I Don’t Belong Here

I am not like them, don’t take me wrong, I have my own issues, I have skeletons, ghosts and regrets, and I am over 25 years sober, I wore out my drinking ticket early on. More so than alcohol I really enjoyed drugs, illicit; I self-medicated for years. Then somewhere along the way I had to decide whether living was something I was game for. I had lived through physical and emotional and verbal abuse, I had my share of sexual abuse too and I even called some commercial rooftops and bridges my home for a while. That has all changed, I am sober, emotionally stable, well let’s face it stability is something of a moody little…well, you understand, it comes and goes, and I think that is applicable to everyone. But I think my stable days are far more prevalent than those days when I just can’t seem to make sense of how or why I feel a certain way.

But as I sit here in the back of the room, I feel guilty, I feel like I shouldn’t be sitting hear listening to them talk, listening to their feelings, to their honesty, to their admissions. Because I am not like them, I don’t have an eating disorder, I don’t think I ever have. I don’t understand what it’s like to break down over a snack, over eating something that should sustain my life, to not wanting to consume enough calories to satisfy my body’s needs. I don’t get why it’s so hard to stop eating, or to want to force myself to throw up afterwards. It’s not logical. I can listen to them and hear why they do the things they do but I have not experienced it and can’t put myself in their shoes, and as guilty as I feel being in the room with them, I also feel blessed.

When I quit using alcohol and drugs, I knew I could survive because I was no longer doing something that might kill me outright, I didn’t need the drink or drug to live. But with these people the very thing that is supposed to give them life, the very thing that is meant to provide them sustenance so that they may live is something they are deathly afraid of, just the thought of having a snack can trigger a panic attack sending them into a downward spiral leading to dark places, places where they question their very self-worth and depression envelopes them so much so that it blocks out all light, where the very argument for living is a losing battle.

Eating disorders have so many facets and classifications to them, it is difficult to follow for someone whom has never experienced it. There is anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, restrictive food intake disorder and binge eating. Then there is Other Specified Feeding or Eating disorder and Unspecified Feeding or Eating disorder.  The only thing that I can share with these people is the catalyst trauma, for me dealing with my sexual abuse meant doing drugs to mask or hide the pain for a while, for someone with an eating disorder they may quit eating, absorbing the hunger pangs caused by not eating, seeking comfort in the hollow, empty feeling. Or they may seek that pain of over eating and then maybe the dizziness and pain of retching to rid themselves of the food they just consumed. For some there is a seemingly innate desire to rid their diets of everything not deemed healthy to a point where they are so anxiety ridden it affects their relationships with anyone around them, that the very thought of any form of fats or carbs is enough to stress them into a frenzy.

I get those feelings, maybe not the triggers, and maybe not always the behavior but I know what it’s like to struggle, to not see light through your own anxious shadows, or to not have a dream of the future, that the simple idea of living causes me great anxiety. Some people are starving themselves to death, committing agonizingly slow suicide by disallowing themselves much needed nourishment. I have found myself not allowing me to be happy, to do things that I know I might enjoy because some of my buddies never got the chance to do those things and lost their lives somewhere in the desert, face down in the hot sand. Sometimes its difficult not to hold it against people for enjoying themselves knowing that they can do so because my friends sacrificed everything in the name of their freedom to live.

I think the more I sit and listen, the more I hear their stories the more I realize we have more in common than possibly either of us realize. The catalyst may be different, the means of self-medicating may be different and so may the trauma and the forms that each of our sicknesses, disorders take on. I see the sadness and the pain in their eyes, I can hear the struggle and the disparity in their voices, when they speak it’s evident their throats are straining as they wrap their own arms around their knees brought up tight against their chests. They are afraid, they are desperate, and it seems there is no one their to help them. They could be standing deep inside of a crowd of people, hundreds even and still feel absolutely and utterly alone, as though no one can see them, as though no one might ever miss them.

It is devastating to be in the room with them, I want to hold them, I want to allow them to feel safe and loved and valued. I want to help them but I don’t know how, sometimes I feel like I barely made it out alive and still some days I catch a glimpse of my shadow, its cold, dark presence looming behind me, waiting for me to fall and then it can cover me, sucking the warmth from my body and stealing my will to live. Maybe that’s meant to be, maybe it’ll always be there just waiting, waiting for me to refuse to pick up the spoon or stand up and declare power over it, like the devil, just waiting for me to give in and collapse.

When I supported my wife in starting this journey, this non profit to help all those affected by eating disorders I knew I was in over my head, but I didn’t think it would affect me in the ways it has. I know what it was like to be one of the million homeless in this country, standing curbside, having not eaten, not being able to think clearly because I haven’t slept for days and watch as people flow out from the theater and throw their popcorn and half filled fountain soda’s into the trash, not being seen by them, living in the proverbial shadows as if I was wearing the cloak of invisibility. These people are there too, marginalized by society, shamed because they are overweight or ignored by fear because their lack of weight makes people uncomfortable. I admire these people, they are soldiers, the act of fighting natures programming is no small affair. They are dreamers and lovers who can’t love themselves and some of them are barely keeping their own heads above water, their feet burdened with anxiety and shame and guilt and fear and their grip on the world secured only by their fingertips, watching as people walk by over head not seeing them, not helping them.

I feel for them, I get angry at what I determine to be the only option for many, a clinically sterile treatment center that exists only to refeed them and kick them back out, with no skills, with no hope, seemingly knowing they’ll be back again soon with their insurance companies in tow. There must be a better way, no one ever talks about anything other than their shortcomings, than their poor choices and hurting others. What about their strength, what about their desires, what about their dreams and what about empowering them to live life despite everything? There are plenty of people ready and willing to tell them all about all the bad they have done, about their expectations of failure, there doesn’t seem to be enough people ready and excited to help them live out their dreams and find their passions,  these are beautiful people, smart, strong, people whom just need a hand, one to pull them out of that frigid water and into the sunlight, to give them a chance and listen to their songs. I want to be one of those people, we all should be those people. I used to think I didn’t belong here, but this is right where I belong, I need these people because they can show me what it means to fight, I need to hear their voices, it gives me strength, strength I want to use to fight for them, because put simply, as a woman who means the very world to me once said, “They are worth it, we all are worth it”.


Why I Cry

I can talk all day about how I have a thick skin, how it’s not my business what others think of me and how I love myself and when folks talk poorly of me how it doesn’t affect me. But the truth is, it does, usually I can deal with it and especially from strangers’ I could care less, they aren’t part of my world and if I am not doing anything illegal, immoral or hurtful to anyone then why should I waste my time worrying about it right?

When I was married to my first wife she would say many times over to family and friends, in front of my children how I didn’t cry when my kids were born but I would tear up every time when our Nations anthem was played. She would mock me. Truth be told I always nearly cry outright every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner. That’s what it looks like when someone literally doesn’t understand, I would gamble to say that most veterans would get it at this point, they would know exactly what I am talking about, but there are segments of society whom will never get there, they just fundamentally cannot comprehend that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, for their entire lives I have altered my own to be there for them and care for them and love them. Everything I have done, including serving my country was for them even though they had not been born yet. I may not have teared up at their birth, I have never cried at happiness, but I was and still am proud of each one of them, I was the day they were born and am still today.

When I hear the national anthem of our great country I immediately think of all the opportunities my children and those of my friends and relatives, and all the people who’ve found their way here away from tyranny will have to become what makes them happy and successful. I think of all the freedoms they will enjoy in this land that so many around the world will never have. And I know the sacrifices that have been experienced to keep it that way for my children and all those who’ll come behind me. I think of my grandfather and his siblings fighting in Italy and France, my father and my cousins all serving to protect our freedoms, I think of those I have served with when I myself served over-seas whom didn’t come home and their families who’ve experienced those sacrifices. I think of all those soldiers who’ve come home to face protestors enjoying their freedom to speak out against those soldiers, the freedom they are given because of that soldier’s detriment. I think of all the soldiers who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder every day, and the guilt of being the ones to make it home.

You don’t have to agree with me and you don’t have to understand. But every day I spend free because someone from this country is somewhere around the world without their children, holding a blank check they have written to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life, is  another day I get to spend with my children and my loved ones.

That is why I cry.


There is an image I can’t seem to get out of my mind; I am standing in the snow at the edge of a wood, the trees are as thick as the shadows and the only sound heard, carried on the bitter cold wind swirling around the back of my neck and off and over the tops of the tall, green pines is that of heavy footsteps in the icy snow.

I can see in the distance not too far off a girl, young and pretty, she stands in the open in a blue and white flowered dress. She doesn’t see me, she doesn’t appear to be cold but I can see her sweet breath crystallize and fade away on the breeze. I recognize her, but not as a young girl, instead I have seen her, known her as a woman, one whose lived a life of struggle, of pain and loss and sickness. But in spite of it she always seemed to be surrounded by light that shown in her eyes, it danced wildly there and in a deeper place too that she held safely, gently, as if it were a small tender puppy.

I want to offer her my coat but she doesn’t seem to be cold, she looks back over her shoulder at me as if knowing I want to help her, but with a look as if to say that she was fine, she smiles and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks, it’s a huge and bright smile and it made me feel swell.

Then she suddenly turned back towards the woods and from somewhere in the darkness the hefty, crunchy footsteps came louder, closer. I am afraid but she is not, instead she stands firm, tall and proud. In a moment of sudden quiet, an unkindness of ravens rushed from the trees and  flew straight for her, turning at the last instant, she, unfazed and smiling raises her arms in support and celebration of them. She seemed to see the beauty in them as they flock and swarm overhead.

Just then from behind a thickly barked Evergreen the shadow appears in the form of a wolf, its face stern and black, it’s eyes deep and mysterious, its breathe weighty and wafting, it echoes over the field in which the girl stands firmly. My heart skips as the wolf steps out in the direction of her, slowly, methodically. The deep brown, sweaty hair on its shoulders rising and falling as it makes its way to her.

I fear for her, I cry for her, and as the wolf approaches I am confused as she opens her arms in a gesture to suggest her willingness to accept it. The wolf steadily approaches her until it halts just within arm’s reach of her breast. The wolf stands facing her, it’s raspy breath, seems and cold, but she extends her arm and in a slow, gentle manner slides the palm of her small, soft hand along the wolf’s jawline to its chin. Then drops her hand to her side, and something changes, I look at her, she is aged, her skin less soft, her hair thinned and her posture hunched. She glances back at me again over her shoulder and smiles, and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks now wrinkled but no less vibrant.

In her eyes I am pulled in and lost, watching a history of her fending off the wolf, she battles whole-heartedly with each attack, sustaining injuries she fights on as she ages all the while smiling as if to say that no matter the wounds, the damage, she wins because she continues to fight and because she appreciates the fight, respects it and trusts it. It becomes her struggle, and though never does she control it she conquers it daily, surviving and living in spite of it, smiling always.

But today seems different; she appears tired, but not beaten. Instead she smiles at the wolf and the wolf lowers its head to her, it seems to respect her. Suddenly she steps to it and together they begin to walk towards the wood, I try and follow them but cannot move, I am not welcome there, not yet.

The two of them walk side by side, companions at rest, reverential partners in the echoes of battle they slowly disappear into the shadows. I fall to my knees and cry, I weep for her and for my loss. When I open my eyes again the moon has risen, and it is quiet but then in the distance, the triumphant call of an owl reverberates among the trees and I know it is her, it is Pennie, she is free from the pain, and she has earned her place away from the fight, she is in the presence of magic, of mystery and ancient knowledge.

Now at night, when I hear the hoot of an owl, I will know it is her, among the animals she loved so much, watching over her puppies, and I imagine her, smiling somewhere beneath the light of the moon, her eyes shining brightly from behind her swollen cheeks.

in remembrance,

Pennie Harrington 1950-2019


I am told that everyone at some point will experience peace, but in what context? It isn’t simply a hand gesture flashed in passing by some young hippie wannabe, or a sign drawn on a park wall, or the faded letters of an old bumper sticker telling me to give it a chance. What is it, what does it look like and do we all deserve it?

I believe that we all ought to experience resolve and serenity, I also believe peace is subjective and that most people have no idea what they claim to be wishing for when they proclaim it. I think maybe they want everyone to just get along but that’s just a slight breeze carried by a sauntering wind. It has never been experienced on a global level nor will it. We as a people would have to be void of conflict, but that would mean we would all be apathetic.

No one can be at peace with themselves in true fashion, we are beings of conflict, with our own emotions, our own subconscious and within the world around us, and we want something but are told by others we should want something else. We came into the world in conflict, our lungs struggling to breathe, our minds trying to make sense of it and we will all go out that same way.

My mother was, is a hippie, I was born prior to the original Woodstock concert and went to it with my mother as a small child, she ran away from my father leaving my younger sister behind. We wandered around the East coast, and then travelled to California before making our way back to Minnesota at some point, well, my mother made it back, dropped me off on a foster farm somewhere in Maryland on her way.

I believed so strongly in peace, and that everyone deserved it whatever it meant, whatever it was I wanted it. I grew up with relatives and on abusive foster farms, and wondering where I belonged, eventually I ended up sleeping under bridges to escape an abusive step father. I saw things around the world as volatile, it appeared that the world was falling apart; I was falling apart and had no structure to hang onto. So I joined the Army, I decided that if I could do one thing it would be to give someone else some peace, some rest, some safety, then maybe I would deserve it.

I saw things overseas that made me ill, I was part of a force that was sent into conflict to protect those whom could not protect themselves. That’s what being a soldier is all about, freedom and peace do not come free, there is, has and always will be conflict, and there will always be those whom cannot be a party to fighting others in hopes of bringing some resolve, some peace to the world. And there are those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for it, for them. Neither one is better than the other, but both are absolutely necessary.

And in the end there is always a price to pay, that price for a soldier is emotional serenity, innocence, peace. Anyone who has a grandparent or parent who grew up in the forties and fifties can see that loss in their grandparent’s eyes, in the wounds on the inner side of their wrists, in the far off gaze grandpa has during those family reunions. Today you can see it in the hardened, cold stare from the young men and women who’ve made that trip to the edge and brought a piece of it back with them, locked somewhere deep inside that dark place they keep it. Maybe there is a day after all that they will experience peace, maybe that day will come like a stranger in the shadows at night, maybe then they will all be able to cash it in for a seat on that train. Maybe then they can rest in peace.

No Place for Regret

I have seen the dark things that wait in the shadows of the alleys we fear to go into.

I have held in my hand the most delicate of innocence.

I have spent too much time wandering in places where light cannot reach, the empty, frightful places.

And I have breathed in deeply the thinly veiled air of success.

When it is my day to step beyond the horizon, I will look forward to it; I will run to it,

I will not fear that place for it is my destiny, but I will not go with thoughts of regret.

I have lived my life; I have peered at an antediluvian sunrise with its intense, rich colors.

I have stood naked in the rain letting it wash over my body and cleanse my soul.

And I have touched love; I have let it pour through my fingers in abundance, raised it to my face and bathed in it.

I will not go from this world into the next without knowing what it felt like to hurt, to feel hunger, to experience strife and conflict of my very being, to smell the rot of guilt and then be raised by of prideful humbleness of integrity.

I will celebrate all that I am and have been, for had it not happened the way it all did, I would not be me.

I do not desire a statue or a monument, I do not require a plaque to feel accomplished, I yearn only to remain in the hearts of all those I have loved and who’ve loved me. To be shared through an embrace, a cherished hug between friends, a kiss between lovers and in the kind grip of interlaced fingers and the warmth of two hands.

Look at your brothers and sisters, your friends, your parents and your lovers, your grandparents and your neighbors, stare into their eyes and know that love is there, even if they don’t, it is always there. Rejoice in that, accept it, treasure it and value it over all else.