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More About Me

Still have any Gods? If so, who or what?

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  1. Having a friend make headline news by becoming the embodiment of everything wrong in the world was not how I imagined my evening would begin. Scott Smith, one of the hosts of the Recovering From Religion podcast, top dog activist for Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF ), father of three, and all around good guy, turned a very dark corner earlier today. He shot and killed his wife and then took his own life just as police arrived. Three school age girls are going home to relatives instead of their own bedrooms and welcoming arms of their parents. The footsteps of mom and dad in the hall to tuck them in are now permanently relegated to memory and dreams. The loving smile of dad is now a porcelain veneer of menace boiling beneath. Some might take offense to all this imagery, but the reality is whether mental illness was the primary cause or not (many say it was his losing to ptsd), he murdered his wife. He committed domestic violence. I feel that the constant woe of his ptsd being the cause removes some accountability from Scott's plate, and I am not going to have that. We can discuss this reality without eviscerating him. This was a man who was keenly aware of how ptsd affected him. His years in the military and then learning to live as a civilian activist out there to protect vets and bring further understanding to ptsd is important. He is not without his own weaknesses, and maybe the news of his wife's divorce pushed him to an edge he had never traversed before. This does not lessen or change the fact he committed domestic violence. He murdered his wife. He took an opportunity to control his life how he saw fit, and forced his soon to be ex-wife to follow. He even called the police and told them what he was doing. Once again, someone burned it all down because it wasn't going their way and they had to have absolute control. Does it really need to be said for the millionth time that mental health is a huge issue that is still taking baby steps to become a mature discussion in this country? And right now is the time in our community of freethinkers to seriously evaluate this issue in our own ranks. We cannot always see or know what is going on behind closed doors in our friends' lives, but we can consistently promote a very personal avenue of communication to find these dark moments in our impulses and try to diffuse them before they become tragedy. We can be active participants in our local communities to demand better crisis services without stigma. We can educate our communities that staying in the hospital for mental health reasons is not a thing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Self-care must happen or we cannot take care of those we love. We will hurt them as we hurt ourselves. I have personally been to that dark edge and back, and luckily my family and I walked away intact. I didn't hide, but embraced help for once. But that was only after barely waking up from an intentional overdose because I couldn't process my guilt. Some might look back and say Scott was a good man who had his own demons that got the better of him. Some might look back and say he was a bad man, letting this murder define his legacy. What we should be looking back on is how we can help prevent more of these types of violent episodes from occurring due to any number of reasons, simply by being present and demanding we all take care of ourselves through proper programs and resources instead of the way Scott did it in the end. PTSD didn't kill his wife. He did. Let's prevent this from happening again.
  2. Giving up God is only the first part of it, IMHO. What do you think? Debate/critique: No Discrete Self – Souls don’t exist, and neither do you have a unified “Self” hiding inside your brain. All of your thoughts and emotions are the result of biological systems working together to cause the experience of being an “I”. The Self is merely a subjective feeling that gives the illusion of continuity. Humans are not the author of their thoughts or emotions. No Free Will – You are an animal. Your actions occur either deterministically or randomly; either as the certain result of prior causes, or by accident. There is no logical room for free will in either of these scenarios. No Personal Accountability – Conventional morality is a non sequitur without free will. Note that we can still have an organized society even without believing in free will – when a savage dog kills a child we don’t get mad at the dog (i.e. no retributive justice), but we still put the dog down in the interests of safety. No Direction – “What is the meaning of life?” is not even a question that can coherently be asked. Life is not even meaningless – the whole concept is just a word made up in the human mind. Other animals do not need a purpose to exist or find satisfaction. “Meaning” is a problem created by the human thinking machine. It is part of a mental coping strategy to deal with suffering. Suffering is the problem; meaninglessness is not. No Reason To Live – There is no imperative to live (or die). Taking your own life is a logical response in the face of futile suffering, especially if the suffering is extreme. However this option is not usually justified because of the greater weight of suffering that suicide typically causes to that person’s family members. All things being equal, the suffering of the many outweighs the suffering of one. Therefore there are usually good utilitarian reasons not to kill oneself. Antinatalism – Given that all suffering is unnecessary and futile, and given that procreation occurs without the consent of the person to be born, it is wrong to have children. Ideally the entire human race would voluntarily cease to reproduce, resulting in our complete extinction. People do not have the “right” to bring new life into existence. We reproduce because our biology commands us to; all the while failing to see that we are causing unnecessary suffering by continuing the doomed, vicious, absurd, miserable tale of the human race.
  3. It was one of those little paper cups that one can put ketchup or tartar sauce in. A white little bowl of pressed edges and a crimped rim. Almost origami like. Just a shallow condiment cup that, at its bottom, held two impossibly small pills that held too many promises to believe. Help me sleep. Help me calm down. Help me have control. Help me feel normal. "Help me," I said to myself as I swallowed them down unquestioningly. This cup was my first introduction to psychiatric care when I was twenty-five years old. All these promises contained in a cup that was the size of a tablespoon. Goals of recovery pressed into the shapes of oddly colored tablets. I numbly took those medications, thinking at least for a few days I could get my bearings within the controlled confines of the hospital psychiatric ward. I would have one on one interviews with a doctor everyday for the three days I was under evaluation. Group therapy twice on each of those mornings. Arts and crafts for relaxation. After my three days were up, I might be forced to stay longer, or be released back into my world of fucked up living with nothing but referrals I couldn't afford to use. Welcome to the American mental health system. You could always get a diagnosis and medication in an emergency, but unless you're a danger, good luck after your hold was up. My own visit to the ward had to do with depression, scary thoughts, and an irrational desire to just run away from the world. Literally go back to the streets. For a long time, my rationale had always been survival. I didn't know how to exit that mode of thinking. I didn't really put any roots down and had little problem just moving on to new environs. That wasn't working out for me very well since I would struggle to hold on to jobs thanks to depression leaving me too miserable to even show up for the day's work. And the thoughts of death were almost hypo manic at times. It was literally driving me crazy. I didn't comprehend why I was experiencing all this, and assumed I must be genetically off balance. Every where in my family there was depression, suicide, violence, and so on. Obviously I must be a chip off the old block. At this first stay, the doctor did his best to help me sleep. Remeron, Respirdal, and Geodon were what I ended up taking and it barely snowed me under to sleep. Acute bipolar disorder with hypo manic tendencies was the cause explained to me. I lived with, and accepted that diagnosis without question, for nearly six years. Six years of failed medication attempts. Six more years of temporary homeless episodes. Six more years of suicide attempts to avoid feeling useless. Six more years of angry rant filled outbursts at family and friends. Six years of intense self loathing. I hardly remember those years. Probably because I barely survived them. What I remember most clearly was my last actual suicide attempt. I've never been able to go the pain route in death. My goal had always been to just not wake up anymore. Pills and alcohol were my usual instruments of self destruction, and in the midst of my family completely imploding after relinquishing my daughters, I tried again. To be honest, I think I succeeded momentarily. The doctors who examined me later agreed. My heart did stop at some point, and why it fired back up is a mystery. I remember all the bourbon I'd finished off that night. Had to be at least two fifth size bottles. Then I grabbed some Risperdal and Vicodin, and washed them down as I lay on the floor near my computer desk. I was happy in the moments before I blinked out, but only because I thought I was truly free at last. No more waking up. That was my last thought. It was about a day later when I woke up, and it was a struggle. My vision was watery black. Reminiscent of looking through a dirty periscope, it was an off center view and appeared tunnel like. My brain seemed to process my surroundings at a three second delay. It was hard to breathe too. That sensation of my chest feeling too heavy to inhale must have kick started adrenaline, and I managed to roll onto my side, barely feeling the rough textured carpet against my face. But as I lay there, straining to breathe, my eyes seeming to drag slowly back and forth in my eye sockets, I saw a piece of paper across from my face on the floor by my desk chair. It was a picture my oldest daughter, then about eight, had drawn for me. Just a simple drawing of me that she'd given earlier that month, but seeing it there discarded on the floor just hit me so hard. The way it just lay forgotten and taken for granted seemed to crush my spirits even more into dust. I was so ashamed of myself and my selfishness. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get my phone off the desk and call for help. This suicide attempt didn't land me in a psychiatric hold. No, they sent me home the same night after that one. For about two more years I continued accepting the bipolar diagnosis, but instead of mostly focusing on the right medication combination, I prioritized self management and self awareness. I did have another hospitalization in that time, but not for being suicidal, just irrational thinking. That stay was more beneficial than any other because I realized my warning signs much sooner. Eventually I found a great therapist, and we realized I was not dealing with just mania, but PTSD. In fact, the mania was related to it. Three years of behavioral therapy, cleaning out of my emotional closets, and here I am now medication free. I have complete control and pretty much know how to manage in trigger situations. I also eliminated a number of people who would purposely trigger me in order to have control over me. I removed my mantle of illness. I let it be the definition of who I was for so long, that I had allowed it to relegate me to a non contributor in my own life! I believed I would be hindered forever, and it took a third of my life so far to find out it wasn't true. But that is how mental illness is treated in this country. I hope it changes. Not everyone can make a good recovery, but the lack of quality care and comprehension of mental illness leaves many hopefuls lost in the dark and feeling like there isn't a chance for real living out there. This has to change. We shouldn't rely on luck . There needs to be better standards of care with more than just medication goals and brief well checks. There needs to be future prognoses that are promising functionality and independence, not a non stop regimen of being treated like an invalid. ***Want to read more? Check out my short compilation with an additional nine new essays not published anywhere else. http://www.amazon.com/Badge-Survival-Amanda-Ashcraft-ebook/dp/B00UY2FOAU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1426995310&sr=8-3&keywords=the+badge+of+survival ***
  4. So, today is that day in my lifetime's history that garners specific attention to the catastrophic events of September 11th, 2001. The common descriptive phrase I hear being used is "another day that will live in infamy." Myself, it doesn't have any catchy phrases or memorable quotes attached to it. I never fell into the hype that surrounded that day, and I think my own personal misgivings about the events that transpired was set ablaze by the absolute selfish hysteria I saw the rest of our beloved land fall into. I remember vividly the shock of the images playing across our office's large television screen in a conference room we never used. Having just bore my third child exactly eight weeks prior, when seeing such destruction and then stunned by the sight of another plane fly into a building right before my eyes on national t.v., my first instinct was to go home and hold my child close. Still, the four of us that made up our small corporate team sat there, watching in disbelief, flabbergasted into complete silence. Within twenty minutes, I watched cameras zooming in, sharing the most intimate moments of victims' lives as they started falling, even jumping, from the blasted out windows of the buildings they were trapped in. Seeing them drop, often head first, down the many stories to the rubble below, was heart wrenching and peaceful all at once in the midst of the chaos that had erupted around them that morning. There is no imagining the mix of emotions that must have been leading up to and during the follow through with such a decision. It makes me wonder if the individuals that did fling themselves from the destroyed buildings had believed in some type of deity or another. I realize there are many who contend that these victims were either thrown out or so blinded by smoke and flame that they had dived out thinking they had found a cleared doorway to safety. For the purpose of this discussion, I am eliminating those two possible factors. There have been numerous occasions where folks have purposely flung themselves to their demise in situations that were hopelessly futile and this is a mind set I want to focus on here. Yes, there are a lot of assumptions in this blog, so please bear with my ambling around, through, and within the issue. So, I am sitting there with my coworkers, watching people falling from these wrecked buildings (at this point in my life, I'm skeptically agnostic). Seeing individuals dropping off burning buildings was a very new experience for me. I'd never witnessed desperation played out live before my eyes. As some who have read many of my previous essays on here know, I'm not unfamiliar with pain and suffering, still this was a game changer for my perspective on reality. Naturally, I immediately sympathized with the situation these doomed people were faced with, and felt incensed at the spectacle being made of their decision on national television. My coworkers, on the other hand, were dismayed at the victims plunging down the sides of the building amidst smoke, paper and other clothing raining down with with them. Two were outright incredulous and disgusted at the jumpers, not the camera crews filming. "What are they doing?" "Why would they do that?" "God forgive them. I think another one decided to jump! Look at that!" The last line is particularly chilling to me. Automatically assuming these men and women had turned into unforgivable sinners for jumping to their deaths instead of choking on smoke or burning alive? These statements further highlighted, in my own mind, the sharp divide between Christians over whether one is saved by grace or saved by action. Personally, I was raised on doctrine that espoused saved by action. I was routinely fed the whole multiplying of talents bit, though I never truly bought it since it didn't make sense that you would ask this deity into your life and then, in order to keep his favor, you had to follow rules that seemed to constantly conflict with one another or couldn't be applied consistently. I was a very literal child, to say the least, and had a very difficult time interpreting the same biblical rules five different ways depending on the situation. And this is the exact mind set I still possessed when listening to my fellow peers' commentary regarding the events streaming to us live on 9/11. Turns out, the one who made the forgive them comment was a Catholic, which, while explaining a lot, still disturbed me greatly that day. How does allowing oneself to die of smoke inhalation, or being crushed by a flaming building all around them, demonstrate more faith than someone who makes the choice to welcome death sooner? To me, the show of faith seemed equal. Still, the judgement passed by onlookers that day seemed to question to what extent one must seek martyrdom when faced with a situation resulting in severe injury or certain death. Is it really God's will to expect suffering in the worst way imaginable when in the middle of a disaster? Or is it the constant comparison to Christ's own martyrdom that fuels this type of religious scrutiny against those that suffer? Who is it that is truly demanding such levels of penance to be necessary? I think it the practice reeks of selfish ego resulting out of a very sick and twisted jealousy. My own upbringing had taught me that those who take their own lives have sinned, no matter the situation, and that they would face judgement for their actions, ultimately receiving a lesser reward in God's kingdom. Essentially, it was disgraceful to take your life, no matter the situation. But whenever someone died, it seemed members of my church focused on how much the individual suffered prior to dying. Sisters of our congregation would prattle on for hours over how many hours they sat by so and so's bedside during their final hours and describe in great detail every needle prick or surgery complication that further delayed their death painfully. So, to my point of this rambling blog entry. The day of the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville tragedies taught me a very important lesson: Step back from the horror and observe the many ugly facets of humanity that are drug out into the light of its aftermath. There wasn't only Islamic extremism showing its ass to the world that day. In the hours, days, months, even years to follow, the hypocrisy of the Christian Right came charging out from the closet, with their political machine in tow, pushing a sick agenda similar to the Red Scare of the '50's. And, it seems it has been a successful push. The groups of Christian extremists have managed to gain traction and now have stronger footholds in our government once again. Groups like the Tea party or the Christian Liberal party have provided doorways for members of these minority splinter groups to have a legislative voice in arenas deeper inside the congressional halls of Congress-- literally in the Senate committee offices. They have more than just lobbies now. They have Super PACS and corporate sponsors who buy their candidates. To me, this is the equivalent of Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood's own successes in becoming legitimatized political parties within Middle Eastern governments. The idea that the American Family Association could ever get a sponsored candidate into office seemed ridiculous twelve years ago, but not anymore, and it is a frightening reality. The Muslim Brotherhood managed to get Morsi in, and look at the turmoil Egypt has now found itself in thanks to the extremist policies his government rammed down the citizens' throats. This is a day of remembrance for me, but not so much because of the large number of lives lost and injured. Today is a reminder of how all tragic events, big or small, should not cause us to jerk our knees in hysterical abandon. It should be a call for calm analysis and healing. A lesson in continuing our lives day to day by allowing ourselves to think outside our carefully constructed boxes that have been over insulated by special interest groups and doctrine tainted patriotism. Much like the act of those who opted to take control of their fates that day, we must do the same in our own lives. Hurling ourselves from the proverbial towers our nation has forged out of disillusioned patriotic ego over the past decade. Letting the tower crumble under the weight of misguided fear it has represented instead of reinforcing it with further misconceptions about the world around us. Allowing ourselves to end the cycle of Cold War Era demonization of other cultures and nations to justify our selfish wants. One must learn from this tragedy, and many others we have experienced, that while the threat can be very real, retaliation and preemptive prejudice will not prevent others from harming us, but instead make it more likely we will be struck again.
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