What do we do when people become problematic with mental illness and addiction? If shame did not isolate us we would try to cry out, "Don't throw me away."


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"Reading it ["The Girl With the Winnie the Pooh Tattoo"/"Now We Are Six"], even twice, gave me the feel of entering a kind of dream-state myself - things coming and going before the eyes before I and really pinned them down. 

There’s a lot in your piece - mother and father and friend emerge as perturbing as they are occasionally reassuring - and the lost child in the middle. 

It has all sorts of hidden power: all sorts of hidden sensations." ~Janice Galloway, award winning Scottish writer

Commentary from the dissertation submission ("We Built Castles in the Air"):

"I think this is a bold, mature, insightful and highly successful piece of work. It positions itself adeptly at a place where memoir, fiction and non-fiction meet. It's highly readable and because of that we are conducted into details about a relationship which seem acceptable, because plainly stated, but quickly becomes monstrous in our eyes. Monstrous but fascinating. We're also conducted out of it again and it becomes complete, over, dealt with - a very satisfying narrative outcome.

The writing works because Lex has developed a style which is calm and precise. Her sentences are crisp, usually short, and clear. It is not show-offy writing and this unjudgemental, this-is-what-happened quality, in a brisk past tense, is the perfect foil for the increasingly weird or sexually charged events the narrator was party to. It gives her narrative distance. The language is, so to speak, 'normal', the situations and locations, we realise, are not. Or ought not to be. This is very effective. We become voyeurs. We also suspect that the narrator will probably save herself. (That past tense suggests so.) The characters (Dana, the narrator, Felix, Dana's mother ) are fully and deftly realised. The whole piece is a fine, sustained example of showing not telling - of letting their words and behaviours, habits and wardrobes reveal them.  The situations are slightly gothic, but the piece is in no wise over-written. That's the achievement, I think. The pace is well controlled, one situation and location moving in a nicely judged time-line to the next. The places and locations are skillfully sketched in. Nothing seems overwhelmingly symbolic. The forest fire at the end is presented as exactly that, with terrible but pared back images - the dead elk, for example.

In the last several pages are very well handled - it could have gone wrong here, when the narrator returns to her late father's grave and we understand why things are as they are in her life and why she was drawn to make the relationship choices she has, hitherto.  It's not a big 'reveal', not an emotional show-down, but we see that a personal disaster is at the root of her choices. Because our narrator can, as it were, diagnose herself, we know our narrator has already begun to rescue herself.

Terrific writing, finely judged as to length (16000 words is a difficult length to write to, but this piece has opted to do just that).  And underpinned by a critical essay which is intelligent and provides a feminist critique to explain why young women can become destabilised and sexually exploitable. To bring this back to the work and create a narrator who is both vulnerable and disagreeable, and not a simple 'victim' but one more complicit and more knowing than she ought to be, which is in itself a symptom of her vulnerability." 

~Kathleen Jamie, Scottish poet and professor at the University of Stirling

Other mentions:

Eyes On Me (Chapter 2), was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Memoirs/Personal Essay category of the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition.



How I became shameless

“He loved you more than anything,” I heard echoed at my dad’s funeral. But even then, at nearly six years old I could hear the ‘asterisks’ - the ‘caveat’ in that statement. He died in a car accident in Mexico - my dad and his friend both died, and they both were drinking and driving. The caveat was my dad’s ‘love for alcohol.’ I lived all my life thinking he had chosen it over our family.

I lived with the fear that the echoes were lies. I feared that half of me was good and the half of me that was half him, was rotten - a lie.

I was one of the many reasonable seeming people that thought that my dad, like all addicts had something inherently wrong with him. Addiction was a moral question in the real world - no matter how much evidence showed it was at least a medical question. And that made me half inherently broken or morally messed up too.

When the tragic inevitability happens and our loved ones or even our favorite celebrities die, we share quotes and pictures saying we wish we could have prevented it. We say how we need to raise awareness about the issues of mental illness, and addiction. But as soon as the acuity of the tragedy passes, or if we are inconvenienced again by the those still living with these issues, we snap back to dismissing each other. We have collectively agreed to excuse ourselves and each other for perpetuating stigmas of mental illness and addiction and continuing the dehumanizing of people who are ultimately dealing with pain and trauma. My dad didn’t have a ‘love of alcohol’ after all. It wasn’t love, it was something I didn’t understand until I experienced it myself.

Shame isolates us. Shame traumatizes us. And we naturally seek to numb it.

So what is this project really about? Because my personal stories are already covered in the contents of the book. No need to go more into that. This project is about giving an actual damn while we are still alive. This is an attempt at really changing how we see people with mental illness and people who struggle with addiction. In fact, this is about moving beyond the labels of "illness" and moving into the deeper awareness of our true being.

Before I get into the subjective or possibly controversial musings on morality, let me first quote from the Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia:

‘There does not seem to be much reason to think that a single definition of morality will be applicable to all moral discussions. One reason for this is that “morality” seems to be used in two distinct broad senses: a descriptive sense and a normative sense. More particularly, the term “morality” can be used either

  1. descriptively to refer to certain codes of conduct put forward by a society or a group (such as a religion), or accepted by an individual for her own behavior, or

  2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.’

Of course in this case I am debating the first “definition” of morality. These two definitions are often conflated, so it is worth noting that in fact definitions of morality that have been agreed upon on the first terms have often evolved - age of consent, whether rape is wrong in a marriage, incest in the upper classes etc.

If you only deal with society with morality instead of a deeper sense of pragmatism then the inevitable stages of despair will play out. Oxford English Dictionary defines pragmatism as an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application. This is also the definition I am using. Take the aristocracy or the ruling class or whatever name one wants to assign to those that oppress the masses in thought and material means. Throughout history they have thought they were more moral, or possibly more loved by God, blessed by fate, and in turn watched the poor starve around them until, as I mentioned, the inevitable happens. The inevitable being, the first waves of desperate people starving - starving for food or starving for freedom or starving for some kind of relief from their condition, are just thrown away as petty criminals - less moral or less worthy, but in time the crisis is too big to write off as a question of moral righteousness. It is at this time that we find we cannot throw every desperate person away even if they inconvenience the status quo, or even if they, again, inevitably hurt people in their path to eat or to survive. This concept is true with surviving any trauma and social hardships in any dysfunctional society.

The problem with looking at things only through moral framework is that we start to dictate who deserves love. In a moral framework - love is good, and some people are bad. If you are bad then you do not deserve good things. Clearly, love is the answer, but if we live in this moral framework then some people just don’t deserve love or compassion.

This is about my self discovery as much as it is about anyone I had met along my journey. I thought I was saving people. It’s not the recommended perspective, but if I was honest with myself, I was trying to save people around me because I wished I could have saved my dad. Of course, that’s the easy conclusion to make. But, I didn’t realize that I was the one who was afraid of being thrown away. I was the one that I needed to love and save.

I considered ending my book and this project in the more expected contemporary literary way. The vaguely nihilistic and possibly open ended, ‘this is real life’ - even anticlimactic kind of ending. The way real life can appear to be. And the truth is, there is no real ending, so that method could have worked. Life is still open ended, and life is filled with the dramatic and the anticlimactic. But, I don’t believe this is all meaningless. We have the power to give things meaning.

So instead, I ask, why ‘Don’t throw me away?’ Aren’t some people just not worth considering? I would like to pose the idea that in many cases we never even consider the option of true connection. This is about trying to remove stigmas so that people do not have to cope in the shadows - where they are the most dangerous to themselves and to others around them. People go on about punishments, and what people deserve and don’t deserve. I have been angry and hurt. I have been confused and hopeless, but somehow I kept my heart open in the face of hardship. I have kept my heart open in the face of people telling me I should be ashamed. Life isn’t always about convenience and comfort. So, I will also quote Wonder Woman, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

We live in a mythology of punishment based justice, toxic individualism, and dogmatic principles - whether they are religious or atheist. The truth as I have seen it, is that there is no objective reality. Instead, there is only perception. We are all living in collectively agreed on mythologies and could just as easily turn from the understanding of inherent separation and a consensus of endless suffering, to collectively adopting compassion. My leather boots just morphed into cork bottomed sandals through the magic of this change in perception. One of the few negative side effects to this paradigm shift - and something I am promptly remedying. Ok, now that I have my aesthetic back on track, it is also worth noting that we must stay vigilant and ‘Don’t Throw Me Away,’ isn’t to be confused with staying in toxic situations. This is not to make excuses for the real darkness that we can experience in this world. This is only to be used as a way to shed light on that real darkness, eliminating suffering with love and connection - the only way to truly stop suffering. Only through the light of awareness and compassion can we finally liberate ourselves and therefore each other.



Your story.

Have a story you'd like to share? We are looking to collect stories for the next book, Don't Throw Us Away. The story can be about your experience with trauma or shame - however that manifested. Read more on our guidelines page or click the link below. 



We are shifting the narrative of shame to a new narrative of connection. We must use empathy to change stigma.



Meet the Author

Lex Voytek grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico - a place that has inspired much of her writing.

She graduated with her Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of Stirling in Scotland. Now she splits her time living in Scotland and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Her work has been published in Cuntism Magazine, and recognized for honorable mention by Writer's Digest, as well as Transitions Abroad, to name a few. 

She became interested in the subject of trauma after working through years of her own painful isolation and mental illness. Now, the mission is to keep awareness growing.


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