A furry I never met helped me conquer my fear of death.

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Tony Barrett, aka “Dogbomb”

On the morning of April 5th, a beloved, longtime member of the furry community, Tony Barrett, aka “Dogbomb,” who had been diagnosed with ALS ( amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) over a year earlier, made the difficult decision to end his own life via physician assisted suicide (he lives in Arizona, where assisted suicide is legal for sufferers of terminal illnesses).

ALS is 100 percent fatal, and “Dogbomb” (as I will be referring to him here) had been experiencing a rapid decline in his quality of life. He was having difficulty walking, and even breathing and swallowing. ALS is a devastating and disfiguring disease that currently has no cure. It normally kills within a few years (2 to 10 years being average), although in rare cases, it can take much longer (astrophysicist Stephen Hawking was first diagnosed with ALS in 1963, and he didn’t succumb to it for 55 years!)

I never met Dogbomb, but he’s a member of the same furry community my son has been active in since about 2009. He’s evidently hugely popular within the community because of his positive, upbeat attitude, even in the face of such a devastating diagnosis and grim prognosis. Since Dogbomb was first diagnosed in early 2018, he has organized marches and walks to raise funds for ALS research and has become a huge inspiration to people both within and outside of the furry community. He’s older than most of his fellow furries, who tend to be mostly Millennials, and has taken on a kind of older brother or mentoring role to many of them, who are in turn inspired by his love of life, enthusiasm, positive attitude, and passion for activities that help find a cure for ALS.

That’s enough background.  I read Dogbomb’s story on Twitter the other night completely by accident, and then I stumbled on this short animation created by one of Dogbomb’s close friends (“Jib Kodi”), made just after Dogbomb publicly announced he would be ending his life. I don’t think there’s any need to explain what this video means, other than that it’s about the power of friendship and the furry community’s unwavering support as Dogbomb commences his journey out of this world and into the next. Notice the “Run to Fight ALS” shirts some of the characters are wearing.

 

This little animation made me totally lose it for almost an hour. Not just a few tears, but full blown sobbing. This wasn’t actually unpleasant at all, but cathartic. Like a good emotional enema, I felt like my soul had been cleansed.

Later, I tried to figure out why I had reacted so intensely. I didn’t know this man, I never fought ALS or knew anyone who had, I’m not a member of the furry community, and yet…this little video grabbed my heart, turned it inside out, and twisted it hard!

For years I’ve been terrified of dying. Not just the suffering and pain that often precedes death, but a fear of death itself. It’s really a fear of the unknown. No matter how strong one’s faith, no one knows for certain what will happen after they die. I don’t have all that many years left, maybe two or three decades at most. Maybe less than that. My fear of death, rather than dissipating as I grow older as it seems to do for most people, has intensified. This is a real problem, since death isn’t something that I can avoid. I can delay it, but one day it’s going to happen whether I want it to or not.

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Dogbomb’s Twitter icon (artist unknown)

Dogbomb was a man who, though not very old, did not fear death. He stared his own mortality in the face and said fuck you to it, and then grabbed its icy hand and told it some jokes. Dogbomb was a man who I have been told always smiled at everyone, and was always willing to listen to others’ troubles, even when he had much worse problems of his own and knew his illness was terminal.

Rather than sink into self pity, crawl into his bed, and wait for death to take him, he stayed active, organized events and marches to raise funds to find cures and new treatments for the disease that was killing him. He got countless others involved and did a lot of good for sufferers of ALS. At the very least, he gave them hope and inspired them.

And finally, he decided he was going to die his own way, not ALS’s way. He died willingly in a loving and supportive environment among his closest family and friends. If dying joyfully is a thing, Dogbomb did it.

And now, after being so inspired and moved by Dogbomb’s story, I can finally understand those who say that death can be a beautiful and uplifting thing, a beginning rather than an end, the start of a new journey — and not something dark and morbid that we should fear.  For someone with ALS or another painful or physically crippling disease, death also means freedom for a soul that had been  trapped in what had become nothing more than a burdensome flesh prison.

Dogbomb wrote one last tweet on the morning of his death:

“Dogbomb has left the building. I love y’all!”

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Screenshot of Dogbomb riding into the sunset from an animation by Jib Kodi

I can’t say my fear of death is cured, but I’m getting there. Dogbomb’s beautiful life of service to others, and courageous (and joyful) passing has helped me with that.

Here is where you can make a donation to the ALS Association.

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Further reading:

My Son is “Furry” — Got a Problem With That?  (posted 9/20/14)

Fear of Death

The Ultimate Dissociative Experience

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The real reason highly sensitive people get bullied.

It was time to pull this one out of the archives!

Lucky Otters Haven

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I had an “Aha” moment today.

The reason highly sensitive people get bullied so often isn’t because of our sensitivity. It’s because of the dismally low self esteem that tends to go along with being that sensitive, especially if we were victimized by malignant narcissists and bullies when young.

Narcissists envy and fear high sensitivity.

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Narcissists hate high sensitivity in others for two reasons: 1. They envy it because it’s something they can’t have or may have lost as children and it’s a sign of an authentic person, which is something they aren’t but wish they were; and 2. they fear it, because they know this quality makes it possible for to zero in on the emptiness hiding under the narcissist’s guise.

Their hatred and fear is expressed through love bombing followed by bullying and other forms of abuse meant to weaken the HSP. An HSP’s fragile ego can be…

View original post 1,304 more words

Don’t give them what they want.

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Martha Crawford, LCSW, tweeted a series of thoughts about the Trump administration that tell us why we shouldn’t let it make us quake in terror. I know for me, her thoughts brought me some comfort. I know a lot of people are in mourning right now, and scared for their lives. We can mourn, we SHOULD mourn, but never be afraid!

This nation is a big dysfunctional family, and the vulnerable among us — the poor, the middle class, the disabled, those suffering with mental illness, the sick, the old, the very young, people of color, Muslims, Mexicans, women, gay people, and everyone else who doesn’t fit the “straight, white, rich Christian male” image — are the scapegoats of this administration and its sociopathic, very un-Christian leader.     These scapegoats comprise almost all the “children” in this “family.”  But we are far from alone.  There are more of us than “them.”   We can and should help each other, and never let our unloving, selfish “parents” make us feel afraid or helpless.    That’s giving them what they want, and they feed off it to make themselves feel more powerful. Don’t give it to them.

Yes, the shit just got real.   But the sun will shine again.

 

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So, listen. He has some power.
And it’s a temporal, worldly power established on a weak foundation — filled with cracks, outbursts, and hubris.
And all the myths and fairytales and scriptures tell us what happens to these kind of leaders.
And this is true across every culture — mythological texts teach us how to survive these dark “cursed” periods and how to undo them.
I’m not saying that his power is insignificant. It will destroy many, but it is fleeting because of its own unstable composition.
This administration will fly too close to the sun, will be brought down by a boy who names the truth, will sacrifice the wrong martyr.
It will transform all those who yearn to touch it into frozen statues of gold.
Its end was already written by the cruelty and avarice, the dominance and divisiveness that they wrote in the beginning of their story.
We can read those folk tales and retell those myths so we remember how to get through.
Befriend an old wise crone who seems to be a beggar, feed a magic animal, hold tight to the blessings of our mothers.
Be kind to the point of foolishness. Tell the truths that no one else acknowledges. Be quick, be clever, be resourceful.
The end of the cursed king’s story is written at its beginning. You need to use your heart and your wits to protect yourself and others.
When we all do that, it will help to bring along the fall that is inevitable. Utterly inevitable.
It’s not if. It’s how long.
And I only know it will come sooner if we aren’t afraid. Angry, sorrowful, grief stricken, joyful, generous, compassionate, and clever.
Fear and bewilderment are the ingredients they need to keep patching holes in their instability.
Feel every feeling. But find safe and quiet spaces for your fear and bewilderment. They feed off of that when they can smell it.
Be not afraid.
Do not become bewildered.
They will destroy others and ultimately themselves.
Don’t feed them your fear.
Don’t eat the fearful poison they want you to be contaminated by, because it will possess you and strengthen them.
That is our most central psychological task through the darkness — to come to terms with fear and to shake off bewilderment.
Withhold your fear from them. Do not listen to the spell that will bewilder and confound you if you are seduced by it.
Don’t eat anything they offer! Not a single pomegranite seed, not a box of Turkish Delight. Bring your provisions with you. Wait for grace.
Be kind to all potential comrades and allies. You never know of if a wounded bird is a powerful ally under enchantment.
We know what to do.
We have been here before. This is really not unprecedented. We have enacted this story over and over and over again.
It’s a story older than the Bible, older than the printing press. Older than our ability to remember these stories of survival and justice.
Whispered into our great great grandparents ears before they fell asleep at night.
We know what to do if we listen to the stories we have told ourselves for thousands upon thousands of years.

What motivates me to keep going.

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A few people have asked me how I remain so motivated to stay in therapy and so determined to become whole one day, in spite of the many setbacks I’ve faced and the inevitable triggers I’ve willingly confronted. Even my therapist has said I’m one of the most motivated clients he’s come across. People wonder if I’m just a sucker for punishment and even have masochistic tendencies.  Why on earth would I want to voluntarily embrace so much psychic pain instead of opting to remain emotionally numb the way I used to be?

I think the number one motivator for me is that I’ve learned to think of the road to wellness as an adventure of the mind and soul, not unlike climbing Mount Everest or exploring the ocean depths.    The only difference is that it doesn’t involve bodily risk. Staying as emotionally dead as I used to be seems as boring as staring at a wall all day.  Now that I’ve seen a glimpse of what I can attain, I never want to go back.  Knowing what I know now about myself, remaining in that particular hell would drive me insane.  So these days, I’d rather face the unpleasant challenges and do battle with them.   None are too big for me to conquer, even though at times they can seem to be.

By nature, I’m not a huge risk taker, but I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind.  My own mind is like a labyrinth right before my eyes, but within its dark tunnels and crevices I never know when I’ll find some treasure.

Being in therapy for anyone who suffered severe trauma and abuse can be extremely triggering and at times very painful.    I’ve left some sessions and fallen into vast yawning depressions afterward, feeling lost within the emptiness that I always knew was there even before I knew what was really wrong with me.

Faith that a higher power (or God, if you prefer) will show me the way to the treasure chest I know lies deep within is a huge motivator for me, but even now, without knowing exactly where it lies, occasionally I stumble across evidence that I’m getting closer.   A diamond here, an emerald over there, a small vein of gold embedded in the unforgiving granite.   It gives me hope and motivation to keep going.    I no longer doubt that it’s there….somewhere.   All I need is to keep going.   Therapy provides me with a compass to know which direction to go and the assurance that I won’t die trying to find it.   The journey may appear dangerous at times, but I know it never really is.   Staying mindful helps me conquer any fear that I’ve gone too far or too deep.

Discovering things about yourself that you never knew can be really sobering, even upsetting, but it’s also enlightening.   Awareness and insight about your own motivations is the key to healing from anything that plagues the mind and soul.   Self discovery is always fascinating and full of the unexpected.    It may seem like hard work, and it is, but I know the reward will be worth all the pain, and there are enough pleasant surprises along the way to keep me trudging along the rugged trail.   I can do this!    You can too, if you want it badly enough.

Your fear is trying to tell you something.

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Being vulnerable requires the courage of 1,000 strong men.

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The above meme pretty much explains the entirety of what this post is about and I could easily leave it at that.   But I am just itching right now to talk about this, because I feel like I just accomplished something pretty great–all because I was finally willing to take a big risk, one I normally wouldn’t take:  I let go of my fear of rejection long enough to tell someone I’ve grown to care about and like very much (as a friend) the truth about the way I felt about them, instead of skirting around my real feelings and avoiding the subject (but secretly going nuts).

I’ve always assumed (because of my internal programming) that I didn’t deserve to be liked or loved, and used to even push away people I liked through either becoming too needy and demanding (stepping over their boundaries), or too avoidant and aloof (building up too many boundaries for protection).  There was no in between for me–it was always one or the other.   I had no ability to regulate my reactions to others or defenses against them.

I also believed that I wasn’t loveable or even likeable, due to my internal programming.  My NM (narcissist mother)  taught me that I was not (though she never said she didn’t love me, I just knew because her actions and behaviors told me she did not).   I believed that if anyone ever got to know “the real me,” whatever THAT was, that they would grow to hate me.  And, because I was always sabotaging myself, sometimes I (unconsciously) made sure that would actually happen — by demanding too much, being too needy or high maintenance, or sometimes, rejecting THEM when I feared they might be getting ready to reject ME (pre-emptive rejection).    I did a lot of projecting too.  Assuming people were angry at me when actually I was the one who was angry at them.  Assuming they felt sorry for me when I actually just felt sorry for myself.  And assuming they would leave when actually it was really me who wanted to leave.   In those cases,  I could beg them to stay and be able to tell myself I did nothing wrong when they finally DID leave me.  Yes, I could be a manipulative little bitch!  (But I had no idea what I was doing).

All this borderline crap was so painful, that over time, I built a thin covert-narcissistic defense over these unstable and unpredictable  behaviors.  (By the way, my therapist finally agrees with me that this is exactly what happened).  I stopped trying to reach out to anyone; I kept to myself, became a near recluse.  I avoided people when they would approach me, or made excuses why I was too busy.  I’d tell myself I didn’t like people–only animals (who would never judge or shame me and would always appreciate me).   I’d tell myself I was too good for other people anyway so I didn’t have to feel that shame of feeling left out of things (which I’d really set myself up for by sabotaging any incipient friendships when they seemed to be getting too close).

Even online, where I generally feel safer connecting with people and making friends, I’d still hold other people at arm’s length and let them tell me a lot more about themselves than I’d ever tell them (except in my blog posts).   I still felt like if I revealed too much, even online, I’d be dismissed as the “weak loser” my inner judge (really my mother’s nagging voice) always told me I was.   I cared about the friends I met online and could allow myself a little more emotional vulnerability (and could allow myself to empathize with them) than I could with others in real life, but still stopped myself at a point just short of a true emotional connection.  Eventually most of these friends moved on to more fertile waters, where there’d be more emotional give and take.

A few months ago, I met a new friend, one who I felt I could very much relate to in many ways, although some circumstances are different.   We had similar childhoods and reacted to our cold, abusive, more outgoing and garrulous  mothers  in similar ways.  Neither of us dared outshine our sparkling, charming, narcissistic mothers so we became shadows of what we could have been, never taking risks, never reaching out in healthy, authentic ways.   We walled ourselves off from others to avoid further rejection.   We are both broken people,  in therapy for early childhood trauma, but we are also both beginning to heal as we learn to navigate the many strange new feelings that are now finally becoming accessible to us.   We are not at the same stage of our journeys, but we have met at a kind of crossroads where both our journeys have met.    I believe this woman is a teacher to me, who came at a time when it was needed.   I may be a teacher to her as well, though I don’t want to assume that.

Although I value and care about all my online friends, I felt a kind of special kinship with this particular woman.  I had a strong feeling she had something very important to teach me that no one else could.  We began a tentative friendship, sometimes talking about the “deep stuff,” but mostly skirting around the real issues out of fear of revealing too much or making ourselves too vulnerable.     Over time, my affection and caring for this woman deepened (not romantic feelings, just a desire for deeper and more meaningful friendship) but I began to worry that if I told her how I really felt, that I would be rejected.  Again, that was me projecting my own insecurity onto her.   But on the other hand, this person is shy and avoidant, and it seemed logical that I might easily scare her away if I revealed too much, just as I can be so easily scared by too much emotional intensity from others.

And yet I long for emotional intensity, in spite of my fear of it.    I know that you can’t feel truly alive until you can be vulnerable and open your heart to another person, even though there’s a risk of being hurt.   But I’m lonely and isolated and tired of living behind walls of my own making.

I talked to my therapist about this at length.  I told him I wanted to reach out to this friend and tell her my feelings, even though I was scared to death.    He encouraged me to do so, saying it would be good practice for me and that even if I was rejected, it would still be a big step for me just for having tried.   He asked me to think about whether I was ready.    I did, and realized I was.

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This morning I finally did it.  I was a nervous wreck, imagining the worst and trying to brace myself for her inevitable escape!  I never trusted myself to know when I’d breached someone else’s boundaries because I never learned how to keep good boundaries or know how to navigate those of others.   I was taking a huge chance!

But I’ve had practice now, and in therapy have learned a lot about being able to tell without asking when it’s okay to remove boundaries or when it’s best to step away or build reinforcements.   So my friend and I finally talked on Facebook. We talked for over an hour.   I told her how protective and maternal I felt toward her, so much so that the thought of anyone hurting this incredibly strong but vulnerable woman (who is younger than me) makes me feel so enraged I would want to beat them to a pulp (and I’m not a violent type of person at all).  Maybe I have a “rescuer complex,” I don’t know, but why analyze it?    Once I started talking, things got easier.   I spilled out my need to explore my own vulnerability with her and start to navigate these “dangerous” waters of meaningful emotional connection and real friendship.

It turned out that she was grateful  that I brought my feelings up, because she had been worrying she might have told me too much before (she hadn’t).  But after my admission, she realized I was someone she could trust and she could feel safe opening up even more.    We both got pretty emotional, and if we were physically in front of each other, this would have been the moment we embraced and the swelling movie-music would have started up.

A few minutes later she sent me a heartbreaking post (in PDF) she had written a few days before about her cold, narcissistic mother and how helpless she had always felt in front of her.  It was so raw and  vulnerable and beautifully written (and I could relate to it so much) that it brought me to tears.  My friend said it also had made her feel so vulnerable and triggered after she wrote it that she decided to take her whole blog down (a blog which she had never made public).    I think that at some point she will probably want to share that post with the world, because I think it would help so many people and it touched me so much.   But I understand if she’s not ready for that yet.  It’s a big step, one that might be too overwhelming for her at the moment.   I’m just so grateful and moved that she trusted me enough to share it with me.

I know I need to respect her boundaries and not be too pushy about that or anything else.    I’ve realized that learning to connect with another person, and learning when boundaries should be removed or stay in place, is like an intricate dance — knowing when it’s your turn, when it’s the other person’s turn, being careful to not to step on the toes of the other, but still remain courageous enough to reveal your heart when it feels right and sometimes learn to let go and let your partner spin you around.   And also, always be willing to risk the possibility you may fall and get hurt.

Relationships are kept in balance and become healthy through empathic understanding of and respect for each other’s need for either more space or deeper connection, and this type of empathy is, fortunately, something we both possess, but just were never trained to use — and never had the confidence to try.

I feel like I made progress today, and I can’t wait to tell my therapist.  I know he will be proud of me, but mostly I’m proud of myself for taking a risk and finding that instead of the rejection I’d so feared,  that I helped someone else open their heart to me even more.   As my friend said to me later, we are helping each other learn, and this is a valuable and wonderful experience for both of us which can help us grow even more, as long as we’re both mindful about it.   Everyone you meet in life has the potential to become a teacher, and my friend has taught me today that vulnerability is the greatest kind of strength and the only thing that can lead us out of the darkness.

Being a ballsy blogger.

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I’ve never been a risk taker. At all. But there’s one exception–blogging. I take a lot of risks when I write and often post things that are:

1. Extremely personal and potentially embarrassing

2. Controversial and potentially incendiary

3. Unpopular opinions

3. Religious or political (though I try to avoid this because I respect all my readers, some of whose beliefs may differ very much from mine).

I’ve never regretted taking risks on this blog. Yes, some of my posts have angered some people. I had to learn to deal with that. At the end of the day, it’s my blog and my opinions and my feelings and my experiences. I’m tired of pretending to be someone I am not in real life, and I’m certainly not going to pretend to be someone I’m not when I’m blogging.  Sometimes I feel like the blogging world is the only place I can really be myself.

Popular opinions are a dime a dozen, but when you post something not so popular, you never know who you may reach who really needed to hear what you had to say. You feel good about yourself for having the courage to be authentic and candid. That tends to extend into the real world after awhile.

Being ballsy also tends to make your blog stand out, and I think that’s a big reason this blog has become somewhat popular.  Even if people don’t always agree with you, they’re always checking in to see what you’ll say next.   You don’t get popular by being a blogging wallflower.  Just make sure you really stand by what you say and be prepared to defend what you believe while still remaining respectful of those who don’t agree with you or dislike what you have to say.   If you’re just stirring the pot to get attention, people can tell.

Being a ballsy blogger has gotten so much easier over time. Outside of a few trolls and critics, none of the terrible things I imagined would happen ever did. I no longer hover over the “Publish” button for hours wringing my hands and sweating and asking myself, “should I?”  I don’t keep posts hidden for days as “Private” only to delete them later.  I hardly think about it any more. I just press that Publish button and don’t look back.  And I’ve never regretted it.

I am a warrior.


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This meme spoke to me today. I think it can help others too.

Your greatest strength.

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Circling around the maelstrom.

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Credit: Jim Carson Design

I’ve been thinking a lot more about my parents and my nightmarish upbringing as a hybrid scapegoat/golden child (I was raised as an only child, so I had to be both). It’s worse in some ways than just being a scapegoat, because it’s a topsy turvy hall of mirrors where you can predict nothing. There’s no stability. There’s no security. There’s no consistency in a childhood where you have to serve two roles, and never know which one you’re going to be next, and where both roles you play are a lie.

I started blogging because of my sociopathic NPD/ASPD ex. I was trying to deal with my feelings about going VLC (very low contact, since we have children) with him and cope with being on my own for the first time. Blogging introduced me to myself.

I’ve been through a lot since the day I sat down and started to write. As I progress in my journey, I’m spiraling ever closer around the emotional vacuum that lives in my center, the maelstrom that was born from hurt and pain. I liken it to a black hole in space or a maelstrom in the ocean, because everything disappears there never to return. Falling into it prematurely could obliterate me. But if I’m ever to heal from my disorders, I need to dive into that maelstrom and explore its terrors and maybe its wonders. I’m a lot more courageous now than I ever was before. I think I can do this.

I’m realizing the problem wasn’t really my ex after all. What I mean by that is that we came together because I was programmed almost from birth to become codependent to someone like him. Yes, he made me worse, but I was in bad shape long before he came on the scene. In therapy, I’m beginning to talk more about my childhood, and the pain inflicted on me by disordered parents. I’m still at the point where I explore it from an emotional distance, as if I’m watching a movie. I can’t really internalize and surrender to the pain yet. I feel a vague sadness and anger, but I’m dissociated from it, as if it’s someone else it’s happening to and I’m just watching.

But it’s beginning. I’m starting to trust my therapist enough to take the plunge. He is using reparenting techniques on me, which is what I wanted. He’s empathetic, which is what I needed. I’m thinking about my past a lot, and making some connections. I have some tools to protect me when the time comes to go in. I’m scared but excited. I’m gaining courage.

I’m swirling around the edges of the maelstrom, looking down into an opaque blackness that looks empty but is full of unseen mysteries. I won’t fall into it. I’ll willingly dive into it, just like when I was eight and first jumped into the deep water at the community pool.

Once I dive in, I’ll either disappear forever, or rise from it triumphant. I’m banking on the latter.