self-care: cultivate your bubble

content note: white supremacy, examples of

At the beginning of this year, I started working with a coach through Black Girl Dangerous’ “Get Free: Healing For the Revolution” program. I saw this part of the program description, and my immediate reaction, was “Yes, I want that.” (Also, are you still looking for places to make your end-of-year donations?)

Our program provides personalized support so that you can:

  • Let go of things you’re holding onto from the past that don’t serve you.
  • Identify, and do something about, areas where you feel stuck in your personal healing and growth.
  • Be accountable for areas where you’re not taking responsibility for your life.
  • Speak and live truth.
  • Do activist work in a way that nurtures and makes you come alive.
  • Cultivate healthy and supportive relationships.

I wasn’t really sure how to set goals; the biggest thing I could think of was “build resilience.” I felt like the microaggressions I experienced in Portland were affecting me more than usual, like I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly, if at all. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that the change wasn’t just internal. I moved away from a support network and community of organizers that I had spent 10 years cultivating in LA, and I was surrounded by post-racial white liberals — like Board members who talked about the importance of equity (Oregon funders’ buzzword for diversity initiatives) and then also said that they “don’t get white privilege, because their (rich, white) kids were raised not to see skin color”; and poets writing spoken word pieces about how Ferguson, Ohio (sic) taught them, as white women, to fear the police; and people who called me a racist for asking them not to invite me to culturally appropriative events.

I felt stuck and sad and isolated, even though I was lucky to be in community with a handful of wonderful QTPOC organizers. Without going into all of the detail in this post, through coaching, I realized that one way to be accountable to myself for my happiness  was move back to Los Angeles.

“You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more (but I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later)

(Note: In the interest of the “open-source mind” aspect of this blog, the part below is the kernel that this chunk started from. It’s mostly, like, “oppressive people are poop, poop bad, cut out the toxic poop” but thanks to Tk’s wisdom, I’ve spaced out the posts and I get to add nuance. Yes, limit the toxic poop in your life as you are able to given the context of your safety and finances, but also, curate the bubble you do want to live in!)

So how do we minimize the need for emergency self-care?

In different conversations with my mother about community, she’s asked me variations of “Why don’t you hang out with straight people?” and “Do you have any white friends?” First of all, I have plenty of exposure to white cishets in pop culture, politics, positions of leadership, and work — and some of my best friends are straight white people [citation needed]. Second, the subtext here is also that I’m not “living in the real world,” but as people I love and respect have pointed out, constantly surrounding yourself with trauma and sadness is just as much a bubble. And if I have to choose between a bubble of grounded joy and QTPOC magic and a bubble of poop, guess which one I’m going to pick?

I deal with enough poop all day; when I have a choice, I am not going to intentionally curate more poop. A hugely important part of my self-care journey has been finding ways to center people who move me toward healing and growth, folks who embody a commitment to building and personal accountability, folks who I want to laugh and cook and celebrate and create and mourn and heal and process and share love with.

The argument about “living in the real world” comes up all the time, and it is toxic — and false — because it assumes that the real world is a fixed, oppressive nightmare that is impervious to change. When people criticize students organizing on college campuses by saying they “lack resilience” or won’t be able to survive outside of the bubble of college campuses, they are not just being ageist (and often ageist, ableist, classist, racist, and anti-feminist); they are upholding the status quo and cynically accepting it as the only possible reality there is.

In short: Cut the toxic folks out of your life. Refuse to accept that being an adult means accepting that the world is and will always be a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness. There are many practical and emotional and financial considerations here, that make this less of an actual choice or possibility in many situations, but where you can: Cut out the toxic poop. Cherish the unicorns around you.

Find your unicorns: Curate the people who are not-poop and pour your intention into these relationships.

When I say I hate capitalism, the toxic poop is why. It forces us to navigate shitty situations, be in community with folks who harm us but have economic control over our lives, and sacrifice our wellness in order to be able to put food into our bodies and pay for shelter. (More on this in the last post.)

With that context in mind, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we cultivate relationships that help us move toward healing and wholeness. (And even when I say “cut out the toxic poop,” I recognize that in my own life, I don’t want to give up on folks who are invested in learning, and I also believe that part of how we will win is moving folks toward embracing justice and working toward our collective liberation. However, I do think it’s important to recognize that this work is draining, and for me, a huge part of self-care is knowing when to disengage.)

A month or so ago, I put up a support request on Facebook to talk through an incident I was grappling with. As I typed the names of friends into the filtered post box, I felt gratitude toward each person, recognizing that I trusted each of them enough to talk through something I couldn’t process on my own and that was bringing up a lot of uncomfortable realizations I wasn’t ready to confront.

Looking back later, I thought about how writing that post and choosing who to share it with gave me a moment to process who feels safe and why, what it meant that the list was relatively short (people who I trusted, who would understand the context, and who I could trust to listen without judgment), and also whether I behave in ways that would make folks feel safe reaching out to me to process their shit.

So here is a random list of thoughts on how to cultivate and curate a bubble:

  • Think about who feels safe and doesn’t, and why. I like to keep in mind that no space will ever be absolutely safe, but seeing how folks hold themselves accountable and react when they commit harm is a very good indicator.
    • I’ve linked to Ngọc Loan Trần‘s article “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable” before, and I value the way they don’t pit calling out/in as a binary, and also the way they point out that it’s important to think about what makes a relationship with another person important: “Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?”
    • Thinking through why a growth conversation matters helps to maintain perspective throughout navigating harm; and when I don’t want to call someone in or address their mistake, it also helps me to understand the limits of my relationship with them. Maybe I don’t trust them enough to be able to carry out this conversation; maybe I do think they have the capacity to grow in this way, but in this moment, I can’t be the one to navigate harm with them. And that’s OK.
  • What kinds of time and spaces makes me feel more free? A lot of my healing and self-care comes from time spent with cherished folks. I also spend a lot of time in community space that is nourishing to me in other ways, because it feels important or necessary, or we’re having conversations that need to happen, or it’s a party and it’s fun. But I need to check in with myself and see “was being in that space part of my self-care? was that healing? do I need to be alone to recharge?” (keeping in mind, of course, that none of these are binary answers, and that healing work can also be draining).
    • Internal indicators that work for me:
      • Did I feel like my guard was up? Do I need to mentally and emotionally gird myself in preparation for being in that space/with those people?
      • How did my body feel before, during, and after the event/hangout? Am I relaxed or tense? Do I feel energized or tired?
      • Also, here’s a list of “15 Ways to Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing Coffee or a Cocktail” (There is also a better list of ways to show up for and spend time with SDQs, and I am looking for it in my thousands of bookmarks … will update when I find it.)
  • Emotional labor: Do you have people in your life who share the emotional labor in your relationships? How do you talk about and navigate boundaries? Are you able to successfully communicate when you need space?
      • This piece by Mahfam Malek is about dating, but the questions are good to consider (and to answer for yourself).
  • Who do you want in your corner? Think about moments that have brought you deep joy, that have made you feel grounded, that have moved you toward your own liberation. Who was there with you? Who do you wish had shared that moment with you? What about the last time you were deeply sad? Who did you turn to? Who did you wish you had reached out to?
  • Who do you have in your life who will tell you when you’re being an asshole? Who will tell you if your behavior is out of line with your values?

You may have some people who fill all or some of these needs, and you also definitely have needs that are different from mine, because we are different people. For me, it helps to remember that each relationship is unique and nourishes me in a different way, and that growing intentionally requires communication, trust, and care — and not just with others; if I want to get free, I need to trust myself enough to listen to my intuition, be honest about my needs, and cultivate the community that moves me toward wholeness.

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