As anyone who has endured trauma or tragedy well knows, life can change in an instant. The date of occurrence then becomes indelibly imprinted on your psyche, and for the rest of your life you’ll relive the heartache and grief on each anniversary. For my family, the date is Sept. 12, 2013, the day the 500-year flood roared through our yard and our life, destroying our home and changing us forever.
As we’ve walked through the rubble of these past days, my husband and I have each charged full force into different aspects of repair: He’s thrown himself into saving our house and rebuilding our land, and I’ve sunk into the world of grief and emotional recovery. Both paths are necessary, and our division is consistent with how many couples navigate trauma; the practical and emotional attention are essential as we figure out how to move forward. So while he’s mucking through four feet of mud and building pumps to attempt to dry out our crawl space, which continuously fills with water, I’m in our temporary home with our kids, guiding them through the muck of our internal mud. And this means teaching them about grief and gratitude.
The best way I can teach them about grief is to model it myself. As I’m someone who hasn’t had trouble connecting to the shadow places and moving toward the uncomfortable feelings as they arise, this isn’t difficult for me. What is difficult, however, is knowing how much to share with my kids and how much to process after they’ve gone to sleep at night when my husband returns from our house after a day of fighting the water or early in the morning as I’m lying in bed thinking about the 10-foot serpent that raged through our land just days before. It’s at those moments that the full force of the loss hits me with such power that it feels like I’m going to split apart. But I don’t split apart. I grieve hard and long, allowing the flood to wash through me. And when the quiet whisper of our mainstream culture slithers in that says, “It’s not that bad. Some people have lost their entire homes, or even their lives. Get over it,” I tell that voice to take a hike and return to the essential task of grieving.
Because your pain is your pain. When you’re suffering a loss, it’s not helpful to compare to others’ losses. We live in a culture of comparison, so whether we’re comparing joys — like an engagement or a new baby — or losses, we’re conditioned to validate the experience only if it’s “better” or “worse” than someone else’s. So when the voice traipses through my brain that tries to invalidate or dismiss my loss, I shush it aside and continue to allow myself to cry as hard as I need to cry. This is my pain. This is my loss. We have loved our land deeply, like a good friend, and she’s now been ravaged by the destructive force of Mother Nature that I’ve heard about but have now witnessed with my own eyes.
And here’s the secret about what happens when you allow grief to surge full-force through your body: When you’re done grieving, a genuine space of clarity and gratitude opens up inside. I cry, I rage, I fall apart, and then I’m okay. When my clients ask how I’m able to work so soon after the loss, I tell them that there’s a place inside untouched by the floods, a place that is my anchor and my true home regardless of what happens to our actual house. It’s the place that’s held afloat by the love of my family and friends, by my healthy marriage, and by my own spiritual practice. When I grieve without inhibition, when I surrender to the torrential flood that shakes and rocks me body and soul, this enduring and unchangeable place reveals itself. It’s then that I’m flooded with real gratitude as opposed to the platitude of gratitude that results from listening to the unloving and false voice that says, “Buck up and get over it. You have so much to be grateful for.”
Grieve and be grateful. Both can be true. The deep grieving clears the debris and opens the channels for real gratitude to enter. In our black-and-white culture that doesn’t allow for two or more emotional to exist simultaneously, we encourage people enduring loss to “look at the bright side” or attempt to offer comfort with statements like, “It will be better than before.” While this may true, when someone is in the trenches of grieving a profound loss, the only thing they really need is the space to grieve.
After each wave of tears, my eyes and soul are clear again and my gratitude overflows to reveal what stands before me: My incredible husband and our love which has only grown stronger through the years, our healthy, sweet, resilient boys and the true shelter we bend over them like the weeping boughs of a willow tree, our home which, although damaged, still exists, our neighbors, many of whom we had never met before Sept. 12, who came out of the woodwork to help us minimize damage during the flood and clean up afterwards, the hoards of volunteers who have shown up at our house to muck out the mud, our hero-cat, who woke us up at 6 a.m. to alert us to the danger and has accompanied us to our temporary dwellings, offering infinite comfort as we try to create a sense of home.
As often happens during tragedies, the non-essentials fall away and the very best of human beings shows up. We dwell in a neighborhood of love, on a planet humbled by disasters that are peeling us away and inviting us to build communities anew from the place inside each of us that knows what truly matters. And it’s only one thing: love. The love we extend to one another through action when our small worlds are swept away on a flood of loss are lifelines of connection. Let us take each other’s hands as we rebuild our homes, our neighborhoods, and our world on a foundation of goodwill, giving, and love.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, “Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes”, visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you’re suffering from relationship anxiety – whether single, dating, engaged, or married – give yourself the gift of her popular E-Course.
For more by Sheryl Paul, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
A new study from Northwestern University shows that intravaginal rings were 100 percent effective in protecting simian immunodeficiency virus in monkeys. The device will now be tested in humans in a trial at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in which 60 women will test the ring for 14 days.
“After 10 years of work, we have created an intravaginal ring that can prevent against multiple HIV exposures over an extended period of time, with consistent prevention levels throughout the menstrual cycle,” study researcher Patrick Kiser, of Northwestern University, said in a statement.
Kiser, who conducted the research while at the University of Utah, noted that this could be a good preventive option considering the tediousness of taking high-dose pills daily, and usage rates are poor for vaginal gels because they must be applied before sex. The ring, which contains a powdered version of the antiretroviral tenofovir, works by being inserted for 30 days at a time (tenofovir is already taken orally as an antiretroviral).
However, the ring is different from current intravaginal devices, such as the NuvaRing for contraception, because its made with unique polymers that can release more of the drug at a time, compared with silicone.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
So here you go. Now we can make fun of celebrities other than Nic Cage.
For most kids summer camp is that one time of year when their backyard fantasies and lightning-bug dreams become a reality. It’s the one week when they are allowed to wear pajamas to the dinner table and eat popcorn for breakfast and are obligated to dance around the table before they’ve cleaned their plate. Every child should get the chance to experience the simple pleasures of summer camp. All summer long the squeals of laughter and cries over skinned knees can be heard from all over this country. But for the kids at Camp Starlight, it is nothing short of magic.
For 15 years Camp Starlight has created a summer haven for kids who are affected by HIV. Whether they are HIV-positive themselves or have felt the hardships of a parent or family member living with the disease, these children all travel to camp with something truly worth escaping: HIV stigma.
While the physical location is close to Salem, Ore., the majestic, wooded landscape of Camp Starlight transforms into something closer to a fairytale land when camp is in session. Each day is filled with repeat-after-me songs, archery, canoeing trips and horseback rides. No matter what they came with (and sometimes it isn’t much), every child is given everything they need to make this one week nothing short of perfect.
As the founder of The Needle Prick Project, the duality of this heartbreakingly beautiful summer camp piqued my interest. Although I was aware of the far-reaching effects of HIV stigma, the impact that the disease has on today’s youth was one effect that I had yet to explore. So my sister and I packed our bug spray, a pack of Band-Aids, a box of crayons and our camera equipment and headed west to see what Camp Starlight is all about.
I will admit my predisposition when arriving at camp. I expected that when the kids arrived, I would be overwhelmed by emotions and flooded with just the right words to capture this very special environment. As I began to put the campers’ clothes into their temporary homes and wash their hands before dinner, I kept waiting for the feelings to bubble up. I might have even tried to force a sentimental wave or two, but it never really happened.
Why? Because these kids are just like any other campers spending a week away from strict bedtimes and mandatory vegetables. It doesn’t matter that a common thread binds them together in the Oregon forest. For this week their favorite camp song or ice cream flavor or whether they want to swim or canoe is what defines them, not the sad story that leads them there. Every other week out of the year, Camp Starlight is known as a camp for kids who are affected by HIV, but when camp is in session, it’s just camp.
While this was a wonderful discovery, I was a camp counselor on a particular mission. And while I fell in love with each and every camper, these children and their experiences are sacred only for the sake of leaving the experience ordinarily extraordinary. However, I still was looking for a way to capture the magic. With a name like Camp Starlight, all I had to do was look up to find just what I was searching for, but the real stars were much closer to the ground.
It takes nothing short of a movement to create an environment where children can discuss HIV, if they choose to do so, in a safe and nonjudgmental place, free of the weight that HIV stigma carries. The camp organizers, staff and counselors work all year to create this singular week of stigma-free, majestic bliss. Each year producing the camp session seems like an almost-impossible task.
From the endless fundraising to making sure that each counselor understands the gravity of their role, the leadership behind Camp Starlight works tirelessly to produce the impossible and make sure that each camper has what they need, both emotionally and physically. No matter what shade of bleak the child’s background may be (and it can be extreme), the people at Camp Starlight make sure that there is nothing left to be wanted.
As I recall my memories from Camp Starlight, I have no sob stories to give you about the hardships that these children face in the shadow of HIV. That is because the people of Camp Starlight have created a place where these kids get to live the life that HIV robs them of. The emotion I had expected only came once the last camper had turned in for the night. The counselors would gather around the campfire in front of the painted wooden stage. Drinking endless coffee and eating leftover pastries, we’d share an unspoken bond built from the simple joy that had transpired throughout the day. The other counselors’ weary but happy faces would gaze back at mine, and all of a sudden it would make perfect sense: The pain and hardship that these children endure year round had never really left, but for this one week it was the counselors’ burden to bear. And we did so happily.
HIV is often thought of as an adults-only club. Many people will carelessly spout language that aims to stigmatize adults living with the disease, neglecting to realize that their words trickle below the 18-and-up crowd. But whether we are discussing someone who is 17 or 70 years old, the moralizing over who “deserves” it more is what continues to further stigma. The truth is that no one deserves HIV or the effects of HIV stigma.
The children at Camp Starlight shouldn’t need special treatment, and their stories shouldn’t weigh more heavily on your heart than those of anyone else whose life has been affected by HIV. Just like anyone else, they should be considered for who they are (no matter how bratty or sweet that may be), not for their HIV status.
But what every child deserves is a week where real life is abandoned, costumes aren’t just for Halloween, and every day involves a cannonball.
To learn more about Camp Starlight, click here.
The Needle Prick Project is a video, photo, and editorial project designed to elicit a conversation about what it means to be HIV-positive today. We all fear the prick of the needle, but it’s the medicine we need. Get pricked!
Carbon pollution is heating up the planet, raising sea levels, melting sea ice and glaciers at an increasing pace, acidifying the oceans and increasing many regions’ danger from heat waves, floods and damaging storms, according to the landmark scientific report released today.
This report contains plenty of facts and figures. IPCC’s experts forecast catastrophic climate changes if the world continues on the current fossil fuel-intensive emissions pathway, including a global average temperature increase of up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit; global average sea-level rise maximums exceeding 3 feet; a more than 100 percent increase in ocean acidity by the end of the century; and near-complete loss of the Arctic’s summer sea ice before mid-century.
But the single-most important number is clearly 2020 — the latest year that carbon pollution must peak to avert catastrophic impacts from climate change.
The report, prepared by more than 800 of the world’s leading experts, underscores the disturbing fact that pollution-control efforts by President Barack Obama and other world leaders fall far short of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
As a scientist, I can’t imagine a clearer warning: Left unchecked, the climate crisis threatens people and wildlife around the globe.
It’s clear from this report that warming is damaging our world — and that many of the dangerous effects are happening faster than expected. Unless President Obama and other world leaders move much more swiftly to reduce emissions, climate change will fundamentally transform our planet.
According to the report, it is still possible to avoid the worst climate impacts if global governments instead adopt the IPCC’s lowest emissions pathway, which requires global emissions to peak by 2020 at the latest (and the earlier the better), with substantial declines in emissions afterwards.
This pathway would lead to a 70 percent reduction in mean temperature rise, a 40 percent reduction in sea-level rise, and an 85 percent reduction in ocean acidity rise by 2100, as well as preserving summer sea ice, compared with our current pathway.
The Obama administration has begun rolling out policies intended to cut emissions, but these measures are too slight and come too late to head off catastrophic climate change. The administration’s recently announced “New Source Performance Standards” for new power plants, for example, will make only minor cuts to power plant pollution over the coming years.
The power plant measure is aimed at fulfilling the Obama administration’s pledge to put the United States on the path to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. But such a reduction falls far short of what the U.S. pledged in the Kyoto Protocol and — as the IPCC report makes clear — would not be enough to avert catastrophic temperature increases, sea-level rise, droughts, floods and other climate disruption.
The Clean Air Act provides proven successful programs to achieve science-based greenhouse pollution reductions, which is why dozens of communities around the country have already joined the Clean Air Cities campaign by passing resolutions urging the Obama administration to implement the Clean Air Act for ambitious greenhouse pollution cuts.
In the wake of the IPCC report, the message from the world’s scientists is loud and clear: Rapid, bold cuts in carbon pollution should be our first priority. We have a deadline. Now it’s time to get to work.
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