Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Boo the Cat Taught Me About Trauma


                                                           By Philip Foley

A person can learn a lot about trauma from a feral cat. Boo is our cat. Boo has taught me much about trauma and how patience, love and respect for boundaries can transcend the crippling impact trauma has on someone.

We found Boo under our shed when she was just a very small Kitten. She was abandoned in the forest where we live and left to die. Boo wanted nothing to do with Kathleen and I at first; but she did accept the food and water we left out for her every day. Every time we would approach her she ran back under the shed. We did not force the issue. Eventually, she would allow us to get close to her but touching her was out of the question.

We gave her all the space she needed and after several months she allowed Kathleen to pet her. I would have to wait a while longer.

As Summer arrived we began sitting on our screened porch and Boo would approach the door and look in on us. In the beginning she would not enter. Gradually, Boo would come onto the porch through the door which we left ajar. After hanging out on the porch with us for about a month Boo would allow us both to pet her, but only on her terms. The slightest movement or unfamiliar noise would startle her and she would retreat to a place where she felt safe. Through patience and giving her all the space she needed Boo began to trust us more and more. Finally, Boo moved into the house with us.

Over the next several months Boo would begin to sit on our lap and let us comfort her. Boo, however, is like the legendary Jersey Devil who haunts the forest we live in. Everyone has heard about her, but no one, other than Kathleen and I ever see her. You see, trauma still rules Boo's emotional life. Although she has been living with us for two years now her trauma has not gone away, it is simply managed more effectively. We need to make Boo feel safe or she retreats into the furniture. Boo is a wonderful and affectionate cat. She reveals herself to us because we have created a safe environment and we respect her boundaries.

Trauma needs to be understood and embraced from the victim’s perspective; not from ours. It is a daily exercise. Boo taught me that. When we provide a safe environment, offer perspective, not advice, and recognize the world as seen through a victim's eyes, we will experience the joy of seeing them realize their fullest potential.

Perhaps we should all bring a feral cat into our lives. Thanks Boo!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013



 By Kathleen Hoy Foley


If you already see the parallels between the three—Paula Deen, Lance Armstrong and Kumbaya—call me because you should be writing this and I could be off somewhere contemplating important stuff like how to keep cat hair under control so I don’t ever have to vacuum again.  If you simply don’t get what Paula, Lance and Kumbaya have in common…well…you’re here, why not hang around for a few minutes?  Not that I’m promising any grand revelations, you understand.  And, oh, if you’re easily offended, leave now because I can’t promise to refrain from snarky.  In fact, I’m can’t promise anything.  No, that’s not exactly correct.  I’m promising eight hundred words, give or take.  And Paula, Lance, Kumbaya, and big fat lies are on my mind… 

Ohhh…Paula Deen…my fantasy of the perfect mama—squeezingly plump, ready with a full-on, enthusiastic bear hug, and hot-from-the-oven cinnamon buns.  Flip on the Food Network and there she was supplying emotional lard to the tired and downtrodden with a lick of sass and lots of butter.  And nobody needs butter and hot-from-the-oven cinnamon buns served up with a thick southern draw more than the tired and downtrodden.  Paula Deen had that southern coo thing down cold.  “Come sit down, darlin’.  Look what I made for y’all.” 

Sure, at any moment Paula Deen’s diabetes could’ve sent in the gangrene and pretty soon a surgeon high on sugar could’ve been sawing off one or two of her feet.  Oh, who cares about all that?  And never mind Ms. Deen’s dream of catering an antebellum wedding reception replete with strapping black men in starched shirts and pressed tuxedoes serving high southern cuisine to white guests.  It’s so romantic reminiscing how her great granddaddy’s slaves were treated just like family, isn’t it?  Except for the manacles…  Oh, don’t let’s think about that.  Pass the fried butter, sweetie pie.  We can’t bother ourselves with the truth…it’s so…so…unappetizing.  Yes, it took me some time to figure out that “best dishes” Paula Deen was just a big fat lie. 

Lance Armstrong…geez, if I hadn’t actually seen the words, I cheated, fall directly out of his mouth, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Even when I heard him confess, I still couldn’t believe it.  After all, I believed in Lance Armstrong.  He was a tenacious bulldog who not only bit cancer in the ass, but converted it into raw, honed muscle, hammered it into a titanium chariot, and harnessed its energy to conquer the Pyrenees, dehydration, cramps, and exhaustion to win the Tour de France over and over.  And while he was at it, damn, didn’t he spit in the eye of every naysayer who dared question his integrity?  What an inspiration!  Drag out the rusty Schwinn, peddle mile after miserable mile through headwinds and sweltering heat lugging an extra sixty five pounds of middle-age girth, and call me Blanche. 

But there he was, revealing himself as just another gazillionaire coward.  Lance Armstrong, the super star athlete, was no more than a fraud, a con artist.  He drugged, blood doped, cheated, threatened every living soul around him into silence, ruined the reputations of anyone who dared question him, and sued those who dared speak, while tallying up his mega fortunes.  Lance Armstrong was no hero.  He was an arrogant menace in spandex.  And he never gently cradled childhood cancer victims in his strong, brave arms after dismounting his bike, like I thought either.  Lance Armstrong: one big fat lie. 

So is Kumbaya—you probably already know this.  But I actually believed that we could all hold hands and sing the world into a better place.  Kumbaya is a big fat lie, I know that now.  But back in the days of folk music masses, Marriage Encounter, and the Charismatic Movement—raucous praising, speaking-in-tongues, and holy roller Catholics—holding hands, swaying and singing hymns was touted by ‘spiritual authorities’ as the path to all that was good.  And I bought it.  No!  I devoured it.  Kumbaya: Joy! Happiness! Peace!  Sing more.  Praise more.  Smile more.  Do more.  I hugged strangers.  I drank communion wine from chalices slobbered on by hundreds.  (Give me a moment while I cringe…eww…)  And, oh, that darkness that haunted me?  Easy as Praise Jesus it away.  Kumbaya didn’t fail.  I did.  Only that was just another big fat lie.    

Call me gullible, but I believed the big fat lies of Paula Deen, Lance Armstrong and Kumbaya.  I needed to be coddled in the embrace of fairytales: endless butter, endless energy, and endless soothing hymns to pamper the dream.  The luring offer of a straight, easy path to ‘feel-good’ was like an addictive drug.  I could skim along the surface of happy if I ignored disease, covert racism, and hid the dark agony of sexual abuse under pretty hymns and pure baloney.  It half worked for a long time.   

But truth has this way of speaking—in my case, exploding.  It’s an intense force of nature that pushes through concrete, past closed eyes, into aching hearts, and eats away at carefully constructed, big fat lies—and an added plus for me, it chiseled away that extra sixty-five pounds.  Of course, truth doesn’t concern itself with time or gracious manners.  That was news to me.  I bet it was news to Paula Deen and Lance Armstrong too, who probably figured they could out run it, or at least, forever ignore it.  Which it turns out, is the biggest, fattest lie ever.  

As for Kumbaya?  It’s a nice song and all, but you won’t find me humming it while I’m praying away the cat hair.  Just hand me the damn vacuum cleaner.