Maintaining a sense of community support is precious when you struggle a history of exile. In my life words like “schizophrenia” and “anorexia” mixed with periods of institutional incarceration have resulted in alienation, trauma, and exile. It’s been twenty years since my most recent incarceration for “schizophrenia” and it remains very hard to find community support. I find the pattern of being othered replicates itself.
Healing from my most extreme experience of exile, “schizophrenia,” has involved outreach into many communities. I’d like to recommend community outreach because it’s been full of great experiences and rewards. But to be honest, although it is needed, it often results in repeated triggers that bring on emotional distress and familiar thinking patterns. Persisting has been very important as has finding ways to process those negative experiences and finding primary support.
Ultimately, I have learned to honor the communities where I have sensed safety and support that have enabled me to thrive and be authentic. These communities have enabled me to persist when I get triggered and feel othered. I am writing to share my perceptions about persisting through exile and to honor those places that have assisted in healing and soothing that sense of exile.
Starting with the Origins of Feeling Targeted:
This sense of exile I recently traced back in memory during an EMDR training. I remember being at a family friend’s farm and finding horns that fell off baby cattle. I remember being told that’s what happens to baby cattle as they grow, they lose their horns. It must have been Halloween, after my birthday at age of two or three. I remember the melancholy of feeling like one of those horns. The gray misty rain, the green pastures, the mud, the need to hold onto the horn that I identified with, those images have come back to me during periods of exile.
The family story is that the farm owner hid with me during hide and seek. No one could find us Otherwise I remember only traipses of what I presume to be the day. A glimpse into a crowded, festive room, the visual of a costumed witch, and the contrast, the grey, billowing fog, the misty rain.
I remember the owner asking me at a later point if I remember the day. I remember his sense of intensity. I remember feeling revolted when he touched my ass as I rode on his back. I remember feeling perplexed seeing him interact with his children who were far older than me. I remain only suspicion about what may have happened.
The main reason I am suspicious is that I have recaptured other dissociated memories about other sex abuse events that went along with family stories. Those stories help explain behavior and actions that were always frowned upon. Clothing myself in the shower and refusing to let anyone see me in the buff, not sleeping for a year on end, starving, sacrificing myself for people I love, these actions would result in incarceration and labels.
Ultimately, I only have a sense that the intensity of my reactions against sex abuse goes back further. For example, I just can’t imagine that I would dissociate so easily fondled in a tub at the age of nine and later, to behave so cowardly at the age of seventeen in the face of an atrocity that I am not even sure is real.
Sense of Exile:
Because I was “so sensitive” and perhaps because I frowned in all the pictures taken of me, I was exiled from my family and the school community in which I was raised. Male anorexia ultimately had a lot to do with this. Who starves themselves like that? It diminished a great deal of constructive work! I stopped being seen.
However, when I trace my history back at the school there was always a sense of rejection. Always a good student, I was nearly not admitted because I cut paper in an unusual manner. Luckily my parents worked there and were willing to have me repeat a year. There were early reports of how I failed to connect with other kids. There was the year I spent a lot of time home and sick. There was the fact that the kids picked on and bullied me. When I rebelled against the other kids, I got sent to counseling. I got psychological testing.
My sense of exile was clear in my decision to thumb my nose at the private school expectations of an expensive collegiate utopia. They published that I was going to a good school in the yearbook, regardless. However, I chose a local inner-city commuter college campus where I could afford to divorce myself from my parent’s influence. I would end up creating the space to hide daily binging and purging. I studied and worked the whole time. I never wasted time to go to a single college party. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA.
I fought a sense of exile among my graduate school affiliates, but I fought for acceptance. I was exiled at most jobs and among my twenty-something associates. I moved west where I knew very few people.
Extracting Pockets of Support:
I write to highlight the importance of finding the places where I did find a sense of acceptance. I owe them gratitude and vie to give back. I have developed and survived in spite of exile. I am more fortunate than many in that I have a career and have developed a sense of primary support.
I was first hospitalized at Child Guidance Center with whom Salvador Minuchin termed “kids from the slums.” I am relieved to say that in the face of what I consider to be significant institutional abuse, I did find streetwise kids had more compassion and acceptance for me than cohorts at private school.
Likewise, in college, working under the table at an inner-city Korean owned deli fifty hours a week through the spank of summer, I was profoundly touched by the fact that the community accepted me. They didn’t care if I was skinny and afraid of food. Meanwhile support and acceptance from cohorts continued to elude me as I entered professional positions.
For the last eighteen years I have found support working for psychiatric patients in a psychiatric unit. It’s true I have been less likely to feel supported by colleagues who called the clients, “crazies” or have took action to have me removed. But once again in the face of institutional abuse, I found community members heard my stories once I grew secure enough to tell them. It was with the clientele community that my mindful spontaneity and facilitation skills developed. I may have been a disrespected droid at family reunions and mainstream events, but I found myself again in the hospital back ward.
Support in the community gives you that sense of being known, respected and belonging. It is an important part of healing and human development. And yet to promote safety, the nature of many communities is that they set standards of behavior or social discourse that govern that sense of belonging. I have found that being fond of and accepted in one context can preclude one from fitting into another.
The road to rediscovering that sense of belonging can certainly be a long and winding one!
The Exile that Resulted from Battling Institutional Hypocrisy:
When I moved to the west coast, I decided that the mainstream needed to know how homeless and disabled people suffer. I was setting up services in a notorious section 8 housing complex. I alerted the newspapers. While it’s arguable I had the experience and capacity to understand the consequences of this prior, I had been taught by a mainstream therapist that if I thought corruption was real, I was paranoid.
It was the era of the psychopharmacology professional and the psychotherapy establishment that monitored me fronted kindness, yet predicted that I would be in and out of the hospital the rest of my life to any semblance of family support system that remained.
My coping strategy was to ignore corruption and work hard in the face of it. Housing Authority officials tried to bribe me by offering me as many tickets as I wanted to a music festival. I didn’t want to be paranoid and think it was a bribe, so I turned around and invited the whole community of residents that they serviced. I requested over a hundred tickets for the residents and was given twenty-four.
I have since accepted that the uninvestigated killing that alarmed me go with the territory in housing authorities, inner-city, and poor-community realities. It’s taken me a long time to accept. I had to go homeless and be an indentured servant for some time.
In my view, we are all a part of perpetuating those realities and decisions. The lure of fast money and soldiering results in a steady stream of death that is not often noted. Many people understand the injustice that happens, but they also know it isn’t safe to shine a light on it. Those that do end up in prison, dead, or unable to find work.
With unobserved rage from getting beat up in the WTO Protest and feeling ashamed for having run away from an incestuous rape, I was one bad ass who didn’t care. I was like Serpico! When I was threatened and told that curiosity killed the cat, I retorted, “Yes, but the cat has nine lives!”
As I started to believe I was being followed, I stopped taking medication and started to understand corruption better. I reached out to my one remaining college friend with a nefarious history and he made a credible threat. Still, I didn’t believe him. I tried to escape to Canada and was intercepted by police.
In fact, they were following me. It’s just that no one believed me.
Understanding the Reality of How American Society Maintains Control:
Being kicked out of the circle or rejected by the majority of the group often gets perpetuated by group leaders who either volunteer or get paid to manage. They vie to control the business and stay in power via controlling behavior and negotiating norms.
Whether done by the FBI, social service employers, educators, unions, lawyers or heads of the family fortunes, crime ring bosses, managers will go to great lengths to control and shape your behavior regardless of laws and justice. I have come to believe that much of it is about maintaining cultural delusions about wealth and privilege.
Thus, people who refuse to conform are pushed out and exiled. This can happen easily if you are not corrupt and are targeted by the community. It can also happen if you are too corrupt and targeted.
People have ways of sniffing out your history of belonging or failure to do so. They may look at the color of your skin or your gender or manners, or friends and presume the culture and experiences you have be subjected to and decide if they want you around.
For example, I believe that as a social services worker, being a productive and effective healer and promoting justice is a good way to get targeted. Clinics are there to make money and control costs, and arguably to control people. Input a little healing, and you become a threat to some people with six figure salaries.
It seems a good way to frame this is that you must agree to toque reefer, but must agree not to toque too much of it. Toque too much and you become a burner or addict. No toque, and one becomes an exiled joke. I feel its arguable that this was the quintessential dilemma that governed acceptance in American culture during the X generation. When Bill Clinton said, “but I didn’t inhale,” it clarified a lot. He promoted the very large Housing Authority company, with whom I was contracted to work, as a model of urban development. I knew that but I still alerted the press.
I must admit that I presume the toque, no toque dilemma happens at many sleep-away colleges and other developmental institutions like the military. I avoided this stage of life by living in a roach infested apartment and working under the table. This way I could live skinny and heal without being further targeted and shamed for being a thin man.
Some Historical Context:
Maybe in other generations it was different. In American history at one point it was more about accepting slavery or genocide. To fit in, one must sip the tea. One must go corrupt, just not too much so. Thus, Thomas Jefferson was cool, but hid his pedophilia exploits so as not to go too far. That’s a real American hero, yeah! He got to coauthor the American Constitution.
Makes you wonder what the history books will say about this era? When law and order is about preserving the Jeffery Epstein way of life via the execution of black men in the inner city, you’ve got to wonder! Perhaps this is what America First is all about. Donald Trump did say he could kill someone down on some avenue in broad daylight and his supporters would still vote for him. I have to say, I think he knew what he was talking about.
On the other hand, I would suggest that Donald Trump is transparent about the realities of social control and the feudal oligarchy we have all stupidly called American democracy. All the defenders of the dumb shit authored by Thomas Jefferson and other feudal pimps really believe in the law and constitutional democracy. I work hard to expose lies and cultural delusions, but I sure hope they can protect us from the mind state of a fascist xenophobe.
Perhaps it all boils back to the quintessential American dilemma, do I toque reefer!
“Take it easy, but take it!” This odd quote extracted from one of the bizarre cinematographic dissociative sequences in the movie, Midnight Cowboy still eludes me all these years later. I still say, no.
People like me who repeatedly get exiled and cannot find community might struggle with a sense of shame, trauma and the ongoing exile of pain.
The Science of Trauma and Surviving Exile
Indeed, when we turn to advances in neuroscience to understand what heals trauma: we end up with several different sects about how to create safety and resources. Some proponents identify community support as being important. Thus, in my local EMDR sect, people or things that have served as wise, protective, or nurturing support emerge as necessary resources to address the unthinkable.
The basic concept is to take inventory of good relationships that have existed and create community that you can bring with you to revisit victimization and help you through can be very transformative. Of course, some of these relationships can be with mythical fictional characters or public figures like artists, tv personalities. Or (gulp) politicians who are admirable (if that is possible.) For example, I have realized that Midnight Cowboy’s character Joe Buck is a personal resource for me. “Well, I am not a for-real Cowboy, but I sure am one hell of a stud.”
Taking a deeper dive into resourcing, I am learning that there are many ways to create a safe environment. Indeed, sometimes using mindfulness techniques and meditations can help create safety between the therapist and client. Thus, creating safety can form the basis for community support.
Taking the risk to listen and reflect on what the person experiences might be and help them feel safe and in the window of tolerance when they revisit traumatic images like the gray billows of misty rain, the green pastures, the mud and the cow horns.
Using mindfulness exercises is another way to build resources and keep the person in the window of tolerance. Then, using desensitization or bilateral stimulation and encouraging the person to reprocess that trauma or sense of exile can give people the tools to broaden their sense of safety and sense of support.
The result is that the sense of exile does not get triggered and new community support becomes attainable. Thus, people who attack you politically don’t trigger you into that sense of exile. Thus, you remember the community that accepts you and you avoid the tendency to dissociate and withdraw.
I believe powerful community managers of many sorts will continue to exile you if your experience does not fit the mold they want to see or the realities that they have championed and the power of their salaries. Hacienda owners will attack you with all the power they have when you have done nothing wrong. Maybe it all boils down to the fact that you just don’t want to toque reefer for them, I don’t know.
Ultimately being exiled from their community doesn’t mean you should give up. The more you persist and utilize those communities that do support you, even if they are just in spirit, the less power those community managers have to exile you.
Furthermore, as they treat you like you don’t matter, are invisible, are inferior or are deficient, it gives you the opportunity to practice healing in the face of your original form of exile. You persist and reprocess and perhaps continue to champion the communities of support that have in fact been there for you.
The past year and a half as the community of support that I have worked for has been under assault. Managers say the county wants to create a new system. I tend to see it as another gentrification, race and class war cloaked in mental health reform.
Managers threatened closure and there was a massive exodus of many of the competent counselors of color with lesser tenure. Additionally, the one manager who supported me, was removed from power. Many of the clients gave up their treatment.
Indeed, I have witnessed yet again top down change imposed on the community has been very devastating for community members. I have seen this happen repeatedly in the hacienda system.
I have tended to view many layers of mismanagement. Ultimately, I believe plans have shifted towards blaming the unit’s failings it on the workers and layoffs. The inequity of work is stunning. The atmosphere is: keep one’s productivity high, and get targeted. My theory is that it will make it harder to fire us if we are productive. I have persisted and prayed, but have started up a private practice to protect myself if the cuts in fact prevail.
This week there has been a strike and the power that has mismanaged and harmed the community is reportedly going to be replaced. I still don’t know what this is going to mean for the community.
I have kept my memory of inner-city support in my heart and fought to maintain my productivity. Perhaps I am only clinging on to a baby cow horn in the misty rain. I have documented the work of the community. I worked with them for twelve years to create my redefining “psychosis” therapy platform. They are its architects and they have always deserved better.
I could write about ways I feel blacklisted and betrayed, but I am persisting to maintain community with love in my heart. I feel so touched as to encourage the reader to keep reaching for new community! Things may change.
I believe in peer support and not in involuntary medication. I have fought for these changes for our community for years. I have brought in peer counselors and they worked well. But when change is imposed in a top down manner, communities dwindle and the point is missed. Let change happen regardless of which top down political fool got in the latest punch.
I have heard that my boss of many years who supported hard work and good client care, says, keep fighting. He seems to have come around on the issue of peer support in his years of knowing me.
Me, I am just persisting as I always have done. Perhaps one day all those communities that have seemed to be turned against me will change. Maybe I will recapture a memory and realize that I am truly delusional. Until then, I will continue to persist and call out our cultural delusions.