We were thrilled to sponsor Moment Magazine‘s 2012 “Elephant in the Room” Essay Contest last December. The question poised was “How has anxiety affected you, your family or the Jewish people in general? Please feel free to discuss anxiety from a personal, religious, psychological or historical perspective.”
While anxiety is not an exclusively Jewish issue, Moment Magazine is a Jewish publication, and we took the opportunity to sponsor this essay contest with them in order to expand our awareness campaign and create a larger conversation on this important issue. No matter what your religious and spiritual beliefs, we are confident you will find these winning essays powerful and insightful.
We are thrilled to present the winners and their winning essays here for all of you to enjoy. We also have included several finalists and excerpts of their wonderful writing.
Amy Bearmon hails from Minnesota and currently resides in the Seattle area. She is a rabbi’s wife and mother of two. She holds an MA from Antioch University in Counseling Psychology.
Fear Legacy Revisited
“Is everything OK?!” For as long as I can remember this is my mother’s idea of a normal phone greeting. All the time. Every time. Which would make sense, had I conditioned her to respond thus by calling only for emergencies. But this is not the case; this catch-up call is routine.
Adrenals always on alert, she spirits me, against my will, into her covert world where anxiety rules, unacknowledged. She lives from the tacit unsettling worldview of “Something must be wrong!” It’s an unconscious, yet integral part of her – borne of her heritage, likely enhanced by historical Jewish DNA. Growing up I was bathed in this undercurrent of nervous energy, which bred a Woody-Allenesque non-specific insecurity that is ever-so-challenging to live from and—even when one is aware of it—to break out of.
She came by it honestly, my mother. “Is everything OK?!” This is the alarmist greeting that met my Zayda when he’d dutifully call his wife from every port with a phone connection. Zayda, my mom’s father, captained a small freighter that navigated the rough waters of Lake Superior. His was a risky business. If he harbored the anxieties of the immigrant with a precarious livelihood, it didn’t show. In the course of his career, he risked his life numerous times to save others from certain death in those icy waters.
My grandmother, Meema, worried herself sick every time Zayda ventured out. Her coping strategy was to be the willing repository of worry. The irony, of course, is that if she didn’t have something to worry about, she’d have created it. My mother, steeped in this toxic environment, dutifully followed suit.
In me this translated into unwitting rebelliousness—a need to find a different approach to face the world. I recalled reading somewhere that on a particular personality inventory, relatively high scores for depression and paranoia for Americans were considered normal for Israelis. That there is a higher threshold in a place of real and constant danger made intuitive sense to me. If I was destined to live with anxiety, I wanted mine tangible. I’d meet it head-on—in Israel.
“Is everything OK?!” This is the alarmist greeting I receive from my mother when she phones. January ’91. I’m walking around Jerusalem, gas mask in tow, awaiting the next scud launch. Now this is my kind of anxiety! Like my Zayda before, being in it was more manageable, and ironically less scary than for my mother thousands of miles away, her fear amplified—the unknown ever more menacing.
It was then that I found compassion for my mother. I wish she could experience what I’ve come to know: in moving towards those things we fear, fear dissipates. My life continues to confirm this. I now do my best to honestly confront those things that frighten me. In doing so I leave a good chunk of the family fear legacy behind. My daughter phones. “Hi honey,” I answer. And with that, perhaps a new legacy is begun.
Read Amy’s “Don’t Hide Your Feelings of Anxiety,” written exclusively for AKFSA, here.
Uri Rosenrauch is a writer living in Staten Island, New York whose work has been featured in film and on television.
For most of my life, I had refused to buy into the stereotype of the anxious, neurotic Jew – not because I thought it wasn’t true, but because I never thought it was a stereotype. To me, the Alexander Portnoys and the Alvy Singers weren’t mere caricatures. They were accurate portrayals of the fearful, obsessive-compulsive Hebrew for whom even the slightest discomfort was cause for panic. As I struggled from the age of ten with OCD, and through my teens and twenties with panic attacks, depictions on TV, in film, and in literature of Jews overwhelmed by worry, legitimized my own neuroses and partially freed me from the self-loathing I felt for being afraid most of the time. But if the racing heart, hyperventilation and gastrointestinal distress were expressions of a condition whose seeds were so deeply rooted in my cultural and biological heritage, I wondered why the biblical record was less honest than contemporary pop culture about this pernicious malady afflicting my people. Didn’t Abraham obsessively check to make sure his tent was locked before leaving for the land God promised to show him? Wasn’t Joseph convinced he was having a heart attack while trapped in the cistern? Didn’t Moses, drenched in flop sweat, consider canceling his audience with Pharaoh because he worried what would happen if the stick didn’t turn into a snake? And that spontaneously burning bush – how could he have been sure the fire was really out once he was done talking to God?
In my thirties, I had become tired of drives that were more than ten minutes from home inducing heart palpitations. I could no longer tolerate airplane trips that were preceded by weeks of stomach cramps. I desperately searched for solutions in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble, on DVDs containing guided meditations and breathing exercises, in psychiatrists’ offices and in prescription bottles. The pills and the breathing offered much needed relief from the incessant feelings of abject fear, and the psychiatrists offered relief from the discomfort of sitting on a wallet that was too thick. But the knowledge gained that anxiety is a result of an untamed mind, and not of a cultural predisposition, is what truly liberated me. I understood that I could overcome the condition that for so many years I’d treated like a Jewish curse whose symptoms could only be mitigated by an affinity with neurotic fictional characters. I realized that anxiety wasn’t a Jewish thing, it was a human thing, and to celebrate it as a Jewish quirk was a disservice to the many who suffered from its sheer awfulness. Anxiety deserves no such respect, only the tenacious resolve to defeat it the way David bravely triumphed over Goliath, severed the giant’s head, and then probably obsessively washed his hands.
Read Uri’s “Empower Yourself By Disempowering Thoughts,” written exclusively for AKFSA, here.
Lauren Schara is a writer living in Indiana who loves baking and aspires to travel more
I drive around in the manner a stalker would, making sure I am not the first car but certainly positively never the last. If I am late I just won’t go in. I shouldn’t feel this nauseous anxious feeling with sweaty palms on the steering wheel. It is just shabbat services. It is just shabbat services I tell myself again, an audible reminder that it will all be fine. I park my car and exhale deeply. One last check, no my dress isn’t too short, no lipstick on my teeth, there is that one piece of unruly hair but I know I have a bobby pin somewhere. I rummage through my purse, breaking out in cold sweat when I cant find it. That is it, get out of the car I tell myself. Knowing if I let it get to me I will start up the engine and drive away.
Greetings are always pleasant, a hug and smile followed by “How are you?” I remind myself to use the word well not the word good. “I am well, and yourself?” It rolls of my tongue perfectly rehearsed, followed my “Shabbat Shalom.” For a moment I feel like I have mastered the hardest part, if I can just find a seat and bury my nose in the bulletin. Yes, I am young , yes I am sitting alone. I know it makes me stand out but it is fine because I won’t look up till service starts.
I am not new to this temple. I know these people. But every Friday it is the same struggle. An internal battle. I always tell myself, that I am glad I went, and I believe it, until it is time to go again. It is more than nerves, or jitters. Those go away or so I am told.
Social anxiety makes me feel like a “bad” Jew. I can’t always pull myself together to go or to get out of the car once I get there. I am not anti-social, look at my facebook or my twitter or my blog..I am VERY social. I like people, and people like me maybe cause they don’t know how hard it is to sit and have a coffee with them at the Oneg. Maybe it is hard for them too, maybe they weren’t here last week cause they drove away? But I know that probably isnt the case.
Jews love playing hostess, but not me. Jews love to feed people around their dinner tables, but not me. Jews are a collective group, but somehow I always feel like an outsider. So maybe I am not Jewish in a lot of ways, but I am still Jewish even if I don’t ever make it to services or host passover. I am still a Jew alone in my living room. And need to remind myself and everyone of that when you haven’t seen me for a while.
Read Lauren’s “Friends Can Help Make Situations More Comfortable,” written exclusively for AKFSA, here.
Ronald Pies is a psychiatrist who teaches at SUNY Upstate Medical University and Tufts University School of Medicine. He is the author of Becoming a Mensch: Timeless Talmudic Ethics for Everyone.
Anxiety: A Rabbinical Paradox?
You might think that, as a psychiatrist, I see anxiety as something that needs to be eradicated, like mice or mildew. But up to a certain point, anxiety can be useful. In psychotherapy, we often speak of “an optimum level of anxiety” being necessary for progress to occur. Without it, the patient has no real motivation to work. Similarly, a certain amount of anxiety is also an aid to accomplishment and creativity in life—without a little bit of angst, we grow inert and complacent.
The Rabbis of the Talmud were very astute observers of human health and behavior, and were well aware of the corrosive effect worry can have on the mind and body. Indeed, the Talmud seems to have anticipated modern psychosomatic medicine when it tells us, “Worry can kill; therefore let not anxiety enter your heart, for it has slain many a person.” We now know that, indeed, there is an increased risk of fatal coronary heart disease among patients with panic disorder and related conditions.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Talmud instructs us, “Do not worry about tomorrow’s trouble, for you never know what the day will bring.” So far, so good. But then the Rabbis add, “Maybe by the time tomorrow arrives you won’t be here anymore, and you worried about a world that was not yours.” This sounds a bit like Woody Allen’s contribution to the Talmud! Were the rabbis being deliberately paradoxical?
No, I think they were providing us with a way of gaining perspective. After all, if death can come at any time, why worry about “the small stuff”, like whether you’ll get that new car, or meet the next tax deadline? By reminding us of our own mortality, the rabbis—like good therapists—were teaching us to focus on the things in life that really matter.
Roz Leiser has worked as a nurse and a grief counselor. Her writing has been published in The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications, and she is currently at work on a memoir.
“Really?” says my friend Nancy, descended from an impeccable line of WASPS, when a Jewish friend and I agree that high anxiety is endemic to Jews. I forget that what is a given for me is symptomatology to those who didn’t grow up with it.
How could anxiety not become encoded in our genes? Or maybe it’s the collective unconscious or just a culture passed down through thousands of years of never knowing when the other shoe will drop, when the time will come to run for your life. Years of being on the outside, confusion between being chosen and being persecuted, wanting to belong and feeling inferior but erecting barriers of superiority.
I was raised by a refugee from the holocaust who was raised by a refugee from pogroms. The terror my mother must have felt was transmuted into relentless anxiety that attached itself to whatever was at hand. When real crises occurred she handled them forthrightly, it was the ones that might occur that never stopped plaguing her.
Each time she left her apartment my mother went back to make sure the stove was off, then recheck that the door was locked, usually more than once. Whenever I wanted to try a new activity she knew someone who had either died or been severely injured by it. When I wanted to go camping she informed me that a tree had fallen on her friend’s nephew’s tent. Even walking down the street might be life threatening – the pharmacist, she reported, was almost hit by a large chunk of ice that came crashing off a building.
The letters I received when I went to college were not filled with anecdotes of the folks back home but of warnings not to ride on motorcycles. In the donut shop where my mother purchased coffee every morning she asked the clerk to make sure the lid was on tight, twice. Every day.
How could I ever know what was dangerous and what wasn’t? I seesawed between heedless risk taking on the theory that my mother was completely out of touch with reality, and fear of almost everything, including calling the utility company to have my electricity connected. My zest for life and adventure was dampened by the potential for disaster that accompanied any action at all. Making a decision, even a minor one, became fraught with possible dangers that had to be carefully weighed.
On the other hand, I have never had my purse snatched because I learned how to cling to it so that the incipient thieves of the world couldn’t get it. I have never been mugged, maybe because I’m always aware that everyone on the street could be dangerous. I have learned the term “catastrophize” and am still teaching myself that it does not have to be second nature to assume that someone is dead if they are more than fifteen minutes late.
And now can we talk about depression?
Stuart Rosh is a geophysicist, writer and musician. He is the author of the memoir Gone for Good: Tales of University Life After the Golden Age.
Moving Beyond Anxiety
A few years ago, I went to see the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of New York. While waiting outside for my wife and daughter to arrive, I talked to an older couple on a bench. They asked me where I was from and somehow they assumed I had a connection to this old Jewish neighborhood.
“Did your grandparents live here?” The wife asked me.
“No, my family came from Poland,” I said. “My parents came to the US after the war. Other relatives went to Israel.”
“Oh, you’re parents were survivors?” She asked.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
There was a look of pity on her face. I’d seen that look before from American Jewish men and women of a certain age when they realized I came from survivors. I can well guess what it means: my family life must have been dark, without much joy and hope. Those looks of pity are, however, unnecessary. My parents loved a good story, a good meal, a good joke, and a little too much schnapps on holidays. They weren’t anxious. They were determined to live a good life. When my mother died, a Chassidic rabbi came to pay his respects. He said to me as he shook my hand, “Don mameh iz geveyn a krieger.” My mother was a warrior. He was right. So was my father.
I’d like to posit that there are two major cultures that exist in Judaism today. There is the American-Jewish, urban, anxious culture depicted with great humor in movies, books and TV. Worry and fear seem to be the main drivers in this culture. Quite frankly I don’t understand this culture. It’s nothing I grew up with. It’s nothing that my Israeli relatives can identify with. You can find it in Yiddish movies before WWII and of course in the Yiddish theater. The mother worries constantly. Destruction or at least a loss of family reputation are never far off.
My parents survived WWII because they abandoned that culture. My father ended up in Stalin’s Polish Red Army. My mother, with cunning and resourcefulness, lived through the war years in a gulag in Siberia. They were fighters, both of them. When a problem came up in my home, it was handled with efficiency and pragmatism. That’s how I was taught to live. This is the culture not of anxiety, but of what is best expressed in Yiddish: the culture of der shtarker. It’s a culture that demands all to show strength and be resolute. As my father told me time and time again when I was little and had to do something difficult, “Shtark zich, shtark zich.” Don’t be a chicken. Make yourself strong.
Like my parents and their friends who survived the war, Israelis follow this culture of swagger and strength. They associate the anxious culture of the pre-war Pale with weakness and, unlike American Jews, have very limited nostalgia for that time. I’m of the view that the culture of anxiousness – of fearing the next pogrom, of walking on eggshells – is of no value. My parents needed to move past it to live a productive life. The citizens of Israel needed to move on to create a new and vibrant country. It would be best if the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the Jewish pre-war New York City tenements left it behind as well.
Cheryl Wunch was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She was invested as a Cantor from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music in 2011, and now serves as Cantor at Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove, IL.
I have never sat comfortably in a chair for an extended period of time. Sure, I’ve relaxed, I’ve lounged, I’ve hung out, but it’s always been relatively short-lived. Inevitably, each time that I sink back into a comfortable position, the moment comes when I sit upright, plant my feet, and prepare. What am I preparing for? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe I’m bored, maybe my to-do list starts to run through my head, maybe there’s some Jewish guilt about taking time for myself, or maybe I just get restless. Maybe. Or maybe it’s something more, something stronger, something so deeply ingrained in me that I don’t even notice it most of the time.
My grandparents survived the Shoah. Like many of our beloved family members, their story is one of fear, horror, strength, courage, and resilience. I grew up hearing bits and pieces of their past, but for the most part they tried to shield us kids from the details. We lived comfortable, blessed lives, and yet the one thing that they couldn’t shield us from was, what I call, “the hum.” The best way that I can explain the hum is that it is this underlying buzz of muted anxiety, rarely discussed, but ever-present. My grandmother, who has lived in Canada for 60 years, still needs to be cajoled into putting on her seat belt every time she gets into a car, and when she sits in a chair, there it is. She sits on the edge, readying herself to jump up if need be. The Gestapo isn’t coming. She knows that. We all know that… but the thought of being stuck, unable to escape at a moment’s notice is unbearable to her. That anxiety is always there, it’s the hum.
All of us feel the hum. No matter how safe we are, no matter how happy or secure, there is a hum, an anxiety that can be traced back to those frightening days in Poland – even for those of us who have never had to live through such atrocities. The hum is our legacy, it is our reminder, and our story… and so when I sit on the edge of my seat, or subconsciously scan a room for exits, I can laugh at myself for this silly, knee-jerk reaction, and I can also notice it, pause, and know that I will never forget.
Miriam Bradman Abrahams
Miriam is Cuban-born, Brooklyn-bred and lives on Long Island. She coordinates author events for Hadassah Nassau Region, reviews books for Jewish Book World and wrote her column “Miriam’s Musings” for The Jewish Star. She teaches yoga and is writing a memoir about her family’s Jewish-Cuban-American experience.
At simchas we are fun loving and care free, dancing wildly to Latino beats, but don’t let that hip shaking fool you one bit. We are a neurotic, anxiety-ridden bunch of Cuban refugees.
My grandparents came to Havana in the 1920’s and ’30’s from Warsaw, Poland and a village near Pinsk which was Russian or Polish depending on the day. They fled virulent anti-semitism, conscription and poverty to start a new life in the Caribbean. Mom, her sister and cousins were raised by hardworking immigrants who provided them with happy lives in a temperate climate. However, they were waiting, as we Jews seem to do, for the next disaster. It came to them in 1959 in the form of Fidel and the ideology he brought to the island.
My parents’ generation fled to the U.S. leaving behind everything, often including parents and siblings. My idealist uncle stayed, causing a huge rift in our family. My sister and I were raised to fear Fidel, communism and much more.
My friends’ parents are Holocaust survivors who kept creepily silent about their horrific pasts while my parents exposed their fears for us to absorb. Anxious and protective, they anticipated bad news. A ringing phone at night sounded ominous, they reacted gravely to every sniffle and cough. From the time I was hospitalized for peeing blood at age 6, any symptom I shared was acted upon immediately. This produced my lifelong terror of doctors and an extreme vasovagal reaction I’ve passed on to my kids. My parents’ inquiries about my health reminds me of Portnoy taking too long in the bathroom, harassed by his mom knocking on the door, asking if he’s ok.
Though we are patriotic Americans, we always have our passports ready, in case we need to grab them and run. Where could we go? The only possibility is Israel. We constantly scan the news for the latest about Cuba or Israel. Is Fidel dead yet? Was there an explosion in Tel Aviv, G-d forbid? Is our family there ok?
My worries increased doubly when I married a guy from Durban, South Africa during the reign of apartheid. Though his country is breathtakingly beautiful, our visits were filled with nightmarish admonitions concerning dangers of rape, carjacking and AIDS.
I don’t blame my parents for my fears though I’ve readily assumed them, projecting them on my own kids. This behavior is fully entrenched in Jewish tradition and culture and considered to be normal. Only a major intervention can change this particular cycle of terror.
I recently became a yoga teacher, studying breathing and relaxation techniques, applying them to myself and my students. It’s a slow work in progress, inhaling prana deeply, exhaling out fruitless worry, releasing toxins and control. After all, I cannot stop Fidel, terrorism or hurricanes. I can only try to slow my racing heartbeat and impending panic attacks with pranayama, a backup prescription of Xanax, and letting loose to the rhythm of salsa.
When I think about anxiety, I think about my Grandmother. When I was a teenager, she confided in me that everything really bad in her life – she had never worried about and all the bad things she worried about, never occurred. Over the years, I have thought about her comment. When I was a teenager, I thought her anxiety had prevented her from living life; she never remarried, she never learned to drive, and she was always worried about my Mom. Thus, I took her comment that being anxious was bitterness for all the time she had wasted. However, my Grandmother’s comments were like the Torah, and in the re-reading (and maybe even with a little wisdom), I now believe that her anxiety prevented many bad things, and that she was not complaining, but telling me to live life and not let anxiety control it.
Like many Grandmothers and Jews through out the ages, I too worry a lot. For me, anxiety and lack of control go hand in hand. Thus, if I am supposed to go and get a physical, that is what I do. Several years ago I went in for a physical and several tests and doctors later, I was diagnosed with colitis. After being diagnosed, I came in with multiple questions and charts on my eating habits. My plan was to take control of my Colitis. After around five minutes of questions, my doctor, a member of the Tribe and a fellow congregant, stopped me and said to me, “I know the Jewish thing is to take control of problem, however, Colitis is not that predictable, you have to learn to let go.” Whack! Everything life had taught me, all the wisdom I had known, and my own body was betraying me. My Grandmother’s quote came flooding back. My Grandmother, the philosopher had now become a soothsayer.
Like every good anxiety-driven organized individual I had two choices: I could ignore the facts that did not fit into my universe or I could become disciplined on being laid-back. I choose the latter because the inconsistency of planning for spontaneity was more appealing than becoming Balaam. Over the last three years I have tried to roll with life, appreciating my family and friends and not worry as much. I have probably failed more times than I succeeded in being more relaxed. However, I have enjoyed life more.
I know that I am probably passing down my anxiety to my children, but maybe (G-d willing) I too will be passing down my wisdom on anxiety to my grandchildren and my Grandmother will be smiling.
Long before we had cell phones, Blackberries, laptops, iPads, and a combined twelve email accounts, my family had quite possibly the most effective communication device ever created: my nervous mother, yelling down the street for my sister and me to come in for dinner. When it came to us girls, Mom was a surveillance expert. She used her laser-sharp radar to figure out which friend’s house we were playing in, and had a knack for designating our curfew for the precise moment when we were starting to have a good time.
I was frustrated living with so much oversight, and secretly wished that I could trade places with my friend Beth, whose mom was too focused on her yoga routines to even know what time her kids came in at night. Where my house was clean, organized, and stocked with healthy snacks and fresh towels, Beth’s house was chaotic, covered in dust, and never had anything to eat besides soda and popcorn. I loved every minute there.
As a child, I didn’t know the word anxiety yet, but I knew that my mom was full of worries. She worried about what we were eating, whether we had slept enough, and whether our homework was done. Her worry was contagious. Over time I became the type of kid who agonized over every wrong answer on my history test and wondered endlessly if I’d ever succeed at anything. I vowed that no matter what, when I became a mom, I would never subject my children to the overprotected childhood I had endured. I was going to be a carefree parent — the kind who let everyone traipse over the beige carpeting with dirty shoes on and didn’t care if her kids played in the snow without gloves and a scarf.
Fast forward about 20 years.
It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m rocking my week-old son to sleep in our dark living room. All of my years of self-doubt have somehow given way to some proud accomplishments: my walls are covered with diplomas and I am married to a psychiatrist who dedicates his time to easing the anxiety that seems to plague so many in our community. And most miraculously, I am a mother to the tiniest, most innocent baby boy. In the few days since he’s been home, I’ve called the doctor three times with questions and consulted ten different parenting websites to find out if I’m bathing him properly. It’s clear that I’ve inherited a little of my mother’s worried streak. But it’s also clear to me now why she worried as much as she did – she probably felt the overwhelming desire to protect me that I now feel toward my little boy.
And how could I not want to protect a baby this remarkable? He’s not even big enough to hold up his own head, and already he’s given me a whole new appreciation of his Bubbe.
I was born in New York City to a secular leftist Jewish family in 1959; both of my parents have PhDs. The firstborn of three, I showed high potential as a child, impaired by social and math-related anxiety. Now 53 years old, after a life of downward mobility, I work as a “web content producer” and janitor.
The realities of my anxiety-driven “drug problems,” and an abortive college career in which I enrolled in and dropped out of an expensive and fairly exclusive liberal arts college twice, constitute an “elephant in the room” in and of themselves. When combined with my criminal record of seven felonies and six misdemeanors, I become the elephant, an “elephant man,” something barely recognizable as human even to an ultra-liberal, highly educated upper-middle class Jewish family.
The anxiety attacks begin when I get out of bed. How many I will have during a given day depends on a number factors; how long the day will be, the number of tasks to be completed, the relative importance of completing these tasks properly, and whether I have to drive or not. If I need to drive, I limit my dose of clonazepam to an amount that will hold off withdrawal symptoms without impairing my motors skills and reaction time. This dosage is does little or nothing to lower my anxiety level.
“Anxiety disorder” is not my only diagnosis; I also have PTSD, and ADHD. I’m convinced that I’ve had ADHD since early childhood, although it was only added to my continuously growing list of psychiatric diagnoses at the age of 38. The medication known as “Adderall,” a mixture of three neutral amphetamine salts clears my mind enough to make the challenges of getting through a day appear manageable; in spite of its stimulating effects, it calms me with the confidence it brings. Buprenorphine, prescribed as a substitute for more dangerous opiates also brings clarity. Unlike its relatives, it does not have much of a high; not enough to bring on a dangerous “nod” behind the wheel.
I’m 53 and chemically dependent, albeit under medical supervision, and on stable dosages. Others in my family, including my father, still call it “dope.”
I haven’t been arrested in over six years. After seven years in prison (for multiple drug convictions and a series of robberies committed with an empty BB-gun), one year in a halfway house, six months on an ankle bracelet, and five years on parole, with two drug related violations, the second of which put me back behind bars for nearly a year, I discharged my sentence and parole supervision in July of 2007. At that time “PTSD” joined my list of labels.
While I can still speak openly with my mother and father, and gratefully accept their seemingly infinite capacity for forgiveness and generosity, and communicate with a similar candor with one sympathetic aunt, I rarely see or hear from the rest of the family, immediate and extended. My younger brother is cordial but distant, my sister, the youngest of us, will not speak to me. On the rare occasions when I find myself in contact with any of the extended family, no one speaks to me of or questions me about these things, and I volunteer nothing; it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The elephant is in the room.