Soup To Nuts

Siamese Twins At Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a special time when family members, spread far and wide across this great land of ours, unite under one roof to dine, catch up, and recall exactly why it is they are so careful to avoid one another the rest of the year.

Those of us strangely blessed with mental illnesses of various descriptions are especially vulnerable, since these allegedly cheerful events feel more like crime scene reconstructions where the horrors that sent us running down the path to Cookoopantsatopolis are revisited endlessly.

Seated at the table, any progress made in therapy over the past year seems to magically melt away. Before long we find ourselves reclaiming emotional baggage we’re desperate to abandon. No matter how far we’ve progressed in life, there, seated in front of that defenseless avian carcass, we’re seven again; and it ain’t pretty.

Small wonder so many of us cringe as we witness the approach of Thanksgiving, contemplating the event with a dread one might reserve for dentistry without anesthesia.

If you are faced yet again with this psycho-emotional Armageddon, take heart!

Turn your Thanksgiving dinner table into a payback battlefield with you commanding the tanks! As soon as trouble approaches, apply one of these brass-knuckle gambits certain to turn the tide!

Take Charge Of Thanksgiving Dinner With These Psychological Grenades!

Insist on saying grace before anyone can start eating. Launch into a rambling, incoherent list of wonders that inspire you with a sense of gratitude, including, but not limited to, salt & pepper shakers, lamps, lint removers, self-winding watches and anchovy paste. Do not stop until you can see the vein in your dad’s forehead protruding.

Instead of asking your mom, dad, or sibling to pass the potatoes, say, “Please pass the resentments.”

As your sibling drones on about a recent social triumph, raise your wine glass in their direction and say, “You know, the more I drink the more interesting you become.”

Just when things are settling down, deliver a long, impassioned toast dedicated to, and describing in detail, the imaginary family you wish you’d had. Do not refer to your actual family at all.

Share odd details about turkeys. Say things like, “The fleshy growth from the base of the beak, which is very long on male turkeys and hangs down over it, is called the snood. Sometimes I wish I had a snood.”

As you listen to family members converse, randomly say “Hmmm” and scribble feverishly in a tiny notepad. When one of them asks what you’re doing, patiently explain that you’re observing them and will be reporting back to the authorities soon. If pressed simply say “Hmmmm” a lot.

Bear in mind that these techniques will not heal psychic traumas of youth, nor will they help you outgrow any damage done to you by your family. However, they will provide you with a lot of laughs at your family’s expense, and that’s got to count for something.

Time Loves A Hero, But Crowds Like A Fall

angry mob

If you’ve ever gotten divorced you know that, as soon as it happens your married friends start avoiding you as if the inability to maintain a relationship is some sort of bizarre, highly contagious skin condition. The fate of those fighting serious mental health issues, including addiction, is far worse.

The road leading out of Bedlam seems endlessly challenging but we trudge it all the same, then, at the finish line, in place of that brass band we expect there is an angry mob. It seems beastly unkind, especially after the hard work, but before you start nursing a grudge (“No amount of nursing will ever make a grudge healthy.” Taz Mopula) understand a few things about who and what you’ve become and why the new you is bringing out the very worst this wretched refuse has to offer.

The day you went skidding off the road and right into downtown Cuckoopantsatopolis was the day you reminded every straight arrow of your acquaintance that none of us is ever truly safe. Sanity itself, that sine qua non for the bourgeois, mediocre, pointless life ostensibly guaranteed by the Constitution, is as vulnerable as a Fabergé egg. Nobody wants to be reminded of that, and yet you do.

“But wait,” you say, in that adorably naïve tone of voice you apply to questions that illustrate your innocence, “do I not also teach, i.e. show, that by facing down these unholy perils one can evolve spiritually and grow stronger, actually emerging as a better, more morally grounded person in the process?”

Yes, yes you do, Sparky, and this is precisely why that mob is roughly as happy to see you as they were to see Frankenstein.

They say in the rooms that a pickle can never return to its previous incarnation as a cucumber. While you may be a reformed devil transformed into an angel, one thing is certain, you will never again be just another Bozo on the bus in the eyes of outsiders; the tired, the poor, the slow, the dim. Fellow insiders know better, they know that all of us are merely Bozos on the bus, but that is another story.

Your very existence says to these apple pie bakers and flag wavers, “My experience is larger than yours, I know terrible truths you dare not admit. Though horribly handicapped I have emerged morally grounded, fearless, strong, and (most upsetting of all) happy.” Trust me, they will never forgive you for that.

You have become a teacher, a leader, whether you care to admit it or not. As ever, peace of mind lies in embracing the inevitable, my advice is – learn how to lead by example, make your life a poem, a prayer.

Look around you; we desperately need leaders. Today we have none, instead we have celebrities who only lead by being cautionary tales, they show us what not to do.

Let Christmas Expectations Fall Like Snow

Christmas Trees Snow

Have you heard this one already? Three clinically depressed highjumpers walk into a bar. They lower it.

I’m kidding of course.

Then again, I’m not kidding, (as always), because if there is anything that will help today’s mentally ill individual survive the three-ring-circus of psychological torment and emotional Armageddon known by that deceptively sweet euphemism – the holidays – it is lowered expectations.

Why? With every layer of tinsel, every rehashed Christmas chestnut mangled by Beyoncé, every eggnog-infused martini, every promise of no money down and no payments for the first seventeen months, every drug-addled midnight greeter at Walmart scratching his most recent tattoo, every ill-considered fax at every office party, and every other cliché of Christmas cacophony and tintinnabulation comes the rising tide of truly ho-ho-horrible inevitability – the hopes, the joys, the fears of all the years, reindeer and pain dear – that Grinch-ish thief of all that is merry; expectations.

Those of us who have mucked out a foxhole or two after the elves have returned to their elf-help groups, leaving only ripped wrapping paper and the unnerving sound of gnashing teeth, know only too well that – an expectation is merely a resentment that has been booked in advance.

We watch the lemming-like inevitability of shoppers who resemble nothing more closely than poor Charlie Brown looking far across the yard at the relentlessly malevolent Lucy finger pointing down at the poised and ready football, believing deep within that dimwitted, soft-boiled egg of a head he has that this time it will be different.

Sadly, it never is. Fellow Whackadoomians, examine the terrible trap we must sidestep. Because it is the Santa-bag of expectations we bring with us – not the event itself – that causes our undoing.

Week after week, the entire culture conspires to deceive; is it any wonder we question reality itself and struggle to differentiate between what is, what might be, and what could be if only we had been less naughty and more nice throughout the year?

The entire communications infrastructure which now extends to gas pumps, check out lines in supermarkets, phones, rented movies, in short, everything we encounter in our daily lives, stokes the id until it roars like a voracious furnace – wanting, craving, needing and hungering for a mountain of flashy, splashy landfill-food made in China and destined for a useful life so short it would inspire pity in a drosophila before vanishing out the back end of our consumer economy. It all happens in the bat of an eye.

It was the redoubtable Taz Mopula who warned, “If I could give you just one piece of advice it would be this; do not, under any circumstances, take my advice.” In this spirit I will say that I would not presume to give you advice and if I did you would almost certainly not take it but if I did and if you did this is what it would be:

Want to enjoy your holiday? Do some Christmas triage. Ratchet down the level of your expectations to zero and start there.

Irony Overload

Multi-tasking The Fine Art Of Doing Many Things Badly

Picture a glorious living room on Christmas Day. Magnificent high ceiling, cozy fire, exquisite tree, vast windows overlooking thick woods. Now imagine it filled with various members of an extended, albeit cattywhumpus, family, many of whom have not seen each other for a year or more.

Now imagine that any conversation taking place is a tossed-off afterthought; the primary occupation of nearly all inhabitants is cell phone manipulation.

Now, to me, talking on or playing with a phone while in the presence of another person is rude beyond imagination. To be fair, my parents were both from Europe and very opinionated on this subject, consequently I have an old-fashioned sense of good-manners, propriety, and behavior predicated on respect for self and others. I am no longer surprised to watch civility slip into the mist where it can comfortably join the dodo. So, while I find the incivility appalling, I am not surprised by it.

What does surprise me is the almost thundering irony. This astonishing device – no longer anything resembling a phone but rather a palm-sized communications network – has apparently robbed us of our ability to simply be – to enjoy the presence of another – savoring stillness, silence, and calm – to listen, and then, having listened and considered – to respond thoughtfully and politely.

In a word, it seems as though our need to constantly fetch and transmit information has profoundly damaged if not destroyed our ability to converse. (Once again, these people are close relatives and have not seen each other for a long time; Christmas in this case is more than a pseudo-religious shindig, it is an important opportunity to revitalize old bonds and forge new ones.)

When I go into an AA meeting the chairman reminds all of us that cell phones must be turned off. The reason is simple, what we are doing is a matter of life and death and requires absolute concentration. (I will again quote Taz Mopula who said, “Multi-tasking is the art of doing many things badly at the same time.”)

Our obsession with gadgets has caused us to forget what many of us never went to the trouble of learning in the first place, that is – the most essential element of conversation is listening and if you are thinking about what you will say next after the other person finally shuts up you’re not listening, you’re treading water.

To simply witness the life of a loved one, to be with them, is a priceless gift that demands elimination of ego, however briefly. Hard to do that with a horrid monster in your pocket, constantly demanding attention.

Is there anybody left who still believes these little machines serve us, or is it now clear to all we serve them?