If this title made you cringe and roll your eyes, I dedicate this post to you.
In recent months, I have both read and listened to the literary arsenal of Brené Brown. I have devoured every word she has said and taken it all to heart. I find what she has to offer in Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone most universally relevant in our current political climate, however, it was everything else she has written on shame and vulnerability (similarly wildly unpopular subjects) that I found most relevant to tackling the difficult subject of racism.
Perhaps, because I read (and reread) Braving the Wilderness first, I started to think critically about the political tactic of dehumanization, and face the agonizing truth that both sides are equally culpable of this. This meant, as thoroughly opposed as I was to admitting this, I was just as guilty of dehumanization as the people I dehumanized for dehumanizing others. (Did you get that?)
Point is, I started to realize that you can’t dehumanize a group because you think they are the ones who deserve it. Because both sides thinks the other one deserves it. I had to face the truth that all peoples are just humans, trying their hardest to make it in a terrifying world. And admit that we are all capable of both good and bad. The only real monsters are sociopaths, and truth is that even now, they are pretty rare.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been coming to grips with the pain and divisiveness enveloping the world. As someone in recovery, I had to address, on a national and global scale, what exactly I was capable of changing. Where is my power? How can I make things better? We have to recognize our powerlessness in order to find our power. I cannot control governments. Fixating on the news cripples me from acting. We are so consumed by the powerlessness that we forget there is anything within our power at all.
I started to realize that my journey towards bettering the world had begun when I worked on myself. I started to realize that I impact, on a daily basis, those I talk to or cross paths with. People hear my words. They see my Facebook posts. They see what I do for my community and for myself and others. They are touched by small acts of kindness. I have an impact, one person at a time. I can choose to spread love, hope, and joy; or I can choose to spread anger, pain, or divisiveness.
This is what I came up with in the journey: LOVE. It sounds of the utmost absurdity to everyone screaming at each other and ready to fight, but truth is our power is in love. I had a friend fight and abandon me on this. And when she told me every horrible thing she could possibly think of about me, and why it made me a horrible human being, I simply told her that I understood she was going through a lot and that I loved her anyway. The only response she could muster before walking out of my life was, “I love you too.”
Right now, as much as we want to take up our weapons and go at each other’s throats, the MOST disarming thing you can do to oppose your opponent, is simply to love them.
Look them in their hateful eyes and tell them you love them anyway.
When it comes to the difficult subject of racism, I have experience with both sides of the coin. I am half Mexican. To the world, I am white. You cannot look at me and tell that I am even the least bit Mexican and as a result, I have sailed through life as a white woman, without the racists having a single clue. I have benefited from white privilege and in the years since becoming aware of it, I have wrestled with what I can do about it.
This is where Brené Brown helped me find my power.
Having placed racism into the frame of shame and vulnerability, I have realized quite a bit. And I wanted to share it, specifically for the white people out there, aware or unaware of their own racism, so that it can help us tackle an issue that is most largely ours to tackle.
I, very specifically, remember what I was taught about racism in elementary school. I was taught about the painful history of racism and that we are all equal, and the the color of our skin is irrelevant. And that, my friends, was where the conversation ended. And that, my friends, is where white people would like to leave the conversation. But ah, there is so much more too it.
In recovery, we learn about the peeling away of the layers of an onion. In the beginning, it also seems as simple as getting sober. But getting sober is just the first step. There is so much more work to be done if you are to STAY sober. Truth is, getting sober is but a small step in an ongoing journey of endless work. Self-betterment is not a destination, it is a journey, that we take one-step-at-a-time…. one unlearned negative way of coping at a time.
Our level of education on racism in school was “Racism bad. Colors good. The end.” Problem is, the story ended there… for white people. People of color are finding their voices and saying, “Oh, but there is so much more.” And the large response to that has been, *plugging ears* “la la la la la I don’t want to hear you, my teacher said ______ and teacher is always right.”
The problem with how it was taught, aside from no perspectives of people of color being included in the telling, was that there is so much more to the story than this. You cannot cover it in February and leave it at that. For fuck’s sake, February is the shortest month of the freakin’ year!!!!
I started to realize, reading Brené Brown, that we are dealing with an issue of very deep shame. The only thing white people were taught is that racism is bad. Developmental psychologists are starting to realize the deeply debilitating impact that being called “good” or “bad” can have on a child. It is inextricably linked to shame. The majority of racist people are hard working people trying their best to be good people. So, if you tell them that they are taking part in something as shameful as racism, the response is uninhibited rage or flat out denial. They are hearing that everything they were taught was wrong, and they crumble under the weight of shame. But at the end of the day, all they hear is the worst thing a child can hear, “You. Are. Bad.”
I’m sure if you pose this to anyone who claims to not be racist, they’d deny it. Brown talks endlessly about people who talk to her claiming shame or vulnerability doesn’t apply to them. And again and again, she reiterates that these two things are UNIVERSAL Everyone experiences them.
I learned very early on that you do not appeal to someone who is delusional, by simply telling them their delusions are delusions. That can, in fact, make their entire reality dissolve, which can lead to a total downward spiral.
So, let’s address real quick the “Racist=bad” and “Not racist=good” dichotomy. Here’s the thing, those equations simply equal to “Not white=good” and “white=bad,” and let me explain why. There is not a white person on this planet who has not partaken in or benefited from the system of racism. There is no such thing as a non-racist white person. It doesn’t exist. There are only those who are aware of their racism, and those who are not. Those who are actively seeking a solution, and those who are not. In the current national conversation, there is only the racist/not racist binary. While I am sure, as a result of the frustration stemming from obliviousness of white people, some don’t see a problem with the second set of equations I listed, my opinion on that was back in my paragraph on dehumanization.
Let’s all try to find our power here.
Being told you’re partaking in racists things is not an attempt to say, “You’re a bad person.” Its an attempt to say, “There’s more to this story. The ones who’ve experienced it should be the ones teaching about it.”
Whenever anyone asks me about the traumatic experiences of another person, I simply reply with, “That’s not my story to tell.” I would not want someone else explaining what happened to me when I was raped. No one else knows what I went through. No one else knows how it made me feel. I get my voice and my power back, when I tell my story. It is my healing, and no one else has that right.
And for years, white people have been the ones teaching about racism. But how would a white person know?
All I know is what happened to my grandmother, the history that was passed to my dad. I know how racism affected her, because she told my dad, and he has told me. And I will keep her story alive. It not only wrecked her life, but the lives of my father, aunts and uncles, and cousins, brothers, and sisters. The trauma she went through played out in her alcoholism, which in turn affected them, and now affects me.
That is how racism or terrorism or abuse work. The impact lives on for generations. THIS is why this is still important. This is why, in 2019, slavery is just as relevant of a subject as when it happened. The impact did not end with the slaves or the slave owners. Families are still reeling from the impact.
But do I have firsthand experience of racism? No, I do not. I cannot tell this story. All I know is the impact its had on my family. All I know is what I was taught and what I’m still learning.
There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, more rage-inducing, for me, as a victim of violence than to not have my voice heard. If you want to see me turn red fast, silence me, talk over me, address me like you know my story better than I do. I can go from 0 to 100 faster than a candle flickers if you do these things. So, take that into consideration if you are a white person who denies the experiences of a person of color. The most healing thing you can do for someone is to listen. Or, as they say in the recovery world, “take the cotton out of your ears, and stick it in your mouth.”
White people, this is a call to action, a call to vulnerability. Yes, realizing you are culpable of racism is a deeply painful and shameful feeling, but it doesn’t have to be disempowering. I’ve grappled in my years since coming to understand racism, and coming to understand what I’m capable of changing in this world, how the two work together. I’m living proof that change is possible. Brené Brown has taught me to challenging my fear of vulnerability spits in the face of shame. The only way to combat the shame of realizing your racism is to get working on vulnerability.
You are vulnerable when you admit you’ve benefited from these systems. That’s a success! You are vulnerable when you listen to the stories of people of color, without the need to say something. That’s a success! You’re vulnerable when you see something racist happening, and you challenge it, despite the risk. That’s a success! You’re vulnerable every time you get a chance to say to a white friend, “listen, you said something the other day that I want to talk to you about.” Its a scary thing, especially when you’re committed to maintaining a relationship, or paralyzed by people-pleasing, to have a compassionate talk with someone about what you’ve learned about racism, but the main thing missing from the conversation on racism is compassion and empathy.
Here’s your chance to change that.
Because truth is, you’re a part of this conversation whether you want to be or not.
It has been so long since I wrote a blog post, that WordPress has changed their format, and so I’m writing in a completely unfamiliar page. Which is great (sarcasm), because this may be the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write.
I had a really awesome blog once, with incredible writing. I suspect the writing was so good because I was completely uninhibited about what I wrote. As I have grown more mature, have become a Christian, and am now newly aware of the vast-spreading nature of the internet, I am a lot more careful about what I write, because I never know who my audience might be.
This post is going to have to be on the more uninhibited side, because I’m writing about something painfully personal, and on a topic that many people do not wish to discuss.
At the same time, I recently discovered that I can no longer access that deliciously uninhibited blog I spoke of, because I don’t remember the password to it. I don’t have any proof of ownership either, so I can’t find out the password or reset it. With my motivation to write being seriously lacking, realizing that I’ve once again (this happens regularly) lost a great deal of my favorite writing does not help the situation. I am, however, writing this post purely out of necessity. I genuinely feel like my life could end up at risk, if I do not say what I have to share today.
I will begin by acknowledging that I have lived through some very difficult traumas. When one lives through trauma, we know what it means to live through a situation where your main objective is just to survive through it. And for many of us, we become stuck in survival mode, with our bodies and our minds functioning as if we are living out that traumatic situation every moment of every day, until something stops it. This is why I now realize that when I was living out a pattern of self-destructive behaviors, I was a survivor of trauma. When it happened, I was a victim, and in the years I spent in limbo, I was a survivor. I did whatever I could do cope with the reality in which I lived, and it was killing me.
I spent the majority of my time in residential treatment, trying to overcome these patterns of self-destructive behaviors, substance abuse, self harm, eating disorder, etc. That time was utilized to stop the survival mode I was stuck in. Once we had accomplished that, my treatment team and I set out to address the traumas themselves. While we made a significant effort, it was all brought to a halt when insurance decided to stop paying. I spent the year that followed, trying unsuccessfully to find a therapist in my area.
Luckily, upon moving to where I now live, I immediately met a therapist who was a perfect fit for me. I have been seeing her about a year, and this month we began, once again, to start addressing the trauma I have experienced in my life.
As a child, I was sexually abused. I would try to skirt around that fact in this post for the sake of saving my family any embarrassment, but a dear friend who I have been in a abuse support group with recently confronted me about the fact that I had never stated this to the group. Am I avoiding it? I thought. How could I be avoiding something without even realizing it? When I went to my therapist a few days later, I thought that I would cleverly elicit a reaction from her to see if she too thought I had been avoiding the topic. When I came in that day, I plopped down on her couch with exasperation and said, point blank, “Well, I guess we should address the trauma… I’ve kinda been avoiding it.” Her response? “Yes, I know.” I was shocked! Even my therapist thought I was avoiding it, so it MUST be true. So, therefore, I must say it. I cannot avoid it any longer. That does not aid in my recovery. I want to be an active part of the solution, not the problem.
I don’t think I ever drew the lines before when I was addressing my trauma in treatment, but it has come to my attention that a common feeling comes over me as I address my childhood sexual abuse. I have an overwhelming, almost paranoid feeling that no one is listening, and no one wants to be bothered with hearing about what I am going through. I now realize that this is must’ve been how I felt as a child whenever I tried to tell anyone about what was happening to me. As valid as it was then, it is very possible that this feeling is irrational in my current situation. I do know that I have plenty of people who hear me, and who care about what I have to say. But even with those loved ones, I have a sneaking suspicion from time to time that they are annoyed by me, or tired of hearing about it. The feeling overcomes me, and it is impossible to ignore. I now recall exploding with verbal outrage on people who talked over me, or who I felt were not listening when I was in treatment. I became very defiant and more determined to be heard at any cost. I realize now that there is still a child inside of me who is dying to be heard.
Now that I am safe, I am recalling these things from an adult perspective, and I have asked myself, “What can I do now to ensure that I am having my needs met in a way I could not have done as a child?” The realization that I have come to is this: I now have a blog and an ability to write. I now know how to ask for help. And I now know exactly what to ask for.
That is my purpose for writing this post. I’m directing it specifically at people in my life.
It is very important in any interactions with me, at this time, and especially when I am speaking about my trauma work or how it makes me feel, that I am heard and validated. This can be as simple as saying, “I hear what you are saying.” or “I care.” or “Your feelings are valid.” They seem really simple and direct, and I know people in treatment who poo-pooed the whole “you’re feelings are valid” line, but I have always felt that there are so many instances when that is ALL people need to hear.
When I reflect upon all of this now, I realize that this could be a core root of why I spent so much of my life suicidal. I felt unheard and ignored… like I was a bother or a burden. Honestly, when I thought of taking my life, I genuinely believed I’d be doing my family a favor. That is why I feel like it is so important, at this moment, for me to hear the things I did not hear as a child. I spent the other night in tears, because I was feeling that same way, and it is so easy for me to come to the conclusion that no one cares, and everyone would be better off without me. I know it sounds extreme, but I have a pretty extreme mind. I’m doing the work I need to change, and it would also be really helpful if the people around me could do what they can to help me in this process.
So, that is what I need. I was a victim, then a survivor, and now… I am trying to thrive. And for me, this is part of the process. Thanks for reading, and for participating in my recovery. Hugs and love.
I’ve always wanted to live in California, and swore I’d never live in the midwest. As I get older, however, I find my priorities are changing. Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of being in a year-long season of summer, here in San Diego, California. I couldn’t be more grateful for my time here. I do believe I have been pretty spoiled. The twelve step community here is vast and supportive, probably the best in the country. The weather is almost always sunny and mild. There are constantly resources galore at my fingertips.
And now… I’m saying goodbye to it all.
For the midwest.
I came to California straight from residential treatment in Chicago. I had 5 and a half months of treatment, and California was the place and I made a home. I got connected right away with meetings, and built a safety net of support around me. I have an amazing dietitian and an incredible sponsor.
As I have processed this move, I am starting to really take in all I will be saying goodbye to, and it has me asking, “is this the right choice?”
The YMCA here is incredible. With one membership, I have access to 4 different Y’s. They have classes like NIA and Meditative Yoga.
I can order Thai delivery.
Seriously, it is almost always sunny. And I have a tendency toward seasonal depression.
Who would leave this?
When it comes down to it, California just isn’t a reasonable place to live, especially for those of us who are not gainfully employed. Becoming a resident of California isn’t cheap, gas isn’t cheap, taxes aren’t cheap.
But that isn’t really why I’m leaving.
See, two years ago today, my sister gave birth to the most adorable little guy ever. (Not that I’m biased) She and I had been marching forward arm-in-arm in the firm resolve that neither one of us would have children, and then, as if in a single day, she changed her mind. It wasn’t just a day actually, she gave more thought to it than I have ever seen a person reasonably consider such an option. She did not make the choice lightly, and I respect her for that.
When he came along, my life changed. As I faced this baby, I faced the realization that this may be the closest I ever come to having a child. And I wanted to be a influential part of this child’s life.
As my moods and my troubles ebbed and flowed, I was almost always tangled in my own darkness. The October before I went into treatment, I missed a chance to visit my nephew due to being hospitalized. I insisted that I come see him before going to treatment and my sister told me that she’d rather I not be around him at the time. As much as it broke my heart, it was my sister’s wishes, and I respect her more than anyone.
When I was in treatment and I needed motivation, my sister and my nephew were the ones I was working to get better for.
Now that I am doing well, I have the opportunity to move close to my nephew and be a full time aunt. For him, and for the new baby, who is due in August. 🙂 I get to help raise mini-feminists! Haha… Hey, they might not have listened if it came from a parent, but from a crazy cool aunt, maybe they’ll take in what I have to offer. You never know. I may never have kids of my own, but I will have a hand in raising some little beings into some incredible people. That is invaluable.
So, I’m leaving all of the conveniences that are California, for small town life. Part of it is a sacrifice, but mostly it is a privilege. I’d rather be the full time aunt, than the twice-a-year aunt. Not that there’s anything wrong with the twice-a-year aunt. But if this is the closest I’ll come to children of my own, it is best I be vigilant.
To be honest, SoCal wasn’t a great fit for me anyway. I’ve always been a country girl, so with the almost 4 million people in this county it is a bit crowded. Everyone here is skinny, and hell-bent on staying that way. Not a good place for eating disorder recovery. And really, the weather is too warm for my taste. I miss seasons. And after all, who needs a YMCA membership, when you’re chasing around two little kids? Or doing baby lifts?
I’m closing a chapter of my life and starting an incredible new one. I’m moving somewhere I plan on staying for a while. I’ve got a good 13 or so years before I’ll start considering a new home. (Teenagers are a whole different ballgame!)
I may not be employed yet, but I already have a full time job: Loving Aunt. And I plan on doing my job most diligently, and with the greatest of care.
I’ve had an incredible year, and for the first time in a looonnnnggggg time (if ever), I hate to see the year go. But I do know that a new year brings new beginnings, and I’m so excited to see what God has in store for me, because I know it will be good.
Yesterday, for the maybe 5th time, I watched the documentary, “I Am,” an incredible film that has changed my life. It got me thinking about how my part in this world can change everything. It made me realize that I don’t need power, or money, or my own non-profit organization to change the world. We are all interconnected, and my very mood has an affect on something else going on in this world. All I want to do is pour positivity and love into this world. Knowing that my heart’s signals set off a butterfly effect on this planet, makes me want to keep a smile always on my face.
When I was miserable, I thought I was the only one suffering. When I consider that my life changes, might’ve changed some vibration in this world for the better, it makes me appreciate my new happiness that much more. Someone else’s life might’ve changed for the better with mine. Beautiful.
“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” ~John F. Kennedy
In that respect, I made a decision for my New Year’s resolution. I don’t often make resolutions, and when I do, they do not look like weight loss or habit-changing. I want to contribute goodness to this world. I want to do my part to set a positive chain of events in motion, every. single. day. I made the decision to go out of my way to practice a random act of kindness every day for the year 2013.
My prayer, is that God presents me daily with an opportunity to help someone, and that in doing so, I start to make a shift for the greater good.
I will be writing about this experiment/resolution here, but I will not specifically name who I helped or how. I’m not doing this to receive kudos. I’m doing this to show those around me that even the little things can change the world. And to suggest that maybe others try this as well. I will be writing about it to discuss how this venture helps transform my life and perspectives in the process.