“Undamned” (Part One)

February 28, 2015

It is not the first time I have bitten my tongue, making my eyes water and the taste of blood well up in my mouth.

The sudden lack of coordination between my teeth and my tongue, resulting in painful damage, always makes me wonder at the two:  “Didn’t you guys learn anything the first hundred times you’ve done this?”

Damn it, that hurt.  It hurts even more, knowing that I’ve done it before and I seem unable to avoid doing it.  Yet, eat I must, and though I attempt to chew carefully, it will happen again.  Maybe not now, maybe not in a year from now, but it will happen.  Again.

It reeks of an Eternal Presence; one that constantly reminds me that I am nowhere close to being in control.  At the same time, it also reminds me to play a good game to the best of my ability.  I have not always done so, and have felt myself left out, pushed far afield from the accolades I have come to crave; the sense of family I have lost.  I have damned myself in doing so.

The subject here is about becoming one of the “Undamned.”

“The what?” you say.  “The Damned” is a term used for the lost, the soulless, the shadowy vampires lurking behind the sill of a window opening into a young girl’s room.  You can take your pick of evil images, or even flip over to tarnished heroes who steal your heart while stealing your jewels, yet who wind up sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

Those guys, the tarnished heroes.  Aren’t they a kick?  How many movies have been made about them?  Rude, crude, socially unacceptable and totally capable of accomplishing anything once they set their minds to it together.  Yet, by themselves, they are far from being anyone others want around.  While they are young, you will find them in bars, possibly in gangs together.  Perhaps they are police officers.  You get my drift.

The ones I describe swim in a world of pain, drugs and alcohol to relieve that pain, and a distinct inability to give a rat’s ass about much.  They also care far more deeply than anyone realizes, and would pull out their own beating hearts if it means saving the life of an innocent.  Yet they have trouble making the rent, or staying focused on finances, or keeping a family together.

I’m one.  Or, perhaps I like to think I am.  No, I am definitely one of them. How do I explain my personal losses in a way that would make you care, or teach you something you want to learn?  Frankly, I don’t give a damn whether you learn from this because you probably won’t, and are simply one of those people looking out their car window at the bleeding bodies of the family who died in a horrible car wreck.

Or, like me, you actually are one who will pull over, and get out to help the police and firemen in any possible way that you can.  Maybe you are even one of them.  Maybe you are none of these, and say to yourself “There’s plenty of people helping out, and besides, I driven past them already.”  Yeah, I’ve done that, too.  Then I find myself doubting, wondering if I had pulled over, could I have made a difference in somebody’s life?

With enough self-doubt, I start to condemn and berate myself.  I become irritable, and take out my lack of balls on the rest of the world, condemning and berating others for any reason.

Are you like me on this?  Have you ended up being one of the truly lost, the truly damned?  I am here to tell you that I am on the road to being “Undamned.”  (I am deliberately not hyphenating the word, because I believe it will become a proper noun in time.)

First, allow me to direct you to two important sources:  The Bible, and The Holographic Universe.

“Oh, God, here comes another religious nut!” you have just said to yourself.  Fine, whatever.  Did I come up to your house and knock on your door just now?  Did I ask you for money?  Did I hand you a nice drink of Kool-Aid from a dubious source?

However, if you truly feel like one of the damned, and you don’t think that asking forgiveness from God has worked for you before, or prevented you from doing something terrible, or preventing something terrible from happening to you, then stick around.  Because I found out something about God that not even an atheist can argue:  He isn’t a he or a she, and isn’t an anthropomorphic being sitting around on a heavenly throne.  (I will refer to God as a “He” because there is something distinctly male about a being that fertilizes the universe and causes things to grow.)

You just saw God today.  Your reflection in the mirror? God.  The look your dog gives you when you pet it? God.  All the good and the bad that has happened to you?  God.  Yep.  God gave us the Devil, so it comes down to God no matter how you slice it, right?  All the death and the suffering and those who enjoy it, all were begat by God.

So funny how us tiny little ants on a spinning speck of the galaxy came into this thing called “free will.”  What a terrible responsibility to put on little ape creatures who are busy consuming the planet and each other.  Talk about “damned.”  However, since we cannot change our size or our place in the universe this moment, perhaps our minds and souls would be at ease if we lightened up a bit?

And just how does one “lighten up”?  First, how about accepting responsibility for being born?  Yep, you wanted to be born.  Don’t tell me you didn’t, no matter how much you kicked and screamed and pissed yourself about it.  You wanted it.  You sat through my little diatribe about God a moment ago because you wanted to.  Whether you heard anything different or not is irrelevant, you wanted to read it, and read some more.

You wanted-and received-every ass-kicking, every slap, every scream, every tear that fell from your eyes.  You wanted to see the cruel, cruel world at work.  You wanted that first kiss, those romantic ideas, and that bone-crushing reality.  Hey, don’t feel bad, we all did.  We still do.

Trust me, I understand thoughts and actions now.  I’m realizing that there is very little, if any, difference between the two.  While a thought does not do anything externally, it certainly has an effect internally.  The saying “I am my own worst enemy” rings true when you fill your mind with hurt-remembered, real or imagined.

Mental masturbation is a killer.  Try and tell me I’m wrong.  It’s a great way to stay depressed, to keep feeling as worthless as you perceive yourself.  Stop it.  Give it up.  Let God have it back, right?  Say “Thanks, but no thanks, I’m done worrying.”  Of course, we adore being worried, don’t we?  Money, food, shelter, love-we worry that any absence of such states of possession will ruin us.  So, focus smaller.  If you have money, work on your health.  If you have love, work on your money.  If you have nothing, then you’re an idiot because everybody has something and you’re being too hard-headed to realize it.  Even the bag lady has something; in fact, she’s probably had her shopping cart ripped off more than once by someone who thought she had more than they did.

Stop the pity-party. Step off the crazy train.  Take your meds, but realize that while you might need them, what you really need to do is to calm your silly ass down and relax.  Allow the volume to be turned down in your head.  Until you start thinking clearly, you will never fix anything about your life.  Inner peace is imagining a stormy ocean that suddenly clears up.  The waves get smaller and smaller until they are happy ripples.  Dolphins frolic, flying fish fly, and even the sharks have a smile on their faces.  Damned if the sun wasn’t shining the whole time, but your storm was in the way.

I’ll post more on becoming “Undamned” later.  It’s time for me to watch a movie, or lie in bed and pet my dogs.  maybe practice a few chord changes on my path to learning guitar. So calm down, take a few deep breaths, stretch, and go for a walk.

I’ll talk with you soon.

Joel S. Copeland

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The IED Known As Politics

February 29, 2012

IED.  Most folks recognize the acronym.  It stands for “Improvised Explosive Device.”  Used by the Taliban and insurgents for the past ten years, their existence has claimed the majority of American military lives lost in the Middle East conflicts.  Upon breaching the subject of anything to do with the Constitution, the President, Congress, our Senate, and anyone or anything else related to politics, verbal “bombs” are sure to go off.  And these “bombs” are usually of the improvised variety.

The accusations of the Left against the Right and vice versa all provide rich fodder for the media.  Everyday brings a new outrage, a new panic, or fresh hysteria towards the sound of the loud beating of an old drum.  The lines of reality keep getting blurred with every new report of the “sky falling.”  Is this indicative of how the great civilizations of man’s past have fallen?  To argue and bitterly attack one another with anything and everything because of a perceived-or real-difference of opinion?

Every single person with an agenda is screaming for attention.  Some agendas attract more people; the more the merrier, or the more that become targets for those who are opposed to that particular agenda (thus giving birth to yet another agenda.)  Within all of the chaos we witness on a daily basis, is there not hope?  Is there not a message to humanity that, if we choose to make lasting and substantial change, we might actually evolve and survive?  For some reason, I keep hearing a quiet whisper inside of me.  It deplores the verbal bombs, the screams of rage and frustration, the shouts for change until things are so altered no one recognizes what remains.

This voice tells me that we need to step back from our hubris to see the path to enlightenment.  Is such a thing possible?  Hmm, good question.  How many things today are in existence that were not possible yesterday?  Is it possible to rid ourselves of corruption?  Tyranny?  Drug abuse?  Domestic violence?  Violence to enforce a political agenda?  If we step away from it, will it still seek us out to destroy us?  Or like facing down an enraged animal, can we keep our cool, allowing our personal calm to soothe the savage beast?

Politics alone is certainly not the only verbal (or emotional) IED around.  Religion, of course.  Want and need are melded together into a social IED, where one is taught to be the same as the other, and any action to satisfy the merged state plays into the hands of the ones who enjoy the manipulation of the masses and the wealth it brings.

We are damaging our neighbors, our friends, our families with our own IED: hubris, or the giving in to one’s ego-driven desires.  We blow up easily when in an unstable state of mind, much like explosives do when mixed or handled improperly.  Simply, we must reach into the place in our hearts which knows better.  We must adhere to our conscience or we become the enemies we bemoan and rail against; lest we blow off our own face to spite our collective noses.

Can we have fairness and equanimity toward one another?  Can we show mercy to those who fail?  Can we devote ourselves to the removal of our personal IED, in whatever form it is manifest?  This is a personal call for each of us.  Let us come together and speak to each other, not as Republicans or Democrats, Jews or Muslims, Christians or Atheists, but as a people of true spirit, of equal heart.  Evolution is calling us to step away from the IED’s we have created.

Do we trust ourselves with such power?  You must decide for yourself. 

The Suicide of a Child: A Tale of Survival

March 8, 2010

By Joel S. Copeland

This is a rebuttal of sorts.  My daughter made a statement by taking her own life, and I must refute her reasons.  I know that people might say it is callous of me to speak against my deceased girl, but suicide brings pain to the survivors and makes them victims of depression, loneliness, and a complete destruction of one’s personal self esteem.  Since it happened, I lost a good job, a wife and family, and became homeless.  Since I haven’t killed myself, I’ve learned to survive.  Maybe I can help you survive, too.

My journey has been long and sad since she passed away, but I have managed to learn a few things since she left.  First, the hardest and most important thing:  I didn’t kill her.  I didn’t inject her with a dangerous drug.  I didn’t raise her the wrong way.  I’m not to blame.  Believe me, when someone close to you, especially a child, takes their life, you tend to think you had a hand in killing them.  You obsess, taking yourself to task over everything you said or did.  You can engage in this behavior for years afterward.  One might easily turn to drugs and/or alcohol.  Don’t be surprised when you find yourself seeking professional help, or dialing 911 to keep from doing yourself in.  It’s okay to survive.

None of this is designed or intended to sublimate grief, in fact, I mourn frequently.  I mourn the loss of someone I loved so dearly, the loss of my dreams for her, the loss of times together, of a bright future ahead of her.  Mourning is only natural, but what I hate is how that mourning refuses to heal.  You have to fight to heal; your psyche refuses to heal on its own.  Sometimes amidst our grief, we ask ourselves: Where do I go from here?  All of our work seems to have no meaning:  What is there to live for, to work for, to retire for?  Losing a child seems to bring out the worst in our philosophical choices.  I’m for kicking philosophy to the curb and getting the worst of your grief out of your way.  Losing any loved one is difficult; losing a child is sheer hell.  Finding a reason to carry on is your number one priority.

Try to keep in mind that when a loved one commits suicide, they make everyone who loves them a victim.  Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, especially if it is someone’s fault, feels victimized.  The suicidal person, with or without realizing it, will make victims out of every person who loved them.  And when you are a victim of such a sad, often violent loss, your grief is no less than one who has lost a loved one to murder.

The argument may be made that the suicidal person isn’t in the right frame of mind to comprehend such effects on others, that they are wrapped up in their own pain.  I defy this argument, having been in a suicidal frame of mind myself more than once in my life.  I always thought about those it would hurt the most, the ones who really and truly loved me.  My depression went on, but I held on to life.  There was a line, quoted by Tom Hanks in the movie “Joe Versus The Volcano.”  He was replying to Meg Ryan’s character who revealed that she was considering taking her life.  He said (and I hope I’m qouting him properly) “Why do that?  Why kill yourself?  There are some things that take care of themselves and death is one of them, so why the rush?”

My daughter’s death has plunged me and my ex-wife into such depths of despair, but we have have each handled our survival differently.  The important thing is that we have survived.  Yet, there are times when survival is no great shakes.  Imagine that your mind is like your hands, a group of interdependent appendages, that all work together to make oneself complete.  Now imagine doing all of your daily routines while wearing mittens.  You tend to struggle with so many simple and basic things that way.  That is what depression and shock do to some.  I cannot say all or many, but myself, yes, I understand how hard it is to not only survive, but to turn my face into the wind, if you will pardon the sailors parlance, and sail on with my life.

All I am trying to do is connect with other survivors of this, unfortunately, growing phenomena; and to help them heal.  I have included an Internet posting on teen suicide rates, according to www.familyfirstaid.org, for 2001 reads as follows:

Teen suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among young adults and adolescents 15 to 24 years of age, following unintentional injuries and homicide. The rate was 9.9/100,000 or .01%.

The adolescent suicide rate among youth ages 10-14 was 1.3/100,000 or 272 deaths among 20,910,440 children in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 3:1 (males: females).

The teen suicide rate among youth aged 15-19 was 7.9/100,000 or 1,611 deaths among 20,271,312 teenagers in this age group. The gender ratio for teenage group was 5:1 (males: females).

Among young people 20 to 24 years of age, the youth suicide rate was 12/100,000 or 2,360 deaths among 19,711,423 people in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 7:1 (males: females).

Attempted Teenage Suicides
No annual national data on all attempted teenage suicides are available.
Other research indicates that:
There are an estimated 8-25 attempted suicides for each teen suicide death; the ratio is higher in women and youth and lower in men and the elderly.
More women than men report a history of attempted suicide, with a gender ratio of 3:1.
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings.

Pay attention to these teen suicide warning signs:
Suicide threats, direct and indirect
Teen depression
Obsession with death
Poems, essays and drawings that refer to death
Dramatic change in personality or appearance
Irrational, bizarre behavior
Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or reflection
Changed eating or sleeping patterns
Severe drop in school performance
Giving away belongings

(Here it is 2010 and the statistics have gotten worse.  I included the latter part of the article to help give people an idea of the kinds of signs your child, friend, partner or spouse may show prior to suicide.)

In my daughter’s case, according to her mother, she had created a collection of dark-themed poems about herself.  My understanding is that her mother didn’t find them until afterwards, too late to have acted upon my daughter’s angst and to prevent her from killing herself.  (Her mother and I were separated, and I lived out of state at the time.  A factor in of itself?  Maybe.)  I’m not blaming her mother or myself for what my daughter did.  Obviously, between the two of us, we didn’t see it coming.

So what is left for me to do with my life?  It has changed forever.  Now, I hope to reach out to those who have lost-and maybe get through to those who are about to lose.  If I could have seen this coming, I would have tried anything to stop her, even to the point of forcing her into a mental care facility.  Those who destroy themselves either aren’t thinking about the ones who love them, or they want to hurt their family members to the utmost.  Either way, it is a mind-bogglingly selfish act that plunges whole families into the depths of despair, and nobody deserves such pain.

Look for the survivor in yourself.  Ask yourself: What is most important in this life?  For me, it is the ability to start over, to give it another try.  As a survivor of suicide, for that is what I am, I have had to re-think every aspect of my life, but more importantly, act upon my new-found strength.  I work more, interact more, live more.  Maybe I’m not a better person than the one I was before my daughter died, but at least I am trying to live to the fullest.  It is my sincere desire that you will, too.

At this point, what is the worst that can happen?  It already has and I encourage you to become a stronger survivor and a bright light for those who suffer with you.

Joel Copeland is a member of the Yuba City Chapter of The Compassionate Friends.  He currently resides in Reno, NV.  You can contact him by e-mail joelscopeland@hotmail.com.

Update, August 11, 2015:

I look at my previous post here and I realize how little my own words have helped.  I recently visited a psychiatrist to get a change of medications to help me sleep after a couple of devastating episodes where I dreamed my daughter was still alive; and that she and her sister had helped to fake her death because she hated me.  A wound like this goes places it should not.  Suicide is so fucking selfish, even if it seems justified to the person doing it.  I’m still in pieces after eight years.  Bleeding pieces, and they never seem to heal.

~JSC~