Monthly Archives: October 2015

Free Garbage is Still…Garbage.

I remember talking to someone a few years back, about the local food pantry here in our little town (which is also the county seat, so it’s not exactly unsophisticated).   I had good and bad comments about the food pantry, but the whole experience left me wondering about how that and the healthcare system are somewhat intertwined.

First, the positive – the food pantry here delivers.  That’s really awesome and helpful, especially since the pantry is on the outskirts of town, where buses don’t go.  So, for those of us without a car, that’s a really nice thing for them to do.

The people who deliver the food are very nice, and when you try to thank them they say, “Don’t thank me, thank God,” which I take as the modest statement it is.  They are using their own cars to bring food to my apartment, and I think it’s really nice of them to do that.

Aside #1: Contrary to some misconceptions, I do not argue with every Christian who expresses thoughts about Jesus or saints or whatever deity they choose.  I fully support their right to believe as they wish.  My complaints only come into play when they try to force others to believe as they do, or force others to participate in their worship, or make judgments about neo-Pagans/non-believers being evil and so on.

The bad part about the food pantry here?  It’s nothing but unhealthy food.

Day-old baked goods like cake and cookies (which are, of course, yummy), white bread, canned vegetables with high salt content and lined with BPA, juice “drinks” (basically the ones with juice flavoring and sugar), hot dogs, beans (in cans, not dried beans), and tomato soup (very high in sodium).  And usually ramen – lots and lots of ramen.

Aside #2: Beans are the only things that are remotely healthy on this list, but they always seem to come in extremely large cans, are processed, and in general are not all that good for you. I don’t know why they don’t give out dried beans, as these are much cheaper, keep longer, and are easy to make – and better for you.

I received this a couple of times when my son was living here with me, as we had a very hard time making ends meet on just my food stamps.  Thankfully, he got some assistance and we didn’t have to call these folks again.

Thankfully, too, he got a job down south years ago and never has to live like this again.

I mentioned the unhealthiness of this stuff to someone, who then turned to me and said, “At least it’s free.”

Garbage out of dumpsters is free, too, but it’s still garbage.

Since the person I was talking to was somewhat conservative, I asked him what he thought the extra cost to the healthcare system is, due to people eating unhealthy food for prolonged periods of time.

Aside #3: Heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases can sometimes be prevented, or often can be ameliorated, by eating decent food.  That means little or no sugar, fresh vegetables (or at least frozen ones), fruit, fiber (like beans), and grains.

He thought for a minute and said, “I think we should pass laws so people can only buy certain things with food stamps.   That way, they would have to eat healthy food.”

Sigh.  I should have known – conservatives are not known for their generosity.  Or for their understanding of how po’ folk live.  Or for supporting other peoples’ self-determination.

Should we also pass laws telling private charities what they can and cannot give out at the food pantry, too?

Of course not.  The answer lies in education.  Education for everyone.

The people running the food pantries need to be educated so they can in turn educate their donors on what to give.  I think most people would love to know that what they give could make a huge difference in someone’s health.  And I think if they knew what to buy, and were shown how cheaply they can buy it, it would be a win/win kind of thing.

The people receiving food from the pantry could use some education, too (no, not all of them, and it’s not just the poor – most Americans don’t eat healthily).  I don’t mean about the food groups and so on, I mean education regarding how to prepare meals from scratch.

Many people do not know how to cook from scratch, poor or not.  But it’s not hard.  Cooking rice and beans from scratch takes time, mostly, not brains.  You can cook a whole bunch on the weekend and freeze it all, if need be.

Some poor people do actually work (for Walmart, too, but that’s another blog post).  They have families.  They might not have the energy or time to cook from scratch, unless they are given the tools by which to do so.

By “tools”, I mean…cookbooks.  Heck, you can have volunteers cut recipes from magazines, punch holes in them, and put them in binders for very little effort or money.  Or you could get people to donate cookbooks (though that’s probably a bit harder – most people’s cookbooks are not basic like Adele Davis’ “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”).

Aside #4: I always thought Adele Davis wrote “Recipes for a Small Planet”, but that was Frances Moore Lappe.   Adele Davis, by the way, was the person who coined the phrase “You are what you eat.”

You could even – gasp – ask businesses to donate crockpots.  They are not very expensive, and you can dump all the ingredients into one, set it, go to work, and have dinner by the time you get home.

You could get people to donate freezer-ware, and include instructions.  You can get containers to freeze things in at Dollar Tree – and all their stuff is BPA-free, I asked.  $1 for a set of 3 or more – cheaper if you buy by the case.

All of these things still add up to a lot less than hospitalizing someone who’s had a heart attack or other possibly preventable illness.  Which would keep healthcare costs down – that wouldn’t satisfy Libertarians or right-wingers, who both want to see po’ folk not get any healthcare at all – but for most normal people, this would be a good thing.

And why should we think about how we can help the poor eat more healthy food, and save on Medicare/Medicaid costs?  Because it’s the decent thing to do, and because it saves money in the long run (i.e., your tax dollars – and theirs, too, by the way, since many of them work).

But…what about people who work and don’t qualify for food stamps or government health insurance?

To them I say, “Be quiet, and be grateful that your life isn’t so horrible that you have to sit in someone’s office for an hour and explain to them why you don’t have enough food to eat each month.”

Aside #5: The intake process at most food pantries is pretty hard on one’s pride.  They ask you how you got to where you are, and that’s a fairly painful question to answer.  Not even welfare workers ask such nosy questions, or look at you like you’re trying to put one over on them.

To them I also say, “You own a car and a house, have a retirement plan, savings account, and other things that poor people will probably never have.  We would all trade our food stamps and Medicare/Medicaid to have the income you have to afford all those things.”

We’d trade it all just to be able to work at a decent job.  To just have a shot at a life out of poverty.  Most of us aren’t lazy – if people who thought that had to live for a month as we do, where everything takes twice as long to do, or in some cases isn’t even doable, I think they would understand the amount of effort it takes just to survive.

“You Kids Get Off My Lawn!”

The above title is often used on the internet to denote cranky old folks.  It evokes a picture of an elderly person on his or her porch, shaking a cane and yelling at kids who are crossing his or her lawn.  It is the “old people are crabby” trope.

I am here to tell you, it’s not completely inaccurate.

I didn’t post last week because I was back and forth to a local social service agency, going through orientation and doing paperwork, so I can volunteer there.

The purpose of the volunteer program is to provide assistance to older people so that they can remain in their homes and not have to go to an institution of some kind to live.

I think it’s a great idea – the longer someone can stay independent, the better.  I am not a fan of institutionalizing anyone, for any reason, actually.  Not the elderly, not people with mental illness, not children with developmental problems, not anyone with any kind of special need.

Years ago, when I was taking special education classes at the University of Memphis, my professor talked a lot about how just being in an institution affects someone, whether or not the institution itself is a good one.

Think about it this way: If you had to live day in and day out being told what to do and when to do it, it would take a toll on your feelings of independence and autonomy, don’t you think?

We as a society talk a lot about how prison affects people, but don’t talk quite so much about how institutions as a whole affect people who have committed no crimes at all.  Yet many of the same conditions exist in institutions as in prisons (told when to eat, when to sleep, when you can go out, whether or not to take meds, and so on).

So, anyway, this program is in place to try to prevent people from being institutionalized.  I support that whole-heartedly.

The experiences at orientation and training last week are what prompted this week’s blog post.

Here comes the rant.

Everyone in this volunteer program (all 5 other volunteers) is older than I am. And, almost everyone who uses the services in this agency is older than I am, by at least 10 years.

Services start at age 60, but I have yet to see anyone younger than 70 participating.

But really, they are some of the crabbiest people I have met lately.

When there were breaks in the training, the main topics of conversation amongst the other volunteers were:

~ How schools today are wrecking our youth because they don’t have dress codes or prayer

~ How persecuted Christians are in this country because they can’t say “Merry Christmas” in Walmart and/or are prevented from exercising their religion wherever they see fit

~ How many Christian churches are different in how they worship, but “we all worship one god so we’re all saved anyway”

Do you see a pattern here?

These were also the frequent topics amongst different groups of people who were there to get lunch.  That, and passing around cartoons on smartphones that were less than respectful of President Obama, and that’s putting it kindly.

Added to that mix – what I guess was supposed to be flirting but came off more like sexist comments and raunchy remarks.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am not easily offended by sexual content.  But it struck me as bizarre that people who were in such a snit about the “lack of morality in today’s world” would then turn around and make a crack to someone about his private parts.

The response to that was a rape joke.

Let’s be clear about this: the people who talked this way do not have dementia or Alzheimer’s. They’re just jerks.  It’s been my experience that age doesn’t necessarily mean “nice” – young jerks turn into old jerks, it seems.

My mind was boggled.  Sitting there, waiting for lunch (which they so graciously provided for free), and listening to all that.

This, in a publicly-funded non-profit, where the volunteer coordinator asks before every lunch, “Who wants to lead the prayer?”

How persecuted are you when your own social service agency, which should know better, promotes Christian prayer before eating?

This is what drives me ’round the bend about fundamentalist Christians: They don’t appear to understand that they are not, in any way shape or form, persecuted in the US.

What they think of as “persecution”, others see as “letting others believe as they will”, “not forcing Christianity on the public at large”, or “realizing that we all – whatever we do or do not believe – fund public organizations and therefore do not have the right to favor one religion over another”.

Quite frankly, I am sick to death of listening to them complain about this.

But I kept quiet.  You know why?  Because I have an agenda, and I plan on sticking to it.

Part of that agenda is getting volunteer experience, part of it is also getting out and about and using my skills as a counselor again, and part of it is seeing how much I can physically handle in terms of work.

The bonus to all that is being able to help others.  And I wonder how many “others” mentally roll their eyes at a lot of this dialogue that goes on.

You see, the people that complain the loudest are assuming that everyone is like them: straight, white, conservative, Christian.

I’m fairly sure that, statistically, at least some of the people at the agency are none of those things, or at least not most of those things.

October, Gently.

domesticviolence1

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

This is an issue that I feel very strongly about, and the following is a re-write of a blog post I wrote one year ago.

I will continue to write at least yearly about this problem, forever.

I am not going to quote statistics.  I don’t think that’s necessary.

It is easy to see the violence that is perpetuated upon women, unfortunately, on a daily basis.  Even if you never leave your house, it’s on the news and it’s certainly on the internet.  I don’t think any reasonably sane person would argue that it doesn’t exist.

What I am here to write about is what you, as just an ordinary person, can do to help eliminate this problem.  It doesn’t have to cost money, and it doesn’t even have to take up much time.  But you can make a difference to some woman, somewhere, and I am going to tell you how.

For the edification of people who do not know me well, I have just a brief explanation of how this issue came to affect me.

I am a survivor of domestic violence.

Not just once, but a few times, beginning with the very first household where I grew up.  I witnessed it, and I was a target of it.

The reason I go all the way back to my childhood is two-fold: first, to illustrate that violence against women has never really been taken seriously until recently.

Second, it is to show that the effects of domestic abuse can have far-reaching consequences, even for intelligent women with advanced degrees in psychology (I once had a policeman in Memphis ask me, when called to my apartment while an ex was destroying it, “Don’t you know any better? You’re a psychologist!”).

There were no shelters, really, back in the day.  I am talking late 1950s up until around 1990 (in Memphis, in 2015, there is one domestic violence shelter, one, in a population of over 653,000).  Growing up in a pre-feminist era, just in time to see the growth of that movement, it’s hard for me to explain what it was like growing up in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s.

ALL abuse – child, spousal, and to a certain extent animal, was pretty much blamed on the object of the violence, not the perpetrator.

People did not want to “cause trouble” by raising these issues – though thank goodness people did, or we would still be living in a world where certain members of the population are blamed for acts of violence they neither started, perpetuated, nor deserved (as if anyone deserves to be assaulted!).

Women covered up bruises and other evidence of violence – and we still do that today.  People saw the evidence but didn’t ask what happened, as it made them uncomfortable (“What if her husband hit her? What if he didn’t? Am I making a big deal out of nothing?”).

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have changed.

The police were not often called, and if they were, it was usually the man’s version of events that was believed (“She fell, she attacked me, she’s making a big deal out of nothing”, etc).

That has changed, thankfully.

I am not going to chronicle in detail the events that led up to me fleeing for my life to a domestic violence shelter in Altoona 5 years ago, because I am acutely aware of how very uncomfortable that makes people.

5 years ago, I was slapped, punched, kicked, tied to a chair, hit with various objects, strangled, smothered, had my hair pulled, spit on, pinched, bit (yes, really), screamed at, had my money/keys taken away, was isolated from everyone, had my spiritual beliefs mocked, had my pets threatened (I took them with me when I left), was stalked at work, and had my car sabotaged so I couldn’t leave.

I was humiliated in public several times.  No one who witnessed those incidences said or did anything to stop it.

The long-term effects of this experience are PTSD, dental issues from having things thrown at my mouth, and probably a lifetime of second-guessing any future romantic involvements I might ever have.

I am recovering from it.  Each year gets better. This blog helps.

I want to make people aware of what these things are, these aspects of abuse, so if you or someone you know is experiencing them you can know it’s not right/normal/deserved.

Physical abuse: I have detailed that previously but I think everyone knows this is anything that physically hurts or terrifies you – including throwing things, breaking things, and slamming doors. Oh and not letting you call an ambulance when he injures you.

Emotional abuse: Telling you who you can/cannot talk to/be around/communicate with on the internet, making fun of you (the kind that isn’t playful teasing), isolating you from friends and family by telling you they don’t care about you, telling you “no one can love you like I love you/no one will ever want you”.

Deriding your education/skills/talents, calling you ugly/stupid/worthless/crazy/fat and other awful things, putting you down to others, threatening to kill your pets, and generally making you feel like less than nothing.

If you already have self-esteem issues, and/or if you grew up in an abusive environment, this isn’t hard for someone to do to you.

Economic abuse: Controlling your money, hiding your money/keys/personal effects, interfering with your job, getting you fired or forcing you to quit (neglecting your children when you are working and he is home – for me, that wasn’t this last time, it was when I was married).  Telling you what you can and cannot buy.  Returning things you bought without your knowledge or consent.

Spiritual abuse: Making fun of your beliefs, not allowing you to attend services (or, in my case, conduct ceremonies), or threatening violence if you do not convert to whatever belief system your abuser has (this did not what happen to me, but to women I have known). Making it really uncomfortable for you by arguing with you about your beliefs, or making it uncomfortable for you to even express those beliefs.

It comes down to a lack of respect, really, and a lack of acceptance of you as a person.

No one who loves you is going to act like this.

Sexual abuse: I think most of us know what that is, but it also includes forcing someone into lifestyles they are not comfortable with (swinging, bdsm, etc).  The key is “something they are not comfortable with” – I make no judgments about lifestyle choices, as long as they are choices.

Basically, your body is yours, not someone else’s, and you are the one who says what is or isn’t done to it.

If you are experiencing any of this – and I would hope, as someone connected to me, you would come to me for help – get to a safe place.

Call me!  Email me!

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7223) or visit their website.

Go to a friend’s house, or a relative’s.

You do not have to live like this.  I know it seems hopeless and scary and exhausting and deeply sad, but you can get out.  You can live a life that you want.  You can be happy.  You are worthwhile, and there are people who really do care.

If you know someone you suspect is being abused, there are many things you can do. Most of them will not cost you anything in terms of time or money:

1.  If you hear screaming or yelling or crying coming from out on the street or from         someone’s home/car, call the police. Don’t be hesitant that “maybe it’s nothing”.  It’s the job of the police to assess the situation and deal with it.  They will not think you are wasting their time.  You could save someone from being hurt or killed.

I cannot express to you the horror I felt when a neighbor passed by my previous residence and told my ex to “keep your woman quiet next time”, even as he noticed the scratches on my ex’s arm from where I attempted to dislodge it from around my throat.

Another time, a neighbor – this time a woman – passed by as I was sitting on the porch and said to me, “You shouldn’t let him hit you like that.”  Then turned to my ex and said, “You know, if it was me I would have beat your ass.”  Later that night, I paid for her remarks.  I know she meant well, but these things do not help.

Those 2 experiences left no doubt in my mind that the neighbors heard my screaming, but did nothing. 

And all anyone had to do was pick up a cell phone and push 3 buttons.

2.  If you must intervene, tackle the abuser at the time of the attack, and disable him while someone else calls the police. Making angry or snide comments may only serve to get your friend hurt.  Not all the time, but just be aware the person she is dealing with is unstable.

If someone comes to you for help, by everything that is righteous, help her!  Listen to her, take her for medical care if she needs it, take her in or take her to a shelter.

Call her relatives and explain how serious it is (they might not know) and ask for their help.  I don’t think my family had any idea how bad things were with me; I like to think they would have come and gotten me if they had (they all live out of state).

If she won’t leave, or she returns to her abuser, be patient – a woman leaves an average of 7 times before she leaves for good (“50 Obstacles To Leaving: 1-10”, National Domestic Violence Hotline article, 2013).

3.  Remember that every little kindness helps.  And here is something you might not know – the longer someone is away from their abuser and around normal caring people, the more likely she is to leave for good.  So take your friend out somewhere – to lunch, to a park, to have coffee, whatever, and do it often.  Show her that the way you act is normal, and the way he acts is not.

This way she can see that it’s not something she has done, she can see that he’s the one with the problem.

4.  Get her a copy of “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft.  It not only explains (doesn’t excuse) the different types of abuse and the warped minds behind it, it also reinforces that it’s not her fault.

Lundy Bancroft runs a treatment center for men who are abusive, and it’s not the (ineffective) “anger management” stuff most social service agencies who attempt to deal with abusers use.

His program is confrontational and hits at the heart of what’s going on – the power issues and the beliefs that these men hold about women. It is based on Ellen Pence’s (1948-2012) excellent Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (aka The Duluth Model).

Here’s the link to Bancroft’s site, where you can buy the book and also read some interesting and helpful thing.

5.  Help your friend make a safety plan.  Some of this might involve you holding her   important papers for her (birth certificate, etc).  It might involve a code word she can use so you know when you need to call the police.

There are other things you can do, too, of course.  You can donate money to your local shelter.  You can attend any number of domestic violence month programs in your area. You can wear a purple ribbon this month, and speak to people who ask you about it.

If you are really ambitious, you can help me start a shelter – the one I was in was woefully inadequate, had no counselors, and sometimes took in people who did not belong there.

It also didn’t have any space for pets or women who had adult children with special needs (you think a woman is going to leave if she can’t take her child – no matter how old – with her??).

Some of this is funding, but some of it is a lack of education and training in disability issues and substance abuse assessment.

But the result is that women who need help are not getting it.

I want to change that.  I WILL change that.  And I hope when future generations read this blog, they can see the history of this problem and be thankful it’s either been eradicated or dealt with properly (I can only hope things will get better).

Domestic violence survivors/victims are your mothers, your sisters, your aunts, your grandmothers, your daughters….and me.

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.