The Most 2023 Moment of 2023

It was a social media issue. Of course.

One of the therapists I supervise is a director at a long-term substance misuse treatment program. The following conversation took place during one of our supervision sessions last summer.

T: What is your take on addressing clients’ social media? Is it a privacy violation?

FLG2: Looking at someone’s public social media is not illegal. I think employers should absolutely look at job candidate’s public social media. Ethically, I discourage it for therapists. Programs and agencies should have a very explicit social media policy that all employees and clients are aware of. So, follow your company’s policy.

T: We don’t have one.

FLG2: Well, then you need to implement one.

T: Noted. But I’d like to talk to you about this particular case.

FLG2: Proceed.

T: One of our clients is a well known social media influencer. He has over 2 million followers when you add up Tik Tok, Instagram and YouTube.

FLG2: Tell me about the client first.

T: White male. Early 20s. Massive problem with marijuana, alcohol and ADHD medications. No drivers license. No job. On probation.

FLG2: Before he came to your program, where did he live?

T: Friends. An on and off again girlfriend. A lot of hotels and AirBnbs.

FLG2: Got it. Ok. What is the theme of his influencing?

T: This is going to make you nuts.

FLG2: I’m prepared.

T: You’re not.

FLG2: Ha. Just tell me.

T: He posts on health and wellness.

FLG2: Get the fuck out of here. (pause). Hahahahaha. Of course. What a world we live in. Does he actually make money from this?

T: Yes. Over a hundred thousand dollars already this year.

FLG2: But he has nothing to show for the money.

T: Nothing. All on drugs and events and travel. He has no savings.

FLG2: I assume he hasn’t paid his taxes.

T: Wow. I hadn’t even thought about that.

FLG2: Something to address down the road.

T: What do we do in the meantime?

FLG2: Is he still making health and wellness TikToks while in treatment?

T: Yes.

FLG2: Jesus.

T: One of the staff members brought it to me. They were particularly galled by the comments of his followers.

FLG2: Tell me.

T: “You are so smart. You are so wise. Your message is so powerful. You’ve changed my life. I want to be just like you. How did you figure everything out so early?”

FLG2: Jesus Christ. Brutal. (pause, thinking). Don’t do anything about it right now.

T: Really?

FLG2: It’s not our job to police the internet. It’s not our job to reveal all the frauds and phonies and terrible advice that is ubiquitous now. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t.

T: But it’s not sober behavior. And he’s used his income to fund his drug use.

FLG2: I know. But he has to come to that conclusion. You can’t force him. Think about it. If you make $150K a year making three videos a week and then you are told you have to stop it or you’ll get kicked out of a treatment program, which would you pick?

T: I see your point, but I don’t like it.

FLG2: I don’t like it either. (pause). This is so much of what I do in public policy and business consulting.


There has been long history of anti-intellectualism in the United States*. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a stunning rejection of expertise. People have their own facts, they claim to do their own research. I am absolutely appalled by the financial, romantic, social, political and health advice that people get online. Youth, looks, a catchy musical clip and horrendous advice combined into a 20 second video is the new God of the 2020s. I have mixed thoughts and feelings about it, but ultimately, I believe that people are free to watch stupid shit and make terrible decisions. Caveat emptor, indeed.


* Anti-intellectualism is hostility to and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectualism, commonly expressed as deprecation of education and philosophy and the dismissal of art, literature, and science as impractical, politically motivated, and even contemptible human pursuits. (Wikipedia)

Grieving My Uncle

by Briana Borges

I now fully understand the phrase ”Fuck Cancer”

I was on the fence about doing this assignment due to it hitting home pretty hard. I laughed to myself in class when I read the bottom of the screen: “Only do this if you accept the fact that it may bring up a number of difficult thoughts and emotions.” I’ve fabricated quite a few stories in my lifetime for the sake of an assignment but I told myself I would actually put some blood, sweat, and tears into this journal. I thought about only grazing the surface of my grief but it would be an injustice to not at least attempt to write about what I experienced this past July.

I have quite a complicated relationship with death, which is awfully rooted in denial. I often wonder whether it’s due to being exposed to it so early in my childhood. It seemed to constantly surround me as my loved ones were forced to mourn time and time again. Life-long family friends, grandparents, former teachers, distant relatives…the list goes on. Cause of death ranges from breast cancer to multiple gunshot wounds. Honorable mention to my father’s brother, Nelson, who overdosed and was discovered on my 18th birthday. I was notified just as I was about to blow out my candles. Each death I was hit with stung but none of them ever really broke me. I hadn’t experienced the kind of loss you see someone choke up on decades later. 

They found a mass on my uncle’s liver in late November 2021. I was sitting at my dining room table when the news was mistakenly delivered to me. I drove to therapy in complete silence that day. In the following months, the updates gradually slowed as his health declined. At the time I didn’t know it but the diagnosis was a ticking time bomb, the tumor violently spreading to the rest of his organs. I could not live with myself if I didn’t visit him like I had promised, so I left for Brazil with my mom on June 4th, 2022.

 I melted into the pure skin and bones that lay quietly on the mattress before me. I held back my tears. He could barely stand up on his own. His beautiful brown eyes, once full of life, were now sunken and distant. After everyone fell asleep that night, I sat on the cold kitchen tile, facing the reality of the disease that was swallowing him whole. I stared into the complete darkness, pleading with a God I hadn’t spoken to in years. The grandfather clock on the wall seemed to sync up with my heartbeat. I spent the entire month of June soaking in every last possible second I had with my uncle. I laid with him for hours, gently tracing all the new wrinkles on his hand. I caressed his arm which was now thinner than mine. We didn’t need to speak. I spoon fed him on bad days, even though I knew the food wouldn’t stay down for long. I made sure he was comfortable, always placing the small purple pillow between his knees and evening out the one underneath his neck. Occasionally he would catch a glimpse of a tear streaming down my cheek and ask me why. He would apologize for not being able to “play with me” or take me on motorcycle rides like we used to. I assured him he would soon get better and we would do it all. Together, we clung onto these empty promises, finding solace in the future that would forever be out of our reach. 

Crowds of people came to visit daily. My uncle was so loved to the point where it was almost annoying. Neighbors, friends, guards who worked at the prison across the street, priests. Each and every person had their own ridiculous stories to tell, and would stay for hours at a time. It was my mother and I’s duty to keep them entertained as my uncle retreated back into his room. His friends became one of the few things I looked forward to. I grew fond of these strangers who cared so deeply for my loved one. They kept his spirit alive.

 Two weeks into our stay, my mother went to a doctor’s appointment with my aunt and discovered that the entire time my uncle had not been undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the tumor but merely palliative care to help with the pain. On top of that, his cancer had spread from his liver to his bones. This was not to be shared with anyone, especially my uncle. The document that contained his diagnoses was carefully stashed away somewhere in the house. With no formal education and limited medical knowledge, he was entirely reliant on my aunt. She shielded him from the harsh reality, carefully withholding the extent of his illness. I felt trapped in this facade, with no choice but to play along. I’m still not entirely sure whether my aunt was truly unaware of the severity of his disease or if she was in complete denial. Either way, things couldn’t have been worse.  

Less than eight months after being diagnosed, he was already unrecognizable. His distended abdomen, swollen limbs, and gaunt face were all undeniable indicators that his body was failing him. As his condition worsened, doctors were removing over 15 liters from his abdomen weekly. He could no longer sit up or walk, his legs far too weak to bear the weight of his own body. He began isolating himself, spending a majority of his time in his bedroom away from any guests. He didn’t want to watch soccer games anymore or look at old photographs. Our laughs and singing were replaced with a heavy, uncomfortable silence. Deeply embedded in this uncomfortable silence was an unspoken understanding. I was glued to his side from morning until night. 

Even in the midst of it all I was able to convince myself wholeheartedly that he would make it out unscathed. This delusion dampened the desperation, which allowed me to care for him as I watched him slowly slip away. I continued to compartmentalize, shoving the pain down as far as it would go with no intention of it coming up anytime soon. To no one’s surprise, my coping strategies were doing far more harm than good. My mother was the first to notice the physical toll the situation was taking on my body. My jeans were practically falling off from all the weight I dropped, almost 10 pounds in less than three weeks. A direct consequence of the lack of sleep, isolation, and non-existent appetite. Initially, I was given the opportunity to stay until the end or leave before things progressively got worse. My choice to stay was overruled by my mother’s concern. She lay by my side that night, heartbroken by her own decision. 

The very next day, I packed my things and prepared for the five hour drive to the airport. I spent the entire afternoon laying with my uncle in silence. I hugged him one last time. We agreed we would see each other again.

The man next to me took advantage of the free alcohol and drunkenly talked practically the entire nine hours of the trip. I kept my legs tightly crossed and glued my body to the cold, plastic wall of the plane. I arrived in EWR after two days of travel, unbelievably exhausted. For the first few days of being home, I tried to keep myself busy. I took apart my closet, violently scrubbed my kitchen cabinets, and for the first time ever pulled weeds out of the front yard. I called every night to check in. One day, when my aunt passed the phone over to my uncle, he could no longer remember me. A few days later, he was taken into the emergency room and slipped into a deep coma. He remained in this vegetative state for a number of days and began having seizures. 

It was July 12th when they broke the news that he had finally died. I remember it being one of the few days where I was able to refrain from thinking about it all. So much so that the contents of the phone call caught me by complete surprise. My cousin’s fiance drove us home from the beach and dropped me off. I assured her I was fine.

 I took a long shower and quietly crawled into bed. My house was empty, with all of my family out of the country and now focused on the funeral. For four days and four nights, I lay very still in the darkness of my mother’s room. My best friend would come over at night and leave in the morning for work. Upon her return, she would often discover that I had not moved an inch. Although we exchanged very few words, her presence was my only sense of comfort. Some relatives came by, with nothing to offer but cliches and cold hugs. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still harbor anger for their actions during this time. Although grieving a death of this magnitude alone was excruciating, I preferred isolation over their obligatory visits.

I haunted the hallways of my home, suffocated by the few remaining memories my body failed to repress. Around a week or so after his death, my family returned. Hugs were exchanged and life went back to normal. I seemed to be the only one stuck in my own emotional abyss. I have little recollection but by this point it must’ve been the end of July. 

I wore my grief like a cloak, my body standing no chance against the unbearable weight settling over my shoulders. I felt like you could smell death on me from miles away. There was a thick, unforgiving fog constantly surrounding me. There was no clear sense of direction or purpose. I went searching for distractions of any kind. During the day, I wanted to be anywhere but home. On weekends, I buried myself in nights out, falling asleep on couches and bathroom floors. I lashed out and cut communication with a few family members. I continued to isolate and compartmentalize but the more I ran, the more the feelings seemed to follow.  My only true saving grace during this time was therapy. Twice a week, without fail, successfully moved me away from denial and closer towards acceptance. I brought my daily habits back, like walking and writing. I look back and laugh now but I spent a lot of time speaking aloud to God and my uncle and whomever else may have been watching over me. Who knows if they were even listening. Little by little, the once unbearable weight had begun lifting off my shoulders.

I still have difficulty accepting the reality that I will never see my uncle again. There are days where I choose my words very carefully when speaking about his death, so as to not shock my own system. A majority of the pain lies in forgetting his face, his laugh, and his touch. I can wholeheartedly say I am eternally grateful for this journal as it forced me to acknowledge the pain I had almost completely detached from. Although my grief still weighs heavy on my heart, I now wear it with pride. It is a constant reminder of the unconditional love I have for my uncle, and serves as a powerful testimony to my ability to overcome even the darkest of days.

I’m sure one day we’ll meet again.


Briana is a dedicated professional from Union County. She will graduate with her MSW from Rutgers in 2024. She serves as an intern at Prevention Links at the Raymond Lesniak Recovery High School. Her role involves providing counseling, advocating for resources, and creating a nurturing environment for the students. Briana’s experiences have equipped her with the knowledge and skills necessary to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the youth she serves.

My Work with a Southern Republican Governor

Someone reached out to me on Facebook last month and asked if I had retired. “What gave you that idea?” I responded. She remarked that she couldn’t understand how I could be still working if I was hiking so much around the world. “Well, first off, I don’t have kids. What’s that joke? If you have a shit job but no kids, you are rich. If you have a high paying job but you have kids, you’re poor. Ha. But no, I’m not retired. I just figured out what pays the most in 21st century America.”

“What’s that?”


I could tell you more about the conversation, about how she was upset that I was working for both Republicans and Democrats. And how I responded that it would be stupid to cut off half my potential clients. I could spell out exactly how she questioned my principles and how she was outraged when I asked her what country she lives in. But I think you get the point. So I’m just going to share with you a snippet of a conversation that occurred in a Southern Republican Governor’s Mansion from late January after I had completed my Winter 46 in the Adirondacks. I’ll put it in the form of a play. I am the consultant (TC). The Governor is (GOV). Bob (B) is the Governor’s chief of staff and Kate (K) is my assistant.

GOV: Thanks for coming down.

TC: Well the check was convincing.

GOV: Ha. How was your flight?

TC: Terrible. We had to connect in Atlanta.

GOV: Sorry.

TC: Not your fault. But if you get elected, you’ve got to make it so people can get a direct flight from New Jersey to your state capitol. You know, everyone agrees that if you can’t fly somewhere directly from Newark, it’s not a serious place.

B: (stepping in to break the tension) Ahem. We really do appreciate you coming down here. And you are right…there should be a direct flight from both New York and DC to the capitol. Something for us to work on with the airlines.

K: (jumping in) Just give them a tax break. They’ll do whatever you ask.

GOV: (smiles, looks to Bob) See, this why we brought them down.

B: Can you tell us about some of your policy plans that can up the Governor’s profile?

TC: Of course. There are three things that you can start doing in your state today. Job creation through international prisons. Freedom and child protection through guns in schools. Cost savings by cutting lazy public workers’ salaries, benefits and pensions. All three of these will put you at the center of the political world. Republican votes will love it, liberal pansies will hate it, and everyone fucking cable news channel will talk about it. Win, win, win.

B: Interesting. Let’s start with international prisons.

TC: As you are painfully aware, two of the federal prisons in your state closed because of the Obama administration.

K (sees GOV and B shift uneasily and jumps in): We know that Obama’s soft criminal justice policies caused the economic meltdowns in both Madison and Springfield. Frank is suggesting that you reopen those prisons immediately.

GOV: How would we do that?

TC: Who does prisons better than the United States? (pause). No one. We’re the best. And I have to say, your state has an amazing track record when it comes to incarcerating her citizens. Now we have these empty prisons and all of these highly skilled correction officers out of work. What I suggest is that we let the world know that they can send their prisoners here. To your state. You’ll house them, feed them, cloth them and put them to work.

K: For the more repressive states, we’ll play down the “house them and feed them” parts and play up the “punishment” parts.

TC: That was Kate’s insight. She’s very smart.

GOV: (smiling) Clearly.

TC: Obviously some countries are richer than others. But everyone has to pay the same rate.

B: (getting in the mood) After all, we aren’t fucking communists.

TC: Exactly Bob, exactly. We aren’t fucking communists. So the countries that can’t pay as much need to pony up some political support for you Greg.

GOV: What does that look like?

TC: Ha. I don’t know. But think of it like “The Godfather.” Some day you may need a favor, and that day may never come, but if it does, Cambodia needs to step the fuck up.

GOV: Fantastic.

TC: Anyway, you’ll get paid for every prisoner, get some political support and you’ll immediately create 2500 jobs in Madison and Springfield. You’ll bring those towns back. Obama destroyed those towns. You Greg, fucking saved them.

K: And once you do it here, if you are elected President, you could do it in other states.

GOV: Jesus. We don’t need to hear anymore. You’re hired. When can you come aboard?

TC: Greg. Thank you. (puts his hands in prayer). Thank you. But I really want to talk to you about the other two proposals. Remember, this is a three part plan.

GOV: (giddy, like a child) Ok, ok.

TC: There are so many school shootings. Kids dying everywhere. Those pussies in Texas just sat there as kids got murdered. The DC politicians do nothing. Bush did nothing. Obama did nothing. Trump did nothing. Biden has done nothing. You can solve it. Do you want to solve it Greg?

GOV: I do, I really do.

TC: Does he want to solve it Bob?

B: He does, he really does.

TC: Kate?

K: Thanks Frank. You are going to arm the children.

B: What?!?

GOV: Hold on Bob, let her speak.

K: Boys in first grade up can carry rifles. Boys in fifth grade can carry handguns. Girls in fifth grade get rifles and girls in eighth grade can have handguns.

GOV: (looking at the TC) Why do boys get guns earlier than girls?

TC: Kate?

K: (not missing beat) Females are too emotional.

B: Wait a second. Why are we doing this?

TC: To stop school shootings Bob.

B: Well, excuse me for asking, but what happens if a kid shoots another kid. The Governor will be flayed.

TC: Bob, you are sounding very weak on the 2nd Amendment right now. Are we going to be able to keep you on? (the Governor and Kate both look at him)

B: (stuttering) Well, what happens if a kid shoots someone who isn’t a school shooter? Are we going to punish the kids?

TC: Well, no. We aren’t going to punish children. Jesus, Greg, what is with this guy? The kids will be put on a 30 day gun time out. And then they’ll have to do some remedial training.

K: We’ll punish their parents for not teaching them proper restraint. Some of them will need to go to prison, which will help us reopen the state prison that closed in Bakersville last year.

TC: Look Greg, I know this one is controversial, but it is going to make Twitter explode. You are going to be on the cover of Time.

K: (stands up and takes a fake issue of Time with the Governor on the cover) “The Most Dangerous Man in America or The Next President.”

TC: And when people ask that, you know what you fucking say Greg?

GOV: No, what do I say?

TC: Both. “I’m the most dangerous fucking man in America and the next President.”

B: I don’t know….

GOV: Not another word Bob.

TC: Last one. We’re going to cut teachers salaries and pensions immediately.

GOV: Their unions won’t go for it.

TC: Those liberal teachers unions? Who only back Democrats? Who cares? You put it on a ballot.

K: A special referendum. So important it is held next month. This won’t give them a chance to organize or get their messaging out. Meanwhile, you just play up how the teachers groom kids to become bi-sexual, make them read books that put down white people and basically don’t teach them anything. Bob, you have kids. What did your kids learn on Zoom during COVID?

B: (happy to be included again) Not much.

K: (saying it slowly) Not much. Exactly Bob. So, Governor, what are these teachers actually doing?

GOV: I don’t know.

K: Exactly. And we don’t pay for I don’t know. So we’ll leave it up to the voters to cut their pay.

B: How will we attract new teachers if their pay is low and they have no pensions?

K: We’ll offer them free iPhones and super strong cannabis.

GOV: Do you think they’ll go for that?

K: Generation Z is incredibly stupid. They’ll do almost anything for weed and iPhones.

TC: But we aren’t only going to cut teacher’s salaries. We are going to cut law enforcement salaries and their pensions too.

GOV: Our voters love the police. They won’t go for it.

TC: Well, that’s why we aren’t going to put it to a vote. We’ll let the cops do it to themselves.

B: How?

TC: The older cops will vote for lower salaries and pension reform, we don’t call it elimination, we call it reform. Anyway, the older cops will push it through if we give them a little bonus and a few extra days off.

GOV: Won’t it seem like we are buying them off?

TC: Greg, don’t be so naive. With all the budget cuts in the newspapers down here, there are no state house reporters to be found. You’ll let the older cops know about the bonus and time off through back channels. The public will never hear about it. All they’ll know is that their genius Governor got the cops to lower their own salaries and save the tax payers a whole heap of money.

B: Amazing. I had my doubts about this, but your plan is fantastic.

K: Thank you Bob.

B: What about our rivals in the primary?

TC: Nikki Haley.

K: A woman. Ha. Republican voters aren’t electing a female President.

TC: Unless her last name is Greene. (pause, everyone nods).

GOV: Pence?

Everyone: Hahahahahaha.

Bob: DeSantis.

TC: Well, Ron has a fucking true genius on his staff. Going after children’s books and immigrants and Disney was brilliant. Kate is going to find out which staff member proposed those ideas and try to lure him into our camp.

B: What about his military service?

TC: We can beat up Ron on his military service.

K: We can plant a rumor that maybe he blew a general to get promoted. We can make it appear like it came from Trump’s team.

GOV: I don’t know if the public will go for attacking someone’s service.

TC: Greg, hello? John Kerry was destroyed for his service in Vietnam. Trump shit all over McCain’s imprisonment and the primary voters loved him for it. Fuck Ron’s service. Fuck any opponent’s military service.

B: That’s all well and good, but how do we defeat Trump in the primary?

TC: Well, it’s a longshot. If we defeat him, great. But if you lose, we’ll have drawn so much blood that he can’t win. Then you’ll be the heir apparent in 2028.

GOV: How do we bloody him up? Nothing seems to stick.

TC: Kate?

K: A vote for Trump is a vote for Biden. (silence)

B: What does that even mean?

TC: It means they are both criminals. Take every chance to tie Trump to Biden.

B: That’s crazy. Trump criticizes Biden all the time.

K: Just keep saying they are buddies. Part of the same DC cabal. “A vote for Trump is a vote for Biden.”

* I want to thank Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and Jon Stewart for the spiritual inspiration for this piece. If you haven’t figured it out yet, please check the date.

The Year of Mourning, Remembering and Honoring My Father

My father died a year ago today. November 19, 2021. We were snorkeling off Laughing Bird Caye National Park in Belize. He had a heart attack in the water. The guide brought him to shore. I arrived shortly after and took over CPR duties from some helpful strangers. I told him that I loved him and I wanted him to fight, but if he had to die, that I gave him permission to go. We gave him CPR on a speedboat as we motored towards the mainland. Upon our arrival, the doctor declared him dead. Within minutes, I thought about a 17 year old client who lost his State Trooper Dad to a 9/11 illness when he 12. I thought about four close friends who lost their fathers in their 20s. He was 82. I was 45. I thought about all the people I know with absent or shitty fathers. My dad was an exceptional man. Unsparing in his demands and criticisms of me growing up, for sure, but those forged me into who I am today. The last 15 years or so were spent as friends and equals; it was a wonderful relationship.

During a trip to Minnesota in the fall of 2018, I noticed my Dad was falling asleep while sitting down throughout the day. A week later, we were in DC and my uncle told him that he should see a cardiologist. My father was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Scary, especially because his father, the original Frank Sr., had congestive heart failure and died of a heart attack in 1980. After his diagnosis, my Dad did three things that truly surprised me: he changed his diet, started to exercise regularly, and he took medication as prescribed from his doctors. That last one was a particular shock, as my Dad had polio and lived in an iron lung all throughout second grade. The doctors told him he would never walk again. He did and forever distrusted their advice afterwards, until the fall of 2018.

I sent a group text to about 15 of my friends. I told them what happened. That I had a lot to take care of, with phone calls and a police report and arranging cremation and figuring out how I would get his remains home. And that we were still on to hang out the day after I got home and what I needed most from them was not to be weird around me and, if they could, be prepared to tell me or write me stories about my Dad.

I made a bunch of phone calls within 2 hours of his death. I called his girlfriend, his brothers, my sister, and a few of his friends. I knew it was extremely important that each of them find out from a voice at the other end of a phone, rather than a text or email or newspaper clipping or social media post. Despite my sorrow, I had to deliver the news and explain what happened and let them know what he thought of them (in most cases) and what they might do to deal with their grief and remember him.

Immediately after his death and for a few weeks after, I kicked myself for taking him snorkeling. Hard. “What the fuck was the I thinking?” I’d say out loud when no one was around. The thoughts went like this, “If I hadn’t taken him snorkeling, he’d still be alive. I had caused his demise and was the source of my pain. Stupid!” But those thoughts were often counteracted with the following: “He chose to go snorkeling. It was the activity he wanted. He loved it, all his adult life. He was never one for sitting around or avoiding things because they were dangerous. I’m the same way. I’m going to drive fast and climb huge mountains right up to my end. It’s not my fault. And he wouldn’t want me to beat myself up over it. He died before his mind began to deteriorate. He died before his body failed him and robbed him of his oh so vital independence. He died in a beautiful setting doing something he loved and I was with him.” Those later thoughts won out, early and now. But, about once a month or so, I catch myself thinking about the snorkeling and curse myself and then have to walk myself out of it again. This is part of the grief process.

My grandmother died when I was 19. I spent the next six months getting drunk and high. I didn’t work much. I went to college in the fall but didn’t go to class. I didn’t exercise. In short, I didn’t do much of anything, other then get fucked up. I thought about how I wasn’t there at her end and how I was a screw up. Those constant thoughts and the ever stream of substances made the pain worse; crystallized it in amber. I got sober that winter and spent the next several years trying to process my grief. My regrets. The single best thing that came out of my grandmother’s death is that I vowed to a) not be a fuck up and b) make sure that I spent time with people that I loved and supported them in every way I could. In 2002, my friend Frazer overdosed. I was six and half years sober. I had spent the first few years of my recovery trying to get him clean. Every time he relapsed, I thought, “How could he do this to me?” and “Why can’t he just get this? He has so much going for him.” After a lot of sharing in AA meetings and therapy, I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t control Frazer’s addiction or manage his recovery. A little while later, I realized I was angry at him for dying. That sucked, being angry at my dead friend. Eventually, I got past that too. I decided to become a drug and alcohol counselor. To help people like Frazer. And to try to prevent their loved ones from suffering the pain that I had experienced.

My counseling career started in 2004. So many of my early clients had unresolved grief. Dead parents, dead friends, dead lovers, dead children. They had never talked about it with anyone. They lived with guilt and regret and anger and a powerful sadness. I listened to them. I got them to write about their loved one. I had them do things to honor the dead. At one point, I realized that while I had a lot of memories of Gram and Frazer, I didn’t have nearly as many as I thought I should. Immediately after their deaths, my mind was flooded with memories. Long forgotten ones. It was the emotions stirring up long dormant memories. I wish I had written them down. I told my clients to write about their loved ones for 30 days. “That shit is going to fuck me up Frank,” they usually said. “Good. It is supposed to. But let me be clear, you are going to be fucked up anyway. This gets it out. And then you can write about happy memories that make you laugh. That make you proud. We are going to work through all this guilt and regret.” And we did.

My friend Eric suddenly died in March of 2018. I was in a daze the first two weeks after he died. I could not believe it. I had a hard time sleeping. I was sad and angry and guilty and confused. A terrible place to be. I wrote about him every night at 1130 pm. For 35 days. Sometimes I wrote for 30 minutes, other times for two hours. It helped. At one point, I wrote a story that caused me to sob. Guttural cries of anguish with thick drool falling from my lips. Most stories made me laugh. I shared them on Facebook. And I emailed them to people without a Facebook account. The responses were amazing. Comforting. Reassuring. People told me that my writing helped them. And inspired some of them to write. I took the best of their stories and the best of mine and my Dad edited them and published “The Book of Eric” that fall.

So I wrote about my Dad. For somewhere between 50 and 60 days. The stories centered around my childhood and his exacting standards, my later teenage years and substance misuse and his struggles with my problem, early recovery and young adulthood and the change in our relationship, and the last fifteen years which were filled with love and laughter and adventures and fantastic advice and support. Hundreds of people read every post. People who knew him well read them. People who didn’t know him at all did too. The feedback was wonderful. Helpful. We collectively grieved, which is infinitely better than grieving in isolation.

All the previous major deaths in my life had prepared me for this one. Because of my grandmother, I spent so much time with my father over the last 25 years. Nothing was unsaid. He saw me in my full glory. Frazer’s death taught me to lean on friends and keep moving forward in life. Eric’s death proved to me the fantastical significance and power of writing.

My father’s apartment in Phillipsburg loomed large. It was crammed full of photographs and books and jam packed filing cabinets and 25 years worth of “New Yorkers.” Sorting through his stuff would be a Herculean task. I had the energy to write about my Dad and continue to work and engage in my life. I didn’t have the energy to sort through his stuff. Too time consuming, too brutal. My mom stepped up. They had been divorced 27 years at the time of his death, but they had remained friends and, sometime in the last ten years, actually became good friends. She sorted through all his things. Figured out what should be kept and what should be donated and what should be thrown out. I went by a few times with a bunch of friends to haul stuff away to be thrown out or donated. My Mom probably put in 200 hours. It is one of the very great acts of service anyone has ever done for me. I will be forever grateful to her for it.

In late January, I ran a four part grief group over eight weeks via Zoom. It was for people that I knew from childhood or Rutgers or AA or the Army or Prevention Links or some other aspect of my life. I did it as a way of honoring my Dad. An act of service. Each group lasted 90 minutes to two hours. People had to do writing for each group. We read and laughed and cried and supported each other.

In late February, I returned to Belize to collect my father’s ashes. There are only three doctors in the entire country that can perform an autopsy – it took three weeks before his was completed. I couldn’t wait in Belize that long, so I returned to NJ. The US Embassy helped me locate a funeral home and I had his body cremated. Both the funeral home and the Embassy offered to ship the ashes to NJ via Fed Ex, but I said to hell with that (one of my Dad’s lines). I would not risk his ashes getting lost. Getting to Belize was quite the journey. My plane sat on the tarmac for three hours. The custom line was two hours long. I called the car rental company and begged them to stay open and then I called the funeral home to see if they would allow me to come by late at night to collect my father. It all worked out. While in Belize, I rewatched “Lonesome Dove,” a Western that my father introduced me to. It is the story of two old Texas Rangers and their last adventures. Gus dies in Montana and asks his friend, Call, to take his body back to Texas. “Texas? We just got here. Now you want me to bring you back to Texas.” Gus replied, “Yes, Texas!” My father had laughed at that scene every time we watched it together. I felt like Call hauling my Dad’s ashes back to NJ. While I was in Belize, I ended up taking a yoga class for five mornings in a row. It was something I had done a bit several years earlier and had meant to continue, but my crazy work schedule and then deployment and then Covid had prevented me from doing so. The result of taking yoga in Belize is now it is back in my life. Sometimes two days a week, sometimes four. I feel great. Another gift from my father.

In March, we held a memorial service at Rutgers. Dad was an atheist. I could not hold a service for him at a church. I did not want to hold one at a funeral home. It was too cold to hold one outside, and I did not want to wait for spring. Dad was a professor at Minnesota and Colorado. He was a lifelong learner and teacher. Rutgers published his first book. Rutgers is my true home. Dean Lea Stewart secured the space for the service at the Art History building. Perfect. It was a four hour ceremony. There were daffodils. About a dozen people spoke. I read a few different stories between each speaker. I cried. I laughed. I exuded pride and gratitude. My Mom gave a performance for the ages, telling the story of his childhood and work life and how he was more loving to his girlfriends than he was to her, but it was ok, as she was happy he continued to evolve.

Throughout the spring and summer and fall, I thought about my father the most while biking. We took a lot of rides together on the D&R canal; sometimes in Phillipsburg, but usually outside of New Brunswick. Dad biked a lot, especially after his diagnosis. The one constant thought that comes to me while biking is this: “my father loved how I lived my life.” That’s incredibly comforting.

I also think about him when I am driving at night. I drive a lot. At least once a month to Albany for work, and more often for some long ass hike in the Catskills or Adirondacks or White Mountains. I used to call my Dad when I was driving late at night. Catch up on his activities, my work, the Vikings, and the latest American political shit show. He gave calming advice. I miss those late night talks the most, I think.

In the late summer, I had his tombstone made. I put a lot of thought into it. I wanted to capture his various roles and activities. And I wanted strangers to wander past it in the distant future and both wonder and laugh. To borrow from George W. Bush, Mission Accomplished, but for real.

In early November, Andrew Tortora, my college roommate of seven years, came by my house to “cut my father’s ashes like a brick of cocaine.” Andrew is not a drug dealer, but rather a gourmet chef and scientist. He makes OCD right corners and had the neatest notes in college I have ever seen. He brought a little scale and weighed out my father’s ashes. We put exactly half in a box that will go in a grave in Oldwick, NJ. The rest we divided up into several bags that I plan on scattering in places of vital importance. I said it then and I’ll say it again here, get yourself a friend that will cut up your father’s ashes without question or pause.

I’ve spent the last week in Arizona. On Veterans Day weekend, I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim with some boon companions. I spread my father’s ashes in three different places: Coconino Overlook, just below the North Rim, on the banks of the Colorado River in the moonlight, and at Plateau Point at sunrise. I like the spots so much that I want some of my own ashes scattered there some day. Scattering his ashes was not a sad affair; it was imbued with love and respect and honor and devotion.

So here I am, here we are, one year later. For sure, I miss my Dad. But I never fell apart. Because I did the work. I wrote about him, talked about him, listened to stories about him, kept working, spent time with family and friends, exercised, and kept doing things I like doing (I hiked and biked and took yoga classes more than any other year and attended a ton of plays and ate a lot of steak and smoked a bunch of cigars). There was always something I had to look forward to doing to honor my Dad. Purposeful grieving. Actions with meaning. This is how I got through it. And why I am thriving today. Thanks for reading. And I hope that this helps some of you with your own grief journeys some day. Peace and love and remembrance. Ever Forward!

This photo was taken on 11/18/2021, the day before my father died. He is sitting on a comfortable Adirondack chair reading an analysis of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I am swimming about 50 feet off the dock under the gaze of the Mayan Mountains in Belize. It is an ideal moment.
Here I am practicing a speech in September of 1989 when I was running for 8th grade Class President. Dad had me read it aloud over and over again. Changed words here and there. Made me work on pauses and inflections. He was exacting.
For his 70th birthday, we journeyed to Green Bay to watch the Vikings beat the Packers in 2009. His college debate partner and oldest friend, George Curtis, made his son give up his tickets for us. We got to the game quite early and walked around and chatted with a number of the local fans. They were great. So much so that years later, my Dad said, “I know I’m supposed to hate the Packers, but those fans were just the nicest people.”
Over the last dozen years, we attended a lot of plays together. I drove my Mom and Dad up to Boston in the winter of 2016 to see Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced.” We didn’t get back to my place until 4 am and they both still had to drive home. It was a glimpse into how I live my life. It was so much fun that we did it again a year later when Akhtar’s “The Who and the What” played at the Huntingdon in Boston.
This was taken on Father’s Day, 2018. We saw “Paradise Blue” in NYC that afternoon. When we returned to NJ, I took my dad to Five Guys for the first time. He enjoyed the cheeseburger and absolutely loved the Oreo Shake. I love the child-like delight on his face.
I put a lot of thought into his tombstone. It is at the New Germantown Cemetery in Oldwick, NJ. Exactly 50% of his ashes will be interred there on December 3, 2022.

The Immortal Legacy of Lisa Laitman

Lisa Laitman retired from Rutgers in January. I’ve long said that she should not only have a statue at Rutgers, but at every college and university that has an alcohol and drug assistance program on their campus. We honored her at the 2022 Rutgers Recovery Graduation in May. I told this story to a room of about 250 people.

Lisa began working at Rutgers in 1983 as the first alcohol and drug counselor in the school’s history. She was asked to cover New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, and the Vice-President of Student Affairs wondered if she’d have enough work to justify her job. Crazy. Within a year there was another full time staff member and within another couple years there was a full time staff member at Newark and a few years after that there was a full time staff member at Camden. More staff were added. All because of her ability to treat and advocate for students. Thousands of lives saved, family directions altered. She pushed for an on campus recovery house. College officials said, “All dorms are substance free” and “What would this say about Rutgers that we need a recovery house.” Fools. Anyway, the first recovery house on a college campus in the world opened up at Rutgers in 1988. There were growing spurts and pains. Occasionally a moronic administrator would come along and try to stop funding the program. Lisa always won. Rutgers was the first. Now there are over 200 that have program or are trying to have programs. Because of Rutgers. Because of Lisa. I can’t write enough about her, but this story will have to suffice.

Spring 2010. A few students in very early recovery are chatting after a Narcotics Anonymous meeting on the Cook Campus. A car drives by. Slows down. “Hey, look at the addicts. Hello junkies.” An arm is thrust out of the window, holding a can. “Would you like a beer?”

I hear about it the next day. I’m fucking furious. I think how if I were there I would have wanted to chase after the car, open the door, yell at the two assholes and render a furious beating. Hopefully I’d realize that I’d lose my licenses, my job, and get arrested. Luckily, I wasn’t there.

“Did they get the license plate?” I asked, super hopeful.

“Yes,” Lisa responded.

“Great. Fuck them. We’ll get them kicked out of school and have a permanent mark on their transcripts. Let it follow them where ever they go. The fucks.”

“I have a different idea,” Lisa said.

I sighed. “What’s that?”

“I want you to reach out to them.”

I liked where this was heading.

“Call them up…”

Yeah, this sounded good.

“And have them come into your office and listen to them. Talk to them.”

I hated this idea. She could see it on my face.

“And then I want you to introduce them to the students they taunted. Don’t let the students know who they are. Just let them meet them.”

Fuck. She was going to make me work with the people who had mocked vulnerable students freshly in recovery. But she was my boss. More than that. My mentor. Role model. I did what she said. Not because she was my boss but because I respected her so much.

The first guy came to my office. The “look at the addicts” guy. He said he was sorry. Uh huh. Ok. He asked what was going to happen to him. I think I made him nervous. Good. Fuck him. I said I was taking him to lunch with the kids he shouted at. His face contorted. “Don’t worry fucko, I’m not going to tell them who you are.”

About seven or eight recovery students met us at a Skinny Vinny’s Pizza. Average pizza, but close to my office. The students welcomed the misguided young man. They assumed he was struggling and needed help, because he was with me and I brought him to them. They asked him questions. Supported him. Made him laugh. Talked about movies and stupid internet shit and probably bad music.

He came back the next week. Sobbed in my office. Said he felt like such an asshole. Was ashamed. I was glad he cried. But it made me misty a little too. Because I knew he was truly remorseful. Same thing happened with the “do you want a beer” guy. Weeping in my office, about what a fucking insensitive asshole he was. That he mocked people that were so good and kind.

I can’t tell that story without crying. I’ve told it a lot lately. I cry every time. I cried when I told it to 250-some people and Lisa standing right next to me. I wanted to beat them. Expel them. Punish them. She knew there was a different path. A better path. A path towards understanding and redemption. Think of all the horrific people in the United States with their awful political and social values that come from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding. Lisa’s solution might work really well with a bunch of them, but it would require someone like her pulling the string and making it all happen. So, really fucking unlikely.

You might think that the biggest winner in that story was the Rutgers Recovery community. Or that it was the fact that Lisa transformed two shitty dudes into a better version of themselves through a short meeting over pizza. And those are good thoughts. But I was the biggest beneficiary of that lesson, because Lisa taught me that a little listening and conversation and exposure to different people can make people see the error of their beliefs, speech, and ways. I think about that story every week, because I still think about beating on people and punishing them. And I try to remember the lesson that Lisa taught me, all those years ago. And to be better.

Never, ever trust a military recruiter

Those six words are enough, but I’ll expand on it for those that need further instructions.

A few days ago, a friend of mine told me that his kid got a text from an Army recruiter. His kid is a high school senior and never signed up for anything with any Armed Forces branch. Turns out, his high school gave his phone number to the local recruiting station (feels like some kind of violation, but I’ll leave it to some litigious parent to make a huge stink about this kind of behavior).

Back in 1995, I did sign up to be called. I talked to a recruiter and eventually took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). I got a perfect score. The recruiter specifically worked for a Tank Battalion, so I was offered to go to school to be a Tanker.

“Aren’t there any other jobs? Infantry? Intelligence? Psychological Operations?”

“Not right now. The Army is completely full. It’s tanker or nothing.”

Obviously, that guy was a fucking liar. I was sober about 45 days. Neither of my parents had been in the military (my paternal grandfather had been, but he died in 1980). There was no one around to tell me what most service members and veterans know: almost every recruiter is a lying scumbag.

Sure, there may be a good one, somewhere. But finding one is like finding a politician who isn’t influenced by money or a frat boy with empathy.

They lie to meet their quotas. They only care about their numbers. They aren’t there to help someone go to college or get money to help with the family or get trained in something that can actually help in the civilian world.

They lie about bonuses and benefits and duty stations and time off and anything they need to get you to sign the dotted line. They are like Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glenn Ross,” except they lack Baldwin’s hair and charisma and they use patriotism to fuck over the recruits.

On top of all this, there is a whole lot of systemic racism baked into the recruiting and placement process. Way more recruiting stations are in poor and urban areas, which is why the US military has a higher percentage of blacks and Hispanics than make up the general population. On top of that, minorities are constantly pushed into the worst military jobs that in no way prepare them for post-military life. Most of the cooks and truck drivers and fuelers I’ve ever met were black or Hispanic. Those are shit Army jobs.

If your kid wants to join the Army (or Marines or Navy), tell them to join the Air Force. I’m only half joking. In all seriousness though, make sure they talk to another adult who is in the military or who was in the military and can give them some real information and share their experiences.

To close, make sure that the potential recruit can answer these questions:

  1. Why do you want to join? Are you bored or running away from something? Is it the benefits? What are the benefits that are being offered?
  2. What branch do you want to join? Why? Have you talked to veterans from other branches?
  3. What job do you want to do there?
  4. Will that job prepare you for work or school after you get out?
  5. What will you do after you get out?
  6. Do you understand that if you sign a 3 year or 6 year contract and are miserable that you can’t get out?
  7. Have you talked to more than one recruiter?

Bill Kane: A Legend

While I was at the Green Day concert on last Sunday in DC, I got an email about Bill Kane’s retirement luncheon on August 12th.

I was at the Dodgers games in Philly on 10th and 11th (both rain delays, both victories, both times I got home around 245 am) and had plans to go solo in the 98 degree heat for the final game in the series at 1 pm on the 12th.

I try to avoid luncheons and work meetings and random social invitations. I’m very much of the Larry David mindset for things I don’t plan: “No.” But Bill Kane’s retirement luncheon is something that I could not miss. Thus I skipped the Dodgers game.

Bill was born and raised in Newark. He graduated with an English degree from Seton Hall in 1962. He served in the Peace Corps in Africa for two years before returning to NJ and completing law school in 1969. He got sober in 1979, eventualy earned his alcohol counseling credential and, in his non-legal practice time, helped postal workers and adult men in prison get sober. He eventually turned his eye towards helping other lawyers and established the NJ Lawyers Assistance Program, which he directed from 1993 until today. Anyone who is anyone who counsels lawyers throughout the United States has been trained or taught by Bill Kane.

Bill started teaching at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies in 1981. I took my last three credentialing classes over the course of a week there in the summer of 2006. I had two classes in the morning that were just terrible. I was most displeased. It was 95 degrees out and the afternoon classroom had no air conditioning. Bill walked in wearing a three piece summer suit. I noticed his impeccable fashion, wide smile, and kind eyes, but I was most impressed by the fact that he wasn’t sweating.

He asked us a bunch of legal questions that none of us got right. Then he told us at the end of the week we would get them all right. Each day, he gave us loads of information, told funny stories, and adroitly answered questions. In short, he was the best classroom instructor I ever had in the field of alcohol and drug counseling.

When I became an instructor in the program in 2007, I was most proud to be a fellow faculty member with Bill. What made it even more special was that Bill welcomed me to the faculty and gave me a hearty congratulations. It felt like I had made it.

Over the last 15 years, I have sent my students and interns and supervisees and employees to take his course. “He’s the best teacher at the Center of Alcohol Studies,” I always told them.

That was often met by one of my students responding, “I thought you were the best teacher here.”

And I’d laugh and say, completely seriously, “Not until Bill retires.”

In 2012 I was named the Chairman of the NJ Heroin and Opiate Task Force. Eric Arauz was the vice-chair (I called him the co-chair though). The first three people we picked for the Task Force were Gov McGreevey, Dr. Lou Baxter, and Bill Kane.

Governor Christie’s office put a bunch of government lawyers on the Task Force. A couple were great; others resisted some of my criticisms of treatment programs, insurance companies, doctors, law enforcement, and Big Pharma. Because of money and political power. They would cite some statute or ruling as a way of resisting a new program or legal change. Bill would chime in and say, “That is not entirely correct.” That was his way of saying they were completely wrong. Then he would cite caselaw and name the law by letter, number and year. This happened a few dozen times. On each occasion, I would fold my arms, smile, lean back in my chair, look around and say, “That’s why I brought my own fucking lawyer.”

One time, one of Governor Christie’s people said something about a law involving school counselors. “That is not entirely correct,” Bill responded.

“How do you know that?” smugly replied the Christie stooge.

“I helped write the law back in 1987,” Bill responded.

Eric smiled, and tried to protect the other lawyer’s humiliation, “Well, that answers that.” But it was a complete and total smackdown. But in a gentlemanly way. My guy.

I gave a speech about Bill at the luncheon and told those and other stories. I could have gone on and on. Bill has worked as a lawyer for 52 years, been sober for 42 years, and has worked in the helping profession for 40. I have never come across anyone who had something bad to say about him. He made no enemies. And I am but one of thousands of admirers and people he has directly touched. Bill is an icon and a role model for me. I’m not a snappy dresser, I curse a lot, and I seem to collect a new enemy each year. So we have some different methods, but man, I dig his style.

I admire his fire, longevity, impact, and the joy with which he works. His retirement is a loss for the field, the legal profession, and the public. Make no mistake about that. But he has left an impressive legacy and a workforce than can carry on his teachings and values. And the man deserves some down time. So, I’m incredibly happy for him.

But I’m still going to call him with legal questions.

Salut, Bill. You’re a fucking legend.

On Emotions: Their Complexities and Their Roles in Our Functioning and Happiness

People who have difficulty acknowledging their emotions, processing them or dealing with them could find themselves feeling very anxious, depressed, disconnected, dissociative, or upset without understanding why. One of the keys to recognizing that there is an emotion unprocessed is confusion. If you can’t understand why you were so angry, or why you were so hurt, or why you felt intense jealousy from a particular situation, then there usually is something else that can explain it. It could very well be that it wasn’t the particular event or person that made you react, but it could be that it had triggered a past unprocessed emotion. Why was it so evocative? What about the particular situation caused the emotion? Was the emotion on a similar intensity as the situation? We’ll come back to these questions once we’ve understood emotions a little more.

Emotions are to mental health as physical sensations are to the body. Through the physical realm, we understand our environments through our senses. The sense of smell let’s us know if there are any pleasant or unpleasant things around us, or if we are safe or not. Touch helps us understand if something is smooth or rough, if it’s hot or cold. Each of our senses has its job in keeping us out of danger and closer to things we need. We don’t get annoyed at their presence. We don’t blame our skin for burning in 97 degree weather, or at our fingertips for burning from hot pans, or at our noses for smelling gas. We don’t get annoyed because all of these sensations are helpful. They help us navigate information for the betterment of our lives and our basic survival.

Our emotions are similar. Emotions let us know if something feels right or wrong. They help us build bonds with people or stay away from those that harm us. They help us practice empathy because we also understand pain and hurt. They help us move through life and achieve our goals and learn from mistakes. They tell us when we’ve done too much or put ourselves in negative spaces. Emotions help us navigate the feeling world; the world of our identities, purposes and futures. But we don’t see emotions, nor do we physically interact with them in any way (sometimes we actually do when our bodies begin feeling pain or tension in challenging moments). And so it is challenging to understand them, especially as we are not taught how to interact with them and are often taught to ignore them. It gets more challenging if one has grown up in an abusive environment or is gaslit in adult relationships or just punished at any age for showing them.

It’s important to take a step back when a very strong emotion is experienced. Let’s return to the introductory questions. Why was it so evocative? What about the particular situation caused the emotion? Was the emotion on a similar intensity as the situation? While there are some people who can answer these questions by themselves, all of us could benefit from getting some feedback from someone else. Hence therapy.

Even when we do understand why we are feeling the way we are, we may experience frustration at the emotion. “Why am I still feeling this emotion? Why is it still in my life? What can I do to stop feeling this emotion?” That frustration could be the result of an inner conflict in which there is denial or even a sort of self-berating that happens. “Because I am feeling upset, I am not, a good person/a forgiving person/a rational person.” And so, as one is attempting to feel the emotion, the inner voice comes in to express disapproval.  And feeling the emotion becomes almost a triggering event.

If feeling the emotion leads to avoidance, confusion, frustration or another complex emotion, it is important to express curiosity as I did earlier in this post; asking non-judgemental questions that allow for free expression. We ask these questions to ourselves as our dearest friends would ask them of us. We want to understand why so that we can feel. There will be times in which an emotion can be felt and it will no longer have a strong hold, and some times when it will keep coming back. In both scenarios, you are learning about yourself, building trust with your emotions, and allowing yourself healing whether it feels like it or not.

The only way to let an emotion go is to go through it. It is normal to feel. It is okay to feel. It is important to feel. It is necessary to feel. Feeling and expressing curiosity allows us to go through the emotions. It allows us to heal, and it allows us to become more intentional with our lives and others.

To get to the point in which one can embrace their emotions and use them to help navigate the world, there are a couple things that can be done. Journaling about these emotions in a dialogue-style where one is conversing with the emotion is a helpful way to make something abstract and hard to grasp very apparent and clear on paper. Drawing out emotions allows us to not intellectualize the emotion but to see how it feels. Taking walks, breathing exercises, yoga sessions are all great ways to calm the body down when it’s felt a strong emotion. Being able to talk to a therapist to understand these emotions can also be very helpful in keeping one consistent with this inner work.


About the author: Ayah Issa is a therapist who works with trauma, spirituality issues, identity issues, depression, anxiety, and relationship conflict. She received her social work degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work with a concentration on international affairs and community work. She works through a trauma lens with an understanding of community, spirituality, intersectional identities and a holistic view of the self. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Writing Prompts for Death and Grieving

A few years ago, Frank wrote an article about writing as a way to deal with death and grieving. When Eric Arauz, his close friend and colleague and veritable big brother, died in 2018, he took his own advice and wrote about him for 30 days. Those stories and other people’s memories were eventually forged into The Book of Eric.

Most of us aren’t writers. Just sitting down and typing out stories is quite daunting, especially if we are grieving. So I took Frank’s grieving work (with his blessing) and added over 30 different prompts to help people remember their loved one and process their grief.  

What: Write about the person for 30 days straight. Without failure. Could be for five minutes or a few hours. Write. Every day. For 30 days.

Why: Grief triggers emotions and memories. You will have many thoughts that come up and you will never remember the person that passed better than you do in the month after their death. These memories will fade. So, Write. Every day. For 30 days. Preferably at the same time each day.

While this is most effective in the immediate aftermath of someone’s passing, anyone who has some unresolved grief should consider doing this. Even if the death was six months or 5 years or 20 years ago, you will still benefit from this exercise.

Tips: Do not worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. No need to proofread as you are writing, just write. Below are some ideas. Feel free to come up with your own, go in any order, or edit them as you feel necessary.

Writing Prompts

  1. A lesson they taught you 
  2. A time you made them laugh  
  3. A small memory that seems minor/insignificant (a day before or after school, a dinner time story, a car ride, a trip to the dry cleaners, the time you spilled fast food all over their desk) 
  4. Another small memory that seems minor/ insignificant 
  5. A winter memory
  6. Funny things they said (quotes, words, pronunciations)
  7. A time you spent the day together alone (did you do something? go somewhere? get food? what happened? how did it feel?)
  8. Activities you did together (big or small. pick at least 1 to describe in as much detail as possible)
  9. A summer memory
  10. A time a joke/ prank was played (either you to them or them to you)
  11. A time you were pissed off with them (what happened? what did they do? how was it resolved?)
  12. Find one of your favorite pictures with them. Describe what happened that day. (you can repeat this with other pictures, as Frank did with Eric) 
  13. A time when they embarrassed you 
  14. If you were having a rough day, what would they say to you? 
  15. One of you happiest moments together
  16. Your earliest memory of them
  17. Another random memory, seemingly minor/ insignificant (watching a movie, going to the store, a conversation, anything. describe it in as much detail as you can). 
  18. One of their birthdays
  19. Something they did for you on one of your birthdays
  20. A late night or early morning spent together (or one of each)
  21. A time you both could not stop laughing
  22. One time on Thanksgiving (can replace with any holiday)… Finish the prompt
  23. An inside joke or saying that only you two would understand 
  24. A time you felt the most comforted by them 
  25. A habit of theirs that drove you nuts
  26. Find a random picture, describe that day
  27. Their favorite movie or TV show
  28. A time something went wrong
  29. What was their first job? (what was their last job?)
  30. A time they helped you (learn a skill, homework, fix something)
  31. Words or a saying they repeated to you over and over again 
  32. A time you didn’t listen to them and they found out (or said “I told you so”)
  33. Random memory that has something to do with the color pink, yellow, blue, green, or purple
  34. A time you felt the safest with them
  35. A time they came to your rescue 
  36. Something really awkward was when… Finish the prompt
  37. How will you continue to honor them? 

You can use none, some, or all of these in any order. You may also change prompts around or use some of them to spark other memories. Use this as somewhere to start as emotions, thoughts, and memories arise. During or after the writing process, you may want to share this with a therapist. Or religious figure. Or friend. If other people are grieving the same person, they might really like to read a couple of your memories. It may be the best thing you can do for them.

Shayla Carroll is currently a Licensed Social Worker working towards her clinical licensure to obtain her LCSW. She is a mental health therapist who has a deep understanding of the challenges associated with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, grief, relationships, and intergenerational trauma. Shayla has experience working with children, adolescents, young adults, and families in school-based settings, higher education, private practice, acute inpatient services, and non-profit organizations. Shayla is a two time Rutgers University Graduate who holds a MSW and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Social Work. She is a first generation student leading by example. Shayla can be reached at [email protected]

Medicinal Tobacco’s Shocking Success at Treating Mental Health and Substance Misuse Disorders

Tobacco has been grossly misunderstood, unfairly maligned, and improperly utilized. For over a decade, I have had tremendous and shocking success using medicinal tobacco in treating people with serious mental health symptoms and grave substance misuse disorders.

I’m sure that some of you are incredulous. You know about the incredibly strong link between cigarettes and cancer, and you may be aware of vaping and popcorn lung. There is a decent chance that you know someone who has had some serious health problems caused or exacerbated by smoking. I am not denying any of those problems. But to be clear, those problems are caused by cigarettes and vaping devices.

For over a hundred years, cigarette companies have been loading their products with over 7000 different chemicals; and we know that over 250 of them are dangerous, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. There can be no denying that cigarettes are still one of the top health problems in the United States.

Vaping devices sprung upon us a decade ago, with sweet flavors (for the kids) and the false promise of the safe ingestion of nicotine. While vaping devices avoid some of the harms caused by cigarette smoking, it is pretty clear that they cause a variety of serious lung and brain problems that we are still just beginning to understand.

Naturally grown, 100% pure tobacco has been unfairly lumped in with cigarettes and vaping devices. American Indians and the indigenous people of Central America and Cuba have been using organic tobacco for thousands of years. It has been used in a variety of shamanic ceremonies, celebrations, community events, and at the sacred moments of birth, marriage and death.

The colonial big cigarette companies snatched up this wonderful, all-natural product from the indigenous people, added poisons, commercialized it, mass produced it, glamorized it, and lied about its negative side effects. And native discovered, organic tobacco is paying the price. It is grossly unfair.

I have a Panamanian friend whose grandmother uses fresh tobacco leaves to make a medicinal tea. Her friends and customers claim that it helps with low energy, constipation, anxiety, and shyness (additionally, fresh tobacco leaves also keep bats and rats out of houses when strategically placed near the entrances of a house). She was so confident about the benefits and the lack of negative side effects that she gave medicinal tobacco tea to her children and grandchildren.

I have used medicinal tobacco to treat Soldiers, Marines, and Veterans with complex and severe PTSD. I have used medicinal tobacco to help people deal with the tragic grief that accompanies suicide. I have used medicinal tobacco to assist people with getting over the end of a marriage. I also have found it wonderful in treating social anxiety.

I combine medicinal tobacco with my patented radical truth therapy. Now that I have had well over 500 smashingly successful cases, I am confidently telling the world. The long drawn out smoke that comes from organic medicinal tobacco eases anxiety and calms nerves. Stunningly, it raises perception and energy levels at the same time. A wonder! Only something so natural and from fresh soil can do this.

There are no unnatural pauses or silences in my radical truth sessions when medicinal tobacco is used. Clients will draw their cigar slowly and blow out the smoke even slower (those that are really trying to make a significant change will hold it awhile before releasing it). A bond forms in our individual and group sessions; the kind of bond that sustained Native American cultures for thousands of years before colonial conquerors brought lies, diseases, guns, and death.

I have had such success with my military clients using medicinal tobacco that it is unethical for me not to offer it to them. Those that smoke cigars with me do far better than those that don’t. It is uncanny. A majority of my cigar smoking clients who are in recovery from substance misuse have abstinence rates that are far higher than the non-smoking clients. No rehab in America can compete with my numbers.

But it isn’t me. It’s organic, medicinal tobacco. And I’m happy to inform you about it. Those that rail against my radical share may be in the pockets of Big Cigarettes, Big Pharma (why use horrific and addictive drugs when there is a much cheaper and more natural alternative), or Big Marijuana (don’t get me started). Or you may just be horrifically racist and anti-Native American and/or anti-Cuban. Or you may be anti-military. Shame on you if this be so. You have no right to let your misconceived notions interfere with the freedom and health of the people that can benefit from medicinal tobacco. Check yourself.

* I have found Cuban medicinal tobacco to be the very best, though Native American medicinal tobacco can be decent in a pinch. I do not recommend the Dominican and Nicaraguan strains, as they have still not refined their process, nor do they have proper regulations.

** I owe much to the groundbreaking work of Jonathan Swift for this article