A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Freakish Inspiration

Someone left an anonymous comment on my last blog entry. It said simply "You are a freak." I was saddened and disturbed by the comment but I also knew that I left this blog as an open forum and that I have to come to terms with the fact that not all people will like what I have to say. But how they choose to express that discontent is very important. War is all about conflict of interests and without any dialogue, any truce there will be no communication, understanding, positive change for both sides. It is the mature thing to build bridges rather than to destroy them. I want to know perspectives that differ from mine; I want to understand and I want to cross the bridge. But unsubstantiated put downs do little to help any situation. If a criticism is articulated it can lead to new understanding. It seeks to be understood rather than to simply territorially mark and shut out (or worse blindly attack).

Many religious people assert that humans are above animals but I believe humans are animals too. I believe in evolution which in no way affects my belief in a higher power. From atoms to one celled organisms to fish, reptiles and mammals, there is an intelligent design to everything. Without it little would stay cohesive and/or alive. There's sense in biology but there are also aberrations and diseases. Perhaps the higher power is not perfect or perhaps the higher power leaves room for imperfection. For who among us is perfect? Twelve step Christians often say "Hate the sin but love the sinner." or hate addiction but love the addict. What humans do have is higher brain functions that allow us to do just that, separate the illness from the individual through reflection and tolerance. Instead of seeing the addict or abuser as the disease itself and trying to punish them for their illness, we can stop this punishment mentality (animal brain) and start to treat the illness with intelligence and compassion. We can rise above our own (animal) instincts.

I've been around cats nearly my entire life. I love them dearly but they have their own behavioral problems. Growing up my family had, at one point, six cats. After I left home I had, at another point, ten cats. But there was one case in particular that I couldn't solve. I had a female cat named Allie who was repeatedly attacked by three of my other cats, but mostly one, Bubby. It got so bad that soon after I became ill with schizophrenia I decided to bring Allie over to my brother's house. I also brought over another cat Gizmo who had been the mainly nonviolent leader of the pack, so she wouldn't be all alone. But last year Gizmo died and my brother has been uncomfortable with Allie who demands too much attention and whose personality he just doesn't like (he put up with Allie because he liked Gizmo so much). Then Bubby died last Spring leaving me with two cats who only knew Allie when they were very young. This Christmas, since Allie is so old and apparently deaf, I told my brother that I would try to take her back into my household. This is what I've been attempting to do this past week.

The two cats that I have, Ozzie and Moocher, each takes after a particular previous cat. Ozzie bonded with Gizmo when I had him and Moocher bonded with Bubby. But unlike Gizmo and Bubby where Gizmo didn't much care for Bubby and Bubby remained subordinate to him, Ozzie and Moocher are basically compatible with Moocher sometimes pushing the limit a little but never enough for there to be a real fight between them. Ozzie should be the dominant male because he is larger and slightly older but he's so good natured that he accepts Moocher like a sweet brother. Moocher is a small male cat but he has spunk. He's the kind of cat that will moderately bite you to let you know when he's either annoyed or very affectionate.

So far, I have only allowed Allie to be around Ozzie, hoping that Ozzie would take after Gizmo and not act aggressively towards her. And, for the most part, he's been very sweet though cautious and Allie (who is a bit high strung) has generally accepted him within limits. If he gets too close or moves too quickly she's ready to run, to growl, to hiss, so I'm monitoring their progress closely. But I keep separating her from Moocher because I'm not ready to deal with the conflict. I'm already a bit stressed out by the new living arrangement. He, like Bubby, waits outside the door of the room or rooms where I put Allie intermittently and tries to start a fight. He's obsessive the way Bubby was but I'm also pretty sure that he's curious but Allie doesn't trust him and growls and hisses and this just makes him get more excited and tense. Still, they'll never get along if I don't introduce them to each other as safely as possible. I've got to make a bridge, I've got to get past Moocher and Allie's namecalling and try to get them to tolerate each other (and hopefully bond over time). This means when together, constant supervision, encouraging talk, gentle petting, inclusiveness, the way I've been learning to do somewhat successfully with Allie and Ozzie. If I can get that far.

One of my points is that many animals are territorial and fight with each other, just like some humans. They yell at each other, push boundaries and eventually strike out to try to determine dominance. This is the war mentality of our embedded animal instincts. What makes us different from other animals is that we can choose to over-ride our instincts. We can supervise our own behavior. We can change, we have the choice whereas most animals do not have the choice. We carry with us the legacy of carnivores but we are omnivores. A cat can't choose to be a vegetarian (not that I know of) but we can. And we can choose open communication over name calling, peace over war. We have the ability to be tolerant of, flexible with and respectful towards other people. So, yes, in a way I do believe humans are above all other animals...well, some of them. The ones who are able to compromise and engender peaceful co-existence. The ones who strive to stay as open minded as possible. The ones who make bridges all over the place. We have the gift of communication that surpasses body language. If we can use it to heal and build instead of hate we can't help but develop into a finally mature civilization.

As it stands the world is still a mess, but I really believe that that can change. Many people don't. They don't believe in change and growth. They believe in this painful status quo where people who should be fed are starving, where there's always a war or wars going on somewhere in the world, where husbands and lovers still are violent towards their mates and children, and the list goes on and on. They believe it's just the way it is and nothing's going to stop it. And so they adapt to the disease instead of change and the world keeps spiralling out of control. I really believe this defeatist attitude perpetuates so much misery and it's unnecessary. People CAN make a difference, if only just in their attitude. So let's keep the lines of communication always open and stop calling each other freaks and fighting in war, stop letting people (children!) starve to death, stop killing our planet. It can be done. It really must be done or we'll run out of time. There's no law saying we'll be here forever. The planet can survive through all kinds of upheavals, but we cannot. We just don't have the power, not that kind of power but we do have the power to change the way we live and that is a great power indeed.
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