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“On Self-Advocation and Self-Love #1”

If you live with the aftershocks of trauma, one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and others is to self advocate.  Speak up about your triggers.  True, over time and with proactive work, you can desensitize or eliminate your triggers.  But in the mean time, learn to speak up for yourself.  This not only helps to stop the trigger from happening, but it communicates clearly with others that you have a boundary that you’d like them to respect.   Maybe that’s being touched or approached a certain way, or loud noises of a certain kind, or certain conversational topics.  When you see the trigger coming, or right when it happens, politely but pointedly speak up.  You can say something like;
Hey, please don’t touch me from behind.
I don’t handle that well, please don’t do that.
I’m not okay with this, please stop.
This kind of thing is upsetting to me, can we turn the tv off/the volume down please?
You don’t have to go into a lengthy explanation of why you have a sensitivity.  The important thing is that you, in a respectful manner, advocate for that sensitivity in a clear and direct manner.  How someone chooses to react will tell you valuable information about the individual.  More often than not, the other person will say “Oh, sure, my bad.” And hopefully they’ll make a mental note of this new boundary you’ve set and will make an effort to respect it in the future.
If the other person is blatantly disrespectful and refuses to accommodate your reasonable request(s), make a note of it.  This person is willfully disrespectful.  They do not respect you and you should set boundaries with them accordingly.  If they intentionally subject you to the triggers after you have clearly communicated your request not to, it would be healthiest, if at all possible, to reduce your contact and communication with this person wherever possible.  If they’re a friend or family member, that still applies.  Loved ones do not have some special right to disrespect you. They should be held, on the contrary, to a high standard than the average person in your life!
If the disrespectful person is in the workplace, school, or other place you’re obliged to be present at and thus you must be around this person, my best advice is lead by the change you want to see.  If someone goes out of their way to disrespect you, after self-advocating and reminding them that you’ve requested respect from them, be certain that you go out of your way to respect their boundaries.  Chances are this other person has been disrespected so habitually in their life that they resent respecting others.  So giving them due respect may enact some positive change in their life.
Granted, I’m not referring to instances of overt and blatant abuse here.  Abuse situations require self advocation of a stronger suit.  That’s a topic in and of itself.
In conjunction with self advocation, you need to also respect your self.  The two go hand in hand.  Each will make the other easier, but the absence of either will hinder your efforts.  You may be at war with your body or your mind (or both), but they’re the only ones you’ll ever have.  Take small steps in treating yourself with respect by physically supporting the needs of your body and mind.  It’s hard to expect others to respect you when you aren’t showing basic respect to yourself.
So find ways to advocate for your body- to your self!  If you are struggling with your diet habits, make small, positive, healthy choices and changes.  Do it for YOU.  For no one but yourself, your body.  You were born with a meat ship and you’re stuck driving it until you die, so do your best to keep it running as smoothly as possible.  Try adding a few new veggies into your diet, or cooking a nice homemade meal, even if it’s simple, instead of eating out or microwaving an instant meal. Validate your worth, justify splurging a bit on yourself with a cut of high quality meat or fresh seafood from the local meat shop, or a switch to organic pastured eggs or higher quality ingredients, that rare-but-crazy-expensive seasoning that you normally don’t let yourself get, or, one of my own favorites, buy that obscenely over-priced pomegranate.  Why?  Because eating pomegranates without a utensil is fun, of course! I’ve learned to thoroughly enjoy the juicy, messy challenge, for no other reason than indulging in something that’s not only healthy, but is amusing, nonsensical, and lightens my mood.
If you struggle with hygiene, try simple conscious steps to improve the physical health of your skin- I highly recommend tea bathes for this.  Put a large pot of water on to boil while/before drawing your bath.  After it comes to a boil, turn the heat off and add loose-leaf herbs.  Lavender is soothing, mint is energizing, rose leaf is astringent, basil is antiseptic and pain numbing- these are all herbs many of us have in the kitchen or yard already.  If you have lung complaints, eucalyptus leaves can be added, or a few drops of its essential oils can add a lung-soothing aromatic to the bath.  Find a way to be intentional with your hygiene.  Do it for you body, because your body deserves your respect.
If you struggle with stress and sleep, both of these things can negatively impact your body in profound ways.  Prioritize YOU.  Sever your evening obligations and go to bed early because your body and brain deserve a good night’s sleep.  Dedicate 1 day per week to relaxing or being lazy- if that’s too drastic of a leap, dedicate 1 morning each week to sleeping in and having no agenda before noon. Take time for you.  For some people that looks like quiet alone time, meditation, reading, or sleep.  For others that might be something indulgent and stimulating, like exercise, cooking, working outdoors, or completing a project.  Anything goes, as long as it’s not increasing your stress or insomnia.
On the topic of stress, self advocation applies here as well.  It’s not just triggers that people need to stand up for, but stressors as well!  Learn to say “No” to people and be at peace with it.  You always have the right to decline.  I mean, there are some obscure, creative exceptions.  Like, when you get pulled over for speeding and the officer says “Can I see your license?” you probably shouldn’t say “No, thanks for asking though.”  Aside from certain scenarios, it’s generally healthy to exercise your “No” muscles.  Especially with friends and family, where it’s often the hardest.  Why?  Because caring for yourself and tending to your needs not only sets a healthy example of self-love to your loved ones, but when people see you respecting yourself, they become more inclined to respect you as well.  Saying “Yes” to everyone all the time isn’t healthy for anyone.  Period.
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“The Journey of the Emotions of Killing”

Isn’t it hard to butcher an animal you raised yourself, especially if it had a name?
It was at first” is about the simplest response to that common question. The act of destroying life comes with its own unique and complex emotional journey. For those of us who empathize with the life and suffering of other beings, killing is not a straight-forward affair. I really do think it’s an important conversation to have for those who have an interest in farming or hunting to feed themselves. My own journey with these grounding experiences started not with farming, but with hunting wild game. As I do not support the USA’s factory-farming meat industry, I am left to source meat in other ways.
In my late teens and early twenties my hunting rules were “hit it right the first time” and “if you shoot it, you eat it“. It took a few years of eating squirrels before I really had any deep revelation about hunting. It took knowing people so derangedly bloodthirsty, so excited to kill anything (and waste all of it), that I felt repulsed by my own personal enjoyment of hunting.
During this time I also discovered (and reported) disturbing incidents of poaching; hundreds of animals shot and left to waste across dozens of incidents.
Seeing such extremes helped me to form clearly defined ethics around my own hunting. When you see the ugly side of something, you’re forced to introspect and ask yourself where you stand with it.
Why am I even hunting?” I had to recognize what defined the need for it, and to recognize what kind of respectful conduct must accompany that.
I effectively gave up hunting for many years and started raising small livestock, though hadn’t butchered any of them myself yet. I had run into a moral conflict. Which was more acceptable; going out into the wilderness to procure meat, where animals run wild and free but they know that you’re there to hunt them? Or raising an animal from birth, feeding it, naming it, allowing it to know and trust you, then one day taking its life?
My first attempt at butchering a chicken almost convinced me that hunting wild game was indeed more ethical. I had no idea how to properly dispatch a chicken, and someone had told me with great conviction that the ‘best’ way to quickly and painlessly dispatch a chicken was to “crush its trachea”. Let me be clear, that is a really bad idea and it doesn’t work.
Killing Fernando, as this rooster was dubbed, scarred me. It had to be done though. When a car arrived in the driveway, he would jump into the driver’s door when it opened and furiously attack the human inside. It was totally unacceptable. But I had no idea what I was doing when I tried to dispatch him. To make matters worse, after I finally got the job done and got the bird plucked and in the freezer, I labeled the bag of chicken meat “FERNANDO“. Again, very bad idea. The meat sat in the freezer for 3 months before I decided to feed it to the cats. I couldn’t even bare to look at it, let alone think about eating it.
Soon I found myself with far too many roosters running amuck. I sold and rehomed a few, but challenged myself to try butchering again. I wanted to raise all my own food, and I had to learn how to do this. I tried the classic method of head-chopping with a hatchet. I gave up on that after 3 birds. I didn’t have the “umph” needed to whack them properly. It was far too violent for me.  Contending with a half-headless bird that refuses to die is a traumatizing experience, and it made every swing of my hatchet weaker and weaker.
As I continued to breed chickens, turkeys, and ducks, I was confronted with the reality of the necessity of butchering on a farm; too many boys.  One day I found a young cockerel sulking listlessly on the ground.  I scooped him up and inspected him.  The older roosters (of which there were far too many) had attacked him and ripped the undersides of his wings open.  He had maggots crawling around under his skin.  It was utterly horrifying and I killed him right there out of pity.  That was my introduction to mandatory rooster butchering on a working, reproducing farm.
 When a small flock has the ability to produce over 100 roosters in a single year, there is no ‘animal rescue’ or ‘sanctuary’ that can possibly hope to house them all.  If they tried, the roosters would just kill each other off.  Some folks give them away (to people who want free meat), others drop them off at night at farms, hoping the roosters will have a place in the flock that lives there (and I think they assume I won’t just eat the newcomers, but I will, because they present a  biosecurity threat), and others drop off car loads of excess boys in the wilderness… I assume to feed hungry predators, or occasionally to give me a fun afternoon of netting ‘wild roosters’ that I myself can bring home and eat.
Why not raise your rooster and eat him, too?
I would say that the first 100 chickens I butchered were all very difficult. The first 100 rabbits were equally hard. I had to be in a very calm place and be willing to dissociate from the experience in order to partake in it. It was emotionally taxing. Some days I didn’t think I would be able to butcher another one for a good long time. But over time, each animal got just a little bit easier, a little bit less exhausting. I had settled on cervical dislocation as a rapid, bloodless method for ‘whacking’ critters, as I call it (because saying ‘kill’ every time leaves a bad taste in my mouth). It works on everything smaller than a large turkey (at which point the larger critters need a .22) and is the least violent, most reliably successful method I’ve tried.
But now and again my internal conflict still flared up; would it just be better to go shoot the wild versions than to go through all this?
Fast forward many years, and over 1,000 home butcher jobs. I now know where I stand with the debate. I protect my animals and give them good lives, feed them good food, and when the time comes, they repay that by taking care of my needs; furs/leathers, meat, oil, and income. If I were to release them all into the wild, every last critter would be dead within a month- if not a week. My care and protection is what keeps them alive. So that’s our exchange. On the other side of the coin, I still find it difficult to hunt wildlife. Even shooting predators out of necessity leaves me a blubbering ball of tears for the day. When you pull that trigger, you take the only things a wild animal has; command over its own body, and its life.  I only shoot wildlife if I need the food or I need to protect the animals in my care. This is the balance and nature of stewarding animals, especially in such a wild region.
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“What Are You Even Doing?” 

Wow! You guys are really doing it! You’re living the way people lived back in the pioneer days!
I’ve heard that, and similar sentiments, several times over the last few years. I never know how to react.

What I want to say is “No, actually, we’re really not. We have comfy vehicles and snowmobiles with heated hand grips, we have a tele-handler, chainsaws, electricity and the internet. It’s nothing like ‘the pioneer days’”. But that would be rude.

I guess to most people, growing a bunch of food, raising animals for meat and butchering them yourself, foraging for income, and getting snowed in during the winter is rustic enough for them to simply consider it the same thing.

While the ultimate goal may actually be something like ‘the pioneer days’, it’ll be many years yet before we don’t need ‘modern conveniences’. Would we be okay if the world as we know it ended tomorrow? Yeah, probably. It’d be rough, but we’d be okay. But the goal is to be more than okay; to have an abundance not just for today, but for future years, and enough to share abundantly with others in need. Both materialistically and in the realm of knowledge.

I’m guessing you have some kind of religious affliation if you’re trying to live without technology…

Well, no. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with it, and we’re not exactly trying to live without technological advancement. Perhaps the ultimate goal, aside from creating abundant provision to share, is to formally exit the cycle of consumerism. And honestly that’s not possible unless you have a dedicated die-hard community of like-minded and skilled individuals (do feel free to inquire if that applies to you!). To truly shun consumer- ism (without the convenience of dumpster diving, which is a luxury we lack on the mountain, alas), we’d need to produce everything ourselves. But that’s the irony of “self sufficiency”. One person can’t do it all. It’s impossible to provide everything you need to live (at least in our ecosystem) from the natural world around you without help.

Who will be growing vegetables, roots, and spices all season long?
Who will be preserving each year’s harvest so there is enough food available over winter for the community?
Who will be gathering the firewood?
Who will be foraging for hundreds of pounds of wild fruit and vegetables each year?
Who will be hunting and butchering?
Who will maintain hunting equipment and create needed ammunition?
Who will tan the hides and make shoes and equipment?
Who will build and run a forge for making and mending tools and fasteners?
Who will mine and refine the ore for the forge?
Who will grow and harvest all of the feed needed for the animals over winter?
Who will be milking, and turning hundreds of gallons of milk into cheese each year?
Who will set bones, mend wounds, heal lungs, and pull teeth when needed?
Who will harvest fiber and spin yarn and make and mend garments for everyone?
Who will be building and repairing infrastructure, and gathering the materials to build with?

Without a coordinated and dedicated group effort, true self suffciency is not possible. It’s enough for one person to handle procuring their own food for a year, stockpiling fuel for the winter, and maintaining their home. at right there will eat up most of your days in a year.  There are alternatives and crutches though; we buy used when at all possible, salvage and forage for food and materials when available, we opt to support small producers, crafters, and locally and independently owned businesses, and we refuse to buy direct from some of the biggest corporate giants (amazon, for example).

But other quandaries remain. Here’s one most of us can appreciate these days; if we want to live rustic and refuse consumerism, what will we do in lieu of toilet paper? For those who don’t mind a little “TMI”, we officially switched to bidets this year and haven’t looked back. But an electric pump powers that water pressure, which is delivered through manufactured hoses. Batteries and solar panels power that pump. Copper piping and plastic drums hold our water. Hardly rustic, if you ask me!

I think the best any of us can hope for, without a radical shift in our lifestyles, is to minimize our consumption, buy only what we need (and salvage what we can), buy it mindfully, and limit our modern luxuries.

You’re like a hipster… except you’re not a hipster?
I laughed when I heard that one. But really- why even do any of this in the first place? It all sounds ‘cool’, but pursuing a life relatively void of modern comforts comes down to a matter of good old fashioned passion. We’ve seen it a few times now; someone starry-eyed about living o -grid and working for their food and fuel comes to live with us and within 3 or 4 months they realize it’s not for them. I’d venture to suggest that the hurtle they stumble on is the mental work involved, not actually the physical work. Critical thinking is a make-or-break skill, and the ability and willingness to learn is paramount. Without them, it doesn’t matter how strong you are or how good your gear is, you will fail. And if you don’t love ‘roughing it’ and having to work for yourself and your own quality of life, you’re going to hate it.

Since I could articulate my first thoughts about what I wanted from life, my goals haven’t changed much. A school counselor once sat me down when I was 11 (long story) and asked “Jen, if you could have any three wishes, what would they be?” to which I replied rather quickly “Lots of animals. Enough land to support the animals. Enough money to support all of that.”. My vision has better articulated itself over the years and become vastly more elaborate, but the principles remain the same; be as close to nature as possible, submerge myself in it, and cast aside the idea of career and wealth.

You can’t take it with you when you die, so why spend life accumulating material comforts? Care for yourself, yes. Be comfortable, yes. But it doesn’t need to be the paramount focus of life. Making an impact (hopefully a positive one!) on the world and lives around you is the only thing that will out-live your mortal body. And that’s worth living for!