In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound area, our Alaska Native villages are so caught up in meeting the basic needs of our residents that they are unable to bring attention to or direct energy at higher order needs that will help improve quality of life in these tiny, primarily Alaska Native communities. So much effort is expended on dealing with issues like having food in the fridge the whole month, trying to keep homes without running water clean and sanitary, and feeling safe day to day when living with or affected by active alcoholics and drug addicts, that other social developments - creative self-expression, sense of accessible well-being, and positive, affirming visions of our future lives - are unable to take hold in the meta-consciousness.

I imagine this is not unique to our corner of the world, but that alone is not a reason to leave this problem unresolved. Those of us who have worked, or still work in social services and programs, are constantly apprised of the serious social problems blighting our communities, and learn quickly to see disadvantage everywhere we turn. We can count out the problems like numerology taught to children, and we can even grow eager to show our skill: alcoholism, domestic violence, unemployment, drug abuse, child abuse...too many of us learn these terms too quickly, and use them with such frequency that we can forget there are higher order social dimensions that also deserve our creative attention. It is very powerful to imagine how we might be able to reach these higher order needs, if only to give hope and a reprieve from the sometimes tedious, repetitive, and downright depressing social ills we encounter on a regular basis.

I think Native leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, social service providers, and legislators should all spend time envisioning how we can access the higher order social needs to re-invigorate our efforts to improve life in rural Alaska. For example, recent efforts in Nome have lead to a series of community conversations around racial equity. Local leader, Darlene Trigg, lead this effort with support from the First Alaskans Institute, and the conversations were generally well-received by all participants, Native and non-Native alike. By carefully crafting these discussions so that they would spur learning, self-awareness, and understanding, we were able to tap into higher order thinking and development centered on esteem. Doing so in a safe, respectful, and caring environment provided an opportunity for a diverse group of people to explore issues that are more significant than being on welfare or being unemployed, and it allowed all of us to think about how we all relate to each other. I think activities like this - community lead and developed - are important because they let us imagine how we can purposefully shape our environment, rather than being in a constant reactive state stuck in the rut of disadvantage and disenfranchisement.

So as all you Native leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, social service providers, and legislators tackle "the issues" prevalent in the Bush, remember once in a while to think up the pyramid and try to connect the lower order challenges to higher order goals and aspirations. We need to stay inspired and engaged, and by reaching for those higher order improvements, our faith in ourselves, our communities, and our shared purpose will be restored. Higher order social needs feed our imagination so we can envision a healthier future for those we seek to serve.
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Maslow's hierarchy of social needs, from Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons copyright.
 
 
There are two things parents and grandparents can do to ensure their children grow into confident adults capable of giving back to their communities: (1) encourage our kids to do their best in school and (2) take the time to pass on cultural knowledge to them. I know these sound like two simple, straightforward directives, but they are not. To do both, parents and community members need to challenge current practices and attitudes in the villages.

To increase academic success for all kids, we need all parents to encourage their kids to do well in school -- especially parents who are on welfare. These parents, in particular, need to understand that it's very important for their kids to be able to have fun and try to do their best at school. Their kids are, after all, spending at least 1,250 hours per year being exposed to new ideas and attitudes, while also learning how to get along with other kids and adults. Unfortunately a certain percentage these parents tend to not encourage their kids to do well, thereby not setting them up to succeed. These parents may not have done well  in school themselves, or are outright afraid that if their children do well, they will break away from their families. They are holding back their children for selfish reasons.

Some parents see the school as nothing more than a daycare, and do not let their children know how important learning is for becoming capable adults. Maybe they did not have good role models when they were in school. Maybe they were told in school that they were dumb Natives, and they internalized this lie, which punched a hole in their self esteem and self confidence. Maybe they still think doing poorly in school is a way to defy assimilation. In the first case, these parents should realize they need to be the good role models and support academic success for their own kids, otherwise, the odds are that their own children will never learn how to take care of themselves when they grow up. In the second case, these parents need to honor their own intelligence so that their children can see them as role models that they are. In the third case, we just got to accept that we are now a part of American society, and that we live blended lives and walk in two worlds. We can only fight assimilation if we are organized and educated, and make it a community, regional, or statewide effort.


Some parents need to accept the fact that the majority of teachers in the region are not being racist, or prejudiced, or mean to their children. The teachers hired by the school district are here to teach children, not to be parents. Parents need to learn to care for their children, and then they will be prepared to succeed on school. This means parents need to respect teachers for the work they do, and let their children know that they respect these adults. 

If they say, I can't respect them because I don't know them, then they need to do something about that - volunteer in the school, spend time getting to know that teacher. Invite them to your house for a meal or coffee. Remember, that teacher is basing their understanding of your kids' lives on what they see in school: whether they come to school hungry all the time, or are tired from staying up too late playing video games, or have negative attitudes about learning, or for some reason act like what happens in school isn't important to their lives and their futures. It does matter. Parents should not be a barrier to their kids' future ability to be confident and capable. 

Other parents are not setting up their kids to succeed by how they live their day to day lives. They let their children stay up too late, are inconsistent in how they feed and care for them, and do not provide enough structure for their daily lives. These parents are being neglectful, and are putting their kids at a disadvantage. We've heard the litany of reasons parents like this behave immaturely, but at some point we need to say, it's time to change. 


 
 
As indigenous people living in a post-industrial society, Eskimos in the subarctic face a new problem, an energy surplus in the form of high-calorie, processed foods that are cheaper and more accessible than our healthier traditional foods of seal meat and oil, dried fish, walrus meat, whale meat and blubber, greens, and berries. Plus we live in an isothermic environment nowadays -- with our domiciles at a constant temperature, meaning we burn even fewer calories trying to keep warm than we would have in the old days when our sod homes were heated by seal oil lamps.

Furthermore, not all of us are engaging in traditional subsistence activities anymore, which means, we are more sedentary, spending more time indoors, watching TV or playing video games, surfing the internet, or simply sitting around. Without casting blame on the external forces that have certainly wrought havoc in our lives this last century, what can be done to change our circumstances? Given these major changes in our lifestyle, how do we contend with this problem? What can we do to adjust?

Given statewide or regional changes will not occur until our Native leaders and powerful policymakers take up the issue of access to healthy food in our village stores, I think the most effective option is to take personal responsibility for healthy living – eating better foods and exercising more. Following this logic, in the last year and a half I started tracking my own energy (food) consumption, in an effort to lose weight and be healthier. I was 30+ pounds overweight for my height, and I was not happy about it. As a matter of fact, I had not been happy about it for a long time.

I can’t take credit for finding the right tool for me, but I am glad my husband started tracking his calorie intake in an effort to reduce his back pain by losing weight. He found the right program for us: MyFitnessPal (MFP). Using this free,  online, personal calorie and activity tracker, I was able to keep track of my eating habits, calorie intake, and calorie expenditures so I could project how much I needed to eat to lose weight. The program taught me important things, like portion sizes, keeping track of how many carbs versus protein versus fats I consumed, and how to distribute my calorie intake throughout the day. It is also designed to project one's needed intake and activity level so that one loses a certain amount of weight each week, which is healthier and more likely to be maintainable.

By tracking my eating habits and increasing my daily physical activity, I have lost 30+ pounds, which I have kept off for more than a year. This process taught me other things, too, like how much sodium and sugar are in foods I like, and how to get the most benefit out of food by making wiser choices – 2 cups of steamed vegetables is much more filling than 1 ounce of potato chips, and even with a little margarine does not have as much calories.

When I had my annual physical exam last summer, my doctor actually shook my hand when I told him I had embarked on a fitness journey that is to be my new way of living and being, my new normal. He congratulated me for reducing my risk of several diseases by losing weight alone, a consideration I had taken knowing that as we age our metabolic rates slow unless we exercise regularly and retain muscle mass. Having been on the cusp of being obese/overweight, I was so happy to learn I was not pre-diabetic, nor was I suffering from hypertension. I was lucky and I was smart in being pro-active.

As for social benefits, I admit I have enjoyed people noticing how much healthier I look, and how being thinner makes me feel younger. I have been rather self-conscious of my looks my whole life, and only in my 40s have I begun to feel I am attractive, that I shine, that I have a spark others can appreciate. Being closer to the right weight for my height has helped immensely in letting me have that kind of experience.

What is doubly satisfying is the fact that being thinner has given me more energy, has made it easier to exercise on a regular basis, to enjoy challenging myself physically whether in the gym, or out in the hills around Nome, picking berries or hiking for hours to reach hilltops with beautiful vistas. I now make an effort each day to go for a brisk walk, or to the gym to jog or ride a stationary bike, and lift weights. When the weather is good, I go snowshoeing. If we get enough snow on the ground, I might even be interested in sledding – walking up and sliding down those hills is a lot of fun and gets the heart pumping.

So, how is my experience relevant to others living in rural Alaska? By using a calorie tracker like MFP – which has nutrition information on seal oil, seal meat, muktuk, and other traditional Native foods, you can learn how much energy you are taking in, and you can learn how much you should eat if you want to maintain or reduce your weight. You can learn how to incorporate activities into your daily routine to become more active. One of the neat features of MFP is that it even has calculations for vacuuming or mopping floors, food preparation, and even walking leisurely when shopping. You can learn what activities burn more calories, and which ones require you to take in less energy.

Maybe using MFP will encourage you to be more badass like our ancestors were – they stayed healthy by engaging in subsistence food gathering, dog mushing, snowshoeing, chopping wood, and hauling water and ice, just to name a few of their daily activities. They reached for that dried fish and seal meat instead of unwrapping a frozen pizza or digging into a tub of ice cream each day. In doing so they benefited at least twice: once from the calories expended in harvesting the food, and secondly, in having organic and less processed foods as the foundation of their diet. By drawing on the healthy aspects of our traditional cultures that sustained us for millennia, and eschewing the unhealthy conveniences of post-industrial society, you and I can prepare ourselves and our younger generations for better living, starting now. That’s one clear cut way to deal with our post-industrial, postmodern energy crisis.

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A photo of me and my husband back in 2009, before I started using MyFitnessPal.
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This photo was taken in the summer of 2012, after Erin and I had climbed Tigaraha Mountain north of Nome.
 
 
To me, moral authority is derived from community leaders who can compel others to do what is right and good for the community and the individual. In traditional times moral authority was conveyed through family relationships and teachings from elders and extended family members. It was also reinforced and examined by the leadership provided by the men's councils, which were lead by a strong male figure in the village whose intelligence, hunting prowess, and social skills earned him his primacy in community affairs. While moral issues were examined by local leadership in search of solutions, morality was one aspect of humanity we each knew we were responsible for developing in ourselves. During traditional times each of us was a moral authority, each person had knowledge of how to do what is right and good for themselves and others, and how to fulfill their duties to family and community.

Unfortunately this is no longer the case in postmodern village society. It is my contention that moral authority is diffuse, and therefore much more difficult for anyone to ascertain in our villages.
Hence, it is also difficult to localize and focus, as a means to generate long-lasting social change. To be sure, each community is blessed with individuals who serve as moral authorities themselves, but morality itself is not woven throughout our daily activities the way it was in traditional times. Why else would we have so many people in our villages who make bad decisions for themselves and their children, who choose to do negative and destructive things rather than positive and recuperative things? Without a clear moral authority in each village - a person or a governing body that has the ability to lead others in exploring how our personal choices impact all of us; and in examining what is good and bad for us, our elders, and our children; our ability to define and attain long-term change that helps stabilize our communities is greatly diminished.

To be certain our history has impacted the potential for moral authority among local leaders - the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the influx of missionaries, the use of boarding schools, and the federal government's termination policy during the 1940's through the 1960's, all changed our communities to our detriment. The Spanish Flu wiped out adults and children, and in some cases, entire villages were wiped out by the sickness. We lost a lot of our cultural and knowledge bearers at this time, including a wide array of adults who had specialized knowledge of our stories, taboos, local history, craftsmanship and technology, our mores, and our traditional values. Hundreds of children were orphaned by the Spanish Flu and grew up in group homes or were adopted by non-Native people, thus losing access to their birthright heritage and cultural knowledge. The moral authority of our cultural and knowledge bearers suffered greatly during this loss.
 
 
In this age, where we all come into contact with individuals from different ethnic, religious, political, and social class backgrounds, it seems clear that we need to be accepting of differences and work through them in order to make our communities and organizations stronger. To me, the basic list of differences -- ethnicity, religion, politics, and class -- are all topical and should require personal reflection on their impact on you so that you can work with visible or socially diverse groups of people effectively. If you think you might harbor prejudices toward people based on their race or nationality, their religious or non-religious beliefs, political leanings, or social class, it is worth your time to talk about these matters or reflect on them personally, so as to understanding your prejudices to avoid having them become a workplace or social problem for you and those against whom such prejudices are directed. Significantly, these aspects of diversity are what I consider superficial: we all live in communities that are socially diverse and this postmodern age requires us to come to terms with our circumstances so as to better interact with others and identify and then work toward shared goals.

Beyond the obvious differences among people we observe in the workplace, at community events, or in organizations, there are other aspects of diversity that require our attention and understanding in order for us to be more effective and inclusive in our efforts to create stronger, more accepting communities. These aspects of diversity are not always visible - there aren't cues such as style of dress, religious symbols, or value of attire (ragged clothes or brand-names suits), but they do still have an impact on how well groups of people work together. The main categories of invisible diversity, as I have come to understand them, include thinking habits, experience, and personal values. In realizing how diverse people are in these different areas will help you become more effective as a team member or team leader, community organizer, it could even help you understand your own family members better.

Consciously or not, we all develop unique thinking habits over time: some people are more artistic and intuitive (going with the flow), some are more methodical and analytical, others are more focused on following rules and laws, and there are always some people in a group more focused on social inclusion and interconnectedness - wanting to ensure people feel included and considered, even if they are not involved in the group activities. This typology is loosely based on the MBTI test, which is a very helpful tool for understanding yourself and others with whom you work, live, or love. Keep in mind learning about other people's thinking habits is one way to begin understanding others through their own perspectives, but it should not be used as a way to label people only for convenience. Doing so just leads you back to prejudice: pre-judgment. In understanding others' thinking habits, though, you can begin to see what motivates them and why they are interested in the work or issues or the goals of the group.

Another aspect of diversity that is non-obvious is the experience - personal and professional - that individuals bring to a group. Some people tend to rely on credentials as a way to assess other people's skills and knowledge, which serves as a decent shorthand, but does not always capture the strengths and weaknesses of members who are new to the group. In our busy days it has become commonplace to use credentials as a shorthand for capability, but this approach can be flawed. As a part of group, it is helpful to take the time to know what kinds of experience people are bringing to the table. One team member may have earned a GED, but in addition to that, has been working in the same line of work for 20 years -- he or she then might have a wealth of knowledge and observations about what has worked or not that would benefit you to consider. Another team member might bring their just earned doctorate with them, which might be rich with current and highly analytical leanings, but could also be short on practice in the field. Taking the time to learn about the experiences people bring with them to the team and organization can save you time, and can allow you to find new ways to motivate people to stay engaged. Ignoring their experience and its potential value can alienate people who could make significant contributions to the team's goals.

Another major form of invisible diversity is the personal values each member brings to the situation - the workplace, the church, the community coalition, whatever the group is. Personal values vary widely among us all, which you may or may not recognize based on a natural inclination to stay in groups with which we are familiar and thus most comfortable. Personal values are a combination of personality, culture, social influences, and unconscious desires all erupting on the waking surface of your mind. By accepting and recognizing that all the members of your group - family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, community - have their own distinct values, you will learn how to build bridges of understanding and compassion, rather than misunderstanding and judgmentalism.

By taking all these invisible aspects of diversity into consideration when engaging in any group activity or team effort, you will reach a greater level of effectiveness as a group member and/or leader. Look beyond ethnicity/nationality, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and social class, and consider also the variety in the thinking habits, experience, and personal values each person brings to your shared goal or focus. In so doing, you will be able to identify the group's strengths and weaknesses, and sources of motivation that can compel each and every person to stay engaged in the effort. You can also help others understand one another better and learn to appreciate their unique perspectives, skills, and knowledge. This approach to respecting and engaging all our diversity pulls our social webs tighter, thus making our distinct points on the web more secure, better to withstand the inevitable harsh winds of adversity that blast us when least expected or desired.
 
 
As a person who was raised in an alcoholic home, I experienced constant criticism from my parents. Their criticism most often was just verbal abuse, very rarely did they say phrases I recall as being constructive criticism. Naturally I absorbed all their verbal abuse and became extremely sensitive to any and all kinds of criticism from anywhere - classmates, friends, teachers, bosses, my boyfriend, best friends, even other relatives. Usually I'd take it all in without any questioning, and adopted certain criticisms as truths that I would repeat to myself even when I was alone. I remember some of them still. "I cook too slow." "I don't have any common sense." "I make things look harder than they are." "I can't do anything right."

It took me a long time to unpack each of these criticisms and to try to find value in them -- that is, if there was any to be found. (That's a big if.) I think one of the hardest parts of growing up in a home riven by alcohol or substance abuse is dealing with the verbal abuse that results. At least with the physical abuse, I could see the cause of my pain, I could see the welts and bruises, and over time, I could see them heal.

The verbal abuse was harder because the wounds were invisible, and were never tended to after a night or weekend of my parents staying stir crazy drunk. I never brought up their words when they were sober either, I didn't want them to deny my claims and then have another reason to beat me or send me to my bedroom unfed. Their verbal abuse - family slurs and unfair criticisms - was merely another aspect of my daily experience, it was part and parcel of my lot in life. More significantly, it made me extremely, even irrationally, sensitive to anything I perceived as a criticism of me and my worth. Given all that I had seen, heard, and knew about my worth based on my parents' skewed values and beliefs, it is no wonder that my self esteem was as delicate as a snowflake, and could be shattered by anyone, anywhere, any time.

In Al-Anon meetings, I learned that verbal abuse masked as "criticism" was a part of living with alcoholics. This knowledge helped me feel less isolated and disadvantaged; I wasn't the only person in the world who had ever been criticized unfairly and unnecessarily by loved ones. In a way learning about other peoples' experiences helped me normalize my personal experiences. That helped take some of the sting out of the words that rang in my memory, helped drain those emotional wounds.

In college, I began to understand the concept of constructive criticism in writing classes using the peer review method. We had ground rules for the peer reviews we did of one another's work, such as not being to say something sucked or was lame or that we didn't like the other person's writing. We had to give criticism on syntax, grammar, plot lines that were mixed up or unorderly...We pointed out the holes in our stories to each other and asked questions about character development and realism, like "in this scene your character says she went to the library on Tuesday, but later you say she had gone there on Monday," or, "that dialogue does not ring true for an eight-year-old. Do you know any kids who use words like palimpsest or abrogation?"
 
 
One of the most important lessons I have learned is that each of us has an unquestionable, undeniable worth, an existential dignity arising from the fact that we are here on this planet, right now, all together. I did not learn this lesson in my family of origin; I learned it on my own. My parents were so caught up in their addiction to alcohol, so enmeshed in their emotional and spiritual malaise, that they did not show us that we mattered...we mattered more as an after thought, only if they were able to meet their own physical and emotional cravings first. As anyone who has been in a relationship with an addict knows, it's crushing to realize that you come in second to the physical and emotional demands of the addiction, not to mention all the auxiliary activities required to perpetuate the web of lies needed to keep the delusion alive.

Once I was able to extricate myself from relationships with dysfunctional addicts, give myself healthy boundaries with them, it was much easier to see that I have worth. With that development of a sense of worth, I had a root of self-esteem. I mattered to myself, if not to the addicts in my life. My mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being mattered to me, and I could learn to protect that for my own sake. I could do it even if it wasn't going to make the addicts happy or calm, or satisfied in whatever weird way they needed that day.

I grew beyond the fearful girl who had so often agreed to unacceptable behavior out of fear or sorrow, or in an effort to protect or save my brothers from some worse unknown fate. Once I learned that I mattered to myself unconditionally, I could more clearly see the lies that the addicts told to get what they wanted, I could spot the omissions of truth that helped them keep on with their delusions, I could sense when I was being lead on for someone else's benefit, not out of supposed mutual considerations.

As you might imagine, the sense of worth I am describing here is innate to all, well or unwell, delusional or not. This sense of worth I describe exceeds utility and social status. It burgeons on divinity, but smells more like genuine respect. Once you develop your own sense of self worth, you will be able to acknowledge the worth of all others you encounter in your life. This sense of worth needs no justification, is immutable, and is attainable by all. Once this existential question is sufficiently answered, it's possible to move on to more complex existential issues we face as humans.
 
 
When I was finally able to get out on my own, I thought my life would be totally different, that all the problems I associated with family would simply disappear. I mean, I would have control over my personal environment, I could choose how I spent the money I earned, and I became responsible for all the decisions I made, good, bad, or otherwise. Mostly I was right, but in certain respects I was mistaken. One area that needed work was the mental habits I developed in my home environment. The mental habits I had to work on in my young adulthood included my anxiety and sense of insecurity, and control and power issues.

The anxiety and sense of insecurity I felt mostly came from repeatedly thinking, "am I good enough?" Am I good enough to be loved and respected? Am I good enough to be happy? I had to reconcile my childhood experience with being an independent adult, where my worthiness and value as a human being are already assumed, that I have innate worth and am deserving of self-respect and respect from others. I had to learn to think of myself in this manner and behave so as to reinforce this new belief. The new belief I adopted is: I am undoubtedly worthy of love and inclusion in society, and I am already doing my part to contribute to our collective good will.

Accepting this new belief meant that I no longer needed to compare myself to others or vie for attention and recognition from authority figures such as professors, bosses, family members, or my boyfriend. For a long time I was plagued by thoughts of needing to compete with other women, and in many ways I thought I was at a disadvantage - I wasn't tall or busty enough, I wasn't pretty, I didn't have the right clothes, and in many ways I thought I didn't belong. The main gifts I counted on when I thought of my role in new situations was that I was smart and I had -- and still have -- a good heart.

Adopting this new belief about my worth helped me tackle my own insecurities, which are merely a form of anxiety focused on one's own self image/self identity. I changed the way I thought of myself by changing those negative and self-destructive thoughts on a daily basis until they became the new normal. After all, practice makes permanent. Nowadays I accept myself for who I am, I value myself and I know others value me, and I never have to compete with anyone to secure a place in the world - because I'm already here.

Control and power issues are quite common for people who grow up in dysfunctional families, and I developed my own as I grew up. My control and power issues were manifested internally, thinking that I needed to do or say certain things to "make" other people like me or care about me. I attempted to control others by being a "people pleaser," someone who goes way above and beyond what is needed, to keep other people comfortable and happy, even if it was harmful to me, "the people pleaser," in the long run. I ended up over-committing myself with friends, at work, and in school, taking on more than my fair share of projects or relationship maintenance, and ended up not always being able to deliver. In other cases, I over-extended myself and then ended up resenting the person I was trying to make happy. Those situations left me angry and unfulfilled. 
 
 
According to the most current census data, people in the 0-20 year-old group comprise close to 40% of the entire population in the Norton Sound/Bering Strait region. This fact explains why I encounter so many young folks while I'm running errands, or walking through the hallways in the office, or getting on or off the jet when traveling in and out of Nome. Sometimes the young person I run into appears to be lost, as if they were adrift on an ice floe by themselves, broken apart from the rest of society.

Their countenance alone makes me want to reach out and grab them by the shoulder, and say directly, "You can do it. You have an important journey ahead of you, one single step at a time. Your presence means something, your existence is a miracle worthy of celebration."


Then I remember that such talk is not freely uttered, it is the kind of talk that occurs between dear friends, people who trust and respect one another. So, I say nothing, smile kindly, and move on.

I always wonder when I might have an opportunity to impact others positively, knowing full well each of us can only save ourselves in this lifetime, that I cannot save anyone else from their own unique existential questions. So while walking to work the other day, an idea stumbled upon me. I can't save anyone else from their own problems and circumstances, I cannot change their positionality, as it is called in postmodern theory, but I can offer advice. Thus this stepping stones idea.


Having survived a rough childhood in a family with two alcoholic parents, extreme poverty (as in, eating out of dumpsters), verbal/physical/sexual abuse, and then encountering overt racism in public schools (including junior and senior high, and university), I have a wealth of experience and observations to draw upon for my primary sources. That is, maybe I'm qualified to offer relevant advice to others.

How did I survive a somewhat tragic childhood, the somewhat erratic beatings, the inconstancy of raging alcoholics, the terror of extreme violence, the patient despair that constantly paced around my childhood psyche? What are the things that made me want to wake up to a new day, to take my chances again, to forgive my family members for their pain, sickness, and suffering that they were more than willing to force upon me, to dread alongside me, to loathe with a fury borne of frustration and fear?

The first thing that comes to mind for me: I found a little bit of order in my life and I relished it. If you feel like you do not have any order in your life right now, try to make some for yourself.

You might be asking, "how do I make order in my life if I'm just a kid, or a teenager, or a young adult?" That's a good question. Odds are, you may have only experienced some order infrequently, and may have not enjoyed it because it is more concrete than disorder, than unreliability, than the lies promulgated by most adults with substance abuse disorders.

Here's my response: try to make that order by yourself. For example, you can commit to something realistic, something you enjoy doing, on a regular basis. If you like playing ball, then you can create a little bit of order in your life by making sure you get to the gym a certain number of times a week to shoot some hoops.

If you like reading - comic books or magazines or westerns or blogs - carve time out each day for you to do that. You will learn new words, get a peek into another person's perception of the world, or just escape from your surroundings and circumstances. Trying to keep on a schedule will also teach you a little self-discipline, and it will help you develop healthy boundaries with your friends and family. If you learn to say, "I really want/would like to do this right now," you'll learn how to stick up for yourself while pursuing an interest that aids in your own development.

Over time, you will learn how to add other activities to your life and as you do so, you will start to make your life into the one you want, rather than being stuck in one that drives you batty. You might even learn why it matters to have a regular sleeping schedule, why other people with strong and healthy families go to bed and wake up early, why they strive to improve their own circumstances even as they wrestle with being under-served and underprivileged.

If others react strongly to this change in your life, your attempt to put a little order into your schedule without their approval, be firm and patient. A lot of people have trouble with change that makes them uncomfortable, especially when that change tests their assumptions about their world. If you have friends and family that are used to approaching you any time, day or night, to hang out or babysit or do whatever, and they suddenly learn you want time for yourself, it's going to bug them at first.


Stand your ground. You are learning an important skill that will make you a stronger, healthier person. In the words of Flora Whittemore, "The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live." So, what new doors to opportunity and growth are you going to open through your actions? You have the power to decide!
 
 
When I was a kid sometimes Mom would tell us to turn off the TV and go outside to play. Of course, being kids my brothers and I would whine, and beg to be able to stay inside on nice days just to watch Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny, and the like. Mom was always firm though. We would have to go outside at least for an hour. Luckily for us, by the time we got to the playground and met up with our neighborhood friends, we were already eager to be outside getting some fresh air and exercise.

In a way I've been experimenting with turning off the TV again, this time as an adult. We canceled our cable subscription back in October. That means that after a hard day at work, I can no longer grab a diet soda, make some popcorn and plunk myself down on the couch to watch my favorite TV shows. To be honest the first couple of weeks were kind of a let-down, not being able to just tune in to a visual fiction at night and tune out of the rest of the world whenever I wanted. Now that seven months have passed, I am used to the free time I have in the evenings. With summer upon us, I feel doubly blessed because I am not tethered to a nightly entertainment schedule that would surely keep me from taking short hikes in the hills around Nome or for breezy walks on the beach with my dog in tow.

The other benefit of no longer watching TV every night is that I'm not as engaged in pop culture nor am I overwhelmed by media campaigns being piloted by actors and politicians. I can think about and dream of other things in the five hours of "free" time I get between work and bed time. I feel like my imagination is no longer feeding on commercial platitudes and consumerist bull-crap. I feel free.

As my fellow northerners and I ride the big wave to summer solstice, I encourage you all to consider unplugging from TV during this fecund season -- pull on your hiking boots and tennis shoes, slather on the mosquito dope, and go enjoy the wilderness. Being out on the tundra, on the rivers, and down at the beach will bring you a peace of mind, even if you end up with mosquito bites. Listen to the song birds, seagulls, and Arctic terns as they swoop and shift in the skies. Take note of the beauty of the lichens, tiny tundra flowers, and all our flora. Try to catch glimpses of game - moose, musk oxen, foxes, and other little (and not so little) critters.

Getting yourself and your family off the sofa and out in the country will make you feel better physically, and will give you a chance to make memories you can cherish when winter closes in, sometimes trapping us in our "great indoors." Unplugging from TV will also give you time to reconnect with your own imagination, your dreams, your creative thinking, while at the same time putting you back in touch with the natural environment that surrounds and sustains you. Tune in to the nature's summer frequency and tune out of broadcast programming that is ignorant of our traditional way of living and being up in the Arctic. It's not just a challenge, it's a kind of healthy resistance to the colonialization of our minds!