White Privilege

img_5767When I wrote my guide for white people about systemic racism, the main feedback I’ve received in emails and direct messages from white people is some variation of, “I’m not racist. Stop calling me that. My life was/is hard. I don’t have white privilege.”

There’s a big misconception out there of what it means to have white privilege. Having white privilege is not a “bad” thing. It is a responsibility. I tell you this with all the love in my heart, white people.

Here’s how you know if you have white privilege: Are you white? Do you have white skin? If the answer is yes = you have white privilege. You cannot disown it. You cannot decide you don’t want it. You cannot spend your whole life doing good works that somehow erases it. You can *never* get rid of it. And having a hard life with white skin on does not mean you don’t have white privilege. It means you have a hard life and you might be challenged economically or otherwise.

White Privilege exists because this country was built by stealing and kidnapping people of color from other countries, forcing them to come live here, and making them slave laborers to build our country because we could. White Privilege exists because as white people, we slaughtered millions of indigenous peoples who lived here before us because we wanted their land and we could. White Privilege exists because we rounded up Japanese people and forced them without being accused of any crimes to live in interment camps because we could. White Privilege exists because we don’t have to declare war but we go into Vietnam and kill as many people as we can find because we can. White Privilege exists because we depend on thousands and thousands of Mexican people to do the jobs we don’t want to do and yet we get to look down on them and yell at them to get out of Our Country because we can. And White Privilege exists because we, as a country, can focus on a religious group like Muslims and threaten that we will catalog all of them in a registry so we can keep a governmental eye on them. Because. We. Can.

You, as a white person, don’t like or promote any of those things? Great! But, that does not erase your white privilege. You, as a white person, lived in an area that was predominately Black and experienced prejudice against you for your skin color? I understand, that has happened to me, too, but that was not reverse-racism nor was it Black Privilege, because neither of those things are Things That Exist because of this thing we call Systemic Racism.

Allow me to explain.

Because of the way we built our country and our constitution, non-white people were not thought of as Real People. They were livestock who could be owned like cattle. I mean, think about that for a minute. No, I mean FEEL about that for a second. It sucks. It’s really, really bad. And in our own constitution where we discussed the worth of people, our founding fathers decided Black people were worth oh, about 3/5th of Real White People.

We built our education system with white people succeeding in mind. We built our business systems with white people succeeding in mind. We build ALL of our systems with white people succeeding in mind. And in cases like Brown VS Education, we took what was working for Black people, meaning schools that were successfully educating their students, and we squished it by TRYING TO DO SOMETHING GOOD like eliminate segregation, and we forced those folks into environments where not only were they not wanted, but the entire system was set up to help white folks succeed and not them. Brown VS Education highlights just how much we, as white people, screw things up that we don’t understand because we aren’t willing to look fully and unflinchingly at our own white privilege. Segregation? Bad. Yes. Let’s agree that dividing people solely on the color of their skin is bad. But forcing people into a SYSTEM where ONLY white children will be successful because we aren’t willing to truly listen to what their needs in education are or to train our teachers to understand the deep and soul-rocking after-shocks of what generations of slavery have done to their families is unconscionable. Why not get rid of the white schools and put the white kids into the schools where the Black kids are learning? That’s not even an option because White is the Gold Standard. What is White is what everyone should want. I would bet good money that as the discussion went forth on how to integrate the schools, it was never even a question that they wouldn’t take the Black kids and insert them into the white schools. And this is a pattern that is replicated in every single system in our country. Hence = systemic racism based on white privilege.

If you have white skin, are you supposed to spend the rest of your life feeling guilty about it? <-- actual question I was asked. Well, I guess that's up to you. You can choose to feel any way you want about it. But, I can tell you that your guilt isn’t helpful in making anything any better. It’s going to keep you stuck where you are in your feelings, and your feelings don’t get any work done. I feel great about having white skin because that’s how God make me and I look for opportunities to use it for the benefit of those who don’t have it. God also made tons of people around the world in beautiful other shades besides white and they are all just as good as I am, but they might not have the same opportunities that I have. I go out of my way to look for people who don’t have white skin wherever I go so I can kind of monitor out of the corner of my eye if anyone is going to give them a hard time so I can intervene, especially now since Nov.9. And I try to recognize in all situations where things come easily to me how it might not be the same for others. That’s my responsibility because I was given this skin I did nothing to deserve. No, I don’t feel guilty about having white skin. I look at it like a sacred responsibility to use it for others. I’m no saint. I make a ton of mistakes. I have so much to learn about my own white privilege still. But, that’s ok. I’m trying, I’m teachable, and I’m paying attention.

See also: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Hidden Gifts

rainbow-jpgThis past year or so I’ve been trying to find the gifts in whatever life hands me. When I’m stuck in traffic, maybe it’s that I got to hear something really great on NPR before I reached my destination. If I dropped and shattered a favorite heirloom glass serving bowl, maybe it’s that when I swept the floor I found the missing earring I’ve been looking for under the fridge. You get the idea. The game is thus: can I find the gift no matter how deeply it’s hidden, because I really and truly have to believe in a God that cares about me so much, He would only give me a trauma wherein a gift is hidden just for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I could do this Life.

When I meditate in the mornings, I frequently have an old trauma come forward in my consciousness. It will be something from when I was young and vulnerable. Abuse of all kinds. Situations where I’ve been holding on to guilt and shame and anger. Most of them I felt like I’d already dealt with and let go, but I stopped being surprised to see them months ago. And what I’m learning is that I can’t really fully release them until I find the gift, even if I’ve dealt with the trauma. And with some of the stuff? It’s hard. HARD. Finding a gift when someone has sexually assaulted you is a tall order, my friend. But so far, in my own experience, it can be done. It may not be fast. It is definitely not easy. And who knows, I may run into one in the future that takes the rest of my life, but it won’t stop me from trying because the pay off is worth it. And just in case it’s not clear, this gift is NOT in any way from the person who perpetrated the crime. That person did not do me any favors in harming me. No. It’s just that my God is so powerful, He can turn anything for good on my behalf.

Which brings me to this election cycle and this past few months in particular. In case you don’t know who I am, I’ll sketch it for you.

I’m the most white woman possible coming in at 100% European octane, who has been in relationships previously with women and believes in marriage equality and safe living for all, and who fell in love with a half-Mexican man. I was abused and assaulted by those I knew and some I didn’t starting before age four. I went through most of my life challenged with mental health issues like bipolar and DID [ I was a consultant for the Showtime series, United States of Tara ] and I am a passionate mental health advocate. I have physical issues like Lupus. I’m a mother to four children and have two grandchildren. I was raised in an LDS family, left the church for about twenty years, and then came back to it about two years ago. I live in California in a warm seat of liberals with a local economy that does alright and even though I was raised by an ultra-conservative father who sent me to John Birch camp one summer, I lean more left than center in most things. My husband has a full-time job with benefits which makes it possible for me to work from home on a part-time basis mentoring and doing energy work for others who have compound physical and mental challenges. I also write, shoot photos, make jewelry, paint, and do pretty much any craft that exists.

Between my husband and myself, we have a lot of family, including many minority and gay family members and friends who live all across the country. We mostly live paycheck to paycheck but have modest 401Ks. We have three month’s food storage smack dab in my bedroom requiring me to get in bed by crawling over canned goods because we live in a tiny condo and there’s no other place to put it. We will not have a gun in our home. Neither of us has a Bachelor’s degree but two of our kids do and one will soon and the other one doesn’t seem to need one because he’s already making more per year than we do by a very large margin. We don’t care about material things and are usually late adopters. The largest TV we’ve ever owned is so small you can’t read the questions on the screen when you watch The Chase.

I volunteer for my church on a weekly basis and can’t imagine my life now without it, although I’m also deeply conflicted about multiple beliefs that are held by most members. I hate crowds and having conversations that mean nothing. I’d prefer an afternoon on my couch reading, snuggled up to Joe instead of heading to a fancy party. I’ve been known to be awkward in public settings because I have a hard time regulating my language if someone says or does something that rubs up against what I consider imperative like protecting the underdog or exhibiting blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or anything that implies that person thinks they are better than any other person on the planet. I’m getting better at picking it up when it’s not so blatant.

That means that this past year I’ve been repeatedly hit by Donald Trump and his words and promises. I’ve been in fear. I’ve been angry. I’ve been confused. I’ve been worried about my friends and family that aren’t white and straight. I’ve been worried about the future and what it means for someone like me with preexisting health issues and how protected I need to be walking down the street alone because my body is now not my own and is open season for leering men who want to grab me and assault me (which is how minority people have felt for, oh, ever.). And I’ve been wondering how to just forget all the things Trump said he’d do now that he’s going to be the president like so many people suggest because of course HE’S NOT REALLY GOING TO DO any of those things (but I don’t believe that) and I’ve been wondering how it’s possible to expect all the people who are now committing violence in his name to just stop because he says to, IF he says to.

These are not hypothetical worries I have. They are very real. And I’m that 100% creamy mayo white lady living in the lap of liberal territory. I can’t imagine how my Muslim immigrant friends feel or my Mexican and Black family and friends in red states feel or my LGBTQ and Latinx friends feel who married someone of the same gender or simply hope to use a bathroom in a public place without getting beaten up. And what keeps me up at night are the thoughts about how this is trickling down into our youth. The stories of what the kids are doing to the other kids at school. I mean, you remember school, right? It’s a nightmare even when you’re popular and the going is good. Imagine how those kids are feeling. (And then donate to Kelly‘s Being Black at School because they are doing the work.)

Circling back to the beginning of my post –> where is the gift? That’s what I go to sleep asking my God. Where is the gift in this? And He didn’t answer. For months I’ve been asking and frustrated and angry because it felt like He wasn’t playing by the rules.

Wait on the Lord, I’d hear. Wait.

Election night, as Joe and our son, Tony, and I watched the election results come in, it was about the time Florida kept going back and forth that I realized, I mean, it HIT me, Trump could win this. The only hope I’d had for months was that Trump was about to get his hat handed to him with a thorough trouncing and then things would go back to normal. I needed that so bad.

Normal is not coming. It’s not happening. Normal doesn’t exist anymore and I don’t think it ever did but I didn’t know that in my bubble. All my worst fears came true. Trump won and reports of violence started pouring in. It was like someone took the cap off the slow leak of terrible things that had been happening and everything burst out. Conservatives pretty much across the board had one of three things to say: 1. Stop complaining. 2. Things are not that bad. 3. Voting for Trump doesn’t make me racist. Minority liberals had one thing to say: 1. I’m terrified.

Over the past three days I’ve been in a crash course of learning what I didn’t know. Normal for me looked like living in a bubble of information that I already knew. It meant not having important conversations with the conservative members of my family to see how they felt. It meant not looking deeply into why so many people in the middle states were hurting. It meant discounting the importance of listening to my minority friends who had been worried for MONTHS that this was going to turn out bad. It meant looking at everything through a simplistic telescope. It meant being slightly smug that I was smarter or “got it” and those in the red states didn’t. It meant being able to lie to myself that I knew everything would turn out how I wanted it to. Needed it to.

And then, that is not how it went down.

Joe and I wept that night and off and on the next day and the next day and even today. We listen to someone elses story, witness their pain and grief, and feel that connection that only comes from surviving trauma. Make no mistake about it, this has been a PTSD experience for thousands. This is severe trauma that taps into survival fears. The Flight/Fight response. People are fighting for their lives.

But there’s been a gradation of grief that has begun to dissipate from time to time and every now and again something extraordinary happens. I find a gift. I realized today that I had a few I could list and as I started listing, more and more came. It was as if my God was saying, “Hey there. Here’s your gifts. You thought you would just get one or two? Sillyhead.”

That’s often how it goes. He gives me way more than I was expecting.

  • I had to dig deep to find out what I believed about the world and in doing so, I know myself better.
  • I have an opportunity to shore up my boundaries about what I believe is acceptable and think up strategies for what to do when I see them being crossed.
  • My own capacity for being there for others has increased. I can be more present.
  • I have to open my eyes to see where I failed and what my own part is in this, which creates room for me to change, grow, and improve.
  • I’ve been shown where I dropped the ball in relationships, giving me a chance to reconnect and do better.
  • I’ve been brought closer to members of my family who I haven’t had any serious conversations with in quite some time.
  • I realize I’ve made it through terrible, horrible things in my life and no matter what happens now, I’ll find a way to be ok and I take it upon myself to help everyone I can to find that peace also.
  • I reaffirmed my determination to not be a victim in my own story. No one gets to decide but me what kind of person I am or how I will respond to a situation.
  • I see more ways to be emotionally useful to others.
  • The training I’ve had in energy work repeatedly comes in handy in supporting others.
  • Joe and I had conversations about emergency preparedness and survival that we should have had long ago.
  • The potential for growth and important learning is happening right now. Like, RIGHT NOW.
  • It’s ok if I don’t know how to do everything right the first time around. I can always learn if I stay open to it and don’t get defensive.
  • I’m more ok with other people feeling uncomfortable while they’re learning. It’s part of the process.
  • I’ve had a sneak peak into my own soul and I pretty much liked who I saw.
  • To Do:
  • Learn Spanish.
  • Take a Self-Defense class.
  • Learn how to peacefully protest.
  • Learn the art of agreeing to disagree so conversations can continue.
  • Choose even more deliberately where to spend my energy and which direction I want to go.
  • Try to get more “in-between” moments with the kids where the real connections happen.
  • Tell everyone I love them

None of these things changes the situation at large. Nothing I’ve learned makes it easier for anyone else. It only changes what’s happening inside me, but with those changes I can come from a place of peace and that might be helpful to others while they navigate this tricky and deeply upsetting terrain.

I believe real conversations are the only ones worth having, and I intend to make as many of them go as deep as I possibly can. It’s going to take a long time to release all the trauma that’s happened, not just for me but for so many this past year, especially because it’s ongoing. I have hope I can do my part now because of receiving so many gifts with which to process it all. I’ll keep waiting on the Lord, but I’m also going to do everything within my power to help those around me. It’s a sacred responsibility.

Holding Space for the Broken Hearted

The sister of Empathy is called Holding Space. They hold hands a lot and hang out together watching old episodes of M.A.S.H., sharing a bag of BBQ potato chips, and wiping their red-tipped fingers on their jeans.

Empathy, as we’ve discussed, is when you can feel what another person is feeling by making them human to you because you can identify their experience with something that’s happened in your own life.

Holding Space is when you give that other person all the room they need to process their emotions without judgment, shame, or irritation, and you don’t try to fix the problem.

Think about when you’ve gone through something challenging in your life. Was there someone who wanted you to hurry up and just get over it already? Probably a parent, sibling, or spouse depending on your age. Did someone tell you that you were dumb for being hurt in the first place? Did they shove it in your face that it was your own dang fault, whatever it was that happened? Did they refuse to take any responsibility if it was partly (or solely) their fault? Did they gas-light you and make you feel like you were going crazy for caring? Did they compare their own lives and hard things to yours to try and diminish your feelings? These are all things that are NOT holding space.

Here, you can watch it in action. Van Jones is trying to express his feelings of sadness and explain to Corey Lewandowski that people need a little time to heal and feel and Mr. Corey Lewandowski is having none of it.

Here’s the truth: we are all one, big family on this earth and if some of us are hurting, we’re doing it wrong. We need for everyone to be getting their needs met. The more selfish and ignorant people there are who refuse to acknowledge the pain of others, the more hurt, strife, war, hardships, sadness, grief, and pain the world has to hold. And when there is a spike like there is right now in our political climate, it’s too much for us, as a group, to hold and it spills over into violence and hate speech as a way to protect us from things we don’t understand. Small skirmishes everywhere. People hurting other people intentionally. There will probably always be people who have every intention of hurting others and they do it very well, so as many people as I can persuade who are doing it UNintentionally and would like to change, the better.

When you hold space for someone, you are in essence saying, “Here. Let me create safety around you to process and go through all the stages you need to. No really, go ahead. Be mad, sad, angry, yell about it, cry about it, laugh about it, say salty words if you want. Tell me how utterly alone you feel and how gut-wrenchingly unfair it is. I’ll just sit here and love you.” Sometimes that’s enough. Don’t underestimate how huge it is for someone to fully feel heard. Other times, when they are done sharing, ask how you can help support them. Many people won’t want you to try and fix it for them, but they will welcome your support in creating change.

We ALL go through several stages when we work through any big feelings. We’ve got the stages of grief, sure, but your body cycles through lots of feelings, one after the other, when lots of different kinds of things happen. It’s how we’re built and it can lead to overwhelm. Sometimes we have these little tea kettle bursts of anger that help reset our equilibrium. We “take it out” on whomever is closest because something they say or do or just ARE triggers something in us. (Here’s some more constructive ways to let off steam.)

We also have a lot of knee-jerk emotions that pop to the surface before we’ve even had a chance to think logically about anything. Our lizard brains are always turned on for Flight/Fight response and if our adult, mature self isn’t in control, we’re going to say things we feel intensely in that moment when we feel threatened, but they are things that we don’t want to invite to live with us forever. We need the freedom to feel those things, free of judgement, own them, look at them, and then let them go as we move on to the next thing until we can CHOOSE on PURPOSE where we want to land. And that takes time!

Right now, in this moment, as a country, we need people who can hold space for each other like I haven’t felt in years. This is huge, what’s happening. People are in SO MUCH PAIN. Other Highly Sensitive People and empaths like me can feel it like a churning thrum under the surface of everything. My head felt like it was encased in silly putty all day yesterday and my stomach was in knots. I spent a lot of time trying to help others process their emotions by holding space. It was the only way I survived.

You might not be an empath or an HSP and that’s great. You might have the normal range of emotions and if you’re not affected that much by the thought of a Trump presidency, and you don’t get what the big deal is, now is your time to learn how to hold space. Find someone in your circle who is hurting. It shouldn’t be too hard, because they are everywhere. Watch how your internal dialogue is speaking to them. Are you saying things in your head like, “Geez. Drama much?” or “This isn’t that big of a deal.” or “Why do they want to play the victim?” as they are crying or showing signs of being upset, scared, or worried? Are you comparing the situation to something hard you went through and thinking, “This is nothing like when (insert hard thing) happened to me!” Are you just super uncomfortable with people having so many feelings all over the place? Take a beat and breathe. Instead of judging them for how YOU would be handling the situation or feeling, just allow them to have their feelings. Don’t get offended. Don’t take it on. Just listen and be a safe person. They will thank you.

If you are an HSP or empath, you will already be familiar with what I’m talking about, and your challenge is the opposite. DON’T take on their feelings, instead be a flowing stream. DON’T internalize what they’re saying and own it and make it yours and let it take root because it will make you ill. You can’t help them if you are, yourself, deep in the feels. You need to remember what is yours and what is theirs. It’s a kindness to them if you can keep your gentle strength while you let them unpack all their stuff. Take breaks throughout the day for your health. Do your grounding exercise. Clear your chakras. Meditate. Check how your energy is running. And then dive back in for more, because there is an immense amount of pain to be felt and gone through.

And no matter who you are, hold space for yourself first, because you being balanced means you’ve already run through your big emotional overwhelm and come out of the other side OR you’re able to set your own work aside and help someone else do theirs. It’s ok to say, “I need a short break,” if you’re holding space for someone else and you get triggered. You know you’re triggered if you start saying things that aren’t supportive and you feel defensive and/or you feel your emotions rise.

Things to watch out for:

  • Don’t justify your position.
  • Don’t compare.
  • Don’t try to fix it while they’re talking.
  • Don’t belittle.
  • Don’t roll your eyes.
  • Don’t even talk unless it’s really, truly kind.
  • Do listen, listen, listen.
  • Do try and put yourself in their shoes.
  • Do try to imagine that person as God would see them: Perfectly Imperfect.
  • Do be encouraging.
  • Do be gentle.
  • Do apologize if you, for a moment, get pulled back into your own feelings and react instead of act. “I’m sorry about what I just said. It was judgemental. Let me try again.”
  • Do ask for more information if you don’t understand what they’re saying. “Can you tell me more about that? It sounds really hard.” or “No, I don’t understand but I love you very much. Can you explain it a different way?”
  • Do ask if and how you can be on their team and what it would take to support them after they’re done sharing.

This takes work to learn! But I believe everyone can do it with practice. Please try. We need you. <3

A White Lady’s Guide to Systemic Racism

Hello, White People. I’m glad you’re here. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a fight because you’re mad I’m talking about this, or if you’re happy you found some information you’ve been looking for, or if you’re anywhere in between on the spectrum, welcome. Information is good and the more times you are informed about something new or hard, the easier time you’ll have making peace with it. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable for a little while. Sit with it. It’s going to be ok. [ If you’d like to join a group of people trying to figure out how their white privilege supports systemic racism, go here and join our Facebook group. ]

My Story

31517420_9e3fe0fd7d_oLike many of you, I was born in an almost exclusively white town and grew up in an almost exclusively white town with lots of white people in my state and very little diversity. I used to hear about people of color talking about racism and my first and last thought was usually, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me. I’m not racist,” or, “Is racism still a thing? I just love everybody!”

It took me years of listening to the stories of people of color before I understood that yes, it is still a thing and yes, it does apply to me, and yes, I have racial tendencies. I wasn’t exposed to it like you see in the movies. I’d certainly never call someone the N word or make fun of them behind their back or feel like I’m better than them, so I figured I wasn’t racist. Wrong.

The Difference Between Acting Blatantly Racist and Benefiting From Systemic Racism

If you are a blatant racist, you’re a member of the KKK or other white power hate group. You think white people are better than other races. You enjoy the thought of non-white people being hurt or put in their place. You think slavery was no big thing and why not do it again. If this does not describe you, and you are white, then you are not a blatant white racist person. Congrats. It’s kind of the least we can do.

19However, if you are white and you are given the benefit of the doubt in most cases and you don’t have to worry about being killed by someone who hates non-white people when you run to the store for a gallon of milk because you feel safe most of the time and you aren’t afraid of police officers and no one has called you a thug or a terrorist and you fit in with most crowds where ever you go and were given the opportunity to go to a good school and had teachers who called on you in class, gave you encouragement, patted you on the head, and who overlooked your mischief because “kids will be kids” and they didn’t get you suspended and then in juvie by age twelve and then prison by fourteen charged as an adult or had a mom that was able to stay home because your dad had a pretty good job and you don’t feel like you need to prepare your own children before they leave the house on how to “act” and make sure they aren’t carrying ANYTHING that could be mistaken for a gun so they have the best chance of not getting killed before they come home or it was kind of a given that you could go to college if you wanted to and you don’t feel like you have to speak on behalf of your entire race in certain circles and after going to college and being educated and succeeding at life you don’t ever hear that you’re “so articulate” and you don’t have to work four times as hard as everyone around you for only partial credit and when you went to school and took history your people weren’t slaves and the stuff you learned in that history class didn’t try to hide the travesties that had been done to your people and you aren’t worried when a racist bigot becomes president of the USA because it doesn’t affect you that much – then you are benefiting from systemic racism.

Stop defending yourself and proclaiming that you aren’t racist. Start finding ways to be actively NOT racist.

Letting Go of Shame and Guilt

211Man, when I first realized I was racist I was hit with a huge ball of shame and guilt. Wow, it was paralyzing. First I argued with anyone who would listen as I listed all the reasons I was exempt from racism. Then I was mad because hey, I didn’t ask to be in this system and why is it my fault what some white people did years ago before I even existed! I had nothing to do with it! I shouldn’t have to worry about it or clean it up.

When I finally quieted down enough to FEEL and sit with my feelings, I realized I was sad. I was super sad that these horrible things happened and there was no way I could change that. I felt helpless.

Part of moving to the next step is realizing that the guilt and shame do no good. It doesn’t help fix anything. It’s like lead around your feet, keeping you immobile and in pain. If you’re a halfway decent person, it’s going to hurt hard to feel and understand the depth of the injustices that have been done to our non-white brothers and sisters. It hurts to witness their pain. You want to push it away or ignore it so you don’t have to feel how much it hurts. But owning our history doesn’t it make it worse, it makes it better. There’s no possible way to learn if we don’t pay attention and take stock of reality.

Know this: the only way is through. Feel it, own it, move on through and ask, “How can I do better?”

Real American History

Here’s a doozy. Remember American history classes through elementary and middle and high school? Well, I hate to tell you this but it was probably a bunch of crap, or at least a large portion of it was, starting with Columbus and the great white invasion across America that nearly wiped out the Native Americans. The founding fathers were racist slave owners, rapists, and bigamists. Did you know we enslaved the Chinese? We forced them to build our railroads and our government worked overtime to dehumanize them during WWII through the end of the Cold War. How about the Japanese internment camps? When it comes to women’s rights, the suffragette white leaders were racists. And President Reagan knew what he was doing when he furthered the “War on Drugs” campaign. And this is just a tiny drop in the bucket of the bill of goods we’ve been sold. Now, does my saying that mean that none of them did any good? No. They did some good. But is it the whole story to say, “Those were good people”? No. No, it is not. Finding out that Gandhi was kind of a jerk and beat his wife doesn’t erase the good stuff he did, but we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we try and make him ONLY good. He’s a whole, complete, human being with good stuff and bad stuff, just like we all are.

Accepting that these people are both good and bad is hard because it means we have to accept that we, too, are both good and bad. We’re wired to always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and we really like our heroes to be on a pedestal where we can compare everyone else to them.

All I have to say is Woody Allen or Bill Cosby, am I right? Complex stuff, right there. Easy to write the person completely out. Harder to recognize the good and acknowledge the bad and let them sit there, together, like reality.

Don’t be afraid to learn the truth about stuff. It doesn’t mean your world is ending. It does mean you’ve been lied to and manipulated your entire life. Doesn’t that make you mad? Mad enough to do something about it?

The “Other” and Empathy

25I wrote a bunch about the Other here and it might be a good idea to go read that. We have, as a culture, made people of color the Black Sheep in our communities. The totally sad and ironic thing is that some of them never asked to be here and a bunch more of them were living here, totally happy before we got here. We stole them from their homes, forced them across the ocean in chains, and if they were “lucky” enough to survive the journey, we beat them and forced them to slave for us, building our Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. We lied to them, stole from them, and killed them by the thousands. And now we shrug our shoulders and go, huh, well, what are you guys so mad about? How can you still be mad? What we’re really saying is, don’t make me think about it and stop making me feel bad because I don’t like that.

Thinking of others as Others hurts us all. There is no way to heal as humans on this earth if we don’t look at everyone and see them as ourselves. And most of this gut reaction of revulsion towards others is based in fear. We don’t want to be like them. Just in case you’re curious, this includes people like Hitler, Donald Trump, and the person that physically or sexually violated you (and me). Putting them in another category, separating them from me, who is a human, makes them less than human, and that hurts us all. Remembering they are human helps remind us to be better people.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying you have to forgive someone who has hurt you and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have boundaries with others or judge their actions as wrong or hurtful. You should absolutely make boundaries to protect yourself and you don’t have to forgive anyone. What I’m saying is that in every instance, to keep us all human, you need to be able to see them as human also.

Oh, man, I can just hear several of you right now getting so angry with me. It’s ok. You be angry. But keep reading, ok? Let’s tackle a super hard one first, because if we can do this one, learning to humanize everyone else is going to be so much easier. And let me say that if you love Donald Trump but hate President Obama, feel free to try this with his name instead.

What makes a Donald Trump? Classic narcissist, liar, able to talk out of all sides of his mouth, charming to those that like him, completely not worried about integrity or ethics, sexist and misogynistic, and he seems to be just fine with that in every way. Proud, even. In fact, he seems to forget after he says some of his declarative statements from one group to the next because he’ll say the complete opposite. I don’t personally find a lot to like there and that could stop me dead in my tracks from seeing him as a human being. It’s easy for me to label him all kinds of things that keep him securely separate from me. It feels much safer. And I admit, I did that for most of the past year.

However, I need empathy in my life. I need it for myself in order to own my life and keep growing up and through and not get stuck when I make a mistake. And in order for me to have empathy for myself, I need to have it for others. So the first thing I have to do is ask, “How am I Donald Trump?” and then I play the game until I come up with at least five things.

  • We’re both humans on earth in the year 2016. (<-- no lie, I was stuck with just this one for quite some time.)
  • I grew up with a limited American History education and I’m assuming he must have, too, given that his dad was who he was.
  • I was told things by my parents that I chose to believe simply because they are my parents and I love them.
  • I’ve spent time feeling hurt by others and trying to prove my point so they’d listen.
  • Sometimes I lie to myself to get through a situation where I’ve bitten off more than I could chew.

Now I have a basis of understanding him. Do I like him more? No. I like him even less. Do I excuse the things he’s said and done and will do? No. He should be held accountable for every terrible thing he’s done and will do. But he’s a human to me again because I can see myself and my own experiences in him and I look at him with (admittedly, maybe only a little) empathy. If you feel like you need help learning how to feel empathy, here’s a short guide.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of empathy, how does that relate to our situation right now and systemic racism? Empathy is the only path for true understanding. Do you want to stop being complicit in systemic racism? Then finding empathy for those you currently don’t relate to is the only way. And if I can do it with Trump, surely you can do it with people of color you’ve probably never met because you live in a town like I used to.

Ask yourself how you are like a person of color. Where are your similarities? If the truth is that there are no Others (and that is the truth!) and we see ourselves in everyone, how does that change your approach? What privileges have you been afforded in this life that the majority of them don’t have? Do you feel pressured to see your life as “less hard” when you admit that they’ve gone through hard things because you get caught up in comparing? When you humanize them, does it make it easier to relate to them as people struggling through life, just like you, but with several disadvantages? Have you ever felt at a disadvantage and if so, how were you hoping people would treat you?

Does owning our real, factual history mean we are bad people? No. Terrible things have happened in our history and the only way to help them not happen again is to TALK ABOUT THEM. Shine more light. No secrets. In Germany, they teach about the holocaust happening by inviting survivors into the classroom. We could take a page out of that book.

And a few words about justification: The harder we have to hold on to something and prove we’re right and justify why what we did wasn’t so bad or we had good reasons? The more we make others Other. You can read all about it here.

Fair & Balanced News

35Oh, the age of online social media. You start a profile, upload your photo, add all your friends and start liking each others stuff. And then you do it on the next platform. And the next. Soon you’ve got all these little exclusive ecosystems where you are surrounded by everyone who agrees with you. They post news stories, you post news stories, you like each others stories and memes and gifs with Stefan from SNL and sooner rather than later, the platform you’ve chosen starts to serve you just what you like to read. Perfecto!

Let’s slap that big hunk over to the side for a sec and look at journalism at large right now. Systematically, we’ve lost our true journalists who held ethic and moral codes to their writing. Dan Rather has been one of the last of his breed and if you follow him on Facebook, you know what I’m talking about. I remember reading the paper growing up and there were facts and there were opinions and hardly ever the twain should meet. And if they DID meet, it was explicitly labeled as an opinion in the sea of facts.

Now we have completely fabricated websites with the exclusive aim of confusing people and muddying the facts. Satire is already confusing to certain generations, but when you add in other websites that are written as if factual, but are in fact complete lies, so much of our country doesn’t even have a chance unless they do what it takes to become educated outside of their little spaces. The lies and hyperbole are too much.

Ok, so pull that first load over and add it to this load. Together, we have the perfect storm of misinformation and living in a Yes-World. You only hear from those that agree with you and you’re reading information that is more opinion than fact and meant to confuse you.

With newspapers and old-style journalism going away, we’ve got to become smarter consumers of information. This is on you, friend. I know it’s much easier to just keep pulling up the same websites you’ve been looking at. It’s comforting to look at the world from those windows. But when our nation is divided this much, we’ve got to get the facts from each side to try and understand each other.

Case in point – on Facebook throughout the entire last year, I was never served one single story that was complimentary to Donald Trump in any way, shape, or form. If I only relied on that information (or TV pundit talking heads loyal to an agenda on their station) I would believe that Trump was 100% terrible and was mostly a buffoon and that the majority of people didn’t like him or buy into his garbage. And that is in fact what happened. I was blindsided this election as the red states went to Trump because I had been safe in my Yes-World where everyone agreed with me. It was impossible for him to win the presidency of the USA. And yet.(***UPDATE below)

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one this happened to. I now understand this more than ever and I resent the part I’ve played and been played by Facebook. I don’t know that I would like Trump any more than I do now but I would have had a broader understanding of what the rest of the people in my country were seeing and thinking. I would have been more prepared for this eventuality. And that’s on me. And it’s on you, too, if you don’t make an effort to do better.

Finding unbiased and factual news sources is hard. Try some of these links, search through them for yourselves, and please, don’t automatically discount sites that disagree with your world view. Take some of those in and sit with it.

***UPDATE Jan. 2017: Since I’ve written this, I’ve yet to come across a conservative person I know in real life that actually *likes* Trump. I keep hearing why they voted for him *despite* how much they don’t like him. Which always comes back to this: They were willing to overlook his many, many, MANY faults and disgusting behavior because they are white and not affected.

Now What?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailAcknowledging someone else’s worth does not diminish your own. Be open to feeling and learning. If this is the first time you’ve run into this information, maybe reading it for today is enough. Maybe you’ll need to go through some emotional stuff. Maybe you’ve got some guilt and shame and anger to work through. All fine. Keep up the self care.

But as soon as you’re able, come back and read it again. Have you seen our world lately? It needs all the help it can get. We are low on Love and rife with misunderstanding and hate. How long do marginalized people have to wait for white people to learn their own history, own it, and then have a desire to do better?

Read some of the books and watch some of the documentaries listed below. Click over to some of those websites and read some different view points. Find out how you can actively be NOT a racist. And I bet you have people in your family you could talk to. Then try talking about it with your neighbors. There’s probably a social justice group somewhere near you. Will it feel awkward? Heck yeah. Super, duper awkward. But it’s the only way forward, so do it anyway.

If you’d like to join a group of people trying to figure out how their white privilege supports systemic racism, go here and join our Facebook group.

And a little aside to those friends of mine of the religious persuasions: I know you try and surround yourself with beauty and love and focus on the positive. I know you want to pray and have faith and rely on God to solve these hard problems. I know in your heart this doesn’t feel like you. But think on this: you have the OPTION to not be exposed to these types of things, these things that offend you like the N word and looking at lynching footage and listening as someone who speaks coarser language than you shares their story. It is that very option that is your privilege. God uses his many hands on the earth to do His good works. See if and where and how you can help. See if He will strengthen you to witness, learn, and then help heal.

Have something to add to these lists? Talk to me here, especially if you have ideas for other marginalized people’s information.

To The Family Tribe of the Other

Hi. If you read that long epistle I wrote and got really irritated and bugged and kept rolling your eyes or thought things like, “it’s not that bad,” or “she’s exaggerating and it’s disgusting,” or “we’re not like that at all,” then rest assured it was not for you! Congratulations! You are not the Other in your family. Your knee-jerk reactions of anger, frustration, disgust, and fear are totally normal.

It’s ok to feel threatened. It’s tribal. Let me just assure you that I’m not trying to make you do anything. I know how deep your feelings of protecting your tribe go.

If you find as you read this piece that you kept thinking of someone in particular or maybe one of your tribe members sent it to you personally, you may want to consider how that person feels like the Other whether or not you think they should.

As you read above, this is a deep and authentic tribal behavior we do as mammals. Owning that you may be a part of this dysfunctional dynamic in your own tribe does not make you a bad person. It makes you an unaware person. And now that you’re becoming aware, what will you do?

As you engage in the habitual thinking you’re accustomed to, where “they” are doing things that drive you crazy and why don’t “they” just stop and/or grow up, try switching just that one word to “we.” Why don’t we just stop and/or grow up? Why don’t we try harder? Why do we keep getting stuck in these bad habits? What are we afraid of? What’s the payoff for me believing that Brian is being such a screw-up? How am I benefiting from this broken dynamic?

Here’s the big secret (that’s not a secret): There are no Others. We’re all just us. You’re all just You. Your tribe is all one tribe and what’s happening to the lowest and poorest and lowliest member of your tribe is happening to You. Own it. And then make strides to change it to something healthier.

I know you can change this part of yourself if you want to because of The Benjamin Franklin Affect. Now, it should be noted that BF was a real jerk and many people despised him, but that’s what makes this so interesting. You can read all about it here, but the cliff notes version is thus: serve those you don’t like because your behavior changes your attitude. (“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut) And when we find ourselves in situations where we feel or do or say things that we aren’t proud of, we turn it around on the Other person and make it their fault by justifying our behavior. “Well, I never would have said that if she hadn’t said what she said first. And anyway, it’s probably for her own good. Someone needs to tell her the truth.” Stop trying to make “your view of the world fit with how you feel or what you’ve done.”

Now, think about the Other in your family. How have you created them to be an Other? What stories do you tell yourself and the other members of your family about them? How are you keeping yourselves safe? What would it take to be brave enough to bring them back inside the fold? It can start with just you. You can do it. You can make the change. Serve them and love them with no reservations of Other. See them like you see yourself – imperfect but basically good and doing the best you can. And even when you don’t believe it, act as if you do and visualize why you’re right to act that way, and then the feelings of real love and acceptance will come.

But wait, Leah, you want to yell. You don’t know what my particular Other has done, you want to explain. And I’ll tell you, it doesn’t matter. Most differences between us are entirely arbitrary and meaningless.

We’re all fighting to be included. No one wants to be the outsider. It fills us with dread and keeps us up at night starting around age three and can continue until we die because being included means survival and safety. What an extreme waste of time, resources, and energy. If you’re on the inside and you’ve felt like an outsider from time to time in your life, how much more fear, dread, shame, and sadness does your family’s Other feel?

Fill this need by rooting for your favorite baseball team, not standing against an individual, especially if they’re in your own family. Just think what we could change in the world if we could figure this out in our own families, then friend circles, then neighborhoods and workplaces etc. We could literally change the world to be kinder and more inclusive.

If you keep trying, you’ll both get better at this. The minute you start to think about how you can change the other person, you know you’ve wandered down the wrong path. Eyes on your own paper, please.

Also, CoDA.

The Harm of Othering

(Are you a Person of Color? You will see the * periodically throughout this piece. Please know as you read I am talking about family dynamics and not systemic racism, which is a completely different kettle of fish.)

I’ve been thinking about you. And about me because I am you. And about how all of us fit together in this Earth Experience, this thing called, (as Prince said), Life.

I don’t love labels so I try to avoid them, but sometimes they are helpful when you’re trying to get down to the nitty-gritty and see what’s what. There are other words we could use like “crazy” and “lazy” and “selfish” or “difficult” and “stubborn” and “insensitive” or “damaged” and “outcast.” “Other” tends to cover it all.

Chances are you live differently than the rest of your family. Like, they’re all really religious and you can’t stand church because you feel like they’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Or they’re all into outdoor sports and being competitive and you’d rather stay in and watch movies. Or they all love getting together for holidays and weekend meals and you dread it with the fire of a thousand suns because you know the conversation will eventually turn to you and how you’re failing at oh, well, just about everything. This topic, the one where you don’t perform how they want, is one of the most conversed subjects and they don’t ever seem to get tired of talking about it. Plus, bonus points for how many times someone asks why you don’t even care how much you’re hurting your parents/grandparents. You’re the cautionary tale. You’ve probably used drugs or alcohol to cope. You might have been abused as a child, which no one wants to discuss and everyone wants to pretend didn’t happen and they wish you would “just get over it already.” If you’d only try harder. (SIGH)

You probably have one sibling or aunt or cousin that you can talk to. This person is the only person in your family that kind of “gets you.” They act as a go-between when conversations about future plans or other necessities need to take place. They walk the tight-rope and do a lot of explaining on behalf of everyone else and translate what you say back to the family and vice versa. And yet, rarely do they stick up for you in the moment you need them to in a group setting. They shrug their shoulders as if to say, heck I would if I could but these people, you know?

It’s Not Really You

Here’s some truth: You are not the cause of the problems in your family. You are the result. Your family is dysfunctional and they have chosen you to be the receptacle for their garbage. The good news is that you are not alone. In fact, almost all families have a You in them. I know that might not make you feel any better, but it might at least help you feel like you belong somewhere. Congratulations!

There have always been outcasts because we as humans have always been in tribes. In order for tribes to feel strong and cohesive and SURVIVE, there had to be an US versus THEM mentality. Not many of us actually need this dynamic anymore, given that we live in homes and have food on the table and our actual physical survival isn’t brokered by creating bonding rituals. And yet, these old patterns persist.

In the 50s, you would have been called the “Identified Patient.” You’re the reason your family doesn’t have to deal with any of their real issues. You’re a convenient scapegoat and as long as everyone can point their fingers at you and talk about you and feel bad about you, the dysfunction continues and it gets to be all your fault. It’s not like they all got together without you and said ok look, now we’re all going to decide together that Ralph is the bad one in this family and no matter what he does or how he tries to improve we’re going to see him as different than us and basically a loser. No. For the most part it’s completely subconscious. And for all your family’s tears and lectures and begging you to change, they’d have no idea what to do if you were actually different than how they see you, which is why you can’t BE different. No matter how you try, you slip right back into that rut of the screw-up. Because why try if they’re never going to see you as different? This is called hamster wheel thinking.

Families are just like any other group or tribe of people in that you usually have a leader, some followers, and often, the punching bag for morale. Degrading the out-group person has a positive impact for the core group. Having that person to compare the rest of the group to brings everyone else closer. This isn’t really a surprise. We as humans like to make comparisons. That’s basically how our entire world is run.

Have you seen The Office? That person is Dwight. Did you watch Family Matters? It was Steve Urkel. Or maybe you’ve watched Parks & Rec. That person is Larry/Gary/Terry/Barry/Jerry, whom everyone delights in shaming and calling names. And L/G/T/B/Jerry just takes it all in stride, sometimes playing along with whatever the running gag is. He doesn’t seem to get offended, but instead understands the psychology of group behavior and rarely takes it personally, despite the fact that he’s actually very talented in many ways, quite smart, has a beautiful family, and is economically stable. You see, this is a primal thing we do. It’s been bred into us for so many years that unless we’re willing to really step back and take a fearless accounting of how we contribute to the dynamic, it’s almost impossible to be different.

It’s biological. When we lived in actual tribes, these behaviors were helpful. The closer-knit your tribe was, the higher chance your survival rate was. It was crucial to know who was US and who was THEM and to always be assured that you were on the winning aka surviving team. This is hard-wired into our brains. It feels like relief to be surrounded by people that are LIKE you. And if someone threatens that safety? You create the Other and every time you reinforce that perception of Other, your brain rewards you with endorphins that feel like safety. So, if you have to sacrifice one tribal member but that means that the rest of you are safe, well, I guess that was worth it.

We still like to make someone the Other, mainly because that means we aren’t that person. Othering is when we distance ourselves from someone or a group of people who we don’t want to see any similarities with and think of them as distinctly different than us. We make them less than us, and in our minds, that means less than human, which helps us justify our actions and beliefs.

It doesn’t always look like a major thing. No one in my family came right out and said, Leah, we just don’t think you’re one of us. But I felt that way. You notice the eye rolling and crying in frustration and sarcastic comments more than anything else. Most of the time, the comments and gestures “of love” that were heavily laden with religion and hard-wired with strings were the hardest for me to stomach.

Examples

Let me give you an example of how this tribal dynamic works. One day I was reading a final draft of the first book I wrote, Not Otherwise Specified, to some of my siblings as we drove for several hours to a family gathering in another state. The passage I was reading was about sexual abuse to me done by a stranger when I was very little. One of my sisters interrupted me and asked, “Why didn’t you stop him?” Another sister asked, “Why didn’t you just run away?”

Let’s explore what happened. I’m a member of a family. They are my tribe. They are listening to a younger member of their tribe talk about something horrific that happened to her and it’s deeply upsetting and brings up fear, anger, and probably other gut emotions that are unclear. In the heat of those uncomfortable feelings, they say certain things but really, they mean something else entirely. Sister 1 is really asking, “How can it be that a member of my tribe had something so horrible happen to her and why did that happen and why didn’t I stop it from happening and could it have happened to me and is it my fault?” and sister 2 is really asking, “How can these things happen in my tribe and if it had been me would I have been able to run away because if she didn’t, maybe I couldn’t have, but that’s too scary to think about so it must be her fault.” Neither one of them said, “It was your fault.” And yet, the feeling they projected to me, out of fear, was that it was my fault. To think otherwise would put the tribe in danger.

Let me give you another example. When I was a teen, my father came to a meeting with my therapist who proceeded to tell him about a rape that had happened to me a couple of years earlier. The first thing my father asked was, “What what she wearing?” Here my father was clearly suggesting the rape was, at least partially, my fault. Putting aside the religious upbringing my father had and the generational beliefs about men, their urges, and women and their responsibility for those urges, my father was also saying, “How could this have happened to a member of my tribe and what does this say about me as the leader and am I responsible and if so, that’s terrifying and I’m not as good of a protector as I thought I was so it must be her fault.” Coming from that point of view, he remained a successful leader of the tribe and no one else was in danger. It should be noted that later in that same conversation my dad pointed out to the therapist that none of his other seven children had any of the problems I had, so therefore, it must be my fault I was the way I was. Classic!

I’ll give you one last example. In my first marriage, my ex-husband’s family exhibited classic tribe behavior. You were either “One of Us” or you were not, and to be “Not” meant being at the sharp end of all the “No, we’re just kidding, we didn’t really mean it that way, you’re too sensitive” jokes. I watched family members scramble to get In after being kicked Out over and over. I had the unique perspective of never really fitting In in the first place, so while I was tolerated for several years, I didn’t ever feel that need or urge to jump through hoops to get or stay In. Plus, I had an entire childhood of being the Other under my belt, so I had a lot of practice when I got married at 17 at being the outcast. My ex-husband, however, had been unconsciously playing this game his entire life, so being married to me could have been quite a liability, but instead it was a bonus. He got to play the “married to the crazy lady” card pretty much always, which worked to his benefit. He always looked like the good guy, the long-suffering guy, the aw-shucks I’m just doing my best guy. And his tribe enfolded him in their tribal love where he was safe and supported.

So, now that we’re all clear on what’s really happening, the logical question is would you like anything to change? You can’t change them, so don’t even try. But, you can change you.

It can feel deeply satisfying to continue being angry and frustrated at your tribe’s lack of empathy and demonstrate that outwardly with your choices and behavior. No one can take that sense of justice from you if you want to keep it and I’m certainly not judging that choice.

But, I am all about holding my own power and Acting on Purpose, not Reacting, whenever possible, so if you do want things to change, here’s how I did it and it might work for you, too.

Identify What’s Really Going On

It can be super tricky to separate what’s actually happening in the physical world from what’s happening just under the surface where all the feelings and energy and things-with-no-words are taking place. That’s the crazy-making part. That’s why your tribe can tell you that you’re making it up and all they want is for you to be happy and then you start to second guess yourself and think man, maybe I AM crazy!

Until you figure out how to see with both sets of eyes, it’s going to be confusing and you’re going to be moving through your life mostly just on instinct.

Here’s what your family is Feeling: fear, anger, frustration, disgust, pride.

Here’s what your family is Projecting to you: Guilt, blame, sadness, disappointment, embarrassment, anger.

Here’s what is Real: They feel fear, anger, and are stuck in a pattern they aren’t even aware of and will not confront so there’s no way to fix it.

Here’s what you can Do: See them with compassion, empathy, maybe forgiveness, set good boundaries, cut ties when necessary, focus on yourself, and get free of your old patterns.

When I was young, I wouldn’t clean my room or do any of my chores in a timely manner. It was like it was just beyond me. This wasn’t because I couldn’t clean my room. I knew how and I was really good at organizing, actually. My mom would have to remind, remind, remind, and ultimately beg me to do my chores. Meanwhile, my other siblings had finished ages ago and were off playing outside or with friends. And there I’d be, downstairs in my room, sprawled on the floor atop mountains of toys and clothes and unable to move a muscle. Sometimes crying, sometimes spacing out, always in my own little world.

As an adult I’ve had time to process this behavior and I realize that the core feeling of being “bad” was just too strong for me to do anything “good.” Doing my chores the first time my mom asked would have implied to my tribe that I was “good.” I felt NOT good. I felt very, very bad and in some weird sense of authenticity, I chose to stick with how I really felt and acted bad. I didn’t want to lie with my actions and be good. Which meant, in the long run, I was reinforcing the belief I was bad over and over again which made them see me as the Other.

Understanding this as an adult helps me deal with the gut-instinct that will surface occasionally that is completely contrary to how I’d truly like to be. I can see it as my Little Self trying to be authentic and I can instead choose to be authentic in a different and more constructive way.

See Yourself Differently

The message from your family is that you are a screw-up. Being the screw-up can be a comfortable shell because it’s so familiar and no one expects much. If you want to see yourself differently, you’ll need to do it without needing to make them see you a new way, because if you’re waiting on them, it won’t happen. That’s a beautiful self-sabotaging setup to get caught in and it means things will never be different. You wait – they withhold – you wait – etc.

It can also feel good to be different than the tribe that shuns you. This can make you go to extremes in behavior to distinguish yourself. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be a polar opposite to those in your tribe to be yourself. You probably have things in common with them that you’ve been stuffing down. It’s ok to be like them in some ways if you’re comfortable with those ways.

You’ll need to let go of the need to be “special” in this way. Being the Other means you get to sit back and look at the group and say, I’m not like them. They’re all hypocrites/lemmings/monsters and I’m nothing like them. This creates the feeling of being special and it can be hard to let it go because if you eventually fit in with all of them, what would be so great about you?

Seeing yourself differently means seeing things as they really are: you have some good points and some strong points and a lot of things you could work on. Also, no one is better than anyone else, which means your tribe is all equally as good or bad as you in their own ways. Chances are you’ve been so busy and working so hard at being different than your family, you don’t even know who you truly are deep down anymore. As much as your tribe has been caught in this primal game, you have been, too. It can be scary, but take some time to figure out what’s working for you in your life and let the rest go. You get to choose who you are. People can always, always, always change.

Change Victim Mentality

*

Man, this one is hard. There’s no blame here. It’s a continuous journey to stop playing this part but you can do it. You will never have the life you want if your life is always happening TO you. You can only have the life you want if you are the protagonist in your story. Be the lead. Be the main character. Make the choices. Make decisions on how you want to act and represent yourself. When things go terribly wrong, make level-headed choices, don’t simply react with primal emotions (fear, anger, frustration, disgust, pride).

There are absolutely horrific things that happen to people in this world. The playing field is NOT level. Things are not now fair nor have they ever been so. Sometimes you are stuck in a situation that affords you no relief from abuses. You will not have your needs met. People will fail you.

Take the time to process the feelings that come along with these things if they are or did happen to you. Stuffing them will not help you long-term. And once you feel those feelings, get them out because they will make you ill. They will fester. And if they keep happening, keep processing.

Stop telling yourself the stories about yourself that don’t help and are only partially true, like “everything bad happens to me.” Be fearless in making these changes. Make your life what you want it to be by setting boundaries with those that hurt you and holding others accountable for their actions, all while finding that center inside yourself where you can build peace to sustain your life of intention.*

Were you abused as a child? I was, and this can be particularly challenging for you, but it can be done. You were, in fact, a victim and that can stick to your inner self despite your best efforts. It sets off chain reactions of “life being unfair” and life complies by being unfair. When you’re ready, you have to look around you and decide that whatever happens from this point forward is on you. You need to see your future as your own, no matter what happened in your past. You have to change the way you talk to yourself so that you own everything. From this moment on, so-and-so didn’t do something to you.* So-and-so didn’t ruin your day.* They didn’t make you do anything.* YOU chose to do whatever it was you did.* YOU chose to have a day that was ruined.* No one can make you feel or do anything.*

There is so much freedom and happiness in claiming your life. Your life up until this point may have been the worst and most unfair life in all the unfair lives ever to have been lived, and STILL you can have a wonderful and happy life starting now, even if terrible things happen to you again.

Notice when your tribe isn’t sure what to do with this change and do it anyway. If you manage this change, it is going to send some of them for a loop. You may see them reaching to find someone else in your tribe to make the Other. But, you’ll call them out on it, right?

Find Your True Tribe

Find your people. I know you might be used to spending lots of time alone and isolating to limit the amount of horrible days in your life, but it’s time for some fresh air. Somewhere near you are others like you. They are quiet or smart or interesting or outgoing or writers or photographers or into horses or producing music or fermenting food or outdoor sports or whatever it is you’re into. They exist. There might only be one or two or who knows, dozens, in your area but you have to make an effort to find them.

If you don’t feel good about yourself when you’re with someone, then they aren’t your people. Your people should be lifting you up and making you feel like yes, I can do this. Keep exploring until you find the tribe of people that matches your intentions and your heart. They encourage you to improve and want to see you succeed. They’re happy when you’re happy for yourself. They don’t make jokes that belittle you. They don’t tell you you’re always overreacting. They don’t try to make you second-guess yourself and they don’t find it entertaining to keep you on your toes by making you feel uncomfortable.

Get To Know Yourself

You’ve been taught to doubt your own judgement. You’ve been reminded of your mistakes over and over again. You’ve been told you’re bad or no good and that you’ll never change. None of that is really you. It’s your tribe’s perception of you.

Who you are is perfectly flawed. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. The difference is in what you do next and how you choose to NOT make that same mistake again. Having an awareness of why something happened is a way to arrange things so the same thing won’t happen again.*

What are you good at? What are your strengths? What do you want to spend you life doing? How are the habits you engage in daily affecting where you want to go in life? Do you dare care?

Who and how you are is a gift to your family dynamic. They might not see that, but that’s ok. You bring something new to the table when you sit in your own strength and stop reacting to their unconscious barbs.

How will you learn your strengths? By spending time with yourself and feeling and thinking and tossing the junk. It’s hard work, no lie. But the reward of owning your life is immeasurable. I try and do a daily self-care activity so I can keep up on any unresolved stuff coming up. Walking, painting, writing, yoga, or pretty much anything you love that feeds your soul or strengthens your body, allowing you time to release, feel, and work through those feelings will work.

Don’t stop bringing up things in real time when you see an old behavior happening. Your brother makes a snide/sarcastic comment or someone tries to box you in with a Never or Always statement and you react like your old self, saying something harsh – take a beat, breathe, decide how you want to Act on Purpose and speak the truth. “I just said something I don’t really mean and I’m sorry. I’m learning how to change that about myself and it’s taking some time. Thank you for being patient while I learn a new skill.” And then get up and leave the room if you need to.

Don’t worry about what they think about you. You can’t change them or how they think or feel. You can only change yourself. One of my favorite quotes is by Martha Graham: “What people in the world think of you is really none of your business.” Stay on task – that task is you. You’re the only one you’re responsible for.

The more clear you are, the better chance you have of them understanding you. Don’t bring them into it by adding anything along the lines of, “you made me so mad” or “because you said.” You’re only talking about you and the changes you want to make for yourself.

Set and Keep Better Boundaries

So, this is a new one for you probably. If you’re anything like me, I hadn’t denied myself anything in years. I had just gone here and there and everywhere, following every unnamed feeling I had that I was or wasn’t aware of because it didn’t really matter what I did or didn’t do anyway. I was always the bad guy. There’s not a lot of motivation in that scenario to make me care to change anything.

But that meant I wasn’t doing anything On Purpose. I was just doing and doing and digging myself into bigger holes everywhere I went and wondering why nothing ever worked out for me. I drank often and a lot. I used drugs, sometimes compulsively, to numb. I started things and then didn’t finish them like college and jobs and projects. I kept erratic sleeping habits and somehow felt it was an accomplishment when I would stay up all night not realizing I was upsetting my body rhythm and it would take weeks for me to set it right again. And guess what I was doing in those weeks? Yes, I was drinking and using and trying to not feel anything at all. I was avoiding my tribe and seeking out superficial relationships that brought me no happiness and sometimes put me in a lot of danger. I was spending too much money if I had any money at all. I was blaming others for everything that went wrong in my life. I was depressed and unhappy and felt abandoned by everyone including myself.

What I finally had to do was have a long talk with myself. I told myself that for a long, long time I had been trying to cover up all the crappy feelings inside my core by using substances and not sleeping and basically treating myself like a real piece of garbage. And I asked myself if I wanted things to change. I told myself that I was going to try and do better and I made my very first set of lists of “Stuff I Like” and “Stuff I Want To Do” and “Stuff I’m Going To Change.” And then I told myself that because I was trying to learn to love myself I was going to try and be present in my own body and stop running away. I was going to parent myself with love and set good boundaries for myself, things I’d never allowed my own parents to do and had never done for myself up until that point. Things like eating better food and going to bed before midnight and getting outside more and saying nice things to myself and learning something new and maybe, more importantly, things like not hanging out with people that made me feel bad about myself including some members of my family and avoiding opportunities to get trashed and maybe getting a haircut.

And I tried to stop seeing my tribe as Other and to find our similarities. The magic of energy is that if one side changes, the other side has no choice but to change with it. If I become more positive, they have a choice to become more positive as well or more negative. But, either way, I’m more positive and that brings me more happiness. No one else in this life is in charge of your happiness and no one else in this life is in charge of your success.*

This is a lot of hard work and you have to really want it. It takes practice and you will fail a lot. But if you keep getting back up, you will succeed because that in itself is success. Of course, if you’ve cut ties with your family permanently for good reasons like physical/sexual/verbal abuse, you’ll need to learn this stuff on your own. CoDA would be a great place to start.

Also, I love you.

Also, CoDA.

Also, also, here’s a post for your family. xo

Being Yourself

img_9159I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be yourself, to own who you are, since I wrote my last post. I’ve heard from several people who have asked some variation of, “Yes, but *how* do I start being who I want to be and not who I’ve been acting like?”

I don’t know that I have the magic answer, but I do have some ideas to share, as I sit here on the couch in my yoga pants and slippers, unshowered as of yet at 11am on a Wednesday.

Maybe it’s time to sit with being uncomfortable. Change, most of the time, means not being in comfort. Be willing to just stay there and prune in the juices of discomfort.

What if every moment when it comes to the center of your thoughts, you think, “Am I acting/behaving like who I really am right now?” Would you be able to change something, maybe a thought or a word, to be more real?

What if we started by looking at others with less judgement, allowing them to evolve into who they are without us already thinking we know everything about them, wouldn’t that make it easier for us to evolve, too?

I think most of us are just trying to fill the suit we’ve got on. It sometimes doesn’t fit very well, but it’s what others expect us to be wearing, and so we comply. We keep pushing up the sleeves and rolling up the hems and taping the buttons closed on the inside to get rid of the weird gap thing that happens across the chest or slightly unbuttoning the last button because it’s just a little too snug across the hips or using an elastic band to extend the too-small waistband or piling on layer after layer to hide underneath. I look around the room and I see a lot of people wearing a lot of pretend suits (Me, included.) and only a sparing few who come across as the person they really feel like inside.

I stopped shaving. First I stopped shaving under my arms. My pits had been turning darker and darker for a few years and the doctor told me that although it was “ugly” (his words), it wasn’t harmful and probably due to a reaction from my deodorant or maybe a bacteria, he wasn’t sure. It looked kind of like large birthmarks under each arm. He told me that every time you shave, you open yourself up to a bacteria imbalance. I read that it could be an hormonal imbalance (most likely in my case). I was developing small, hard nodules in my lymph system and I wanted to see if I could encourage them and the dark spots to go away by not shaving and instead using coconut oil in my pits. So I stopped using any kind of deodorant and I stopped shaving on the same day about 18 months ago. Scientists will tell you that it was a terrible idea to do both at the same time because now I’ll never know which one worked, but the hard nodules are gone, as is the darker skin.

After about a year I wondered why I shaved anywhere on my body. What’s wrong with hair on girls, anyway? I did a little research about the history of women shaving and decided that if I couldn’t come up with a compelling reason to keep shaving my body, I was going to just stop. Did I love doing it? Did I love the way it looked? Did it make me feel more beautiful? Was there some medical reason to keep doing it? Who am I hoping notices and why?

So, I did stop shaving last May and so far hardly anyone has said anything to me about it. But, I’m more aware. I wear long skirts, but I did that anyway, but now I feel it more, you know? I don’t go get a pedicure at the place down the road anymore because last time, the lady doing mine made a joke and I didn’t know what to say back. It’s a little uncomfortable to be in this skin, but it feels more real to me and like I’m being more myself than before, so I stick with it.

I tell you all of this because it’s part of sitting with myself and being who I am. I’m pruning. Do I feel ugly or pretty and why does it matter if there is hair on my legs? Do I want someone else to see my legs and comment? Is it just to fit in? If I don’t fit it, what does that say about me? What if other people think I’m ugly? Why do I care? Do I care if other women (or men) have legs/arms/faces that are shaved or not? Am I judging them on something so superficial? If so, why? (This woman with a beard is pretty amazing.)

I think what I’m hoping is to be ok with me just as I am. Not later, when I’ve shaved or put on makeup or dressed up or lost weight or fit in with the cool kids or earned a degree or done something else spectacular, but NOW. I want to just be ok right this second, sitting in my own skin and not someone else’s idea of the suit I should be wearing or my idea of the suit I’m guessing the other person wants me to wear. I want to feel happy and satisfied to be me while I own all my faults and all the stuff that I’d like to change and all the stuff that’s good about me, too. I’m just me no matter what and I guess I got super tired of pretending anything else.

I’m not saying everyone should stop shaving in order to be themselves. I’m suggesting that you might be doing or saying things that aren’t really who you feel like you are inside, because you think others expect it. Maybe take a look at that and dare to sit in the uncomfortable moment and feel.

Beautiful Souls

In 2014, photographer Katie Gardner took some photos for me at Blogher for a project that never materialized. Our intent was to put together a book, but the resources to put that book together never showed up no matter how hard we tapped the Universe’s shoulder.

We saved the most beautiful photos of these women for this non-existent book and I think of them often, wishing they were being seen. If you want to think of this as a Mother’s Day thing, fine. Some of them are mothers. Some of them have mothers. But I’d rather think of them as what they are – Beautiful Souls who let us see inside for a moment. Some of them I’m lucky enough to call friends. (Some of them I don’t know. If you know someone that isn’t labeled yet, let me know? Thanks.)

Many thanks to the contributors of words for this project. You can see in the photos that these beautiful souls are listening to the brilliant poet Amy Turn Sharp and the heartwarming and irreverent words from Robin Plemmons.

Kelly Wickham
IMG_1709-3434847601-O

A’Driane Nieves
IMG_1120-3434842558-O

Jenifer Monroe
IMG_1648-3434847041-O

Alexandra Uman
IMG_2149-3434850897-O

Heather Barmore
IMG_1795-3434848216-O

Jeannine Harvey
IMG_1727-3434847758-O

Alexandra Williams
IMG_0104-3434833858-O

Martina Callum
IMG_0156-3434834213-O

Margaret Salmond
IMG_0814-3434840096-O

Crystal Hammond & friend.
IMG_0783-3434839905-O

Tara Wilson & Tiffany.
IMG_0734

Julie Nowell & friend.
IMG_0676-3434839252-O

IMG_0655-3434838991-O

Sharelle D. Lowery & friend.
IMG_0641-3434838800-O

IMG_0598

Jayne
IMG_0551-3434837935-O

Allison Bailey
IMG_0539-3434837906-O

Marcella White Campbell
IMG_0524-3434837733-O

IMG_0503-3434837407-O

Margot Winters
IMG_0445-3434836886-O

Lucy Ball
IMG_0406-3434836502-O

Molley Mills
IMG_0395-3434836395-O

Angeline Longshore
IMG_0319-3434835634-O

Beeb Ashcroft
IMG_0280-3434835285-O

Mrs Elle G
IMG_0233

Jamie Gall
IMG_0180-3434834428-O

Christy Newell
IMG_0847

IMG_1070

Superwife Jenny
IMG_1032-3434841815-O

Destiny Paquette
IMG_0978-3434841447-O

Anjum Choudhry Nayyar & friend.
IMG_0970-3434841405-O

Jindy Garfias
IMG_0931-3434841085-O

Colleen Cecil
IMG_0917-3434840994-O

Carly Morgan & Eden Hensley Silverstein
IMG_0900-3434840855-O

Claire Waring
IMG_0874-3434840654-O

IMG_0865-3434840570-O

Lexie Solorio
IMG_1186-3434843216-O

Phyllis Kim Myung
IMG_1620-3434846814-O

Cheryl Stober
IMG_1565-3434846560-O

Courtney Macavinta
IMG_1542-3434846367-O

IMG_1521-3434846187-O

Tara McNamara
IMG_1492-3434845892-O

Jill Adler
IMG_1460-3434845588-O

Jessica Cobb
IMG_1443-3434845413-O

Sarah Honey
IMG_1425-3434845308-O

Alice Toler
IMG_1326-3434844586-O

IMG_1303-3434844412-O

TerriAnn van Gosliga
IMG_1271-3434844096-O

Danielle D. Washington & friend.
IMG_1258-3434843969-O

Molly
IMG_1224-3434843635-O

Shannon Rosa
IMG_1663-3434847153-O

Stacey Nerdin
IMG_1830-3434848551-O

Kim Rohrer
IMG_1922-3434849243-O

Helen Laroche
IMG_1971-3434849638-O

IMG_1951-3434849537-O

Celeste Lindell
IMG_2017-3434849828-O

Jennifer P. Williams
IMG_2034-3434850033-O

Shanah Wisley
IMG_2176-3434850963-O

Ashley Garrett
IMG_2234-3434851134-O

Erica Dermer
IMG_2257

Jen Myronuk
IMG_2364-3434851997-O

Raquel Fagan
IMG_2282-3434851425-O

Me and my daughter, Alex. <3 LeahAlexLaugh

Your Body Is Not Your Enemy

Let me set the scene for you.

We’re sitting on the couch, my husband and I, my nose buried in his shoulder. I’m weeping, beside myself with a ball of grief and failure burning through my chest like fire, wiping snot on his arm, making noises that are approximations of words, but no one can know for sure. I have auto-immune issues that after several years of being in remission have reared their ugly head starting sometime last December and have now flared with the vengeance of a fifteen-year-old girl who lost her cellphone privileges and is punishing her parents. I can’t sit very long without pain. I can’t stand very long without pain. And moving from one of those positions to the other also hurts quite a bit. I am not strong. I am weak. I am in pain. I am frustrated, angry, and deeply sad.

He’s so patient, my husband, and the very best kind of person, who has actually been listening to me over the preceding twelve years of marriage together, so that when I fall apart like this, he can throw all the things I’ve said back in my face. Which is wonderful and exactly what I need.

“I’m a failure,” I moan, “I’m tired of being sick and in pain,” or something close to that, anyway. There’s some grunting and high-pitched wails.

I thought I had beat this thing. I really did! Almost four great years,” is what I was trying to say. Probably it sounded more like, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaablubblubblub, but he knew what I meant anyway, because he’s very clever.

What about all the inspirational stuff you say all the time? You’re enough? You can do hard things? You’re right where you’re supposed to be, right?” my husband asks, rubbing my arm and reaching for the gentlemanly handkerchief he keeps in his back left pocket, just like my father always did. Sadly, I think we’re way past saving his shirt at this point.

My shoulders and hips are aching because of the awkward position I’m in, twisted to be closer to him, possibly to climb inside his skin. Sharp pains call attention to my right ovary where a golf ball-sized cyst has recently burst and has begun slowly exhaling in excruciating slowness. I must turn my body straight or I’ll be up for hours with throbbing in all my joints and unable to sleep.

You believe in Divine Timing,” he reminds me as he dries my cheeks and begins to corral the snot stream from my swollen nose.

Oh, stop it. I did believe in it. I did believe all those things! But maybe not now,” I blubber. I grab some tissues and help in the clean-up attempt of my face. My head begins to pound. Oh, I’m really starting to feel sorry for myself now. “I mean, I can’t even help put the laundry away! Or load the dishwasher!” I flourish my right arm about to emphasize my point.

Which are absolute facts, by the way. Bending from the waist sends waves of throbbing pain down my right leg. I can’t squat, either, because I’ve lost most of the strength in my thighs. I refuse to take the heavy painkillers, mostly because they make me feel so nauseated, but also they make me useless and I wouldn’t get any laundry or dishes loaded anyway. Pain or nausea, pain or nausea. Another thing to feel sad about. A fresh wave of tears hits me like a tsunami.

So. You believe all that stuff you say, but only on your good days, is that it?” He looks steadily at me with his blue eyes, a slight twinkle in the right one and blankets of love in both. “The whole point is that you believe it on the bad days, too.

I immediately stop brandishing my ineffective arms around and get very still. The truth of what he says sings to my heart.

I think I’m different than everyone else, apparently. I’m destined to only have good days, is that it? All the things I’ve told my clients over the years come rushing back to me. Go easy on yourself. There will be good days after the bad days, you just have to wait it out. Self care is paramount. Learn to say no without guilt. Create your healing cocoon.

Your body is not your enemy. It’s trying to save your life. Have gratitude.

IMG_4105My husband, who insists he knows nothing about the healing arts, leans down and kisses my red and puffy face with a fierce tenderness that could slay a dragon.

“Being ill sucks and hurts and is the very worst, but it is not a failure,” I say out loud to him. He nods and then turns on Netflix and an episode of 30 Rock where Tina Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, allows her boyfriend, Dennis Duffy, to move in with her and he calls her dummy, in a sort-of affectionate way, which she puts up with.

Liz Lemon needs more affirmations regarding self-worth,” I tell him. And he sagely nods.

(Also, this.)

Oh, Fall, You Cruel Mistress

I love this time of year, I said, in super serious sincerity.
Jeans.
Boots.
Chunky sweaters. (HAHAHAHAHAhahahaha just kidding. It hasn’t been lower than 75 and it’s going to be 93 on Friday.)
Hot drinks make more sense (because I drink them even in the sweltering heat of summer).
Less people at the beach, which leaves more room to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets.
The promise of holidays around the corner and the chance to see family.
Things feel, I don’t know, more cozy.

And then it all starts to tilt sideways.

The first thing that happens is my mind starts to whirrrr with the possibilities of ideas. This part is exiting! Yay! New ideas! And then the moon turns blood red and mercury goes into retrograde and too many people get into pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING [Et Tu, Chobani!?] and whoopsie, that’s where the tilting starts.

Just when I’m thinking about all the awesome things I’d like to do, my mind/body won’t cooperate. Like, Shut Down for business. Taking a shower becomes an Olympic event and staring out the window at the dappled sunshine on the patio is as much movement that happens for hours. The leaves are so beautiful! They’re so beautiful I guess I’ll cry about it.

I remember this. It happens in the fall of every year. Some years it’s more severe than others. The cosmic energy shifts and suddenly watching a documentary narrated by David Attenborough where a seal pup doesn’t make it will keep me in tears for hours because the pup’s mom is clearly in pain and grieving as she bellows into the rocks and hugs her lifeless pup with her neck and chest and head.

And then one afternoon I’m skimming through feeds and follow a link to a NYT piece about Rosemary Kennedy and I can’t sleep, the pain and grief are so poignant and sharp in my chest. (Seriously, don’t read that, or anything about Rosemary Kennedy’s life if you aren’t in a strong place.) I can barely whisper, “I read about Rosemary Kennedy’s life today,” to Joe as he’s falling asleep. “Do you need to go talk to someone about that,” asks Joe, who of course has previously understood how unfairly she was treated and is now looking at me with eyes filled with great concern, understanding how deeply I might be feeling this.

I shake my head no, wait for him to start breathing deeply, and then turn over and play a couple of hours of Nat Geo Bonza puzzles on my phone until my mind numbs enough and I can join him. The sound of Joe’s steady breathing pulls me into dreams where old, tired scenes are played out filled with people from my past.

When I woke up this morning I realized two things:
1. This is my 44th year on this planet and not one previous fall ever prepares me for the one-two-punch of a coming September and October.
2. If fall is all about the holidays, I’m making a new one called The Autumnal Melancholia Festival (trademark copyright hashtagCryTogether hashtagSeasonOfFeelings). We shall wear jeans, boots, chunky sweaters, (HAHAHAHA) sit around sipping hot lavender tea (that’s a thing, right?) and cry about deeply moving things that hurt our hearts this time of year. We can be introspective and clear our throats a lot. I might have some clever hankies in a drawer somewhere. We’ll do art. You’re all invited. Bring a scarf and a dark-colored, corduroy jacket. No membership fees. Who’s in?

LeahAge4

I made this drawing of me at age 4. I wanted to remember that at one time, I did have sparkle in my eyes and I was happy as a kid. My thoughts this time of year turn inky, deep, and sad, so it helps to look at this version of myself while I wait for November to arrive. And November WILL arrive, my friends. (If you’re reading this, you aren’t annihilated. Congratulations. And life continues as per usual. Starting after The Autumnal Melancholia Festival, I mean.)

Page 2 of 14112345...102030...Last »