An ally called honesty

I think anyone kind enough to travel these lines deserves to know the hands tapping out the words belong to an honest man. 

While I am unquestionably! a flawed being, honesty is my ally. In short, it is the greatest ally I’ve come to know in life. It is, for all intents and purposes, my higher power. I asked a close friend once, how best to identify a higher power. He said, “As long as you know it’s not you.”

I knew exactly what he meant. Stay in the moment as best you can, keep your head where your feet are. Understanding that the moment you’re in is the only place you have to be; finding the gift in that experience.  Sometimes, moments of peace. Tranquility may be the better word. Peace has had itself mangled by its nearly umbilical attachment to war.

Tranquility’s sound matches its meaning; it would no doubt be played by the woodwind section of an orchestra. 

Without honesty, there can be no tranquility. At least not for me. Dishonesty distorts reality. Reality’s tough enough as it is without adding dishonesty to the mix.

I’ve been away from this blog for a bit, coming to terms with some things in life, like we all do. I can tell you this, I am grateful for every single one of you who has been kind enough to travel these lines with me. And that’s the truth.

If you’re going to lie to me….

I don’t ask for much in life other than respect, so, if you are going to disrespect me by lying  to me, the least you can do is make an effort to make it a good, show a little creativity for God’s sake.

I’ve decided to rummage around in my mind and, perhaps the minds of others, to develop some fun, at least for me, responses to people who lie to me so brazenly and obviously I don’t know whether to burst out laughing and ask them if they’re joking or simply stupid enough to think I believe them, or smack them upside their “head” with a verbal dagger that says, we both know you’re lying and you’re such a self-absorbed little twit you’re going to stand by your stench-rubbish anyway.

Anyone who knows me knows I have no ability to be silent when someone’s rights are being denied. I don’t care of it’s people with disabilities, people who are Jewish, African American, Latino, Muslim, veterans, members of the LGBT community, women, etc., etc., I’m not about to stay silent. People who know me also know it is very likely, particularly of you are a public official or someone in a position of authority, that I am going to expose your bigotry for all to see. 

All that aside, let me say there is a special place in hell for people whose claim to care about the rights of others is nothing more than lip-service smoke screens. A form of dishonesty so glaringly obvious I want to grab them by the throat and say, “Why not grow some backbone and say out loud that you don’t give a rat’s ass about these people and you just care about money and power?” 

What’s somewhat amusing is the feigned indignity performances I get to see when I call someone out for lying, for being a hypocrite. They put so much effort into their performance (without exception they’re lousy actors) I’m surprised they don’t snort and dribble out of the corner of their mouths, go into convulsions, and start speaking in tongues. Some feign astonishment to such I degree I expect them to allow their simian roots to take over and start pounding their chest.

Many of the lies I see these days  come from those who claim they are committed to protecting the rights of New York residents who live with brain injury disabilities. Since their commitment is limited to the effort it takes to say they are committed, the least they could do is make a commitment to develop their lying skills. I’ll probably catch them anyway, but at least catching them might pose a sliver of a challenge. However, exposing them will not.

So, here’s the thing, if you’re going to lie to me, make an effort, or give us both a break and shut up.

Twenty-Eight Years Ago Today

Twenty-eight years ago today I was held-up on my way to pick up my cab and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet remains lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain. This is not a depressing day for me, not at all. In fact, as others who have survived similar moments have said, today is a second birthday of sorts.

What is worth noting is that it would be 10 years after the shooting before I would hear the words, brain damage. My experience is not unique. I know people with brain injuries all over this country and many went years before hearing the words brain injury, traumatic brain injury, TBI. Many of us were left to deal with the effects of brain damage not knowing that brain damage was the force behind the problems we were grappling with. We were, in  a sense, managing life blind folded, hands tied behind our back. We did our best, but it is hard to be successful when you don’t know or don’t understand what it is you’re up against.

All this is why it is so important for any state with a brain injury program to make sure those who design an implement the program have a solid working knowledge of the brain.

But this is not my reason for writing this today. My reason for writing this today is to share some thoughts with you. There is little doubt in my mind that you too have faced or are facing challenges that feel as if they have total control over every aspect of your life. I am here to tell you they don’t. They really, really don’t. The truth-telling, right-sizing equation goes like this; because something feels like it has total control doesn’t mean it has total control. It simply means it feels that way.

Believe me, there were times the damage to my brain felt all powerful. There were times too that the idea of returning to life after the combined experience of some kid put a gun to my head and firing and then another guy puts a gun to my head less than nine months later had so much power I did not step foot out of my house for nearly a year.  Were it not for some close friends who were my neighbors at 286 East 2nd Street in NYC, I don’t know how I would have stayed clothed and fed. In time, and with treatment, and the support and love of close friends, I began to reclaim my life and leave the house. 

And then there is this, you have a relationship with life and all the elements that come with life. I have a relationship with my brain injury. I have a relationship with the the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is, today, my number one opponent. There are still days I can’t get myself to leave the house. The point is, these relationships are no different than relationships  between two people. They can be healthy or unhealthy. The challenge is this. Don’t let the elements of life that look to impeded your freedom to be you of have decision making power. Relieve them of decision making power every chance you get. There may be times you can’t. Okay. Relax. Don’t worry. Get some sleep, wake up the next day,  do your best.

The last thing these life-impeding elements deserve is to be behind the wheel of your life. That is your rightful place.

Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself. Remember to live.

Living With Brain Injury – Part III: The Isolation Challenge

Isolating yourself from the world is an all too common occurrence among those who live with brain injuries, myself included.

For those who know me from a distance, this acknowledgement on my part may surprise them. I give speeches and facilitate workshops and seminars and so forth, but other than that, getting out of the house and into the world around me is no easy task, and, in the world of brain injury, I have a lot of company.

There are reasons I have three dogs and a vegetable garden. They all get me outside and once I am outside, away from home, and engaged in a task of some kind, I’m fine and enjoying myself. I love wonderful conversations and bookstores. I hope, for example, that heaven itself is a book store and there I will find an endless supply of books not published  on earth written by Dickens, Tolstoy and Steinbeck and others. I love the sound of laughter, especially the sound of a baby giggling; I’m not sure there is a sound anymore heartwarming than that.

But it is breaking the isolation barrier and getting out of the house in the first place that can be the “Mount Everest” challenge.

When I work with others – and on myself – the are some basic Life Growth tenets I teach. Life Growth is a life-management philosophy and protocol that gives back to the person their individuality and identifies the challenge – not the person – as the opponent. For example, I am not my brain injury. I have a relationship with it and I am the one who deserves to be guiding my life, not the injury. It is the same with isolation. It is not who I am, none of us who struggle with it have our character and worth defined or diminished by it. But, like in any relationship, we do have some say.

The very first step for those who face the isolation challenge is to accept that the challenge is real. It seems to me that any hope of gaining freedom from this or any challenge slips from our grasp if we don’t accept the reality of the challenge in the first place. I would not be celebrating seven years of sobriety this month if I did not accept that I deal with the disease of alcoholism. I would not be able to write these words to you if I did not accept my eyesight was getting bad and, as a result, got me some glasses that let me see the damned words in the first place. (Are you smiling? I hope so. There is no reason for sadness as we discuss this. Isn’t it kind of nice that we get to connect with each other like this, through words, isolation or no isolation?)

The emotional equation goes like this: You have to accept it in order to manage it and you have to manage it in order to get free of it.

What those of us who know us should not do is judge us. We get trapped in isolation for a reason,  not because we are lazy or weak and need to simply snap out of it.

As to why the challenge of isolation is so prevalent for those of us with brain injuries, I’m not sure there is any one set answer, though there may be. Part of the answer for many of us, I think, is this. When you are traumatized with a brain injury, no matter the cause, your it can’t happen to me syndrome is gone. The task then becomes taking part in life knowing these things can happen, so it is no wonder so many of us hunker down in the perceived safety of our homes and stay there.

But then here’s the question, the key question in my book, if we surrender to the isolation, then the very trauma and presence of our injuries now robs us of taking part in life.

Let me ask you, who do you think deserves to be in charge of your ability to take part in life, you or the injury? I vote for you – and – by the way – for me too.

 

LIVING WITH THE BRAIN INJURY GHOST

Living with a brain injury is so hard sometimes it breaks my heart. I wrote those words to a friend of mine recently and as soon as I wrote them I knew this essay had finally begun. I’ve tried and failed to write it many times before. Writing about life with a brain injury is like trying to paint something in constant motion. It is nearly impossible. The brain injury never, and I mean never, stays still. Living with a brain injury is like living with a ghost.

I suffered my brain injury in 1984 when I was held-up on the streets of Brooklyn and shot in the head at point blank range. While doctors left the bullet in my brain because removing it would have resulted in more brain damage, no one told me I had a brain injury. I never heard the words traumatic brain injury, or TBI, the injury considered the signature injury of the current wars. The basic gist was this: No, Peter, you can’t play contact sports anymore and we are going to put you on anti-seizure medication for at least one year as a precautionary measure.

It would be 10 years before I learned I was living with brain damage, that the brain damage was impacting and damaging my life and, as a result, some of the people in my life.

If you think my story is unique, think again. Tragically, I am not alone. The brain injury epidemic in this country has been going on for a long time. More than 50,000 Americans die from them every year, including 7,000 children. More than five million Americans live with disabilities as a result of them and nearly 1.5 million Americans sustain brain injuries annually. Every 23 seconds an American suffers a brain injury. The Brain Injury Association of America reports that “(d)irect medical costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity of TBI totaled an estimated $56.3 billion in the United States in 1995.”

The brain injury ghost lurks everywhere and, as I imagine ghosts to be as rule, it can be highly unpredictable. It can be influencing your life experience and you don’t even know it. It can permeate light, sound, fatigue, anger, sadness, pressure, hunger, thought, perception, darkness, touch, balance, speech, memory, movement, coordination – in other words – everything and anything that you are.

Why is this so? Because your brain is your life manager. It is the filter through which you and I experience life. No doubt some will read this and say I am leaving God and spirituality out of the mix. Not so. It is through this miraculous life manager that we are able to experience God and spirituality in the first place.

But, like poltergeists, brain injuries can be mischievous, controlling, sneaky, dishonest, cruel, misleading and so forth. They can be so insidious at times that it may take you awhile to realize, if, in fact, you ever do realize, that they’ve been running the show and wrecking your daily life and, in many cases, the daily lives of others. Very often the people you like and love most. These ghosts can vandalize our daily life. They can be scary.

Yet despite these harsh realities, far too many who say they want to help and support those of us living with brain injuries have little if any idea of what it is like to live with one. In some instances, they are so predisposed to certain views, beliefs and motivations that they will never have any idea what it is like to live with brain damage.

In some, I would like to think, rare instances, the inability to understand is rooted in the fact they simply don’t care. We brain injury survivors are seen as a way of making money. Some health care providers are more about gutting and manipulating an already pitiful and unforgivable health care system than they are helping survivors ascend to their maximum level of independence.

Some in Washington and across the country squawk about the Canadian and French health care systems. They complain these systems are socialized medicine. They hope we will hear the word socialize, convert it to the word socialism, convert that word into the word communism, think them synonyms, and recoil in horror. Spare me.

Here’s how I see it. Everyone has health care coverage in Canada and like minded countries and no where near everyone has health care coverage in my country. When you are sick or injured you want health care. When you’re bleeding profusely in an emergency room you don’t give a rat’s ass whether your health care is socialized or managed care; you want the health care. In fact, you deserve it.