Thursday, January 31, 2008


First, let me apologize for not getting a blog out this past Monday. I have not been feeling well, but I still should have gotten the job done. I feel a responsibility to write and post this blog twice a week (Mondays & Thursdays) because some of my readers have written and expressed that it is meaningful to them. It also gives meaning to my life because it brings more purpose to it. So again let me say to those of you who I let down that I am sorry. Now on to the subject.
There are as many definitions of advocacy as there are advocates. I am going to try in this blog to tell you some of my thoughts on the subject. As I have written in this blog before my first efforts at advocacy for persons like me with a mental illness was with the Christian community. Having grown up as a minister’s and missionaries’ kid I went to the people I knew best to ask them to reach out to those of us with a mental illness. My efforts were not all that rewarding. Yes, I became the National Co-Chair of the Religious Outreach Network for NAMI (which NAMI later disbanded) and had some other successes like getting articles in religious publications, but overall the church was not all that responsive.
My next move was in 1989 to help form Novastar Opportunities for the Mentally Ill, Inc. which Project Dream Again is a division of. It was formed here in NC and is now back in NC, but for most of its working life it was in Florida. I am President of Novastar which is a small nonprofit funded by the sale of my book, folks personal gifts to it, speaking on the rare occasion I accept payment, and from my wife’s and my own funds. I am telling you this not to brag, but rather to make the point that Novastar nor Project Dream Again has ever taken any federal, state, county, or city funds. It has run a drop-in center on the grounds of South Florida State Hospital without any public money, and it also helped get two consumer run drop-in centers state funded in Broward County, FL.
My wife, Patty, left Project Dream Again (Novastar) and went to work first for Broward County on a team working with people in the state hospital then she went to work for the Advocacy Center as monitor for the lawsuit because of the conditions at South Florida State Hospital. She later became the Director PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mentally Illness) for the state of Florida. I love my wife, but I am not fond of the PAIMI across the country. Why? Because IT MATTERS WHO FUNDS YOU.
That is why I made the point I did about Novastar and where it gets the little money it has to run on. My grandfather use to ask me, “Have you ever heard of a preacher saying he felt God was leading him or calling him to go to a smaller church with less pay?” Folks, there are always strings. The only way to have an independent consumer voice is to build a grassroots organization independent from the power structure financed by our own pennies.
Let me talk straight for a minute. Since coming back to this state, I have offered to work with NAMI-NC whose board I served on in the late 80’s, but they don’t seem to need any help. I offered my help to the new Advocacy Center in this state, but they don’t seem to need any help either. In fact, they don’t even answer my letters. Neither the Department nor the local LME (local funding source for those of you out of NC) answer letters. To find out that North Carolina feels like a deep freeze to consumer input is a shock to me. My delusional thinking was that North Carolina would be far ahead of Florida in accepting us as part of the decision making process, but the fact is the Sunshine state shines on this issue.
If you think I am taking it personally, you are wrong. I can look at the system and tell no one has been listening to us. I can read the Person-Centered Manual and know and tell no one is listening to us. This isn’t about the fact that Ed isn’t being heard. This is about the fact that the consumer being served is not being listened to. A consumer driven system does not look like the one you are looking at in North Carolina. It is that simple.
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Thursday, January 24, 2008


In The New York Times (Sunday, January 13, 2008) Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University wrote, “the core of this idea — the interchangeability of perspectives — keeps reappearing in history’s best-thought-through moral philosophies, including the Golden Rule (itself discovered many times); Spinoza’s Viewpoint of Eternity; the Social Contract of Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke; Kant’s Categorical Imperative; and Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance. It also underlies Peter Singer’s theory of the Expanding Circle — the optimistic proposal that our moral sense, though shaped by evolution to overvalue self, kin and clan, can propel us on a path of moral progress, as our reasoning forces us to generalize it to larger and larger circles of sentient beings.”
If you had to sum my father up in one word it would be teacher. I have written in this blog before that he was a minister, missionary, educator, school principal, and started and ran a teachers’ training college on the mission in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). He always said if you knew your subject well enough you could put it in terms anyone could understand. I am going to make an attempt to explain “interchangeability of perspectives”. Professor Pinker of Harvard considers it a big idea and so does The New York Times.
Professor Pinker links it to Jesus with the Golden Rule, Spinoza, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Kant, Rawls, and Singer.
Let me see if we can put this in words I can understand. Can I see your side of things? Have I walked in your shoes? Have I tried to understand it from your way of thinking? Am I treating you as I would want you to treat me?
Now don’t get me wrong. It is not about agreeing with the other person if you think they are wrong or doing something you know is wrong just to fit in. This is not a one size fits all philosophy. This is not anything goes.
Some of the philosophies that Professor Pinker lumps together don’t blend so well. They would make a very lumpy cake if all of them were used as ingredients for the same cake.
However, if you stay with the basic point of always trying to see the other person as a person and their perspective and ideas then progress towards peace and understanding can be made. The truth is you can’t be very helpful to folks you are fighting with.
We just celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this past Monday, but the day before this country was the most segregated it is anytime during the week. Sunday morning during church time. Do we still blame the rape victim? Try being a male victim of childhood sexual abuse and talk about it on a construction site where you work. My point is we don’t very often try to see the world through the eyes of the other person.
There is a debate going on about where we get our moral instincts come from. Professor Pinker wrote, “Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago.” Did Jesus put it back on the table 2,000 years ago?
It does not matter if you come from the same faith community as I do or belong to no faith community, but it does matter how you view the folks you share this planet with. It matters whether you are drawing smaller and smaller circles until it is only you in the circle or if you are drawing larger and larger circles until we are all in your circle including those of us with disabilities which before you may have seen as flawed. My prayer is that you are building larger and larger circles.
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Monday, January 21, 2008


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BUT NOT US /January 21, 2008
Yesterday’s Sunday edition of The News Herald had a front page article with the title “One Solution to Fixing Mental Health May be the Faith Community”. It was written by Sharon McBrayer and was a long piece with a front page picture to draw attention to it. It started by telling the horrible struggles of one family here in western North Carolina trying to get services from our mental health system. Then it went on by quoting from a psychologist the paper said had worked in a number of states and was now working in Florida. He is quoted as saying, “I haven’t worked in a state yet that didn’t have a broken system.”
One of the things that jumps out at you is that this psychologist says, “I think the faith-based community can play an integral part” and the writer of the article goes on to say, “He (speaking of the psychologist) believes there are federal dollars to fund what he’s talking about.” Reality check here folks. Once you take federal or state dollars the strings attached soon cut off the air that gives you the ability to share your faith.
The article then goes on to describe a local counseling center started by the First Baptist Church of Morganton, NC and is now helped by other churches including First Presbyterian and First Methodist. The center also accepts insurance.
The center’s coordinator explained they “don’t have a physician so they can’t serve those with more serious issues such as bipolar or schizophrenia.”
Everybody else with mental health issues, but not us. Who is us? Those of us with a serious mental illness. Where do we go? To a clinic funded by the state and federal government or if we a lucky by private insurance until we max out the limits.
Others, but not us. How often have those of us with a serious mental illness heard that? I used as a forward to my book When Even the Devil Deserts You a piece written by my father, (educator, missionary, minister) before his death in 1989 in which he wrote, “We experienced great disappointment and frustration that our child with outstanding ability was unable to cope in work or school. It was difficult during the earlier years of his illness to differentiate between his mental illness and adolescent behavior. We felt that some of our friends and colleagues did not accept us in the usual manner because of our son’s behavior, that they considered us less respectable because of a non-conforming member of the family. The mentally ill and their families have a special need for people to befriend them, not in sympathy but in understanding and support.”
[The book can be ordered at]
The point here is that faith communities do have a role to play. To reach out to us and our families not try to replace the government or private insurance. Why do I say that? The biggest reason is that the majority of us have trust issues with mental health professionals if we have been in the system very long. Do faith communities want to take on the baggage of the mental health community?
Second, the faith community has a job they know how to do. We need it just like any other person does. We don’t need special treatment. We just need not to be turned away at the door or ignored.
What I am trying to say here is don’t make special programs for us, but rather simply make us feel special by including us in your regular programs. I am thankful I now believe our Creator does!
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Thursday, January 17, 2008


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FOOTPRINTS of HIS SON /January 17, 2008
It is three in the morning here in Glen Alpine, North Carolina and it is snowing outside. Everything is turning white. How I wish my insides were as white as the outside looks right now, but they are not. Lawrence Wright, a Texan, is the author of the book Saints & Sinners. He also wrote City Children, Country Summer: A Story of Ghetto Children Among the Amish.
I often ask myself am I a saint or a sinner? Good or bad? Growing up with a father who was a minister, missionary, and high school principal among other teaching and educational positions and having a mother who was a school teacher (they are both deceased) does not allow one the luxury of avoiding the question. So I am forced to try to answer the question in some fashion. Let me tell you about three men I wish I was more like in some ways. You may be surprised because they are not very famous, but they are my trifecta.
First, my father Lester J. Cooper (1919-1989) not because he was a minister or missionary or educator, but because he taught me how to learn, to love philosophy, and he loved the dirt. When we got to the mission field in 1960 conditions in southern Africa were dangerous for people of my skin color. Since I am white it was decided that I would have to stay on the mission station 100 miles from the nearest town and that the missionaries would teach me. The other missionary kids seemed to do fine, but I was a problem so Dad taught me. The main thing he taught me was how to learn, and a byproduct of that was a love for philosophy. He grew up in the hills of Kentucky and had dirt in his veins. He had a garden, fruit trees, and grape vines etc. on his little lot in College Park, GA. Until he was no longer able just before his death.
Second, is Will Davis Campbell who was a major supporter of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. Born July 18, 1924, in Amite County, Mississippi, Campbell grew up in Liberty, Mississippi — a town name fitting for what Campbell wanted to find through his work as a Civil Rights activist and a preacher. Campbell earned his A.B. at Wake Forest College and a B.D. from Yale. He was a Baptist preacher in Taylor, Louisiana, for two years before taking the position of Director of Religious Life at the University of Mississippi from 1954 to 1956. Forced to leave the university because of his ardent Civil Rights participation, Campbell served on the National Council of Churches in New York as a race relations consultant. Campbell worked closely with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and Andrew Young towards bettering race relations. Today, he continues his pursuit of spiritual and racial liberty as a pastor in Tennessee. Campbell's Brother to a Dragonfly earned him the Lillian Smith Prize, the Christopher Award, and a National Book Award nomination. The Glad River won a first-place award from the Friends of American Writers in 1982. His works have also won a Lyndhurst Prize and an Alex Haley Award.
Third, is Don West (1906-1992) In a book review written by Rachel Rubin this native of the North Georgia mountains who worked in in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia is described by her like this, “West is widely viewed as one of the most compelling political and literary figures of the Southern Appalachians during the middle of the twentieth century. She goes on to say, “Don West was a poet, a promoter of mountain music, a minister, a labor organizer, an educator, a leftist activist, an amateur historian and a firm advocate for grass-roots mountain people and traditional regional values.” Could there be any higher praise for a life well lived?
What do these three have in common? They were all three ministers and teachers. They all three believed deeply in their mission.
Am I a saint or a sinner? The truth is someone else gets to decide. For now the folks who watch me live my life can decide for themselves, but ultimately I will be judged by my Creator and on that day I must rely on the hope found in His Grace. Until then all I can do is try to walk in the footprints of His Son.
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Monday, January 14, 2008


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C.F.M.I. /January 14, 2008
Twenty years ago this year I started Christian Friends of the Mentally Ill which is now a division of Novastar Opportunities for the Mentally Ill, Inc. (formed in 1989). The other divisions of N.O.M.I., Inc. are Project Dream Again and Dream Again Press.
Soon after starting Christian Friends of the Mentally Ill, I conducted a survey of ministers and pastors about their thoughts on mental illness. To my surprise the number who returned the survey was far higher than could normally be expected, but the bigger surprise lay in the responses. Almost a third considered serious mental illness a moral issue rather than a medical one. A number of those considered it demon possession. I was devastated. At the time I wished I had never done the research.
How was I supposed to deal with the fact that my brain disease was seen by ministers and pastors as caused by a moral failure on my part? I am not claiming I was without sin, but my sins did not cause my bipolar disorder.
Then I read about and corresponded with H. Newton Malony, Senior Professor of Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary.
AB, Birmingham Southern College
MDiv, Yale Divinity School
MA, PhD, George Peabody College
Biographical Information:
Newt Malony has been active on the faculty of the seminary since joining the School of Psychology in 1969.
A prodigious scholar, Malony's most recent publications include Living with Paradox: Religious Leadership and the Genius of Double Vision (1998) and Christ in the Heart of Psychology: The Early Years of Fuller Seminary's School of Psychology (1996). A licensed psychologist and ordained United Methodist minister, Malony has also maintained professional involvement in the American Psychological Association, California Psychological Association, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and American College of Forensic Examiners.
Areas of Expertise, Research, Writing, and Teaching:
Transactional Analysis, Clinical psychology, Psychology of religion, Integration of psychology and theology, Religious tolerance.” [from Fuller’s website]
Dr. Malony gave me the encouragement to continue with Christian Friends and listed it in his book Religion and Mental Illness: A Directory of Programs Sponsored by Churches and Congregations.
Then I met Dr. John Baggett at that time Executive Director of NAMI NC. He was also a graduate of a seminary and also encouraged my work to get faith communities to reach out to those of us with serious mental illnesses and our families.
Then I got to meet and talk with Dr. Robert Coles, author of over fifty books, at a conference in Washington, DC. That chat and his book, The Call of Service, which he dedicated To the memory of Dorothy Day, confirmed in my mind that I was on the right road.
“There is a call to us, a call of service-that we join with others to try to make things better in this world.” Dorothy Day
Do you hear the still small voice inside you calling you to service?
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Thursday, January 10, 2008


SACRED PLACES & RECOVERY / January 10, 2008
The recovery journey which I call learning to Dream Again is a path full of twists and turns. It has peaks and valleys. Times of joy and moments of depth defying depression. There is nothing easy about the recovery journey for a person with a serious mental illness or a person who has suffered a severe trauma such as childhood sexual abuse or rape. The exciting fact is that there is hope. One does not have to stay lost on the path. The journey can be made. You can learn to Dream Again.
A recent special issue of U.S. News & World Report was about sacred places. In that issue they say about sacred places, “They are as varied as the human sense of the sacred and as various as the world’s many spiritual traditions. Sacred places range from entire cities to that special room in your home, and can be man-made or part of nature.”
Yesterday, two of my friends and I drove up Wilson’s Creek. The Wilson’s Creek area is part of the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest. Looking at a map, the area is just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain and east of NC 181, north of Morganton. Wilson’s Creek was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System on August 18, 2000. The headwaters are below Calloway Peak and the creek stretches over 23 miles before emptying into John's River. To me Wilson’s Creek is a sacred place.
I have been to others. I grew up on a mission station in Zimbabwe, Africa one hundred miles from the Great Zimbabwe ruins. Since Europeans first encountered the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, it has been the focus of ideological concern and conflict. Unwilling to believe that sub-Saharan Africans could have built such a structure, adventurers and ideologues long claimed the ruins a mystery, theorizing that ancient Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, or Hebrews created the structures. No one knows who built the place, but it was a sacred place for me.
Winifred Gallagher, author of The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions(Harper Perennial, 1994), wrote in the same issue about sacred places, “ Frank Lloyd Wright, who insisted that even ordinary homes should offer hearths and openness to the outdoors, said, "Nature is my manifestation of God." Over years of thinking and writing about how our external worlds affect our inner ones, I've visited Europe's cathedrals, India's temples, and Morocco's mosques. Nevertheless, when I hear "sacred place," I think first of my modest home, a one-room schoolhouse in the woods, where I'm writing these words.
Like many American homes, the schoolhouse combines natural and architectural ingredients in its recipe for ordinary sacredness. On this chilly morning, sunlight floods the white, high-ceilinged room. The only sounds come from the brook, the wind rustling in the sere autumn leaves, and the fire crackling in the wood stove. When I woke up, the first thing I saw was a small herd of deer grazing on the lawn. The schoolhouse has precious little plumbing and no central heating, cell service, or high-speed Internet. Given a hard enough rainstorm, it has no electricity.
Despite the inconveniences—or perhaps because of them—this is where I come to be cut off from the status quo, glimpse the big picture, and remember the deep truths that are so easy to forget elsewhere.”
What is the truth we need to learn? That finding a sacred place to simply be so we can find the peace to get the rest and recharging needed to fight on is one of the major keys to the recovery journey. You might just find a surprise there. You might discover the Creator is already waiting inside of you just hoping someday you will become still enough to hear the small calming voice.
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008


NEXT BLOG COMING January 10, 2008 “Sacred Places and Recovery”
I just read the Raleigh THE NEWS & OBSERVER editorial titled “Recovery Mode” so I am doing something I seldom do. I am writing an extra blog this week. I normally write only on Mondays and Thursdays, but this is just too much.
It seems that editorials boards across this state are delighted with Secretary Dempsey Benton and his “proven” administrative ability. Let me be clear. The fact that you were a good or even great city manager of Raleigh or a competent administrator of another state agency does not mean you know enough to deal with the issues facing the mental health system in this state. Just being a nice guy does not cut the mustard either.
I am 59 and I have lived with a diagnosis of a serious mental illness since I was 15. I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Earlier in my life I used drugs that were not prescribed to me by a physician. I am also what is called a family member which simply means that members of my family suffer from a mental illness.
I have been an advocate since 1988. I served on the board of NAMI NC in the late 80’s. I served on the original committee that formed the North Carolina Mental Health Consumer’s Organization, Inc. I served in the early 90’s as National Co-Chair of the Religious Outreach Network of NAMI now called FAITH-NET. In south Florida I served on many committees and boards along with writing the proposals for funding and helping to start three primary consumer run drop-in centers one of which was on the grounds of South Florida State Hospital.
I have been President of Novastar Opportunities for the Mentally Ill, Inc. (N.O.M.I. pronounced know me) which Project Dream Again is a division of since 1989. I say all this to introduce myself before saying what I am about to say.
The bottom line truth is the only true experts are those living with the illness, their families, and those individuals willing to listen closely to what they say. Other than those all you have are people who think they know or who are guessing. The fact is the best information you will ever get about a psych hospital is the information you get by making friends with someone receiving services there and letting them tell you what things are like. Let them tell you the real deal.
I have monitored many hospitals and programs. Yes, I looked at charts and records. Yes, I talked to staff and administration. However, the best information I got was when I sat quietly by someone receiving services there and just let them talk.
I was in south Florida when Hurricane Andrew came through. Broward County, FL’s mental health community put together a team to go into the worst hit parts of Dade County. I went to an apartment complex looking for consumers from one of the mental health centers. The large apartment complex was in shambles. To my surprise the mental health consumers where in better shape than the “chronically normal people”. In fact, they were helping them.
Secretary Benton you might want to think about letting us help you this time. This is your Hurricane Andrew.
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Monday, January 07, 2008


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HEALING? / January 7, 2008
I grew up in a home where the dinner discussion was often either about the school board or the church board. My father was a school principal and my mother a teacher. My father was also an Elder and ordained minister in the church. As an adult I worked at companies where I came in contact with their boards and even formed my own companies where I was part of the board, but it was not until I started Project Dream Again that I knew anything about editorial boards at newspapers. They are a different breed.
In Sunday’s The Charlotte Observer ( Ed Williams, Editorial Page Editor, ran their opinion piece titled Healing HHS. They are giving their endorsement to Secretary Dempsey Benton’s ideas for improving or in their words “fixing N.C. mental health woes.”
The plan they are praising according to their editorial boils down to keeping two state hospitals open longer than planned, bringing “the state’s 14 mental health facilities under his direction” (the state facilities were already under his direction and there are only four operating psychiatric hospitals the others that the Observer refers to as mental health facilities are alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers, developmental centers, residential programs for children and neuro-medical treatment centers) and convening three work groups.
First, let me point out that healing HHS here in North Carolina whatever that means to the editorial board of The Charlotte Observer or to Secretary Benton does not mean it will or it will not help heal a single one of us who are suffering from a serious mental illness. There is no direct connection between a healthy North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the recovery journey of persons like me with a mental illness. I will never see Secretary Benton or any of his staff. Real solutions will never come from the top down or from bringing in experts or from work groups. Real solutions come from the bottom up from the person being served and from frontline workers. The concept has a name. It is called participatory decision making rather than using a dictatorial management style. Participatory decision making starts with the person being served along with the people of his/her choice and the people serving the person not with the head of the agency or hospital and certainly not with the Secretary of the Department.
Second, the editorial board is praising work groups before they have produced any product. Before starting Project Dream Again, I was in sales and manufacturing. I can’t imagine getting told well done before a single product was produced or sold. Does the editorial board handing out this praise even know the expertise of the majority of the folks on these work groups?
The paper calls them “sure-footed strategies”. I call them doing what you do when you don’t know what to do. You appoint work groups to study the matter. You move the chess pieces around pretending the responsibility is now someplace else. I guess I would do the same thing if I took over a department that I knew nothing about. Where did Secretary Benton get his experience in mental health is what the editorial board ought to have been thinking about rather than praising “sure-footed strategies” that they don’t have a clue were they lead us to.
Am I being too hard on Secretary Benton and whoever wrote the piece on the opinion page of The Charlotte Observer? No, because we don’t have time for anymore experts to be brought in, study groups, or on the job training for the Secretary of HHS. We need someone in the lead now who knows about us. Not someone trying to learn on the job. This mess we are in was not caused by us. We did not decide to have a mental illness, but we are here now. We don’t need study or work groups. We don’t have time to do on the job training for Secretary Benton.
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Thursday, January 03, 2008


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FERTILE INNER SELF/ January 3, 2008
Bobbie Ann Mason, a native of my home state of Kentucky, has a character (Emmett, a Vietnam vet) in her book In Country say “If you can think about something like birds, you can get outside of yourself, and it doesn’t hurt as much. That’s the whole idea. That’s the whole challenge for the human race. Think about that. Put your thinking cap on Sam (a teenage girl). Put that in your pipe and smoke it! But I can barely get to the point where I can be a self to get out of.”
Being a self sounds simple enough, but is it really? We all are being something, but when I look around me most people seem to be trying to be like each other. Others are totally absorbed in either their jobs or their kids. I am not sure they even know who they are. Do they have an identity other than their work or through their kids?
You can find tons of stuff written about community now days. In fact, I write about it here often. It is important, but you can not become a strong member of a community if you don’t know who you are. A strong community is made up of strong selves.
You may ask how can that be. Don’t you have to give up self when you enter a community or a marriage? Only if you are entering a cult or marrying a control freak. Let me ask you this. Did Jesus when he came into the world community stop being Jesus? Did Moses have a strong self as he led the Hebrew people out of bondage? Did Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. have strong selves as they advocated for the freedom and rights of all people?
I understand and have written in this blog about the importance of community. Nothing I am saying here changes that. The point here is that individuals are the building blocks of communities and the stronger they are the stronger the community will be.
Trauma, especially early and prolonged childhood sexual trauma, can damage the ability to form a concept of self. The stigma of psychiatric labels can also make it hard to develop a sound self. There are other social, psychological, genetic, and spiritual factors that get in the way. Developing a strong inner self is not simple nor is there a single pathway one must take. However, let me leave you with this thought. Is not the safest and wisest place to plant and grow your fruitful and fertile inner self in the loving arms of our Creator?
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