Ryan

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On Death & Horses

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Categories: The Journey

For some time, I have been putting off ordering a death certificate – putting it off for at least a year. My procrastination was never intentional; sometimes I would randomly think about needing it and mentally put it onto a to-do list, an item that went unchecked and forgotten. Finally, though, I had to order my birth certificate, and doing so had a time frame in which it absolutely had to be done, so I took the opportunity to order the death certificate. This sheet of paper formalized Kristi Degner’s death for the Oklahoma Department of Health.

Kristi is my biological mother, and she died when I was three years, four months, and 28 days old. Her death gave me a life that has so far turned out pretty fantastically in the scheme of things, but it has left a hole in me that grew deeper and darker as I grew older. When I was a teenager, maybe actually a bit younger than my teens, I began thinking about Kristi and wondering what she was like, what she would think of me, whether she would have been able to protect me from the things that most caused me pain.

I had one memory of Kristi: she chased me around a coffee table, one that my memory visualized as a big slab of polished tree still in its natural form. I was giggling as she chased me, and I have always cherished that memory even though I realize that perhaps it isn’t even accurate. I now have quite a few more incomplete but no less cherished memories of Kristi.

On May 31, 2013 – 245 days into sobriety – I sat in St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights to see Phillip play in the Brooklyn Symphony’s performance of Missa Solemnis. I was in a foul mood. I had begun practicing meditation at Mirmont Treatment Center, and I was getting pretty good at it. What began as assigning positive energy the color blue and negative energy the color red was now a process through which I could monitor my emotional state of being.

My spirituality is based upon the notion of positive and negative energy swirling around feverishly in the makeup of our world – a bit of spirituality based upon simple science, and I use my visualizations to consider how much positive or negative energy I feel surrounds me and flows within me. Gradually my visualizations grew from a fairly constant dark purple to a frequent pale blue, but on this day I felt consumed by the red – fury flowed through me.

As I sat on a pew in St. Ann’s, I closed my eyes and tried to summon positive thoughts and banish the negativity that was clouding my mind. Then the program began. I tried to clear my mind of all but the music but the difficulty was pretty great; however, an 80ish-person choir accompanied the symphony for this performance, and when they came in I felt a shift in not my mood but in my very existence. Something odd was happening – I don’t know that I would describe it as good or as bad…maybe as disconcerting but in a good way.

I opened my eyes, which had been closed since I began attempting to meditate my negativity away, and before me I was struck by the massiveness of the blue stained-glass window behind the symphony and choir. I did not actually “see,” as in have a psychotic visualization, but I did “see” a flowing, cloud-like white horse rushing at me and into me, and with that several memories of Kristi rushed through my mind. This is when I met my horses, upon which I not infrequently depend.

Today I opened the envelope containing my birth certificate and Kristi’s death certificate, and I read my birth certificate, curious about the time of my birth (1:27am), then I scanned this death certificate I’ve never before seen…this piece of paper that proves without doubt, in clumsily typed letters, that Kristi is dead. Kristi died 30 days after her 20th birthday, and when I read that I sobbed. I haven’t cried like that in a very long time – I haven’t felt pain like that sort of pain in a very long time. As I cried tonight, I called upon the horses to which I am so very grateful for allowing me to remember a little more about the woman who brought me into this world but was unable to be a part of helping me move through it.

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Staring into a Best Friend’s Eyes

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Categories: The Pondering

I grew up with animals – loads of them. Until Chloe, my horse Snuffy (actual name Cheyenne, but his lip hung really amusingly low as though it was full of snuff) was the most wonderful animal friend I’d ever had. I had a beautiful dog, too, name Lassie that I loved tremendously; she would sit with me in our barn as I sat every day talking to Snuffy about my day, his beautiful huge eyes staring at me with full attention. Chloe is now one of my rocks. I talk to her as we walk. We stroll around our community garden nearly every night, and I talk to her about my worries, or how lovely she is and how well she behaves, or about nothing other than my most random of thoughts. Humans as a group see animals as somehow a lesser part of nature, as though it is only we who matter in this world, as though we aren’t the world’s most destructive predator and foe. Cattle being plowed over with bulldozers as they’re led to slaughter, ducks being force fed, dogs being locked up and abused and killed in forced fighting, cats being tossed into the streets, plugging along as bees and frogs and birds and other jewels of nature are wiped from the Earth. So many others, too. I think of those things nearly every night before I go to sleep and find myself fighting the hate I feel. People, on a spectrum from blatantly cruel to ignorantly blissful, should know what it’s like to stare into an animal friend’s eyes and feel a love for something other than a human that touches you to your soul.

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Misplaced Judgment

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Categories: The Steps

ARTICLE: Soldiers Wait For One Last Gift Before Deployment

This makes me, well, feel so much: happy, sad, proud, grateful. I personally know people who look down judgmentally on our soldiers, convinced they are terrible, convinced being in the military means you degrade/torture prisoners of war. Yes, there are soldiers who demean the uniform & most certainly aren’t deserving of our support, but this is not the vast majority of them. Whatever you think about our military, know this: without the United States military’s role throughout history, you would not even have the privilege of speaking out against them. Our soldiers throughout history have, among many other accomplishments:

1.) Run out the Brits & created our nation. The genocide of the Native Americans that occurred is a conversation to be had unto itself, but had the American Revolution not happened, you wouldn’t have a country about which to complain.
2.) Saved the Union & ended slavery.
3.) Defeated Hitler & saved Europe (and saved us from Hitler’s grasp, as well).
4.) Kept the Soviet Union from imposing on the world its bastardized, murderous version of Communism
5.) Stopped quite a few genocide campaigns of the last 20 years.
6.) So many other campaigns for which they are negatively judged by some when they rather ought to be thanked.

Some of the folks I know, and even respect on many matters, judge the military based not upon their accomplishments, but rather upon the unfortunate & sometimes terrible decisions that are made not by the military but are made by the President, their Commander in Chief. DO NOT BLAME THE MILITARY FOR THE FAULTS OF OUR PRESIDENTS!

A special shout out to the people in my life who have given much for our country: Teri Lindsey, Ashley Marie Jolly & Marlin Jolly, Kimberly Lindsey Norville & Matthew Norville, & most of all my little bro, Shea.

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Chaos in Action

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Categories: The Learning

On the October 22nd Common Day, I presented a paper for consideration for publication in the Silberman social work journal Voices; it is entitled “Chaos in Action: An Examination of Co-occurring Bipolar II Disorder & Alcoholism.” The presentation went well, and the Q & A afterwards lasted for years, so my fingers are crossed that the Voices board will accept my work. Here’s the Prezi that went along with the jillion index cards I put together for the presentation. Luckily, I had what I wanted to discuss easily accessible to my conscious mind because I left a whole section of index cards in the library (I retrieved them later), and my Prezi wouldn’t work on the computer in the room. It took some gathering of myself, but I pulled it off.

Considering the topic, I was crazy nervous. But self-disclosure – “radical disclosure” – is an agenda I intend to push. Disclose the shame away. I’m totally singing that in my head to the tune of a Peaches song that is absolutely inappropriate.

Anyhoo, here’s the Prezi:

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 12.17.31 AM

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They’re quite aware of what they’re going through….

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Categories: The Learning

I am a member of the Student-Faculty Senate and the student representative to the Faculty Curriculum Committee at Silberman. Our Common Day was yesterday, and I found myself furious by the end of the day. What I’m posting below is what I almost sent out to the Student Senators but decided to keep for myself – a cathartic rather than confrontive endeavor. Writing it did, indeed, help, but I remain disappointed in a member of the school’s administration for having felt a need to attempt manipulation of a student representative, which seems to me entirely inappropriate, and I’m also fairly disappointed in one of my peers for taking the stance that a student voice ought to be silenced. Namely, my voice. Before I post the letter, here’s a picture of a t-shirt I received for my donations to the Obama campaign; it is one of my more favored possessions:

One Voice 1

And the letter (edited for privacy):

My Fellow Senators –

Something has been voiced to me that causes me great concern regarding the nature of our role as student senators and in particular the role of the student representative to the Faculty Curriculum Committee. I believe our role is to present views upon our best information, which is necessarily a personal decision. I believe the notion that we democratically speak for the student body is a misconception. Unless one of us has an ability of which I am unaware, none of us are aware of the wishes of a majority of our entire student body, hence no decision we make is fully democratic but rather is based upon our best-informed judgment.

Two situations in particular concern me: one from the Common Day forum and one from the October 20th Faculty Curriculum Committee meeting. At the Common Day forum I voiced my opposition to the survey result of the question concerning whether or not our Policy I course thoroughly covers the US governmental process. Seventy-four percent of the roughly 25% of the student body who took the survey believes Policy I does, in fact, comprehensively cover the topic. I disagree and stated so, which prompted Professor L., who teaches Policy I, to tell us he agrees with me and will talk to Professor A. about the concern to see if the governmental process might be covered more in-depth. Only a positive result can come from this conversation, in my opinion, and it would have been remiss of me to keep my disagreement to myself considering when I was voted into Senate, getting Policy I to more comprehensively cover the governmental process was on my platform.

Next there is the Faculty Curriculum Committee meeting. At one point I said, “I’m going to switch from democratic mode of speaking for the student body to republic mode of speaking for myself.” This occasion was prompted during a discussion of Silberman switching to letter grades. I stated that I am for it and told the committee why, at which point Professor G. thanked me (he seems to want the change). On the second occasion, which was regarding whether or not there is enough integration of the classes, I stated, “Back to republic mode” and told the committee that the curriculum and the faculty have offered us the tools to connect the classes and various curricula. I told them we do have the ability to connect the classes, and that it is an academic responsibility of students to form this connection for themselves. I do not believe anyone can “speak for the student body” on this topic since we all have various and different sets of professors, hence me making it unmistakably clear – to my mind – that I was speaking solely for myself.

If this body agrees that in our roles as Student Senators we are to be but vessels for what we assume the student body desires, and are to silence our own voices as students, I will respect that as the body’s decision; however, I vehemently disagree, and I believe the notion goes against an essential component of our responsibility as social workers. I hope we are all passionate about following our directive to value our clients’ inherent worth and helping them to do so, as well. We should not silence our own voices; we would be debasing our own worth by devaluing through silence our own beliefs. That would be a worrying state of affairs at any school of social work and particularly at Silberman.

Having offered my very strong opinions – passionate beliefs, really – I will get to the point: the position of student representative to the Faculty Curriculum Committee. Perhaps this isn’t even an issue for any of you and the bearer of this news, who was neither a Student Senator nor Faculty, was out of place. But if it is an issue for any of you, and you strongly believe the student representative should be only a vessel for whatever student body opinion we assume is held by a majority of our peers, and that the position requires that we silence our own voices in pursuit of pushing that assumption, please call a vote to replace me. I will always present the student perspective as best I assume it to be, and I will certainly bring back to the Senate what is said in the meetings, but under no circumstances will I devalue my own perspectives.

I realize I have presented this in negative terms, but consequences must always be considered, and the consequences of an opposing view, as I believe them to be, are what I presented here. It would be very disappointing, certainly, if such a vote occurred, but I know this would be a well-considered decision based upon theoretical and professional beliefs. I would not take it as a personal rebuke.

I want this body’s backing if I am to remain in this position, and at the moment I am uncertain I have that.

Ryan

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Intriguing Behavior

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Categories: The Journey

Today was the October meeting of the Faculty Curriculum Committee, and it was interesting, as expected. There is a professor with whom I have never, until today, held a conversation, but who shoots venom at me! Around the middle of the meeting, he did so again because I asked about student government information being tweaked in the Student Handbook, which is being revised. Details are unnecessary.

Anyhoo, at a latter point Blackboard was discussed and mention was made of disgruntled students not wanting to do it, telling professors they were the only professor that made them do it, that sort of thing. That’s baloney, in my mind, because Blackboard has been something I’ve had to use in most of my classes, and while it’s not the cat’s pajamas, it’s a tool that prods us to further our learning. There was also discussion of professional seminar and mention that students were going into it unprepared to integrate everything we are learning. This fit nicely with a discussion about changing the grading system to letters rather than honors/credit/no credit, and I stated – being deliberate in noting that I was speaking only for myself here – that faculty most certainly give us the tools needed to fit the puzzle pieces of our education together. I said that it is up to us, as adults & graduate students, to take the initiative to do so, and that I know as fact, first-hand, that some students simply do not care because they need only do enough to get a credit. Soooo, the professor who seemed poisonous…he thanked me and was really nice to me afterwards. Score.

A big “however,” though, is that I ticked off another person in the meeting. She is not faculty, so this one doesn’t really disturb me so much as irritate me. The Senate is conducting a survey, and I presented the curriculum-related results (as of 10:25am today) to the faculty via handouts. So this individual piped up after I handed them out and said I should have distributed them Friday; I responded I wanted faculty to have the most current results of this still-in-process survey, and that is why I didn’t distribute them earlier. She said I should have anyway. We moved on.

After the meeting, I spoke to the professor who no longer seemed to hate me and then to the Associate Dean and then to a professor whose class I was in last semester, and then I spoke to this woman who found issue with me having expected Silberman faculty to be capable of examining three graphs covering five questions in only a few minutes. I’m crazy, right? Surely these Ph.D.s needed a whole weekend for that! Back to speaking with her. I told her I hope she didn’t find me rude in our brief exchange, and she said she didn’t but reiterated that I should have sent the graphs out on Friday. I responded, simply, “I disagree.” She was freagin’ AGHAST! “You Disagree?!” “Yes, I think three-day old results of an ongoing survey would have been irrelevant.” She wasn’t happy. But I didn’t want to end on a sour note so asked if she would be attending the Common Day Senate meeting. I don’t know if she will be or not, but I do know this: she is “disappointed with the Senate.”

I don’t know who this woman thinks she is in the scheme of things, but we Senators were not elected by her, do not represent her, and frankly, I have no interest in what she thinks of us.

So…score 1 – professor doesn’t seem to hate me anymore & score 2 – I didn’t back down to an individual who needs to Back the eff up!

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An Interesting but Scary Thing

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Categories: The Pondering

I believe the first hypomanic episode of my sober life – two years this past September – has faded; hopefully it’s actually over. I’ve written that it’s an interesting but scary thing to have no recourse for a mental state of being, and my thoughts on this remain the same; however, it was scarier, less interesting, and much more frustrating this time than it has been.

I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues, saying, “Fuck the Senate,” of which I am a member, at a point of frustration with the body’s influence. I talked far too much in class (I talk a lot, but I am usually more considerate) and at field and at home and out with friends – usually in a bravado, braggart sort of way. During these moments, it was truly as though I were out of my body – not as though I were floating as a spirit or something, but as though I were hearing myself from some other place & definitely not the right place. I was an observer of something that was coming from me, and I had no ability to stop the words from “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.” And I was shocked at my rudeness, my thorough lack of consideration or empathy.

Bipolar II disorder is being diagnosed at a ridiculous rate in alcohol and substance abuse and addiction facilities, and I believe this is happening purely or at least primarily for insurance purposes. Yes, people come into the facility and show symptoms of bipolar II disorder (bipolar I is a far more dangerous and unfortunate disorder), but one should carefully consider these symptoms: rapid cycling from hypomanic behavior, which is truly not at all unlike behavior during intoxication, to depressive behavior, which isn’t at all that dissimilar from behavior and emotional disturbance caused by being hung over or going through withdrawal. We are doing a tremendous disservice by labeling these abusers and addicts with a disorder that they surely can’t possibly be thought to have when they’re being evaluated during active use! We are also doing a disservice to people who actually have to live with this disorder; we are being seen as just experiencing symptoms we’d experience if we were in the throws of alcohol and/or other substances. Being someone who has bipolar II disorder and is in recovery, this is actually quite offensive.

The other day, as I was feeling hyper and sad, both at the same time, I stood before Phillip and told him I have been proud of my ability to form an “addict mind” and a “logical mind,” between which I am able to facilitate interaction, countering thoughts of desire from my addict mind with reasoning from my logical mind. But in this state, my logical mind had no power. And this despite being well medicated with a kind of cocktail of medications that has been tweaked over years of psychiatric treatment. I cried during this. It really is an interesting but scary thing to have no recourse for a mental state of being.

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Witnessing Privilege…My Own

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Categories: The Pondering

I just went to a convenience store a couple of blocks from our apartment, and walking in just before me was a black fellow who started loudly voicing his anger about being constantly watched when he enters the store and about one of the store’s employees threatening to call the cops on him if he didn’t leave. He claimed he had done nothing wrong, and his voice was cracking as though he was holding back tears. As he stood there defending himself, voice cracking, the two men behind the counter showed little interest in his words or his emotion. One of them motioned for me to hand him my dollar, and I did and walked out.

I’m thinking back on having done this and am ashamed of myself. I’ve never been watched in stores, so far as I know, and I’ve certainly never defended myself to deaf ears. I am privileged and with that I believe I have a responsibility to not only notice discrimination but to take a stand, no matter how little a stand I might take. I shouldn’t have given that store my dollar. I’m not ashamed for not having spoken up – I have no facts of the events described. But I did not have to support the store yet did so. I offer an apology.

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High Tea 2014

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Categories: The Journey

I realize the post for last year’s high tea is only a few posts down from this one; the year got away from me. For that I am sorry – not to the non-readers of this site (very, very few know of its existence) – because I won’t have the record of this time of my life that I had really hoped to document.

This year’s tea was even more successful than last year’s. I loved it so very much. I am incredibly grateful to have such wonderful friends, and I am thankful these folks were able to make it to this important anniversary: not just being born, but for being reborn through sobriety & entrance into recovery.

Here’s a link to a video that captures everyone who attended, and below are some pictures of me with Pip & my besties. And of course there is a picture that captures the truly beautiful table setting.

High Tea Video: https://plus.google.com/102477168197793890998/posts/ZpKSjryqRgU

table

Pip & Ryan

Three

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Once Upon a Time….

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Categories: The Learning

It has been a while. My internship is the most important thing to note. I am enjoying it quite a lot, and I’m confident I am going to learn a tremendous amount that will be super helpful to me; however, there is something boiling in the back of my brain about this placement. I am sleeping terribly every night before placement. Sleep before school days – perfecto. Weekend sleep – perfecto. I’m concerned, so I have scheduled a long overdue appointment with my Head Doc. My moods have been erratic, and I think it might be from alcoholism-related concerns stirred up by my internship rather than from bipolar disorder.

There have been a few internship experiences of note. The first was sitting in a room for a prescreening with a well-groomed, well-spoken man wanting to cease his medication in order to start working (the medications made him too tired to work). The only negativity the man exhibited was in explaining his girlfriend’s negativity. About 20 minutes into the session, the man indicated that the girlfriend was sitting next to him telling him negative things about the possible outcome of our program. I found myself nervous throughout the rest of the session.

The next experience of note occurred in an art therapy group. The participants were asked to draw what they were feeling. One of the members showed a drawing of her family “the way [she] wishes they were but knows they will never be.” My heart ached.

Next was a blow-up in the anger management group, which is amusing in its way. Easiest way to describe it: a woman, in the anger management group, screaming – yes, screaming – “I. Am. Not. Angry!” I feel a bit guilty for having been so amused.

Also, I sat in on an intake session for a man who is such a chauvinist, but he’s actually kind of amusing. The points of interest: he called the other social worker in the room (a woman) gorgeous, he asked us (the social workers) if we’d like to go for a drink when the session was over, and as I made his next appointment he accused me of being high. I told him that I of course was not, at which he smiled and said, “It’s Friday…it’s OK, right?” I actually asked my supervisor if this guy can be one of my individual clients because I think it’ll be great experience. She said yes. So I have my first client!

Finally, I ran my first solo group today. A couple of the clients were testing my boundaries, I think, but all-in-all I think it went well. There was, though, a lot of advocacy of methadone hoarding; I had to turn the conversation away from that several times, and I found myself growing even more concerned about the harm reduction model after the group. Learning to either appreciate or understanding my qualms about harm reduction is the reason I wanted this internship, though, right? Right.

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