Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Manic 2015

It was a hard year and my best year too. A manic year really. My highest high and my lowest low came simultaneously. As one life was entering –another was slipping away, and I did a balancing act that would rival Philippe Petit, while helping others not fall off their rope. Take my hand. Take my hand. Take my hand.  

I felt completely alone, battling demons that were taking away the love of my life—the air in my lungs. And suddenly 30 or so of my best friends and family surrounded me, lifted me up and supported me through the following months, so I could help the people that needed me.

Then my light arrived. My little love arrived with healing powers, the likes of which are for fairytales only—not real life. Certainly not my life.

He arrived in the spring, bringing hope, like all new things in spring. A ray of light, a purpose, a cause to keep not just me moving forward but others too. More than a few of us needed him. I cried tears of joy and then set out to do the impossible—and did it with the help of my friends.

It’s always like this—every year, losses and gains. People pass away, babies are born. It’s the way of the world. But this year was different. It was a massive rescue mission, headed by old friends—some of whom are Marine Moms, others who have known me 40+ years and others who have known me fewer years, but immediately understood the urgency—the life or death of everything.

The best was going to Europe to meet my grandson thanks to my friends—and then having he and his mom stay with me for almost 3 months. No- wait. The best was my son coming back from the edge. Or maybe it was all of us together for the best Thanksgiving ever. Or maybe it was realizing what amazing friends and family I have. It’s hard to say what part of wonderful is the most wonderful.

I can say this, I am grateful.

Because I am so grateful, I plan on spending 2016 raising awareness for what I have deemed the crime of the century. PTS. Post-Traumatic Stress—specifically combat related.  And Veteran Suicide as a direct result of PTS and other injuries. If you follow me on Facebook you’ll see many posts from me regarding missing veterans, at risk veterans, homeless veterans, and their families and caretakers who suffer secondary PTS due to living in crisis mode 24/7.

I learned first hand in this last year that emotional support for families of veterans is crucial. I want all the families to be able to ask for help if they need it. Doing this alone should not even be an option.

Veteran issues are not and should never be viewed as political. We have an all-volunteer military from all walks of life, who have risked life and limb and a variety of illnesses, so we—civilians, didn’t have to go to war. We owe them. So, no matter what side of the political fence you are on—I hope you have an interest in helping me help them. If you can help spread needed information, and resources for vets and families—I will be forever grateful to you.

May the New Year bring us peace around the world. A lofty wish, I know. But if enough people really want that- it will happen. I learned this year—you can change the tide; you just need the right people to help you.

Below are some helpful links if you are in need of help. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Forgive You

He sat in my kitchen, in a chair with one leg pulled up to his chest, and his chin on his knee, watching me cook. I was cooking and talking to the dog, and bantering back and forth with our 12-year-old son, when I said something that made him laugh. And because I like it when people think I’m funny, I stopped and smiled at him—you know the smile? The one that says, see, I’ve still got it. He was smiling back. 

“What?” I asked. 

“I don’t hate you anymore. He said.

“Ha! I don’t hate you anymore either.” 

It was mostly true for both of us. 

The 12-year cold war. Over just like that. Except for a few skirmishes.   

As the years went by, I imagined, as we got older, and his parents did too, I would help him take care of them. I imagined that someday we would be roommates, with separate rooms, with him beating me at Scrabble, and us arguing over politics or something equally arguable. I imagined we would be grandparents together, both vying for top spot on the grandparent roll call. 

On December 31st. 2010, I called him to say Happy New Year. And I meant it with all my heart. He said Happy New Year back to me—and I could tell he meant it too. Six days later my son called me telling me his dad had just died. 2011 was not a happy year at all.  I cried for days. I cry still. That grandchild I imagined is here now but he won’t get to know him. So many moments lost. 

That day in my kitchen was the closest either one of us ever got to an apology.  Neither of us ever said I forgive you—but I’m sure we both meant that. I meant that. I guess I can’t put words in his mouth now. 

My life changed that day. A big dark cloud disappeared but I didn’t notice it until later. I can say now… that when all that hurt and anger left, I started breathing. My brain started working better and my life started falling into place. 

If I have learned nothing else in my life, I’ve learned to forgive. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we think that is that last thing we will ever do-- it’s what we should do to free ourselves from the hate that devours our heart and spirit. It’s a gift to yourself to forgive—and maybe a gift to the other person too, but that’s okay, because you just never know.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Burnt Toast

How many times have you burned toast in your life?  Me… I have burned loaves.

I remember when I was little, and if you knew me, you’ll remember too, I was the kind of kid that would throw a fit over burned toast. A real fit, an end of the world fit, the kind where you have to restrain the child because they are flailing and may well hurt themselves kind of fit. Yep, that was me. 

Somehow, my mother survived that. “No problem” she might have said, as she scraped that toast with a knife, and the darkest crumbs fell into sink or the garbage. But you could not ever convince me that toast was not ruined. It was ruined, and I would never eat it no matter what. 

Then my mom would say, “Okay, I’ll make you new toast.” And proceed to give me my old toast after pretending to make new toast—and voila, I was happy. At least for the moment. I didn’t realize then of course, and maybe not until this morning, that much of my life has been burnt toast.  I have scraped the burn off of many a'slice. 

I’ve scraped it off my broken heart, my fragile ego, and my frail and dusty brain. Sometimes, I had to throw a fit first. Sometimes, I just wanted to throw myself away and give up … piece of shit toast. I’m toast. I’m not worth saving. But then… I would scrape myself off. 

Burned toast is temporary. It’s fixable. No, not without some scars… there will be spots visible to the naked eye. Everyone will see them, but they’ll think – wow… good for you toast—you saved yourself and you look pretty damn good. And toast will look in the mirror and say… “yep.” 

I’ve had the opportunity, recently, to review my life a bit. I usually try not to dwell on the past, I have made so many mistakes that thinking about the past undoubtedly brings up some remorse, some regrets, and often some embarrassment. But when I look at is as a whole… my mistakes made me who I am. My successes did not. My burnt toast made me a better cook. My burnt toast taught me how to fix things that are broken and still use them. They are still good. They are not broken. I am not broken. YOU are not broken. 

We are just burnt toast.

Sunday, June 7, 2015



 I always focus on Combat PTSD because that is what I have studied.  I usually write something about it. I usually explain what it is. Everyone should know these two things by now. If you don’t know—look it up. Google it, google it with my name you’ll find several articles and one radio piece.

So this year I am including a different angle of PTSD. This year I’m writing about how these soldiers, sailors, Marines & airmen who were once hailed as heroes by the general public, are often treated with disdain when they suffer from PTSD. I say suffer… I mean suffer. They suffer, their families suffer, their friends suffer, but most of the people who reaped the benefits of their service and sacrifice, they don’t suffer at all. Some of them don’t even have the decency to vote. The whole freedom thing-- shat upon.


PTSD you have to live it. Not necessarily have it—but live it. If you have a loved one who has PTSD (also called PTS) then you know about the anxiety attacks, the anger issues, the nightmares, the confusion, the depression, the total lack of giving a shit, and the inability for some to function without caretakers. The drinking and drugs are mostly by-products, but surely part of the problem. And, sadly- the most sad of all, is that sometimes they give up and commit suicide. 22 Veterans commit suicide a day. 22 A DAY.

Trips to the VA are too confusing for some. Go to this office for this paper and that office for that paper and go see this guy in that building or this lady in this building and then when you’re through come back to this building but don’t see me see Dr. So & So … and so on and so forth. If you are not suicidal before going there – you may well be afterwards. People, us civilians, do not know that.

People ask why did you join the service in the first place?  There are as many answers for that as there are people in the service. After 9-11, a lot of them joined.  Even though most of them grew up with Vietnam War Vets in their family, and Korean Conflict vets too, they heard stories, they knew Uncle Joe was never the same after Vietnam. They knew the story of Aunt Peggy who was a nurse in Vietnam then came home and drank herself to death.  But, they joined.  Some of them, joined for noble reasons, some were running away from what they were in, some were thinking of their future, some wanted the free education, most of them—did not think they would die. Most of them did not think they would lose arms and legs and eyes, and hearing and skin, and I bet none of them thought they would lose their minds.

I have studied PTSD now for about 9 years. Before it walked through my door, it walked through the doors of people I knew. When I heard them talk about their loved ones, sometimes it was with anger or confusion and sometimes it was with an abundance of empathy and love. Sometimes – all of the above. That made me realize that I needed to fully understand the complexities before I wrote about it or met it head on.

PTS has become pervasive among our troops. We managed to turn a blind eye to the Vietnam veterans that came home with it. We called them drug addicts (and baby killers)  and threw them away. But things are different now. Some people know better, and those people spend every waking hour doing something about it by educating everyone they meet—PTS is not a made up condition. It’s not a weakness. It’s a wound. It’s a scar. It’s a war within.


They were mostly 18 years old when they joined. They had no idea what death and destruction would do to them. (And most of their parents had no idea either.)  Even those that thought they might know--- thought they were smarter than everyone else—they didn’t know either. So instead of blaming the warriors or even the wars that have already taken place, start finding ways to make peace in the world. Start finding common dominators instead differences. Stop using religion to hate. Stop voting for war. And sure—the bad guys are the bad guys, and they have to be dealt with—but don’t sign up our troops until all other avenues are exhausted. Don’t be a knee jerk. Don’t hate just because. Try to figure out why.
 Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and PTS are the signature wounds of the Middle East wars. Studies show that 14-20 % of Veterans from Iraq (OIF) and Afghanistan (OEF) have PTSD.  50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment. Out of the half that seek treatment, only half of them get "minimally adequate" treatment (RAND study) 19% of veterans may have traumatic brain injury (TBI) Over 260,000 veterans from OIF and OEF so far have been diagnosed with TBI. Traumatic brain injury is much more common in the general population than  previously thought: according to the CDC, over 1,700,000 Americans have a traumatic brain injury each year; in Canada 20% of teens had TBI resulting in hospital admission or that involved over 5 minutes of unconsciousness (VA surgeon reporting in BBC News) 7% of veterans have both post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The rates of post-traumatic stress are greater for these wars than prior conflicts.

I’m glad you asked. First- have compassion. Don’t assume someone is a bum or a drug addict or a loser because their life isn’t going the way you think it should. Families and loved ones need to educate themselves as much as possible. And if needed, get your own counseling to help you navigate the difficult days.

Clearly, it’s best to let the professionals deal with such a delicate issue. But it’s good to understand some of the triggers and help the Vet avoid them if you have the opportunity.  Check the link for more information.
You can donate to organizations that help veterans with PTS and /or TBI. (see below)
You can volunteer to help navigate the VA process (there is training available)
Just Listen – don’t ask any questions if you are not a combat veteran. Empathy does not extend to knowledge.
A safe way to check in without being intrusive is ask on a scale of 1-10 how are you doing?  You’ll be surprised how many of them will tell you the truth.
If you know a vet that you suspect has PTSD, carry the VA Hotline number and offer it to him/her.

Donate to:  (vetted)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Lesson Revisited

In 1978, in Sausalito, a party of four, two men and two women, walked into the bar I was waitressing in. I can tell you what I was wearing. It was a tweedy wool designer dress with short sleeves but I had a turtle neck underneath, and high black boots. It wasn’t waiteressy as dress goes but it was winter and I was cold. I had short hair and wore minimal make up, just like now. When I wasn’t waiting on people I sat on the fireplace hearth and kept my back warm. It was a slow night- a Monday I think. There were a few regulars sitting at the bar but all was quiet and serene. Billie Holiday or Nina Simone records probably played in the background, but not loud. We were a drinking man’s bar. No loud dice, no fights. The craziest we ever got was when the ferry landed on a Sunday afternoon or a busy Friday night when the whole town seemed to be out and thirsty. But this was Monday night.

They were raucous and wound up, but I took the order and delivered their drinks quickly—like I said we weren’t busy.

I can still tell you what they ordered. Two Mexicans, a Venetian and Irish coffees and a Calistoga. I don’t remember any conversation, but based on conversations later they told me to smile. I always resent being told to smile. You will get good, no great service from me, but I don’t smile for dollars. I serve drinks or do what I do but smiles are from my heart. Well – then anyway. Later when I got my teeth capped, I smiled more, but still, not for dollars.

As they got louder and more obnoxious, I decided they had had enough to drink. I was lucky to work in a place where I could make that call. My boss was way ahead of his time. So when they ordered another round I said whatever we used to say. “I think you’ve had enough for tonight.” Or, something along those lines. And I walked away. When you walk away that allows people to leave nicely.

But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, one of the women walked out with a drink, (a huge no, no in Sausalito back then) and when I went out after the glass, she turned around and broke it across my face cutting my cheek. So I slugged her. Then suddenly, I was in a choke -hold and her boyfriend was trying to put my head through a window while choking me at the same time. A double paned, beveled glass window. My last thought before a few people came to my rescue was of Mary Queen of Scotland, being decapitated.  My boss was a Scot- maybe that was why I thought of her.

It took three big guys to pull that man off of me.

The police were called, pictures were taken, reports were taken, my boss rushed to the bar from his home and word spread to every bar in town within minutes. That guy wasn’t going to be drinking in Sausalito for a while. My boss made sure of that. And Sally Stanford, our Sausalito Mayor, came to see me the next night after hearing what happened. She assured me word was on the street.

The incident changed my life. I ended up suing him and settling out of court because my brother was dying and I couldn’t deal with the stress. The concussion and the incident itself left me a mess and my boss, coworkers, roommate and boyfriend all tried to help me but I was emotionally unstable for a long time afterwards. I didn’t realize until much, much later that my stress was a direct result of that horrible incident.

During the deposition, the man told my attorney that they didn’t like my demeanor. “Excuse me?” My attorney said, not quite believing his ears. “We just didn’t think she was friendly enough.” They said. I watched my attorney’s face tighten up and the vein in his forehead throb. I could see he wouldn’t have minded taking a crack at this guy.

For years, I shook if customers were nasty to me. My bartenders took care of me- no one would hurt me on their watch again. Later, I got out of the business and stopped drinking. I took a silent vow that I would not put up with abuse. Not from customers, not from boyfriends, not from bosses not from anyone.

This last month I spent working on a real estate transaction with people who abusively bullied me and were nasty to the point that I had to get my broker involved. Then they tried to bully him. After a month, I was physically ill, I developed ulcers, the stress in my back was extremely painful and then finally at the 11th hour they canceled the contract about two minutes before I was going to call my broker and ask him to remove me from the transaction. My broker – God bless him, said I could fire them too if I wanted, it was my call.  

My integrity is intact. I can’t be bought. I’m not a slave and I refuse to be a victim. My health slipped – but I was vulnerable due to other issues in my life. I forgot, for just a second about my beautiful nieces and great- nieces, who I want to show that they can get through life without being a doormat. Without being abused. I forgot about my son who has always been proud of me for sticking up for myself. I forgot my promise to myself way back when.  I won’t be bought. I won’t be abused.

So here I am – feeling 100 pounds lighter. Ready to start a new week tomorrow.  I feel smarter and stronger and healthier than I did Friday morning.

Every single time someone allows abuse, it sends the message that abuse is okay. It’s not okay. Identify it—and crush it. Let’s get rid of these horrible people.