Witch offense?

“Everyone is offended by everything”

Is usually what people who are easily offended say.

The new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ has started a bit of a twitter storm. The film, featuring actress Anne Hathaway portrays the evil witches with distinct physical features that were not part of the original. Many have raised concerns that the film could further the stigma around disability.   

#NotAWitch calls out ‘#TheWitches’ movie for portrayal of disability 👉

Originally tweeted by Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) on November 3, 2020.

In Dahl’s original novel, the witches have “square feet with no toes” and “claws instead of fingernails” and are depicted in the cover art as having five fingers. In the 1990 film the witches are also shown as having five fingers. For some reason they have used creative license to change that and upset a community of beautiful, resilient humans.

Warner Bros. has now issued a statement of regret as a studio spokesperson said, “We the filmmakers and Warner Bros. Pictures are deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities, and regret any offense caused. In adapting the original story, we worked with designers and artists to come up with a new interpretation of the cat-like claws that are described in the book,” the statement continued. “It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them. This film is about the power of kindness and friendship. It is our hope that families and children can enjoy the film and embrace this empowering, love-filled theme.”

As a person who was born with a “limb difference” I can honestly say that I personally am not “offended” about the depiction. I am sure that the majority in the #NotaWitch camp are not “offended”. Perhaps more annoyed by the non apology and lack of awareness at the potential impact of popular culture and its stigma perpetuating narratives on our children. Disability should not be a taboo. I remember the recent intolerant response to the BBC presenter who had one arm as ‘scaring children’. We should do better at educating our children to look for the similarities not the differences we all share.

Throughout history people with disabilities have been persecuted. The last literal witch hunt execution in Scotland was in 1722 The ‘Dornoch ‘witch’ who had a daughter with a deformed hand. Villagers said she ‘transformed her daughter into a pony which she rode to witches meetings and on Satan’s errands’. Some of the first victims of the holocaust were also disabled, and portrayed as a burden. We like to think we have moved forward as a civilised society but we have to recognise we all still have blind spots and biases for things that are out of our experience.

I say I’m not “offended” as a 40 year old man that has only just started wearing T-shirts in public after lifelong feelings of shame, guilt and a lack of self acceptance. I say this as a 40 year old man that used substances for many years to numb the feeling that i wasn’t enough and to ‘fit in’. I say this as a man who has fought, often literally to not feel like or be seen as a victim.

I do not speak however, for the young kids that get bullied at school because they are ‘different’ or for the young boy that has to go swimming for the first time worried about how he looks. I do not speak for a “disabled community” or anyone other than myself, and perhaps the younger me. The younger me that had no positive limb different role models in his life. To him i would say… ‘You are more capable and resilient than you know. ‘

When Janet Home (The Dornoch ‘witch) arrived at the execution spot, after being tarred and feathered, she is said to have warmed her hands at the fire prepared for her burning, saying ‘Eh, what a bonnie blaze’.

I love the stoic mantra of ‘Amor Fati’ which loosely translates as love your fate. Seize it, own it, and live your life with confidence that you are enough. Limb difference is not scary, and neither are we victims. There are so many positive role models now we can follow through social media, so many inspiring stories of hope, resilience and overcoming adversity. Whatever hollywood does or doesn’t do, just be kind to each other and yourselves.

Give yourself a hand

For most of my adult life (i’ve just turned 40) i have attempted to cover up my disability. I use the term disability loosely as its the easiest descriptive noun to use, as the only disability i’ve truly faced is the limits i have placed on myself. I mean i’ll never be a famous juggler but aside from that this label does NOT define me.

I was born with a congenital limb deformity, which in laymans terms means i have a spaz arm, that is pretty useless in many ways, although i could always still roll a decent spliff.

Anyway having spent a lot of time on personal development and reflecting over the last few years, and pushing myself through various fears and insecurities. I thought it would be a great time to write about the experience. That’s what these blog things are for isn’t it.? Hopefully someone can find some value in my ramblings, and if it shines a light for someone struggling then i would love to hear from you in the comments.

Denial

In covering up my disability i was inevitably denying a true part of myself and resisting reality for short term comfort, which was later to be the main reason i used substances. The drugs were never the problem and are only a symptom of something else that we don’t want to face. A survival mechanism that we come to rely upon.

I never covered up my arm out of shame or feeling less than (at least initially) My amazing grandparents did a fantastic job of raising me for my formative years and telling me i could do anything. The main reason was I just did not want to be treated ANY differently to other kids.

I rode a bike, did judo, played football with the best and got in fights with the rest. I could not bare the thought that i’d be treated differently, or allowed certain privileges. If i was going to be a success i’d do it on my own merit. I was stubborn and determined and worked hard to match up.

Somewhere along the line that changed, a subtle shift from courage to avoidance. What bothered me the most was the awkward looks, or the thought that i would have to explain myself. I started making up stories like ‘shark attack’ or ‘acid’ because it was more interesting, and made me feel good instead of awkward and disempowered. Then in my teens i started just hiding it altogether. Lots of times people would say “you hide it well” as if that was a badge of honour, but it became my reality. It was easier and reduced my uncomfortable feelings, at least in the short term.

The fear of fitting in is something we all face at some point of our lives, not wanting to be ostracised by the peer group is a very human thing. When i was 10 I moved to a new city and a new school where everyone had already made connections. My first day I attended in a bright purple shell suit which probably didn’t help me going unnoticed. I started fights to not be a victim, and was not bullied despite my difference. My survival armour seemed to serve me well, and i used humour to deflect.

I started to no longer wear t-shirts in summer and wore jackets instead. I dropped out of sports teams and found cigarettes and alcohol. I realised i’d get the attention i wasn’t getting at home from playing the school clown. My studies suffered as did my mental health as i drifted further away from my true self. Pleasure seeker and people pleaser. Fast forward through the club scene and ketamine, beyond the heroin years, and avoidance had become a default. A victim mentality and a prisoner of my own thoughts. I had self sabotaged my only ambition of going to uni, and school certainly didn’t prepare me for life beyond the gates (which i too frequently snuck out of). Drugs had become a comfort blanket that later became my identity. I was a champion drug user.

My 20s was mostly a blur with a few lucid moments and fleeting achievements. On my 30th birthday I wrote my third car off (intoxicated on diazepam this time). Id had many ‘rock bottoms’ but somehow this was the one. A little magpie sat on the grass as I sat upside down in my car and just stared at me, bemused. It’s strange to say but i think it was an omen. In that moment i just knew that everything was going to be ok. I lit a cigarette and laughed at myself and the absurdity of it all. I then found a couple of key-workers that helped me believe in myself and went above and beyond to get me into a detox facility not long after. I’ve since noticed magpies urging me on at key points in my life since. I guess we are always looking for patterns, or maybe there are things we just don’t understand. I prefer the latter.

Acceptance

5 ways to wellbeing.
Giving actually releases oxytocin (the feel good chemical)

Now coming up to my 10th year in recovery and in that time i have committed myself to personal growth. I have put in many thousands of volunteer hours, created a small recovery community organisation, peer mentored and sponsored others. I have been employed by various recovery organisations including my most recent role for an international charity as a national coordinator for England. I have pushed through many personal milestones including college and public speaking. i have ran half marathons and was due to run the London marathon this year as i turned 40. I do not say this to brag, and actually am pretty uncomfortable about tooting my own horn but i think it is important to take a moment to recognise and celebrate your achievements. The journey to self acceptance is not linear and is an ongoing practice.

One of my biggest barriers to growth has always been self acceptance and love. Anger had become a defence mechanism. Recognising thought patterns that have limited my authenticity and ability to engage with the world in any true and meaningful way has been my biggest lesson. Something we all undoubtedly struggle with to varying degrees. Many of us are given a shit hand in life, some of us more literally, others to a larger degree. The fact is arguing with reality seldom brings happiness. It is undoubtedly easier from a survival perspective in the short term to avoid discomfort, confrontation or stepping into the great unknown. Our brains are wired biologically for survival not for fulfilment. To look for problems not look for joy.

Many people have written about the fabled hero’s journey, from Carl Jung to James Joyce and more recently Joseph Campbell. All good stories have one, from star wars to toy story. The journey of a protagonist setting out on a journey of transformation, coming into contact with a mentor who guides them, facing all manner of challenges and temptations along the way to return victorious having grown through the unknown.

My time of fighting dragons is over as i approach the final stage of my life cycle and reflect on what i’ve learned. An early mid life crisis perhaps, or one of Jung’s stages of life. I ponder what my legacy will be, and what (if any) lessons I can pass on to those at an earlier stage of their journey and how i can be of service to the world. What kind of father I am to be and what guidance can I give to my 3 year old son in this emerging new reality of instant gratification and information overload. I didn’t have a dad in my life so one of my main motivations is to be the father i would have wanted. To strive to be the best version of myself in every moment and interaction with others. I cannot do that if i do not embrace my shortcomings or my vulnerabilities. How can i be truly authentic with others if i am not honest with myself?.

So this blog is the first step in me accepting the current reality of recent redundancy from a career i’ve given a lot of myself to, and embracing the unknown final stage in my life cycle. Perhaps the self actualisation part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So I am creating my own coaching program to support others, and embracing the uncertainty and potential joy of self employment and service. I want to lean further into my true authentic self, something i really should have done sooner, and I would love for you to come on the journey with me.

💜Be the hero in your journey and LOVE YOURSELF💜

Own your story

Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present and fear the future

-Seneca–

~MementoMori #AmorFati

This is a blog for posterity, about my personal journey through council estates and reprobates, addiction and living with a physical disability, followed as ever by the haunting spectre of anxiety and fear.

Im well aware i’m joining the majority of 30 somethings blogging about their dull lives for nobody to read, but I guess i’m doing this partly as I value the stoic strategy of journalling and find it somewhat cathartic, but also in the hope that it can perhaps be a flicker of light to someone going through their own period of darkness. We can and do recover.

I write this having just completed my third 10k road race in Grimsby. The only time I remember doing cross country at school, we used to dick off to smoke in ‘the pheaso’, so running has never been a friend, unless you count running from my responsibilities, kinda made acquaintance with that for a while.

10k

This race was also a personal milestone for me, in that it was the first time ive ran in public in a tshirt since being an adult.  I have suffered from depression for many years relating to body issues from my congenitive limb defect, and become very obsessive about covering up my imperfections. This year has been a bit of a transformative one in many ways as i also adjust to being a dad and balancing a difficult workload, while working on myself. Really appreciate everyones support and motivation.

 

As a person in long term recovery part of my personal programme focuses on goal setting, so in order to push myself out of my comfort zone this year I have signed up to run the London marathon in 2020, and have been humbled to be given the opportunity to be raising some money for a charity that is close to my heart.

(justgiving link)

Practising acceptance among other stoic and CBT based strategies have been central to my recovery journey and addressing my own thought patterns and behaviours. Ultimately we have a choice to face our fears and try to be the best version of ourselves given the circumstances within our control.

#uksmartrecovery Has been also been present throughout my journey into recovery, from facilitating meetings as a volunteer with a local service provider to delivering the programme as an employed staff member in the NHS, to now being employed full time as UK SMART Recovery National coordinator for England.

I was probably considered a lost cause, disenfranchised from society and unable to talk about my issues, perpetuated by the shame and stigma around addiction, mental health, and the taboo of disability, part of my healing process after a successful spell in detox has been embracing acceptance and facing life on lifes terms, as the cliche goes.

Having worked in the sector for a number of years i am as ever encouraged by my amazing peers that are supporting recovery communities across the uk in increasingly difficult conditions, amidst record numbers of drug related deaths and government austerity measures.

I would encourage anyone looking to regain some control over their addictive behaviours to use mutual aid as part of their recovery capital. There are many pathways to recovery, but acceptance is required in all. We can and do recover.

The obstacle is the path – Old zen proverb

UK SMART Recovery

Narcotics Anon

Act peer recovery

Thank you for reading. All is love. 🙂