Public Service Announcement: As the title reports, this article is self-therapy and is intended for me. Feel free to read or not as you choose. If what I say helps you, you’re welcome. Nothing said here is meant to be judgmental or cause anyone emotional problems. I am not maudlin and depressed over my life; quite the contrary, even though I struggle with depression and anxiety, as well as PTSD. I recognize the history and the Nature vs. Nurture issues without casting blame or aspersions.
My parents are hippies; not a secret, not a wonder, and certainly not an amazement to anyone who knows my parents. I will affirm several things that may make people feel uncomfortable; do not judge my parents. My father’s father died while my father was very young; he was a journeyman lineman who strung electrical wire in Belfast, Maine. By all accounts, he was a devoted husband and highly skilled with his hands; that is all I know about him. My father’s mother was a nurse, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her for her kindness, tenacity, and iron backbone, as well as her tender hands and loving affection. As a young widow and single parent, she did an impressive job.
My mother’s family is crazy! There is every type of abuse in my biological grandfather’s family, which negatively influenced my mother and her seven brothers, my uncles. The grandfather I know was a man of unique qualities, honor, integrity, and as step-grandchildren, I know little more about this person. Except, he taught me how to polish metal, and the experience still is a bright point in my teenage life. I wish I had had the opportunity to know all of my grandparents as an adult. My mother’s mother was a fighter. A knuckle-busting, no holds barred, streetfighter who I believe could bring a left hook from the floor and flatten anyone. My grandmother left a legacy of determination in the face of all odds and was the epitome of kindness and an embodiment of courage.
My parents, while raising us children, exercised various demons from their lives upon us children. My father spent a lot of time disconnected; my mother was either physically and mentally abusive or checked out due to her abusive childhood. As a product of apathy and abuse, I can tell horror stories that would curdle your blood. My mother boasts of being able to attack and hold off several assailants while being pregnant. As a kid, a bully tried to insult me by telling me, “Your mom wears combat boots, enjoys whips, and chains.” Having been the recipient of my mother’s combat boots, whips, and chains, the bully’s taunting had zero effect on me. Remember, do not judge my parents; I certainly do not. I merely relate the facts and rest in the knowledge that both my parents have changed since the last I interacted with them, and I wish them the best.
My military service brought me into contact with some disreputable people, including racists, bigots, liars, thieves, and a host of others. I am a victim of military sexual trauma, and I have counseled people who also experienced the same. I have experienced the best and the worst of people and society, many times within moments of each other. I have experience helping people intending to commit suicide, not to commit suicide; I have planned suicide more than once. I suffer from injuries physical and mental: all facts, not all the details, but all factual.
A friend recommended to me a book, “Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness: The Rabbit Effect,” Kelli Harding is the author. See, I struggle mightily with kindness, love, charity, and all the higher emotions that appear to make life better. My struggle has been lifelong, and when describing me, most include the words heartless but capable.
The “Rabbit Effect.”
Researchers in the late 1970s experimented on rabbits feeding them a high-fat diet to understand heart disease more fully. Except, the experiment had an unexpected flaw, one of the caretakers, when feeding the rabbits, would talk to them, pet them, cuddle them, and nurture them. These rabbits were phenomenally healthier than the other rabbits who were cared for by other caregivers. Kindness influences health; additional research has shown that events in life change the genetic codes (epigenetics), and the change can last up to three generations.
I love children; I have wanted to be a parent for a long time. But if my genetic code will impede my children and grandchildren’s happiness and abilities, regardless of what they learn, should I ever become a parent because of the abuse I suffered as a child? Do I have the right to condemn innocent children to the genes that I carry? Talk about thoughts that keep me up at night. I look at my brother’s families, I see the divorce, the confused children, the problems with behaviors, the suffering these kids have lived through, and I weep at the debilitating effects of epigenetics on the second and third generations of my abusive and apathetic parents.
While “The Rabbit Effect” claims there are positive epigenetics, as in negative circumstances improving survivability, the research reports about reduced lifespan, health problems, and mental issues are still a valid concern. One of my nephews was born from a tumultuous relationship. I knew his mother quite well as a teenager and was happily surprised to see my brother marry my friend. But, shortly after my nephew’s birth, his mom became hooked on drugs and eventually overdosed. My brother married again, was constantly unfaithful to my nephew’s second and third moms, and the last word I heard was my nephew was in serious trouble. All told, I think the latest count of children my next younger brother has is seven or eight. I have nephews and nieces I have never met because of the family dynamics, the cycles of abuse, and I mourn not being able to play a role in their lives.
I have a significantly large family; between my maternal grandmother and grandfather, there are large sections of the family I have never met. I care about cousins I have not heard from in forever, but those I have minimal contact with live horror stories of recovery from abusive relationships, poor choices, and the results of epigenetic coding that has fundamentally changed the people I knew.
My paternal family is just as vast, but they are socially centered in a small county in Maine, and you could not throw a rock and not hit a relative of mine. I know even less about these family members due to family dynamics, family politics, religion, and my parents’ hippy/gypsy lifestyle. Part of the reason I love Maine so much is the solidness of the people, the hardiness, and the social dynamic of close family ties. I never fit into these family ties, but I have longed to have a family society, as I witnessed in Maine.
Why is this important?
Would you be shocked to hear that America spends the most money on medical care and is the unhealthiest nation in the industrialized world? Research supports that America is fundamentally unhealthy and can be compared to an airplane that has engine troubles, whose pilot is three sheets to the wind, and a hurricane is blowing. The doctors are working on the engine, but the real problem in America’s health lies in the epigenetics that have inserted lines of unhealthy code into our DNA, e.g., the drunk pilot and the dangerous weather. If a generation lasts 20-years, then the world is at the tail end of the first generation, free of WWII’s traumatic influence on our genetic makeup.
Now, compare traumatic events since 1945, and discover the event markers created since WWII. We have the Cold War, the Vietnam Conflict, The Korean War, the War on Terrorism, increased natural disasters, the Gulf War 1 and 2, 9/11, and the list keeps going on and on. We have the Disco Era, the Hippy Era, Woodstock, HIV epidemic, and other social events that have left their marks. All while K-12 education slumps, educational standards fall, kids are force-fed harmful mind-altering drugs, and the government at all levels keep getting bigger. Leading to the question, how many traumatic markers are in our and our children’s DNA through epigenetics? More importantly, what will those markers in DNA activate in behavior, health, social interactions, and societal changes?
What do we do?
We are neither absolute products of our genetics nor our life experiences. Agency, the ability to choose, always plays a role in deciding outcomes. It has been said, “Decisions do determine destiny,” and I believe this axiom. Hence, that is our first step; we, the adults in the world, need to understand and help children and youth determine how to make decisions logically while using good judgment and gaining experience through formal and informal education.
Nature vs. Nurture, while connected to the first step, we must understand our roles in the nature vs. nurture cycles, and learn if we need to, how to live differently. I refuse to be the property of the US Government, as discussed by Charles Reich. Hence, the need to unlearn government reliance and relearn independence, self-reliance, and the dignity of work. I never died of sweating too much, and a hard day’s labor has never hurt me. It taught me quite a few lessons, strengthened many a muscle, and helped me mentally, but never killed me. Let us learn, if we need to and teach, the need for and dignity found through honest labor.
We must begin to understand the social dimensions of health and embrace the knowledge that we are all connected in improving or destroying each other’s health. Environmental factors play a role, education (formal and informal) play a significant role, work and our peer groups play a role. At the end of the day, our health is more than our individual choices, behaviors, exercise routines, and food habits. Our societies need to embrace a whole-body approach to medical care that includes preventive medicine, demanding changes to the ingredients in vaccines to make them less programmable and more effective while dropping our reliance upon “Big-Pharma” and “Big-Government” to do what we should be doing ourselves.
As I am married to an older lady, my best friend, and healthier than I, I will probably not be a parent any time soon. I do not understand how I feel about that fact. I do not regret marrying my best friend, nor do I regret the life we have enjoyed, including 28 moves in 25-years of marriage. I struggle to learn kindness, compassion, love, charity, and other socially significant emotions, and I do not plan to give up learning, ever! However, I would like to see success in learning, sometime! Join me; let us learn together!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.