Saturday, July 19, 2014

Advocacy: Part One (How to Find Your Voice)

"Norma Rae" Movie based off of the life and advocacy/organizational work of Crystal Lee Sutton

I get asked a lot of questions solely on advocacy, how to get started, how to land "important" roles, how to become a "power house", how to change the world, how to speak up, how to get on all these trips, how to voice your opinions or story when you are scared and well, the list goes on.....

In truth and honesty....I don't know how the hell I got here. 

I have had to take a brief hiatus from many things due to severe health issues. I will do this in several posts because I know, I am long winded and I tire myself out these days. Honestly, there is no answer of the right way but damn, there is a sure fired way list of doing it wrong! I don't know if it's just me or if it's always been there but, a few things I have seen on social media networks while down, have left me sort of not wanting to write this particular post because I am surprised, embarrassed, and shocked at the behavior of some. However, I did promise my readers I would respond. How can one give you suggestions with so many doing some things wrong? Kind of hard in my opinion but, there is just too much misinformation being handed out like pills, stupidity, ignorance, petty jealousy, fierce competition, power struggle and much more. I guess I always thought we were teams in my "all for one" method of advocating but, the hard truth? It's simply not that way in many areas or people and, there aren't any letter I's in that word but yet "I" keeps popping up everywhere. It's probably been the last six months that I have honestly admitted that I don't play well with others.

But I digress......

So after thinking long and hard, I am going to try my best to give my honest view, thoughts and hopefully in that and my own sense of humor and ways; an answer for all those who asked. One that will help mold the right person, to fight as an advocate and a damn good one. This may include examples of what not to do, some weird examples, thought provoking and help you find the answer.Truthfully, we all have it in us; we just need someone to point it out.  I will possibly piss a lot of people off in the process which is fine too. I figure if they take this personally, then they have done the very thing I am speaking of and in my words they are merely finding their own reflection. First, I never really looked at myself as an advocate until others began looking at me and telling me face to face that I was one. I'll be honest, if I am one? I am probably not a very good one but, I never left anyone behind and I never not tried; that counts. I have the balls to admit that I am not that great. Since we were National Guard and Army Reserves Combat Wounded, I stuck to what I knew and in the areas I researched for my fight only. By that, it meant my coming forward with our story, fighting for our family, advocating for my husband solely and willing to take chances and risks. You have to stand tall, be willing to voice your story and in a way that is going to catch someone's attention but, not in a way that is so outlandish like a "shock and awe" method that you don't stick with. Sometimes that means drawing outside the lines, finding ways around the system in crevices that no one chose to look because it was harder and willing to break the rules every once in a while all while still following the standard procedure. Sharing your story is where it begins and it's a large step. I will caution you that it is vital one that needs to be discussed as a family and agreed upon by both the Veteran and family members because once it's out there? It's there. You will be scrutinized, comments will be made good or bad, you will be judged, you will be praised but, at the same time? It can be like releasing a pressure cooker lid off if you can find a way to share it and, your rewarded with the ones your story does help because like you....they are sitting there wondering how they start too. You aren't just speaking up, you are creating movement. Think about that.

The "Yodas" Of This and Past Wars

I chose to blog under an anonymous name in which the anonymity is about gone but, I never thought anyone would read it in a million years but, ya'll proved me wrong. That anonymity gave me a shelter I felt when I was scared, a mask where I could find the courage to face the open world and one, that I could take refuge in if the fight became too much. It took a few years matter a fact before I even touched the uncertain waters of helping other soldiers and that was just by accident. Seriously.... and, only because I talk to everyone.  However, I didn't just jump in with head first without looking to see if the pool was filled. I have seen a lot of that lately and unfortunately, that is giving some really good advocates a bad light and scaring off some potentially good ones. The new ones are floundering around, flipping out business cards and telling everyone they know it all but, when it comes to push and shove; they run to someone else for answers. Or they start asking the "Yodas" of a particular area/war all while badmouthing them as they try to look good in the spotlight and, I see a lot of mistakes being made mostly due to pure ego. Yep, I said it. EGO.  I have to give my UPMOST respect to the "long timers" as we call some of the long term ones with experience and years under their belt. Some I look to as my mentors, my heroes and hope that I can one day be as stoic and amazing as they are. 

They have been through a lot of hell but yet, even though they probably want to say snarkily "PATIENCE you must have, my young Padowan. Now piss off you must" they instead gracefully and elegantly, share what they know; even to those who ask a lot of questions yet do the freaking opposite of what you told them. This can lead to detrimental backfires, frustration on both parties, wasted amounts of time and people who look at all advocates as "just another one". Secondly to this, the "Yodas" are running around and trying to contain the fire because some are playing with matches. This can lead to major burnout and many of them have backed away trying to find their sanity again. Lesson in this, research your stuff, fight your own battle first, ask questions and take notes, listen to what they are saying because we are all in this together many of us believe and it's why we want to help. You never know what might pop up in a conversation that may help you down the road; even years later.

Did you know that most of us advocates, bloggers, writers are just like you here reading and, many of us still fighting our own battles all while juggling home life and  advocating for others? It truly and honestly all boils down to this, the "Yodas" as I lovingly refer to them, are probably the wisest having to go through so much crap because there was no help. Even myself, going into our eight year, am amazed at how much there is out there. The thing is though, no one wants to hear the sacrifices, the hardships, the tales of warfare they went through alone, or even acknowledge that because of these men and women, you all have what you do now. THOSE are the stories that one can learn from and unfortunately, some want to jump from A to Z and that leads to uncaring, uneducated, no lessons learned from the "school of hard knocks", advocates who **think** they know it all. You can stay on the computer 24 hours a day reading manuals, transcripts, medication sites, VA website and still don't have the "grit". Truth is, you don't know anything unless you pay attention, walked those miles and can learn from those who stood up so many years ago when there wasn't a voice at all. Those men and women are ones you can learn how to begin finding your place. Lesson here? Start by researching your own stuff, take the stories from those ahead of you and follow in their footsteps. I am always learning new stuff all the time from people and am like wow, it's amazing how much they knoooow! A to Z at 160 mph is only going to leave you looking like a screaming, wailing, unstable family member who gives up because B-Y showed you how to do everything else.

A Room With A View

In example from an email I answered not too long ago (Thank you C for allowing me to share), "I am too scared to speak up. I don't want to get in trouble by sharing but, we have to get our benefits and his retirement. What if we get in trouble? What happens then? It's much easier to give up my husband says and just worry about it later but, I know that would be wrong right? I would love to be more involved as an advocate but I don't know how to speak up. So how did some of these ladies do it all?". As I told this young lady, she made the first move by thinking/feeling she wants to fight it. She is weighing the pros and cons, she is faced with two dilemmas; do I fight or give up? But, at the same time....she didn't know the "later" part and once it's done, it's done with Uncle Sam. There is your start and a good one. She has already begun the the thought process. She just wasn't sure what the repercussions of it would be and could she handle the pressure? She is also looking at handling too much at once. I explained first you have to play your own game and learn your style. Not every advocate is the same. I know of one from the Carolina's who has the most beautiful smile, Southern accent, one I always referred to as "Yoda", but when it comes to her stuff? Man, that smile can turn into shark's teeth and she will tear someone up to advocate. You can almost by phone hear the Jaw's theme song playing while she is calculating and running it through her mind. Duh dum...duh dum....duh dum duh dum and then BOOM she has the answers and fierce about it. Another one in Alabama that I found many years ago who has the softest voice you ever heard. It's almost angelic with that twang and kindness. However, these two women were responsible for many many of the things now we have available or pushed and shoved til they got what they set out to do. But, they did it by learning their own way.  There are some men and women responsible for major changes in this war. BUT they had to fight their own battles. They walked their own path. So I give your questions this hypothetical scenario because it's a good example of what you are to embark on.

There are only two ways out of the room; a window and a door. No, the house is not on fire, no major weather dangers, you are merely just trying to leave the house. But you have to leave fast, get out your way because there is no one to ask, AND there are a few surprises waiting for you. Who knows what the surprises are? You are only armed with your body and intelligence. Door would be easier wouldn't it? You can just turn the knob, open and walk until you are facing a dark stairwell only to find no light or light switch. Or.... you could go to the window and think "if I can shimmy my ass down the side of the pipe, I could probably get away faster than taking the door and using the creepy stairs. Or I could just drop, tuck and roll. I could possibly make the jump without any major bones breaking." You can see you have clearance, you see no major issues unless the height scares you. Notice how one automatically thinks of many more options when you can physically see something?

 Sooo....Which one is REALLY the easiest?

Survey says many will answer "Window" as many would choose a room with a view to the dark stairwell any day. (Unless you are a bad ass Ranger or Spec Ops that can kill with one pinkie finger) Why? Because you think you see everything. Who knows what lies at the bottom of the darkened stairway? There may be another remake of Friday the 13th, part 28 co-starring Kim Kardashian with Jason waiting for you! Her ass might be blocking the light from the window (Hey Eminem said it first) and you may not see Jason as he lies in the shadows waiting. Don't know do you? You may get out the window and jump down, run away and all is done. However, even with a clear view, you may not land where you wanted right away but, how far are you willing to jump is the question? What if you land on your face, will you give up? Will you cry and want to quit? What happens if you misjudged the distance? What if you tuck and roll straight into a tree and a wasp nest falls on your head? Same goes for Jason and Kim down the stairs. You probably could push Kim into Jason and he hacks her all up while you make your clean get away BUT here is another thing one of my students pointed out... if they were down there together to begin with, they may be partners in crime. I would be suspicious because something isn't right if Kim is still standing and he's waiting on you.


It's harder to leap into the unknown isn't it? Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what life throws at you; problems and, it's up to you to find the viable solutions to any problem at any time on any given day.  There may never be an easy way out. It's a corny cliche scenario I just gave you but, one I used to pose to my History Seniors when they said "Is there an easy way to learn all this crap?" (except thanks to my son who pointed out that most don't know who Jason or Cyndi Lauper is so we had to change that due to generational gaps). You think finding your voice is scary, try teaching World/U.S. History to a bunch of High School seniors who popped gum, didn't listen and gave you more headaches than your own children and definitely more reasons to use birth control. The lesson here is when faced with dilemmas, how will you face those objects, hurdles and can you provide yourself options? When faced with a problem, can you provide several ways out of that house we talked about? Start there. Always have a game plan. Even when it comes to yourself and your family, always have a plan B up your sleeve. 

Fear is something that holds all of us back. Mostly because of the Unknown factor that shows its ugly face in the game. You have to take the reigns on that one, weigh the pros and cons, the results you wish to set as goals and the consequences of doing so. For some, just the latter scares the hell out of them. Here is that wholesome honesty ya'll like; you can't advocate for anyone else unless you can stand up and fight for yourself and your Veteran. If you can't speak up, or voice your story but, expect to get into advocacy of the same nature it's not going to be easy; sort of like looking at one high dive into that empty pool I mentioned earlier or say, having the aspiration to become a stripper but, afraid to take your clothes off. Once you are comfortable in speaking up, test the waters on the reactions you receive from sharing just yours, then you move on to other areas. Now how does one learn to find their voice? That is hard. I guess in a way it's the anger, the frustration that you feel all through your body and its when you've simply had enough. I don't know how to express it (and forgive my comparison as it's gross) but, it's the best I can use in layman's terms.

It's more like the sickness when you contract food poisoning or a stomach bug. Probably not the best examples I have used but, when you are that sick, you get pissed, miserable, questioning why today? God, I'm going to die! Why me and not my boss? Or my nosy neighbor? Then you want to rest and tell yourself you will get better later. You just want to be done right? You want to get through it, you want to get better, you want to move on. You want to fight against it. You may even start by sipping that Coke and one saltine cracker the old school nurse used to dole out and swore by. Your mind says "FIGHT it, you can do it" but, your stomach is saying "Oh my God, HELL noooo!" and you still get sick. BUT... you STILL took the chance didn't you? You were able to stick your foot and feel around to see if you can do it. I guess the answer lies in your own intuition. If you are asking how do I find my voice, then you are already two steps in the dance. What are you sick of? What is it that you want the most? How far are you willing to take it to grasp that swinging rope? How far will you look for that rope or other options when push comes to shove. When you get there, can you handle the pressure and hold your head high? Most of much do you want it?
Breaking Dishes
I think personally you get pissed to the point where you can't contain it, you explode inward and from that self combustion....comes a small sound. It may happen during hidden tears behind the door, in the shower, in the car or hell, anywhere. It's that small feeling of relief that you get from the "ugly cry" and freedom of release...well, that's the breath you want to inhale to begin to find your voice. Then you simply build on, brick by brick. You may have to go back and change a few layers, you may falter and fail, but you just keep building. Ever just gone literally psycho for one single minute and thrown a plate or glass into the sink and watch it shatter? I may or may not have done that and, can neither confirm or deny it. However, for all parties involved....let's just say that I appreciate the Euro tradition of throwing plates and glasses at weddings probably a lot more than I should. I *would* call it creative destructiveness, a moment of one's self acknowledgement in an innovative manner, a clever and prolific epiphany, or a visionary, stimulating way to express your feelings in a beautiful mosaic formation. Sounds much better than psychotic break down or moment of insanity. Kind of like when they call over the loud speaker at the VA "CODE BLUE" which probably means "We got a RUUUUNNNER"! (I have nooo idea what Code Blue means but I do know many family members do a head count and check to see if their Veteran is with them) Matter a fact, I would like to see breaking dishes recommended as a source of unconventional therapy along with some serious angry music at least once a year. 

(Warning because there is always that one person: USM is not responsible for any actions and by no means encourages you to break shit and hurt someone or yourself. Please use thinking process, sanity, logic, safety glasses and use a large range of personal safe space to do this and I, will deny everything. I mean everything!

Getting that Voice Out There By Using the Police
I had a great professor in a speech class that I was forced to take in college. He was pretty innovative and I always appreciated his unconventional teaching because it stuck with you. He once told us to get over the fear of speaking up was to write. Just anything on a piece of paper, notebook, back of a book or online as a journal or blog. He said once, the greatest writers were the ones who never thought first about what they wrote, they just did it. Even if it didn't start the beginning or finish the ending, just anything that came to mind. If it was "F*CK A DUCK" and that's all that came? It matters because it came from you and that was just you only. I have always written that way ever since. I don't have to think about it. I might sit down with a topic and it just goes wherever like this one even though I hope you are learning something in a fun and creative encouraging manner! Blogging, a journal, writing anything is a GREAT way to start because you still have that privacy of the screen, you still have that feeling of security but, at the same time you feel freedom, relief, and you got it out of you. Now talking in front of people freaks anyone out. Lord, I've seen some excellent speakers who you would have NEVER known got nervous but, they were sweating, anxiety rashes, blood pressures up, shaking like bad people in churches. Hey, we aren't perfect! Same professor gave us an assignment every night. He told us to go home and pretend we were cops in front of the mirror. Practice it over and over again. "Police! Put your hands up!", "FBI! FREEEZE SUCKER!" or "Get down on the ground and keep your hands where I can see them!". Might explain why my neighbors always thought I was going to the police academy. In that first few weeks, we were expanding our vocabulary to the Miranda rights, learn the poker face, telling ourselves "You ARE a BADASS! You can knock this out!", learned some new tactics and by then? Even the mousiest, quietest man in the room was able to perfect the absolute firmest voice that we were still stunned. I think now looking back, that was the first time I heard him period because I am legally deaf in one ear. He used Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood as his police mantra. If you squinted hard enough....he sort of did take on the Eastwood look. I still to this day get nervous about speaking up and have that little shake in my voice especially in a room full of my peers. Strangers not so bad but your peers? Holy shit, they scare me! People just don't realize it because of that poker face most of us have developed and plastered on. Seriously though? It helps. When I had to make several speeches locally, I would always hold up my hair brush and take the stance. The Professor like I said was, unconventional but his point was this. If you had a room full of people, and you HAD to get everyone to hear you in an emergency? How can you do it by being mute or whisper? However, you say "FBI! GET DOWN! GET DOWN " well, everyone is going to stop and listen. It also boosts your confidence and makes you stand up straight. Trust me, watch a few shows on Cops or Dog the Bounty won't see anyone slouching unless they're the bad guys. HUGE difference from beginning to end of the semester. We were able to discuss recipes in a debate method, or look at something we absolutely were against and talk about the pros of it.  Use a Water gun if you want to have some extra fun.

So that, is a very lengthy long talk about speaking up. Unconventional but, who said I was normal anyway? I am not discouraging anyone, I am merely using the "Wax On,Wax Off Method" for young grasshoppers, lessons I learned from my youth, the "Yodas" and, from my very own mistakes. Some great tools too are music. Music can gear you up and make you want to fight. One in particular right now I am loving is "Burning Gold" by Christina Perri. Listen to the lyrics. It's a good song about being tired, wanting a change, believing in yourself and a catchy tune. So I will sign off for now and work on my next really unconventional thoughts on how to be a damn good advocate. BUT first, I challenge you to some movies. Some are hard to find but, they can be found online, netflix, Xbox etc. Movies; Some great ones to revisit or watch for the first time for that "get up and go gumption" that you need. All these are based on true stories except for a few. 
Wild Horse's Can't Be Broken
Norma Rae
Working Girl
Erin Brocovich
The Heat
A League of their Own
Cool Runnings
Schindler's List
Dangerous Minds
Lead the Way
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Pay it Forward
Freedom Writers
Taking Chance
Lean on Me
The Monuments Men
Now You See Me
We Bought a Zoo
The Blind Side
Shawshank Redemption

Mostly these are for the women but, if there are any men out there who are looking into stepping out, still a great way to see options, game changes and plans, overcoming disabilities, adapting to changes, opening your eyes to new things, new challenges, working together as a team. There will be times where you can't work with someone or just absolutely can't stand them. (trust me, I have my share of those who don't like me). BUT, when push comes to shove, some of these movies show how to work together, the effort and time put into it, going against all odds, against adversity, working when there is no credit given (Monuments Men) and having that escape plan. You will find failure, mistakes, faltering but, still getting up, dusting off your ass and keep going. 

So this will end Lesson One. I will follow up with the professionalism, manners, courtesy, compassion and more in my next plan. If you got this far, then you have made the first steps and already bought your ticket.

Remember, It just takes one voice to create one large movement.