Tag Archives: suicide

the road to ‘gluten free’

Confession: Until now, I’ve never really understood the impact of gluten.

Years ago, if someone said “gluten free”, I’d roll my eyes. In the past few years, I’ve learned that dear friends couldn’t handle gluten. So I began to care more.

But now… I’m that guy. Gluten free. Bongos and fairy dust. How did I become ‘that guy’? Pretty easy, actually. Here’s what happened.

A little background… alcoholism ravaged both sides of my family… left and right, people crashing down from the family tree. Suicide. The works. So I’ve always been a little leary… And always thought that was the reason why one or two glasses of wine would put me comatose for about 18 hours. Seriously… 8 ounces of wine in the evening could make me feel like I’d been hit by a garbage truck the next morning and make it nearly impossible for me to function with any sort of joy.

Of course I never paid attention to the fact that those two glasses of wine accompanied a PIZZA! And when friends of mine went gluten-free and I watched them drop pounds and transform before my very eyes, I decided I wanted to do the same! Gluten-free beer with my pizza!

Right. As a result, most of my adult life I’ve felt like I’ve been slogging through a swamp with barely enough energy to take another step.


Gluten-free pizza with brown rice crust. I love pepperoni and green chiles on my pizza!

Gluten-free pizza with brown rice crust. I love pepperoni and green chiles on my pizza!

A couple weeks ago, I got this wild hair and spent a few days just taking in fresh vegetable juice from my blender. I cut out alcohol, meat, starchy carbs, the works. After the first day or so, my wife pointed out to me that I’d also effectively cut out gluten.

My response: “Really? Huh. That’s cool. I guess.”

It certainly had not been my plan. But I noticed that I was feeling lighter, more energetic, and generally more joyful. Just happier.

Brown rice, black beans, and eggs were my new heroes.

Little by little I began to re-introduce other foods back into my diet. Maybe just a little meat. Nothing too heavy. Just a few bites of chicken thrown into my meal for good measure. Cool.

Next up: a sip of wine. Okay… a glass of wine. Woke up the next morning feeling curiously FINE. No hangover. What in the world was going on? This had never happened to me before! I’d tried organic wine, red wine, white wine… wine made from the tears of a dragon… and it had all given me vicious hangovers. Let alone beer and liquor, which had always made me feel even worse.

After about 4 days of no gluten, I decided to test the waters with two (2) small pieces of french bread with a glass of wine. The next morning, I felt that familiar “I wish I were dead” feeling. A complete lack of energy until around 4pm… a lethargy that made it impossible to do anything of value.

And at that moment, as the implications dawned on me, I realized that this was quite possibly the most valuable hangover of my life. Never again would I wake up feeling this way, because I FINALLY understood WHY I felt so bad. Gluten had been tearing me up all along.

While I initially feared that going ‘gluten-free’ would be difficult, I can honestly say that it has been absolutely no challenge at all. When I see cakes, cookies, pizza, pies, and other things that contain gluten, I (quite fortunately) perceive them for what they actually are to my body: poison. Pure and simple.

Tonight something magical happened. I made a homemade, gluten-free pizza crust and creating an awesome pizza with all the toppings I love (meat, cheese, olives, etc.). As I looked at the *small* size of the crust, I feared there was no WAY it would be enough pizza for both my wife and me. Probably 12″ in diameter. Certainly not enough for me back when I was eating “real” pizza.

But I swear to you– as I finished my first piece (1/4) of the pizza and polished off my salad, I realized I was completely satisfied! I was full! After such a small piece of pizza? My mind didn’t understand. But my stomach did. I was happy. Content.

I think something good is happening as my body becomes cleared of gluten… My usual cravings for sugar and alcohol have abated, and I find myself eating less throughout the day. In addition, I have more energy, and suddenly all the health food lingo I used to hear and ignore is beginning to make sense. And it’s starting to come from my lips.

Trippy. I never thought of myself as ‘that crunchy, gluten-free guy’ before. But now that I’ve discovered that gluten is one of the key sources of my physical suffering, there’s no turning back.

Here’s to your health!

Highly recommended: “1,000 Gluten-free Recipes,” by Carol Fenster.


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Van of forgiveness

We break out the board.

Two $500’s. Two $100’s. Two $50’s. Six $20’s. Five $10’s. Five $5’s. And five $1’s.

Take a few spins around the board. Then… what’s this? Hidden money appears magically from beneath a certain corner of the board. “I was just saving it.”

Tension mounting. Temperatures rising. Just a game? In and of itself, yes… But moreover, a game that serves as a doorway into Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions. Anger. Fear. Frustration. Pain. Sadness. Grief.

Why these changes? Why a different world? Ask at your own peril.

Soon, board pieces will fly. The little hat will be lost forever, and the statue of the guy on the horse will end up beneath the refrigerator. The game will be rendered ‘off limits’ for one week, relegated to the top shelf of the parental closet.

But what of the broken hearts? (The broken hearts, they sing… the broken hearts, they sing.) Innocent children pulled the game out. They are not to blame.

And it was innocent children who pulled the game out forty years ago. Lost, confused, surrounded by parents who drank. Parents who shot out the street lights with handguns, laughing all the way to the front door. Parents who disappeared. Parents who died with the engine running and the garage door closed.

Innocent children sent overseas to live with a sister. Scarred for life, at the hands of a brother-in-law.

Innocent children who found one another and did the best they could in a frightening world.

Innocent children who pulled out the game EIGHTY years ago. Doubled over with pain, gripping one’s stomach… flying into the night. Coming to a very abrupt stop.

Innocent children. Looking back across the generations, nothing but innocent children, as far as the eye can see. Aching for love, acceptance, compassion.

My brother stands up. Turning around, he spreads his arms wide. Generations of innocent children straighten up in their folding chairs, leaning forward to hear.

My brother clears his throat and speaks: “Only one remedy: Love.” he says.

“Love fills the tank of my van of forgiveness.”

He walks around the van, kicking the tires of understanding. Carefully washing the windshield of hope.

“This van doesn’t stop til the end of the line,” he says. “Hop in. There’s room for all of us.”

And as I turn from the pots and pans to look out the back door, scouring pad in hand, I see my brother, Johnny Boy, escorting a crowd of souls; helping them as they file, one by one, into his van.

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Suicide prevention training

Special thanks to SUCAP for making this two-day training available.

Last school year we lost two students to suicide. Now I have a few more tools in my toolbox. This was one of the most worthwhile trainings in my life. Highly recommended, whether you think you’ll need it or not.

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What does compassion look like?


If you know someone in southwest Colorado (or anywhere) who is considering getting a GED, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

And if you or someone you know has problems and thinks there is no way out except suicide, get help. TALK to someone. In the U.S., call 9-1-1.

I’m happy to help if I can. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can try to put you in touch with the appropriate community resources.

Here’s the catch: In order for any of us to get help, we’ve got to WANT to grow. We’ve got to WANT to make progress. If I make a call and then ignore the help that is offered and say, “Oh, well, they were no help at ALL!”, then I’m just copping out. Refusing to take responsibility for my own growth.

Tonbo (Dragonfly). Japanese calligraphy. Sumi ink on parchment. By Beth Wheeler.

I’ll be the first to say that growth can feel extremely uncomfortable. Like crawling through rusty barbed-wire and broken glass, on a good day. And there are sacrifices involved… once you grow and gain increased awareness, there’s no going back. You can never regain the ignorance that you once had. These are small prices to pay for the freedom, joy, and sense of power and self-worth that is available.

But no one can do it for me.

True compassion puts me in touch with this process and leads toward self-realization, inner-power and a true sense of self-worth. I think that’s why true compassion can take so many shapes. Someone getting in my face may appear to be unkind and uncaring. But if that person helps me to come face-to-face with my own avoidance techniques, my own pretzel logic, my own b.s., then it can help me move forward and grow.

If someone believes compassion simply means “being nice”, then they may lie to my face with a smile in order to prevent hurting my feelings. And to prevent experiencing the internal discomfort of taking that risk. Lie to me, tell me everything is fine… shield me from the truth… how can THAT be compassion?

I’m going to define compassion as ‘that which helps us, in any given moment, identify what’s needed to grow into fully-integrated adults’.

I guess we need another definition… I’ll define fully-integrated adult as “someone who clearly understands cause and effect and lives accordingly.”

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you define compassion? How do issues of compassion relate to your artistic process?

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He gave this flower to a teacher

He came into my office one cold day last October. Had a glorious rose in his hand.

“Look what I got!” he exclaimed with an excited smile. I agreed that it was beautiful.

He asked me if I’d hold on to it for him. Of course I agreed. Set it on the windowsill in my office, where plenty of sunlight shines in. Days, weeks, months went by, and the rose dried up on my windowsill and became preserved as I waited for him to return. I reminded myself that each person has to return in his or her own time. That process can’t be rushed.

The preservation process of the flower also had to happen at its own pace. I realized that if that natural pace was respected, a new beauty would be revealed. And it was true; the flower, in its death, had taken on a new kind of beauty. It seemed perhaps even more beautiful, in some ways. Once or twice I briefly considered throwing the flower away, but it was so amazing that I simply couldn’t. I’d hold onto it for just awhile longer.

Fast forward three or four months.

Two or three weeks ago I happened to see him in class. I ran to my office and grabbed the flower. Took it into the classroom, where students were gathering for class, which would start in just a few minutes. I tried to discreetly show him the flower without attracting too much attention. (Wasn’t sure how “cool” it would be.) “Hey! Look what I still have!” He looked at it and looked away casually… and I realized maybe I wasn’t being very cool. Not very cool at all.

Oh well. I told him he could have it back if he still wanted it, and I returned it to my windowsill.

The morning I heard about his death, there were a lot of things for me to do. In the midst of my business, I spotted the flower, the aura of which now seemed to hold a lot more emotional gravity. First I thought, “Wow… I have such a beautiful keepsake.” Then I thought, “wait a minute… there’s someone else who would truly appreciate this.”

I took it to Durango Art Supply. My new best friend Sarah created the perfect shadowbox for this important occasion. Tomorrow, at the memorial service, I’ll give this to his mother. I’ll tell her this story. And she’ll have some small token of her son’s sensitivity and appreciation for beauty.

I know nothing will ever take away her pain. But maybe this can make that pain just a tiny bit easier to bear. I sure hope so.

Durango Herald article April 24, 2011: click here

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Moment of silence


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Letter to my student who died Thursday

Hey. I was shocked and saddened to get to work this morning and find out that you were dead.

In fact, I didn’t believe it at first. No proof. Nothing in the newspaper yet. Just people talking matter-of-factly about it.

So I called the police station. Transferred me to Investigations. Yep. They knew just who I was asking about… Told me there was a death investigation underway.

Still, I had to ask. “So… he’s dead then?”

Yessir, the officer replied. There’s definitely a death investigation underway.

First, I needed to let my colleagues know that it was confirmed. Then, on to interrupt every class in session. Tell the students. Let them know they can talk to me, and to any of us. Tell them that I care about them. We care. Not just about the books. The grades. The behavior. We care about the hearts. The minds.

Did they hear me?

Do you hear me?

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