Ever thought of raising your own meat on a city block?

I was vegetarian for 20 years. I’ve never had anything against people eating meat, though I’ve always thought it would be most ethical to raise the animals yourself, and probably kill them too. When I started to eat meat again for health reasons, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and raise and kill my own meat. I felt that way I would truly understand and appreciate the animal I was eating.

There are other reasons why I believe it’s good to raise our own meat. The meat industry can be pretty cruel. I only eat meat from local farms where I’m pretty satisfied that they raise their animals well and kill them humanely. But even so, surely I could give them a better life in a suburban backyard than when they are raised on a commercial scale. After all, our home-produced eggs were so much better than the most expensive organic free range eggs we could buy. Like the eggs, I expected the meat to be more nutritious. Also I am concerned about the amount of wastage that occurs commercially. Despite repeated requests, I’ve never been able to obtain chicken heads or feet for soup. What happens to them all? Are they chucked out? We are in the habit of eating the muscle meat but not the organs (though they are very good for us), and in our society it’s rare to make stock from bones these days. By processing my own meat I could ensure minimal waste.

I also want to really understand how much food I could produce in my backyard. I already produced 80% of my family’s fruit and vegies. Could I produce a good portion of our meat onsite too? I wanted to find out.

I’ve blogged about my journey raising chickens for the first time.

https://helloasphyxia.wordpress.com/blog/living-sustainably/raising-chickens-for-meat/

Not buying (much)

I’ve had several periods during my life when I’ve made a real effort to reduce my spending on consumer goods. Buying stuff is bad for the environment, and it’s not good for the wallet either. Almost everything we buy used electricity to make it, used ungodly amounts of water, contributed to water and air pollution, came in packaging that will go to landfill, was often shipped here from another country, driven to our city on a truck… you get the picture. Much of what is available in shops in Australia is also made by people working in miserable conditions. Every time we buy something, we are sending a message to the manufacturer saying “Great – please make another!” And just as we need to reduce our electricity use by turning off lights when we aren’t using them, and unplugging appliances at the powerpoint, we also need to reduce our “virtual” use of resources – that is the resources used to manufacture the things we buy. If this seems obvious, my apologies – it took me quite a while to “get” this particular point, and to connect my buying as clashing with my desire to live sustainably.

I read a great book called Affluenza, which examines the way we spend our money in Australia, and it included quite a few tidbits of eye-opening information for me. The authors point out that the government says we’ve had a good year if we’ve experienced economic growth – that is, if we as a society spent more money than we spent the year before. The only measure of “success” is this – financial – there is no attempt to measure wellbeing, health, contentment or other indicators of a successful society. Similarly, on a personal level, most Australians aspire to financial growth – ie to earn more than we do currently, to own more or more expensive stuff, and to move into a bigger house in a better area when possible. This attitude that “growth is good” forms the backbone of our lives, for most of us.

The government and the marketplace work hard to establish this attitude and keep us operating this way. Much of the message is achieved through advertising. Advertisers, rather than giving us factual information about a product, strive to make us feel discontent with our current situation, and aim to build anxiety and uncertainty, which leads to buying more.

Interestingly, although most Australians believe our society is too consumerist and too materialistic, most of us believe that we as individuals are not, and that we have barely enough money to meet our basic needs. This holds true regardless of how much we earn: most Australians have come to see luxuries as basic necessities, and we deny that our purchases are materialistic. Advertisers capitalise on this, by telling us “You deserve it”, whether it’s a holiday we can’t afford or a fashionable piece of clothing.

When large corporations worried that we might stop spending, they introduced the credit card, so that we could spend money we hadn’t even earnt yet. The convenience of the credit card has led to a culture of instant gratification, which will have to be paid for later. Australians pay for their debts by working longer hours than workers in any other country in the world. These long work hours are causing individuals numerous problems – relationship breakdowns, children who long for more time with their parents, depression, fatigue, ill health, and an obsession with money. Even though most Australians would like more time with their family and friends, this goal is often deferred until later in life (generally retirement), while long hours are put in now to pay for luxurious “basic necessities”.

Almost one quarter of Australian adults, however, have decided to step outside of this cultural model, and “downshift”. Lacking public role models for this, we each operate in isolation, often with the disapproval of those around us, despite the fact that so many of us are doing it. Downshifting means working less hours, working for less pay, and/or consciously consuming less than before. While the income drop can be challenging, especially at first, 90% of downshifters end up with less stress, more time for meaningful activities, better community networks and participation, less anxiety – and the obsession with money generally melts away.

That, in a nutshell, is what I understood from the book. Wow – one quarter of us are downshifting – and there’s no mention of it in the media or anything to help us realise how common our actions are. My readership on this blog has skyrocketed since I started blogging about living sustainably – so it seems there is interest out there.

After making a strict budget for myself for consumer goods one year, I found I didn’t want to spend it on things like socks, undies, watches and so on. So my biggest challenge was to find a way to meet as many of my basic needs as possible in a way that doesn’t involve buying anything new. Op shops meet a lot of my needs.

 

A few tips for not buying stuff:

  • stay out of shops and shopping centres.
  • don’t read magazines (or if you do be very strict and avoid looking at the ads).
  • don’t watch ads on TV.
  • if you catch yourself fantasising about various new things you might like to own, try to nip it in the bud and think about something else.
  • focus on being happy with what you have, and making do with stuff you have on hand or can find.
  • go to op shops and maintain a running list of items you are watching out for.
  • try borrowing from a friend instead of buying.
  • make stuff (from second hand materials), and give gifts that are homemade or provide an experience or service (a gift voucher to a restaurant, to a bath house, a massage voucher). Or give plants, ideally some you’ve raised yourself, preferably in a pot you didn’t buy new.

And a few tips from readers:

  • make use of your local library rather than buying books
  • take a good look at why want to shop – are you avoiding something or trying to fulfill an emotional need?

Please send in any more tips!  Thanks to those who already did.  Read the comments for more insights 🙂

So what about you, is there anything you’re not buying? Have you found any solutions for the ordinary, every day things we “need”?

Nightmare

It has been almost two years since I moved out of the house I built myself. In one fell swoop, I lost my health, my home, my partner, my son, most of my larger extended family, most of my friends, and my financial security. My life has had a nightmarish quality to it, as I have struggled to adjust. I kept thinking I would wake up and find myself in the familiarity of my old life, to Jesse slipping into my bed for a morning cuddle. I have been homesick for not just my home, but my life.

I am adjusting now. In many ways my new life is better. Except for the thing that matters the very most: my beloved son is not with me. In that way the nightmare continues, day after day after day.

Life Without Toxic Relationships

One advantage to having my entire life wiped out and being forced to start over in almost every single aspect, is that I can rebuild it much, much more carefully. The thing I am doing differently this time is choosing the people who will be in it according to whether or not they have empathy, and whether or not they are manipulative. This article, How to never get involved with an abuser again, changed my life. It says to look at the way a person acts, not what they say, and don’t accept any excuses for hurtful behaviour.

When I read the list of signs that a person lacks empathy, I recognise people I have known. Here are some examples:

• Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you;

• Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries;

• Becomes angry or looks at you with a blank face when you cry or get emotional;

• Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset, tells you they are ‘just being honest’. Honesty without kindness is cruelty.

• Talks at length about a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing;

• Brings up sensitive topics after you’ve asked them to stop;

• Expects instant forgiveness;

• Invalidates your thoughts, experiences, ideas and concerns;

• Neglecting or ignoring you when you are sick;

• Judgemental;

• Believes they are always right;

• Expects you to accomodate their needs and schedule, without regard for yours;

• Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went;

• Self-centredness – seems to have plenty of empathy for you but not for others. Watch out – you’re next;

• Indifference to the suffering of others;

• Doesn’t seem to care how their words or actions affect you.

I will add some red flags to watch for of my own:

• Has a vision of how you are or should be, and is more interested in trying to get you to fit that vision than understand how you actually are;

• Offers you something and when you take them up on it, acts like they never offered it;

• Expects you to move out of their way rather than expecting to work around you;

• ‘Forgets’ saying or doing things that upset you when you call them on their behaviour, and tells you it didn’t happen;

• Tells you that you’re over-reacting or being too sensitive when let them know you feel upset or hurt;

According to the article, you can tell if you are being manipulated by looking at your own feelings about the relationship: You often feel guilty; your mood depends on the state of the relationship; you feel inadequate; you never feel sure where you stand; you carefully control your words, actions and emotions around this person; you do things that go against your values or make you feel uncomfortable; expressing negative thoughts and emotions seem forbidden so you hide them; the relationship feels complex and you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is; you try to figure things out but can’t get anywhere; you want to please this person but keep getting it wrong; you end up in no win situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; you feel afraid of losing the relationship; you feel you are walking on eggshells.

I watch for the above in the new people I spend time with, and if signs of manipulation or lack of empathy come up a few times, even in small ways, I choose not to continue the relationship. I am astonished to see that these traits can show up in the earliest encounters, often in seemingly positive ways. There was a guy who invited me on a date, telling me we’d go for a walk on the beach and that he had a puppy I was going to fall in love with. He did not ask to find out if I like walking on the beach, and he didn’t check whether I am into puppies. He assumed. Red flag: he has a vision of how I am supposed to be, not interested in finding out who I actually am. I stayed with a woman who blindsided me with upsetting text messages during an important meeting. When I looked back I recalled a myriad of other small red flags. I decided to move out before things could escalate. A friend showed me a series of videos on YouTube, and even after I had pointed out that I couldn’t understand them as they didn’t have subtitles, continued to insist that I would find them fantastic. She didn’t notice the bored expression on my face.

I’ve found I can tell a lot about a person by working with them in the kitchen. Say I’m washing the dishes, and the other person wants to wash their hands, what happens? Some people wait until a suitable moment for me, and then reach in quickly to wash. Others expect me to stand aside, or even stop washing the dishes altogether, because it is inconvenient for them that I am in the way. The former have empathy – they are thinking about my experience and taking care not to interrupt it. The latter are focused on their own experience and unconcerned with mine. I keep a very sharp eye on the people in the second group – usually there are other red flags which surface. By watching the small ways people interact with each other, I’ve found I can quickly pick up who has empathy and who lacks it.

Of course, some people are a mix – empathic in some ways and manipulative in others. I have noticed that if I call them on their manipulative behaviour or for crossing my boundaries, they will either respond with concern that they have upset me and a desire to understand better (and to change), or else respond defensively and maybe by pretending that the thing never happened. The people in the latter group get struck off my list. With the former, I watch carefully to see if their intention to change translates to actual change. Do they stop crossing my boundaries in the way I requested? Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words.

By pulling the brakes on these relationships before I become too invested, I have noticed a magnificent effect on my life: it is now filled with deeply empathic, caring people. I have never been so well loved as I am now.

Waking up to another day without you

The indescribable weariness
of opening my eyes to another day
and realising that nothing has changed,
that my boy is still not with me,
that all the strength I needed to get through yesterday
must be called upon again today,
and tomorrow,
and the day after,
and on and on probably into infinity.
And I just want to close my eyes again
and not know about it.

How do you know if it’s parental alienation?

There are lots of reasons that teenagers reject their parents. It’s common, a normal part of defining their own identity separate from that of their family.

When a parent has been abusive towards the child, this can lead to estrangement – a justified rejection from the child who wishes to protect themselves from further hurt. Abused children tend to feel ambivalent towards their parent – loving them and wanting to please them on one hand, while simultaneously feeling angry and hurt on the other, and mixed in with all this is a feeling of guilt, a sense that maybe the problem lies with some fault within themselves.

Children who have been alienated, however, show a different set of behaviours/feelings:

• They denigrate their parent with foul language and extreme contempt;

• The reasons given for their anger are frivolous, don’t make sense, and often trivial in relation to the intensity of the anger;

• The reasons include ‘borrowed scenarios’ – i.e., they are angry with the parent for things that never happened to the child, but happened to the other parent;

• There is no confusion, uncertainty, ambivalence – only abject hatred;

• The child insists that they, alone, uninfluenced, came up with the ideas of denigration;

• They support the favoured parent and feel a need to protect them;

• The child does not show any guilt over the extreme cruelty they have displayed towards the rejected parent;

• The anger is extended towards people who are associated with the rejected parent, such as friends and family members.

What it feels like to be a target parent

Right now, every day is a struggle. Sometimes it’s sadness, but mostly it’s an all-encompassing weariness that makes me want to just go to sleep, blot it all out.

In a book by Amy Baker and Paul Fine, Surviving Parental Alienation, I read something that describes my feelings well. ‘As many targeted parents have commented, short of death, losing a child to parental alienation may be the hardest thing a parent has to contend with. In some ways, it might have been more difficult than a death because there was no easy way to explain to other people what was happening. The wellspring of support and comfort that typically surrounds a parent who has lost a child to death was noticeably absent for these targeted parents.  Being a targeted parent required living with an open wound that for many resulted in a feeling of numbness, with the pain and sadness seeping into all of the corners of their life, making it nearly impossible to find any solace or pleasure. Knowing their child was “out there” in the world—growing, learning, changing, developing—represented a kind of slow torture.’

Yep.

And it is true for me, that the wellspring of support is absent. My parents sided with my ex – my mother actually helped to remove him from my care. She has replaced me as his other main care-giver. Most of my family has dropped away, save for a few sweet and supportive people, and so have the majority of friends and support network that surrounded me before this happened. Being gagged, as I have been, prevented from talking about what happened, means I cannot gather the emotional support that could help make this journey easier. That’s why I have decided to make this public and write about it online.

People I share this with often try to comfort me by telling me that some day my child will come back to me. Of course I hope, expect, that some day he will. But nothing, nothing can make up for the lost years, the years I don’t get to help raise him, shower love and affection on him, help him with his homework, take him out with his friends, and watch him grow into a man. There is no need to comfort me by telling me it will be better. Just acknowledge that his absence, now, is a kind of living hell.