Through all of the recent police shootings of black bodies and the inconsequential legal battles that follow, there have erupted many protests, some turning riotous. While I don't condone violence for any reason, we have to be able to look back with some degree of context to understand why these occasions are becoming typical.
The first Africans were brought to the English colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Our country laid legal foundations for the racialization of America starting in 1640: The Law of Hereditary Slavery that perpetuated the slave status to anyone born of a slave (an endless cycle), the prohibition of interracial marriages, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law which enlisted black slaves to life-long service. These and many others were the groundwork that the first colonies adopted, becoming the moral foundation of our country.
1787, time had passed and we had not morally evolved. There continued to be the creation of laws that undermined the dignity and worth of POC, all while advantaging the white population. In the 3/5th compromise there was a dispute over whether POC should be counted as people or property. There were plenty who couldn't contend to the idea of slaves being counted as human, and the ones that did only had motivations that had nothing to do with the humanity of a POC, but of slave-owning states gaining more political power. In 1790 the first rules about citizenship were written and it basically extended to the "free white person" of good character.
After the Civil War the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were added to the Constitution to abolish slavery, to grant citizenship to anyone born on American soil, and grant African-Americans the right to vote. In response to these victories, (southern) white Americans decided to reclaim their dominance by the constructing of Jim Crow laws.
Our laws have been tainted since the beginning, and our justice system has been reinforcing discriminatory, unjust laws. People look at the Black Lives Matter movement and can't fathom a people who have such animosity when they haven't experienced slavery for themselves, but what's not being understood is that the framework of our country has been unbalanced with injustice. An injustice that is still reverberating through the socio-economic, political, prejudicial and emotional realms of POC.
We look at the rates of African-Americans in prison versus whites and conclude that black people are more criminal. If we look more closely, we see the major factor of discrimination (POC more likely to be stopped, searched, given tickets and arrested than whites) the fact that the bail system thrives on poverty, and the harsher sentencing of POC than whites it is naïve to think that POC are simply "more criminal."
Furthermore, we look at the fact that slavery was only abolished 153 years ago, when it was legal for 246 years and practiced for far longer. The constitutional equality has been written, but equality has clearly never been fully achieved. It takes time to undo the damage, to unravel wrong philosophies, and to provide restitution for those injured.
African-Americans and white Americans have different access to justice, different access to the "American Dream," experientially do not have the voice of those of European descent, the promises of freedom and justice have not been met, and instead of speaking up and being met with compassion, they are further stripped of power by being called "angry" or "terrorists." Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the environment that we are again, experiencing on a massive scale. He said this:
"I think American must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."
We have to listen to the language of the riot closely. There are recurring issues that have been vocalized over and over again. The voices are getting louder and more angry simply because their appetite for justice is so big, yet their voices are repeatedly shut down. We are creating a hostile atmosphere when we invalidate someone's message because we refuse to (at times) listen through someone's anger. If we start immersing ourselves in the culture of the oppressed, our perspective will change, our empathy will blossom, and we will be able to help bring this world towards the overhaul of justice that is deeply needed. Let's become a country who listens, not an empire that exerts control. Let's listen to the language of the riots and see where it takes us.
I find it so odd that there is any form of comfort found in broken systems of coping. I've never been served in a positive way through the means I have learned to hurt less. Because in the hurting less, I have been investing less, receiving less, keeping a stranger's distance from the beautiful unknown.
I am giving myself breathing room to unlearn some of these habits I've called home. Because I'm learning that life's a balance of the holding on and the letting go. Letting go of things that cause more brokenness, gathering up trust, and holding on to the One who holds all things together. Because you can't grab on to something new when your fists are clenched with the old.
I have always been reaching: a drowning hand from the mire, a daughter who was reaching for a parent to see her and save her, reaching for the children she's wounded with her words, reaching for a way to inner peace, reaching for a way back. The long way back. It's hard to keep holding on when you haven't felt tenderly held. When you haven't let yourself be tenderly held.
My day is full of disruptions to higher ways, but I push through and shove past and elbow every single one out of the way in the name of convenience. Those disruptions are the way to new paths, the narrow path. And because I've had confusion in knowing when to let go and when to hang on, I've not acknowledged my hurts as a result of broken judgement, but I've internalized them as another reason to believe the lie.
The beliefs that I hold deep within my being are what hold on to me. So, what do I believe - truth and lies alike? This balance of holding on and letting go, just feels like I'm perpetually between trapezes. I have to let go of what I thought was holding me stable, and while in mid-aid, wait for the next bar to appear. Thankfully, I know now that it always will.
If anybody would have told me that twenty some odd years after my first experience with sexual abuse would still involve me actively seeking healing, I would have given up then and there. The journey is definitely different for everyone, the healing timeline is probably always infinite to some degree, yet the wholeness one can experience doesn't always have to be decades in duration. For me though, it has.
These few decades weren't necessarily filled with complete emotional misery. Our bodies have an amazing defense mechanism that allows us to almost totally disengage from our trauma. My trauma was still there, it was just beneath the surface, creating fault lines for me to step on later. Later came several years ago.
For me, the trauma was always so far removed that it was fairly easy to talk about. I have brown hair, green eyes, I love to hike and read, and I was sexually abused. That's about how non-emotive and irrationally calm I was. I mistook all of this for healing. While my mind had fragmented into a million displaced pieces so that I could function in life, I was living in an emotionally detached state. I logistically knew what happened, but I could not emotionally connect with it. I went through an intensive program for the sexually wounded, I had been to numerous counselors, yet it wasn’t until several years ago that this fragmentation began to make me feel like I was actually missing something. This "something" stirred all kinds of horrible emotions that made me spiral. Suddenly, I wasn't rational, I wasn't level-headed, I couldn't look at my abuser's face on the offender's registry and feel impartial. It amazed me what my body had kept secret from me all of these years, and how my unconscious memories came spilling out in the form of triggers to scents and sounds and seasons and those horrible nightmares that used to keep me in fear of sleep.
As my triggers were increasing, so were my anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, ignoring an outpouring of pent-up trauma is not the solution, it's not even a mediocre band-aid, it's a guaranteed way to send yourself into a tailspin. On a map, I could put a pin right in the middle of this tailspin with a sign that says YOU ARE HERE. I can’t sleep enough, I can’t feel content with my life in spite of the multitudinous reasons why I should. I find myself disengaging from my family because the pressure of being needed is, at times, insurmountable. I have isolated myself and kept my loved ones in the dark because being vulnerable on any level has felt violating. It has been difficult to find a therapist that is both covered by my health insurance and good at what they do. I was seeing a very gifted therapist only to have to give up on my sessions because of finances. I left therapy in the middle of digging into my greatest fears and terrors, the deepest depression of my life, and didn’t continue going anywhere at all. Then I went to a sexual healing conference that I thought would be beneficial, but only further triggered and damaged me.
Months after leaving therapy, months after ill-tending to my triggers, months of stuffing the bad stuff and hoping that it will just magically disappear, I found myself almost incapable of normalcy. It's discouraging. No, if I'm being totally honest, it is utterly despairing to feel as if I have regressed, even slightly. Sometimes I wonder if I will always have to fight this hard to experience semi-happiness. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever breech the boundaries of my diagnosis. Then I remind myself that "recovering" is a verb. Recovery takes intention and forethought, and very hard work. It is an active timeline that consists of looking from one moment to the next, healing a little more one day at a time. It's a process that I have put too high an expectation into, and have crashed and burned because of it. It requires great attention and nurturing and untangling. Becoming lax about my recovery process is not something that works, even when I hit burnout mode, even when my capacity is diminished, I still have to do the work.
With this great mess of triggers and tormented thinking, I have come to see that while this feels like a regression, or even a curse, it is really my body ready for the great purge. A purge that I have never really experienced in a way that brings deep healing, because until now, I had never emotionally connected to it. Recovery is about regaining possession of myself, or the parts of me that were fragmented in trauma. I was so young when the shards of myself began to disappear, that I grew as an incomplete person. This purge will bring me closer to myself, more wholly to myself.
So, I have reached out again to a mental health professional, one that I can both afford and have already had some success with. I will practice the methods that I know work for my anxiety and diligently tend to my emotional needs. These practices will make my life far more manageable. While "manageable" is never the goal, I have to be okay with it until it deepens into something more. I have forgotten to be thankful for all of the beautiful things in my life, all of the progress that has been made, and I have felt sorry for myself for not being more than I can be on this dot on the timeline. The shame of my past has been peeled back over the years for sure, but I am learning that I have a really hard time being tender and patient with the parts of me that are still broken. So I will start there.
Healing is not an easy process, but it is one I have to be committed to. Whether I chose to acknowledge my pain or not, I will live from it, oh, how I have lived from it. So I have to have the determination to keep going. I am excited for different therapies that have been recommended, I am confident in my therapist, I am hopeful that if I continue practicing being present with these aching memories and emotions, if I dedicate myself to the work, that the pieces have to find their way back.