Healing men

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with a group to tackle gender-based violence from a different angle: focusing not only on healing womxn but on healing men.

I know that we cannot end sexual assault by teaching womxn how to avoid being assaulted. I know that we cannot end street harassment by teaching womxn how to respond to harassment. We need to continue to give womxn and LGBTQGNC people the space to share their stories and to learn to assertively demand respect, even just to learn that they deserve respect. We are most frequently the targets of violence, and as such, our stories and experiences need to be centered, so we can heal.

But, for me, healing is not something that I can do on my own.

you are stronger than you know

I know that my abuser is suffering, too, in ways that he may not recognize. Our culture of toxic masculinity hurts everyone. And while I’ve repeatedly chosen forgiveness as my path toward healing, I haven’t figured out how to forgive someone who’d hurt me again if given the chance.

I told myself that, through forgiveness, I’d find peace. I sat down with him, with the goal of learning to see him not as a monster but as human again. But I don’t know how to forgive in a way that doesn’t require those who have hurt me to change, or to want to change – to forgive in a way that doesn’t reinforce their power over me.

How can I sit with you knowing the ways that you’ve abused me, ready to forgive and move forward and heal, when you perceive my forgiveness as weakness and use it to hurt me again? How can I help you heal if you maintain that there’s nothing wrong?

And then I have to remember that this work is not about me. I’m working to bring about slow cultural change that may or may not ever reach the specific people who abused me, but will reach someone, someone just like them, who is ready to change.

I always think about the chart I made: a thermometer that gave him points for every day that he was sober. A point and a half if he was able to go out without me, to stay sober without my help. He had to accumulate points to get the things he wanted. I built in room for error, because I knew I couldn’t expect to cure his alcoholism this way.

the will to change.png

I’ve had to learn that I cannot force the will to change on anyone. But I can popularize healthy masculinity. I can work to provide men with the tools and the space to overcome the ways that they’ve been socialized to suppress emotion and enact masculinity through brute force. I can work to undo the associations of emotion with weakness and strength with violence. I can learn how to help men become whole.

And as the mother of a boy, this work is so essential.

silence & healing & mr. roboto

There’s something sort of silencing about being in the limelight. To be in the news every week, to have this incredible platform, to be heard – it makes you cautious about the things you say. Because your words have impact. Speaking out about one injustice might lead to some far worse consequence. Being open about feeling burnt out might bring down the energy that you need to keep up for people who are new to the movement and feel optimistic about change.

I always want to be on point. I always want to bring my best self. I always want to be enthusiastic and positive and chipper.

And I know that’s all impossible, but it feels so essential. We were in Upworthy this week and the Huffington Post last week. I’ll be on the radio this weekend and back on the Kojo Nnamdi Show next Wednesday. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, and it’s meaningful. I feel free in a way that I couldn’t have been free when I had more traditional jobs. I was doubted so much that it made me doubt myself. I was silenced so often that I stopped speaking up. And now, I am free, and still finding myself sort of silenced in a way that I didn’t expect. Silent because I have to be responsible. And it’s hard, because I’m an open book. I believe so deeply in transparency. It’s a bad sign if organizers & organizations lack transparency, but we can’t pull down the veil on this broken system until we have a back-up plan, because having some support, however faulty, is better than having no support at all for those who are most vulnerable. I just want better for them, because I have been there, and in a way, making these systems right is healing for me.

It’s a challenge, too, to find the balance between being invested and disconnected in a way that maximizes my ability to be effective. I can’t let myself be overrun by emotion. I can’t put myself and my family at risk every time I want to help someone. I’ve been cautioned about it — about the importance of separating myself from the work, about self-care. But in many ways, it’s this level of investment that makes me effective. I am passionate because I know these problems are real because I have experienced many of them – homelessness, sexual assault, domestic violence, police violence, everyday racism, everyday sexism – and I understand how they’re all so very connected, and how the solutions must take all of these problems into account to be effective. And it’s my passion that gets people excited. And it’s my attitude of invincibility that makes people think that anything is possible. My mania is my greatest resource and my greatest weakness.

But I also don’t want to focus too much on my own healing because I know that makes me less available to help others heal in a way. I want to relate and share, but I am afraid to dominate a space where others should feel comfortable sharing, and so I find myself closing off and keeping things to myself. I have so many stories of trauma, but I am afraid to be remembered for my struggles; I want to be perceived as strong and bright and bubbly and fierce. Strong mostly, I think. And while my survivorship makes me strong, I’m also afraid of the ways that it makes me weak. Weak defined as emotional, defined as someone who may love too deeply and behave irrationally because of it, defined as needing love. It’s scary to think of the qualities that I’ve been socialized to associate with “weakness.”

And when it comes to healing myself, I am still stuck on healing others. I don’t know how to forgive in a way that’s not dependent on changing something that I can’t control. I don’t know how to heal in a way that doesn’t change the systems that failed me before they fail someone else. I don’t know how to heal in a way that doesn’t require those who have hurt me to want to change, to want to be better, to apologize and mean it. I have chosen forgiveness a thousand times, and it hasn’t helped because the people I have sought to forgive aren’t seeking forgiveness or change, and that’s still what I want. I don’t want to demonize you, I don’t want to paint you as some monster who abused me; I want healing and harmony and rainbows. Fucking rainbows.

I keep reading about this kind of reconciliation, and I don’t know how to make it real.

I shared this story last week about my abusive relationship. And I shared the details because I thought, there are probably people at different points of their abusive relationships, and they might not know yet that some behavior constitutes abuse or that it might escalate, and so I wanted to share as much as I could in an effort to reach them wherever they were. But I re-read it, and I worry about the way that it paints my abuser. My abuser. Is it fair to call him that, when he was more than that to me? He was someone I lived with, someone I loved. Someone I saw recently in a completely different light. I was saw him, and my mind had already branded him a monster, and I couldn’t see him as human. And I look back, and I want to see him as human and I want to paint him in a more compassionate light. Because I know that hurt people hurt people.

I wanted to reach out and reform him. I wanted my mother to go to therapy, to seek help. I wanted my father to take anger management seriously, to go not just because it was mandated by the court but because he needed to learn how to better process his emotions and communicate with people. I want real change, and I have enough will to change for all of my abusers, and it pains me that that’s not enough to make them change.

I am here, waiting anxiously because I want so badly to forgive.

Healing is complicated. It’s not linear, and sometimes I feel more healed than other times. Sometimes I heal through listening, through helping others who have faced similar or the same challenges; but I am not objective. I advise them as though I am them and they are me. I am so invested that I don’t see us as separate, and it’s a problem because then I worry that maybe I’m not really seeing them, and if I’m not seeing them then I cannot be truly listening and truly helping. Healing them becomes about healing me.

It feels like I should end this post with something really revelational and wise. I’ve come to feel like I’m supposed to be some source of wisdom, and I fall short. I am still this twenty-six year old single mom figuring out my own life every day and mothering a toddler who keeps growing and changing and saying hilarious things and throwing tantrums and giving me eskimo kisses. There’s a lot on my plate, and sometimes I feel invincible but other times I’m so overwhelmed.

So I’ll leave you with this video of me and Max performing Mr. Roboto (feat. Lucy Raven), my poor sweet child and my poor sweet cat, how did they get stuck with me?

that essential reminder

I have to remember to slow down;
I have to remember to step back;
I have to remember to listen;
I have to remember to read bedtime stories;
I have to remember to read fiction novels;
I have to remember to draw elephants;
I have to remember to be patient;
I have to remember that I can’t solve the world’s problems.

I will respect my days off and the days off that others need.
I will not chase tragedies.
I will dance and dance and dance every single day.

My work sometimes feels like a drug, and it’s hard to walk away. It is my escape and my healing. Sometimes I want to change my name and start over, but I’ve done that enough times to know that I’ll always find myself back in the same position — in crisis, someone else’s crisis most likely, and feeling so invested that I can’t walk away.

I have forgiven you, and sometimes I’m so angry at myself for it, because I worry about the ways I jeopardize the health and safety and happiness of my family because I fail to see us as separate from our community. You need that separation, you need boundaries.

I teach people about boundaries, but I fail to set them for myself. In some ways.

“You built a wall so high not even you can climb it,” she said, and I know she’s right. And how desperately I’d love to climb up and over and into someone’s arms in a way that makes me feel vulnerable and happy. Instead, I jeopardize my relationships.

I am happiest when I’m alone, and I always fail to be alone because I am afraid. And also I want to be alone because I’m afraid. So instead I cycle back and forth.

Sometimes I behave in a way that makes it seem like I don’t believe anything in the world is real. Like I don’t believe it’ll exist tomorrow, like I don’t think it’s really happening. I convince myself sometimes that I am untouchable, that I can do anything, that all of it matters, that none of it matters.

I want to be healthy, and I will work toward it by taking breaks.

okay

i have officially crashed.

i am closing out five months of hyperproductivity, and i plan to have a full month of cruising: responding to emails, forwarding emails, sharing Facebook posts, reading studies. i will facilitate daytime trainings. i will schedule things, if needed. i will organize casual gatherings. i will relax.

what i’ve found from the last few weeks is that my choice to step back allows my community to step up. it allows collective action to happen.

i was so afraid that if i stopped being hyper productive that all the work would stop. it’s the hardest thing about management, and something i hadn’t really had to think about for years because i hadn’t been in management positions. the additional challenge here, though, is that it’s hard to ask volunteers to step up to do the work that you’re being paid to do. paid very little, but still paid something.

this fear was not unfounded. i was responding to what folks told me they wanted, but we’re in a different place now.

i like to think that i got us to a good place – an important place. and my stepping back, my self-care, that’s important, too. it makes me more sustainable. it gives our volunteers and community a chance to take charge. it’s been a beautiful shift.

and as much as i worried that people would resent me for stepping back when i’m the one full-time paid staffer while they’re all volunteers, i think they’re all actually pretty happy for me, and for the opportunity it opens up for them.

anyway, the trouble with stepping back is that it forces me to be a person again, and i’m not sure that’s something i’m nearly as good at.

charging

I went to New York this weekend. It wasn’t the trip that I expected it to be, but it was what I needed, in a way.

I got back and told myself that now I’m better, now I’m rested, now I’m recharged.

The truth is I’m still charging.

I’m still pushing through what I know to be depression. I sometimes think that if I announce that it has passed then maybe I can make it true.

But that’s not how depression works. It’d just be so much more convenient that way. I need a few weeks to lie in bed and do nothing. This week won’t be too hard, but it’s another week that I have to push through. It’s not that I’m ashamed; I just don’t want to let anyone down.

For now, I’m going to listen to Regina Spektor and read Jodi Picoult and focus my energy on solving other people’s real problems because mine feel too indefinable. And I know that it will go away eventually, which is a step forward from how I felt last week.

well,

i think that maybe
it’d be a good idea if i took a break,
a vacation even from my friends,
just me and max somewhere random
in a place where we don’t know anyone,
maybe for a week or two.

i’m tired.

when i try too hard to help too many people,
i do it at my own expense.
i function best in survival mode.
i don’t know how to snap out of survival mode.

i know, intellectually, that i don’t have to live this way.

it is so easy for me to see someone experiencing homelessness
and to immediately think of fifteen-year-old me, on the street
with nowhere to go, and no one to help.

the only people who will take you in when you’re young and homeless are men who want to have sex with you.

i keep on keeping on,
and i’m tired.