I saw what you posted on Facebook and I couldn’t click ‘like.’ Then I had a second thought that I wanted to support you, so I clicked ‘love,’ not because I loved it but because I Love You.
Your Facebook status:
Married man. Two degrees. White collar employed. Self-taught linguist. God-fearing man = Eligible for police brutality (#fact happened b4)
I’m sensible enough to know that my presence in society doesn’t just depend on how “I” see myself or what “successes” I might think I have …love for our neighbors. Fight for our justice. Pray for our freedom. #RIP #AltonSterling #struggle #pray #freedom #justice #love #worldwide
I recognize now that my first thought was one of fear that you were feeling this pain. Fear at the thought of you feeling oppressed. You were brought up between the color lines, living in poverty and educated amongst the affluent people. You wrote in your music about becoming one of the affluent men as you looked at your past as sin that you wished not to go back to again. I was hoping that your walk with God would shield you from this pain. Then I re-read the post and saw that you were speaking your TRUTH.
I know that you feel the pain deeply. While attending school at the University of Berkeley, police officers did surround you with the police cars, lights and a gun in your face while you were riding your bicycle home with a hoodie covering your head to stay warm. The reason? The police said you looked like a suspect that had just committed a crime—a black man wearing a hoodie.
How did this happen? You, being God-fearing, met your wife on your twenty-first birthday and married her five years later. Your wedding day kiss was your first kiss—respecting her and her family, you waited. Your love for the word of God is evident in your being. So how did you get connected to this thing? This thing that is roaming the earth seeking to devour.
The answer is that we all have pain. For some of us it is buried in shame, and let out in anger and aggression toward self and others.
When I was twenty-three, during the first year of your birth, the pain and trauma from my past caught up with me and I was suffering. I did not have anyone in the community who wouldn’t judge me as bad, so I suffered silently. I turned to psychiatry to help me attain a well life like the drug commercials and television movies promised, and the procedure was to label and drug me for almost twenty years. My coping mechanisms were judged as illnesses. Despite having a child in private school, they couldn’t see me as a person worthy of living well.
I did not know the history of mental health, psychiatry and drugging people that I know now. I went in blind, and this is why I continue to share my story—I know for sure that there are many others who do not know alternatives to move forward from anxiety and fear and get to loving themselves and others.
I wanted to spare you, my son, from suffering like I did. I wanted to give you every opportunity I could. You have grown into a good man, a caring and successful man, yet you still have to fear for your life in this country. You still feel pain when you see what is happening.
When you were four years old you briefly took gymnastics, just from me observing the world, seeing what worked well for others and wanting the same well life for you. Your uncle told me that I shouldn’t allow you to take gymnastics because you needed to be tough.
I asked him, tough for what? Of course I knew he was talking about the streets. He lived a street life—guns and drugs—and my other brother, my cousin and many friends had lived street lives and are now dead, in prison or deported.
I remember my brother getting killed less than two weeks after you were born, by a person he’d trusted and shared what he had with. The next day on the news, I saw a black body bag being carried as they mentioned a man being killed on Fifth Street in Bridgeport. To the general public, that is all that my brother’s life was, in the end. We who loved him know better. I cry now as I write that.
But I remember knowing that would not be your life. Reading to you, listening to you, writing for you when you couldn’t write yet but could tell me stories. Teaching you… you banging out your ABCs at ten months old, reading at three years old, attending private schools, ivy league colleges. Business degree, white collar job, connection to your beautiful wife, friends from around the world; best friends that have your back. Frugal money manager, caring brother and uncle, trustworthy and faithful son, compassionate and empathetic toward others. Yes, these are some of the things you do and the characteristics you have earned for yourself. You are so humble about it all.
I know you have pain, son, from the suffering that we endured when you were a child. You used rap music to express yourself through high school and your undergraduate years at college, feeling and healing the pain. I often listen to the music you created back then. I listen to the lyrics and see the pain that you felt and how brilliantly you let it out.
Many people that I have loved came to an early death through neglect or the way that they lived their lives. So many mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, lovers, and friends that I will never know are suffering right now. But up close and personal, I have family members dying young or falling into the prison system. I also have a sister with two sons who just served this great country for thirty-two years in the United States of America’s Army, retiring honorably with a letter from President Barack Obama who also has black children.
I have friends that are younger than me. People talk about the music they listen to and create, the words that they use, the clothes that they wear. Yet no one shows up to support them, so they must seek to take care of themselves through great adversity. Just like anyone else, they are looking to live a well life. I’ve observed that people seem to support people who look or act like they do. My friends that came into my life and supported me to move forward don’t look or act anything like me, but the human connection was made, so I am optimistic that it is possible for all.
I wanted to make this short, but as usual I have gone on and on. I used to say that it’s because I am long-winded, or because I’m a visual person who likes sharing in pictures. It is also the trauma I endured, and the poor education that I received, resulting in a lack of grammar skills. Having a ninth grade English teacher who drew down the shades, put a movie in for the students to watch, and then laid his head down on his desk to sleep through every class.
The school systems in America for people in low-income neighborhoods are mostly inadequate; the pipeline to prison is evidence of this. The parents in oppression going through depression and the trauma of it all need support to move through this pain and help their children. I am always grateful for the support that we received in our lives, and thank God for his grace and mercy that we were able to receive it and give back.
You and your older sister have gotten a great education in this country. You have done your part. And now the law has got to stand up and do what was written down so that all could live well. The country must come to a standstill and make a massive change. We need unity, we need freedom, we need to wake up. It cannot go on like it has been.
I am an optimist and believe in the possibility of change—you can’t live the life I’ve lived and not believe in the possibility of change. But I am not naive enough to think that this country or any part of the world will come to a standstill. There are so many lives being lost every day in war and violence against each other. The refugee situation has left a massive amount of people all over the world without homes. Child porn still goes on. Sex trafficking still goes on. Incest and child molestation are still being committed. The next holiday is being prepared for in stores. People eating a good meal and drinking a fine glass of wine is still happening. Babies are still being born. God is still being praised. Men are still trying to discover the farthest regions of the galaxy and beyond. People can’t find clean drinking water. There is a child going to bed hungry tonight with no food to eat or prospect of any tomorrow. Many more will suffer and many more will die. As Bob Marley says… don’t ask me why.
There are no color lines when it comes to pain. I use empathy to feel this universal pain that Eckhart Tolle writes about in A New Earth—that is happening right now, with me getting to this place today to let it out. I use the gift of tears… so many tears right now.
We all know that Black Lives Matter—this is not a debate. Human beings are all beautiful in the array of colors we are born in. We are the most intelligent species that we have discovered so far on the planet and we are all worthy and deserve to live a well life.
So what is happening?
Again I point to the pain—pain that turns into shame, anger, fear, and then hate. All people have pain, and not everyone knows how to deal with it in a healing away, perhaps because of not being taught. A system of mental health has been set up for people who recognize that we could use help dealing with pain that is hard to reach due to trauma, however, this system has allowed terrible and wrong things to happen to people under the label of psychiatry. People need real support to move through pain, fear, trauma and anger, not getting locked up and drugged against their will.
Sometimes this pain is passed down from generation to generation. In a country dealing with racism, when you put a uniform on a man whose pain hasn’t been dealt with, a man who looks at people with a darker skin color and casts blame, violence is carried out. It is not your fault, son. You are worthy and deserving to walk confidently on this earth. There’s so much anger and aggression, so many people suffering, wanting, lacking and needing. Not everyone is fully aware of why this is. It just is. I believe that to become aware of why is part of the reason we are here on earth.
I make the choice to choose love. I spent many years dying slowly from the pain, and I choose now to live in freedom—what freedom means for me. No one could tell me that; I had to learn it for myself. And I continue learning, about myself and the world around me. I have learned to let go of worry and fear because it does not put trust in God. I have learned that forgiveness heals and that it is possible to move through fear, and on the other side is love. It is with that hope that I write this letter to you.
My thoughts continue to be: On healing… On loving each other… On togetherness… On belonging… On connection… On freedom… On unity… On justice… On peace.
One Love, My Son,
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.