Archives for March 2009


Drama, Stress and Trauma

There is a huge difference between these three words. So many people confuse them – as if they are the same – as if they are interchangeable. No they are not the same, nor interchangeable. The little Websters says drama – [is] a production with a serious tone or subject. Yes, a production, as in something we do! Humans can make anything into a drama. Anything includes: a broken fingernail, a “C” on the report card, something some one said to me,,, you name it, it can be made into a drama. WE produce it: little Websters says produce – to present to view. Drama is not drama without an audience.

Stress happens and is independent of an audience.  Loneliness can be stressful.  Little Websters says stress – to put pressure or strain on.  When we put pressure or strain on, all kinds of things can happen, including cracks and even break downs.  Stress can be (contextually) positive or negative.  Ask any new parent, a new child is stressful.  An infant puts all kinds of pressure on sleeping, eating, scheduling and even just driving to the store.  Stress may have a neutral cause, yet it puts strain on the system, most usually the body.  By now, don’t we all know what stress can do to the body?  Stress, quite literally, can kill us and does, quite literally, end many lives prematurely.

Trauma, according to the little Webster – injury, usually caused by an external agent.  Hmm, injury – an act that damages or hurts: wrong.  Not sure why right or wrong is relevent, if you have suffered an injury, it hurts – plain and simple – that. 

I can’t exactly qualify or quantify what constitutes trauma, but I know that it is not a broken fingernail, nor is it my child receiving a “C” on his report card.  When I think of the word trauma, my mind automatically goes to other words like rape, death of a loved one, surviving combat in a war or being beaten severely.  Car accidents are often traumatizing, bankruptcy or losing your home, these things can be traumatizing.  Trauma, like stress, does not require an audience, just ask a rape victim, they often tell no one of their injuries, or even an incest survivor, who indeed told no one for years.

The issue that I began with is that there is a REAL difference between drama, stress and trauma.  So many people I know choose drama and stress.  No one chooses trauma and those who have suffered a trauma certainly, normally, feel stressed.  It’s the drama that I am protesting against, it’s the drama that I find tiring and ruinous.  Who cares if your husband didn’t call you sweetheart today, move on.  I don’t want to be an audience to it any more.  I understand stress, I understand trauma, it’s drama that I just don’t get.  Drama is a production that some one makes in order to get attention and they will pretend that stress and trauma have taken over their life.  ENOUGH already, stop it with the drama.  Real trauma is hard enough to deal with, why add to it?  Life is stressful, yes.  No need to pump it up with drama…

But listen, if you don’t stop the drama, that’s okay.  I’m just not going to be an audience.


The Most Significant Decision…

Marriage is. Yes, there are so many decisions that make you change completely, but none more so than the one you make when you say I do.
I just watched my daughter do that, and I really knew that she had no idea how much she had just altered her life: irrevocably she has altered herself and her future. If I could explain to her what she has just done, I do not think that I would, because while I know that she is – indeed – ignorant of what she has stepped into – I too – share some amount of ignorance. I share that ignorance because like every newlywed, my heart is full of hope and love as I watch her begin her new life. There is something so magical about beginning anew, about jumping with faith to an unknown and unpredictable future. I share that joy by watching her and by believing as she does. I know that she has made a good decision, a very good decision. I thank all of the grammas and poppas and her father who are watching over her from heaven. I thank them very much.
To be greedy, and I don’t mean to be, but I am the luckiest mother!

Photos to follow!!!!!!!!!!


Try this Exercise: Don’t spend anything “extra” for 30 days.

At the beginning of the month, my goal was to JUST pay bills. We were actually feeling some financial recovery because our gas bill went from $450.00 a month to $250.00 a month. For some reason that fact was not translating into more cash in the pocket and I wanted to know why.
I learned so many things about my spending habits. By telling myself I couldn’t spend ANY thing, I forced myself to examine every penny spent and every URGE to spend a penny. I had severe withdrawal pains from my online shopping source – to the point where I had to turn off the computer to keep myself from purchasing anything. I “justified” and rationalized spending money, it didn’t count if I was donating to charity, it didn’t count if the kids needed something special or extra. Can you imagine? In my mind, my purchases and spending DID NOT COUNT.
The other thing I learned is that it’s nice to give myself something, but it can be just as nice to have that cash in the bank…


Economy of Effort

When I got pregnant with my 4th child. I decided to start organizing myself for the week. At the beginning of each week, I would hang in my closet 5 consecutive outfits to match the days of the week. I’ve always worked full time so it was easy to predict what I would be doing Monday through Friday. I am still doing it and my daughter is 26 years old.  I never look for clothes in the morning, I hardly ever sit and stare at the closet when I need to be getting ready and it’s made my life oh so easier!


Economic Inequality

Next time you go to get gasoline for your car. Recall that last summer when gas prices were at their worst ($4.00 a gallon) Exxon/Mobil chose to give their retiring CEO a 4 BILLION dollar bonus. That’s 4 with 9 zeros! $4,000,000,000.00.
Just remember that fact the next time you are buying gasoline with your hard earned money…


Relationships Independent or Dependent?

Written in 2003, musings about adult children…

This week Montel Williams said, “People make a choice to either give to, or to take from.”
If you believe in Zen you see that this struggle of give and take is inevitable, proper and balanced. At its optimum level, this struggle goes on in a balanced way in every relationship. Sometimes we give and sometimes we take. Our ability to need and be needed nurtures our souls and gives us health. Some relationships are distorted, sometimes by necessity, sometimes by nature and sometimes by sickness. The relationship of parent to child is a distorted relationship, because in it’s pure form it only balances as a matter of generations, rather than in a few days or weeks. As a child we need unconditionally and if we are very lucky we have a parent who gives unconditionally. This giving is the ultimate gesture of love, because it puts aside personal comfort and personal gratification for the health and safety of another. It does have its rewards, we are all comforted by the sight of a happy infant or playful child, we all gain peace with these visions.
As our children mature, we expect for our children to do more and more things for themselves. From the 4-month-old infant who holds her own bottle to the 16-year-old boy who gets his first job, we progressively increase our expectations for our offspring. Society generally gives us a roadmap for such expectations. Elementary school is one such road map. If a child is naturally handicapped, these expectations may alter according to the handicap. If a child is not handicapped, yet the expectations do not follow, then a handicap may be manufactured.
Back to the taking and giving which is inherent in the universe. To be in a condition of eternal giving, forces the other into the position of taking. To confound the issue, children naturally make unreasonable demands that if not refused become needs of the distorted kind. Some children may be taught the unreasonableness of the demand, some children do not learn the unreasonableness of the demand and thus the appropriate negative response has to be repeated and repeated over and over again.
Therein lies so much of my intergenerational difficulty. My mother was the eternal giver. My mother had no idea that her lack of the ability to take, her lack of clarity created handicaps in others. Part of the reason my mother did not know this, is that my mother was sure that she was not “enough”. She based her self-evaluation on her income. Her income was the measure by which she could satisfy her children’s wants and desires. An inability to satisfy was anathema for her. I favored my mother’s giving state, but have always been panicked by the results. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice a lack of independence in my siblings. As I interacted with my family, I was constantly in internal conflict, I was jealous of the financial benefit that my siblings received and at the same time detested their dependence on an old lady. These conflicting emotions caused some confusion for me. This was an ongoing struggle that at times I won, and at times I lost.
To give my mother credit, we all made choices, some of us were like the children who you continually have to repeat no to, and some of us abhorred the dependence on her. The dependence was multi-faceted, it wasn’t strictly financial by any means, it was all mixed up in love, acceptance, need and despair. Life is like that, the complex concepts are often misunderstood.
Last week, Jo and I were talking and I made one of those statements where, you know, you surprise even yourself: “I’m not going to be like gramma with ice cream, movies and two living rooms.” Later, I wasn’t sure if I had hurt her feelings. Let’s face it, everything about my mother made us feel good. I was always comforted by her presence and I always felt loved. Importantly, what I resist about my mother is that eternal giving state that doesn’t allow others to give and thus creates distortions. It is not appropriate to have adult relationships where in one partner in the relationship is always the giver. Whether that relationship be mother and son, father and daughter or any combination of the many possibilities. The only time in a child’s life when ultimate taking is appropriate is in infancy. The reality is, as adults we gain (receive) great gratification for being the source of comfort and love to an infant.
I’ve gotta tell you, it has been difficult to resist my mother’s example of selfless giving. The thing is, I think my mother died because she was tired. She was in bankruptcy and had overextended her energies as a human being. In the end, she had no idea how to be a taker. She made some efforts in that direction, but those efforts were minimal, she was unable to imagine herself on the receiving end of anything. I have aspired to her level of giving, yet I was consistently afraid of producing handicapped children. My greatest gift, I felt, was to encourage self achievement, not to steal achievement by undermining with the faithlessness of financial rewards. To me, borrowing money from my mother meant that I could not do it on my own. The fact is, I could, I can and I do. That is the way I feel about my children, they could, they can and they do. My goal has always been to make the people that I love feel capable and strong. Of course, like yin and yang, we must also experience being incapable and weak, but these are fleeting moments that we pass on a promising path to self fulfillment.
As to the other: the complicating question of dependency and need. Yes, it is the way it is, we do need each other. The difference is that we work from a position of strength, equals who balance each other. There is nothing more that I would like than to own ten acres, one for each child and three acres for a clubhouse. I want to live close and true, to be part of you every single day. I want to be part of the rich and fulfilling happiness and sadness that colors our lives. Yet, when I go, you will not be handicapped, you will be strong, you will endure and you will assure that your children are also strong.


Life Can Change in a Moment

My first born son, Russell, is in love with a woman named Mandy. They are both single parents, she raising a son, and he raising a daughter. They decided, about six months ago, to do it together.
Yesterday, she had critical surgery, the kind of surgery that lasts hours and scares everyone. In the weeks and days leading up to the surgery, the children broke down. Both were very sick, both had to be taken to the doctor. My son is stoic, a tower of strength, one who does not break down to cry. But yesterday, he was afraid, very afraid. In that hospital surgery room, were his hopes and dreams for a life-time. There lay the danger of mind numbing grief and pending despair. My son and his partner have no choice about this experience, the surgery is life-saving and cannot be avoided. The pain, the waiting, the fear must be endured. And so, he endures.
We sit in a dirty crowded space with many people facing the same reality as we do. The chairs are uncomfortable and they are arm-chairs: the only way that the hospital can assure that people don’t sleep. A lady in navy blue steadily calls family members to inform them of the outcomes of the surgeries. Every time she enters the room, muscles tense and all who wait there, lean slightly forward, hoping that the name called is their own loved one. I am here because I must stand with my son in his hour of fear, as he would do and has done for me. Finally I am hungry and we go downstairs to eat. I turn from the Subway counter and I am looking for Russ. I see him across the room and he is talking to Mandy’s brother-in-law. It is painful, because I know that this is the moment, the moment in which all life can change for us. I see a smile and his body releases that which has tied it up for so long. He moves completely differently and it is good. I had no idea how much it had affected me until – later – I slept straight through for 11 hours. No such luck for my stoic son, who returned to work this morning to “keep the routine.”
Mandy recovers well today, hopefully oblivious to the maddening maelstrom of feelings that has occurred. Yet, what I love about her the most is that she is sensitive and perceptive with her chosen partner, Russell. She will know. She will know that once he sat down after receiving the news that she was well, his whole body shook, his eyes were red and his throat was clogged. I gently reminded him that she was okay, he turned to me and said “It all stayed in me until it was over.” I am sure that he is exhausted. Yet, he has his life with her, and it just may be a good one


On the Loss of the American Mother

This article was written in 1997 or 1998. I was reacting to new legislature in Florida that would cut off Medicaid benefits to women after a life time cap of 5 years:

The devaluation of the nurturing role in this society, had a purpose, the subjugation of women.
I now find myself in a society that actually believes that nurturing is valueless.
The subjugation of women has become passe’, yet the devaluation of the roles of women has taken on a life of its own, separate from its initial purpose. Is it a coincidence that the great mothers of our time are passing away at precisely the time that this society decides to turn its back on the concept of nurturing? Jacqueline Kennedy, Erma Bombeck, Mother Teresa and my own mother, Patsy Delores Quinn?
I live in the only “first world” country in the world, with a third world infant mortality rate. When you separate these statistics by race, it becomes embarrassing to admit that I am an American.
What is nurturing? What is it worth to the human race? How does it support American principles and values?
What is nurturing? My mother did it all of her life, and I doubt if she could articulate it.
As a child I experienced it, at those hot summer – but cool lunches, when she would buy deli food, potato chips and grape soda. My sisters, brothers and I would sit at the dining room table and laugh for an hour before running back outside to play.
As an adult, it was having my mother’s beaming smile every time I walked into her door,
and her genuine interest in my successes and failures. When I relocated to another town at age 32, I missed her terribly, her probing and loving questions about how my life was progressing.
As my mother got older, she reduced her work hours, not to “retire”, but to give her grand-children, that same comfort and support that she had given us.
Having the comfort of her near, even when she wasn’t physically close, took stressors away.
How important is familial support to alleviating stressors? Well, according to sociologists, it is the single most important variable in healthy families; it is the difference between families that are whole and families which break down.

What is nurturing? I asked a male friend, a usually perceptive and insightful man what he thought it was.
He said “a mother taking care of her children.” I asked him about the activities of nurturing, he couldn’t say. That we don’t identify nurturing with adult needs was a surprise to me, and yet it shouldn’t be. After all, I am a counselor, something which is clear and simple to me, may or may not have credibility to your normal everyday adult male. Ironic, as I write this, I notice the feature movie is a Tom Selleck sci-fi, in which home care is taken over by robots. It’s a movie thriller; the robots go crazy and Tom Selleck rescues everyone. The movie never addresses the question of the essential feature missing when robots begin caring for our homes: nurturing. Who and how is nurturing accomplished?

What are we saying to mothers, when we say that cash benefits will not be available to them?
Everyday I work in indigent care. The faces change, the stories change, but two things are always the same; a disenfranchisement from the American social structure, with a corresponding lack of personal self esteem.
Did this legislature, which so boldly took away cash benefits from women, increase the state’s subsidized advanced educational fund? This is the same legislature which will not increase minimum wage to a livable wage.
This is the legislature which allows multi-billion dollar corporations such as MacDonald’s and Walmart to employ only part-time minimum wage staff. Staff whom, if educated, given the choice, would definitely take higher paying jobs with benefits such as health insurance for their families.
Do we actually want to decrease medical benefits to the indigent while continuing to assure that physicians can keep taking a $250,000 annual paycheck home?
Where is the great national plan to reduce Medicaid and Medicare fraud? Fraud which, by the way is primarily perpetrated by health care personnel, not “welfare mamas”.
What happened to the national health care plan?

I am reminded by a close friend that all of the working poor needs are opportunities.
Somehow we must become more committed to creating a country which takes action to assure equity.
We cannot continue to allow profit to drive the health care system, we cannot continue to decrease support to the most vulnerable population in this country: children and their mothers.
To this end, it is my most humble opinion that while we limit cash benefits and Medicaid to mothers and infants, we should create an intensive case management program which manages aggressively educational benefits which will assure a vocation and a future. That we should make this case management program accessible to all, cash benefit recipients, as well as the working poor. We should use the money saved to assure health care for all.

That this country must be more committed to human beings and less committed to corporate profit, is obvious.

I do not see it as coincidental that the great mothers of our time have passed away before this country began completely devaluing and dishonoring the essential component of mothering: nurturing.
When we cut cash benefits off from women, we are saying that it does not matter who raises the children, that problems with attaining a living wage to support a family are unimportant and that women with children must essentially manage without support and without the most simple coaching to help them bridge the gap between now and when they lose benefits.
My friend tells me that I cannot hold myself out as separate from this country and what it does.
My friend is right, which is why I must write, I, like my mother before me, would never be a party to taking away the last reprieve for mothers: cash benefits and food stamps.
I do not stand by while this country commits matricide.

In the state of Florida we give “cash” benefits to only two groups of people: the disabled, and mothers with children. When we create something called “Social Welfare Reform” and say that cash benefits will only be given to an individual for a lifetime maximum of five years, we are clearly stating to mothers of children that their safety net, their access to health care (Medicaid), their last reprieve is no longer available.
We beg three questions when we allow our legislature to make these decisions. What preparations are being made to create alternatives for women with children and what legislative mandates are being put into place to force employers into providing jobs that provide a living for families?
How does a five year cap on cash benefits to mothers address the issue of medical equipment companies and physicians profiting from the public health system? And for those physicians who do not intentionally commit fraud, yet are paid hundreds of dollars an hour by taxpayers, who on the average make $15.00 an hour, what and when will America decide that public health is a value that cannot be de-compensated by inflated paychecks to an elitist group called physicians?
To the concept of nurturing: I would offer the following: if, as a society, we decide that nurturing is not to be valued, either monetarily or as a principle, then how will we raise the children of the future?
How will we keep families from disintegrating? How will we keep everyday stressors from causing morbidity and mortality (illness and death)?

I personally, am afraid. I am very afraid. When this country makes a decision to eradicate support for mothers of infants, legislates an inflated income for an educated elite and ignores the question of who will take care of the babies, I am very afraid. Who will stand up and speak for the mothers?
Who will nurture the babies?
The indigent, who are already disenfranchised, who do not even know the meaning of the words positive self esteem?
Will they speak? The great mothers are gone, who will speak?

I am a private taxpaying citizen, who works in substance abuse treatment, indigent care only.
Johanna Esmus York



Disclaimer:  I am simply stating my opinions which may often be based on facts.  At times, I will believe that the facts are so important I will cite the source of my facts.  In no way am I attempting to influence anyone into action of any type.  I am simply journaling.                   

P.S. Please do not be personally offended if I appear to be “male bashing”.  I am simply making observations about a quirk in the American culture that even though we strive for equality, we have not achieved it and in – oh so many ways – we do not realize how we perpetrate that inequality that continues in America today.