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The Price of Shame

April 12th, 2015

Several weeks ago, on the main stage at a TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monica Lewinsky spoke out for the first time about public humiliation and shame.

You remember Monica, the 22 year-old White House Intern who fell in love with the President of the United States. She confided in a ‘friend’ who recorded their personal conversations and then made them public. Overnight, Monica was transformed into to a one-dimensional bimbo/slut/tramp/ and “that woman”. This once unbroken young woman lost her reputation, dignity, and almost her life.

I watched the video (http://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame?language=en ), and was moved to tears at the poignancy of her presentation. Monica talked about what it felt like to live a life where not a day went by without being reminded of her mistake. I felt ashamed because I too was guilty of having reduced her to a punch line.

Over the last 19 years she has reinvented herself as a hand-bag designer, tried reality TV, got a Masters Degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics, and is now writing and speaking about the toll that shame has taken on her life, and that of her family’s.

She said stealing people’s private actions, words, photos, conversations and making them public is destructive and becoming commonplace. Shame and humiliation have become an industry; the Internet has amplified its impact because it gets lots of clicks, and the more clicks the more advertising dollars.

She is now speaking about it publically for the first time about because “it’s time for me to stop tiptoeing through my past, and to take back my own life story”. Cyber bullying is becoming rampant and Monica wants to speak up for the tens of thousands of people who are shamed with tragic consequences. Suicides are increasing because humiliation is a more intense emotion then happiness or anger,

Monica pleaded that as a culture we needed to become more compassionate and empathic. She said that our precious right to freedom of expression could not exceed our responsibility for what it is we say. At the end she told the victims of cyber bullying that they can survive it and create new endings to their life’s stories, and got a standing ovation,

Let’s take responsibility for what we say, and try to walk a mile in somebody else’s headline before passing judgment.

New Job Vulnerability

March 30th, 2015

I’ve been working since I was 11 years old (bagging groceries, delivering cleaning, busboy, waiter), but my first professional job, after finishing medical school and internship in 1965, was as a family doctor with the Indian Health Service. I thought it was going to be a two-year stint as my military obligation but turned into a 20-year job. For most of that time I was Chief of Psychiatry at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, that experience was a transformational journey that moved me from doctor to healer.

I left the Indian Health Service in 1986 and spent the next 30 years in my second job, doing less psychotherapy and more writing and public speaking. Now, I’m moving into my third job; this transition has been more difficult and it’s waking me up early in the morning. I am organizing the Clown Town Healing Fest (CTHF), which will premiere Dec. 4-6, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. This is a joyous, celebratory weekend that promotes health and healing in community.

The CTHF will mobilize a cities healthcare resources and provide practical healthcare information to inspire people to become the principal agents in their own healing. This is the perfect time to launch it because we are in the midst of a cultural shift in healthcare delivery; moving from an interventional model that treats diseases, to a preventative model aimed at keeping us healthier.

So why am I waking up earlier and can’t fall back to sleep?…because it’s stretching me far beyond my comfort zone. I get up and think about all that needs to get done (finances, contracts, venue, logistics), all those administrative details that I have assiduously avoided for most of my life. I’m better at ideas and inspiration than slogging through the organizational muck required to translate them into action.

I have been talking endlessly about the critical importance of welcoming change and embracing vulnerability in ones life. Doing it however is harder, than talking about it, and it’s waking me up earlier, but the excitement is also turning me on…(and that’s even more critical as I age).

Join me in my excitement as we usher in this paradigm shifting, practical demonstration of preventive health and healing in community @  (www.clowntownhealingfest.com).

Clown Town Healing Fest

March 15th, 2015

For years you’ve been listening to me rail about our healthcare system and how it’s bankrupting and killing and us. We spend almost 20% of our GDP on healthcare (seven times more than any other industrialized nation on earth) and we’re not the healthiest country in the world… not even in the top 20; because our system is based on an interventional model (we diagnose and treat illnesses).

The future of healthcare is about shifting the interventional paradigm to one that’s based on prediction and prevention. That means inspiring people to become active participants in maintaining their health. I am pleased to announce the Clown Town Healing Fest, a joyous celebration promoting health and healing in community.

This is a dream I’ve shared with my friend and colleague Patch Adams MD for years. We’ve been doing this health promotional work all over the world, and it’s time to bring our clown healing festival to the streets of America. We will inaugurate the Clown Town Healing Fest (CTHF) in Phoenix, AZ. December 4-6, 2015.

Clowns will mobilize Phoenix’s healing resources, from customary healthcare providers, to support groups of every description (burn victims, parents of ADD kids, victims of abuse, cancer survivors, et.al.). There will be nutritionists, music/art/dance/narrative therapists, body workers, traditional healers… they will all tell their stories about how they heal and have been healed.

It’s for people of all ages and backgrounds, with clown performances, presentations, and interactive participation, all designed to inspire people about how to keep them healthier.

This will be a joyous, free, celebratory weekend about healing in community. Help us make this dream happen! Get involved, go to www.clowntownhealingfest.com and share it with your friends. Together, we can help shift the paradigm toward the new preventative paradigm…get well before you get sick.

Addiction Is Not a Chronic Disease

March 1st, 2015

Josh Hamilton, the talented major league baseball player, was the American League MVP in 2010. He has struggled with addictions for year, and just turned himself in for another relapse involving alcohol and cocaine.

Josh said…I live with addiction every day of my life, it’s a chronic disease just like diabetes. But it’s not a disease just like diabetes. A disease is something that has a definitive cause; we know how it’s transmitted and how to treat it. This is not the case with addictions, because the addiction is a symptom of a deeper illness.

The underlying cause of all addictions is the addict’s belief that without them he/she has nothing he can depend on that will make him/her feel as good. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rat or monkey, mammals all share a deep biological imperative to bond with others, we are made to suckle; and it’s those bonds that sustain us when we are vulnerable.

When we feel isolated, unsupported, afraid, and unsure of ourselves, we are ripe for addictions. That’s the message of the new best-selling book Chasing the Scream that says everything we’ve been told about addiction is wrong; it’s not chemicals that hijack the brain it’s the individuals disconnection from the nurturing support of others. Johann Hari, the author of this well researched, easily readable book says the antidote to addiction is human connection.

As a psychiatrist, I agree and wish Josh Hamilton well in his battle against his addictions. What he has however is not a “disease”, it is a symptom of his inability to believe that without his drugs, he has no dependable relationships that make him feel as good.

Amazing Grace

February 16th, 2015

We’re beginning to talk more and more about death and dying since Brittany Maynard’s story when viral. This brave 29-year-old woman, suffering from an inoperable brain cancer moved to Oregon where she could be prescribed a lethal cocktail when she was ready to die. Whether or not you agree with her decision, she has certainly left her legacy by encouraging us to discuss our mortality more publicly.

Last week, I spoke to an audience about the subject and showed them a slide listing the three critically important questions people needed to talk about with their doctors and families, when making choices about facing the end of their lives.
1. Do you understand your situation and its potential outcomes?
2. What are your hopes, and fears?
3. What are the trade-offs you willing to make, or not make?

I turned quickly from the screen and suddenly got a little wobbly; stopped momentarily until my lightheadedness cleared, looked at my notes, and continued on uninterruptedly. During a short break someone came up to me and asked if I was feeling okay. I said that I had actually gotten a little lightheaded, but that I was fine now.

During the Q&A, the question arose as to why wait until the end of life when you are losing everything before addressing those three important questions? It would be wonderful to address our losses as they occurred instead of hiding from our families and ourselves. I asked us how many in the audience noticed my long pause. For the first time from the platform I said occasionally I had some difficulty with dizziness and balance, and was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that wasn’t growing but pressing on my auditory nerve that left me with some balance issues.

I acknowledged my fear that if things got worse I could no longer speak, and continue to do what I loved. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to say it publicly for the first time on the platform. Talking about it openly helps us clarify how we come to our losses.

Attendees came looking towards fans thanked me for making this difficult subject real for them, in the present moment. If you become aware of your growing limitations and do it publicly, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life hiding from your truth. What you once thought lost, can again be found… now that’s Amazing Grace.

The Mussar of MLK

February 1st, 2015

On Martin Luther King Day I participated a Mussar retreat. Mussar is a Jewish spiritual practice developed in 19th century Eastern Europe. It is intended to open a space within to look at living your values; a spiritual wake-up call about walking a moral path in life. It was a great way to celebrate MLK Day because Martin was my Mussar teacher.

Martin helped me look at my truth and face my fears, he was the stimulus for taking a Greyhound bus to Richmond, VA, in1958 where I sat at a segregated lunch counter in the terminal, and felt lucky to get out alive. I was physically OK, but it had a profound emotional impact on me, I felt how much this man sacrificed in the pursuit his dreams.

When Martin was assassinated in 1968, I was a first-year resident in psychiatry and working on an inpatient unit at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, situated in the mostly black, inner city of New Haven. We were all devastated by the news, and anticipated a deluge of psychiatric emergencies but that didn’t happen. In fact, the patients seeing the staff in such despair took care of each other, and the community came together as well. Martin Luther King was such a potent figure of hope and reconciliation, that even in his death he found a way to bind us together in community.

I spent MLK’s day feeling his Mussar, and the next night saw the movie “Selma”. Over the past weeks I keep hearing him in my brain… get out there, share your truth… do what you can and do it now, you’re not going to finish the job… what matters most is leaving a light for those who follow.

Joseph Campbell, was the world’s foremost authority on mythology, in his celebrated classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he said that in the end the heroes journey was never about the aggrandizement of the hero, the ecstasy of the fame, rather it was about the wisdom and the power to serve others.

It’s important to celebrate MLK’s day every year; a hero who helps us believe in dreams.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

January 19th, 2015

I was moved to tears, when I watched over 1 million people walking down the Champs-Elysées arm in arm in last week’s global demonstration of solidarity against terrorism. Didn’t mind the media hype (even as the Russians marched side-by-side with the Ukrainians, while on the same day killing each other at the Donetsk Airport).

Freedom of speech is the foundation of a democracy, and lived my life defending that freedom. However, I get concerned when that freedom disrespects and demeans what is sacred to others; then it’s no longer just about freedom, it becomes a hostile, provocative act that distances people from each other.

The great majority of Muslim people are not radical extremists who express their anger by killing people. Muslim people of faith did not cause 9/11 or kill the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists; terrorists who hijacked the faith murdered them. The great majority are outraged by the terror, they are also outraged by images of their prophet shown as a perverted fornicator.

Muslims in France are already economically marginalized, their religious garb banned in public, now as a group portrayed as terrorists, and it is turning them into mistrustful, cynical, xenophobes. It’s happening to us all; as a civilization we are all turning inwardly, getting armed, and guarding ourselves against strangers.

When freedom of speech injures our souls as human beings, then it steals from us a greater freedom… to treat each other with loving kindness, generosity, respect, and to recognize ourselves in each other.

My granddaughter is living in Paris with her beloved, he happens to be a Muslim from Morocco. I know and love him; he is kind, considerate, a loving son and brother, educated, and fluent in three languages. We talked after the horrific massacre, he respects freedom of speech, but he also feels that when his sense of higher purpose and his community are insulted, that such freedom is abusive and it enrages him.

I understand his anger and encouraged him to go to the demonstration and share his feelings publicly; I’m hoping he will lighten up and become less offended by the excesses that are committed in the name of free speech, and that one-day we will march down the Champs Elysées together saying Je ne suis pas Charlie…We Are Love.

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My New Year’s Top Ten List

January 4th, 2015

I’ve never been much into New Years resolutions, but I do get into a reflective mood at this time and think about what I want to be doing (and what I don’t) in the coming year. This year on New Year’s Day I spoke with my friend Patch Adams (the clown doctor who Robin Williams made famous), we have been close friends for many years.

We rambled on about the stuff in our lives, focusing on what we still want to be doing. Patch will launch a major fundraising campaign this year to raise $200 million to build the innovative Gesundheit! Hospital/Teaching Center that he’s been dreaming about for the last 40 years. I will launch the Clown Town Healing Fest, a three-day festival that helps people realize they don’t have to get sick before they get well, and how many ways there are to live healthier lives.

When we hung up I mused about how to deal with my growing awareness of my limitations (hearing, seeing, endurance), and I feel I can deal with them all as long as I can still do these things that are important to me. So here are the top 10 things (not in any particular order) that came to me, about what I want to do in 2015…to do every day if I can.

  1. Pursue a dream (it makes me look forward to every day).
  2. Learn something new (this year… conversational Spanish).
  3. Tell my stories around a fireplace and not just in cyberspace.
  4. Work out, keep fit, and get turned on.
  5. Say thank you to someone new every day.
  6. Curb my impatience, lighten up, and love my woman.
  7. Laugh and clown around.
  8. Honor the memory of those who have inspired me.
  9. Live today like I’m going to die tomorrow (because it makes every day thereafter seem extra).
  10. Hang out with young people, they always enlighten. (I told Patch I’d go on our annual clown trip to the jungles of Peru even if he had to feed and wipe me; but I’d call it quits if I couldn’t dance at Nikkoro’s (our favorite dive bar on the Amazon).

That’s what I want to be doing, how about you?

A Happy and Blessed New Year to you all Relatives….remember the greatest act of revolution is to come to every day with joy.

I say this, For All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin.


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My Christmas Story

December 23rd, 2014

I read this in the Sunday New York Times (December 14, 2014), and it seems to me a good story for this season.

Twenty-four years ago, Debbie Maigrie was a stay-at-home mom who had gone out with friends for the first time since the birth of her second child, and was shot during a gang initiation in Tampa. Florida. Ian Manuel was a 13- -year-old boy when he fired wildly and repeatedly, and one bullet entered Debbie’s mouth ripping through her jaw and teeth.

Ian Manuel fits all the racial stereotypes of the black predator. He was born to a drug addicted mother and an absent father, and had been arrested 16 times by the time he was 13. Ian confessed to the shooting, and was sentenced to life-without-parole. He was the youngest and smallest person in a men’s prison, where he did not adjust well, with multiple solitary confinements and repeated suicide attempts.

On his second Christmas in prison he placed a collect call to Debbie Baigrie who was still dealing with repeated painful surgeries. In spite of her pain and anger, Debbie accepted the charges; Ian told her he was sorry, and when she asked him why he did it, he said it was a mistake.

They kept in touch (even though her family thought she’d lost her mind), but Debbie felt that in addition to her suffering and anger, “that he was just a kid”. They have stayed in touch for decades, and when the Supreme Court threw out life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who had not committed murder, Debbie testified at his sentencing; she told them, this boy never had a chance, he did a terrible thing, but but you have to walk a mile in his shoes to see what he’s been up against his whole life. She pleaded for the Court to consider who and what this man has become, but it didn’t work and he was sentenced to 65 years.

Ian Manuel is now 37 years old, he is scheduled to be released in 2031, and Debbie is the only family he has in the world. I look at her as my Angel of Perpetual Hope, she inspires my belief that we can transcend our scars and remind ourselves of our humanity.

In this season of renewal and rebirth I say to you all my Friends and Relatives…Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year. My blessings in the New Year… I say this For All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin,

Hope is the Opiate of Humanity

December 8th, 2014

I’ve railed endlessly about the epidemic rise in psychiatric illness in this country that has resulted in one out of every four Americans being diagnosed with a mental illness. With the publication of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM V) my guess is it will soon be one out of every two. These are not really diseases as we understand them (we don’t know what causes them, how they’re transmitted, and why treatment is so often ineffective), they are just symptom clusters we have labeled as diseases.

This epidemic is in no small part the result of direct to consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies in collusion with the psychiatric profession, to convince people that if they are feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment, that they could be suffering from a disease. These diseases can of course be treated with pills (usually more than one, they often don’t work, and come with potentially serious side-effects).

We must stop ‘psychopathologizing’ the symptomatic manifestations that are the expectable ups and downs of life, and perpetuating the myth that there is a pill for whatever ails you. Instead we need to make it easier to talk to someone who is credible, will listen to you, maybe even offer some new perspectives or help you see a new ending to your story.

I spoke in Aspen a few weeks ago at the invitation of the Aspen Hope Center (http://www.aspenhopecenter.org), where they are actualizing a community-based mental health program. Aspen is a spectacularly scenic venue in the Colorado Rockies whose 5,000 permanent residents become 25,000 at the height of their tourist seasons. The Aspen Valley has a high suicide rate; last year they had four such deaths. Two years ago the Hope Center began as a volunteer suicide hotline, now it has clinicians available 24/7, and the staff has integrated their work with police and sheriff departments, ambulances, lawyers, business leaders and local nonprofits. The Center has added outpatient follow-up in addition to crisis intervention services, and are teaching prevention programs in schools, churches and local agencies.

This is the future of healthcare, we heal better in community with lots of people working toward the same goal, and it actually makes a good outcome more likely. Our connections remind us that we are not alone in the world, they inspire our hope, and hope is the opiate of humanity.

P.S. If you’d like to watch the Aspen presentation in it’s entirety go to http://www.grassrootstv.org/view?showID=12854

Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D., CPAE is a psychiatrist, author, and professional keynote speaker. He is an authority in the science of psychoneuroimmunology mind, body, spirit medicine and speaks about health and wellness, healing, leadership and authenticity . He has delivered motivational keynote speeches to corporate and business clients around the world.