Thursday, July 12, 2018

Erica Garza & Her True Story of Getting Off from Sex and Porn Addiction

In this interview, Erica Garza talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction.


“Shame was the driving force in the way my addiction manifested.” ~Erica Garza

Erica decided to write Getting Off for several reasons, one of which was her using writing as a way to deal with difficult emotions and gain perspective on her life. It was because of this that she felt most at home with the Hoffman process (which is a seven-day retreat where writing is one of the methods involved) to help her come to terms with her own sexual addiction, and the seed of the book was an essay she wrote on the topic. Writing the essay was challenging for her, and after she posted it online, she received a lot of emails from people who felt isolated, alone and ashamed with their own sexual addictions. The responses encouraged her to write more and the result was book she eventually authored.

Erica grew up in a Catholic environment, and her family environment was one of love and support. She began the road to sex addiction when, at the age of twelve, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and needed to wear a back brace for two years. She accordingly felt very self-conscious, insecure and anxious about herself and her body, and had, by then, began masturbating and exploring pornography. She then began using masturbation and pornography as a way to get get a break from the insecure and scary thoughts and feelings that were her normal experience, noting that, when she was focused on achieving orgasm, that was the only thing she would think about.

Sex became an escapist crutch for Erica to lean on as she grew older, and her leaning on that crutch was enhanced by the growing presence and ease of availability of pornography on the Internet. Having sex with men also added to this crutch, and even then Erica used sex to help hide her emotions and self away from others, as she found connection and friendship to be challenging; and this made her lonely. This desire to shield her emotions was also what led her to sabotaging any relationships where she felt she was getting emotionally close to a man, so she could maintain her emotional distance.

Erica points out that women, just like men, can be sex addicts and watch and view the same kind of pornographic material that men look at, and a lot of her emails bear this out. Where conversation is concerned, however, women don’t speak publicly about this issue, which only adds to the layer of shame which sexually addicted women already feel. She points out that being told by others that something which one is experiencing “doesn’t exist” results in that person shutting down, and that this resulting isolation, silence and shame only fuels addictions even more, whereas bringing these issues out in a safe and supportive space results in healing.

Erica notes how sex addiction, and the drivers for this, vary from person to person, and the best indicator is to ask oneself the questions:

  • Am I using sex as a way to escape from problems in my life?
  • Am I using sex in a destructive way?
  • Am I putting myself into situations where I feel I’m not in control?

Erica also notes that, in her case, the kind of porn she watched was the extreme kind where she felt bad, disgusted and ashamed. Where relationships with men were concerned, she gravitated towards those where she felt used and unkindly treated, which she notes reflected the way she treated others. Somewhat ironically, Erica admits that she needed to feel turned off, bad and abused in order to feel the adrenaline rush of a sexual experience.

Isolation was a big result of her sex addiction on herself, which fed into her feelings of shame, worthlessness and self-loathing. Erica admits that the people around her, family included, most likely felt neglected, as she felt that they weren’t worth her time. She notes that other people can most relate to her experience of being lost and stuck in the kind of negative feelings she experienced.

Erica did not hit “rock bottom,” which is a common wake-up call for those addicted to drugs and alcohol, as she gradually realized her sexual addiction over time. That said, she finally realized what was going on after she deliberately sabotaged a relationship and also realized that she would be turning thirty soon, and she then decided to do things differently, which led her to her trip to Bali, where she began figuring things out.

Breaking her sexual addiction required Erica to break the patterns which enabled these, and one of the things which helped her do so was to create boundaries where she could still be sexually exploratory in a way that didn’t hurt those whom she loved. For her, moving on from becoming a sex addict was all about finding moderation and balance, as well as dealing with the feelings of shame and unworthiness that drove her sexual addiction in the first place. Telling the truth, for Erica, is the most powerful way to come to terms with her sexual addiction.

Erica notes that pornography isn’t the cause of sex addiction, noting that, if pornography didn’t exist, people would go to some other source of titillation, like strip clubs and peep shows. She also notes that, even if pornography didn’t exist, she would still have felt the same feelings and desires that had led her to becoming a sex addict.

To those in a similar situation that she was in, Erica recommends that they find someone to talk to, one who can listen from a space of non-judgement. Erica also strongly recommends that they go to a Twelve Steps meeting, where they can meet with like-minded people and talk about their concerns in a safe environment. She also notes that, for some people, a single method, e.g., just Twelve Steps or just yoga or just meditation, might not work, and that a combination of such methods may be needed to reclaim balance in their lives.

Purchase from Amazon: Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction by Erica Garza

Tan Liu on The Ponzi Factor as the Simple Truth behind Investment Profits

In this interview, Tan Liu talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, The Ponzi Factor: The Simple Truth About Investment Profits.

“I want people to understand how this game really works.” ~Tan Liu

The Ponzi Factor was initially written out of anger in 2009, after Tan worked at a hedge fund where he realized that finance involves a lot of “tricky accounting,” where profits can be realized on paper without actually making these. He also learned of another company which ran a Ponzi scheme similar to Bernie Madoff’s, except it was legally done. This kind of scheme, Tan realized, involves all synthetic financial instruments, such as credit swaps and the stock market, as these actually have no real-world value. He decided to focus on the stock market to keep to a coherent subject matter, and while pointing out the Ponzi scheme nature of the stock market was easy, he needed to devote a lot of time addressing the side issues related to stocks which, he points out, are all hypothetical arguments.

Tan points out that “financial theory” is an unprovable idea, and that the arguments set forward by the academe to support these are unfounded and unproven hypotheses. He gives the example of a company’s stock equity value being equivalent to:

Price x The Number of Stocks a Company Has

and gives the example of Google, which has 348 million Class C stocks (wherein the stock owners have no voting rights and receive no dividends; and these stocks comprise half of their market capital - effectively, half of all their stocks) and which, based on an increase of $100 on a trade of 1.5 million stocks, increased its financial equity value by some $80 billion without needing to do anything or exert any effort to increase its profitability, as this increase would be applied to all of its stocks. Tan also points out that Google does not back the value of their stock and doesn’t issue dividends, which was the original way by which stocks earned money for their owners.

Tan remarks that, prior to the 1900s, stock was an instrument by which the person who owned that stock owned part of a company. That owner earned money from the dividends paid out on the stock, and the company tied in the value of the stock and any dividends paid out to how profitable the company was. The stock owner also had another, secondary way of making money from stocks, and that was by selling those he owned at a price higher than what he bought them, which is called capital gains. Capital gains, on the other hand, are presently the primary method by which people can, supposedly, make money on stocks, and Tan remarks that, with this method, stock prices move only when money comes in from another investor, thus creating a system where money is only shuffled amongst investors, rather than created through profits generated; and this is what makes it a gambling system and a de facto Ponzi scheme.

Tan notes that companies buying back stocks is very rare, and points out that such buybacks, where companies buy back stocks and thus take these off the trading floor, are scams of their own. He cites, as an example, a Google buy-back of 5 million shares in 2016 when, in that same year, their stocks available for trade increased by 3 million shares, indicating that, if Google did indeed, buy 5 million shares back, they also somehow released 8 million new shares for trading.

At present, Tan points out that there is no relationship between stocks and company profitability, citing Tesla, which issued 74 million shares in the past 7 years. During that time, its stock value rose from $20 to $380, while the company lost $4.7 billion, which indicates a disjunct between a company’s profitability and stock price, as a company’s stock value is supposed to rise if it turns a good profit and drop when it loses money. This behavior, Tan notes, is possible only with a Ponzi type scheme in play, one which is clearly observable and factual.

Tan remarks that, from an investment viewpoint, cryptocurrencies aren’t much different from stocks, in that these are as much gambling instruments as stocks presently are. There are many different kinds of cryptocurrencies, and the type which is most analogous to stocks are the Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), which are essentially tokens issued by companies to people with a promise that that person, at a future time, can redeem a company’s goods and services in the future. This makes ICOs somewhat more legitimate than other cryptocurrencies.

Tan remarks that academic institutions which teach finance are one of the major driving forces behind the present way stocks are being viewed and handled, and notes that his reaction to what is being taught is usually one of incredulous laughter. Academic institutions, according to Tan, teach unproven material which disconnects stocks from the money a company actually makes. He notes that academics have a vested interest in continuing to push their theories, as all of these would become meaningless in light of fact.

Tan points out the fallacy that a stock owner can “just sell my stock tomorrow,” as the money available to buy out sold stocks just doesn’t exist. He remarks that the total value of the stock market in the United States is $30 trillion, but that the most lenient measure of money supply in the United States is around $13 trillion, most of which is used in things other than stocks, such as infrastructure development and defense spending; and of this, only $1.6 trillion is actual, hard money in circulation. Thus, the value of a person’s stock isn’t effectively “cash in hand,” and that they actually hold $0, as they parted with their money, which is something tangible, can be possessed and can be handled, whereas the value of a stock portfolio is an intangible idea.

Tan recommends that stocks should be classified as gambling instruments, and to ground and connect stocks to company profits, Tan recommends that companies be required, by law, to pay reasonable dividends to all of their shareholders, rather than dividends just for compliance. For startup companies who choose to raise capital by issuing stocks, Tan recommends that the stocks of these companies not be traded until the companies themselves make enough money so they can issue reasonable dividends.

To would-be investors, Tan recommends investing in more solid assets, such as real estate, or investing in stocks that actually pay dividends.

Purchase from Amazon: The Ponzi Factor: The Simple Truth About Investment Profits by Tan Liu

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dr. Michael S Scheeringa on A Parent's Guide to PTSD in Youth

In this interview, Dr. Michael Scheeringa talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, They’ll Never Be the Same: A Parent’s Guide to PTSD in Youth.

“Parents, it’s up to you.” ~Dr. Michael Scheeringa

As a young, newly-trained doctor, Michael was interested in preventing child abuse, but found that field to be too ambitious to tackle, so he went into research into the effect of trauma on children - post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in other words. He accumulated a lot of information from his research and clinical work had been spending time speaking about the matter to his colleagues as well as leading training workshops on the matter, but he felt that the word wasn’t going out as quickly as he felt it should. He thus wrote They’ll Never Be the Same in an attempt to let parents and the ordinary person know the symptoms and effects of PTSD on children.

Michael notes that PTSD springs from experiences which children consider to be life-threatening, rather than experiences which are stressful but don’t get up to the intensity of being life-threatening. The events are sudden, unexpected, sheer moments of panic, which can take place during such events as natural disasters, attacks by dogs (for young children), witnessing domestic violence and the like. That said, he agreed that not everybody reacts the same way to the same situation, due to the difference in the way children perceive things, with one child being in a car accident and getting traumatized and another child in the same accident not being traumatized, and he infers the possibility that this could be due to the way each individual’s brain is wired. Michael notes that, where the issue of being separated from parents is concerned, such an event isn’t necessarily life-threatening, although it is stressful, unless it’s done in a very frightening way.

Some of the myths that Michael points out about childhood PTSD are:
  • “Young children don’t remember what happened to them.” This is not true. Children as young as three can suffer from PTSD, and they will remember the traumatic event as they grow older.
  • “Kids grow out of it.” This doesn’t happen, so it is best to get help for the child as soon as possible - immediately, as much as possible, within a month at most.
  • “The parent - particularly the mother - is to blame.” This isn’t the case, and Michael points out that parents - particularly mothers - were blamed for autism in the 1950s, as they were blamed for schizophrenia in the 1960s. Granted, some parents might be using their children to get doctors to doing something which might not be proper or legitimate, and Michael does admit that therapists and clinicians are exposed, during their training, to populations which skew towards such behavior, but he also says that, in his experience, parents don’t lie where their children’s welfare is concerned.
Michael remarks that parents can tell if a child suffers PTSD by seeing a sudden change in a child’s behavior. PTSD is the only psychological disorder which manifests itself immediately, so something like a child being happy and expressive one day and literally withdrawn the next day is a symptom of PTSD. He also notes that there are twenty different diagnostic indicators for PTSD, which fall into three types:
  1. Re-experiencing - nightmares, thoughts that barge in.
  2. Avoidance and numbing - losing interest in things they previously liked.
  3. Increased arousal - difficulty sleeping and concentration, exaggerated startle responses (“jumpy”).
Therapies for PTSD will never enable the child to totally heal. The best that can be done is to enable the child to live with the event, similar to how people would live with diabetes or chronic back pain, for the rest of their life. That said, such therapies will enable those who are successfully treated to live out their live productively.

Michael remarks that psychotherapy is the first line of treatment for PTSD, as it has the best long-lasting effect. There are different types of psychotherapy for PTSD, and one of these, which Michael recommends and uses, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a form of evidence-based treatment, which means that the therapy has been tested in randomized clinical trials and has been shown to work, unlike other therapies which have not been clinically tested at all. CBT consists of twelve to fifteen weekly sessions, with the patient learning new coping strategies at the start of the process, after which they need to start talking about their trauma in a gentle, guided way to enable them to gain mastery of the negative feelings they have about the event. Michael notes that up to 75% of his patients have had success with CBT, and the other 25% need help in addition to CBT, such as through medication.

Michael estimates that 90% of all children with PTSD aren’t so diagnosed, as most clinicians nowadays aren’t trained to recognize PTSD in children. For the moment, it is now up to the parents to seek help for their children by finding their own assessments, such as those on Michael’s website, and then looking around for therapists who can help them out. Some of the questions Michael recommends parents to ask, to find the right kind of therapist, are:
  • Do you use evidence-based therapy?
  • Have you seen a child like mine, with PTSD, before?
  • How many cases have you treated?
  • Have you treated children who are my child’s age?
  • What kind of psychotherapy do you plan to use?
He also says that parents should switch therapists if the therapist they are working with doesn’t seem to be effective.

On the subject of studies conducted on brains of people who suffered PTSD, Michael remarks that the present conventional wisdom is that those peoples’ brains have suffered changes due to PTSD but notes that most of this wisdom is based on studies which didn’t have a reference image of the brain prior to PTSD and those images after the event which triggered PTSD took place. He notes that some newer studies, which do use “before and after” imaging, indicate that the brain structure didn’t change before and after the event took place, and that it is likely that some people are more vulnerable to PTSD than others because of the way their brain is structured.

Purchase from Amazon: They’ll Never Be the Same: A Parent’s Guide to PTSD in Youth by Dr. Michael Scheeringa

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Pardeep Singh Kaleka and Arno Michaelis on Forgiveness after Hate

In this interview, Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about their book, The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate.


“Hurt people hurt people.” ~Pardeep Singh Kaleka and Arno Michaelis

Pardeep is a first-generation immigrant, having come from Punjabi, India at the age of six, when his parents wanted a better life and opportunities for themselves and their family. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and essentially followed the American dream, and thanks to their parents’ hard work Pardeep and his family were able to go to college, with his brother becoming a teacher and Pardeep, a police officer. He is a Sikh, which is a religion which is concerned with seeing the humanity in others, and Sikhs are expected to be learners.

Arno grew up in Milwaukee, in a good neighborhood, but in an alcoholic household, with his parents struggling. The conflicts led him to lash out at others, and as he grew older, he got stimulated by antisocial, violent acts. He began drinking at the age of sixteen and first got involved with white supremacists while listening to music geared towards that audience. He spent seven years in neo-Nazi hate groups as a leader and street fighter, but he felt an increasing sense of exhaustion and isolation in that time, particularly since the people he was supposed to hate treated him with kindness when he least deserved it. Arno remarked that everything that he did was designed to provoke hostility, hate and fights, but when he was treated with kindness he didn’t know how to react. He eventually decided to leave when he became a single father to a baby girl and one of his friends was killed in a street fight, which made him present to the fact that a lot of his friends were incarcerated, and that if he himself didn’t change, he would wind up like them. He then spent the next seven years healing, then stopped drinking, began writing and founded an online magazine, Life After Hate and now works as a counter-violent extremist consultant.

On August 5, 2012, one of Arno’s former colleagues shot and killed six people in a Sikh temple, one of whom was Pradeep’s father, before being killed himself in a shootout with responding policemen. Pardeep then reached out to connect with Arno a few months after the shooting, and since then, the pair have been working together to break the cycle of hate which breeds more hate and racism.

While Arno doesn’t believe there is an excuse for hate and violence, he remarks that there is always a reason. Whatever the ideology under which the hate and violence blossoms, the common thread is a background of suffering and pain within an individual. Pardeep seconds this, saying that there are a lot of issues related to vulnerability amongst individuals who lean towards extremism and violence.

Irresponsibility is the main source of racism, according to Arno and Pardeep, where it is easier to blame someone else, or another group, as being the source of one’s perceived poor status in life, rather than confront oneself about one’s own behaviors and actions that had brought one to that state. Such blame enables one to disconnect from the reality of one’s life, and Arno notes that white supremacist groups prey upon this mix of frustration, discontent and blame to recruit people, which only accelerates the person’s downfall, rather than enabling them to find ways out of their situation.

Pardeep notes that, in the United States, a lot of judging goes on about people involved in white supremacist groups, which keeps people from recognizing the pain and historical trauma of such ideologies. A more mindful culture, according to him, is necessary to solve the concern, rather than demonizing the people, as there is no way out for the person once that is done. Rejection, real or perceived, is the trigger for violence in a lot of mass shootings, according to Pardeep, and Arno remarks that violence is also an attempt to find control something in their life when everything else isn’t in control. He then adds that he and Pardeep, as part of their work, help people to see that controlling the lens through which they view the world, be it for evil or for good, is a powerful thing. Arno also notes that responding to antisocial behavior with compassion, rather than aggression and vengeance, breaks the cycle of violence, without accepting such behavior as normal.

Pardeep notes that the interplay of factors in racism is complex, as it exists in history and society as well as individuals. Resolving the concern, he says, requires that society become a solution-focused one, rather than the judgemental, blaming one that it presently is. Arno remarks that one thing people can do is to see oneself in others, particularly when those other people do harm.

To those who are deeply involved in racist ideologies, Arno would ask them if they know someone of their race who could make better decisions in their life and if they know someone of another race who is hard-working and likeable. To those who are on the receiving end of a hate crime, Pardeep would like them to know that pain, however painful, has a purpose with regard to one’s life journey.

Arno notes that, as human beings, it’s in our nature that we find what we seek, so those who find reasons to be hateful and outraged will find such, while those who seek inspiration will find it. This is something which Pardeep calls a “choice bias,” and whatever one chooses to invest in gives greater weight to one’s own beliefs.

Purchase from Amazon: The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate by Pardeep Singh Kaleka and Arno Michaelis

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Danny Kofke: How to Be Wealthy on a Teacher's Salary (Even if You're Not a Teacher)

In this interview, Danny Kofke talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, The Wealthy Teacher: Lessons For Prospering On A School Teacher’s Salary.

“It’s really easy to spend money without thinking about it.” ~Danny Kofke

The Wealthy Teacher is actually Danny’s fourth book, all of which deal with creating financial freedom for oneself based on his own experiences of doing so on a teacher’s salary. His methods have resulted in his presently being debt-free and have enabled his wife to be a stay-at-home mom for nine years, with the family living on his salary alone. The Wealthy Teacher is intended to make the reader look at one’s overall financial picture and take the exact steps needed to create financial success - the kind which, Danny explains, would enable someone to leave one’s employment if one dislikes the situation there.

Danny’s childhood environment was a happy one, despite his family not being well-to-do, and it was then that he noticed that those among his friends who had a lot materially weren’t happy - something he continued to notice amongst adults as he got older. When he married, he agreed with his wife that she should be a stay-at-home mom and look after the children for a few years, which meant that they needed to get their financial plan straight for the next several years, one which would keep them out of debt.

Where a teacher’s salary is concerned, Danny notes that, over time, a teacher’s salary is a decent amount, but salaries are low for beginning teachers, which presents a challenge at a time when one is establishing one’s life and career. Danny notes that the low pay is particularly challenging to today’s teachers, as they also have to deal with the home life issues of students and that, even before they start working, teachers already have to deal with student loans.

Where the average American is concerned, Danny recalls a survey recently conducted which showed that around 70% of all Americans would need to borrow money to cover a $400 emergency. For his part, Danny has a one-year emergency fund and a retirement account as well as having no debt, and more importantly he and his family live wealthy lives.

Debt is “90% behavior,” according to Danny, pointing out that income and outflow is 8th-grade math. It’s easy for people to spend money to make themselves feel good when they feel unhappy, and Danny points out that that the feeling of “good” doesn’t last long while having an impact on their future financial standing. He also points out that people get into trouble when they spend more than they earn, citing a survey done by a sports magazine which noted that several NBA players file for bankruptcy five years after retirement.

Danny notes that people not only need to have short-term and long-term goals financially, but also need to know the why behind those goals. The example he gives is of wanting to have enough in retirement to enjoy outings with his grandchildren, which keeps him from buying a brand new car and placing what would have been his monthly payment money for the car into his retirement fund.

The Wealthy Teacher includes things to do to get people on the path to financial freedom, starting with setting goals and knowing why, after which he goes over such things as having proper insurance and getting a will. He also goes into saving an amount for expenses and having an emergency fund, then about getting out of debt, which he notes is essentially money one owes before one even gets a job. Danny points out that life and consequent expenses happen, and that having a financial margin available turns a catastrophe into a mere inconvenience. He also then notes about investing for retirement and then paying off one’s mortgage, finishing off with being financially free.

Danny notes that the concept of “wealth” is subjective, as being wealthy is what one makes of it, and his definition of wealth is having the freedom to pursue what one is passionate about. He gave the example of being able to travel around Europe during his two-year stay in Poland with his wife while still being able to save up money for the inevitable return to the United States, which meant that neither of them felt deprived of the experience of living overseas. Danny noted that they were able to save because they paid themselves first by putting aside, as soon as they got their paychecks, a fixed amount of money for their future needs, which gave them some $20,000 to start off their life in the United States. This practice is the reverse of how most people operate, in that the latter pay off their expenses first and then enjoy what’s left.

Danny’s basic advice to people, particularly those starting out in life, is to keep track of their expenses, to know where, exactly, their money goes. He and his wife did just that for a month, shortly after they got married, and the figures they came up with helped them set up their monthly budget. Danny notes that most people have an outflow problem, rather than an income problem. He also points out that a lot of people don’t take advantages of the opportunities offered them because they literally can’t afford to, and gave the example of his becoming an author because he could afford to take advantage of that particular opportunity, which has consequently enriched his life in many ways.

Purchase from Amazon: The Wealthy Teacher: Lessons For Prospering On A School Teacher’s Salary by Danny Kofke

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gretchen Steidle on Leading from Within & Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation

In this interview, Gretchen Steidle talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Leading From Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation.

“The most important thing you can do before you decide to establish your own work in the world is to listen deeply to those who are affected by the issue.” ~Gretchen Steidle

Gretchen has been working in the international non-profit sector as a social entrepreneur as well as in the mindfulness sector for the past fifteen years. Even when she started out, it was obvious to Gretchen that investing in one’s well-being and personal wellness were important to do the work necessary to create sustainable, positive change. She realizes that, in the present environment of division and burned out activists, mindfulness is a tool not only for oneself but also influences how relationships are built and problems solved - which is vital for leaders.

Gretchen had started working on different components of Leading From Within for around three years before she was asked if she wanted to write a book, and her answer was “yes,” which has resulted in the book being so published.

Gretchen believes that those organizations and individuals which seek to advance the world in some way use methods to influence or force others to effect the change desired. She notes that we, as individuals, look to someone outside of ourselves to make changes, and when that other person doesn’t change permanently, we get frustrated and fall into the blame game, which runs counter to our need to understand each other at a deep, human level. Gretchen remarks that knowing what drives change, what it is within us that resists it, and the dynamics at the root level of an issue are necessary, and using mindfulness enables one to become an expert in both internal and external change and, thus, lasting, long-term transformation.

Gretchen gives, as an example, the tax on smoking, which is intended to limit the number of people who smoke. She points out that this only affects those who aren’t serious smokers, and if the tax is removed, those non-serious smokers will be more likely to take up smoking again. Serious smokers won’t stop smoking, even if the tax were levied, because of the addiction underlying their smoking habit. Gretchen’s method would take into account how smoking begins, how to treat addiction, and the challenges facing people who are in this situation.

Mindfulness is at the basis of Gretchen’s methodology and philosophy, and her definition is that stated by John Kabat-Zinn: “Paying attention on purpose in this present moment.” This means being aware, in the present moment, of all that is happening within and around oneself, such as one’s mood, mental activity and physical state as well as what is ongoing around oneself. She also notes that mindfulness is “practiced with a quality of curiosity and non-judgement,” which means that we notice all this without judging oneself or the world around.

Gretchen notes that there are many different ways to cultivate mindfulness, which she notes is a form of training one’s brain, as one exercises one’s brain by being mindful. She also notes that science is presently showing that the structure and function of one’s brain changes when one does so, and that, while meditation can be used to become mindful, one can also use cues throughout the day to become mindful.

There are five aspects to Gretchen’s movement of Conscious Social Change, and these are:
  1. Cultivating presence, which is about practicing to become more mindful. This enables one to figure out how to change, as well as how difficult change actually is.
  2. Becoming whole, which is when one begins to change the way one interacts with the world. This is critical to allowing one to deal with others as allies, rather than as opponents.
  3. Ensuring balance, which is when one becomes aware when one needs to restore oneself, which is necessary to not being burned out.
  4. Engaging mindfully, which is when one uses the skills one has developed and apply these to dealing with others. This enables one to put aside one’s ego and bias to understand others and the common ground between oneself and others, which creates a deeper understanding of issues and collaborative solutions which create long-term transformation.
  5. Leading from within, which is when one is driven by one’s own passions rather than personal gain and when one is oriented to benefiting others as well as inspiring others to meaningfully function in deference to a common cause.
Where results are concerned, the biggest example of a success that Gretchen spoke of was when, some ten years back, Global Grassroots dealt with a village that wanted clean, drinking water. A normal non-profit would have just dug a well and turned it over to the village, but Gretchen and her people spoke to the women in the village to get the context of the situation, as the women had more information than they had. The present situation was that women needed to travel several miles and up and down a steep slope to get water from a questionable source, and that, along the way, they were vulnerable, while carrying such heavy water, to being physically and sexually attacked. Some of the village girls could help out with this, but because the trip took literally hours the girls would come to school late, fall behind in their lessons and eventually drop out. This also led to a practice within the village of women, particularly the disabled, exchanging sexual favors with men so that the latter would be the ones to draw water; and this was the main issue that the women wanted to work on.

The solution Gretchen’s group provided gave the village a good source of clean water, and the village could sell the water to those who could afford it and give it to the sexually exploited women for free. This led to a shift in the relationships between the men and the women in the village, particularly when the men saw how valuable the project was, with the men volunteering to take shifts with elderly women so that the latter’s water wouldn’t be stolen. With the money they got from selling the water, they were able to buy women’s health insurance and pay for orphans’ school fees, as well as provide loans to start small businesses.

It didn’t stop there, for the villagers shared their solution with other villages, and other villages adopted their model. The village started off by serving a hundred households and, ten years later, some 9,000 people have benefited from the solution Gretchen’s group provided - a solution which was borne by the collaborative, mindful and patient methods Gretchen espouses.

Purchase from Amazon: Leading From Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Steidle

Friday, May 11, 2018

Eliza Factor on Caring for a Child with Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL)

In this interview, Eliza Factor talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Strange Beauty: A Portrait of My Son.

“We work better by working with other people and helping other people.” ~Eliza Factor

Although Eliza didn’t have a typical middle class life until she settled down with her husband, she describes herself as a “typical person” leading a normal life before her son, Felix, entered her life. She contracted chickenpox while she was pregnant with Felix, and this impacted Felix. He was born early and his being “floppy” after he was born was initially racked up to his being a premature baby. Eliza and her husband then began going to doctors and getting Felix tested before he was finally diagnosed with having periventricular leukomalacia, which is essentially when the brain’s white matter is damaged during fetal development. This has led to Felix’s combination of cerebral palsy and autism as the two major conditions which he has to this day.

At the time that he was diagnosed, at the age of one, nobody could tell Eliza if Felix would even walk or talk, and it was then that Eliza realized that her son wouldn’t grow up the way other children did. Eliza notes that diagnoses are the labels presently used today to access the services one needs, as even a diagnosis like “autism” is a basket terms to describe various conditions. She remarks that Felix’s conditions mean that he can’t do things for himself, although he can do such things as standing up, if he is helped. Eliza also notes that, despite the violent behavior that Felix exhibited, and despite having some limitations with communicating, such as describing things in the past tense, he is very communicative, with an ability to strongly connect with others and share with them an “infectious” sense of humor. Despite this, Felix apparently has a far more tenuous connection with his body than others, with Eliza hazarding that Felix can most likely feel pain but doesn’t know where exactly it comes from.

Felix lived at home until the age of ten, and Eliza describes life with him as “rich, full and exhausting,” as it was also during that time when Felix displayed cyclical, violent behavior, during which times he would hit himself for periods of up to three days straight. She wrote Strange Beauty after placing Felix in a residential school, where he could live in an environment where his needs could be met, and with her home now feeling empty, she had the time to reflect on her experiences with Felix. Eliza attempts to explain the process of her journey within its pages, to the point of embracing and accepting the disabilities within Felix and recognizing the disabilities in herself and in others, which was liberating for her. She also wants to use the book as a way to open up conversations about what it’s like to live with a disabled child, particularly those who can become as violent as Felix could, and points out that what is needed is more specialized education programs in public schools as well as training amongst public servants on how violence can escalate and how to de-escalate it.

Eliza also learned how to read other people’s body language after years of observing Felix. She also realized that she needed help from others, not only when dealing with Felix’s outbursts but also with other aspects of her life. She notes that public support for parents and families with children who have conditions similar to Felix’s is lacking at present. Eliza remarks that there are people who may look and act normal but who have conditions similar to Felix’s (which cause outbursts of violence and behavior) who are punished, rather than helped.

Eliza notes that there were people out in the street who would walk up to her and Felix and interact with them, with some offering to help and most just saying “hi,” which were positive experiences for her. She started a community center for families with children who had disabilities, an art and play center which runs on a volunteer basis (and which is intended to be an indoor place which was open to everyone), as well as to use disability as a way to bring people together. Eliza notes that meeting within the confines of the community center, is energizing and fun for members of families whose common thread is having a disabled child, as it brings out the best in her as well as with everyone else involved.

Eliza also notes that Felix’s younger sisters had a good relationship with him when they were younger, but were jealous of such things as needing to be able to put on their clothes by themselves while Felix was given help. Their view of disability is different from most people, which is highlighted by the story that Eliza gave - about telling her daughter about a game she played as a child, when she and other kids would ask each other about what disability they would rather have. Eliza’s daughter was confused by the story, as her daughter had never considered blindness or deafness as being a disability.

To those who would find themselves in a position similar to Eliza’s, her advice is to love the child as they are, to seek help when needed, and to follow the child’s lead, as the child will give clues to how they want to be handled, as such children shouldn’t be forced to be something they aren’t. She also believes that all of us are disabled in some way, and that there is a lot of fear about this, but that that is the way humans are and that is okay, which opens up freedom for oneself and others.

Purchase from Amazon: Strange Beauty: A Portrait of My Son by Eliza Factor