Reagan, Trump and the Cruelty of Indifference

There may be triggers in this post.

How do we trust our government when the President is a pathological liar?

For people over 60, every interaction is fraught with death.

When the #COVID-19 shutdown began five months ago, my partner was with his elderly Mother in San Bruno, where he remains.

A few weeks ago, I started meeting with my therapist in Dolores Park. On my walks to the park, I noticed more homeless people in new tents.

Yesterday I saw a collection of freshly laundered business suits draped in plastic over a bright blue tent.

Blue Pup Tent
A Memory of Market Street

The sight of It broke my heart.

When I can’t take any more Trumpian abuse, I switch and log into VR, where my alternates recreated the homeless encampments of the 1980s.

Trump’s intentional mismanagement of COVID-19 is reminiscent of Reagan’s indifference to mental illness and the outbreak of AIDS.

The consequences of Reagan’s policies were as traumatic as the treacheries of my childhood.

A Memory of market Street
A Memory of Market Street

I spent most of the 1980s preparing to die from AIDS. 

I asked myself what I wanted to do with the last days of the rest of my life and chose writing.

I had wanted to be a poet as a youth, but I took my Grandmother’s advice to make poetry an avocation, something to do in old age, which was suddenly 29.

In August of 1984, I befriended a poet best known in the gay community for his homoerotic poetry. I was ballsy enough to ask him to teach me to write poetry, and he said yes.

He offered me a room in his rented cottage on Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

I took the room and began the painful work of becoming literate.

By day I absorbed centuries of writing and literary criticism.

By night, I wrote as much as possible,  desperate to leave a legacy as my community sickened and died.

I also worked full time as a fitness trainer at the local YMCA.

Four years of Reagan’s budget cuts culminated in a permanent population of  disabled people living on and in the gutters.

It started with the mentally ill.

The mentally ill were soon joined by gay teens who came from all over the country, many from abusive communities and families.

Some of these kids formed an alliance with AIDS activists and built a sprawling encampment at San Francisco’s Civic Center.

I wonder where they're going with that Bat-2
I wonder where they’re going with those Bats

As AIDS took my friends, I began to compulsively check my arms and legs for KS lesions and had a crisis over every blemish.

In 1985, an alternate, inspired by the Nathaniel West short story, ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ emerged.

Like Miss Lonelyhearts, the alternate had a Christ complex.

He took dangerous all-night walks into the homeless encampments at Civic Center and around the adult cinemas and arcades on Market Street and in the Tenderloin.

He returned to the cottage at 6 AM to write a paragraph and sleep.

He called himself Loleeta Morales of Los Portales.

The name, Loleeta, is a regrettable pun.  Morales was the name of one of my many shrinks, and Los Portales was the name of a popular gay dance bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.

‘Loleeta’ became more emotionally unstable with every walk, and I sometimes ‘woke up’ in a crisis clinic or on a locked psychiatric unit with no memory of why I was there.  Still, I always found a story in Loleeta’s notebook.

““A locked psychiatric unit stinks.

A janitor arrives in the morning to stir the floor with his mop.

A Nurse patrols the day room with a can of Lysol spritzing above
her head.

Dr. Christopher Morales is a German from Brazil.

He is like a frog becoming a prince, frozen in transition.

Dr. Morales watches me eat breakfast with a look of calculated concern.

“You like your breakfast?” He asks.

I nod and nibble the tip of a sausage.

“You are feeling suicidal today?”

I nod and swallow.

“How long do you do you intend to feel this way?”

“Until the day I die!” I say sweetly,  so Doctor Morales hops
off in pursuit of a fly.””

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

Psychiatrists thought Xanax was a treatment for depression, so mine had me on eight milligrams a day.

Loleeta frightened me because I didn’t know why ‘he’ existed, and I worried he would get us killed.

When I expressed these concerns to my psychiatrist, he upped the Xanax.

By 1986,  I was sick enough to meet Reagan’s definition of total disability.

“The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Disability Evaluation Under Social Security

My psychiatrist said I had a potentially lethal mood disorder so the government reluctantly gave me a grant of 700 dollars a month.

By 1987 I was on the brink of homelessness and wondered why I was still alive

I was sickened by Reagan’s government and felt betrayed by my thirtysomething peers, whose political activism became an empty rebellion of style.

“Loleeta Morales reclines to read her favorite leftish magazine.

She offers this excerpt from an Utne article entitled, ‘The Place of the Poor in our Cities:

Poor people have taught us so much about how to move rhythmically and melodically down the street, about how to use color and ornamentation to say new things about ourselves, about how to bring out the rhetorical and theatrical powers of the English language in our every day talk.”

Loleeta writes: “I can teach them how to walk, talk, and dress.”

She decides to prepare herself for the task. First, she needs a hit of speed to kill the hunger. Next, she needs an especially well-swept section of The City: where is the color and ornamentation of her poverty needed most? Does the Castro want some rhetoric? And what shall she wear? Her wardrobe expands with possibilities. She settles on an avant-garde pair of shit-stained chinos topped with fading looks and tie.

Loleeta writes:

I never thought I would have a special place in the life of a city. For this, I am grateful.”

She crosses herself and enters traffic.

Lights change on her command.

Loleeta Morales looms over San Francisco like a Godzilla in search of King Kong. Her jaw flops open, and she roars: “How many bores wanna be like Loleeta Morales!”

Dozens she decides.

As if the hills are alive with the theatrical joy of Loleeta, she storms 18th Street like a mob with convictions. There was money in her mailbox today, her payday for going crazy

With that thought in mind, she clamors into the Bank of America.

“Cash my check!” she demands.

“Gladly!” the teller answers.

And Loleeta takes her place in the scheme of things.”

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

In late 1987 I tested negative for AIDS, and Loleeta and my bi-polar illness went away.

“Loleeta Morales” ran my life for over two years.

In the end, Loleeta committed suicide and left me with 200 pages of a story that frightened and confused me.

“Loleeta  Morales decides to die from compassion instead of lust and self-loathing.

She is the New Puritan who brings a message of cleanliness: yesterday’s stud is today’s carrier, so Loleeta gets carried away.

She writes: “Now is the time when I, Loleeta Morales, will deliver my eulogy — because no one else can possibly know how nice I am.

I was a good girl. I respected science. I felt the Constitution of the United States was worth reading. I also felt that food was something I had a right to because the anguish of hunger us cruel.

Let it be said at my funeral that I was always one of the others.”

Excerpt from Los Portales, 1987

It is 2020.

Our president is a racist who persecutes migrant children. He extorts our allies and invites tyrants to help him rig our elections.

He is using a deadly virus to kill off the poor and disabled as he spreads enemy propaganda designed to distract and confuse our people.

Reagan’s 80s proved that average Americans will not only normalize a disgusting abuse of political power, they will also happily condescend to and blame the victims, if the consequences don’t directly affect them.

Can we undo the mistakes in collective judgment that got us here?  Can we face up to and atone for over 40 years of our complicit abuse of the poor and disabled?

During the shutdown, I built a virtual replica of the homeless encampments on Market Street in the 1980s.

I log in to remember and bear witness.

“Young girls are coming to the Canyon.

They make their way up Polk Street; hustle the arcade on
Turk and Ellis.

Young girls are coming: in the all-night cinema on Jones Street.

Where the homeless sleep in the aisles.

Where the pushers hustle the john.

Loleeta sees them and loves them.

She is the queer Jesus, come in the true spirit of Christianity.

She witnesses to the sick and needy,

She does it with the patience of a god.”

Excerpt from Loleeta, 1987

A Memory of Market Street
Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon

“The homeless are “homeless, you might say, by choice,” Ronald Reagan, 1984

The Mattress
The Mattress

All Images by Rob Goldstein 2020
(c) Rob Goldstein 2020

The Man Who Forgot He Doesn’t Exist

Dissociative Identity Disorder is a childhood-onset trauma symptom induced by an overwhelming confrontation with human evil before the brain can create a functional mind.

When my psychiatrist diagnosed DID in 2009, I was already too symptomatic to work. I had no interest in social media, but I compulsively staged virtual photoshoots in Second Life and posted those photos to my Flickr stream.

‘The Man Who Forgot He Doesn’t Exist‘ is an example of the images I staged and posted.

I still feel like a man who doesn’t exist.

With therapy, I  eventually understood that I used my avatars the way a child uses dolls when asked to describe an assault for which there are no words.

Most people are unable to comprehend a person whose different emotional states and memories emerge as separate people with different names, genders, and world views.

It’s easy to dismiss these confusing and unsettling expressions of the mind as attention-seeking irresponsibility.

This short film, ‘Inside,’ is a weirdly accurate illustration of how it feels to be an ‘us’– minus the atmospheric asylum.

A primary goal of psychotherapy is getting everyone ‘inside’ to agree.

I’m not there yet.

M. Scott Peck, the psychiatrist who authored ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ described evil as “militant ignorance.”

I wonder if militant denial is a form of evil.

In “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, ” Peck describes narcissism as a type of evil.

I see no difference between the individual narcissist and the cultist tribal communities that plague American culture.

The most horrific aspect of child abuse is that it often takes place in an institution or a community that doesn’t care or doesn’t want to bother. Hence, the adults blame the child if he reveals the abuse or the abuse becomes too apparent to ignore.

The best recent example of institutional abuse is Donald Trump’s detention camps, where children are separated from their families and treated like criminals.

How does a four-year-old escape the horror of a world that feels like a death trap?

A person with DID was a child whose mind shattered under the stress of life in an all-pervasive culture of evil from which there was no escape.

Recovery from DID and C-PTSD involves a never-ending cycle of accepting the damage, managing the symptoms, and healing what I can.

For me, healing means bearing witness to the evil, naming it, and working for change.

I want us to unite to make our world safe for children.  I want us to protect them from evil.

Children do not choose to live in hunger and pain.

Art by Rob Goldstein

 

According to Peck, an evil person lies to himself to prop up an image of perfection.

They also;

  • Deceive others as a consequence of their lies
  • Project his or her evils and sins onto particular targets (scapegoats) while being reasonable with everyone else.
  • Commonly hates with the pretense of love
  • Abuses political and (emotional) power (“the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion”)
  • Maintains respectability based on lies.
  • Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
  • Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat)
  • Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury
  • According to Peck, evil people realize the wickedness deep within themselves, but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection, or admit to themselves that they are evil.

Evil thrives on denial.

 

I’m revising some of my posts from 2015.

‘The Man Who Forgot He Doesn’t Exist’ was first posted in 2015,

I’ve kept the theme but completely revised the post.

I don’t know if I should make a new post but it seems practical to
keep the original.

What are your thoughts?

(c)Rob Goldstein 2015-revised 2020

 

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Trauma in a Culture of Abuse

In late November, I planned a short break from my blog to focus on Trump’s Impeachment.

I listened in shock as witnesses like Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified to crimes that included threats on her life.

Screenshot_2020-05-21 Marie Yovanovitch calls Trump's disparaging tweet 'intimidating'

After the House impeached Trump for extortion, I watched in horror as elected Republican officials used their positions, and media access to spread the smear Trump demanded of the President of Ukraine.

Republican Senator threatens to impeach Joe Biden
I felt personally betrayed when the Republican Senate voted to acquit Trump without hearing witnesses.

I went numb with fear and shut down.

When faced with life-threatening circumstances, most mammals shut down and play dead and hope the predator will go away.

I felt like a five-year-old trapped in a community of violent and corrupt adults. I shut down. Threatened children must not be seen or heard.

CPTSD  and Institutional Betrayal

C-PTSD is a cluster of symptoms caused by chronic childhood trauma such as physical assault, sexual assault, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, and threats of violence and death.  People with C-PTSD often suffer from feelings of betrayal, defeat, and shame.

“Instead of a single traumatic event leading to mental and emotional symptoms, complex PTSD is believed to be caused by chronic or prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences. “It’s the concentration camp, the person in a bomb shelter in Syria, the soldier in war or child suffering sexual or physical abuse. It’s happening to you, or you’re witnessing it,” says Dr. Robert Shulman, associate chair of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.” US News and World Report

As a child, I felt hopeless as the neighbors and social services that should have stopped my Mother’s abuse did nothing or became part of it.

‘Betrayal Trauma’ is the systematic abuse by a parent, a trusted leader, or an institutional authority figure, like the President and his government.

Institutional betrayal is potent because it represents a profound and fundamental violation of trust in a necessary dependency relationship. In that sense, it is similar to abuse in close relationships – it can be more harmful than abuse by a stranger. The breach of trust, unreciprocated loyalty, and exposure to retaliation are like a knife in the back. The Wiley Online Library

Recovery is finding the will to believe that life is more than a savage facade of nihilist hypocrisy.

The Shutdown

Stay Home
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

I was in the aftermath of lingering flu when the pandemic and shutdowns began; my partner was away, taking care of his Mother.

I’ve spent the shutdown in isolation, triggered, and regressed to the darkest years of my childhood.

I’ve watched the President of the United States murder his citizens and gaslight us into accepting it.

A week in late November became an agony of months.

Writing this,  I found a recent essay at @CNN by

He writes about a world of people who are afraid to touch each other and how it feels to lose the lives we took for granted: life before the trauma of betrayal:

“Do you remember who you used to be? Before you were told that anyone could kill you? Before you were conditioned to avoid people the way you might avoid malignant obstacles in a video game? Before your brain rewired itself toward a continual search for the proper angle of evasion, the likely field of airborne dispersion, the space least contaminated by human touch?”

All this fear will have lasting consequences. We cannot know what they will be. Last Sunday, we had a visitor, a friend I’d known since childhood. Jessica knew and loved all our children, especially the youngest. Jessica got out of the car and sat on our front steps. We walked outside and stood at a safe distance. The 2-year-old ran toward her. Jessica told her to stay back.
“And she looked at me with the saddest eyes ever,” Jessica told me later. “And that broke my heart.”
It hurts to be treated like a monster.

How it feels to live in fear of each other

There isn’t a rape victim, an abused child, an unjustly imprisoned migrant, a hungry vet, or a homeless schizophrenic who doesn’t know how it hurts to be treated like a monster.

There isn’t an LGBTQ person on this planet who doesn’t know how badly it hurts.

There isn’t a parent who loses a child in a school shooting who doesn’t know
how badly it hurts.

We are a nation of traumatized survivors.

Can we stop the abuse, accept that it happened, and heal?

As I emerge from the ‘freeze,’ I can return to the blog.

Loyal Americans placed their lives and reputations on the line to warn us that we are under attack and on our own; we don’t have to be Agents of Shield to learn a few basic principles of psychological warfare.

People are hurting in different ways, and we’ve had a rough five months.

I hope everyone is coping and staying as healthy as possible.

I look forward to catching up with your blogs.

I also look forward to hearing about how you’re coping.

Update May 23: The focus of Art by Rob Goldstein for the next 164 days is pro-democracy essays and art and articles from advocacy groups like #DemCast.

Screenshot_2020-05-23 Flip The Senate 2020 - DemCast
Graphic by Cris Palomino

Screenshot_2020-05-23 Opinion America’s True Covid Toll Already Exceeds 100,000

You can also find this post on #DemCast

(c) Rob Goldstein, May 21, 2020

This post is dedicated to my friend Scott Bader, who reminded me of why I write.  Thanks, Scott

DID: The ACE Study

A new and profoundly important paradigm for understanding overwhelming emotional pain has emerged over the last few years, with the potential to change the way we conceptualize human suffering across the whole spectrum of mental health difficulties. It is an evidence-based synthesis of findings from trauma studies, attachment theory and neuroscience, which offers new hope for recovery. It also presents a powerful challenge to the biomedical model of psychiatry in that it is based on scientific evidence that substantiates and attests to what many individuals with first-hand experience of mental health problems have always known — that the bad things that happen to you can drive you mad.

A New Paradigm for Understanding Severe Mental Distress

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study revolutionizes the way we think about the body and mind.

The ACE Study settles the question of whether we are shaped by genetics or the environment: we are shaped by both.  Nature Versus Nurture: Where We Are in 2017

The ACE study proves that child abuse causes enduring neurological damage that can affect a person’s health and quality of life throughout the lifespan.

The body of a frightened child floods with hormones and prepares to fight, run, or die.

In less than an instant, the amygdala sends an alarm to the hippocampus, which tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline.

Adrenaline increases heart rate and breathing, oxygen goes to the muscles and brain, which increases hearing and sharpens eyesight.

Adrenaline wears off and cortisol takes over; cortisol is a longer acting stress hormone designed keep the body alert.

Illustration from Harvard Medical School
Understanding The Stress Response, Harvard Medical School

If a child fears for his life, he may freeze and go numb.

For a prey animal in the wild, numbing is a blessing.

For abuse survivors, it means gaps in memory

During the fight, flight or freeze response the brain inhibits the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for retrieving memories. 

The memory is there but the brain can’t retrieve it.

A chronically abused child lives in fear which damages the structure and
functioning of a the brain. Harvard University

The toll of chronic fear on physical health includes:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system alterations
  • Sleep/wake cycle disruption
  • Eating disorders

The toll of chronic fear on emotional health includes

The Pyramid of effects of abuse on the lifecycle
Abuse Affects the Life-cycle

It takes nine months for the fetus to become a baby that can survive beyond
the womb.

Between birth and the age of two, we have no words; for the first ten years of our  lives, we are helplessly dependent on our parents and communities for our physical and psychological well being.

Child abuse is a betrayal of unconditional trust.

You don’t just ‘get over it’.

People with dissociative disorders report the highest occurrence of abuse and childhood neglect among all psychiatric disorders. This suggests dissociation is the ultimate reaction to significant trauma. Links between Trauma, PTSD, and Dissociative Disorders

A 2018 review found changes in the structure of the brain in people with DID. These changes are complex and  include decreased limbic activity, increased frontal lobe activity, and changes in communication between these two regions.

An illustration depicting a little boy glaring at his drunken mother, passed out on the floor
Child Abuse Lasts a Lifetime

DID is something done to you, like the rapes and daily beatings.

One must accept what happened and make peace with it.

Acceptance means seeing what might have been and grieving the loss.

Acceptance means letting go of the idea that I brought it on myself, that I am shameful and not good enough, and it means not letting the dismissive arrogance I sometimes encounter gnaw at my soul.

Acceptance means holding abusers accountable for the messes they make.

Acceptance means believing the abuse will end.

I am not completely there.

How do I accept the evil of child abuse when the abuse never ends?

For now, broken but better is the best I can do.

DID: When Everything is a Trigger

Get Your ACE Score

(C)Rob Goldstein 2019

‘Child Abuse Lasts Forever” (C) Rob Goldstein 2019

All other graphics were found online and are used here for educational purposes.