In The Aftermath: You Remain. You Survive. You Endure.

And so it’s here… this thing you feared…
this thing you had hoped would never come…
this darkness…
this visitation.

this diagnosis
this career issue
this change
this end of the relationship

this death
this separation
this humiliation
this loneliness.

this thing you said you couldn’t handle
this thing you thought might break you.

this situation you hoped to never face.

Has come.

Seated at your table.

Looking you in the eye.


You are still here.

You are still breathing.

You are still YOU.

You are still you, unadorned.

You are still you, stripped of what you thought you needed.
You are still you, stripped of your view of yourself
You are still you, stripped of what you thought you deserved
You are still you, stripped of your plan

You are still you, perhaps even more so.

You are the essential you.

The quiet you.

The you that exists beyond who THEY say you are.

The you that exists beyond who YOU say you are.

The you that exists beyond the label.

You are the you that sits with the Universe.

You are the you that sits with Nature.
Sits with Allah
Sits with Krishna
Sits with Buddha
Sits with Christ

You are the you that sits with God.



You are the blank slate you.

The authentic you.

The listening you.

The courageous you.

The faith-filled you.

The you that is ready… for the next step.

The ‘Kindness Habit’ Challenge

“Hatred cannot be controlled once it is set in motion.” Howard Thurman. Jesus and the Disinherited.

We have weathered dark days… and sit now with bruised hearts… and weary souls. As we prepare for what comes next – let us recall and reclaim our most powerful selves. Try this ‘Kindness Habit’ Challenge for 30 days… let me know how you feel.

Do one kind thing today.

Think a kind thought about someone.

With intention.

Do it actively.
Say it out loud.

Even if it’s for yourself.
Or an animal companion who loves you.
Your family.
A friend.
A place.
A home.

Whoever just came into your mind right now.

We need to offset the very real ugliness that is repeated and amplified and spreads like a virus – toxic clouds of anger darkening the sky until it seems that darkness becomes the sky.

Injustice is real.
Cruelty is real.

But – kindness is real too.

Let the darkness go for a minute – we can always come back to it.

It will always be there.

Today – do one kind thing.

Think one kind thought.

Just one.


Christmas: Your Spirit Still Remembers Magic

I couldn’t sleep last night… and while I often struggle with terrible insomnia – this felt – different in some way. I was lying awake – doing an inventory of the day – normal holiday stressors – trying to figure out why I couldn’t sleep. Was I worried about a client? Family and friends? Was I worried about the state of the world?

And while the answer was “yes” on a certain level – I also knew that that wasn’t it. Those are concerns I have daily – and this – restlessness – didn’t feel like that.

I went downstairs at dawn and turned on my Christmas tree and put the fire on… And this – feeling – the feeling I was feeling – which I couldn’t name but seemed so familiar – came into clear focus…

When I was a kid – as far back as I can remember – I would get so excited for Christmas that I did not sleep for the entire month in the lead up to December 25th.

It wasn’t only about presents – although I secretly held out hope Santa might bring me Malibu Ken so I could have an excuse to hang out with my sister’s Malibu Barbie – it was – everything… the tree, the lights, the Christmas carols… Jesus and Santa – joining forces in my little boy brain – as the ultimate super heroes…

It was I – Joey – knowing I had presents under the tree for my family to unwrap – a macaroni ornament – a handprint in plaster… the best presents ever I was sure.

It was feeling part of – the rhythm of life… I was experiencing the same sense of expectation and excitement that everyone in my world was experiencing. And for a boy who always felt – different – and somehow – alone – and – not okay – to be included in our collective “Christmas” was so dear to me I never wanted it to end. I didn’t want to miss a second of it – so I didn’t! I would stay awake every night… sometimes bring my blanket and pillow and sit by the tree… by myself… alone with Santa and Jesus – with all that – magic.

And somehow – through all these years – that excitement – that feeling that something incredible was happening – and that I was part of it – with all of you… stayed with me. Some – emotional muscle memory – wakes up this time of year.. and all those feelings come rushing back.

It wasn’t insomnia… this feeling I was feeling… it was – little boy gay Christmas magic – returned to me… still here… in my grown up self. Perhaps in you as well? If you sit for a moment – and – remember?

Have a wonderful holiday everyone! (And I better get that Malibu Ken this year – I have been very very good (mostly)).


The Dance of Grief and Gratitude

Beatrice Bates (November 19, 1935 – September 27, 2019)

On this night, two years ago, I had the privilege of holding vigil and – holding my mother – in her hospital bed – as she transitioned shortly after midnight. She is remembered – and missed – every day… Formidable, fierce, loving, complicated, profane and hilarious… she insisted you love her in all her flawed humanity – and she would love you right back in yours.

And so I did…

It’s a mysterious thing – profound loss…

While the loss itself brings grief – it can also bring gratitude. And, in time, if you are fortunate, “the grief” and “the gratitude” together begin a dance that keeps the person you’ve lost very present… in some ways – more present than ever – because we can see them without the noise of our busy lives getting in the way, without the heartbreak of illness, without the burden of needs met or not met, without our grievances. We can see their essential self. We can access – what remains.

Of course there are elements of profound sadness and absence on this day – but also – miraculously – gratitude for the grace with which my family carried it… and gratitude that.. in the end… this relationship gave me some of life’s greatest lessons… Lessons in complicated love… which is the most authentic kind of love.

Love layered with the pain of living… and the mistakes we make…

Love layered with regret… and the treasons and betrayals that come with truly knowing someone…

And hopefully – if we are fortunate – if we are willing – atonement and acceptance and forgiveness… and then back to love. Always back to love. And joy.

Today is – all of that – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There would be no me – without her.

Thank you my friends for witnessing this day with me.

Father’s Day – Finding “Your Father” In Unexpected Places.

“Father’s Day” can be difficult for people who did not have a traditional “Father” experience… those whose Fathers were – broken and wounded – violent – or absent – or emotionally unavailable – and unable to offer the qualities we celebrate in Fathers. 

While you own your sadness around that – and you have every right to mourn its absence – take a moment to celebrate the people who DID provide you with the qualities we associate with Fathers… commitment, support, leadership, stability, compassionate strength, unconditional love, a moral compass, a sense of ethics and obligation, steadfastness, loyalty, reliability and courage… They may not be your biological fathers – they may not be male at all – it could be a spouse or a friend… a teacher… a peer… a mentor… or, perhaps, you “father’ed” yourself. I asked one of my clients who was raised under horrific circumstances, without (I naively thought) a role model, how he came to be such a loving Father himself – he said “I used to watch Lost in Space – and pretend Dr. John Robinson was my dad. He was all the things I wanted to be… all the things I wished my father could have been.. And my mom of course – she taught me how to be a great Dad.” 

I did some work with LGBTQ youth – and one of the kids used to celebrate her “Dad’ on Father’s Day – he was an older drag queen – who made sure she kept going to high school and showed up for her events. He was strict – but always – present.

Fatherhood it seems can show up across genders and bloodlines – and across ideas of masculinity or sexuality.

Happy Father’s Day – to all the people who miraculously show up in the lives of others… those who shepherd us through good times and bad – regardless of biology – and through their love whisper – “you can do it.”


I read this morning that the great Representative James Clyburn will introduce legislation asking Congress to designate the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as ‘America’s Hymn’ (alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem) as a hope — as an offering — as a reckoning — for racial healing and unity. I was so — disheartened — by some of the cynical and dismissive — and racist — responses that I felt compelled to respond.

As a psychotherapist I can say it is a gesture like this, small as it may seem, that DOES in fact aid in healing. Racism and bigotry are acts of violence, and living with them, surviving them, IS a kind of persistent trauma, that makes those affected by them feel disconnected and unanchored from a society that keeps them safe. (If you want a brilliant read on this please look at Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” and any book on trauma).

The collective national embrace of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as our American Hymn says, hopefully, to those who have been abused both “out loud” and “in the shadows” in this country “Yes. We see you. We see your journey. We see what you have survived. We see the injustice. And we can bear witness to it” — because bearing witness is vital in healing.

There is no healing without it.

If it helps you to personalize it in order to get there, think about the traumas and injustices in your own life. I know in mine, it was only in having them witnessed and acknowledged that I could heal. It has been the joy of my life to witness and acknowledge yours. In doing so, we make meaning of humanity. We touch the sweetness of existence.

Now think about the many codified and legislated traumas our country has inflicted on “the other” — as most countries have and do — that have not been witnessed or acknowledged. The ideals in our constitution will only be made manifest if we are courageous enough to drag our particular darkness into the light.

To name it, claim it and cast it out.

To those who are dismissive — or cynical — of Clyburn’s “gesture” — read the lyrics to that song —  learn its history— and ask yourselves what darkness in your heart compels you to want to withhold something that could be healing, not only for those who have survived injustice — but — ironically — and miraculously — healing for those who perpetuated it. It’s a collective “taking of responsibility” and an ask for forgiveness. Not only individual forgiveness, should you need it, but national forgiveness for our national wrongs.

This small gesture contributes to a “great good work” — our collective freedom.

Of course it is symbolic.

Of course it is a gesture — and deep and substantive work must also be done legislatively and judicially with “boots on the ground.” We are not naïve. People of goodwill understand that. But societies are constructed of symbols and gestures.

Symbols and gestures are anchors that can frame our actions and point the way.

Symbols and gestures of a just society are what is lost in injustice and trauma.

Is now not the perfect moment to construct new ones?

I think this gesture, this symbol, is beautiful. I think it is kind. I think it necessary. I think it has power. I am writing to my own congressional leaders to lend my support.

My dear friends — we are at a crossroads in our national identity — we are at a crossroads with our own humanity.

Kindness is needed. A radical kindness — that includes accountability and action and empathy.

The good news is — I know you. You are kind.

Declare yourself.

Do it today.

In your own home.

In your community.

In your state.

In yourself.

Practice active actionable accountable kindness. And demand it from our nations leaders.

I promise you — you will feel less — overwhelmed by the ugliness you see around you — and the inability of our government to lead.

They are not going to save us.

We will save us.

We will save each other.

We will save ourselves.



9/11 – Reflection

Dear ones… I am on a social media break for the foreseeable future. I have found that the best way I can navigate the chaos of the times – and the polarizing noise of derision and hate – is to – become very still… and quiet – and to not meet noise with more noise.

That being said, I could not let the day pass without – honoring 9/11. A day I have written about so often in the past.

The coverage today – the political posturing – the politicians – the competing media… they share a narrative that feels so – foreign to me.

They tell a story – a version of a story – but do they know the meaning of the story they tell?

I was there.

So were you.

And we know what we know.

9/11 was the day that New York City became sacred to me.

It was tattooed into my heart – and seared into my soul.

Yes, we inhaled the smoke of death and destruction – and the worst of humanity.

We inhaled evil.

And then – a miracle happened.

We inhaled what is also true about us… a truth we sometimes forget…

In the face of unimaginable loss and pain… we inhaled – empathy… and loving kindness… and magnanimity…

We inhaled our common humanity – and found grace and courage and fortitude and goodness.

We inhaled them – and they became cellular… coursing through our veins – and embedded in our bones.

Both a wound – and a balm.

New York City became a part of our DNA… as undeniable as a fingerprint.

NYC and me.

And you.

Today has added additional meaning for me as I listen to people, politicians, the media, breathlessly talk about 9/11 and “the death of New York City” in the wake of COVID… linking the two.

They know the story – but they don’t know the meaning…

Like 9/11, COVID is not simply death and destruction… it is, once again, also what we found in response to it… empathy… and loving kindness… and magnanimity…

Both a wound and a balm.

New York City is – ultimately – us – all of us – at our best.

The Phoenix – not rising up out of the ashes – but lifted up – through force of will, through our common humanity – and grace and courage – and fortitude and goodness.




Faced with the worst.

Showing our best.

Battle scarred.

Bowed. But not broken.


Always hopeful.

New York City.


Gathering Strength: The Path Forward

My dear friends…

During these terrifying times, so many of you have been sharing with me, personally, and certainly professionally in my therapy practice, the weight of the burdens you are carrying – and the toll they are taking. I wish I could gather us all together to voice our collective ache and for you to profoundly know how many people feel exactly the way you do.

You are not alone.

These days can feel – exhausting – I know. And sometimes I think we are made to feel deliberately so by those who are driven by the darkest of human impulses. They want our heads bowed and our hearts heavy – too weak to fight. But we have a long road ahead together – you and I – and we can share this watch – and these hardships. Strength can be found in being as vigilant in living the ideals that we are fighting for – as much as we focus on what we must fight against. Take time to – recharge… to find joy… in nature… in those around you… take time to laugh… especially laugh – and not let the news of the day consume you… to not let ugliness and despair fester within you.

These are the days when our shadow selves have been made manifest – at home – and across the globe.

Yes, our worst human impulses stand before us. Greed and corruption and entitlement… hateful withholding hearts, deception and jealousy – and a yawning merciless endless cruelty that stops your heart and steals your breath.

We know these things because we have felt them in ourselves.

We recognize them because the moment demands we must.

Carnage in human form.



Living – and breathing – and staring into our eyes.

Daring us to back down.

Daring us to look away.


But we have a calling – you and I.

And all people of good will.

We have been called.

And this time, we will not back down.

This time we will not look away.

This time – we will stare back.

This time – we will stare down.

This time – we will have the courage, together, to drag this darkness – every darkness – out into the light.

We will name it.

We will claim it.

And we will cast it out.



On November 3rd.

And every day after that.

Until the seeds of ugliness can find no ground to root – and finally turn to dust.

We will.

Because we can.

We will.

Because we must.

But – first – we must stay strong in our resolve…

We must stay strong and hopeful and united… and not allow ourselves, or each other, to be brought down low by despair.

When I am – tired – when I am truly just bone tired – tired in my soul – I turn to the words of our heroes…

People who have lived through times like these.
People who defined times like these.
People who transformed times like these.

I look to the clues they gave us… to the maps they left behind.

A way out.

A way forward.

Today I found two quotes by Martin Luther King that refocused and inspired me:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

And, with those, I will leave you with a quote from Viktor Frankl… a quote you have seen me lean into before – a truth that has become a touchstone for me when I find myself – consumed – and blinded – by circumstances.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Take care of yourselves.

Look out for one another.

We will prevail!



George Floyd: White America Must Acknowledge This Moment.

As a licensed psychotherapist and mental health professional, I shared a post recently on social media outlining my frustration at having called for the use of mandatory psychological testing tools to identify potential racial bias in law enforcement – tools we have at our disposal – and being met, time and again, administration after administration, with dismissal and indifference by various Attorneys General, Police Commissioners, Governors and Mayors. These tools have the potential to identify racist and raging officers who might weaponize their authority. Why aren’t we using them?

There were three types of responses to my post yesterday – all of them revealing in their own way.

The first type of response gives me hope for better days… People of all races – across the political divide – heartbroken and horrified – vowing to take up this mantle… to fight this fight. Unsure as to how – unsteady in action – but determined in purpose.

The second would have been more upsetting had it not been so predictable. Violent threats, homophobic insults and disparaging racial characterizations – people emboldened in their hatred – and greedily clinging to the footholds they have gained in American culture.

The third response, while in some ways the most troubling, is also a place where we might find the possibility of change:

White Americans – quick to say they are “not racist” – and “of course the killing was a tragedy” – but – and here is where it gets problematic – asking me to remember that “other races are racist too” and “there were other officers of color there as well who stood by – who did nothing.” And “there are incidences of non-white officers – Asian and Latino and Black officers – who have also used excessive force.” And, of course, the toothless “All Lives Matter” response – which gives the illusion of acknowledging – but then dismisses – this moment… the tragedy of this ‘here and now.’ This man. This black man – who was brutally killed.

What is this compulsion so many of us have in moments like this to deflect… to excuse… to look away… to find co-conspirators… Why do we avoid looking at the evidence in front of us – the dead bodies in front of us – and continue to find ways to say “Yes, yes, it’s awful – but THEY….” “Yes, yes it’s awful – but I…” “Yes, yes it’s awful – but let’s not…”

‘Yes, but’ – is our shame.

‘Yes, but’ – is our fear.

‘Yes, but’ – is our hiding.

‘Yes, but’ … is killing people.

There is no ‘Yes, but’ here.

Not here.

Not now.

Stay with this murder.

Not the protests. Not the riots. Not the looting. Not the property damage.

Stay here.

Stay with the murder.

This one.

Stay with George Floyd.

Stay with that video.

Watch it.

And then watch it again.

There is a white police officer suffocating an unarmed black man.

A white police officer who feels entitled to kill a non-violent, unarmed black man.



As if the man – were nothing.

As if George Floyd was – debris – detritus – disposable – discardable. A slug. A fly. Something we swat, squish, kill – with hardly a thought – and move on with our day. As if no one in the world would care if this man’s life were snuffed out.

Sit with that.

Stay with that.

Claim that.

We have to own that.

It is here.

Staring us in the face.

We need to stare back.

Unflinching. Unblinking. Courageous.

And we need to kill this ugliness at its core.

Which means not only a full routing of the justice department and a dismantling of the system of law enforcement that allows these abuses to flourish – we need to incorporate full psychological screenings for every officer – as I mentioned in my prior post – and develop protocols on isolating and removing these officers when they are identified. These are initiatives that can be, should be, and I believe must be, embraced by the majority of our honorable and ethical law enforcement community.

It also means attending, each of us, to our immediate community – our personal world – and refusing to allow the casual racist seeds that drop into our lives every day to take root.

It means having the courage to look at our own racist thoughts – and drag them out into the light.

It means pushing back against our impulse to say ‘Yes, but’ when we are confronted by these atrocities – when we are overwhelmed by the evidence before us.

It also means having the courage – when people in your life – cherished loved ones – family- friends – acquaintances – share their racism – casually – tribally: a slur, a dismissal, a “making small” of a life… The “I’m not racist but”… 

Call it out.

Name it.

Shame it.

Denounce it.

Racist seeds yield racist violence and racist ideologies that thrive on our fear of conflict. On our desire to “let it slide.” On the “I was just kidding” and the “don’t be so sensitive.” On our acceptance of the “yes, but.”

We will not be free – until we take these moments in – as they come – and own them. And commit to stopping them.

We will not be free until we make ourselves accountable for the things we don’t say – and the actions we don’t take on behalf of others. I feel the weight of that – myself – for all the times I did nothing – and said nothing. And through my silence – with my family – with my friends – in my government – in my privilege – let the seeds of hatred grow.

We need to validate for ourselves as a civilized society, and for people of color, that we all see – and know – and acknowledge – that George Floyd was murdered by a racist police officer because he was black.

Full stop.

We need to validate for ourselves as a civilized society, and for people of color, that we all see – and know – and acknowledge – that George Floyd is the latest, in a long line of black men and women, killed by racist police officers.

Full stop.

We need to tell them we see this – not for their sake – but for our own.

We need to tell them we see them – not for their liberation – but for our own.

Yes – we need to kill this ugliness at its core.

And its core lives in us.

We allow it to thrive by our refusal to acknowledge it – and condemn it – without disclaimers.

We have the power to stop it.

But not in the ‘Yes but’.

Only in the claiming.

Only in the truth-telling.

Only in the “Yes.”

No one is exempt from this fight.

Joe Bolduc