At a dark and low point of time in my life, years ago, I pondered whether life was worth living. My then therapist suggested that I read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl’s book is about the power of hope and the will to live no matter the circumstances.
Frankl a Jewish Austrian neuroscientist and psychiatrist during the Nazi persecution of 6 million Jews opted to go to the Theresienstadt concentration camp with his elderly parents.
Frankl, a prominent psychiatrist had been granted permission to immigrate to the United States with his wife. For some reason, the United States wouldn’t allow his parents the same right. Instead of saving himself Frankl accompanied his parents to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Frankl knew that his parents were likely to die in the concentration camp by one means or another, but he knew they had a better chance of survival with him being with them.
During his years in Theresienstadt Frankl worked with his fellow inmates urging them to never give up hope. Years after Frankl’s release from Theresienstadt he wrote and published his internationally renowned book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The book inspired me then and still does today.
Oftentimes life events are staggering and we all try to sort out why horrendous acts of inhumanity occur. What I have learned is that the best in us as people make meaning from suffering by sharing the lessons learned from suffering.
I am no Viktor Frankl but the last year has brought me great joy as I share my experiences of childhood trauma as a means to create empathy for those suffering from addiction. I have created and earned the opportunity to share my story with policy makers in the areas of law, medicine and social services. I hope that sharing my story will provide insight and empathy for those suffering from addiction .
So, it will be with infinite gratitude that I will have the opportunity next month to speak with future Adolescent Counselors in the graduate program at Johns Hopkins University. With each such privilege I give meaning to my own suffering and hopefully relieve the suffering of family members, practioners and addicts.
Viktor Frankl reported that during his years at Theresienstadt the beauty of the sunrise eased his suffering and gave him hope. There is always a glimmer of light. It is never completely dark and the great resilience of mankind can find hope in the bleakest times. The sun always rises.
If there is a word that describes the past few weeks in my life that word is “accomplishment.” I mention this because I am taking a test course on”Happiness,”conducted by one of the world’s premier educational consulting groups, Landmark Education Corporation.
What I have noticed after my first on-line seminar which I watched and listened to Sunday night, rather than participate live, was that this morning I woke up and checked into myself, deciding that I was ready to get up before my wake-up alarm sounded. My usual Pavlovian reaction would be to bolt out of bed like a racehorse at the sound of the bell. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
The “takeaway tenant ” from the first Happiness Seminar was that I “we”‘ have been operating out of the fundamental misperception that we are not the source of our own happiness. Therefore, we seek external circumstances to determine whether we are happy or not. Crazy.
I also saw that my recollected sense of “happiness” included the elements of accomplishment and tears often bitter because the road to that attainment was rocky and filled with the desire to quit.
Seeing this connection created an opening to not interpret my life from rules or memories from an already given background or past, but instead to feel life intensely in the moment. Otherwise, we miss life and re-live and asses the report or story about what happened. We miss life because we are not present to it.
Shortly after this realization, moments later I picked up a bottle of hair shampoo that looked similar to a bottle of body lotion and slathered shampoo all over my body.
So, the Seminar reminded me to be present in life rather than in my head assessing and judging everything.
Theses insights have already altered the actions I have taken since listening to the Seminar 12 hours ago. I got so much already, I cannot wait for the next six courses.
This is a “test course ” and hopefully Landmark Education will offer it to the public via the internet. Until that happens, I will keep sharing with you.
With that said, “How do you experience Happiness?”
My Dear Readers,
No, its not about erasing what happened. There is much more. I cannot give you details about what is on my heart today because what troubles me is the accusation against a man that I know who is accused of raping his 14 year old daughter. I cannot tell you more than this because, to do so would easily allow the curious to find out who he is and possibly cause him greater shame, pain and fear.
The accusation puts me in a strange position. I was a victim of incestuous rape when I was 12 years old. Nobody believed me and my father never went to jail or was ever held accountable for his actions. I believe that after he raped me he harmed other members of my family. My father is not here to defend himself and he leaves behind a wife and other children who are remain conflicted about my story and whether to believe me. Now, I have come face to face with a man accused of the same crime that occurred to me decades ago. What I find ironic is that many years after my rape occurred, I have stood in the shoes of a man afraid that he will go to jail for a crime he says he did not commit and I believe him.
Besides trying to help him obtain better legal representation my advice to this man is to find a place in his heart to forgive his daughter. Whether she is lying or telling the truth, this young woman has been traumatized and needs healing.
My friend says that he does not feel animosity towards his daughter or the child’s mother. My friend says that he has put them out of his mind, that he does not think of them- that they are dead to him.
I tell him that he must find a place to forgive her, she is after all his own flesh and blood. He says he cannot find a path to forgiveness when “the gun” is still pointed to his head- meaning his up coming trial.
I know that forgiveness is very hard, but it is something that the forgiver does for himself. In trying to convince my friend to forgive his daughter, I believe it will help if I list some basic misconceptions about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are pardoning or excusing the other person’s actions.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you need to tell the person that he or she is forgiven.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any more feelings about the situation.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean there is nothing further to work out in the relationship or that everything is okay now.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you should forget the incident ever happened.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to continue to include the person in your life.
- … and forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person.
The other thing that I need to tell him is that forgiving someone is a decision that he will have to affirmatively make each time his thoughts or emotions reflect on what is happening or has happened. It is a choice that he must make over and over. Also, I must tell him that he cannot forgive his daughter until he has expressed all of his hurt, pain and anger.
I have told my friend that when his daughter decided to lie about what happened to her that she was seeking something from him. The question is what was this flawed child seeking when she chose to accuse her father of this terrible crime? It will be part of his process to answer this question. I do not know the answer.
Medical professionals tell us that bottled up anger and emotions can cause physical damage to the body and the mind. Not expressing or trying to subdue one’s feelings could lead to depression and anxiety or to stomach aches, headaches, and a myriad of physical ailments.
I know that forgiving his hard to do. It has taken me years to forgive my father and my complacent mother who did nothing to investigate my claims. At no-time in my life has either parent said they were sorry for their actions or lack there of. Yet, each time that I have found it in myself to forgive them there is a sense of peace and serenity and a place of calm beauty that is in opposite to hatred and anger.
Unlike me, my friend does not have decades which he can work on his forgiveness. He has five months before he must face a jury a take a chance they will believe him and not her.
In my world of forgiveness, I would ask that my friend simply say the words “I forgive you.” whenever his mind lands upon his daughter and the lie he says that she has told. This lie is such a terrible lie or this accusation is such a terrible one, that even the hardest of the hardest can not easily digest that one can rape one’s own child. After all raping your own child is a horrible action- yet it happens everyday all over the world. I know that his words of forgiveness will be empty, but somehow I feel that he should recall the love of his daughter and from this place forgive her.
I fear, that if my friend does not work out the tormented emotions that plague him and which he fights on a daily basis, those emotions will not be able to be hidden- and who knows how a jury might look at a man whose face seems filled with fear. I do not think this is what he wants to feel on the day that he must face his daughter and that she must face him.
Perhaps, my scenario of forgiveness works only in the movies. Perhaps, it is not easy to be brave and open when one has been accused of such a crime as he has been- but I know this- he must come to a place of peace about everything before he enters a court of law to be judged by his peers.
I have no easy solution. Forgiveness takes time- or a miracle. My friend does not have time. I am hoping for a miracle that will ease his heart and give him peace. I will say a prayer for both the daughter and the father. Tonight neither of them will likely sleep and dream peaceful thoughts. Both are hurt and the legal system will not bring closure or heal the pain for either of them. The only path that I know for him is to forgive her. That is all I can say to him. I hope, he will find away to forgive her so that he can return to a place of love for her- regardless of her actions.
I believe in a world of forgiveness. I believe it is the greatest gift to bestow upon another and simaltaneously one’s self.
In Light and Love,
Brianna S. Clark,
Your Fellow Journeyer
My Dear Readers,
I have an unusual relationship with the homeless who I see everyday as I walk the eight blocks each way from my home to my office and back. One reason I care about the homeless is that for a few months after I had gotten out of rehab and evicted out of my apartment, I was homeless. No, I did not live on the streets or in a shelter- my home was my 325 E BMW. In my car I had everything that was important to me, my computer, my clothes and everything that could fit in the back seat and trunk of my car.
After I got out of rehab, I had no family or friends. After all, who wants to hang out with a former crack cocaine addict? That was 20 years ago. I don’t recall exactly how long I remained without a permanent address- maybe three or four months. But it was long enough to never allow me to forget. Anybody, for countless reasons can find themselves homeless- get sick and lose your job and fail to go to the right government agencies and one can find themselves homeless- regardless of your level of education. I was a lawyer when I become homeless.
So, each day I chat with my group of homeless “friends.” Brad pictured above has been adopted by people in my Baltimore neighborhood of Mt. Vernon. He has fortunately situated himself at the bus stop at Charles Street and Chase Street. At one end of his block there is an old hotel called the Belvedere; across the street is the Chase Brexton Medical clinic- which was a gift to our community by a private charity which was created years ago to give medical care to HIV positive gay men. At the other end of Chase Street is my condo building. Because of the members of these three big entities that dominate our end of the Mt. Vernon Community, Brad drinks designer coffee and eats organic sandwiches and is given clothes and medical care.
I do not write about Brad because we, me, our community has done such a great job. We need to do more. Each day, I see growing numbers of homeless people, many of them young people with their clothes in large see-through bags that they get from the homeless shelters in which to put their items. It is heart breaking.
One of the things that has been repeatedly said by Republicans and the Republican Presidential Nominee is the desire to repeal Obamacare. One of the major components of “Obamacare” is the treatment of mental illness. Many of our homeless are homeless because they are mentally ill. In this country where the 1% owns 94% I hope that our next president will make greater in-roads in solving the many problems of education, the elderly and the homeless population.
My dollar here or there may or may not make a life changing difference to a homeless person. Yes, they may use my money to buy alcohol or drugs- or maybe they just need some food. So, I give them whatever change I can spare. It is what I do.
I hope all of you will join me in making an effort regardless how small to end homelessness- not just in Baltimore or Maryland or America, but world-wide. It’s a big vision, but start with your neighborhood, your community. If everybody does a little bit we can make a big difference.
With light and love,
Brianna S. Clark
Your Fellow Journeyer
This weekend I watched as much as I could of “Birth of A Nation” a beautifully photographed well thought out script of a story of the slave Nat Turner who was taught to read and who ultimately became a preacher. The real story is not of this man’s brutal revenge on his white slave masters but the story of how a man who was mistreated long enough to turn into a man who led other slaves to rebel against and murder their white masters.
It was a painful story and a vivid reminder of what it might have been like for poor white masters holding on to the human capital with which they created their income. It’s a story that could only end in Civil War which was a war about slavery- despite the fact that historians argue that it was about State versus Federal rights. Humans cannot enslave other humans and speak the words of democracy and equality for all.
Race has been the most used word to describe the division in our country. I believe that racism is still rampant. I also believe that the issue of race hides the real issues which are education and economics.The huge under-educated population of all races are angry. These people of all races and both genders who are under-educated live in a rapidly changing technological world where they are not trained, educated or equipped to fully participate. This huge population compete for limited jobs in service or sales or manufacturing. These jobs do not pay them enough to get out of their working poverty much less, change their economic status. These people feel left behind and left out.
The media and the Internet don’t help the divisions in our country. At best these divisions are reported using highly edited and slanted video on local and national news stations and are not always “unbiased” reporting. As amazing at the world wide web maybe it is also a place of wrong or false misinformation. It’s hard to tell what is really real anymore or whether it has been photo-shopped and created to fit some one’s agenda.
In the last few days there have been leaks hacked from the campaign of our Democratic Presidential Nominee and at the same time women coming forward accusing our Republican Nominee of unwanted sexual contact. I have stayed far away from television and politics- except for seeing “The Birth of a Nation.”
There were only a handful of people watching the movie- which has been labeled a “flop”. I wonder if a pre-release story of the film maker’s former accusation of rape held movie goers at home or whether we as a country simply hope that our unspeakably long history of enslaving people will simply fade from our collective memories. Out of sight out of mind. There are as many reasons as one could conjure as to why this beautiful movie about a terrible event in our history was so avoided by everyone.
However, in the midst of this time where the issue of race and gender rage on, today I ran into the young lady who is the subject of the photo of today’s blog. She was the subject of an earlier blog called “THE NARROW BOX OF RACE”. I wrote that blog about race when I met this bi-racial young woman. Her mother is Caucasian and her father is African American and Asian. I spoke to her today about race and the election. She reported being appalled by both candidates but that she was going to vote for Hillary Clinton because she was “the lesser of two evils.”
This young woman who is African American yet who doesn’t appear to be Black is a growing part of America where 6.9 % of adults have at least two races in their background. The majority of these mixed race people say they are proud to be multi-racial, but more than half of them say they have been subjected to racial slurs or jokes or people have made assumptions about their race. The hope is that as this population of bi-racial adults grows larger perhaps we as a country will stop seeing our nation’s issues as white versus non-white or even Republicans versus Democrats or Women vs. Men or Young vs. Old, but rather look to see what the real issues are. I believe those issues are not enough higher education for all and better paying jobs that reflect better education.
We are about three weeks away from an election that could literally alter the face of America. Hopefully our largest population- the Millennials- will use their high level of education and their genuine hope for a better world and vote. We understand that that group of young people are of high moral fiber and frown on anything that appears corrupt or dishonest. I believe this group will be the problem solvers of our time. Hopefully they will provide an opening for an America willing to deal with the bigger issues that hide behind the mantle of race.
With Light and Love,
Brianna S. Clark
My Dear Friends and Readers,
I began to ponder the “concept” of old in our American society. Overall, my sense is that as a culture, we feel old age is the time to give up, let go of our dreams, our health, our sexuality.
This is not a mind-set that I wish to embrace. I feel as if I have finally figured it out-that I have accepted my authentic self. I have the spectrum of sixty years to reflect upon to determine what works for me. However, this culture tells me that I should be preparing to hang it up. What is the thinking behind a culture that says the goal to life is retirement? What is the cultural thinking and background that would promote the carrot being retirement?
According to researchers our society in the United Stated values the ability to work. This is unlike other cultures who venerate the elderly. However as I look at this country’s history of work I see a culture that wants people to work for as little as possible for as long as possible and in the worst case scenario using slave labor for more than 200 years.
But what about us who love our work? We want to do more of what we love. We want to be in the best shape so that we can do it as long as possible. This is a paradigm that I hope will infiltrate our culture so that we can begin to look forward to a life that is fulfilling until the day we die.
This is not the time to give up; it is the time to up your game, afterall, it’s the last quarter to be your best self. I do not want to retire. I want to live out my dreams. If they don’t come true, I will die trying.
When I say “trying” when you are passionately seeking something it does not occour as work. Life is joyful when play and work are intertwined.
I know I cannot run as fast or as far as I once could, but physical strength is not my greatest contribution at this point of my life. I offer wisdom, experience and insight. There are young people for physical work and activity. There is no substitute for experience. Having overcome adversity is a skill.
We should honor our elderly and utilize their wisdom.
My Dear Friends and Readers,
I have been a walking mass of contradictions my whole life. My 1950’s Catholic up-bringing has always been in contradiction with my natural sexuality- yes, I am owning it. I am sexy.
This has been a very hard thing for me to accept- to own my sexiness. There was something else as well. I believed that it was my full 12 year old breasts and a sundress was what drove my father to rape me. No matter how many times I have intellectually told myself that it wasn’t my fault, buried deep within my heart, somewhere in a tiny little crack, I blamed my sexy curvaceous body. As a result I fought to starve my curves away and to prove I am smart- all the while using the body that I “hated” as a tool.
At 19, when I was in my Junior year at U.C.L. A. the war exploded. I was attending U.C.L.A on a full academic scholarship. I was living at an all white sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta , which is about two blocks from the East Gates of Bel Air. “Old Men” – forty and over were trying to pick me up in their luxury convertibles and the tight-end on the football team was trying to “date” me. I HAD TO STUDY!
I did not have time for fraternities, beer pong, and for college sorority life. I felt old and foolish, although younger than most of the Juniors on campus. I tried to be your typical college student, however, the guys driving in their luxury convertibles through the East Gates of Bel-Air and down Sunset Boulevard seemed to offer far more enticing activities. To short-circuit to the end of my college career, my grade point average was 1.9. down from a 3.7 from the Junior College I attended when I was 17 and 18.
I dropped out during the third and final quarter of my Senior year at UCLA when I was 20. My reasons were personal and painful and stemmed back to my family of origin who failed to acknowledge that I was graduating from one of the most prestigious schools in the country. In the six years afterward, I would pose for a Playboy center fold, shoot an album cover, work on two popular television shows and perform in two plays one cast and directed by by the famous actor and director, John Cassavettes. The other play which was reviewed by the Hollywood Reporter said “Pretty, but she didn’t know what to do with her hands”. I played the sexy nurse in the second play- the one where I did not know what to do with my hands. For the life of me, I did not know “what to do” to be the sexy nurse. I could not conjure what sexy meant for me -it was so automatic for me. This is one of things that can happen when you are sexualized at an early age. You think you are an object to be used sexually.
The war continued through my twenties with a stop at the Playboy Mansion as a Playboy Bunny. From that low point, I applied to graduate school at Northwestern and The Goodman School of Music. I interviewed with both was accepted to one. Neither felt that I was right for them. I took my next best option and went on air as a radio news writer. Seven years and four television stations later, I ended my television career as the first woman of color at KOIN the CBS affiliate in Portland, Oregon.
Alas, was I still just a pretty face, where someone else wrote the words? And why wouldn’t the television station let me air my piece on gay women making a difference.? So, once again I needed to prove how smart I was. I was not just a pretty face on a woman with large breasts! So, I applied to law school and was accepted. The cost of law school was my first marriage to a man who wanted to keep me as his private brown Barbie Doll and ultimately my six and eight year old sons.
As I got older in my late forties, I was amused that men found me “sexy”. What did that mean? Were they reducing me to an object? Couldn’t they see that I was smart?
Now, at 59 and less than a month from my 60th birthday, I can say I am sexy and I am smart. I am both and I need to prove neither.
In Growth and Self-Love,
Brianna S. Clark
The Addict Writes