Bravo, 13 Reasons Why!

A few weeks ago when our youngest son, who is fifteen years old, asked if we can watch 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, I was unsure, but was most definitely happy he asked that we watch it together. I had heard many things about the show from many different people. In my full time work as the assistant administrator of an emergency youth shelter and a street outreach crisis counselor, I have many conversations with youth, parents, and my colleagues in the field of youth development. What I heard from many youth is that I should really watch 13 Reasons Why because it is amazing and powerful. What I heard from many adults is that I should watch 13 Reasons Why, but only to know what the youth are watching because the show is dangerous, harmful and glorifies suicide. My wife, fifteen year old son and I just finished watching the final, thirteenth episode of 13 Reasons Why. As is so often the case in my personal and professional experience, the youth make more sense than the adults. 13 Reasons Why is just as so many youth had described to me – amazing and powerful.

After watching the entire show, I now see why so many adults have found a way to interpret the show as something dangerous and harmful, because the show reveals and places right in your face the dangers of maintaining the current status quo in many communities, that to this day still exist and reinforce the three rules that are present in all unhealthy relationships: don’t talk, don’t tell, don’t feel. The show reveals the harm that impotent anti-bullying policies do nothing more than tell victims to ignore the torment, yet every day students pass by anti-bullying posters at every turn, in every hallway of every school. The show reveals the dangers of the very real rape culture that exists. The show reveals the harm of doing and saying nothing; the dangers of politics that work to protect an institution rather than the victims; the harm of policies that work against truth rather than revealing it; the dangerous truth about the direct and indirect threats that youth and adults who are ready and willing to expose, address and find solutions with those who are marginalized, victimized and suffering experience when advocating for justice. For the aforementioned reasons, and so many more, 13 Reasons Why is not dangerous and harmful, but reveals a great deal of the direct and indirect dangers and harm that our children maneuver through every day. And for this reason, 13 Reasons Why is threatening to those who profit from, don’t care, or lack the moral and ethical courage required to address the dangers and harm that have become societal norms that our children experience every day. As for the glorification of suicide, 13 Reasons Why absolutely does not promote nor glorify suicide. It does however shine a spotlight upon many causes that require deep, in-the-trenches work, which seems to be a place few want to look, and even fewer are willing to work within.

Professionally, I have no idea how many suicide interventions that the Creator and I (I would be a fool to attempt to facilitate such things on my own) have facilitated. There have been countless youth over the years who have handed me the gun, knife, razor, or box cutter that they were going to use to take their own life. And it is never their life they are seeking to end, it’s the pain they’re experiencing that they want to end, but at that moment in time the pain seems endless. It’s so easy to tell someone, suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem, and the person delivering such bumper sticker psychology doesn’t see or didn’t listen to the fact that the young person standing before them has been dealing with their struggle for twelve, thirteen, fifteen, or eighteen years or more. I’ve watched adults deliver clichés like that to traumatized youth who’ve experienced endless pain, placements, systems and institutions for decades, but the adults delivering such clichés will lose their shit if their latte isn’t prepared correctly and ready in under five minutes at their local coffee shop.

A while back in my full time job there was a young person who wanted the pain to end and felt the only way to do that was to die. The young person attempted to throw themselves in front of a truck. I was there and was able to push the young person out of the way, but in the process I fell in front of the truck. I thank God (literally) that the driver of that truck was paying attention and swerved out of the way. I was able to restrain the young person until the police arrived with emergency psychiatric personnel who transported the young person to a psychiatric emergency hospital where the young person received the long-term care they needed. In the three or four minutes it took for the police and the emergency psychiatric personnel to arrive on scene, the young person hit me very hard in the groin, and screamed over and over again at me, “You don’t give a fuck about me! Why didn’t you just let me die?!” Experience, both professionally and personally, has shown me that this initial reaction to a successful suicide intervention is not uncommon, because due to the abuse, pain, loss, tragedy and trauma that so many of our children have experienced, they truly are astonished when someone really does care about them, because in the lives of far too many young people no one has cared, and if they did care, they’ve never demonstrated it to the young person in consistent, unconditional loving and compassionate way. After that young person was in a psychiatric hospital for a while, and had time to be open to and receive the best treatment there is, which is love, I received a letter from them along with the bracelet that I have chosen to use as the photo for this article.

For some, I may be using extreme examples. For others, it’s their daily professional or personal experience. Yet, how many suicide interventions have we all facilitated and never even knew it? Those moments when we give a compliment. Moments when we soften our eyes and allow love to shine through us, looking upon someone gently, simply acknowledging their precious presence in this beautiful life. Sending a random message to our family and friends that they are a sacred blessing, miracle and gift. Telling a stranger that they’re a sacred blessing, miracle and gift. Letting someone know we believe them and believe in them. And how about with and within ourselves? Look in the mirror, especially in severely challenging times, even through tear-filled eyes, and remind yourself that this is a shitty moment in life, but it is a moment in life, not the rest of your life, and that you, too, are a sacred blessing, miracle and gift. Oh, there are so many ways we’ve all facilitated suicide interventions and will never even know it, because we will never know who is standing on the ledge. And there are so many ways all of us have facilitated suicide prevention and will never know it. All the moments when we allow love and compassion to pour through us are moments we are facilitating healing that is literally beyond measure.

Personally, my family has been impacted by suicide attempts and completions. I survived two suicide attempts as a teenager, and again I emphasize, I did not want my life to end, I wanted the pain to end, and it did, thank God. God sent people like you into my life, even if for a brief moment, to extend love, compassion, guidance and care. I am eternally grateful for loving and compassionate human beings like you who were there for me when the only thing I had to offer were my tears. Bravo, 13 Reasons Why for your courage in lifting the rugs where secrets remained hidden, but were no less dangerous, so that those who are willing will willingly be vessels through which the prayers of others are answered, and even in the midst of a person’s many reasons why, a bright light shines forth revealing many reasons to live. Be the reason someone says, “Because of you, I am here.”

Because of You, I am Here

by Anthony Goulet

Until someone can see you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot see you.

Although I was told many times that I would be dead or in prison before the age of eighteen, you didn’t see me as a problem needing to be incarcerated, beaten, or thrown away.

Although I was sexually abused and experienced other traumas that no one should ever have to endure, you didn’t see me as a victim, who, at best could only rise to mediocrity. You didn’t see me as at-risk, a problem, victim, or mediocre. You saw me as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift. I knew that for the first time in a long time I was seen. And because you saw me, truly saw me, I began to see myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone hears you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot hear you.

Although I was talked at and talked to most of my life, you wanted to hear my voice. My voice that had been beaten back into the recesses of my mind. My voice that I had hidden for so long out of fear that it would be scrutinized, disrespected, mocked, and rejected again. I didn’t even know where my voice was when you came to me. Yet, through your ability to listen and skillfully use the power of silence, you walked me through my internal abyss of pain, loss, tragedy, and shone a powerful light of listening upon the words I thought were lost. You unraveled the voices of strangers, illusions, and lies, gently removing everything I’m not, so I could once again hear my own voice recall and reclaim the sacred blessing, miracle, and gift I am.

You heard me. And because you heard me, I began to hear myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone believes you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot believe you.

Before you came to me, I had made many outcries, none of which were ever investigated. I was not advocated for. I wasn’t believed. So, I began to follow the three rules that exist in all unhealthy relationships: Don’t talk. Don’t tell. Don’t feel. These three rules amount to nothing more than suppressing our truth, but I followed these three rules to where they always lead us, bottles of alcohol, drugs, putting ourselves in harm’s way, and suicide attempts. But you weren’t like the others. You saw me, listened to me, and believed me. You told me and showed me how to talk, tell and feel.

Because you believed me, I began to believe myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone accepts you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot accept you.

Because you saw me, heard me, and believe me, I knew you accepted me. I knew it was acceptance because it wasn’t conditional. I didn’t have to prove anything. Your acceptance didn’t depend upon my attitude, behavior, grades, or what I could produce or consume. Before you came to me I was around people who accepted me only as long as I followed their rules. As long as I didn’t talk, tell, or feel, I was accepted. As long as I was willing to not be true to myself, I was accepted. As long as I was willing to harm myself or die, I was accepted. You could have cared less about my willingness to die, however, you were extremely passionate about me regaining a willingness to live.

You accepted me. Because you accepted me, I began to accept myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone has faith in you as sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot have faith in you.

You saw me, heard me, listened to me, and believed me. How could I not know you had faith in me? You didn’t just believe me when I told you what was done to me as a child, you advocated for me in the face of those who wanted me to crawl back to the three rules of don’t talk, don’t tell, and don’t feel. You didn’t just ferociously advocate for me, you saw what no one, including myself, could see in me, you saw greatness. You were highly experienced and skilled, so you knew that you could not have a relationship with my potential, but you knew I could. You uncovered the lies and illusions that blocked me from seeing, hearing, believing, and having faith in my potential. You often quoted Robert H. Schuller, “Anyone can count the amount of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the amount of apples in a seed.” I found it funny and exciting when you would say, “Only God knows how many apples are within the seeds of greatness within you, but I am willing to bet anything that you have at least a one-thousand acre orchard!”

You had faith in me, and because you did, I began to have faith in myself. Because of you, I am here.

Sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts are kept safe.

You saw, heard, believed, accepted, and had faith in me. How could I not feel safe? Yet, it was more than a feeling, it was truth. A truly safe place and space majestically appeared whenever I was in your presence. I need you to know that knowing I was safe made my life easier, and although some days I still tried to push you away, it was only because I felt safe that I dared to push the limits. Because what I learned before you came into my life is that conflict, no matter how minuscule, has one result, violence. Whether the violence was physical, where someone is beaten for having a bad day, a different opinion, or just saying a little too much, or the type of violence where someone is ostracized, no longer to be included, with a shunning that would make a physical beating feel comfortable. Then there was perhaps the worst violence of all, when someone disappears, not away from you, but right in front of you; a disappearing act where someone who was safe, no longer is. With the pop of a pill, the piercing of a needle, the gulp of some wine, a puff of some smoke, or a snort of some powder, then they were gone, and so was my safety. You never forced anything. You allowed me to be. My experience wasn’t something you tried to interpret, but something you didn’t allow to interpret me. Although our experiences form us, shape us, they don’t have to imprison us. The place and space of safety that came freely in your presence freed me. Knowing my life, words, thoughts, good and bad days, mood swings, laughter, prayers, love, tears, hopes, dreams, and fears were safe with you freed me. Your safety freed me from the worst kind of prison, a life sentence, not behind bars, but within my mind. You helped free me so that moments of my life didn’t become the rest of my life.

You gave me safety, and because you did, I began to feel safe to take refuge within my own heart, and live from my own heart. Because of you, I am here.

We trust sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts.

Like you, and most other people, I had given my trust to many who broke my heart. At the time I didn’t know why I was giving life and trust another chance. Now I know. When you said the words, “I trust you,” it permeated through my soul like a life-giving breeze on a dry, humid day. Your trust renewed me. There was no calculated, direct or indirect threat attached to your trust. You trusted me the same way you respected me, you just gave it with no conditions. And when the time came for me to have some closed-book tests, those times when you told me to make my own decisions, I didn’t pass all of them, but you reminded me that there’s no such thing as failure, only lessons. During my relapses of old habits, behaviors, or choices, you kept telling me, “Relapse is normal. It’s part of this dance, and does not mean you failed. I trust you. You are a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift.”

You trusted me, and because you did, I began to trust myself. Because of you, I am here.

We give peace to sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts.

I could let my guard down with you. I could be me and experience the power of being invulnerable by being vulnerable, which is a manifestation of courage that can only occur when someone knows they’re truly safe. Your presence provided peace. I didn’t know how to react to peace because I was so used to swimming in chaos. I spent so much of my childhood at funerals, hospital waiting rooms, rehabilitation centers, car wrecks, waking up to glass breaking, screams, fighting, and excuses to try to hide what the neighborhood already knew. Peace was loud, uncomfortable, and not easy to digest. But with your help, guidance, and most importantly, your consistency, I grew accustomed to peace. No matter where you are now, just knowing that you gave someone the gift of peace should fill you with the truth that you truly followed a special calling.

You gave me peace, and because you did, I am living a life of peace, and always looking at how I can better share peace with others. Because of you, I am here.

We know that sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts are of benefit to others and all life.

Before you came into my life I didn’t think my life was of value to anyone. I was not simply within the grips of self-pity, I was depressed, arrogant, and angry. I lived in a constant state of despair and hopelessness, yet you taught me that all of my experiences, if I allow them, can be not only of benefit for me, but for others. You taught me that any poison can be transformed to a healing medicine with the right ingredients. You taught me how to transform poisons to healing medicines and that the antivenom does contain venom, but other ingredients are added to it. You gave me the ingredients of love, faith, hope, and compassion and let them run their course. Your ingredients of love, faith, hope, and compassion mixed with my anger, false pride, un-forgiveness, hurt, pain, and loss, until I awoke from my coma as a healed, renewed creation, with many tests that have been transformed to my testimony. An experience that no one can take, and with a love and gratitude that awoke me to wanting to give all I have been given to others.

You showed me that my life is of benefit to others, and because you did, I live every day to be of benefit, to give all I can, and in this giving I have recognized my true calling by one key trait: that which fills me when I give it away. Because of you, I am here.

We love sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts because they are a reflection of the truth of the Great Love that created us exactly like itself.

I had been told, “I love you,” in many ways, yet none of them filled me with the undefinable concept of love until you came into my life. I had such a huge void that nothing I used, drank, smoked, swallowed, or snorted could fill until you came along. Little by little, with each time you saw me as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, and each time you heard all that I was saying and not saying, with everything about me being believed, and all that I am being accepted, and you having faith in me, making a safe place and space, trusting me, giving me peace, and helping me realize that my life is beneficial to others, the huge thick walls that locked my heart away came crumbling down, flushed out through the river of my tears, and I loved again. I loved again because you loved me.

You loved me, and because you did, I love myself, and because I love myself, I love others. Because of you, I am here.

I love you

A Survivor’s Scream

Do you really understand?
You say you do,
but I can see in your eyes
that you cannot read
between the lines,
so if you really understood,
I wouldn’t have to spell it out

Besides, when I stood
before you as a youth
telling you my truth,
you rejected me

Where I’ve been,
what I’ve experienced –
the sights, sounds, smells,
pain, brokenness –
the colors of the institutions
isn’t something you understand

You think words like
fuck and shit are offensive
So when I enter a room
and instantly connect
with those you can’t
I see the condemnation in your eyes
the same looks
those like you
gave me when I was a youth –
daggers of self-righteous condemnation
emitting moral vomit,
puking your credentials, expertise,
and religious verses on us survivors
that we’ve heard so many times before,
but you’re not even strong enough
to listen to the truth we’ve lived
because that would interrupt
the delicate images in your mind
of how we’re supposed to be,
and cause you to miss our beauty –
the truth of our perfection
forged in fires of hell

We talk because we need to
not because we think you understand,
not because we think you’re listening
because you’re too busy
trying to protect yourself
from the realities
of a survivor’s scream –
a scream you cannot recognize
when you hear it,
and so you’re also blind
to
those
Sacred
moments
when
healing
is
happening

Why Do You Do It?

After more than a few injuries and too many 15-20 hour work days to count facilitating interventions in my full time job as street outreach crisis counselor, someone asked me why I put all of myself into the full time work we do with the youth and young adults we serve. Well …

Because it’s not work or a job, it’s a calling. Truly a calling from God. There were many situations that called me to this work, most of them were extremely challenging situations that God used to cultivate deeper love, respect, honor and compassion. One of many experiences was when I was homeless and walking through a neighborhood during the Christmas holidays in Michigan. 

I was wandering around with no particular destination other than wanting to get to a 24 hour store or restaurant where I could warm up and take a nap. It was snowing and as I was walking through a neighborhood I looked across the street and saw a house with a huge window, and through that window I saw a family eating dinner. They were passing food around the table, eating, laughing and talking. I remember sitting down by a tree in the snow just staring across the street, watching the family enjoying life and each other’s company. I don’t know how long I was there, but I remember what I was thinking. I was thinking, how the fuck did I wind up in this situation? I’m not stupid. I have talents and abilities. I know my life is supposed to be more than this. I feel so lonely. So lonely. 

That feeling of loneliness was so intense that for a little while I forgot about the cold. Loneliness can make us numb. When our needs are frozen, literally frozen, we become numb to so many things. And when God sends someone into our lives to bring God’s warm light to thaw our needs, meet our needs, and show us a better way to think and live, it is a miracle so intense that all you want to do is be a vessel through which that miracle is delivered to others. 

If it’s partial or conditional, it’s not love. And if it’s not love, then I wouldn’t dare refer to it as a calling.

Your Road to Damascus

Acts 9:3-9 New International Version (NIV)

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

 So there Saul was living his life, mercilessly persecuting those who believed differently than he did. Along the road to Damascus he was struck blind and heard God say, “Why do you persecute me?” He didn’t ignore this, or try to write with some type of scientific explanation. He understood the importance of that moment, and began an intimate relationship with the Creator. In this intimate transformation, he became Paul, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. His sight was brought back to him but with a renewed vision, this time living from his heart and following the intimate and personal voice we all hear from deep within our hearts. 

What was your road to Damascus? If you haven’t had a road to Damascus experience thus far, it can be challenging to appreciate those who’ve had this type of experience.  

The lives of every person we encounter are never as simple as presented. In a facade-filled society where protecting perceived prestige and titles is a norm, it becomes challenging to appreciate those who are willing to reveal their past mistakes and challenges.

Those who are willing to share their testimonies are sometimes labeled in negative ways. The very urge to label someone who has the courage to share their testimony with others demonstrates how sharing our personal testimony stirs a remembrance within others about the roads to Damascus some hold secret. Thoughts or statements in response to someone sharing their struggles such as “I would never”, “I can’t believe she did that”, or “Why would he share that?” come from many who claim various forms of religiosity as bedrock for their lives. It’s interesting how those who claim Christianity as their religion will quote various individuals, who, before their moment of transformation had bad reputations from less than honorable lifestyles. If it isn’t obvious, the irony is simple: people will quote scripture from those they themselves would have labeled as “undesirables” and “criminals” but who are now considered spiritual leaders, yet will reject people who have come from the depths of prostitution, gang life, drug dealing, alcoholism, and incarceration among us right here, right now as living, breathing miracles, and in-your-face testimonies of the true healing power of our Creator regardless of religion, but exclusively dependent upon Spiritual Relationship. 

It’s in the complete and honest dialogues of our challenges and shortcomings that true teaching-learning experiences blossom. I am not advocating indiscriminate & complete personal disclosure; we have to be careful with that. I am advocating that our personal road to Damascus experience can be the greatest foundation of compassion we have with ourselves and each other. To a greater or lesser extent we all have our own personal road to Damascus. A moment we saw beyond our physical sight and beyond ourselves with great perception in order to glimpse the impact our thoughts, words, and actions are having upon our family, community and world. Never underestimate the power of your personal road to Damascus, and never demean someone else’s personal road to Damascus.  

For anyone reading this that views others in our communities who are currently or were previously afflicted with alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, gang affiliation, drug dealing or any other forms of negative lifestyles as “less than” perhaps this writing is a personal road to Damascus of sorts for you. A moment for you to reflect upon any self-righteous indignation you may carry towards or about those you would consider “less than,” “beneath you,” “unreachable,” or “beyond help.” Carrying this type of view about anyone is a poison that blinds us to the reality that the Creator has placed within all of us. A reality we must see in one another so that we can remind one another of the greatness placed gently within everyone by the hands of The Great One.  As disturbing as it may be to your ego, your labels, judgments, and opinions cannot hold the translation of anyone’s life, including your own. The Creator alone holds the final translation about everyone and everything.

Perhaps if you take a moment to go beyond your physical sight and look deep within your heart you’ll see nobody sets out to become a prostitute, addict, and place more value on money than human lives. Perhaps within your heart you’ll hear a still, small voice saying, “They are my children and deeply wounded. You might have wound up exactly like them if you went through exactly what they did. If you’re so perfect then shouldn’t you have more than just labels and judgments to place upon the altars of my hurting children’s minds and hearts? Don’t you see them as a part of Me? Don’t you see them as part of you? Why do you persecute yourself? Why do you persecute Me?”

Hurt, pain, loss, tragedy, condemnation, and persecution in various forms is what moves our youth into negative lifestyles; offering the exact opposite is what’s required of us to bring them back.

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Youth Gang Intervention Tip About Activities

Youth Gang Intervention Tip About Activities: 

Activities in and of themselves are not gang intervention. Baseball, soccer, chess, yoga, creative writing, painting, basketball, poetry, spoken word, music, football, boxing, MMA, etc., are all good activities. The intervention comes into play before, during and after the activity, where the facilitators of the activity connects with the youth, and guides them in developing powerful, internal metaphors that instill resilience, fortitude, honor, healthy choices, and a powerful healing vision that the youth can and will focus on and apply in challenging situations when they’re away from the programs and activities.

A program will only rise to the level of the people facilitating it. Allow the Creator of your understanding to facilitate your programs through you with the most powerful force there is – love.

Walk in Beauty,

Anthony Goulet

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