants would not be crossing without going through the proper channels. It really is just that simple. The problem, then, rests on the shoulders of employers who are willing to illegally employ and exploit undocumented citizens.

But then again, when have we, here in the US, ever been worried about unethical exploitation of human beings? Don’t like that question? Think I’m being overly dramatic? Ask a Native American or other Person of Color.

( Cover image via: http://www.prepaid-wireless-guide.com/illegal-immigrants-and-prepaid-cellphones.html)

Welcome to Modernity, Austin, IN.

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How long have we been battling HIV/AIDs? Since the mid-1980s or so, we’ve actually had a name for the disease that still goes without a cure. Many places in the world have been fighting not only the direct effects of the disease, but the indirect effects as well for decades. In places like Africa, misinformation about HIV/AIDs has even led to folklore such as the belief that sex with a virgin would cure or somehow prevent the disease, leading to the rape of many innocent young people. While the United States has not experienced this effect, we have our own brand of bad information.

Recently, the tiny town of Austin, Indiana made national news because of an HIV outbreak. The outbreak, according to officials, is largely caused by IV drug use of the prescription pain killer Opana, and of course, heroin and methamphetamine. While one might wonder how what should be a quiet, tiny town becomes the hotbed of drug addiction, and makes National news as the “epicenter” of an HIV outbreak, it really isn’t that much of a shock to those of us who are native to this area. This little town has been a center of drugs and violence for decades.

With little industry, few resources, and no growth in sight, the town has basically been a dead zone for years. Austin has always been a place plagued with trouble. It’s just now that stronger, more lethal drugs have become prevalent and people are overdosing and becoming ill, heads are turning in that direction. That’s not a shocking trend. Overlooking areas such as Austin is not unique—many small towns never make the radar until something shocking happens. What is troubling is the horrible misinformation about both the cause and the solution to the problem.

Watching my local news reports on the goings on in Austin, one story sticks out in my mind. A woman stood on her porch describing how she and her children had borne witness to drug deals and prostitution on her street. She spoke of caring a gun, now, to protect her home and children. While this probably isn’t a crazy idea, it is a bit misguided to think that she could combat this problem with a firearm. Could she protect her home from intruders? Sure. Protect her children from strangers? Sure. Stop drug deals and prostitution? Probably not—maybe…maybe she could get lucky and stop what is going on directly in front of her home, but there is no way that gun ownership will lessen drug addiction and the prostitution that often accompanies it. What really troubles me, though, is during the conversation about people who have contracted HIV, gun ownership rears its head as part of the solution. I mean, the woman never said she’d kill or harm HIV patients, but the news report seemed ill timed when the focus is on stopping the spread of HIV/AIDs and not on stopping crime.

Other misguided conversations on social media called those who had contracted the disease “disgusting” and “scary,” making it seem as if one could catch the virus from a neighbor’s sneeze. It actually took the CDC to clear up some antiquated ideas about the spread of HIV/AIDs. Hearing what people still thought might happen reminded me of 1986-1987 when I first learned about the disease. We were frightened then because we didn’t understand how this all worked. We asked questions like “can we get it from sharing a glass of water?” I really thought, though, that the uncertainty and incorrect assumptions we all made nearly 30 years ago were long gone. Granted, we haven’t been fighting this monster on the scale they have in larger municipalities, but we have had residents with HIV/AIDs for years. Why did we all of a sudden think sharing a neighborhood was akin to sharing a needle?

I do understand that addicts dropping needles all over the place is a danger, as is the danger for medical professionals, but rather than talking about taking up arms to protect oneself, why aren’t we having involved conversations about clean needle exchanges and free condoms? Those subjects are nearly taboo in an area where fundamentalist conservatives have a stronghold.

The CDC did make its way into Austin when the number of those testing positive for HIV hit double digits. By the time it had hit triple digits, a temporary clean needle exchange had been established, as well as free testing. The keyword is “temporary”. For only 30 days, addicts can come in free of fear of incarceration to exchange their needles for clean ones, thereby helping to halt the spread of the disease. What happens after 30 days, though? Where do these people turn?

Surely, we understand that very few, if any, of these people will be drug free and clean in 30 days. Since the needle exchange is working—people are absolutely coming in for clean needles just as they do in larger cities with the exchanges—why aren’t we going to continue? Drug addiction isn’t going away. Guns won’t scare it away. Sorry. That demon is not afraid of death. This idea that giving away clean needles and condoms somehow “supports,” “condones,” or even “encourages” drug use and promiscuity is absurd.

I’ve read the remarks of people who have said we need to show people this behavior is not to be “admired”. The idea that people become drug users/addicts because they think its “admirable” is asinine. Truthfully, it’s the socioeconomic climate the residents of Austin must fight that breeds addiction, and prostitution just follows along as a cottage industry built by their broken lives. I would never assume any of these people wanted to be an addict when they grew up. To believe that is to totally misunderstand addiction. Addiction is something people turn to when there’s nowhere else to turn. It covers their pain. It’s the self-medication that is both the cure and the disease. Loose morals and lack of religion didn’t create this situation. Hopelessness, helplessness, and a feeling of living in an inescapable hell built what we’re dealing with for most. For some, this is a multigenerational problem that both parents and grandparents couldn’t escape. But no one cared 40 years ago, 30 years ago, or even 5 years ago. The violence and drug and sex trade are nothing new to Austin, Indiana. HIV is—or at least people knowing they have HIV is.

Putting a gun in someone’s hands will not kill this problem. Killing the bad information, killing the idea that if we close our eyes it will all go away, and killing the conservative stance that clean needle exchanges and free condoms somehow hurt society will fix this problem. Maybe it won’t stop people from using drugs or working in the sex trade to earn a few dollars, but it might very well stop the rampant spread of HIV. Locals who are too invested in personal religious tropes to invest in the public heath might want to rethink their primary investments before they end up bankrupt.

No. HIV is nothing new. Austin, Indiana, unfortunately, is just a small town that was hurled into modernity to meet up with what the rest of the world has known for decades: You cannot stop addiction, but you can prevent HIV!

(Image source: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/01/indiana-hiv-outbreak-health-workers-funding)