I haven’t written about this here, yet, but part of why I’ve been so busy lately has been that I applied for, was accepted, and am now participating in an intensive rape crisis and peer counseling training at a local women-of-color-led, volunteer-based organization against sexual violence. Sixteen hours a week now I spend in their gorgeous mural-covered building in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District (actually, it’s a block away from where I live), with 20 other women, learning how to be crisis hotline volunteers and one-on-one counselors. The training is amazing, and beautiful, and hard, and brings up so, so much for me. Surprisingly, it hasn’t so far been that triggering — it doesn’t bring up stuff about my own sexual assault. Rather, it brings up all the ways I am in general a scarred, flawed human being, how that’s okay, and how I need to work on healing myself in order to be able to start helping others heal.
And it’s liberating. It might seem like being reminded that you’re a scarred, flawed being would be nerve-wracking, or defeating, or would break your sense of self-worth. For me, though, it’s been so, so healing. (I’ll probably be using that word a lot…) It’s so good for me to acknowledge to myself that yes, I’m flawed. I’m hurt. And it’s okay. I’m allowed to be imperfect. And each imperfection just gives me a beautiful opportunity to take care of myself and work on myself.
I forget that the best way to heal and the best way to be the person I really strive to be is to love myself and take care of myself. I oh so often do exactly the reverse — I make a mistake, and I berate myself for it. I get frustrated with my weaknesses, angry that I mess up. I feel powerless against my deficiencies. But I forget that it is in my power to forgive myself for messing up. I’m my own harshest critic, and I’d do well to lighten up. I watch my dad growing older, in his 60s now, terribly, terribly unhappy, all because he believes he lacks the power to help himself. I DO NOT WANT TO BE THAT PERSON. It is his belief that he is helpless and powerless in the face of his own failures that makes him so miserable. And I want to be in charge of my own happiness.
A while back, I posted a list of things I can do to care for myself. I go to that list often, when I’m feeling down and want to feel better, or when I’m facing an evening of solitude and don’t want to wallow. It’s a great list, and it was a good first step for me in focusing inward, being aware of my own needs. But I realized today that I have the wrong attitude about that list. I treat it as a resource I can use to fill a void. Lonely? Call a friend. Tired? Take a bath. Sad? Watch a funny movie. Stressed? Go to yoga. Focusing too much outward? Journal, or blog. In fact, though, self-care is not just something I need to do to fill a void. It’s not just a way to re-fill my tank when it’s on empty. I also need to take care of myself pre-emptively. I need to make a habit of taking care of myself all of the time. As a first priority. Take a bath when I’m not tired. Call my friends just to chat. Go to yoga regularly, to preempt stress.
If I can learn how to do that effectively, then my life might be able to stop looking like a seismograph during an earthquake, and might instead look like a healthy state of equilibrium. Rather than wild ups and downs, where self-care brings me up and then I run out and fall down down down and need to bring myself back up, I need to consistently be aware of taking care of my own body and my own mind, consciously checking in with myself about how I’m doing, so that I can maintain a relative balance.
This will also help me be a better person for others, to bring this post back around to the beginning, when I was talking about learning how to be able to help others. I’m going to refer here quickly, though, to a quote from Lilla Watson, a Murri aboriginal activist:
“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
This is to say, I can only help others as much as I can be helped along the way. That doesn’t mean “I’ll only help if I get something back.” Rather, it means that (or I take it to mean that) the only way for me to heal and be whole again is for others to heal and be whole again too. And vice versa — so that others can only heal and be whole again if I make sure that I am also healing and becoming whole. So when I say that I’m learning how to help others… what I’m realizing now is that if I’m going to do this work, this so-important work of intervening in sexual violence and supporting survivors, then I need also to be wholly and completely willing to surrender myself to the healing process as well. And together, we all work on healing each other.
And here’s where I take a deep breath, and feel my height and width and depth, feel my past extending behind me along with everyone who has my back all lined up to catch me if I fall, and feel my whole future spread out in front of me ready for me to take it in my hands. And I can fill up all that space and feel my power and know that I will not fall off the earth because I take up space and am firmly planted here. And the healing begins.