If I took one lesson from the past year, it’s that there is incredible power in radical vulnerability. While I’d hoped that 2017 would be kinder to us all, I spent most of the year feeling totally paralyzed by the injustices of the world around me. Outwardly I kept it together pretty well: I successfully juggled a full-time job and an emotionally demanding consulting gig, navigated a marriage transformed by the endless reverberations of grief, and successfully kept 3 needy creatures alive. Inwardly, I was struggling.
In August, things finally began to shift when I started to see a therapist for the first time in my adult life. I’d known for months that I needed to get some help, but the prospect of finding someone to open up to felt completely overwhelming. It didn’t help when I reached out to half a dozen practitioners who never returned my calls.
Finally, on the personal recommendation of a friend, I started seeing Lynn. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked her at first: She pushed me in ways that felt uncomfortable and never seemed to want to take our conversations in the direction I thought they should go. I kept seeing her anyway. This has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In September I posted a photo on Instagram that I almost deleted a hundred times because it felt too radically vulnerable, too exposing, too real. But the support that came through was transformative and it led to one of the best things to come from the year: A magical new friendship with an incredible soul.
(Bonus: She just so happens to live a few blocks away from me and she goes to UMBC so lunch dates are easy and she’s a fellow blogger so she’s the perfect writing accountability partner. Thanks, universe!)
On Leah’s advice, I visited a hypnotherapist for the first time in October. It was one of the most intensely transformative experiences I’ve ever been part of. I kept trying to write a blog post about it, but I couldn’t seem to capture the magic that happened that day. It felt like a disservice to write down the mechanics of how the session worked when the healing came from the energy in the room, the guidance of Carly’s voice, and the letting go of patterns and energies that I’ve carried with me since childhood. In those 3 hours, I was truly able to work through some bullshit that had been plaguing me for decades.
In the same month we welcomed a friend into our home who’s struggling with a chronic, invisible illness. She needed to move out of a toxic living situation and our upstairs apartment was empty so we offered it to her without a second thought. It just felt right to provide a safe space where she could take time to heal without the pressure of making rent. It’s such a small act, but it’s also made me realize that activism doesn’t always mean planning protests or organizing sit-ins: Sometimes it just means sharing what you have with someone who needs it.
Funny, that’s basically my politics in a nutshell. #sharemore
In November, I completely gave up smoking weed. It feels really uncomfortable to admit this, but I’d been smoking a lot since Bruce died. Like, every day as soon as I would get home from work. It felt like the only way I could cope with my mega emotions, the only thing that helped me unwind after a stressful day, and I thought it helped keep my anxiety and depression at bay. But I started to notice that it gave me a lot of reasons to dislike myself: I would get snacky and then eat too much, I wouldn’t go out when I was stoned because it made me slow and stupid and paranoid, and it sapped me of the focus I needed to do anything other than binge Netflix.
I’d already realized that I was spending a lot of time beating myself up over my unhealthy eating habits, unsocial lifestyle, and lack of productivity*. But it took me months before I was able to fully accept that my habit of smoking as soon as I got home from work was the root of all of these problems and that if I actually wanted to change, I had to give it up for good.
It was surprisingly hard to admit that weed is bad for me.
But once I did give it up, the positive effects were undeniable. Within 2 days of quitting, I noticed that most of my negative self-talk had disappeared. Within a week, I discovered I suddenly had energy to do things after work again: I didn’t want to spend my evenings watching mindless TV because there were books to be read and herbal potions to concoct and friends to reconnect with.
I haven’t had a suicidal thought since I quit.
*A brief aside on productivity
Somewhere along the way, this piece around productivity became dangerously wrapped up with unhealthy notions of self-care. I reject the capitalist idea that our worth should be based on our productivity and in a weird way, I convinced myself that being stoned was a way of sticking it to the man because I was giving myself permission to be unproductive after working/commuting 10+ hours a day.
But the thing was, smoking weed sapped me of the ability to do the things I wanted to do. I lost touch with my creativity and didn’t have the focus to read or write. When I would sober up the next morning, I’d beat myself up for wasting my free time. Once I realized that being stoned was a tool of capitalism because it drove me to participate in mindless consumption through TV, junk food, etc., it became much easier to give it up.
Now that I have more presence of mind, I find that when I want to give myself space to be “unproductive,” I choose to meditate or take a bath or simply be still with myself. Building up my inner reserves and taking time to care for myself is a much more potent act of rebellion.
In December I discovered a podcast that has opened up new worlds for me and completely transformed my relationship with hopelessness, change, and the future. adrienne maree brown and her sister Autumn talk about apocalypse (a topic that’s near and dear to my heart) with humor and compassion and a constant reminder that while this world may be ending, we are opening up space for new beginnings. I’ve spent the past few weeks devouring as much of adrienne’s wisdom and writings as I possibly can.
As the month came to a close, I realized very clearly that I’d spent too much energy in 2017 hating the world as it is. In adrienne’s work, she often talks about how we are living in a world that has been shaped by someone else’s imagination. Our job now is to envision the world we want to create. In a recent blog, she wrote,
“today i am entering a year-long commitment of putting my attention on what i love and want to grow.
i have been heading this way, but still giving too much of my attention to that which i cannot shape, that which i cannot reach. i want to hold my attention as precious sunlight that i bestow on every practice or person or concept that advances the way i believe things should be. i want to affirm that which is done well, and/or is done bravely.
to have enough attention for this focus, i am intentionally removing my attention from those who hurt humanity or the planet, or hurt movements learning and working to protect either of these.”
For too long, I’ve been paralyzed by my anger over that which I cannot shape. My attention has been directed toward the things that I cannot change, rather than focusing on the pockets of joy and hope and beauty that are being created all around me.
So instead of turning on NPR during my morning commute, I’m listening to podcasts like Witch Wave and Healing Justice and How to Survive the End of the World, which elevate conversations centered on liberation and ways of being in right relationship with the planet.
I’m becoming more intentional about who I follow on social media and filling my feed with herbalists, witches, and radical activists who inspire me to live in accordance with my values and embody my spirituality. I’m consciously cutting ties with my need to be informed of everything that’s wrong with the world.
And I am directing more of my resources toward projects that are building toward the world I want to live in. If you live in the city, check out baltimore (r)evolution, a new Facebook group I created to foster community between social justice-minded folks and organizers/activists who are leading radical transformational work in the city.
I feel better already.
Building a Practice of Radical Vulnerability
I spent New Year’s Day in quiet reflection. I practiced adrienne’s beautiful spellcasting technique and I’m so thankful for it. This is the spell I wrote for 2018 that will live inside my pillowcase for the next year:
I let go of the belief that I am broken
I am whole. I am enough, just as I am
I take forward with me the knowledge that there is strength in my vulnerability
and I choose to share that boldly, bravely, freely
I stand in the power of my honesty and insight
I choose to trust in my truths and believe in myself
I will cherish my softness
I will be in practice of radical vulnerability in service of collective liberation
I will grow outward rather than shrinking in
My weaknesses are a gift that I will offer as an invitation to others to share more fully of themselves
I will be bold and brave in building toward a world based on caring, support, and mutual aid