Monday, June 27, 2011

Last night I couldn't get to sleep...

my thought set added a thought that belongs to a group of concepts which invariably disturb me. I thought about the baby cows taken away from their moms so the milk meant for them could be taken and sold. So some human could drink it and some other human(s) could make a profit...and in the process harm cows, harm the planet and steal from other beings.

Thinking about the fear and turmoil and sense of loss both the mom and baby must feel usually gets me started on a train of horrible thoughts about all the different animals and all the different ways they were frightened and hurt and suffering and how this just goes on and on and has gone on and on for hours, days, weeks, months, years and centuries. Then sleep is only a distant goal, unlikely to return for a long time. My sleeplessness is, of course, nothing compared to the misery my fellow humans deal out to Earthlings, is mine and I do have to cope with it. Not sleeping is not an option if I want to continue to function, to live.

This is a dilemma I wrestle with constantly. How to continue to live, to function, to do all the things large and small that make up each day while at the same time being aware of the fact that fur beings, feather beings, fin beings and skin beings are being subjected to terrible and horrible pain and terror and misery...for the most selfish and disgusting and trivial of reasons. Because human beings want to do those things.

I struggle too, with interacting with other humans...because almost all of the people I love, almost all of the people I like and almost all of the people I know...are participating in this ongoing murderous, injuring, harming rampage on a moment to moment basis. Oh, not directly for the most part (I do have family members that "hunt"...they directly hurt, terrorize and kill innocent ones), most of the ongoing participation is a step or two or more removed from the actual shame of the atrocities. No, they eat "dairy" or "fast food" or "bacon" or "buffalo wings", avoiding clearly covering their hands with blood or filling their ears and eyes and minds with the visions of those being killed...murdered...of hearing the shrieks and screams and moans and sighs of the dying. No, theirs is a genteel joining in, a sneaky facilitating, a devious contributing, a superficially deniable participation. But a participation nevertheless...were it not for their eating, wearing, buying and enjoying choices and purchases most (not all, but most) of the misery showered onto all those billions of lives would stop. Their thinking (or maybe their not thinking), buying and doing is the engine that drives the horror story that we human animals have made of life on this planet.

And I interact daily with these folks, and I don't scream at them and I don't grab them by the neck and choke them and demand that they see what they are doing. I don't do those things (which I sometimes want to do), but I do have nights like last night when visions creep into my thoughts and I hurt for the hurting and I suffer for the suffering and I can't go to sleep. My discomfort is obviously as nothing if viewed in relation to the burden endured by the victims...but it is mine and to continue I somehow must cope with it.

Numbing myself to my reaction to their misery is something I try to avoid. Pretending that no one gets hurt is not an option I choose to exercise. Lying to myself about this is something I don't want to do. Believing the fantasies and not noticing the omissions and distortions presented to me by popular culture via commercials and ads and recipes and essays and on and on is a degree of gullibility and willful ignorance I don't want to engage in...not anymore. I have done and did too much of that sort of stuff for too long...which is how I continued to support the unspeakable. Nope, I quit being purposively naive, I opt out.

So now I have this as one (there are many others) of the effects of opting out of those cultural fairy tales...sometimes I can't get to sleep.  So be it. I really don't want to be comfortable and at ease in a world where such things go on. Being "well-adjusted" to this sort of tricked-out grotesque horror show is, as far as I can see, the mark of functioning in a disabling and demeaning and destructive manner.

Does all this staying aware make me a "good" person, does that show how "sensitive" I am? Nope, not a bit. At the most, what that does is help me see or understand the world and events a little more clearly. That's all. Get a little closer to 'reality". My notion is that the more accurately we perceive 'reality' then the better decisions we can make because the decisions are based on correct information. If we misperceive reality (and we all do to some greater or lesser degree) then that distortion is liable to show up in the decisions we make. The better the decisions we make (the more closely in tune with reality that they are) then the more likely it is that they will turn out well. Bottom line is that, for the most part, I think reality is a pretty reliable touchstone and avoiding reality is something that should be minimized.

Every culture teaches its children how to avoid reality, how to fantasize, how to see things, how to do things, how to conceptualize things. That's part of what culture does. But cultures aren't infallible, they are made up...cultures are fantasies in one manner of speaking. And they can be pretty good at helping life or mediocre or poor at doing that. I grew up in a variant of the European culture that spread from that area of the world all over the western hemisphere. It has been a really 'successful' variant of culture evidenced by its spreading all over the has been a really destructive and exploitive culture if you look at what it has done to the cultures it encountered (take a look at what Columbus did to the Native Americans) and it has been a culture that devastates environments and other animals (e.g. Passenger Pigeon). As long as it could spread after using up an environment, well, it could keep going...but now we're running out of planet...we're running out of indigenous peoples to rip off...we're running out of land to exploit...we're running out of water to waste...we're running out of trees to cut down...we're running out of being able to treat other living beings the way we do.

Occasional indulgence in fantasy or imagination is fine, necessary even, but choosing to opt for fantasy over reality on an ongoing basis is probably dangerous me, anyway. My speculation is just that sort of willful blindness was and is a major contributer to the incredible, awful mess we European humans have made of the environment and of our relationships with our fellow animals and of our relationships with ourselves. So, time to give up some fantasies, time to get a little closer to reality, time to...but that doesn't come easy. There is a price to pay, and for me, one of those costs is some sleeplessness.

There are other symptoms and costs and if you're interested in learning more there are many online sources with information about the contagion of trauma. Psychotherapists have long known about the phenomena of "compassion fatigue"  or vicarious trauma. Dealing with those who have been wounded by life, no matter what sort of being sustained the injury, extracts a price and most who have moved into a life of ethical veganism are familiar with them. They are real and they are burdensome.  That's why everyone must work out ways to care for themselves emotionally...the possibility of self-injury, paralysis and ineffectualness is real and serious.

So, while I am sleepless at times, I'm not sleepless all the time...while I am sad and hurting at times, I'm not sad and hurting all the time...while I feel like weeping at times, I sometimes laugh and am silly and absurd. Nurturing myself fuels me to be able to keep pushing for the animals, to be able to volunteer for the animals, to be able to do what little I can to stop the awfulness that we human animals wreak on our sister and brother animals and on our planet. And that's a pretty good thing to try to do.


Anonymous said...

Great post. It's always at night, too, when I find it most unbearable to think about caged animals, etc.

I also like your comment about "not making us better people" because we care so much: I never think that. I mostly just find it all so difficult and unpleasant. Also: just wonder how people can't even just cut back on all their earth/animal-harming ways.

veganelder said...

Thanks DEM for commenting. I wrote the 'better people' thing in reaction to "you're so sensitive" sorts of things I've had said to me. You're's more of a pain in the ass than anything else...for at least as long as so many are so intent on destroying life.

Harry said...


Thank you for sharing this. As you've written this is something we all share. And must share in. Or we stop caring. Or shrivel up and die ...

Coping mechanisms are different for each one of us but I suspect those of us who have blogs find them an important outlet. And source of support. (I have been blogging for less than a year yet already feel I have a new circle of friends and, importantly, friends who feel like I do about the world and how we treat our fellow earthlings and our home. While I care deeply for my friends and family around me very few of them are vegan, so not surprisingly at times I do feel alien when with them. At times? Often. Try going to a restaurant ...)

Avondale's furry and feathered family is my number one support. These non-humans ground me. Hold me. And each day, before I get a chance to read posts from fellow bloggers, remind me that I'm not the alien.

Have Gone Vegan said...

I sometimes wonder how many vegans become ex-vegans because of burnout. Not because they've changed their mind about the wrongness of using other animals, but because they've become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problem and feel that their efforts are ineffectual.

While I'll always be vegan I'm sure, I have to admit that lately there are days when I don't really want to turn the computer on (even though I do) and can even feel an inkling of empathy for people not wanting to know. For just wanting to push that stuff away. Not that we should, but I can understand the temptation better.

I wonder too if more attention needs to be paid to vegan fatigue (and ways to deal with it), so that we don't lose anyone and become stronger activists ourselves.

Timely post. Thanks for posting.

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Harry. Yup, everyone is going to have their own particular array of coping skills and self-expression (writing, talking, painting, sculpting, etc.) is a time-honored and effective way of dealing with life. When I was in professional training it was emphasized that unless we managed to find effective coping skills we would burn-out of the field within three to five years...this sort of phenomenon is endemic to many professions (social services, medical, etc.). I think it applies to this situation too, even though ethical veganism isn't a "profession". Having outlets where what we say and how we say it is accepted and appreciated is extremely important and the internet multiplies such possible outlets.

I agree too with your observation that the other animals offer an enduring and extensive support group (even though most don't speak a human language) that is astonishingly effective...thanks for pointing that out.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. One of the things I have noticed over time is that living/being vegan is remarkable similar (in several ways) to approaching the world from a psychotherapists viewpoint or perspective.

Without detailing a bunch of things...that would be a whole other piece of work...willful and unnecessary pathology and destructiveness or harmfulness is seen in situations and activities where the dominant culture sees these same phenomena as "normal" or "necessary" or "just the way it is". These wounding behaviors injure and maim but bystanders seem surprised that actual casualties occur.

Wanting to turn away from this sort of stuff is a normal and necessary thing. It would be weird if someone didn't want to turn away from it (at least occasionally).

I am going to stop here because this is much too big and intricate to deal with in a comment response.

You're right that vegan fatigue is something to be taken seriously and as always your comments are profound and thought provoking. It must be something in the water in Canada. :-)

Andrew Hunt said...

This is a superb piece - extremely thoughtful. I'm in the exact same boat: The only vegan in a family of omnivores. And like you, I spend a lot of time staring down into the abyss, worried and upset constantly about the fate of animals on this planet. It is crucial for those of us who sometimes feel isolated and always feel deeply saddened and troubled, to find ways of coping so that we can continue to be voices for the voiceless. This entry states the dilemma very effectively. Well done!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Andrew. I must admit, the struggle with this issue is the most difficult I've encountered as an adult. One of the things that is so terrible about it is that I lose some regard/respect for folks that, once they've seen clear evidence of how the animals are being treated, either turn away or ignore those horrors and continue merrily along compounding the misery and deaths. I've never encountered such a situation where I saw serious moral deficiencies in so many people I cared for and respected. I'm continually reeling with that one and it is an ongoing struggle to deal with it. It is one of the most unsettling things ever (to me), how that will end up is unknown but dealing with it is truly excruciating.

Bea Elliott said...

I consider this my greatest life challenge too - Nothing has ever had greater impact on me than this "awareness"... Ironically, it is the thing that most/all friends and family in the real world recoil from. Go figure! Just when you need support most of all - With this particular subject - You're on your own! (sad)

I'm with you Harry and veganelder - It's the interaction with my nonhuman friends that console me most. It is their lives and trials that give me a boost up when I get the "I quits".

Yeah... I get them. Some days (and nights) like lately - It's all the work that I can manage to just keep treading the sea of misery DELIBERATELY created all around me/us. Yet the perpetrators are so *happy* in their dream-state - It just makes me furious, frustrated, angry and woeful! And you're right - All this zaps productivity.

I appreciate you sharing this veganelder - It gives an insight into how everyone copes with the same thing we all go through... And this talking/venting - Is healing in it's self.

I needed this post - Thank you so much.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. You're on the mark with the awareness being a game changer but that much of the rest of the world avoids the 'game' (of more accurately perceiving and consequently seeing the misery).

You note that the talking/venting is important...this is vital to keep in does help.

To that end I'm issuing an invitation to any who might want...feel free to email me anytime...I think each of us being available as a sounding board is a valuable resource. My email is available via my profile and I try to check that emailbox fairly regularly...although sometimes it might stretch out to a few days.

Having some sort of a community that supports (even a "virtual" one) our thinking/feeling/seeing/saying/doing is a vital thing and I appreciate you Bea and each and everyone else too.

Bea Elliott said...

That is very, very generous of you veganelder! Your heart is big - So I know your shoulders must be broad as well, in your kind offer to hold even more weight than you already do!

I and others may take you up on this one on one sounding board... But for now, please don't ever stop with your posts, as they reassure us all of the existence of some sanity/compassion in the world.

You are a treasure! <3

Patty said...

An excellent post. I often look a my sons (whom I love more than life itself) eating meat and I want to scream at them but I don't...they know how I feel, what I think and what I believe....

Most days, I know the only way I am able survive another night to blog, tweet, sign petitions tomorrow is to take a Xanax, curl up with my dog and 'turn off'

The poor animals don't have that luxury.

A Diary of an Animal Lover said...

I think I really needed to read this today, thank you


veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Patty. Ah, xanax...the breakfast of champions. :-)

As a wrote the sentence above, it struck me that (like you noted about the other animals not having that luxury) our behavior causes our fellow animals to need a xanax.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Diary Of An Animal Lover. If it's ok I will acronym you in the future as DOAAL.

You're welcome.