Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TRIGGERPIECES, BRAIN SAKE & VETERAN SUICIDE: How One Female Combat Veteran Turned the Tables

When I first met Cleo on my birthday last year (May 29), she was on her way to NYC for a speaking engagement. I was introduced to her by my good friend, Malachias Gaskin. So I browsed her photos, which indicated that, should I make contact, I would be dealing with a badass.

Not being a stranger to badasssery, I talked to Cleo. And found her to be DELIGHTFUL. Cleo was a combat veteran with an awesome Boston accent (She didn't take that as a compliment) and a survivor of suicide... 3 TIMES. The first time she shot herself in the face. The other two times: carbon monoxide poisoning & downing 90 tranquilizers. 

Within a couple of weeks of her return from NYC, Malachias and I had her on the road to Texas to try out a farm retreat for combat veterans. The start of that road-trip was less than desirable & Cleo ended up calling me to let me know that had she a gun, she would "eat a bullet." That was probably my first introduction to the volatility of Cleo's PTSD.

Since then, Cleo visited my family at our home in August 2014 (We had to learn not to knock on her door or come up behind her, because her startle reflex was out the roof... no pun intended). In September 2014 I met Cleo in San Francisco with a platoon of other veteran-leaders for a conference.

Shortly thereafter, Cleo "went off the grid" & didn't answer her phone over the period of a day or two. A call was made from Brentwood, Tennessee, and the police came out to Cleo's house. She ended up being at a pool hall with a friend. She wasn't happy that the police broke a metal bar in her window to gain entry to her house. Yes, I felt like an idiot. But I would rather feel an idiot and know that my friend was alive then the other option.

In February 2015 Cleo had an opportunity to undergo a little-known treatment through a company called Brain Sake in Bethesda, Maryland which specializes in treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, and a myriad of related issues. Cleo just finished the treatment yesterday (March 30). Here is a list of hurdles Cleo says she overcame throughout the 58-day program:
  • a horrible stutter... gone after the 2nd treatment
  • a Boston accent (never been to Boston)... gone after 2 treatments
  • major depression... gone after the 1st treatment
  • suicidal ideations... gone after the 1st treatment
  • rage and irritability... gone after the 1st treatment
  • nightmares where she would wake up in cold sweats, unable to go back to sleep... gone after the 1st treatment.
  • hypervigilance... gone after 4th treatment
  • high startle rate... gone after 6th treatment
  • intrusive thoughts... gone after the 1st treatment
  • desire to harm myself (she's been a cutter since age 13)... gone after the 1st treatment
  • and...the BIG one... suicidal ideations...gone after the 1st treatment.

In addition Cleo published a book while in treatment: Triggerpieces. This is a book of memorable pieces (poetry) coalesced over the last 20 years that spans topics of Cleo's abusive childhood, combat, post-combat, and her post-suicide attempt. Many of these pieces are dedicated to battle-buddies, mentors, and friends along the way who have helped Cleo along the way. It has taken a team... a battalion... for this veteran to get to this point. And what about the others out there?

That's Cleo's real concern ... advocating for veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI's, suicide ideation, and MSA (military-sexual abuse).

After 5 p.m. (MST) today (March 31, 2015) Cleo will be greeted by FOX News and the controversial Sheriff Joe at the Phoenix Airport as she heads back home to Mesa. 

If you want to get a copy of Triggerpieces or find out from Cleo more about her treatment, go to https://www.facebook.com/SoldiersJourney.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


If you've every been in Nashville long enough, then you know that there is more to this city than country music and seriously committed Elvis impersonators. Nashville (and its surrounding cities) has a language all to its own. A few weeks ago I was venturing into the Nashville community once more after 3 years of almost exclusively working with clients outside Nashville. In less than one week I was worn out with all the uber-religious language that naturally seeps in and out of transactional language (believer and sub-par-believer alike). On a couple of occasions I was actually dumbfounded at how to steer the conversation back on business-course (Rarely am I tongue-tied).

In mulling over these expressions, I thought I would try my hand at defining a few of these idioms and giving them accurate illustrations. While I recognize that these terms have other meanings (and probably more legitimate meanings) I submit to you 13 examples below that represent ACTUAL conversations based upon my interpretation of these conversations:

1. hey, broth·er! [/ˈhā brəT͟Hər/] 

a. a title intended to disarm into compliance a male professional of his normal logic and intuition or an expression used as a precursor to an outrageous request. 
  • Hey, brother! You're such an encouragement to me which also can mean I can't think of any specific way you have helped me but you have assets I want to reserve now in case I need them in the future. That's why I'm being nice to you! or Hey, brother! We should do coffee sometime which also can mean I need thousands of dollars of free, professional advice from you because I've gotten myself into major marital, legal, or financial trouble. 

2. covet [/ˈkəvət/]
a. Hyperbole indicating material lust or strong, sexual desire, but directed towards a spiritual end.
  • More than your money, I covet your prayers which also can mean Did I not make it clear the first time that I'm asking you for money? or You are obligated to give me something because either I am very spiritual and to be admired or I am in dire straits and YOU are the answer to my prayer.

3. root of bitterness [/ˈro͞ot əv bidərnəs/]
noun phrase
a. An historical fact of injustice that under normal circumstances is actionable to some degree but in the case of the spiritual reputation of a figurehead or community is, like a root, buried. 
  • Don't listen to anything that person says because it comes from a root of bitterness which also can mean That person knows too much and can ruin us. If you listen to that person or associate with him or her in any way, then consider yourself fired or, at the minimum, dead to me.

4. praise the Lord [/'prāz T͟Hē lôrd/] 
a. a non sequitor that indicates nervousness, frivolity of conversation, or an unwillingness to communicate.
  • Well, praise the Lord! It's so good to see you which also can mean I have nothing of importance to say to you, but I'm too cowardly to tell you... but at least I'm being friendly by being religious about it. 

5. the Bible says [/'T͟Hē bībəl sez/]
sentence fragment
a. Prefatory to an argument to indicate that no more discussion is to follow.
  • I know that you have issues with such-and-such a person or organization, but the Bible says that talking about others is sin which also can mean Shut your mouth or If you know what's good for you, then shut your mouth. Or else.

6. in the name of Jesus [/'in 'T͟Hē nām əv jee-zuhs/]
prepositional phrase
a. An invocation that means whatever follows is not to be challenged under any circumstance whatsoever. 
  • I rebuke that evil spirit in the name of Jesus which also can mean I have no interest in listening to any critique because it might be legitimate, making me feel bad about myself and ruining my day.

7. for the glory of God [/'fôr T͟Hē ɡlôrē əv ɡäd/]
prepositional phrase
a. An indicator that the highest of intentions is meant.
  • We need to confront those lies for the glory of God which also can mean If we need to character assassinate or alter the truth to annihilate our opposition then it's permissible because... well, because we are especially special.

8. anointed [/'əˈnoint id/]
a. Off limits
  • I received an anointed word that I need to quit taking my medication which also can mean I'm naturally oppositional and don't like taking medication or taking doctor's orders, so screw that crap.

9. God told me [/'ɡäd tōld mē/]
a.  An admission of deification where the individual was privately revealed information for which s/he also has no proof & therefore conversation about it is of no use.
  • God told me that he will prosper us because we've been persecuted for so long and our day is coming which can also mean We've been buttholes to people for so long that everybody hates us. Things have gotten so bad that something HAS to get better or we're done for.

10. Christ-centered [/'krīst sen(t)ərd/]
a. Often special modifier or ruse to eliminate questioning about the normal flow of cause-and-effect surrounding the topic at hand.
  • Our business offers a Christ-centered service even though we are a start-up which can also mean Even though we have no interest in anything but minimal compliance (because the government sucks) and even though we have a high turnover rate of clients, at least we have the freedom to talk about Jesus while we are working (even though we probably should be working).

11. serving the Lord [/'sərviNG/ T͟Hē lôrd/]
verb phrase
a. an expression that means whatever an individual is doing is right and not up for discussion
  • We need to be busy serving the Lord instead of living like the world which can also mean Whatever normal people are doing, we don't have to be doing because we are special people. No one will understand us, and no one can understand us because they are all idiots.

12. child-like spirit [/'CHīl(d)līk spirit/]
noun phrase
a. Having the quality of ignorance and trust of an infant.
  • I like her because of her child-like spirit which can also mean She lets me touch her boobs, and then apologize, touch her boobs again, and then apologize AGAIN. This is great!

13. answer to prayer [/'ansər/ to͞o prer/]
noun phrase

      a. Getting what one wants.
  • That thunderstorm was really an answer to prayer which can also mean I didn't know how I was going to meet all of my obligations today, but then one of my customers had to go to the emergency room... so I had four hours free to catch up on work!

Providentially, you get the point!

P.S. Please, add your own definitions below.

Friday, December 27, 2013


I met Scott Barron in a museum near Laoying, China in November 2011. We had finished looking at the exhibits & bumped into each other on a rare bench in the atrium. After a 20-hour trip overseas, we were surprised to discover we lived no less than 4 hours away from each other in the U.S. 

Later that week, we meet in a hotel lobby in Beijing. Scott had this little book in his hand:

In a few minutes, I listened in fascination to Scott's story behind the book & why he brought it to China. The story goes that at 42 Scott wanted to change the direction of his life... 

The Yabwi Tree tells the transformative story that changed Scott's life (which you can find below):

The Yabwi Tree resonated with me because I had just finished a stint in my educational career and had closed the full-time portion of my school. That was my 40th year of life. The stresses were insurmountable. The sleepless nights endless. The emotional tension taut. Ever since reading The Yabwi Tree, my life has diversified in ways I could not have imagined.

Here is the question: for whom does The Yabwi Tree make an ideal gift? The answer is: for people in transition. I have given out several copies of The Yabwi Tree to...

-worn-out professionals
-stressed entrepreneurs
-nervous high school graduates
-exhausted thought-leaders

What's magical about this gift is that you don't wrap it up. What you do is find a few free moments where you both can sit undisturbed...

And you read it to them.

When was the last time anybody read you a story? A parable? A fable? A fairy tale where in the end the monsters are defeated and the good people thrive?

Because, according to The Yabwi Tree, that's your story.

*YABWI comes from the hopeful phrase Yeah, But, What If?

Monday, December 23, 2013


Several months ago I received a gift that literally dumfounded me: a Wingard painting (the regal lion in the photo above). While I've admired art in galleries and museums in the United States and abroad (my favorite is the Metropolitan in NYC), it never occurred to me to actually own an art piece. 

Receiving a valuable gift like that brought back memories of all the awkwardness I've experienced when receiving gifts from others.

In December of 1994 I ran out of money at college & was unable to return for the spring semester. I stayed with an elderly widow in Fort Walton Beach, Florida for that winter (I couldn't afford to visit my home in Germany), and she learned about my situation. The day that I was to head back to college to clean out my dorm room, she gave me a blank check. 

"You're an honest man, Robbie. Fill in whatever amount you need. We can work out the details later." 

To this day I can't believe that I wrote it for only 1/4 of what I needed! Somehow I felt I was doing her a favor by not receiving the gift like she intended. Because of that, I struggled with college payments for the next two years.

The rule for me seems to have been The higher the value of the gift, the more unworthy I am to receive it. But why should I feel unworthy when it's not my gift to give but only to receive?

Maybe ...

-my being perceived to be in need is a scourge
-my taking is an admission of inadequacy
-my receiving is a form of slavery

Would you agree that everybody is needy at one time or another? 

If so, then is it true that people who are needy HAVE NOTHING OF VALUE? 

Here is a picture of my youngest child. She has no job, no money, and no experience in any field (other than being herself). Yet I will bend over backwards to make sure she has shelter, clothing, food, and love. I will make sure she's safe and happy.


And you know what? She doesn't apologize for taking the time I'm only too happy to give her. She doesn't shrink herself as small as possible because she's self-conscious about being cared for. 

What is most difficult to believe is that while our PERCEIVED VALUE might dip when we are in need, our TRUE VALUE doesn't.

Do you want to know your true value?

Just click on the link below...


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Sunday, December 22, 2013


Above is a picture of me worrying. I can tell by the set of my jaw and the furrow of my eyebrow. It's a little ironic, isn't it... my carrying my youngest daughter on my shoulders, her being oblivious to it all? 

But there were reasonwhy my brow is furrowed and my jaw is fixed. There were YEARS of reasons...

-I was struggling to keep my fledgling school a-flight in a merciless economy
-I was "upside down" in my house in a ritzy community
-I was grossly behind on several payments.

I could go on. In fact, when I think about this day, I don't really even think about it. 

feel it.

Here are a few other things I was doing that day:


Washing the kitchen floor...


Looks like I'm being productive, doesn't it? In retrospect I can honestly say that each of these activities were DIVERSIONS from the acid that was slowly eating away at my soul. 

Acid? Eating away? Soul?

At the time of these photographs, I was reflecting on almost 13 years of investing in a community of people who in very damaging ways ended up not being what they projected 13 years before and all along. In reality, they were petty, grasping, devious, and effectively deceptive in convincing me that I had a place with them for as long as I lived.

But I'M the one who believed it. So I forgive them.

But should I be stupid again? 

I mean, aren't we supposed to trust? Isn't that what cultivates a genuine sense of safety and ease among people?

Yes, it does. But I was missing a basic element that my HEART was telling me throughout those 13 years but my BRAIN was conditioned to suppress: I was told that thinking about myself FIRST was selfish.

This hit me like a ton of bricks about a year ago on a flight from Baltimore to Nashville. I've heard it dozens of times from air stewardesses, but this time it finally made sense: 

In the event of an emergency and oxygen masks are deployed, put YOUR MASK ON FIRST. Then put your child's mask on. 

When do you get "selfish" like that?


-Have you ever wanted to tell your boss exactly what you think about him or her, but you refrained from it because you could lose your job?

-Have you ever wanted to tell someone who cheated you in business WHERE THEY COULD GO, but you refrained because it could jeopardize your clientele?

-Have you ever wanted to tell a caustic neighbor how petty they are, but you don't because it could cause you more problems?

Of course, you have.

Do you have others depending on you?

Of course, you do.

Do you want to know how you can put your heart first in every important decision?

Click on the link below.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013


The Christmas season in Germany was beautiful and enjoyable for children... if you ignored the part called The Naughty List. I'm not sure how other children around the world took Christmas, but we took it with what I could only call unnecessary pangs of conscience. On the one hand, Christmas represented family, gifts, and expectancy. Nice things. On the other hand, Christmas resembled the Day of Judgment. No matter how naughty you were from January to November, the first day of December found you recounting all the naughty words, all the naughty deeds, and all the naughty thoughts you indulged in like a reprobate ragamuffin. And the DAY OF RECKONING eventually rolled around with all the contrived regret and gratuitous repentance my little child's soul could conjure up. 

I remember once being put on The Naughty List close to Christmas (the tree was already up). As best my six or seven-year-old memory can recollect, it was for a homework infraction (or maybe several... and maybe for several other things, I honestly can't remember). I remember thinking There is no way for me to make this right before Santa comes. I mean, I needed to do enough good things to make Santa forget that I had even made The Naughty List. I had never heard of anyone who made the The Naughty List unmaking that list. I was screwed.

I remember more than one Christmas going to bed on Christmas Eve with the trepidation of an imminent Rapture. I was so frightened that I put my head under my covers and faced the wall, knowing full well that Santa would be in MY house that night. My head was full of the carol...

You better not shout
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town...

I heard the song as more of a threat...

You BETTER not shout
You BETTER not cry
You BETTER not pout
Or else...

See, Santa knew if I was fake sleeping. Either I was really asleep or really awake. There was NO in between. And if I prayed to God, I prayed to Santa, too, to give me a genuine desire to sleep. But it didn't come in enough time before I heard someone moving about the living room, making his way into our hallway, and stopping right outside my door. It wasn't Santa Claus. It was Satan Claus.


Now, I am being completely honest when I say that in some places in Europe Christmas Day is like the day of reckoning. In America being on The Naughty List means fewer presents. In Germany, being on The Naughty List meant that you had your shoes filled with coal & switches. Which meant that you sucked.

Few children outside these European traditions understood that Santa had a helper... and he wasn't an elf. His descriptions varied, and none of us children really knew what he looked like, because he was typically levied as a threat to keep us in line. But we knew a few things. We knew that an enormous Santa entered normal houses through the chimney, but was never dirty upon arriving. Because he was good.

However, his more sinister side (who was covered in soot)... the one who took care of Santa's Naughty List) didn't care about his appearance. He would slide down chimneys and emerge with the switches (broom) he used to clean the chimney, dirty from head to toe, and trailing coal behind him. These fiery images were none other than the Devil. 

Now, what was so interesting was that ultimately we all enjoyed a Happy (Merry) Christmas. But it came with a cost: unnecessary pangs of conscience. After waking up to stockings on Christmas Day, opening up presents, staying in our pajamas, and stuffing ourselves with treats, the more sinister aspects of Christmas were forgotten. And within a few days we were back to our old antics.

Having run my own school for 13 years, I've dabbled in methods of motivating students to do the things they ought. When I first opened my school, I wanted to offer students opportunities (a concept not unique to me) to advance in their studies. But these opportunities were only opportunities if they didn't come with consequences for not taking them. And I was consistent with that. 

I've been a part of several designer communities (Look for my blog on LARPing... coming soon!) these last few years that sell themselves on benefits of "authentic living" and "belonging" and "organic community." Because most of us lack this kind of utopia in our lives, it's an effective lure to get us to take at least a peek inside. But once inside, almost each and every one of them have their own set of consequences, imposed upon the dabblers, the members or congregants if the opportunities they offered were ignored or spurned.

Subjecting oneself to communities like this, one's moral compass can get grossly misaligned and those special pangs reserved for true moral guilt are artificially engineered to be triggered more and more frequently. I knew someone who attended a private school who eventually left the community because he didn't agree with some asinine, medieval interpretation of some theological point that is moot in most of the world. On the one hand, he qualified to be in the community. But once in, he didn't really qualify because he refused the up-sells (They were true choices, weren't they?). 

There were consequences for not taking those opportunities, for not going above and beyond, for not willingly wearing more pieces of flair than required...

And do you know what those consequences are? Unnecessary pangs of conscience if you stay. And no Christmas presents if you go.

For me, screw the Christmas presents.

(Here is a real opportunity below!)


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