Categories Archives: News » The Problem: Civilization » Alienation & Mental Health

Visit the global News » The Problem: Civilization » Alienation & Mental Health archives for posts from all DGR sites.

Restoring Sanity, Part 4: Anxiety and Civilization

Editor’s Note: The first three installments of the Restoring Sanity series are An Inhuman System, Mental Illness As A Social Construct, and Medicating.

By Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance

If you don’t want any more anxiety, get rid of all your intelligence and your creativity which would be a very dull life for all of us.

—Rollo May

Don’t worry, be happy.

—Bobby McFerrin

Anxiety is a normal and healthy aspect of human existence. Sören Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” an acknowledgment that we always have some choices to make in life. Each choice we make can bring us closer to our objectives, but can also close off other paths. Choosing is both a birth and a death, both being and non-being. This is why we are anxious. Anxiety begins at the time between being, which is what we experience as a result of our choices, and non-being, which is what we give up. Anxiety is part of becoming, of growing and changing. This is what it means to be alive.

Unhealthy anxiety comes when we are so plagued by worry, stressors, trauma and decisions that we lose tolerance for normal anxiety. We become paralyzed and can no longer act or choose. Thoughts of death may turn to despair and drown out life; we get depressed and apathetic. To be healthily anxious, on the other hand, is in many ways the opposite of depression and apathy. To live a satisfying and effective life is to learn to live with uncertainty. If we become so overwhelmed or intimidated by uncertainty that we avoid making choices, we have passively chosen apathy by default; life then becomes unfulfilling and meaningless. We may walk around and draw breath—feeling like we’re taking action by worrying—but without the opportunities that might have been found by actively choosing. In this way, anxiety and worry become avoidance behaviors that reinforce addictions or depression.

When it’s from fear of life choices or awareness of death, anxiety is not a symptom of a disease but a vigorous mind at work. This is healthy anxiety, finding perspective to make our choices in life or to find appreciation for life in the context of death. In its positive forms, anxiety is meant to motivate us to seek safety, worthiness, competence, and security. Without anxiety, our lives become empty. We wait, not knowing what for, avoiding the unavoidable destiny that comes at the end of our waiting. Healthy anxiety saves us from literal, emotional, and mental death.

Origins

Our previous essays[1] on the oppressive effects of individualism, depression, and addictions all involve an evaluation of the context of civilization. As with any modern mental health problem, a certain sort of anxiety is inherent to living in civilization.

By civilization, we do not mean the supposed social utopia of laws and democratic decisions—a pinnacle of human achievement—that the word has come to mean. Rather we are taking it to task at its root as the formation and maintenance of cities. We define a city as any settlement large enough in population to require the importation of resources.[2] The ancient civilization of Rome was a city that needed to expand its trade influence because it couldn’t grow, log, mine, or otherwise produce its material needs within the city’s immediate area.

While diplomacy and rule of law may play various parts in a civilization’s goals, the underlying requirement will always be force. Because trade is by definition voluntary, Rome’s needs couldn’t be entirely guaranteed by trade alone, so military force had to secure the city within a surrounding empire. Because the environmental and social impacts of agricultural and industrial extraction occur far from a city, it’s possible for civilized people to pretend their way of life is forever sustainable, when in reality it’s the very opposite. The fall of Rome came with the inevitable limits of empire.

To call the Hopi tribe of Arizona a civilization, then, would be false because they had no need to form an empire to acquire what they needed. They had no military because everyone was a warrior,[3] a defender of the high desert they’d made their home for centuries. Calling the Hopi “uncivilized” in the ordinary sense of the word is the worst sort of insult: a lie hidden in a false premise. The Hopi were intelligent, resourceful, fierce, and community-minded, but they were not civilized by the city’s necessity of war and acquisition.

Because nearly all humans alive now were born into civilization, it’s the only reality we know and we naturally take as a given all of its demands. Those include everything from war, deforestation, and global warming, down to the routines of work, money, and worry. Wherever we happen to fit in the wealth-generating scheme of civilization—rich, poor, dominator or oppressed—we assume we’re part of a wise and provident arrangement of humanity.

But civilization is only a destructive imitation of decent human society, a business plan enforced by violence. It is cruel and insane, in denial of the reality of a finite world. Without our knowing it all of civilization’s attributes and consequences have been internalized into our lives, on every level: material, spiritual, and mental. Anxiety, of a chronic and intractable sort, is one of the primary afflictions of the civilized human.

Imagine living in a scrubby, warm forest with a few meandering rivers and rolling meadows, a land so wide it seems to fill the whole of the world. There are no electric lights, no roads, no cars, no computers; only the wild, fecund land. You are a member of an egalitarian society whose food comes from a casual husbandry of small animals like goats and sheep, fishing, the hunting of wild game and gathering of wild plants. Though to a modern person this seems an impossibly distant and antiquated way of life, in fact it was a stable condition that maintained itself very well for many tens of thousands of years.

Agriculture ended that. Not restless inventiveness, not tribal warfare, not human nature, but a technological discovery that made empires possible. Grains can be stored and guarded, and this is what an army really is for, and what it needs more than weapons. As grain cultivation spreads, forests, scrub, and meadows are burned for fields. The grazing animals must go. The rivers must be diverted. The game and predators and wild plants must go, and so food security—for most—must also go. For civilization to produce food surpluses, the majority of people and land area must be enslaved.

The first foundation myth needed for a civilization is that cultivated annuals (wheat, corn, rice) are a more secure food source than hunted or grazed animals. Any monoculture is more prone to catastrophic disease than any polyculture, and requires the constant mining of topsoil to continue. Yet monoculture does produce more food for a limited time, and this allows populations to increase. More people need more food, so more forests fall, and more slaves are born to work more fields.

Generation by generation grain agriculture spread as it consumed topsoil, and agricultural societies adapted to acquire more land. Since their pastoral neighbors hunted, gathered, and fished the lands and waters agriculture needs, they had to go. To continue this way of life, war was no longer about territorial bickering but rather absolute necessity. So was slaving in the fields, and so was the enslavement of women as a resource to produce more slaves, forcing them to increase birthrates.[4] Civilization needs this ongoing control over one by another, and because agriculture requires labor as well as land it will always have many who suffer and toil and few who enjoy the resulting wealth. This social model has grown in sophistication and prevalence, but otherwise hasn’t changed since it began 10,000 years ago.

The Middle East is now stripped of topsoil and human rights and is the hottest furnace of modern war. From what we know about remaining indigenous cultures,[5] life in the pre-agricultural forests of the Fertile Crescent was not the struggle and horror it has become but a comparatively serene existence, with much less work, stress, and illness—physical and mental both. The human animal evolved as a hunting and gathering creature. We are ill-adapted to the civilized life. Its grain-based diet—the malnutrition food of the poor[6]—and constant work schedule keep us literally under the gun, and are the basis for our mental and emotional conditions. Though this condition seems beyond help, it’s not. And it’s here we’ll find answers to why we are always in psychological emergencies.

mn141101

Anxiety and Culture

The way we experience anxiety is framed by our culture. In civilization, we are conditioned to feel anxiety in relation to competitive ambition. We are trained to compete—in sports, in education, in wealth, in attractiveness, in popularity—and anxiety often results when our unrealistic visions of perfection aren’t reached. Why should security be tied to individual competition? As social animals, we humans have a need for social acceptance and security. Instead of ensuring this, civilization has conditioned us to accept that “winning” brings acceptance and security, and “losing” brings insecurity and social shunning. It is no wonder that anxiety is so pervasive among humans living within the system of civilization. In his book The Meaning of Anxiety, existential psychologist Rollo May writes: “The weight placed upon the value of competitive success is so great in our culture and the anxiety occasioned by the possibility of failure to achieve this goal is so frequent that there is reason for assuming that individual competitive success is both the dominant goal in our culture and the most pervasive occasion for anxiety.”

This competitive arrangement does not reflect a human quality but is rather a means of increasing production and concentrating wealth. Our hunger for security is so strong that those who suffer most from the abuses of a system based on property and coercion will tolerate and even defend the very system that causes their suffering. They will redouble their efforts using the same cultural assumptions, caught in a double bind, having to choose either ambition or poverty.

The more oppressed an individual is within the classes of civilization, the more anxiety they experience and the less likely they are to ever be in an advantaged position to compete. Women and people of color are less likely to be rewarded with high ranking positions because of racism and sex discrimination, which leads to higher rates of anxiety.[7] Success must be glorified, since who wants to compete in a system that is rigged for most of us to lose?

The dominant culture and the social roles into which we are coerced affect the self-esteem or self-worth of women in particular.[8] Women tend to view themselves more negatively than men, which is a major factor for many mental health problems.[9] Psychological disorders in general are 20-40% higher in women than men,[10] and anxiety disorders are most prevalent in women age 16-40.[11] Cognitive distortion[12] is also a symptom of both low self-esteem and pathological anxiety, and comes from living in a culture where economic and social injustice is so normalized as to be nearly invisible. Those on the bottom in this arrangement are the ones who suffer the most, as the powerless are robbed of choices in their own destiny.[13]

NCS-A_data-GAD-720_147947_1

As for those who “win” in this system, how can they ever be sure that their competitors won’t gain more wealth and power, possibly at their expense? Even the upper middle class can never obtain absolute security, since they are driven to always increase wealth. It is a vicious cycle of acquisition of power, one that is driven by chronic anxiety and misery.

Definitions

Stress and anxiety have similar effects on our bodies and minds. While either chronic anxiety or stress can disable or kill us, the difference between them becomes more apparent when managing symptoms.[14]

Modern civilized lifestyles burden us with many unavoidable stressors like work, inflexible social rules, and money and health worries. Stress can often be managed by giving the body and mind a rest, assuming one can make the time for it. Healthy lives require relaxation. To sit outside under a shady tree drinking tea and watching butterflies, for example. Stress can be reduced by eating well, exercising, and including enjoyable and healthy activities in our days. Some stress might only be resolved by making major life changes, such as eliminating toxic people from our lives, quitting a stressful job, or moving from a hectic and polluted city. Most people are unable to make these changes, of course, and so are subject to chronic stress, the root problem of many mental and physical health issues.[15]

AnxietyDisorders-CognitiveBiasesTowardThreat

Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling of nervousness, worry or unease, often about an unknowable outcome or from the fear of being evaluated negatively by others. Specific, acute anxiety keeps us safe from danger and vulnerability. Like pain, anxiety is not a problem itself—both warn us that we need to take some sort of action to reduce or eliminate the cause.

The line between healthy and unhealthy anxiety is vague and subjective. The American Psychiatric Association’s dubiously drug-happy classification handbook, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5, or DSM-5,[16] recognizes the following diagnosable anxiety disorders: phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, panic disorder with agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and childhood anxiety disorders.[17] Anxiety disorders are the most common diagnosed mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults, about 18 percent of the population.[18] According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated.” This is one way of delineating “healthy” from “unhealthy” anxiety. Another way of putting it might be “destructive anxiety” and “constructive anxiety,” though these are subjective terms too.

A more exact definition might be “pathological anxiety,” when danger and vulnerability is exaggerated.[19] If it’s misperceived or nonexistent, there is no action to take that can eliminate the cause of this kind of anxiety, and it can become chronic, generalized, and repressed. Chronic or repressed anxiety leads to apathy, a loss of will, a sense that we can’t obtain anything, and powerlessness. Chronic anxiety can also cause stress that results in physical symptoms like muscle tension, stomach ulcers, heart palpitations, or other physical disorders.[20]

A friend of ours who’s prone to chronic anxiety also has occasional panic attacks, and describes the complete helplessness they bring as “a crazy but certain fear of death.” More mundane moments of anxiety, he says, are more about an inability to perform the simplest tasks. “It’s hard for me to tell the difference between apathy and anxiety,” he explains. We the authors are a more fidgety breed, using anxiety as an engine of activity that often gets so out of control that relaxation is impossible, and our only rest comes from exhaustion. In its most extreme form, this constant stress probably led to Hyatt’s life-threatening autoimmune disorder.

What about positive thinking?

A well-meaning person, concerned about our pain over suffering and injustice, suggested: “What do you think of cultivating a mind where there is a peaceful separation of thought from emotional response?” This seems like a practical idea, encouraged by titles of self-help books like Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quiet Your Mind, and of course it isn’t helpful to get upset about every sad or awful thing the dominant culture does to innocent beings. For one thing, that list is so terribly long; for another, emotions amount to little until they are engaged with action and there is only so much anyone can do, no matter how dedicated they are. But separating our emotional responses from our physical and mental experiences creates disconnection with reality and ourselves. The same is true of undiscriminating negativity.

Is it only by dissecting ourselves (mind from body, emotion from reason, thought from feeling) that we can live a decent life in a civilized world? This is like separating emotional knowledge that the earth is alive from practical knowledge of the minerals in its crust. The ore can be extracted and we don’t feel bad about it. We can then continue on with the lie that we are free. The well-being of our wider community, which must include other species, other cultures, whole biomes, is more important than our personal sense of peace. This is because any lasting freedom and peace—personal or otherwise—depends on functional communities (human and nonhuman both) to exist. It is a sign of our oppression that we must resort to positive thinking to avoid the need to engage a negative but healthy response to living in an unsustainable, toxic society.

When we react with anxiety to situations that we can neither eliminate nor attenuate, it does seem as if the only relief is to think positive thoughts or to feel nothing at all. Chemicals like alcohol and psychiatric meds can help this numbing; so can religion and spirituality. Avoiding the truth might eliminate anxiety or stress in the short term, but the global effects of civilization (deforestation, climate destabilization, ocean acidification, mass extinction, etc.[21]) are neither exaggerations nor the creations of our minds. It would not be healthy—or even rational—to try to cultivate a peaceful, unemotional mind and think positive thoughts when the living world is dying.[22] Avoidance behavior is one reason for this dying; it is also the core of depression, pathological anxiety, and many other disorders that define poor mental and emotional health.

Remedies

The long-term social solution to chronic stress and anxiety is to dismantle civilization and the toxic society resulting from this way of life, and to restore healthy landbases and human communities. Personal solutions for anxiety problems are also available, though they may seem no less daunting.

Remedies for the pathological anxiety of agricultural societies arose alongside the causes. Monotheistic religions are perhaps the best example. Their promotion of controlling behavior, unavoidable apocalypses, and the primary importance of individual salvation all serve the needs of empires. Even Taoism, among the least warlike of civilized doctrines, emphasizes the detachment from the real world that war requires. If starvation is a terrifying reality—as it surely was and will continue to be for many Chinese—it’s no surprise that such a belief system would evolve. Nor is it surprising that women might come to be hated by cultures driven to control their environment—such as those based on agriculture. Treating women as objects to extract resources from grows logically out of this type of culture, as does male violence towards women.

Durable solutions to human misery won’t be found in the usual responses of victim blaming, resource exploitation, and promising rewards in the afterlife, as civilized societies have always done. This is true on both a social and personal scale. Modern pharmaceuticals[23] are only another way civilization moderates its hurtful effects on humans. Helpful as psychiatric meds may occasionally be, they are not fundamentally different than Marx’s “opiates of the masses” or the many cheap and emotionally damaging distractions of pageantry and spectacle for sale anywhere one cares to look.   They’re all coping mechanisms engineered within systems of control that have the system’s needs in mind, not ours.

Denial of emotion is necessary for the dominant culture to function, and complements the way civilization treats every living being as an object. Yet we are alive, and we do feel. So what are we to do with all that worry and stress, if we don’t separate our emotional responses from our daily exposure to the cruelty and waste that civilization requires? Will we despair? Or even worse for civilization, work to take it down because it hurts so much? Will we find others who feel similarly, and organize to resist the destruction of the world and all that’s in it? In the meanwhile, how do we cope with our own worries? Awareness of circumstances and our reactions is a critical first step to healing.

A good way to begin might be to shrink the immensity of the problem to manageable parts, so we might get some short-term relief. When experiencing anxiety, it is essential to analyze the cause to determine if it can be eliminated. This might be as simple as finishing a difficult homework assignment or taking the next step towards completing a big project. If the source of anxiety cannot be eliminated or reduced, we may need to take steps to change how we feel. Some effective non-drug treatments are eliminating caffeine and alcohol, improving diet, and supplementing B and D vitamins. Our friend with panic attacks notes that these steps alone usually eliminate all sensations of pathological anxiety. Other helpful methods include psychotherapy, meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, and various thought-stopping techniques.[24] These all involve a lot of trial and error, so it’s important to remember that failures do not reflect on who we are; they are rather only events, part of discovering, learning, evolving and adapting.

Anxiety has a positive and healthy aspect, and is not to be avoided. The constructive use of anxiety is how we create satisfying and effective lives, and perhaps influence the future of the world in a positive way. Anxiety is inseparable from love. When we love, we commit ourselves to action. Love is the motivation for social and environmental activism, for taking on responsibility, for finding ways to influence our society and world.   Anxiety is experienced as a possibility, the intermediate between potential and reality; it connects us to the world and drives us to protect those we love.

All these problems we now face, it’s no wonder that this is an anxious age because all these things, overpopulation, pollution are going on all at once… Now these things are all symptoms of what makes this an anxious age and I think that what we must do as far as we can is to shift our thinking from simply worrying about these different problems to the questions of what can we do about them? The point is to turn your anxiety into active affect, to overcome the situation.

—Rollo May

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist. Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist. His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012. They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

Bibliography and Further Reading

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

Beck, Aaron T., and Emery, Gary. Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking in Undermining America. New York: Picador, 2009.

Friedman, Ariellad and Todd, Judith. “Kenyan Women Tell a Story: Interpersonal Power of Women in Three Subcultures in Kenya.” Sex Roles 31: 533-546, in Nanda, Serena and Warms, Richard L. Cultural Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004, 387, 388.

Jensen, Derrick, Endgame Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, New York City, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2006.

Keith, Lierre. The Vegetarian Myth. Crescent City, CA: Flashpoint Press, 2009.

Leventhal, Allan M. and Martell, Christopher R. The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006.

Manning, Richard. Against the Grain: How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization. New York: North Point Press, 2004.

May, Rollo. Freedom and Destiny. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1981.

_____. Love and Will. New York: Delta, 1989.

_____. The Meaning of Anxiety, Revised Edition. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1977.

Maybury-Lewis, David. Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World. New York: Viking Penguin, 1992.

McKay, Matthew, Ph.D., and Fanning, Patrick. Self Esteem. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2000.

Sevillano, Mando. The Hopi Way: Tales from a Vanishing Culture. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press, 1986.

Online

Awais Aftab, MD, MBBS, “Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5,” Psychiatric Times, February 28, 2014, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/dsm-5-0/mental-illness-vs-brain-disorders-szasz-dsm-5#sthash.hA4QwWSp.wptbyJ4M.dpuf

James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

Thomas B. Bramanti, W. Haak, M. Unterlaender, P. Jores, K. Tambets, I. Antanaitis-Jacobs, M.N. Haidle, R. Jankauskas, C.-J. Kind, F. Lueth, T. Terberger, J. Hiller, S. Matsumura, P. Forster, and J. Burger, “Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers,” Science 2009, as reported in Science Daily, September 4, 2009, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163902.htm

Levine, Bruce E., “Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways—But Can It Change?” Truthout, March 5, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22266-psychiatry-now-admits-its-been-wrong-in-big-ways-but-can-it-change

Moore, Heidi, “Little surprise here: women expected to do more at home—and at work,” The Guardian, November 1, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/01/women-work-harder-favors-never-counted?CMP=twt_gu

Nauert, Rick, PhD., and Grohol, John M., Psy.D., “Beyond Antidepressants: Taking Stock of New Treatments,” Psych Central, February 18, 2014, http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/02/18/beyond-antidepressants-taking-stock-of-new-treatments/66071.html

Endnotes

[1] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 1: An Inhuman System,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, February 6, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/02/06/restoring-sanity-part-1-an-inhuman-system/

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, March 13, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/03/13/restoring-sanity-part-2-mental-illness-as-a-social-construct/

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, May 20, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/05/20/restoring-sanity-part-3-medicating/

[2]  “Civilization is a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts—that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”  Jensen, 17.

[3] Sevillano, 38.

[4] Manning, 36.

Birthrates increased by a factor of four.

[5] Maybury-Lewis.

Millennium is an excellent, general reference on the comparative ease of hunting and gathering life, and an accessible introduction to the academic field of cultural anthropology. The book and accompanying film series describe several noncivilized cultures around the world, their customs and beliefs and general temperament. Chapter 2, “An Ecology of Mind,” (pages 35-62) is especially illuminating.

[6] John B. Marler and Jeanne R. Wallin, “Human Health, the Nutritional Quality of Harvested Food and Sustainable Farming Systems,” Nutrition Security Institute, 2006, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.nutritionsecurity.org/PDF/NSI_White%20Paper_Web.pdf

[7] Mallory Bowers, “(en)Gendering psychiatric disease: what does sex/gender have to do with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?” The Neuroethics Blog, May 6, 2014, http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2014/05/engendering-psychiatric-disease-what.html

[8] “It’s certainly plausible that women experience higher levels of stress because of the demands of their social role – with that stress helping to trigger problems like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and insomnia. Increasingly, women are expected to function as carer, homemaker, and breadwinner ­– all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed. Given that domestic work is undervalued, and considering that women tend to be paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles, and are bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’, it would be surprising if there weren’t some emotional cost.

“It’s worth remembering too that women are also much more likely than men to have experienced childhood sexual abuse, a trauma that all too often results in lasting psychological and emotional damage,” Daniel Freeman, Ph.D. and Jason Freeman , “Know Your Mind” Psychology Today, June 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/know-your-mind/201306/the-stressed-sex-1

[9] James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

[10] Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman, “Let’s talk about the gender differences that really matter – in mental health”, The Guardian, Dec 13, 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/dec/13/gender-differences-mental-health

[11] Beck and Emery, 83.

[12] McKay and Fanning, 61-87

[13] “In one study, researchers used a storytelling technique to evaluate three groups of Kenyan women: rural women in a traditional village, poor urban women, and middle-class urban women…traditional women almost always told very positive stories that usually had a happy ending. Middle-class urban women told stories that emphasized their own power and competence. Poor urban women’s stories were generally tragic and focused on powerlessness and vulnerability. The researchers note that many poor urban women have ‘lost the security and protection of the old [traditional] system without gaining the power or rewards of the new system,’” Friedman and Todd.

[14] “Chronic anxiety and chronic stress often share a lot in common. They have similar emotional symptoms, they result in similar physiological reactions, and can easily be confused with the other. In a fast paced world, experiencing stress and anxiety is common and frequently people experience them simultaneously; however, it is important to understand the etiology of the symptoms and luckily there are differences which can help tell them apart. Chronic anxiety sufferers who have experienced therapy are often aware of their triggers…” Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014, http://blogs.psychcentral.com/balanced-life/2014/01/is-it-anxiety-or-stress/

[15] “The long-term activation of the stress-response system—and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including: Anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.” “Chronic stress puts your health at risk,” Mayo Clinic, accessed October 14, 2014, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[16] We discuss the primacy of medications in modern psychiatric care more thoroughly in the second essay in this series, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,” http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/03/13/restoring-sanity-part-2-mental-illness-as-a-social-construct/

[17] Cara Santa Maria, “Anxiety vs. Stress: What’s The Difference?” Huffington Post, September 20, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/15/anxiety-stress-difference_n_1152590.html

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Ed.).

[18] “Anxiety Disorders,” National Institute for Mental Health, accessed October 6, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

[19] Beck and Emory, 30, 68.

[20] “When the individual is burdened with anxiety over a long period of time and he feels he can’t do anything about it, then he may develop not only physical tension but he may develop physical symptoms—they may be heart palpitations or gastric ulcers or some other kind of physical symptom.” Rollo May, “Understanding and Coping with Anxiety,” Society for Existential Analysis, republished from Psychology Today, 1978, http://www.existentialanalysis.org.uk/assets/articles/Understanding_and_Coping_with_Anxiety_Rollo_May_transcription_Martin_Adams.pdf

[21] “Indicators of Ecological Collapse,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed October 1, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/why-resist/ecological-collapse

[22] Madhusree Mukerjee, “Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?” Scientific American, May 23, 2012, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=apocalypse-soon-has-civilization-passed-the-environmental-point-of-no-return

“Species Disappearing at an Alarming Rate, Report Says. Watchdog Releases Annual ‘Red List,’ Warns Extent is Underestimated,” MSNBC.com, November 17, 2004, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6502368/ns/us_news-environment/t/species-disappearing-alarming-rate-report-says/#.T06Tsnn8l2I

[23] “Fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and citalopram (Celexa®) are some of the SSRIs commonly prescribed for panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and social phobia. SSRIs are also used to treat panic disorder when it occurs in combination with OCD, social phobia, or depression. Venlafaxine (Effexor®), a drug closely related to the SSRIs, is used to treat GAD. These medications are started at low doses and gradually increased until they have a beneficial effect.” National Institute for Mental Health, “Anxiety Disorders,” accessed October 27, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml#pub8

[24] Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014, http://blogs.psychcentral.com/balanced-life/2014/01/is-it-anxiety-or-stress/.

 

DIY Resistance: Resistance is Sexy

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Love-Revolution-1_largeI suffer from a profound sense of loneliness. I always have. I do not know why. And, I suspect I always will. Sometimes, I wonder if I cling to some strange addiction to loneliness. There are too many decisions I’ve made in my life knowing full well the alienation that would follow.

I chose to study English in college knowing the strange looks I’d get from my coaches and teammates. These strange looks were only matched by the incredulity some of my professors viewed me with as I walked into a Shakespeare class, a classical tragedy class, or a women’s literature class in a Dayton football sweat suit hustling my way back from practice. I chose to go to law school knowing the student loan debt that would pile upon me stressing out my family and any potential romantic partners that might choose to build a life with me. I chose to pursue a career as a public defender representing people most of society despises for a salary forcing me to live paycheck to paycheck. I chose to foster the voice in my heart that demands I act in the face of the suffering in the world baring my breast to the vulnerabilities that accompany embracing the empathy we were all born with.

Finally – and most importantly – I chose the ultimate alienation, twice, when I drank down full bottles of pills in an effort to leave forever. Having survived suicide, I also feel the weight of worried gazes from loved ones who think I’m not aware. I’ve made myself a person that friends and family cannot fully trust to answer truthfully when they ask, “How are you, Will?” I’m marked in only the ways someone who has traveled to the nether regions of spiritual darkness can be.

Despite the choices I’ve made, when I look at myself from a healthy place I realize two things about the loneliness. First, the loneliness is not my fault and, second, the seriousness of the predicament facing us demands that I learn to work through the loneliness and fight back. I have written extensively that my continuing recovery from suicidal depression involves the realization that depression – by itself – is simply an emotion and as an emotion cannot kill me on its own. I can kill me, but the emotional experience some call “depression” cannot kill me. The same is true for loneliness.

I have not yet pushed this idea to its fullest. The omnicidal processes destroying life on earth are physical processes literally killing everything. It is true that our emotional state can prevent us from acting, but no amount of inner emotional work without a corresponding effort in the real world is going to save us. I know how horrible depression is. I know how horrible loneliness is. In this installment of DIY Resistance, I encourage you to learn how to fight through these emotions and to recognize the way these emotions are expressed through your personal choices. We do not have much time left and if we are going to win we must shore up our strength to act.

Monkey-love_Jet-Armstrong

***
It is embarrassing to admit, but one of the ways I’ve sought to ease my loneliness is through committed romantic relationships. I’m naturally introverted. I value quality over quantity in my friendships. Most of the time, I would rather dive into a deep conversation with one person than chitchat with ten. Desperately seeking connection and a release for the tension my inner dialogues produce, all interpersonal relationship becomes a strong source of anxiety for me.

Romantic relationships have acted as a medicine for the loneliness. Once I share an authentic experience with someone, I feel I am carrying a precious, fragile treasure that could break in my hands if squeezed too tightly or flutter away in the breeze if I do not hold on to it. Adding sex to a connection intensifies the medicinal effects. Sex is both terrifying and magical for me. It is terrifying as an external performance. I recognize sex as an opportunity to give my partner a gift, but also as an opportunity to demonstrate my inadequacy. Sex is magical because it comes oh-so-close to filling that lonely void as an expression of emotional trust while the physicality brings me literally as close as possible to another human.

The commitment involved in a romantic relationship reassures my poor self-esteem that at least someone loves me. The commitment is something I can return to when I am caught in my self-pity. Common scenes from my romantic relationships show me replaying conversations over and over in my head – “Is she saying she loves me?” -poring over text messages with compliments in them to squeeze out every last drop of reassurance left in them, and listening to saved voicemails from years ago as proof that I am, in fact, lovable. I only recently was able to delete a voicemail an ex-partner left me the morning after my first suicide attempt where she said many compassionate things about me. I had to delete it because I have to learn to rely on myself for compassion.

Maybe it’s obvious to you how sick I’ve been and the mistakes I’ve made? But, it’s taken me over 27 years to realize that relying on another person to alleviate my loneliness is incredibly selfish. No one can take my feelings of loneliness away from me if I do not know how to take the loneliness away myself. Ultimately, my frustrations with my partners’ inabilities to heal my own loneliness have turned into resentment leading me to walk away from the relationships.

Of course, seeking redemption in the form of romantic relationship is damned from the outset for the simple reason that our emotional needs were never meant to be fulfilled by only one other person. The incessant search for a romantic partner that so many of us engage in is an expression of the way the dominant culture destroys true community by forcing us to spend too much of our time laboring to support ourselves and encouraging us to define ourselves as individuals instead of members of natural communities.

***
Clinging to romantic relationships can also work to limit resistance. My fear of being alone often leads me to remain in relationships far longer than I should. In my failed relationships, I found it difficult to make the decision to devote myself to resistance because I knew my decisions could hurt my partners. Resistance is far from lucrative. Resistance often takes you away from your partner. Resistance often affects your mood. It is difficult to share your life with a partner who will rarely have much money, who is often traveling to put his body in front of the forces destroying the world, and who struggles with the depression and anxiety that so often accompanies activist work.

I lost my last relationship when I decided to leave San Diego for the Unist’ot’en Camp. To travel to the Camp, I had to spend all my savings and give up weeks of work with the income that comes with the work. This meant I would not have been able to go on trips my partner and I were planning. This meant I might not have been able to contribute my half of the rent. This certainly meant I would be away from home for at least a few weeks. It wasn’t until my partner asked me, “Will you always love the cause more than you love me?” that I realized what I had to do – I had to go to the Unist’ot’en Camp.

I realized I will always love the cause more than I love any one person.

This realization caused me a tremendous amount of guilt. This former partner is a truly wonderful woman. She realized what was happening and called the paramedics from San Diego the night I tried to kill myself in Milwaukee. She realized what was happening and rushed me to the emergency room the morning after I tried to kill myself in San Diego. She stood by me when so many others would have left. She loved me when so many others couldn’t have.

I’ve learned to let the guilt go. One of the ways I’ve done this is by understanding that her question, “Will you always love the cause more than you me?” is essentially meaningless. Embracing the struggle to defend the land is embracing love for everyone including your partner. It is my hope that more of us will understand this. While ever more of our loved ones are murdered by environmentally induced cancers, by the diseases of civilization, by male violence against women, by suicidal depression produced by the alienation this culture creates, how long will it take us to realize that to love anyone demands that we devote ourselves to resistance?

But, that’s not even the point. Romantic relationships are not the point. My loneliness, your loneliness, any emotional state, being loved, not being loved, who you love, or who I love is not the point. The point is the world is being murdered in front of us. Seeking a healthy romantic relationship must simply take a backseat to the destruction of life. If we do not stop the forces burning the world, it will no longer be possible to engage in romantic relationships.

I am not saying that romance and resistance are mutually exclusive. They are not. I am saying putting your emotional desires above the health of your land base spells disaster for the real world. I am asking would-be resistors to stop asking “How do I make time for resistance around my relationship, around my family, or around my job?” and start asking instead, “Do I have time for a relationship, a family, or a job when our only hope is serious resistance?”

Finally, you just might find something beautiful when you embrace land defense as absolutely the most important thing in your life. You just might find people that love the world as you do. You might even find a pure kind of romance with someone who happens to find resistance sexy. Even better than experiencing romance, you might gain a true community that will strengthen your commitment to resistance.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Post-Modern Robin Hoods

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

255px-Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912For the last year, it goes like this: My phone rings precisely at 6:30 AM. I groan in bed and reach towards the shelf holding my phone. By the time I locate my phone, I’ve missed the call. It’s from an area code I don’t recognize. They’ve left a message, so I curse, roll over, cuddle a pillow to my chest, and fall back asleep. When I wake up there are three more calls from three different area codes with three more messages. I listen to the messages.

They are all the same. The prerecording plays, “Hello, this is Heather from Sallie Mae Department of Education Loan Services with a message for” and there’s a short pause, a hiss, and a mechanized voice saying “William Fawk.”

I chuckle to myself. The machines never know how to pronounce my last name. Falk, like talk with an F. And poor Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services will never track me down, though she has been getting rather sly lately. She calls from an area code where I have friends or family like 414 (Milwaukee) or 317 (Indianapolis) forcing me to check my messages just to make sure I do not miss a call from someone who matters.

***

My student loan debt hasn’t always been so much fun. I remember a couple years ago, the first time I logged into my Sallie Mae account from my desk in the Kenosha, WI State Public Defender Office. It was my first week on the job and I was swept up in a newfound sense of adult responsibility. I was determined to design a personal budget where I would make my monthly loan payments, set aside a little money for my retirement plan like my dad told me to, and have a bit left over to spend in relaxation to offset the stress as a trial attorney trying to keep people out of prison.

I listed out my numbers before I accounted for my loan payments. My gross monthly income was $2600. Rent for my one bedroom apartment in Bayview – an old working class Milwaukee neighborhood famous for labor rights and a labor massacre – was $700 a month. Blessed with my mother’s furnace of a metabolism, I allowed myself $150 for groceries a month. I would need a tank of gas a week to get to work and back and forth from the county jail to see clients. For the gas, I set aside $200 a month. This left me armed with $1550 to attack my student loan payments and have some spending money for the weekends.

Maybe you can imagine the brick Sallie Mae threw at my forehead through the computer screen when I read my monthly student loan payment coming in at over $1900 a month?

I iced the emotional bruise I took from Sallie Mae’s brick and resolved to figure my loans out. $1900 a month was just the standard ten-year plan. I started reading about my options. I learned that I could put my loans on a twenty or thirty year plan, reducing my monthly payments, but also paying more in interest in the long run. At 25 years old, ten years seemed (and still seems) like an eternity. Committing to something for twenty or thirty years was simply something I could not fathom because I lacked any experiential reference.

I reached out to the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Services. They explained to me that, as a public sector worker, the federal government offered a forgiveness program where if I made my minimum payments for ten years and remained in public sector work, the government would forgive the rest of my loans. I realized this was my best option, worked out a deal with Sallie Mae to pay $400 a month, enrolled in the forgiveness plan, and started breathing easier.

Then, the reality of life as a public defender set in. I began working 60 and 70-hour weeks. I sat with clients in jail explaining to them how much prison time they were likely to get. I struggled to meet their gaze when they asked if me if there wasn’t anything else I could do. My fists clenched under courtroom tables as judges yelled at my clients for stealing from Wal-Mart, for lying to racist cops, for driving to work without a driver’s license, and then condemning my clients to cages.

Depression set in. Many days I walked out of the county jail, sat in my car, and wept. Some nights I got home at 7:30 pm and went straight to bed without dinner. Other nights I hardly slept at all haunted by my failures from the day before. I knew I could not keep this up. I was not cut out for a life as a public defender. But, what could I do? I was enrolled in the best possible student loan repayment plan the government offered. If I left my job, I would lose the plan and be forced to face twenty or thirty years paying off over $200,000.

I began to feel horribly guilty for considering walking away from the work.

Public defenders are doing incredible work. The American so-called criminal justice system is the nation’s most racist institution. Michelle Alexander points out that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. How could I turn my back on my clients? How could I live a life after gaining full awareness of this problem, after being in a position to help, and after leaving all those people to their fate in prison?

I was exhausted by the work. I was exhausted by the guilt. I felt trapped. And, as I’ve written so much about, I tried to kill myself twice. Luckily, I do not know how much Ambien or Klonopin it actually takes to kill a 6’2 190 pound male. I survived. But, in the time since my suicide attempts, my guilt surrounding personal finances has not.

***

I am engaged in full-time activism. I live out of an 80-liter pack where I carry a cold-weather down sleeping bag my mother bought me, a tent, four t-shirts, two pairs of pants, a set of long underwear, five pairs of boxer briefs, four pairs of hiking socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, several collections of poetry, and a red Wisconsin Badgers hoodie. I do not know where I will sleep in October. I have $79.60 (Canadian) to my name.

I could not be happier.

Everywhere I’ve been from Milwaukee, WI to San Diego, CA to Unist’ot’en territory to Victoria, BC, I see would-be resistors caught in the fear surrounding personal finances. It’s a basic truism. Our movements would be much stronger if people knew they could fully devote themselves to a cause and support themselves at the same time.

So far in this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series, I’ve focused on some of the emotional and intellectual hurdles resistors must deal with to engage in effective resistance, and now I want to address practical concerns. Money is an essential practical concern. On the one hand, serious resistors need money. Money grants you access to supply, gear, and materials. Money allows you to travel to where you will be most effective. Money buys the food you must eat to survive. On the other hand, the anxiety and shame that capitalism produces can neutralize would-be resistors because, after all, they “have to pay the rent.”

Before I go on, I want to be clear: I completely understand money worries. It is completely natural. It is completely rational. But, if we are going to mount a serious resistance movement, we must overcome the fear and guilt associated with a lack of financial security. I completely understand what that fear and guilt feels like. I have been there in the worst way. I write this in the hopes that people in a variety of financial situations will find ways to work through financial pressures to become effective resistors.

***

Because of the enormity of the problem facing us, resistance can take many forms. Resistance does not require living out of a pack, on a couple hundred dollars a month. It is simply the path that has opened up to me. We need it all. We need people with mainstream jobs making mainstream incomes who might not be able to occupy the frontlines to provide material support just as much as we need people willing to pick up and go wherever they’re needed.

The first step to overcoming money worries is realizing that this arrangement of power is not your fault.

You did not form this culture that long ago forgot who kept it alive. You did not ask to be born next to rivers that no longer flow to the sea, that have too many dams to support native fish populations, that hold too many poisons to drink from. You did not send blankets carrying small pox to intentionally wipe out the peoples who held the traditional knowledges necessary for living in the most humane ways on this land. You did not order the bison to be hunted damn near to extinction in an insane process that destroyed a relationship that provided humans with the protein needed to live in healthy balance with the natural world for millennia.

This nightmare of competition, selfishness, and shame that accompanies capitalism is not natural. You are alive. To live you need food, you need clean water, and you need shelter from the elements. Before civilization, humans gained what they needed directly from the land. Our present economic system forces us to pay for food, forces us to pay for clothing, and forces us to pay for shelter. In short, it forces us to pay for life. I use the verb “force” on purpose because this system is only maintained through violence.

The process began long ago with the dawn of agricultural civilization. Some cultures stripped their land bases clean of food, water, and soil, and then invaded the lands of more sustainable cultures. Soon, the Fertile Crescent was a desert. Then, Europe fell to the yoke of agriculture. Population boomed. European empires were forced to find their resources in other lands and European laborers unable to support themselves were pushed to the colonies. Indigenous peoples were murdered, driven off their lands, or pushed into tiny corners of the poorest sections of their traditional territories.

This process is ongoing wherever the dominant culture finds resources it decides it needs. In thoroughly colonized regions, the violence is harder to see. But, as the events in Ferguson, MO and the militarization of domestic police forces demonstrates, the system is willing to do great violence here, too. Another way to see the violence is simply to ask yourself what would happen if you ran out of money, were hungry, realized the supermarket has loads of food, decided to take some, and were caught?

Of course, perpetually overt violence may not be necessary once a culture’s ability to produce its own food is destroyed. This is why capitalism always works to make people dependent on the capitalist system for their needs. Once a society’s food security is destroyed it becomes both impractical and inefficient to constantly use open violence. Instead of employing brute force, it makes more sense to convince would-be resistors to police themselves. Capitalist logic encourages the notion that poverty is a sin, that happiness is most likely to be attained through financial success, and even to build shame around the smallest things like asking family for money.

It becomes easier to create and propagate narratives that extol the virtues of America’s opportunistic, rugged individuals than it is to massacre villages. So, once traditional cultures are undermined, the dominant culture focuses on creating institutions and stories to convince the civilized that they live in the best possible world. And the phrase “Kill your television” gains its relevancy.

***

Some are already making great financial sacrifices. I know a woman who saved up her vacation days for a year, cashed them in, and donated the proceeds to the Unist’ot’en Camp. I know others who have pledged to give a day’s wages every month to their favorite cause. I know others, still, who contribute by maintaining an open, welcoming home for full-time activists to stay in. The point is not so much how many dollars you can give. Rather, the point is to give up some of the anxiety and guilt surrounding finances. The point is to retake your dignity from a system determined to scare you into submission.

It took me a long time to relinquish the anxieties I felt around student loans and I still struggle with asking for help. Sometimes, it takes me too many skipped meals and too many skipped dosages of my anti-depressant to gather the courage to ask for help. I am lucky to have so much support from friends and family. I could not do what I do without them. But, the fact is we all need help, and we all are going to need a lot more help as the fires burning the world get hotter and hotter.

Part of my recovery from suicidal depression involves me recognizing poisoned thought patterns. Guilt over debt is poison. I have decided I will not pay my student loans back. I refuse to pay an illegitimate, occupying, imperial government engaged in genocide around the world for an education that should rightfully be free anyway. Now, when Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services leaves me a message, I am empowered to laugh.

Lately, for smiles, I’ve called myself a post-modern Robin Hood. Not paying my student loans is like stealing my education from the government. Just like Robin Hood of old, I stole my education, my intellectual experiences, and my degrees from the rich, and am using that education, those experiences, and the letters behind my name to fight for the poor. Come join me in a refusal to let money stop us from action. We can form a merry band and save the world while we’re at it.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Find Rock Bottom

Hot-Sun-300x200

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

The August San Diego sun was hot. I spread a white blanket on the white concrete floor of a patio behind another mental health hospital, opened the book I asked my mother to bring me – Derrick Jensen’s Dreams, and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible.

The sun beat down and the sweat pooled on my palms. I closed the book not wanting my sweat to blur Jensen’s exploration of the role of the supernatural in resisting this culture of death. I couldn’t focus anyway. I couldn’t forget why I was there.

It was my second suicide attempt in four months.

The worst thing about being an in-patient at a mental health hospital is the way patients are always watched, evaluated, monitored. Patients must sleep with their doors open so an orderly can shine a light on them every half hour to make sure they’re still alive. Patients are required to present their food tray to the nurse after each meal while she takes notes on the leftovers.

I used to wonder what my unfinished beets meant about suicidal ideations or what the fact that I used butter on my roll the night before while eating my roll plain the next night indicated to hospital staff about my mood. Couple this with the fact that many patients are under court orders to comply with their doctors’ directions and the fishbowl effect is intensified.

Setting the book aside, I looked around the hospital patio. I was the only one outside. Visitation was still hours away and the heat discouraged my fellow patients from venturing out-of-doors. A few plastic tables were set up with umbrellas, but I was not interested in finding shade. The sun, at least, is honest in his watchfulness and he had a specific role to play. He was going to sweat some answers out of me – answers I was incapable of finding on my own.

After a few hours, thoroughly drenched in sweat and finally smelling like a human again, I followed the shadows forming in the afternoon sunlight. They led me to piles of stones in a rock garden. And that’s when I realized what these suicide attempts were really all about. Rocks. Rock bottom.

Through my two suicide attempts, I had finally succeeded in scraping my life clean of the death that was drowning me. Lounging in my new concrete couch next to those harsh, but beautifully real stones in the rock garden, I sensed the strength of my position. I was broke. I had no job. I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. I was in a strange city thousands of miles from my closest friends and hundreds of miles from family. I needed the permission of my doctors to be released from the hospital. In short, I had nothing. Nothing, except for the most important possession of all – nothing to lose.

I am not sure if it was the medication, my own dehydration, or that fucking flashlight sweeping across my face every half hour that contributed to the vividness of my dreams that night, but I am sure I thoroughly confused my doctors because they increased the dosage of my anti-depressant to levels that made my spine tighten and my ears ring. And, just for good measure, when the nurse came with my pills that night she checked under my tongue to make sure I swallowed them.

***
rock bottom pathIt’s been 13 months since the sun and stones helped me make sense of my two suicide attempts. I have not tried to kill myself since. This is not to say that I’m completely recovered. I still think about suicide. Suicide is a smooth-voiced monster lurking just below the surface of still, warm waters.

I’ve made rock bottom my home.

I am still broke. Right now, I have nine voicemails on my phone from debt collectors seeking their student loan interest and money for the ambulance rides I never consented to (could not consent to) after my suicide attempts. I do not know where I am going to sleep from week to week. I am in a strange country now, thousands of miles from friends and family.

Sometimes, just before bed, when I grow weary of the day, the old whispers start up again. “Wouldn’t it be nice not to wake up to all the anxiety tomorrow?” “Aren’t you so arrogant, Will, thinking you make any difference in this world?” “The guilt could just fade away with a few small actions…”

The sun and stones continue to help me, though. So much of the therapeutic process for the mentally ill involves learning to accept emotions, learning to sit with disquiet. In the mornings after particularly bad nights, I find a rock under the sun. They remind me that part of existing at rock bottom requires some vulnerability to the darknesses that make me who I am. They remind me of the strength that has been required to reject a life of material comfort for a life of resistance. They remind me that with this strength I can laugh at the seductions of suicide. Laughing at suicide removes the poison, and I can accept my suicidal thoughts as a guide like the reassuring feeling of rock walls within a wanderer’s reach in the pitch black of a cave.

I’ve made rock bottom my home. I like it here. From rock bottom, I thank my suicidal thoughts for what they’ve taught me. Everything is better than suicide. Living with the anxiety that can accompany activism is better than suicide. Having uncomfortable conversations with family about personal finances is better than suicide. Losing romantic partners over your choice for activism is better than suicide. Going to jail for defending the land is better than suicide.

It was suicide that taught me how to confront death. I survived. Twice. In surviving, I learned the power that exists in a life in full, mature contemplation of death. I have chosen death twice. It was not hard. I am not afraid of death by another’s hand after facing death at my own. I will die, but not yet. There’s too much to do.

I thank the sun and the stones for being my companions through the darkness.

***

Acclaimed poet Ken Saro-Wiwa

As a member of the most privileged class in the world – white, heterosexual male – I cannot speak for the experiences of the oppressed. I do, however, think that many of the world’s most successful resistance movements were spawned from the hardest of rock bottoms.

One of my favorite examples of resistance is currently embodied in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

MEND has successfully cut Nigeria’s oil production by 30% through direct attacks on oil infrastructure and oil workers. While so many of us in the environmental movement are fighting rear-guard battles that resemble armies in full-fledged retreat with our limited actions protecting this or that piece of land or trying to defend against one destructive project leaving dozens of others to ravage our communities, we look more often than not like fleeing soldiers simply trying to grab as many supplies as possible in our arms to make it just a few more days. MEND, on the other hand, has taken the offensive and struck critical blows to the fossil fuel industry.

The history of resistance in the Niger Delta shows how terrible things got before people took up arms against corporations and government. With their backs against the wall in the realest sense, MEND has shown the world that a few dedicated resisters with very few resources can bring the world’s most powerful corporations to the bargaining table.

An estimated 1.5 millions tons of oil has spilled in the Niger Delta over the last fifty years. This is equivalent to close to one “Exxon-Valdez” spill in the Niger River every single year.

Meanwhile, there are 27 million people living in the Niger Delta with close to 75% of those people relying on fishing and subsistence farming to feed themselves. Beginning in 1990, Nigerian soldiers backed by financing from Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) and supported by Shell’s own paramilitary forces have conducted massive, deadly raids on oil resisters amongst the Ogoni people.

Perhaps the most well known atrocity at the hands of the Nigerian government and Shell, was the 1995 hangings of nine non-violent Ogoni leaders including the internationally acclaimed poet Ken Saro-Wiwa by a specially created military tribunal.

Viewed in this light, MEND’s resistance was predicated on survival – rock bottom, indeed.

***
stonesSo far, my writing in this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series has focused on the emotional and spiritual conditions that I believe would-be resisters must find as they begin their path to saving the world.

I urge you to fall in love with life, to recover your empathy, to understand that the struggle involves profound, but conquerable grief, and then to embrace the urgency that accompanies opening your heart to love, empathy, and grief. The first few essays merely point out the first steps I see on the path towards a life devoted to serious resistance.

Emotions and spirituality are, of course, important but they will not stop the dominant culture from murdering what’s left of the world. Our prayers will not stop Monsanto. Really, really stirring emotional accounts of suicidal experiences will not affect the material conditions producing widespread depression in this culture. This late in the game, our only salvation will come through real, tangible action in the real, tangible world.

I once sardonically directed readers to boil their debit cards and to try to eat them to demonstrate the unreality of bank accounts. The same holds true for emotions. You will die of thirst very quickly if you drink only love and empathy.

In the upcoming installments of the series I will begin to focus on practicalities through the lens of my personal experiences. There are lifestyle steps that I think help to free people to take direct action in the struggle to save life on the planet. I hesitate to prescribe specifics, but I think there are some general choices resisters can make to free their money, time, and energy for tangible action. In the weeks to come, I will explore topics such as family life, financial considerations for activists with a special emphasis on student loans, and even the possibilities of romance in a life devoted to resistance (resistance is sexy!).

Underneath my suggestions is the rock bottom. Live there. Get comfortable sleeping with stones.

The truest existential freedom exists when they can take nothing else from you. When you personally have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.

And, the truth is, as members of natural communities we are losing our ability to feed ourselves, we are losing access to drinkable water, we are losing clean air to breathe, we are losing our human and non-human friends at staggering rates. We are losing everything and, if we delay any longer, there will be nothing to gain.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Beat the Grief

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Surviving into adulthood in this destructive culture comes with a deep familiarity of loss.

rain3-200x300

We lose loved ones to environmentally-induced diseases like most forms of cancer, to the diseases of civilization like diabetes, and to actions previously almost unheard of in our original communities like suicide and patriarchal violence.

We lose the grasslands, forests, beaches, and riverbeds – words once synonymous with the homes our ancestors dwelled in so comfortably – to the murderous march of progress. We lose our memories, our stories, and thus, our identities, to the culturally homogenizing processes of colonization. We lose our sense of safety while men at staggering rates rape women and people of color are gunned down by police in the streets and bombed by soldiers in their homes.

Losing so much, we live in a perpetual state of grief. In my first two installments of this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series, I wrote that resistance begins with love and empathy. Falling in love and opening to the channels of empathy makes you vulnerable to the excruciating grief following loss. Grief is painful as resistance is painful.

Much of what I’ve read about grief focuses on the way grief comes from a single incident of loss. Common events leading to grief include the death of a loved one, divorce, or the loss of financial stability. By now, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief are well known. Kubler-Ross studied patients facing the singular event of a terminal illness diagnosis and generalized grief into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many have found this explanation helpful in working through a single incident of grief.

But, the deeper you become involved in resistance, the deeper you fall in love, the deeper you allow empathy to seep into your heart, the more you will be exposed to event after event after traumatizing event leading to grief. The question becomes: How do we learn to live with perpetual grief? Once tired and bloodied, how do we withstand the body blows this culture will continue to deliver?

***

As a child, I had one dream for my future: I wanted to play linebacker for the University of Notre Dame football team. In many ways, I couldn’t help it. My father went to Notre Dame and walked-on the football team his freshman year for the legendary coach, Ara Parseghian, before leaving the team to focus on his academics.

I was born almost a month prematurely and was a tiny baby weighing in at 5 pounds, 5 ounces. The first pictures of me are in Notre Dame pajamas. I was so small that my dad could hold my head in his palm, drape my legs over his forearm, and rock me to sleep in the exact same way a football player tucks away the ball.

I was – and still am – a sensitive child, often being swept away in the sadness I feel around me. I was – and still am – reckless with my body. I climbed trees, jumped off staircases, ran radio flyer wagons down steep hills, and routinely experienced the need to fearlessly examine every square inch of poison ivy patches. Often, when I was hurt – emotionally or physically – my dad would patiently let me shed some tears before he asked me, “Would linebackers at Notre Dame cry?”

Hearing this, I would stick out my chin, wipe the tears off my cheeks with the back of my hand, and try to grin.

***

As it turns out, I was not good enough to play linebacker at Notre Dame. Notre Dame, of course, is one of the premier college football programs in the nation. I did, however, end up playing linebacker at a smaller college – the University of Dayton.

In American football, linebackers exist to for one purpose, and one purpose only, to find who is carrying the ball for the other team, and to tackle that player. Linebackers have a reputation for both physical and mental toughness. Physically, they must throw their bodies in the way of blockers much heavier than them. Mentally, they must possess a desire to hunt down the opposing ball carrier.

Reflecting on my college football career a few years ago with my dad, resulted in one of the proudest moments of my life and also taught me an important lesson in my path to engaging in active resistance of the dominant culture.

My dad was asking what some of my old teammates were up to and we were talking about Paddy McCormick, an academic All-American guard, my old roommate, med-school graduate, now doctor, and a dear friend. I told him about the time a group of my teammates and I were discussing who they hated hitting with on the team, and Paddy – to my and most everyone’s surprise – said, “Falk. Hands down. The kid always hits you squarely in the face with his head and you get that shaky feeling for a few plays afterwards. And he just keeps doing it.”

I was laughing, but my dad got quiet and with tears in his eyes – my dad never cries – said, “I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time, Will, you’re much tougher than I ever could be. You played football with a single-minded focus I’ve never seen before.”

***

I was neither particularly fast, nor particularly strong, especially compared to most Division 1 college linebackers. I was certainly not the best linebacker to ever don the red helmet for the Dayton Flyers, I wasn’t even one of the best linebackers on our team. But, I was known for my dogged recklessness. I had to do something better than most players, so I became really good at leading with my helmet, throwing my body into the path of blockers, and then getting up and doing it all over again for the next play.

No one believes me, but some of the most serene moments I’ve ever experienced have come on the football field in the middle of a game with thousands of screaming fans. Lining up four yards from five three-hundred pound men coming to take my head off in the seconds before the ball was snapped signaling the start of a football play produced profound stillness for me.

In my memory, I study the knuckles of the man in his stance in front of me. White knuckles with his weight pressing forward means the next is a running play. Red knuckles with weight leaning backwards means the next is a passing play. I peer into the eyes of the quarterback. A glance at the end to my left forecasts where the ball is going.

The ball is snapped. The man in front of me steps with his left foot; I step to mirror him with my right. I see the flash of brown leather as the quarterback hands the ball off. I see a hole open in front of me. I accelerate to the hole as a blocker steps in front of me. I dip my shoulder, raise my head, and our helmets crack together. My ears ring, but I keep my feet going. I force my way past as the ball carrier arrives. He jukes right, but I don’t buy it. He decides to go with power trying to run me over. The crown of my helmet lifts up under his chinstrap. I run my hips into the air and in a moment we’re rolling over each other on the turf.

For a moment, I feel the scream in my neck and shoulders, the gash on my shin where I get stepped on in the pile of bodies, and my arms are bleeding from rubbing on the artificial turf. My head vibrates from the latest in a long list of collisions. Everything hurts. I want to crawl to the sideline, soak in an ice bath, and take copious amounts of painkillers. But, the whistle blows, the crowd has exploded, and I pop up to do it all again. I have a job to do for my coaches and for my teammates. I have to tackle the ball carrier.

A single-minded focus pushes me through the pain and I continue to do this until the game is over and we’ve won.

***

One way I’ve come to understand my suicide attempts is through understanding my own grief. In those moments of despair leading me to attempt to kill myself, part of what I felt was a profound sense of loss.

As a young man facing a future dominated by student loan debt and countless hours chained to a desk in an office trying to dig myself out, I lost the possibility of a happy future. As a young public defender, watching client after client dragged away to prison, I lost a belief in justice. As a member of natural communities, I lost friends to the long night of species extinction. As a being defined by my relationships to every thing around me, I lost myself in the perpetual poisoning of water, the perversion of sunshine through the deterioration of the ozone layer, and the eradication of inch by precious inch of life giving topsoil.

In those moments where suicide seemed my only option, grief was drowning me. If you’re in love with life and you allow yourself to feel the emotions of others, it is impossible to avoid grief. Every living thing is under attack. More and more of the world burns with each passing second. Denying it only works for a short time. Giving into the grief completely might lead you down the same suicidal paths I tread.

Do not walk those paths. Resist. We are strong enough – you and I. Resist. It will be difficult. We will lose brothers and sisters on the way. Grief will grab our hearts so strongly sometimes we may feel like slipping away into that comfortable slumber of death. But, we must resist. If we develop a single-minded focus – the single-minded focus on defending life – we will shake off the grief. We will pull ourselves up off the turf and we will win.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Recover Empathy

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

The dominant culture kills our ability to empathize. Faucets deliver water over great distances silencing the voices of rivers. Super-markets place meat on chilled display shelves hiding the sacred ceremonial relationship between hunter and prey. Pornography produces orgasms without mutual vulnerability.

Sockeye salmon swimming upstream

Sockeye salmon swimming upstream

One way empathy is killed is through alienation. The comforts of civilization alienate us from our ancient roles as members of natural communities. Electric lights drown out the stars. Asphalt divorces our feet from the soil. Walls block the caresses of the summer breeze. The hole we’ve burned in the sky forces us to wear UV-resistant sunglasses dulling the vibrant colors of the day.

Another way empathy is killed is through the entitlement that follows this alienation. Living too long in a system that allows us to eat plants without ever seeing where they were grown, that gives us computers without ever seeing where their metals were mined, and that gives us clothing sewn by children in boiling warehouses we will never visit encourages us to forget.

Psychologist R.D. Laing explains the process brilliantly, “If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.” If Jill reminds Jack of the migratory songbirds killed everyday by cell phone towers, Jack might encourage Jill to forget by simply denying this is true. He might forbid Jill to mention the birds in his presence. Or, a more effective means to encourage Jill to forget is to convince her not to worry about the birds because we deserve cell phones. We have every right to communicate with anyone in the world wherever they are whenever we want. And, those birds are just birds, after all.

***

Consider the war being waged on women by men. How is it possible that men who are given their very lives by women can wage this war? How is it possible that men many of whom claim to love women can perpetuate this violence?

The first answer is the loss of empathy.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that 1 out of 3 women have suffered rape or attempted rape worldwide. (http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/fact-sheets/worldwide-sexual-assault-statistics) Every 17 minutes a woman is raped according to the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Another Canadian survey by DeKeserdy and Kelly reports that four out of five female undergraduates have been victims of violence in a dating relationship.

Meanwhile, the porn industry makes more money than Hollywood. (http://stoppornculture.org/about/about-the-issue/facts-and-figures-2/) A 2007 report by Bridges and Wosnitzer “Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography: A content analysis update” appearing in the International Communication Association is enlightening. Bridges and Wosnitzer report 88.2% of the top rated scenes contain aggressive acts. In 70% of these scenes, a man is the aggressor, and 94% of the time the act is directed towards a woman. Open-hand slapping occurs in 41.1% of the scenes.

Pornography is both an expression of and a leading cause for the destruction of empathy. When sex is mediated through a television or computer screen the viewer’s sexual satisfaction is alienated from its beautiful expression in true mutuality. Sex, in the real world, involves the building up of trust between partners. Sex, in the real world, involves the truly magical experience where lovers offer their vulnerabilities in order to share in one another’s bodies.

When sexual satisfaction can be ordered up by placing a DVD into a player or clicking on a link, feelings of entitlement grow. Just like Jack and Jill from Laing’s example, when Jill reminds Jack that pornography is not real, that the bodies of women do not look like that, that acting out the scenes depicted bring her no pleasure, Jack can ignore Jill and gain his orgasms through porn at the expense of the bodies of women he will never have a true relationship with. Jack can point to the prevalence of porn to argue that porn must be natural and undermine Jill. Or, Jack can emulate the men getting off in his favorite scenes and explain to Jill that men are entitled to these actions. We can hear Jack saying, “Look, babe, this is just how it is.”

Jill’s experience is negated for Jack’s entitlement. Jack’s empathy dies.

***

In the first installment of my “Do-It-Yourself: Resistance” series, I wrote that the first step towards a life devoted to saving what is left of the world is to fall in love. The next step is to recover empathy.

Too many in this dominant culture have lost or ignore their ability to feel the suffering of others. Civilization is based on the domination of others. Our comforts depend on the exploitation of others. Laborers are sweating, suffocating, and dying in mines that bring us the metals for our phones, computers, and solar panels. Children are starving due to policies such as the debts imposed on colonized nations by imperial instruments like World Bank. Leatherback sea turtles are critically endangered due to the pollution of the seas.

How would those destroying the planet act if they suffered from the lung ailments suffered by miners? How would those destroying the planet act if it were their screaming from the pangs of hunger? How would those destroying the planet act if they went to eat their dinner only to discover they were consuming a plastic bag too late to prevent the plastic bag from catching in their throats?

It is difficult to recover our empathy because the dominant culture encourages us so strongly to forget with television, with drugs, with pornography, but it is imperative that we cut into our hearts to regain the connections that have always been there. Resistance would become much stronger if more of us truly felt the suffering surrounding us.

Go outside. Let the wind play with your hair. Let the sun warm your skin. Take your sunglasses off and admire the vibrancy surrounding you. Watch the pattern of bumblebees in a camas field. Watch bear cubs wrestle in fireweed. Ask their mother what she needs for her family. And, listen.

Ask your lover to come with you outside. Ask your lover who she is. Ask him to tell you his dreams. Ask her what she wants, what makes her feel good. And, listen.

Look up at the stars. Watch them dance across the space between. Let their light pierce you. Ask them what they want. And, listen.

After listening, act. Act with everything you’ve got because you share in the emotions of those around you.

***

On Monday, August 4, 2014 while I’ve been working on this piece, the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond overwhelmed its dam and released 10 billion liters of polluted water and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand into the Hazeltine Creek near Likely, British Columbia. Over the past year, the Imperial Metals Corporation dumped 326 tons of nickel, 400 tons of arsenic, 177 tons of lead, and 18,400 tons of copper into the pond. The spill is depositing this waste through the entire Quesnel and Cariboo river systems. With the sockeye salmon beginning their annual runs up the rivers, this disaster could not come at a worse time.

I have heard many people express hope that maybe – finally – this is the disaster that will wake the world up to the seriousness of the world’s crisis. I remember many people expressing the same hope after the BP Gulf Oil Spill. I remember many people expressing the same hope after Fukushima. But, here we are again.

Have you ever seen the sockeye run up a river? Have you ever seen the brilliant flashes of their bright bodies in a cold current? Have you heard the rivers singing joyous greetings songs to announce the sockeyes’ arrival?

Can you see the poison seeping over the dam and down the channels? Can you taste bitter metals in your water? Can you hear the sockeye weeping?

If you can’t, when will you? If you can, what are you going to do about it?

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Fall in Love

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Three months ago, I packed up my 80-litre pack with my tent, sleeping bag, four t-shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of thermals, five pairs of underwear, my toothbrush, and six collections of poetry (only the essentials) and made the journey from San Diego, CA to the Unist’ot’en Camp on traditional Wet’suwet’en land in so-called British Columbia.

Salish Sea

Salish Sea

I fell in love with the Unist’ot’en Clan, the Camp, and their work. I decided it was time to dig in to defend the land and I’ve been in Canada working to support the Camp ever since. It took me 27 years, two degrees, two suicide attempts, a failed romantic relationship, and a deserted legal career to finally devote myself to radical resistance.

It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the many reasons the environmental movement is losing so bad is we suffer from a lack of committed individuals determined to resist for as long as it takes. I am committed to saving what’s left of our burning world because I am deeply in love.

I have finally arrived at this commitment and I hope you will, too. Here is the first in a series of pieces I am calling “Do-it-Yourself: Resistance.” These are my reflections on my path to resistance. Everyone’s path will be different, but people who embark on this path should know that the trail has already been blazed. They should know they will not have to walk the trail alone and in darkness. There’s a community of us and we are growing stronger.

***

The first step is falling in love.

It is true that falling in love may make you vulnerable. Destruction rages on around us. When you’re in love and you shed the armor of denial, the truth might wound you. When you’re in love and you seek the filthy corners of this culture, the truth might stain you. When you’re in love and you dare to peer directly into the flames consuming life on this planet, the truth might burn you.

When you’re in love and your beloved is dying, how can you do anything but try to protect your beloved?

Opening yourself to love may make you vulnerable because destruction rages around us. With global temperature averages rising, clean water disappearing at astonishing rates, and human population growing exponentially, the planet’s ability to support life is in serious jeopardy. Every thing we love is under attack.

I must be honest: learning how to love dragged me into the deserts of severe depression. I think many are too scared of the truth and their own reactions to the truth to visit this desert. It can be dangerous.

Sometimes depression will not quit. Mine won’t. It’s been 16 months since my first suicide attempt and just under a year since my second. Because depression is characterized as an illness I reasoned that I would eventually recover from my illness and live a healthy life. The darkness would simply be a tough time in my life that would fade in my memory as the course of my life pushed forward.

In many ways, this view was encouraged by my therapists and doctors. After my second suicide attempt, I was checked into an intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes the methodology of CBT in treating mental illness, “By exploring patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive actions and the beliefs that direct these thoughts, people with mental illness can modify their patterns of thinking to improve coping.”

What were the “patterns of thinking” that lead me to “self-destructive actions?” As a public defender, I loved my clients so much the thought of them in jail compelled me to work harder and harder, longer and longer hours until I was exhausted. As a member of a natural community, I loved my land base so much that the continual degradation of Lake Michigan by industry sometimes caused me to weep.

And, “coping?” Through CBT I was taught that if I could just learn how to cope, I’d heal myself of depression. The popular proverb “If you can’t change the world, change yourself” comes to mind. I’ve always hated this expression for the way it encourages inaction. If the world doesn’t change, so much of what I love will be destroyed. Therapy based on changing individuals instead of our destructive culture puts the patient in the horrible position of either ignoring her love or changing what she’s in love with.

And what could be more depressing than that? In some senses, isn’t denying the love you feel a sort of death in itself?

To me, the only true therapy will come from stopping the dominant culture. We all know what the consequences might be for seeking to change the world.

Sister Dorothy Stang, a Roman Catholic nun standing up for indigenous peoples in Brazil, received perpetual death threats from logging companies before she was shot six times on her way to a community organizing meeting in Anapu, Brazil. Anna Mae Aquash – a Mi’kmaq activist with the American Indian movement – was found on the Pine Ridge Reservation with a bullet in the back of her head. Fred Hamptom, the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, was drugged by the FBI before they sprayed his bedroom with automatic gun fire and fired two shots into his head at point blank range to make sure he was “good and dead, now.”

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think Sister Stang, Anna Mae Aquash, or Fred Hampton developed mental illnesses through their work. I can even imagine a therapist asking them if their habit of demanding justice might be causing some of their anguish. But, Sister Stang, Anna Mae Aquash, and Fred Hamption never gave into the comforting acceptance encouraged by coping. They were in love with oppressed peoples. They wanted to change the world and they went about doing it.

***

I still feel suicidal sometimes. Death is a seductive whisper at the edge of my consciousness. I suffer from situational and spiritual vulnerabilities. I’m completely broke. I’m not sure where I’m going to live in three weeks. I’m not sure when my family is going to get sick of me being away and make their anxiety felt. I’m afraid that my new Canadian friends may discover the darkness my mind tends to and decide its too much work to be around me.

My heart turns the shade of gray that comes from profound weariness. I’m haunted by the sight of forests at Unist’ot’en Camp decimated by climate-change induced beetle infestations. The worst part is the way the once proud, tall, green pines are left standing when the beetles are done with them. The pines stand as towering grave-markers warning of the disaster this world faces if we cannot stop the destruction. My stomach fills with the gnawing acid of anxiety and anger as the radio lists the dead in Palestine. When the mangled bodies of children make it to my newsfeed I wonder how my stomach will keep the acid from burning a hole through my guts.

Besides being suicidal, you know what else I am?

Alive. I am, despite feeling all this, still alive.

Being alive lets me strip to my underwear and dip in the freezing Salish Sea. I step on sharp rocks watching crabs with delight. They play their own version of “King of the Hill” competing over pieces of seaweed on a submerged stone. As the green shadow of seaweed approaches their perch, crab siblings bump one another off the stone before snatching the seaweed in their pinchers and gobbling it down. I cut my heel on a rock and a gang of fish comes to investigate the blood. Their mouths are soft as they press against the cut. Before long the blood stops, and the fish settle in the warm spaces between my toes.

Being alive lets me enjoy the contrast of the hot sun on my back when I emerge from the cold sea. Being alive lets me taste the fresh ginger molasses cookies we brought to snack on. Being alive lets me hear the cries of wheeling sea gulls overhead.

Most importantly, being alive empowers me to be in love. I will not give into suicide because I’m in love with the Salish Sea, the crabs, the school of fish, the sun, the taste of ginger molasses cookies, and the cries of sea gulls on the beach.

Love will give you the strength to travel through the spiritual deserts of depression and even suicidal ideation. My continuing survival is proof of this. The continuing survival of countless others struggling with the emotional ailments facing us in these times is proof of this. Stand with us. Fall in love. Learn how to love at whatever cost. Love may make you vulnerable to feelings of despair. This is natural. It means you’re alive – and being alive is everything. It means you can resist and resistance gives your beloved a chance.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

The Decision to Die, The Decision to Kill

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition 

It is long past time we honestly assessed our capacity for violence. Violence – unconscionable violence many seem unconscious of – rages on around us. I write “unconscionable” because what other word describes the images of Palestinian children on hospital beds with half their heads caved in? I write “unconscious” because how many of us actively sit in the despair these images produce?

Within violence there are two extremes: the decision to die and the decision to kill. The decision to die and the decision to kill can be as easy as deciding what to have for dinner. For the wolf, the decision to kill and the decision what to have for dinner are literally the same. For the moose hunted by the wolf, the decision to die becomes the decision to be dinner. For the moose, the decision to die means sacrificing her body to the sacred cycle so that life may continue.

It is becoming increasingly clear the dominant culture must be stopped. The more effective we become resisting, the more violence will be visited upon us. Will we be strong enough to decide to die for a better world? Will we be strong enough to decide to kill for a better world? If this sounds too extreme, then I ask you: what decisions were faced by Tecumseh, Nat Turner, Crazy Horse, Denmark Vesey, and Padráic Pearse when they picked up rifles and hatchets to meet bullets and swords?

***

I experienced the decision to die and the decision to kill simultaneously the two times I tried to commit suicide. I am compelled to write about my suicide attempts because in what was designed to produce my own death, I produced new life. And, in the process of healing, I see that I am privy to experiential wisdom that most never will be. I’m not saying that anyone should visit the dark places I have, but now that I have returned from those dark places I feel a responsibility to describe what I’ve seen.

The decision to die came slowly. It began during my senior year in college. The reality that I borrowed $90,000 to pay for my education started to sink in. I saw my future draining away while I was inevitably chained to jobs to make enough money to pay off my loans. I wanted to be a literature professor spending my life reading, researching, and writing about the stories that shape the world, but somehow I let myself be convinced that the best way to pay off my loans was to take out another $120,000 to go to law school.

From the moment I settled on going to law school, my decision to die solidified as I stuffed the messages of protest my heart sent me deeper and deeper into a hole dug by my own denial. I hated law school. I sensed the deep contradiction inhering to the practice of law. Lawyers are supposed to practice justice, but I read case after case of the United States endorsing genocide through Federal Indian law policy, genocide through upholding slavery, patriarchy through a concentrated attack on the bodies of women, and the constant destruction of natural communities in the name of “progress,” “the economy,” and “development of natural resources.”

Then, I became a public defender. The hole of denial I dug to bury my heart in simply was not big enough. My emotions – left to fester in their hole – seeped out to infect my body with a profound weariness. Each time I accepted my own powerlessness in the face of the system, each time I walked into a jail to sit with someone who should not have been held there, and each time I watched the face of a client being dragged to prison, my heart pumped out its poison. The poison spread into my limbs making my every move a struggle upstream against a strong current. The poison spread into my mind until it became impossible to see a future inhabited by anything other than the clinging, gray fog of numbness.

Finally, I made the decision to die.

The only person I’ve ever tried to kill is myself. It wasn’t hard. I even looked myself in the eye – my reflection in the mirror – as I ground a couple sleeping pills with the butt of a knife into a fine powder. I watched my hands as they stopped shaking for the first time in days to shape the powder into tidy, straight lines. I noticed the way the cowlick over my forehead conveniently fell out of the way as I bent to snort the lines. I even enjoyed the taste of the tap water as I drank down the twenty-odd pills and put on my pajamas before crawling into bed losing consciousness.

In my desperation, the decision to kill was that easy.

I survived the suicide attempts in a physical sense and I am very grateful. Parts of me, however, did not survive. I killed the last vestiges of my desires for financial and social comforts. I killed my self-doubt that I was capable of embracing an actively resistant lifestyle. I killed my denial that my heart truly knows what’s best for me.

In so many ways, I was left for dead – and it was the best thing to ever happen to me because I know how untouchable a dead person can be. Giving up on everything but the defense of those I love makes me more effective than I could ever have imagined.

***

I was recently part of a discussion about the practice of tree spiking. Tree spiking is a tactic used by land defenders to protect forests from logging. The tactic involves hiding a long nail – called a spike – in the trunks of trees. Typically, logging companies are alerted to the possibility of spikes in a proposed cut, so loggers are aware of the risks they’re taking. If the blade of a saw strikes the nail it can break the saw or cause the saw to careen off possibly injuring or even killing the logger or mill worker. Bad profit margins in spiked forests and pressure from logging unions to protect loggers make corporations reluctant to log in areas where tree spiking has occurred. In short, tree spiking can be an effective way to combat deforestation.

Many people are outraged that land defenders would consider a tactic that might lead to the injury of fellow humans. They remind advocates of tree spiking that many loggers have no choice in their profession. Tree spiking detractors ask advocates if they aren’t just occupying a place of privilege when they place a logger’s body in jeopardy through spiking. Detractors accuse advocates of being just like our corporate enemies if we even consider placing a human in physical harm’s way. And, as if this should end all debate of the efficacy of tree spiking, they ask, “Isn’t tree spiking violent?”

Imagine a logging operation. The spray of living flesh coats the loggers’ arms and chests and sticks to their beards in the form of saw dust. Behind the loggers is a stack of dozens of dead tree corpses. These trees were stretching their green nettled arms towards the sky in celebration of the sun’s warmth just moments before. Underneath the tree, in the soil and crawling up the trees’ skin, a whole network of mycelium was busily shuffling nutrients from strong, healthy trees to young or sickly trees in the community. In the tops of the trees, families of swallows have built their mud nests against the trunks. Many of these nests, full of chicks with wings not quite ready, are crushed as the trees collapse to the ground.

Then, a logger hits a spike. His saw careens off the nail. Maybe the saw strikes him and he is cut and bleeding. Maybe the cut is so bad he must be rushed to the hospital. Maybe the cut is so bad he dies. In any case, the logging stops – if even just for the time it takes to remove the injured logger.

When I imagine this logging operation and listen to people urging advocates of direct action tactics like tree spiking to think of the loggers that may be hurt or to disregard any option that involves violence, I cannot help but ask: What about the trees? What about the mycelia networks living in mutual relationship with tree roots? What about the chicks living in the treetops?

***

I am growing impatient. We are losing and losing badly.

Just this morning, I looked at a list of extinct species. West African black rhinoceroses will never again cause the earth to shake under their heavy tread. Pyrenean ibexes will never again dance their sure-footed way through the mountains of France and Spain. Sea minks will never again glide through the green foams along the coasts of Maine and New Brunswick.

What would these animals ask us if they were still around to communicate? Would they ask us to hesitate in the face of their total extermination, or would they ask us to help them survive?

It’s not just extinction either. The best-case estimate for old growth forest in the United States is that we’ve lost 95% since the arrival of Europeans on this continent. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says that 22-44 million trees are cut down per day around the world, or 916,000 trees cut down per hour, or 15,000 trees cut down per minute, or 250 trees cut down per second.

How many CEOs, politicians, or loggers have been cut down by land defenders? Any? A few? A fraction of the 250 living trees felled around the world in one second?

I need to be explicitly clear. I am not calling for wanton violence. I am simply asking those of us who love life on the planet enough to be engaged in active resistance not to remove tools from the table.

We must think about the negative impact of any action taken, but we must also remember that every second that passes means more trees felled, more forests eradicated, more topsoil spent, more water rendered incapable of sustaining life, more air poisoned, more species extinct, and more peoples killed and displaced. We must understand that the destruction that builds with every passing second brings us closer and closer to our own extinction.

***

Our own violence was long ago determined for us. The decision to die and the decision to kill are made through our complicity in this genocidal and ecocidal system daily. To think that we can somehow keep our hands clean ignores that they have been soaking in blood for centuries. There’s not one square inch of soil on this continent that has not been affected by the perpetual shedding of indigenous blood by the dominant culture. The comforts of civilization come to us greased in the human tallow of oppressed workers around the world, come to us over mangled corpses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, come to us through the psychic theft perpetrated by a world view trying to tell us that all of this is how it should be.

We are animals. Just like the relationship between the wolf and the moose, we must kill to survive and we must die so that others may live. We can choose to kill as the wolf does – carefully selecting a sick or weak moose to sustain the pack – or we can kill indiscriminately dropping napalm, bouncing betties, and carpet bombs. We can recognize that we are already killers, or we can hide in our comforts and deny the violent reality surrounding us.

There are those who for a number of valid reasons are not willing to engage in direct actions like sabotage or tree spiking because they might be deemed violent. I would encourage those who reject violence in all forms to consider whether they are willing to accept life-threatening violence on their own bodies. If you cannot do violence, are you willing to take violence? Can you place your body between the bombs and the bombs’ targets?

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

We have seen what will happen to even non-violent resistors who effectively impede business as usual. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet no less, was hung by the Nigerian government. These non-violent resistors all demand that we ask: Can you make the decision to die?

There are others who believe that we need to stop the dominant culture from destroying everything and are willing to consider a variety of tactics. I cannot take the place of your heart in your own journey towards understanding your limits. I can, however, tell you that as someone who has made the decision to die and the decision to kill before, I do not believe it makes you evil, wrong, or even any different from the rest of us.

We are all engaged in violence. Some are willing to take it, but will not engage in violence. Some are willing to give violence. It is time we decide our capacity for violence. Time is short. How we channel this violence will determine our very survival.

 

References:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Wildlife/2009/0102/earthtalk-how-threatened-are-us-old-growth-forests

ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/008/A0400E/A0400E00.pdf

Lessons from Unist’ot’en Camp: Is Your Integrity Intact?

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this manuscript. 

Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Will-Falk-Integrity

Resistance is often lonely.

I learn about loneliness waking up on a cold, hard storage room floor at 3 AM in a new friend’s house after a nightmare involving confronting all my old co-workers in the Kenosha, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, hanging my head again in defeat and shame as I explain that I will never come back to work there. I stare at the ceiling asking myself just how in the hell I ended up in Victoria, British Columbia to stop the spread of fossil fuels in Canada.

I learn about loneliness watching the supply of my daily anti-depressants dwindle in the bottom of the orange pill bottle. I’m too embarrassed to ask how I would go about refilling my prescription. I’m confused about whether I even want to re-fill it after forgetting to take my medications for a few days and feeling the welcome return of swift, spontaneous emotions welling up to heat my body like a touch of whiskey on a winter day.

I learn about loneliness when I unexpectedly run into the ex-partner I left in San Diego to come to Unist’ot’en Camp after close to 3 years together while  making my bus transfer in downtown Victoria. The unlikeliness of this encounter sinks in and I look around for friends who understood the relationship to help me laugh about it. Obviously, those friends are not here.

I learn about loneliness sitting in a living room on a foggy, rainy night with people I just met gazing across the Salish Sea south from Vancouver Island. Two beautiful American women are singing American folk songs while I look at America from Canada and ponder the meaning of home. There’s a mandolin hanging on the wall next to me that reads “Made in Kentucky” and I think of my Kentucky-born, Kentucky-raised mother. I miss her. I miss hearing southern accents. I think of my father teasing my mother about her accent all while developing his own southern accent from decades of loving my mother. I miss my father.

I learn about loneliness as I realize that spending too much time pitying myself for my loneliness while the world burns is a luxury the world cannot afford. Then, I learn I’m lonely for a world where I can sit with my melancholia for as long as I wish.

I’m lonely for a world that isn’t burning.

***
A few nights ago, I sat in a crowd gathered for a Unist’ot’en Camp fundraiser in the Fernwood neighborhood of Victoria listening to Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson and her husband, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief, Toghestiy speak about the mission of the Camp.

I spent the few days before helping to prepare for the fundraiser. I was tired from moving tables, loading vans, and riding my loaner bike all over Victoria hanging posters on telephone poles and in coffee shops. As so often happens to me in large gatherings of people who seem to all know each other, but who don’t know me, I was feeling very lonely. I wanted to share hugs with people I’d hugged before. I wanted to talk about football – American football in this time of the World Cup – with someone, anyone.

It was in this emotional place that Toghestiy’s words found me. He talked about the Camp volunteers who had turned their back on mainstream middle-class lifestyles to make their way off-the-grid to Unist’ot’en Camp. He explained how recently Camp volunteers woke in the early morning before dawn to the sound of a low-flying helicopter. Helicopters often try to land equipment and men on Wet’suwet’en land to establish work camps to begin pipeline construction. They jumped in a pick-up and took off down a forestry road to chase the helicopter off.

Toghestiy told a story about an indigenous friend who was called to the offices of a pipeline corporation so they could offer her a job and ask her to encourage support for the projects with her people. The woman took a drum to the office and beat it every time a pipeline executive tried to speak until they realized her answer was, “No.”

Toghestiy then told the story of his grandfather. Toghestiy was raised on the cultural lessons of his late grandparents – Madeek and Sa’itne. Toghestiy’s grandfather – also a hereditary chief – held an illegal open-air feast for his people. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Toghestiy’s grandfather in the middle of the feast and held him in jail for several months. As soon as Toghestiy’s grandfather was released from jail, he gathered his people together to finish the feast. It was through actions and stories like these that Toghestiy was taught that a hereditary chief has a responsibility to ensure there is always something for his people and their future generations.

Finally, Toghestiy described the genocidal processes that are destroying First Nations. What began with murder and rape at the time of European first contact and carried on through the forcible removal of indigenous children from their families to residential schools for cultural whitewashing is perpetuated by the continual dispossession of First Nations land, the slashing of government aid programs, and a nearly complete unemployment rate in many First Nations communities. Unist’ot’en Camp stands in resistance to genocide. The Camp offers indigenous people and the world a glimpse into the power and humility of traditional Wet’suwet’en ways of living while physically blocking the spread of destructive fossil fuels.

Then, Toghestiy said, “These stories are about integrity. Corporations and the government think they can buy our integrity with the right price, but my integrity cannot be bought or sold. I want to ask everyone who is not resisting, ‘Is your integrity intact?’”
***

Is your integrity intact?

It is a simple and direct question. Integrity means being honest and having strong moral principles. In a world where many of us claim to be concerned for the future of our children, it means stopping the forces that will make their future a living hell. In a world where most of us claim to love life and at least some other living beings, it means protecting what we love. In a world threatened with annihilation by economic development and colonialism, it means everything.

We all must answer Toghestiy’s question for ourselves. First, each one of us must decide what to base our moral foundation upon. I encourage you to base your morality on the natural world because without the natural world nothing is possible. The most delicious food you’ve ever tasted comes from a functioning soil system. The most enjoyable learning experience you’ve ever gone through is only possible because your brain is housed in natural minerals (your skull) and nourished with physical nutrients (remember that delicious food?). The best glass of wine you’ve ever had starts with clean water. The most incredible sex you’ve ever experienced would never have happened without the clean air you and your partner shared in those magical moments.

Choosing to base our morality on reality is not enough, though. Regardless of what we say or think or say we think, integrity is demonstrated by action. It’s as simple as my father’s favorite adage, “It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.” Honesty is only proven through honest actions. You honestly love trees? Stop them from being deforested. You honestly love salmon? Knock down the dams keeping them from reaching their spawning beds. You honestly love your children? Ensure that they have a livable future.

This is what integrity looks like.

***
Answering Toghestiy’s question myself has given me the strength I need to overcome the loneliness that so often accompanies resistance because it gives me the articulation I need to remember why I am willing to face loneliness to keep resisting.

Why am I willing to feel loneliness? To keep my integrity intact.

The dominant culture works very hard and very well at nullifying resistance. It pushes capitalism on us to force us to work most of our waking hours to buy food and shelter. It pushes colonialism on indigenous peoples because the dominant culture simply cannot tolerate that there are – and always have been – better ways to live. It offers us money, alcohol, drugs, pornography, television, meaningless vacations, and so-called “security” to encourage us to accept or ignore or deny these terrible arrangements of power.

I could sell my integrity, of course. You could, too. They’re offering some very attractive signing bonuses. I could give up on the pipelines resistance up here and come back to friends and family to alleviate my loneliness. I could use my law degree and legal experience to make a more than comfortable living to salve the feelings of financial insecurity I often feel. I could allow myself to be seduced by the smiling face and feel good ethic of a bourgeois existence that says that being nice, maximizing personal happiness, and spending quality time with friends and family is the ultimate goal of life.

But, I won’t and I hope you won’t, either. My integrity is not for sale. I want my integrity to be intact.

Browse Will Falk’s Unis’tot’en Camp series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating

 Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

 

What was my drink

My delicious addiction

That led to my oppression?

My drug of choice

I held in my hand

Was a glassful of depression.

—Carol Ann F., Vashon Island, Washington

If you watched any commercial television in the early 1990s, you may remember the Old Milwaukee beer ad featuring pleased men relaxing with a couple sixpacks, agreeing that “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Advertising has a way of being more effective the more farfetched it becomes, by way of memorable slogans and images rather than accuracy. Anyone who has tasted Old Milwaukee can assure you it does get better than this. But any dubious, subjective claim might still sell something, so long as buyers can at least pretend to believe it. Capitalism needs to make—at the very least—a hypothetical promise of fulfillment and anything so hard to come by is an easy sale, especially when it’s cheap and one is poor.

Because civilization requires class divisions to create a labor pool to do menial and dangerous work, so long as it exists there will always be those whose only contentment will come from some product or other. Television, alcohol, drugs, refined sugar, and gambling might head a list of such surrogates. If we see civilization as a vicious pyramid scheme and not the advanced condition of society that it claims to be, the role of chemical and media distractions in our lives becomes clear. If life doesn’t get any better than Old Milwaukee beer, then that is what we’ll buy. If eating is the closest thing to love we feel, then eat we will. And someone always wins the lottery, after all.

For many, substances and entertainment become not an augmentation to a satisfying life, but a substitute, and the effects vary widely from person to person and group to group. Alcohol has a much more devastating effect on those with little metabolic ability to process it, for example, and it’s an insidious process. The onetime casual drinker might find herself absorbed by a daily ten drinks. The occasional betting man may come to see his savings, house, and family vanish into a casino. Diversion often becomes addiction; self-medication transforms into crisis.

Clinical psychologist Janina Fisher summarizes this progression: “The first assumption is that any addictive behavior begins as a survival strategy: as a way to numb, wall off intrusive memories, self-soothe, increase hypervigilance, combat depression, or facilitate dissociating. The addiction results from the fact that these psychoactive substances require continual increases in dosage to maintain the same self-medicating effect and eventually are needed just to ward off physical and emotional withdrawal.”[1]

In our last essay[2] we reviewed the options available to the one in four US adults who suffer from a “diagnosable mental disorder,”[3] options that increasingly are dominated by psychiatric medications. While these popular drugs may be useful as a short-term remedy to severe problems, behavior and talk therapy appears to be more durable and less risky.[4] Yet given a choice between months or years of hard, introspective work and a pill that takes a second to swallow, it isn’t surprising that many take the shortcut. One out of three doctor’s office visits by women, for instance, include prescription of an antidepressant drug.[5]

Antidepressants and antipsychotics sales multiplied almost fifty times from 1985 to 2008, to $24.2 billion.[6] Sales of prescription antidepressants declined from $11.6 billion in 2010 to $11 billion in 2011;[7] by comparison, liquor sales hit $19.9 billion in 2011, up 4 percent from 2010.[8] And this is only in the US, where seventy-nine thousand deaths are blamed on alcohol annually and alcoholism is the third highest lifestyle-related cause of death. About 40 percent of US hospital beds not devoted to maternity and intensive care are occupied by someone with an alcohol-related illness.[9] Americans spend a lot of money on booze and its aftereffects.

Because most alcoholics will insist there is no problem—or at least no alcohol problem—it’s impossible to say whether a bottle of vodka is for harmless leisure or desperate treatment of a harrowing emotional emergency. Alcoholism is hard to define, and no one even clearly understands how alcohol works on the human body. Any addiction is hard to define. It could simply be something you can’t stop. The American Heritage Dictionary calls it “the condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something,” a “compulsive physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance.”

Most humans have a desire to feel good, to minimize pain and effort and maximize ease and pleasure. We also seem to enjoy repeated experiences; watch someone at a slot machine sometime, mechanically feeding coin after coin, eerily rapt. Who doesn’t want a sense of meaning and substance to their days, a feeling of profundity, or simply relief from worry and regret? These can be achieved through discipline, surrender of controlling behaviors and cultivation of new behaviors—all without damaging your body and mind—but you can also find a toxic mimic of peace of mind by medicating yourself with chemicals or passive, fabricated experiences. The latter options have a grim list of negative consequences, from liver cirrhosis to obesity to insanity, all of which distance the user from authenticity, adventure, and self-respect. Pornography and alcohol aren’t known for aiding good romantic relationships, and an oxycontin monkey on your back will not steer you to happiness. Yet the prevalence of addictive behavior and the damage it causes shows that many try anyway.

The Problem with Alcohol

Our own experience with chemicals varies widely, as it does with anyone: To pick alcohol as maybe the most common of civilization’s intoxicants, Hyatt has been good and drunk—staggering, vomiting—only twice in her life. Carter, on the other hand, never met a drink he couldn’t live with, or a cigarette he didn’t like. In his prime he could put away a six-pack of strong beer and a bottle of wine a night with only a faint headache the next day. Certainly by some definitions this is alcoholism. Though he hasn’t smoked for seven years or drank any alcohol for a year and a half, they remain for him substances with a lingering, obsessive attraction, a rueful glamorous draw. He can’t watch someone have a smoke without a mix of disgust and ragged envy. It doesn’t last long and it’s only a tiny struggle to get past the feelings, but they are there.

The problem with alcohol, an experienced therapist tells us, is that we put it in our mouths. Just like the problem with oil and coal is that we burn it. Until we engage with it, it just sits there, benign and innocuous; when we do engage it, it becomes a relationship. We don’t ordinarily think of interactions with chemicals to be relationships, so it’s hard to imagine “abusing” them. Do drug abusers punch their needles, yell at their pills? When people intentionally cut themselves, they’re not abusing the knife.

It’s more a question of how we choose to treat ourselves.  Consider a bad relationship you’ve been in. Remember the pattern of alternating moments of clinging and rejection, bliss and sour regret, warm contentment and self-loathing, sure belonging and desolate unworthiness. Once a relationship becomes abusive, it doesn’t stop being abusive, it only lingers and escalates, doing more damage. Power is being exerted in a bewilderingly damaging way.

Addiction may be the advanced condition of a toxic relationship, and the only way life improves then is to end the relationship. Any reforming alcoholic can tell you the attraction of living without alcohol isn’t in the absence of booze, the void where the relationship was; it’s in the promise of vitality, surprise, and freedom from intoxicated depression in new relationships.

The Anatomy of Avoidance

Our way of life, which we did not choose, requires most of us to spend most of our waking time at jobs that make us unhappy.[10] Our sense of optimism and interest in life erodes when what we want to do is usually subordinate to what we have to do. This is the baseline of civilized existence, the background circumstances. The amount of time spent at work is something humans haven’t evolved with—instead it is a condition that spread by conquest, like agriculture and industry. We are still creatures of the Paleolithic, leading lives based on entrapment by a contrived economy.

Add some everyday stressors: appointments, family conflicts, arguments with partners, fear of violence, illnesses, even small annoyances. If work weren’t a necessity—the bind nearly all civilized people are in—these stressors wouldn’t amount to much more than everyday matters easily resolved. If staying home and tending to a child’s illness didn’t get you fired, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. In healthy, intact indigenous cultures, light-heartedness is the normal condition.[11] In civilization, it’s a rarity, the most ephemeral enjoyment. It’s no wonder we avoid every hard task we can. Paradoxically, work itself is a highly acceptable method of avoidance, though a hard-driven capitalist can do more damage than a homeless crack addict could ever dream of.

This isn’t avoidance in the sense of swerving to avoid a car crash; instead, it’s a pattern of learned behavior, a way of responding to negative feelings. It’s our responses, rather than the negative feelings themselves, that determine our emotional condition. Emotional learning takes place whether perceived threats actually exist or not.[12] If you avoid bathing for fear of sharks in the tub, even if you know full well how irrational the fear is you still condition yourself to a response—you’re rewarded by the alleviation of your discomfort by not doing what it is you fear. But of course some problems remain, and grow.

Procrastination is a classic example of avoidance behavior that breeds anxiety because the thing we’re putting off continues to plague and unsettle. The perceived discomfort of resolution continues to escalate out of proportion to reality. How big a deal is it to wash the dishes? An extremely big deal, eventually. Pile on some more serious tasks like resolving an argument or a medical issue, and you have a mess easily soothed by booze, a pill, a casual hook-up (who hopefully doesn’t mind a reeking sinkful of dishes). These temporary fixes don’t resolve the problems, however. When they are habit forming and have their own destructive consequences, they become additional problems, also easy to mediate by simply continuing them. Problem drinkers know well that nothing fixes a hangover like the hair of the dog.

Avoidance becomes a part of your personality, and a way of life. It becomes more oppressive than all you’re avoiding; it demands your energy and attention, until you can feel it pressing in on you from outside, worrying itself from the inside. It nags and cajoles, urges quick solutions, makes self-serving promises. It is the parent of indifference, the older sibling to addiction. Apathy and numbing are defenses against the overwhelming anxiety formed by avoidance. For anyone working for social and environmental justice, where trauma and loss are everyday realities, avoidance can be very attractive, but eventually disastrous. How can anyone live fully in (let alone protect) the world if they are stuck in habits that lead to disconnection and withdrawal from the world?

FBSizeArticleImage-AddictionQuote

Treatment Options

By the time an alcohol or drug problem becomes serious enough that it can’t be ignored, when a DUI or organ failure or intervention by others has forced it out of the protection racket of avoidance, the sufferer’s life is likely so compromised by damaged relationships and financial problems that finding the resources to deal with it can be extremely difficult. Until the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, there was no very effective means of treating alcoholism. AA and its spinoffs—Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and others organized around the Twelve Steps principles of recovery—don’t offer a huge statistical hope of success, but they do offer some,[13] and are far better than the snake pit asylums that used to await chronic alcoholics.

Twelve Step groups and the spiritual, community-oriented recovery plan they use are controversial. The language of the Steps[14] sounds suspiciously Christian in tone, though in practice it’s entirely secular; no particular religious group sponsors AA. The organization holds that alcoholism is a disease, a view that’s strenuously objected to by other recovery approaches.[15]  The multiple methods now available are good news for addicts, who’d be well advised to be open to anything that might work. Scrutinizing the life preserver when you’ve gone down for the proverbial third time is as good a description of the insanity of addiction as any.

This doesn’t mean that any one thing or another will work, of course. AA members, well aware of how their message is often doubted, like to say “take what you need and leave the rest.” One therapist we talked with, skeptical of AA, nevertheless remarked that disliking AA is one of the best reasons to go to their meetings, because it makes you think about—and hopefully begin to understand—the nature of your problems. In this small space, we can offer only a quick analysis of Twelve Step programs; we think they’re well worth looking into for their widespread presence, emphasis on engagement with others, and group problem-solving. And they’re free.

There are no other settings we’re aware of where one can be well-understood, respectfully listened to, and given zero slack for rationalizing bullshit. Alcoholics tend to believe they’re some sort of tragically, perhaps terminally unique actors on a sadist’s stage, shat upon daily by an unjust god. Hearing the same experiences of others on a routine basis (newcomers to AA are encouraged to attend ninety meetings in ninety days) dissolves this addiction-serving worldview, and builds a sense of community and common interest with others where once only egocentrism and false pride stood.

Any member of the dominant culture could well use just such a transformation. Only the incremental deposing of assumed godlike power will rescue the biosphere from civilization. The experiences of wretched addicts, who have managed to surrender control, are relevant to all who wish to understand how this mechanism might work. Addiction is one of civilization’s options for hiding from responsibility, for staying in denial, for avoiding our duty to the living world. Recovery means finding a healthy way of listening to our anxieties and engaging with others to create and live a meaningful life.

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist. Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist. His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012. They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: AA World Services, 2001.

________. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: AA World Services, 1994.

Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.

Friends in Recovery. Edited by Kathleen W. 12 Steps to Freedom: A Recovery Workbook. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1991.

Fuller, Alexander.   “In the Shadow of Wounded Knee,” National Geographic, August 2012, 51.

Glendinning, Chellis. My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994.

Leventhal, Allan M. and Martell, Christopher R. The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006.

Peele, Stanton. Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment out of Control.Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1989

Trimpey, Jack. Rational Recovery. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.

Villar, Oliver and Cottle, Drew. Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011.

Online

Rohith Sebastian, “A New Approach to Overcoming Psychological Disorders,” Psych Central, accessed May 7, 2014,http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/04/10/a-new-approach-to-overcoming-psychological-disorders/

Kyung Jin Lee, “Capitalism Makes Us Crazy: Dr. Gabor Maté on Illness and Addiction,” TruthOut, June 1, 2013, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/16711-capitalism-makes-us-crazy-dr-gabor-mate-on-illness-and-addiction

Jamie Doward, “Medicine’s big new battleground: does mental illness really exist?” The Observer, May 11, 2013,http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/12/medicine-dsm5-row-does-mental-illness-exist

Gabrielle Glaser, “Elizabeth Pena and the Truth About Alcoholic Women: Alcoholism and abuse is on the rise among women. Why they drink, and why the traditional treatment methods like A.A. don’t work for them,” The Daily Beast, October 24, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/24/elizabeth-pena-and-the-truth-about-alcoholic-women.html

Corrinne Burns, “Are mental illnesses such as PMS and depression culturally determined?” The Guardian, May 20, 2013,http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/may/20/mental-illnesses-depression-pms-culturally-determined

Medical University of Vienna, “Depression detectable in the blood: Platelet serotonin transporter function,” ScienceDaily, April 29, 2014,www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140429105015.htm

Matthew Miller, MD, ScD1; Sonja A. Swanson, ScM2; Deborah Azrael, PhD1; Virginia Pate, PhD, PhD3; Til Stürmer, MD, ScD3, “Antidepressant Dose, Age, and the Risk of Deliberate Self-harm,” JAMA Intern Med., April 28, 2014,http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1863925

Endnotes

[1] Janina Fisher, Ph.D., “Addictions and Trauma Recovery,” Paper presented at the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, November 13, 2000,http://www.janinafisher.com/pdfs/addictions.pdf

[2] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as a Social Construct,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, March 13, 2014, http://dgrsouthwestcoalition.org/2014/03/13/restoring-sanity-part-2-mental-illness-as-a-social-construct/

[3] Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE, “Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R),” Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

[4] “Studies have shown that behavior therapy provides remedies that are longer-lasting and pose no concerns regarding side effects.” Leventhal and Martell, p. 137.

“A growing number of overdoses of legal opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers led to a 65 percent increase in hospitalizations over seven years,” Katherine Harmon, “Prescription Drug Deaths Increase Dramatically,” Scientific American, April 6, 2010,http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/prescription-drug-deaths/ While not about psychiatric drugs in particular, this article does underscore the hazard in so many medications simply being at large, available for addictive use or accidental overdose and death.

[5] Leventhal and Martell, p. 135.

“Researchers say women are more likely to have depression and anxiety, while more men report substance abuse,” James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, 22 May 2013,http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

[6] John Horgan, “Are Psychiatric Medications Making Us Sicker?” Scientific American, March 5, 2012, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/03/05/are-psychiatric-medications-making-us-sicker/

“Writing a prescription to treat a mental health disorder is easy, but it may not always be the safest or most effective route for patients, according to some recent studies and a growing chorus of voices concerned about the rapid rise in the prescription of psychotropic drugs,” Brendan L. Smith, “Inappropriate prescribing,” June 2012 Monitor on Psychology, June 2012, Vol 43, No. 6, print version: page 36, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/06/prescribing.aspx

[7] Craig W. Lindsley, “The Top Prescription Drugs of 2011 in the United States: Antipsychotics and Antidepressants Once Again Lead CNS Therapeutics,” ACS Chem. Neurosci., 2012, 3 (8), pp 630–631, August 15, 2012,http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/cn3000923 The ACS is the American Chemical Society. The figures for drug sales are located on Table 2.

[8] Brad Tuttle, “Cheers! Increase in Liquor Sales Bodes Well for Economic Recovery,” Time, January 31, 2012,http://business.time.com/2012/01/31/cheers-increase-in-liquor-sales-bodes-well-for-economic-recovery/

[9]“Facts about Alcohol,” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, accessed February 10, 2011, http://ncadd.org/index.php/learn-about-alcohol/faqsfacts

[10] “According to the Gallup 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 52 percent of American full-time workers said they were ‘disengaged’ at work, meaning that they put time and effort into their work, but didn’t have energy or passion for it. Together, 70 percent of employees said they were either ‘disengaged’ or ‘actively disengaged,’ the latter term defining workers who openly express their discontent and undermine the efforts of their engaged colleagues. Just 30 percent of the workers polled said they felt ‘engaged’ at work, meaning they are ‘involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.’” Eli Epstein, “How many Americans are unhappy at work?” MSN News, June 25, 2013,http://news.msn.com/us/how-many-americans-are-unhappy-at-work

[11] “In one study, researchers used a storytelling technique to evaluate three groups of Kenyan women: rural women in a traditional village, poor urban women, and middle-class urban women…traditional women almost always told very positive stories that usually had a happy ending. Middle-class urban women told stories that emphasized their own power and competence. Poor urban women’s stories were generally tragic and focused on powerlessness and vulnerability. The researchers note that many poor urban women have ‘lost the security and protection of the old [traditional] system without gaining the power or rewards of the new system,’” Friedman, Ariellad and Todd, Judith. “Kenyan Women Tell a Story: Interpersonal Power of Women in Three Subcultures in Kenya.” Sex Roles 31: 533-546, in Nanda, Serena and Warms, Richard L.Cultural Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004, 387, 388.

[12] Leventhal and Martell, p. 82.

[13] “Accurate reports about the success rates of 12-step programs like AA and NA are notoriously difficult to obtain. The few studies that have attempted to measure the effectiveness of the program have often been contradictory. Fiercely protective of their anonymity, AA forbids researchers from conducting clinical studies of its millions of members. But the organization does conduct its own random surveys every three years. The result of AA’s most recent study in 2007 were promising. According to AA, 33 percent of the 8,000 North American members it surveyed had remained sober for over 10 years. Twelve percent were sober for 5 to 10 years; 24 percent were sober 1 to 5 years; and 31 percent were sober for less than a year,” Kevin Gray, “Does AA Really Work? A Round-Up of Recent Studies,” The Fix, January 29, 2012,http://www.thefix.com/content/the-real-statistics-of-aa7301

[14] “The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” A.A. World Services, Inc., May 9, 2002, www.aa.org/en_pdfs/smf-121_en.pdf‎

[15] “Peer-reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. That is, about one of every fifteen people who enter these programs is able to become and stay sober. In 2006, one of the most prestigious scientific research organizations in the world, the Cochrane Collaboration, conducted a review of the many studies conducted between 1966 and 2005 and reached a stunning conclusion: ‘No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA’ in treating alcoholism. This group reached the same conclusion about professional AA-oriented treatment (12-step facilitation therapy, or TSF), which is the core of virtually every alcoholism-rehabilitation program in the country,” Lance Dodes and Zachary Dodes, “Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry,” excerpt in “AA and Rehab Culture Have Shockingly Low Success Rates,” AlterNet, April 2, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/books/pseudoscience-aa-and-rehab?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Peele, 1989.

Trimpey, 1996.