Sunday, October 29, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Here I am as Lady Luck. Michelle is in the background. She was a caterer for Halloween. I went to 2 Halloween parties this weekend, and I have 2 more days of dress-up to go. I've seen 2 Ghostbusters, Katie Holmes, Mormon missionaries, 1 of the dancers from the iPod ads, autumn, a horny priest, Hunter S. Thompson, a struggling fashionista from What Not to Wear, Michael Jackson, a female Evil Kineval, Bert & Ernie, Strawberry Shortcake, a keg, lesbian soccer moms, a German beer wench, Kenny from South Park, a box of wine, a fisherwoman, and a grunge rocker, among other things, and it's not technically Halloween yet.

Halloween is 1 of the only holidays I don't dread. It's just fun and crazy. No family, no painful memories, and no fireworks smoke to give me allergies. I've been having a fantastically social time lately. My boyfriend is too busy with grad school to see me very often, so I have been hang out with friends and having fun. The rats keep me company, too.

This Wednesday is my last SOS group therapy meeting. Last week my homework was to write a letter to my brother. I told him all the things I wish I had said before he died. After I wrote it, I realized the letter was to me too. I wrote about the things I wish I had known back then, like that my life would get better, and our parents' behavior was their problem. Maybe later I will post the letter in the blog. It is a really painful letter, though. I found myself crying in the bathroom before the meeting, and it felt the same as crying in the bathroom in between classes the year after Jeff died. It really feels like I have gone back to when it happened 9 years ago, bringing back those feelings I suppressed, and letting myself really feel them this time.

I am not looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. My life feels pretty raw right now. Even worse, my brother's birthday on New Year's Eve is always emotional for me. I have spent the last 8 weeks in group therapy opening up to all these painful feelings, and I cannot disassociate anymore. I am more at peace with myself than I have ever been, and need to continue to respect how I feel and not try to control it. I don't know how I will do with these holidays, holidays that I wish I could ignore. I have tried really hard to ignore them in the past.

I am having a fabulous Halloween week though, and after the dreaded holiday season I turn 35. I can't wait! It will be almost as fun as Halloween. Maybe I will throw a costume party. Got any ideas for a theme? I have almost 3 months to collect suggestions.

The blackest cats that were ever seen wish you good luck on Halloween.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

LRG bemoans global terror

I still wonder about evil. There is so much going on in the world that I do not understand. How can people do such horrible things to each other? I wonder if people who do terrible things think badly of themselves, so they are bad to other people, or if they think the people that they victimize are worth less than they are. Probably both.

It seems to me that there is no justification at all for rape and the abuse of children, yet it happens so much all over the world that large numbers of people must find these things tolerable. Otherwise, it would not be so pervasive, would it? Why do so many look the other way?

I was almost completely ignorant about sex trafficking- selling women and children who are forced to perform sex work, until I saw a Frontline episode called Sex Slaves. If you are unclear on how someone could be forced into prostitution, how their slavery is maintained, the conditions they are forced to live in, or how sex workers are brought to other countries, including the United States and Canada, I recommend looking at the website. It is really shocking that women and children could be treated this way. I was raped only once, and the experience deeply traumatized me. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be raped repeatedly every day, both by your "clients" and the person who "owns" you. From the stories on the website, it seems pretty common for the trafficker or the pimp to repeatedly rape their victim to break them in/break them. Of course this torture is coupled with additional violence and threats. Imagine if you were in an unfamiliar country, did not know the language, had no one to go to, no money or identification, and this violent psychopath is controlling your every move and threatening that if you try to run away he will find you and make you and your family pay. Not surprisingly, many people victimized like this end up committing suicide.

When I was in India, the last night we were in Mumbai we went to the dance club in the Taj Mahal, a popular hotel. At some point, a woman came out on stage and did a stripper dance (without taking off her clothes). She looked Eastern European, with white skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair. She had a completely blank look on her face, like she wasn't even aware of what she was doing. A large group of men, many of them abandoning the woman they were with, ran to the stage and pumped their fists in the air while they hooted and howled at the woman. It was really disturbing. The men who responded that way included several men in my group, one of whom was later arrested for soliciting what he thought was a thirteen year old girl for sex over the internet.

Speaking of child exploitation, Friends of Thai Daughters is an organization dedicated to preventing child trafficking. According to their website, "UNICEF estimates that over one million children are trafficked each year, the majority into sex slavery and prostitution. The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos converge, is home to a vast and growing network of human traffickers, seeking out troubled and impoverished families with few options.

These traffickers promise jobs as waitresses or maids in distant cities. Instead, girls as young as eight years old are confined to brothels where they may be forced to service up to 20 men per day, at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or other diseases. Older girls are often sold overseas, where they are stripped of their documentation and left powerless to escape."

Here is a story about a journalist in Mexico who is in danger for reporting on child-sex-trafficking rings in her hometown of Cancun.

What is wrong with this world?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

the game

My brother's best friend Andrew sent me this description of a dream he had about Jeff. I love how it captures Jeff's irreverent personality and sense of humor.

"I had a really vivid dream about Jeff last night. I was walking downtown, and I saw Jeff, a friend of mine, and people I don't know playing a board game inside a restaurant. I walked in and my friend was gone, and I asked Jeff how he knew him and Jeff said that my friend knew a lot of people. Jeff talked about my friend for a little while. I asked Jeff why he was in Eugene, and he said he was just visiting friends for the night. I was angry that Jeff was hanging out with people I didn't know without contacting me. I asked him why the hell he didn't get in touch with me, and he poked me, smiling.

When I asked what he had been up to lately, he said he spent almost all of his time playing a game that was "kind of like world of warcraft." I asked him lots of questions about it, and pretty soon, without realizing it, I was inside the game with him. It was a really surreal, green, and hazily sunny world, with lots of strange animals with shimmering neon coats with fluid, moving coloring. Colors trailed out behind the animals and they left shimmering neon footprints and droplets behind them. There was a pack of three neon green wolf cubs playing on hilly golf-course grass. There were grey emus and feisty purple ostriches, baby tigers with odd-colored stripes. Jeff was talking about the mechanics of the game, but I was mesmerized by all of the animals.

After exploring around a bit, we came up to a group of people that Jeff knew and he said he had to go on a mission with them. I told him that I really wanted to come and see more of the world, and Jeff said I couldn't. I was pissed and hurt. I said I had a computer and I'd start an account. Jeff laughed. "This isn't publicly available. And who says it has anything to do with a computer?" I remembered with a shock that Jeff had died, and I very suspiciously asked if he was the same Jeff, and he said "But of course!" I was completely speechless, wondering where the hell I was, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was dreaming. Jeff smiled at me and said: "I guess you'll be waking up now."... and I did. It was early morning and dogs were barking outside."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lady Luck

Lady Luck

Black coffee tastes burnt, and cigarettes
burn too fast. What would
thinness solve? But to be worn down, pressed
dark to coal. The circles under my eyes.
A mummy, cracked and dry.
Do I want to look as scary as I feel?
A small girl with black curls smiles,
records my movements,
my look, the blue-green hair.
I want to be a mermaid, my own
pathetic fantasy. Swimming
all the time. Or Lady Luck,
escaped the wheel
she knows more horror
than rapture.

Copyright Kristina Coker

Dreaming and Poetry

Dream of Sand Dunes

Day holds me up like a stick.
From a small room, I can see
silver foil on the ceiling and
concrete speckled floor.
You are in bed, or in a house
somewhere, or covered
in dirt, suffocating. Do you know

this desk lamp is on my face
every day. I lie in bed
and think of smoke rising,
my throat tightening into blackness—
coal, or jagged rock.
You hold this in
the palm of your hand, open
some nights, for me,
dark river rising
out of dry hills.

Dream of Holding Hands

Orange blue
clocks stop for me I see the ocean
eye of black pupil I see
that I envy you

Think I have your bone fragment in my brain
I do not
have that coal soot trail of enlightenment
oh brother
I dream of babies that hold on
with little hands
think I’m their mother

Both poems written and copyrighted by Kristina Coker

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fantasies of Sin and Punishment

I had a breakthrough last week. The SOS homework was about guilt, and I just happened to be reading about guilt in my self-esteem book. We read an article for SOS- "Guilt: How to Overcome It" by Margaret H. Gerner, M.S.W. (No, I do not know what M.S.W. stands for. Medical Statistics Wiz? Mental Swami Woman?) The article listed different types of guilt, and I have had them all at one time or another.

Causal guilt is a big one- I caused the abuse; I caused the rape; I did not do enough to save my brother, therefore I caused his suicide. Cultural guilt- I had to be a good daughter after Jeff's suicide, and not walk away from my parents as I wanted to because then both their kids would have abandoned them. Moral guilt- the suicide, the rape must have been punishment for something I did, otherwise, what could explain such terrible things happening to me? How could those things just be random, how could it have had nothing to do with me? Recovery guilt- I can never be truly happy, because that means I will have to forget my brother's suicide and betray his memory. The biggest source of my guilt from Jeff's suicide is survivor guilt. I had been suicidal; I had been depressed, why didn't I die? Maybe if I had committed suicide, he would still be alive.

When I wrote about the sexual abuse and the rape (in this blog) it really helped me let go of a lot of guilt. I had to put myself in my own shoes at that time, and remember what it was like for me. I discovered that my unexamined memories, the ones I avoided because they were so painful, were actually the key to freeing me from the self-destructive way I thought about my past. I realized that I did not have much in the way of options, and I did the best I could to protect myself. Similarly, when I re-examined what I was thinking and feeling at the time of Jeff's suicide, I began to appreciate what a struggle it was for me to just get through that time. I was fighting my own depression in the months and years before Jeff's death. I had three more quarters of college to go, after 5 years and dropping 2 quarters because of depression. I had worked really hard to get that far, considering I was a high school drop-out living on the streets just a year before I started college. I was just trying to keep my head above water long enough to graduate.

I was afraid- afraid for myself, and very afraid for my brother, who I knew was struggling with his own mental illness. I knew how hard it was, especially when you do not have a future you are fighting for within sight. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, in other words. Jeff was just starting out, and had not figured out how to pay for college. I realized how serious his situation was, because I had been in similar darkness. The thought of Jeff taking his life was so horrifying I did not even know how to think about it. It was difficult, even impossible to fathom, and something I could not prepare myself for, as much as I feared it.

After my worst nightmare came true, I tried to block the grief out as much as I could, because I HAD to finish college. It was all I was living for, and if I gave up on that, I would give up on everything. I did not think I could handle facing what had happened along with just dealing with my day-to-day life, and I was afraid I would get so overwhelmed it would send me over the edge. I put it off until my regular life finally settled into a (boring) routine, and my feelings would not be ignored any longer. That is why it took me so long to deal with all the repressed pain. I did what I thought I needed to survive.

It was a breakthrough because now I can forgive myself- I did the best I could under the circumstances. If I had been in a different place, maybe I could have done more for my brother before he died, but no matter what I did he probably would have still taken his life. If I had freaked out after his death, and let the confusion and agony inside me dominate my outside life, I may not have finished college, and then where would I be now? I did what I thought I had to, and I can respect that now. I am strong, what I have dealt with has been tough, and I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished.


These are my pets. The black and white one is Ulysses, and the gray one is Blue Jay-Z. I love rats. They are intelligent, inquisitive, and cute. They also have distinct personalities. J-Z is a very independent creature- he does his own thing. When I picked him out, he was sleeping while all the other rats were running around because the cage door was open. He was too cool for that. Uly, on the other hand, could not get enough of me. Even with food in front of him, he wanted to play with my fingers and check me out. He follows J-Z around, and likes sleeping on top of him, or at least next to him. They both get excited when I come home, and like to hang out with me on the couch while I watch TV.

I've had pet rats since high school. I used to bring my first rat, Rat, everywhere with me. When I ran away from home, I took her and her cage with me. I got my boys from my friend Barb, who is my friend Gwen's mom. I have known them both since high school, or maybe junior high. I even stayed at their house once when Rat and me ran away. Barb keeps female rats. Two of her rats, who are sisters, had litters within days of each other. Uly and J-Z are cousins. J-Z is a little younger than Uly, and definitely smaller. I think he was the runt of the litter. He does not act like a runt, though. He is a tough little guy.

Most people who have never had rats as pets think they are "gross" and bring up the plague when they hear about my rats. Well, my rats do not carry the plague, and domesticated, or fancy rats, are not like sewer rats. For one thing, they are smaller and cleaner, and if well handled, friendly and affectionate. Rats are ideal pets (except that they only live a couple years, so it is very sad when you get attached to them and they die). I admire wild rats as well. They are the ultimate survivors. Anywhere humans live, there are rats doing quite well. They are pack animals, so they are very social, and their intelligence is a big part of why they survive and flourish. In India, rats are holy at the Karni Mata Temple. People protect and feed the rats at the temple because they are the reincarnated followers of the goddess Karni Mata. I would go back to India just to visit that temple!

I think that the Karni Mata Temple must have inspired Tori Amos when she made the video for "God".

Speaking of India, I have been living on kitchari, an Indian dish that is supposed to be good for digestion. It is very tasty, and it is the only food that never bothers my stomach. India is a wonderful place.

Monday, October 02, 2006

“he hath borne me on his back a thousand times”

I am angry right now. Angry, and disappointed, and really really angry. I feel calm, too. I don't feel angry like I want to break things, or scream and yell. Just pissed, and disappointed in the world. I am not really having thoughts, just feeling it. Every week in my suicide therapy group, we make a chart of our feelings. Too bad my scanner quit working, or I could post them on my blog. I use colored pencils and make them into art. The first one I did was all over the place- lots of colors and different shapes within my circle. (You are supposed to do a pie chart, but mine are some screwed up pies.) My emotions were confused, and I was confused about them.

The book I just finished and my therapy group's focus on feelings are encouraging me to let myself feel it. Often I try to intellectualize and talk myself out of my feelings, but right now, I don't feel like doing that. Now my feelings are abundantly clear. Pure. My mother's voice, the one that tells me I am overreacting, that I am too emotional, has faded away. When I realized where that voice was coming from, I stopped listening to it. Now that I realize that if I just let myself feel it, it will pass, it will not take me over, I feel bitter. Bitterly angry about everything that has happened. Bitter at the world for putting me through this. Bitter that it is so hard to just be who you are.

After finishing Emotional Alchemy, I went back to reading How to Raise Your Self-Esteem. I started it a while ago, but only got about 1/3 of the way through. I started from the beginning again, and now I am 1/2 way though. (It is a pretty short book.) It has a very different philosophy than Emotional Alchemy, which draws a lot from Buddhism, often hinting that our perceptions, even our sense of self are merely illusions, schemas we follow even when they do not match reality. The book pushes mindfulness as a way to break free from habitual thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I have noticed that lately I recognize my feelings more, and I am better able to identify how I am feeling. My feelings charts are becoming more structured, and less chaotic.

How to Raise Your Self-Esteem focuses on strengthening your sense of self, rather than discrediting it. Yet, these 2 books are basically saying the same thing- accept who you are and live up to your potential. For instance, here is a quote from Emotional Alchemy:

"To some extent, our schemas embody ways we have given up part of what is possible for us. Abraham Maslow put it powerfully: "If the only way to maintain the self is to lose others, then the ordinary child will give up the self." Some schemas--and the ways we've learned to respond to them--represent a sense in which we've sacrificed our potential in a bargain to preserve connection." (page 87)

And from How To Raise Your Self-Esteem:

"But when you fail to live consciously (and this is one of the most important facts about human psychology), the deepest and most primitive level of your being tends, in effect, to turn against you--by generating pain at the level of self-esteem. It is that deepest "I" we offend when we default on the integrity that positive self-esteem requires." (page 69)- i.e. be true to yourself.

I dressed up today to go to the doctor. I wanted him to take me seriously, or at least take my stomach problems seriously. He diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome. There is no cure, and the only treatment is to just keep doing what I am doing- avoid foods that bother me, take vitamins and supplements, and exercise. It is a diagnosis, though. It is something. He asked me about my weight history, so I told him I had been under 100 lbs twice in my adult life- when I was in grad school and I was in the hospital for a week because I could not stop throwing up, and when I lived on the streets. He seemed shocked. I'm a financial analyst wearing a suit. Go figure.

I suppose my anger probably means that I am still struggling to accept the reality of my life. My digestive system is a mess. My brother is dead. It's hard for me to trust people. "To thine own self be true" is harder than it sounds.