What Begins with WHY and Ends with YOU?

Quick fix

In high school, I recall wanting to lose a bunch of weight quickly, but a doctor told me I would have to eat right and exercise for the best results.  I was angry with the doctor because I wanted a pill to do all the work for me.  Eventually, ephedra was hot on the market, and there I had my quick fix.  I lost the 40 extra pounds I’d been carrying most of my life, and while I took the pills, I remained quite thin.  The worst part about it was that I could eat like a pig and not gain a pound, so I developed terrible eating habits while using ephedra.  Eventually the FDA took the pills off the market because there were a few reported deaths due to heart attacks.  I was more than willing to put my life on the line to take those pills and remain a size four, but I would either have to accept my natural size ten, or figure out a way to keep the weight off organically.  There is nothing on the shelves that will melt the pounds away and keep them off.  Eating right and exercise is the only sustaining answer, so I had to change my mindset.

This last year, after three years of recovery, I have slowly lost weight that I gained while drinking.  It has taken me six months to lose ten pounds.  That sound dreadful, I know, but at least the habit of eating right and a daily exercise routine is something I have been able to maintain, not to mention that my self-esteem has increased, because doing the hard work has made me feel good about myself.  If I can’t look in the mirror and accept myself for what I am right now, then there is a lot more work to do simply than a diet.  More than anything, I want to be healthy, feel good and live a long life.  If it takes me three more years to lose another ten or fifteen pounds, I’ve got the patience now.  I know it will stay off because I’m not using a quick fix, and I fundamentally feel good about myself for once.

This morning I read an article about a vaccine for heroin addiction – a pharmaceutical that will block the cravings.  This is another one of America’s short term answers to a fundamental problem in the culture.  This drug could literally increase the usage of heroin.  I mean, my old addict thinking is like, “Cool.  Now I can try heroin because if I get addicted, I can go to the doctor to stop the cravings…”   (Yeah, that’s how sick I am on an addict level).  There are no sustaing quick fixes in life.  As pioneers, we Americans are also incredibly backwards.  We work ourselves to the bone to maintain a standard of living, and then drug ourselves into zombies in order to maintain that standard of living.  None of it is fulfilling, and there is way too much pressure in our society.  We’ve got to turn this around on a fundamental level.

When I was twenty-seven, I already had been married for six years, birthed two children, and maintained a stressful career for nine years.  I got the children ready in the morning, did all the laundry, kept my house in tip top shape, cooked dinner most of the time, and cleaned up afterward.  I was doing what I thought was “normal,” but I was miserable.  I got through it with ephedra and alcohol.  We all know how that ended.  My husband was fighting his own demons at the time, trying to contort his natural way of being, into a standard American husband model.  We both failed greatly.  I don’t know how most people do it without going insane, especially if they are doing it sober.  All of that keeping up with the Jones’ nonsense, felt like I was twisting my soul inside out and then flushing it down the toilet.  To make things worse, some people made this lifestyle look incredibly easy, and the pressure from outside people, was terrifically constricting.  I didn’t know anything about what I wanted in life, yet I was molding myself into something completely opposite of who I truly was.  I’m an explorer, not a homebody.  I’m creative, not regiment, like my career required of me.  I’m also not keen on committed relationships.  I cried a lot back then.

It takes a lot of courage to discover yourself, and all your defaults of character on a fundamental level, but some of us don’t have a choice.  For some reason (perhaps a deal I made with the gods before I was born), I couldn’t ever drink myself to death, so the only solution for me was to figure out how to live my life sober without being completely miserable.  Nearly four years later, here I am sober and happy.  My lifestyle is nowhere near what it was in my twenties.  It certainly doesn’t live up to the American standards, but I am fulfilled.  I took the time to find out who I was.  I explored myself and the world around me enough to know that I’ve got dreams, and hopes and yearnings.  To ignore those, is futile for me.  I have nightmares of people telling me, “You have a calling to be a pianist in a church…” blah blah blah.  (You might as well stick a needle in my arm and call it a day).  God, the last thing I need is people deciding what’s best for me, yet that’s what I did until my late twenties.  Thank the gods for my rebellious nature.  It eventually did me a world of good.

I truly believe that there are people who have naturally addictive personalities, just like there are those who are naturally hyper.  I call that “excess energy.”  It simply needs to be channeled.  Put an addict to work on something they love, and you will see passion.  That extra energy simply needs to be focused.  Most people who have an addictive personality, are incredibly ingenuitive.  You can’t put a bird in a cage and expect it to forget about flying.  I hate seeing birds in cages.  It’s awful.  It reminds me of a creative mind being forced to learn algebra.  (Kill me now…)

There is no quick fix to a fundamental problem.  We need to teach our children how to channel their creative energy into what they’re passionate about.  If they are drawn to horses, we shouldn’t direct them toward tap dancing just because that’s our dream.  If another family has all their children in sports and your child doesn’t like sports, don’t force them to be in sports.  It’s a dangerous thing we’re doing by keeping up with the Jones.’  If you hate working nine-to-five, find a way to make a living more creatively.  The good thing about America is that we have a lot of choices.  We shouldn’t settle, and we should never stop exploring.  It is not human nature to be stagnant.

I feel like there are many people who are fundamentally unhappy, and rather than taking the time to explore ourselves, we quick fix it.  Many people don’t have a drug or alcohol problem, but they eat to fill a void.  This is so common.  Other people are chronic relationship chasers.  Listen, we all have an inner void.  It’s there for a reason.  Explore the void, rather than trying to fill it.  It takes less time to enter into that void than it does to fill the void.  You can never fill the void because it isn’t a void at all.  It’s your inner-self needing your full attention, and it gets louder and louder until you acquaint yourself with it.  We need to learn to sit quietly with ourselves, and to be uncomfortable once in a while without trying to numb the discomfort.  We all have traumas and pains and sorrows.  They are there to assist us in our spiritual development, but if we ignore them or numb them, then we end up even more miserable for a longer period of time.

Self-love is the answer to this backwards thinking society, but not on a topical level.  We need to go deep.  It doesn’t take as long as we fear, and the journey is incredible.  The bottom line is that if you’re unhappy, you can turn it around, but you need to do the work.  Admitting it is the first step.  If you can do that, then you’re already brave.  You also need to be courageous and willing.  And if you can’t muster the courage up, think about the end of your life and reflect on what it’s going to feel like if you didn’t make an effort.  If you spend your life trying to impress other people, how is that going to add up in the end?  It’s not worth it.  We are responsible for what we do, who we hang out with, how we feel and where we are headed.  There is no one or nothing that can pump you full of self-esteem.  It takes work, and time, but it’s worth it because the journey is truly fulfilling.  Along the way you realize what you’ve been missing all along, which is incredibly profound.  I won’t give it away, but it begins with Y and ends with U!

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Thanking the People in Your Life Who Have “Done You Wrong”

Cover for In Lieu of a Dragon Tale

Abuse comes in all forms, from emotional to physical, and the abuse is passed down from one person to the next.  It is extremely unlikely that an abuser has been nurtured in a balanced and healthy environment.  Most people who are mentally and emotionally abusive are unaware of their control issues, nor do they have any sort of self-esteem because of what has been inflicted upon them and taken away from them, usually in childhood.  We know this when we deal with abusive people in our lives, but how often do we find compassion for them?  It is so much easier to take the stance of a victim and to blame that person for most or some of our “issues.”  I am writing this today because I was walking with a friend yesterday who was terribly neglected by her adopted mother, and even after the mother has passed away, my friend is still harboring a lot of anger from her childhood.

I asked my friend this question:  “Although your mom was abusive, neglectful and caused you pain, what positive influence did she have on your life?  I mean, when people push us to the point of misery, and cause us to want to rebel, often we go to the extremes to prove them wrong in some way, shape, or form.  Their behavior toward us has a direct influence on some of our biggest life decisions.  How did your abusive mother push you in your life, which proved positive?”

My friend considered this for a moment and then relayed to me that she would have never left home as early as she had, and taken several opportunities to travel the world if it weren’t for her mom driving her to the point of practically running out the front door.  My friend has been all over the planet because she refused to remain home in that abusive relationship with her mother.  She has literally seen most everything there is to see out there, in all of her childhood fury.  She went out and found her place in the world because she had no place with her own mom.  How empowering that relationship truly was for my friend.

In my own life, I have recognized other people’s “bad or weird” behaviors as an opportunity to look at my own self and see how I can change (clean up my side of the street) in order to navigate in a balanced way with those people.  Other people enter our lives to show us something about ourselves.  We think that life is incredibly random, but if nature shows us anything, it proves that it is clearly balanced, and it is constantly rebalancing, healing, growing, providing, etc.  When we are physically hurt, our body immediately sends signals to our brain to rush in extra blood so that it can begin the healing process.  It is no different in our emotional, spiritual and mental experiences of life.  The universe always provides people, places and things to offer healing, balance and growth.  If we recognize these people, places and things when they arrive, we will discover that life is not random.  It is incredibly connected and unbiased.

Everyone experiences pain, and everyone is provided opportunities for healing, balance and growth.  It is up to the individual to recognize their role in the ecosystem of their relationships.  If someone is causing you pain, another something or someone will be provided for healing.  Life is certainly not random.  If we are to become conscious of ourselves, we must also recognize what role other people play in our spiritual, emotional and mental development.  Everyone plays a role in our lives, including those who are completely clueless to themselves and how they behave.

If I have learned anything this year, it is that no matter how awful other people’s behaviors are, there is something I can change about myself in order to find serenity in that relationship.  I can find a balance within myself through their reflection of whatever pisses me off or annoys me.  Rather than trying to control them (because I can’t), I take control of my responses, and there I discover that I am way more in control than I previously thought.  When we begin searching for balance within ourselves, we discover how incredibly powerful we are as human beings, and how life is constantly offering us opportunities to heal, balance and grow.  When I heal, rebalance and grow because of those other people’s influences in my life, it is easy to take a step back from my ego and silently thank them for the significant role they played, without them even knowing it.  There is so much to this life experience that we miss if we are not aware of our soul journey while we are in this human form.

I spend most of my free time writing, and this is how I rebalance, and figure stuff out about myself.  I don’t know what else I am supposed to be doing with my life other than raising my two children and writing, so that’s what I’m doing.  I have recently published a book called ‘In Lieu of a Dragon Tale – A Modern Day Fable for the Young at Heart.’  It is about a girl and her unexpected relationship with a dragon.  The dragon represents wisdom and the girl is having a difficult time navigating through her life with this giant beast in a society that does not accept dragons.  The story wrote itself and surprised me in each unfolding chapter.  The ending was especially unexpected.  I’ve loaded it on Kindle for 0.99 and it is also available in paperback.

If you have suffered in your addiction, or if you are trying to make sense out of the chaos,  this story is extremely relatable, as the girl eventually descends into the darkest of places in order to separate herself from the dragon, until she has a powerful moment of clarity.  I am very excited about this book and am asking for some reviews on Amazon.  Here is the link if you are interested:  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=in+lieu+of+a+dragon+tale%2C+j.+l.+forbes

Who the Hell am I When I’m Not Drinking, and How Will I Feel at Parties?

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The initial ambivalence about becoming sober brings up many insecurities.  Many of us use drinking as a social lubricant.  Even “Normies” use alcohol as a stimulant in social situations.  It’s not uncommon to feel as though you are losing an identity when you become sober, because essentially, you are. 

The first year I went to social events as a sober person, I discovered myself much more subdued than my usual attention seeking persona.  What I did not do in these situations, was judge myself for this.  More than anything, I observed myself like I would normally observe other people, except it was less obvious and more internal.  What emotional responses am I having?  What insecurities are arising?  Who am I feeling like I should impress at this party?  Am I comfortable right now?  These are the questions I asked myself, and I continue to do this.  It’s a practice of self-awareness that keeps me present.  If I merely observe my inner dialog, rather than react to it, I discover myself entirely in my body.  I am able to be thoughtful in my interactions with other people, and I’m much more natural as a human being.  The alcoholic is insecure as a human being, which is why becoming sober feels a lot like being the only one naked at a party.  It can certainly feel this way, but don’t buy into it.  You are much more acceptable being yourself, than you are when you are drunk.  People knew you were drunk, they just didn’t say anything to you.  If they did, then you were most likely hammered, and embarrassing yourself.

The thing should understand, is that everyone else at a party is thinking mostly about themselves.  Their focus is not on you.  It’s human nature to be self-absorbed.  The other thing I observe is that people don’t really drink as much as I believed they did.  Every party or social gathering I’ve been to thus far, has proven to be a very non-alcoholic event.  I’ve even met several people who don’t drink at all.  I believed other people drank as much as I did.  Well, I was wrong.  Most people drink very responsibly, and most people don’t really care if you aren’t drinking alcohol.  If they are bothered by it, then you are probably with the wrong people.  At parties now, I have just as much fun not drinking, as I did when I was drinking.  This is because it is exciting to me that I am finally comfortable in my own skin, without the assistance of a drug to help me feel like I am fitting in.  My experiences are much different now because they are organic.  My perception is clearer and I am much more available to enjoy each moment, as opposed to worrying if my glass is empty.

Lastly, if I am not feeling a party, I have the confidence and self-respect to leave.  In my recovery, I have learned to honor myself, so it doesn’t really matter to me who gets offended if I am taking care of my own needs at any given time.  As long as I am not being selfish and hurting someone, it is okay to take care of myself.  Integrity begins with respecting yourself, and honoring your lifestyle in recovery.

It’s okay to take moments away from the crowd if it becomes overwhelming.  It’s perfectly natural to feel awkward and nervous.  Allowing these feelings to be there with you, rather than running from them or avoiding them altogether, will allow them to breathe and dissipate.  Having a sober friend or loved one with you in these situations is extremely helpful as well.  Don’t judge yourself for your insecurities.  Have some compassion for yourself, and allow yourself to feel everything you are feeling, without trying to change it.  This is what it means to recover; acceptance of yourself under any given circumstance.

In time, you will discover a very alive and joyful person under all those insecurities.  Others will see it too, and they will accept you exactly as you are.

Managing Restlessness and Boredom in Sobriety

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Restlessness and boredom are my two top reasons to drink, but I don’t drink or use drugs anymore, so how do I manage these daunting experiences?  I remember my first month in sobriety; how miserable I felt.  Everyday seemed eternal; each minute like a piece of sand pushing through a clogged hourglass.  It was fricken brutal, but I knew it was going to pass because all the laid back AA people with smiles on their faces told me that they’d been through the same thing, and now they were all out flying kites and singing Mary Poppins songs together… or something.  They were happy, so I was pretty certain that I’d be happy too if I could just get through the beginner’s monotony.

I got through it alright, and I felt pretty amazing after it passed; relieved and excited that there was life beyond my foggy brain.  It’s been two and a half years and I certainly do not feel boredom like I used to.  I’ve come to a better place where I am really comfortable with myself, but this took a lot of time and patience.  I found myself bored a lot in the beginning, and my first impulse was to go out and have some fun.  I had a lot of sober friends at the time, so this is what we did.  We did karaoke, built campfires, went dancing, and watched movies together.  I even casually dated, not trying to get involved seriously, but just to fill the void of being alone.  This was all ok in the beginning, but there was a lot of discomfort with being sober while trying to have fun.  Dancing sober the first few times was nerve racking.  Sex was no better, and sometimes no matter what I was doing, I still felt like there was a piece of dingy glass between me and the rest of the world.  For the longest time, I couldn’t shake it, yet I trusted that there would come a time when I felt comfortable and connected.  I simply trusted this, because there was no way I was going to drink again.  I just had to plug through it no matter what.

I decided to sit with the boredom, and write a few books.  I found a lot of peace in going to meetings, hiking, writing, and just slowing down to figure out who I was in my sobriety.  I was certainly not the same high strung person with a need to party all the time.  Perhaps I just needed time to myself, to get to know this person who I ran away from many years prior.  After all, being bored was better than being hung over and full of shame.

As far as restlessness goes, it does pass.  In the beginning, I wanted to cause havoc just to rid myself of the restlessness, but I was luckily in treatment, so I had immediate consequences to face when I screwed with the rules.  After treatment, however, I found myself restless at times, and manic.  I made all these plans to run off to Hawaii with a guy I didn’t know, then talked it through with some of my peers and felt pretty embarrassed afterward.  I realized then, that anytime I made plans, I should always tell someone about them to see if they were a little strange, or self-destructive.  I was one of the ones in the group who took longer to “get a clue.”  I was still determined to self-destruct without a drink or a drug.  It was simply my habit.  It took a while to break, but after a few minor consequences, I finally “got a clue,” and stopped acting out whenever I felt restless.

Here it is a couple years later, and I rarely feel restless, but it does overcome me at times.  My addict mind still wants me to pour a drink in my body, or ease myself with drugs, but I tell it to shut the f*ck up.  I don’t buy into the lies anymore.  Like every other emotion, this too shall pass.  We aren’t stuck in any emotion, eternally.  Sometimes it takes a day, or two… maybe even three, but I hang in there.  Meetings help.  Talking to someone about it helps.  Being of service definitely helps.  Usually when the restlessness passes, I feel incredible; like the sun is shining on me after a long winter.  It is SO worth sitting still; even welcoming it into my experience so that it has no space to take over.  Resistance of these experiences only prolongs them.

People always ask me how long they should expect to feel this way, or how long did it take me to feel “normal?”  My answer is this… “How long are you going to resist your experiences in sobriety?”  Just be present and aware of what is taking place emotionally, and simply do not buy into it.  Don’t act on it.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Don’t listen to it.  Hang out with people in the rooms who have a few years or more in sobriety, and know that one day you will be out flying kites and singing Mary Poppins songs too (figuratively speaking of course)!

The other thing I highly recommend, is to ask your higher power for HELP. It used to take me until I was at the brinks of despair to ask for help from the universe, but now I find myself asking all of the time, because it works; often immediately. Don’t be afraid or too prideful to ask for help. And while you’re sitting with yourself in your boredom and restlessness, it’s a great time to reflect and get to know yourself a little better. Observe where your old behaviors would take you, or where your mind travels when you become restless, but do not act on it. The more you practice this, the stronger your habit will become to remain sober, no matter what!

How I Overcome Depression

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I just came out of a three day fog; one that felt like a heavy veil obscuring every ounce of my joy.  These temporary depressions do not come often, but when they do, it feels like cobwebs take over my mind and emotional body. Negative thoughts overwhelm me.  I become so numb and uncomfortable, that I want to jump out of my skin.  The old addict voice whispers things to me like, “please just get me a drink this time.  No one has to know.  Maybe smoke some pot, or find another drug to take me out of this misery.”  I’m so familiar with the voice that I immediately tell it to shut up.  I don’t entertain the thought of getting drunk or high.  I know the depression is super temporary because I’ve sat with it before.  I’ve even welcomed it and told it to hang out as long as it needs to, but I remind it that it is only a guest (in the words of Rumi), and that it is not allowed to overstay it’s welcome.  Depression discovers boredom inside the house of acceptance.  It cannot sustain a presence in a place where one is not resisting.  I wrote a poem the last time I felt depression overcome me, which reminds me that these experiences are only temporary.  All things pass.  Here is the poem:

UPON DESPAIR ARISING

Dance with discord

Instead of shunning the imposter

We must be aware of its dark presence

Give it space to breathe and dissipate in its own casual time

Waltz within the cavern walls of depression

Mindfully recalling the light, even in faint memory

Interact with the intimidating beast as if it were a comrade

Place your hands gently into its claws

Willfully make its gluttonous acquaintance

Cease all judgment and plot of resolution

Summon the impending anguish without distain

Therein exists artistic expression

Twarted by your harmony, gloom will swiftly make its exit

Keep on dancing, no matter the tune

This sinister song is not eternal

 

This sinister song is not eternal.  We are so used to fighting in our addiction, that learning to sit with emotions and discomfort takes a lot of practice and diligence.  I am so glad I didn’t listen to the addict voice this weekend, because as I look out my window today and feel the fog has lifted, I’m elated.  I feel better than I have in a while.  I think sometimes I go through these depressions when I am shifting into a better place.  Shedding old skin can be so uncomfortable, but it is extremely temporary.  So is getting high and drunk.  All things pass, so it’s better to accept life as it comes than to resist the moment as it is.

Today, I have two and a half years sober.  Maybe my addict was acting up because it doesn’t like the scent of defeat.

For The Newcomber in Recovery

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I clearly remember the day I landed inside of a six month residential rehab, knowing that it was either do it or die, for me.  I recall feeling both equally safe and insecure.  After attempting to get sober several times in seven years, and failing hopelessly, I was uncertain of being capable of long-term sobriety.  Yet, I wanted it.  More than anything, I wanted to learn how to not pick up a drink.

I was so willing.  I would have swam the Bay naked in winter surrounded by great whites, if that’s what they told me was going to keep me sober.  Like most people in recovery, I was tired and desperate.

After rehab, I still felt very uncertain.  It’s so easy to stay sober when you are under conditions such as an institution provides, and under the scrutiny of hyper-alert staff, but I wasn’t naïve to think I was in the clear when I walked out of those double doors.  Rehab was merely a foundation for me.  I had the rest of my life in open space to build myself back up with the recovery tools that were provided.  It’s one thing to stay sober in rehab; it’s another to stay sober in the real world. 

It took about a year in the real world for me to feel like I had a real shot at staying sober.  I went to meetings, got a sponsor, and moved into sober-living apartments for ten months with my treatment peers.  I backed off of my career and took a couple of mediocre jobs that didn’t cause me stress.  I took things really slowly because I did not trust myself, and I did not want to fail.

I experienced what it was like to have a full-on alcohol craving without drinking.  The cravings in my first year were brutal.  I’m talking vampire-needs-blood-immediately, vicious cravings.   Prior to treatment, I’d never gotten through a craving like some of the ones I had in the first year, but like I was informed in treatment, the cravings are temporary.  They do pass, fairly quickly. 

My longest craving lasted about two hours.  I was so close to giving up and running to the liquor store for a bottle of vodka.  I was so close that I could taste it.  I wanted it desperately.  I began shaking.  I was so incredibly scared that I was going to drink.  I didn’t know how to stop myself.

Before running to the liquor store, I took a moment to pray.  My words were, “Please help me, God.  Please help me.”  A second later I found myself grabbing my backpack and running up the Berkeley Hills to the treatment facility where I got sober.  The first person I saw was a former peer, who had gone through treatment with me.  He relapsed and was back in treatment again for another six months.  He was sitting at the front desk.  No one else was there.  I sat down on the bench in the lobby, and sobbed.  I knew it was my higher power at work when I saw my friend’s face.  It could have been any of several clients at that front desk, yet it just happened to be a former peer.  I shared my experience with him, and also to a counselor, which immediately alleviated my craving.  I spent a few more hours there, talking with the women who were still in treatment.  I went to a group that day as well, and I came out of the day feeling like a champion.  It was both emotional and terrifying, but I knew what occurred was a huge step forward in my recovery.

I am over two years sober now, and I can honestly say that I have not had a craving like that one, since the day it happened.  I believe that it takes practice not taking a drink, under the wickedest of circumstances, in order to fully overcome addiction.  Habits need to be broken by practicing a new way of doing things.  Cravings have to be experienced in order for them to dissipate.  Emotions need to arise and regarded, rather than embellished upon, in order to for you to heal. 

Think of recovery as a re-balance in action.  It’s simply a journey that brings a disconnected person, back to themselves.  In order for this to occur, one should visualize their recovery as a long term goal.  In order to meet the goal, you must overcome the circumstances provided to you (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually).  You must face adversity, walk through doubt, acknowledge fear and keep moving forward.  You should also remain compassionate toward yourself knowing that you are new to life as a sober person.  Take things slowly and take care of yourself.  Be kind to yourself and laugh when you are clumsy.    

The greatest understanding I have received in my recovery is that every emotion I experience, is temporary.  Nothing I a feel at any given time, is eternal.  Everything will pass.  Fighting or resisting emotions only prolongs the pain and discomfort.  Buying into anger, stress, sadness, loneliness, etc., and taking a drink, will completely strip you of your self-worth. 

I just want to say one more thing… I have never felt better, dreamed bigger, loved deeper, laughed harder or been more clearer than I am since it’s been my life goal to recover.

I Bury the Bottle (Poem by J.L. Forbes)

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I bury the bottle

Deep in the earth

Pour out this poison

Being high was not worth

Ignoring my essence

Drowning out pain

Hurting my loved ones

My life lived in vain

 

I bury this bottle

My life is now mine

No longer a stronghold

Time to refine

I walk away sober

Turn my back on this hell

To begin a real journey

To climb out of this shell

 

I bury this bottle

Today is the day

Not one drop of booze

To steal me away

Goodbye you ol’ havoc

A friend you were not

A liar, a cheat

From the very first shot

 

– April 21, 2011