Monthly Archives: August 2021

17Aug/21

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.

17Aug/21

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.

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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 ayahissatherapy@gmail.com.

15Aug/21

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, MSW, LSW, is a first generation college graduate. She double majored in social work and psychology at Rutgers before completing a masters in social work there. Partly because she grew up in an intricate and extended Dominican and Irish/Polish/Hungarian family, she understands how challenging it can be for young people to start and gain control over their lives. Shayla is passionate about helping adolescents, young adults and their families overcome difficult situations, unhealthy patterns and maladaptive behaviors. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, anything by the water, eating sweets, walking her dog, reading modern Latin and Caribbean fiction, and spending time with her family and friends. She can be reached at shaylacarroll3@gmail.com