There is no self without community; we are born in relation to someone else and we all need to feel a sense of true inclusivity and belonging
Back in May 2021, I facilitated another writing workshop with API Chaya, specifically for their RISE! program- a peer-facilitated community for survivors of color of sexual violence. A few months after I had facilitated my first one towards the end of January 2021 on stories our bodies tell, I was given another opportunity to use my own story and journey as a vehicle towards collective community healing. In the weeks leading up, talking/practicing out loud to myself as I paced around the kitchen and living room, my intent was to begin by explaining what spaces I occupied, mainly as a survivor of sexual assault. But, in addition, as a queer, Black, mentally ill human I was also surviving and healing from other forms of trauma, things that became omnipresent in my slice of reality: medical racism, interpersonal racism, homophobia, ableism, workplace harassment. Surviving, healing, striving towards thriving was both an everyday and lifelong thing for me.
Similar to the morning of the first one, Imposter Syndrome called me out and almost called my bluff as I wondered about cancelling. I kept opening and closing Gmail every few minutes to re-read the advertisements that were sent out:
“chill writing workshop with one of our own experts”
“write and share as you feel comfortable”
“navigate the life-long journey of healing”
Since when did I become an expert? Who placed that label on me? A someone who could assist anyone with navigation? I could barely navigate my way from my bed to my bathroom when the depression was acting up. It was confusing, anxiety-inducing, clammy palm generating, to stop and think about how I had, once again, been entrusted with a somatic release of trauma through the pen and written word. Eventually (like 5 minutes before my log-in time), I decided to stop thinking and just do.
I started with explaining how the work of Professor john a. powell had been on my mind recently, mainly the Circle of Human Concern, which explains how we create who belongs in our society and who is othered, based off of who is inside and outside the Circle. Examples are usually rightfully related to race, gender, sexuality, etc. But I would add that trauma, sexual trauma, has so much shame and isolation placed on the survivor that it feels like we are outside of the Circle. My main goal with having these chill writing circles was to continually cultivate a space where we, as trauma survivors, have a community and feel like we belong.
There is no self without community. We are all tethered to another during our formation, and born into some community. Throughout our lives, we all need a sense of community and belonging, a safe haven where we can show up and show out as our full selves (and explore what Self means) and not worry about being othered or pushed out.
With that beginning of a dive into how we create community and a quick grounding exercise focused on breath work, we went right into the journal prompts. The writing prompts for this one were 1. when do you feel most liberated? when do you feel most loved? and 2. what would a community that is cared for look like?
*Quick Disclaimer*: everything mentioned is about my own experience and what I wrote and shared during this workshop. I’m not even hinting at anything that a survivor mentioned, and leaving some parts out if I have to explain what a survivor said/wrote to give proper context. Everything about who was in that space will be protected. Also, most of this was stream of consciousness and may not make the most linear sense. I’m intentionally keeping it that way- parts are the raw words that I wrote and began to ruminate on.
When do you feel most liberated? when do you feel most loved?
Healing on my own has been my reality for so long that I wasn’t immediately sure when I felt the most liberated. That’s such a huge word, an expansive emotion- something like abundance. And I wasn’t there yet, but I could think of when I felt snapshots of joy. Like I am a river, and what you experience- tide, environment- depends on where along the river you pause:
- dancing around my apartment, usually sans clothes minus an old tank or oversized t-shirt
- think part of it is I’ve done so much work on being ok with being by myself after forced isolation (abuse), and finding joy in being by myself that sometimes it’s difficult for me to feel liberated or a true sense of self around most other people.
- feel some semblance of liberation when people don’t tell me what to do
- seriously. Unsolicited advice has always pissed me off. Also, I very quickly feel like my agency is being taken away. As a trauma response, my spidey senses are tingling, my brain goes into fight/flight mode and to cope, I either disassociate or somehow leave the situation. It can be something as little as someone telling me to wash the dishes to telling me what I can/can’t wear- my dawg- just let me make my own decisions about my own life.
- *trigger warning* in the past, I’ve also felt some joy when I felt in control. For a long time, binge eating made me feel that, I was controlling when I ate and purged. I had to acknowledge that some of the things that made me feel in control (and therefore free) weren’t healthy things.
- sometimes, when I’m alone and it’s safe. When the tornados in my head are at ease, when I’m out in public and not in a state of constant vigilance. When I can just be.
But what about the people? Do I ever feel free around others? Yes- usually over time; it may start by me telling them weird things I do (remixing Disney songs anyone? anyone?) and especially if they can match my weird. Yes, once I feel safe enough around a person to let them into my physical space and they don’t overstep boundaries or violate trust. Yes, when I’m not in White spaces- when I’m in Black and queer spaces and don’t have to explain my references, language (Ebonics is a language I will forever be fluent in and sneak into as comfortable).
I feel myself exhaling in those moments.
What about the unabashed freedom? I used to feel free on the dance floor, simultaneously surrounded by other sweaty humans and in my own little gyrating world. I haven’t danced in public in so long- I was focused on practical things and the minutia of day to day life. This made me realize that because I have a standing therapy appointment, I thought I was doing the hard work of healing. But at the same time, I need to do more things just for fun, to not be afraid of play and getting back to things that make me feel free.
I think that’s why I’ve turned to dance at different points in my life. Dancing has allowed me to be messy, not perfect. To be seen in a communal space but not judged.
With the second question of the prompt, I feel loved when I receive (unasked for) words of affirmation that feel genuine. Really, any authentic act of care. When there is NO SHAME in my relationships. I was shamed for so long for things outside of my control or were part of my self-expression: my race, gender, way I dress, sexual assault and rape. I was shamed for what made up my sense of Self.
It’s also difficult for me to know when something is an actual factual act of love, or that I deserve love. If people are vulnerable around me and trust me, does that mean they love me?
Even now, today, one of my greatest needs is to know I won’t be attacked for who I am naturally, on my best days and on my worst days.
With my boo thang, I feel most loved when I can whisper something in his ear, thinking he’ll call me a weirdo or not know what I’m talking about, but instead he’ll whisper back that’s not weird. When he’s able to hold my anxieties and let me be flawed and unsure. When we lay down and stare into each other’s eyes silently for minutes at a time. It’s just our energy combining, but also being literally seen so closely, to be intimate and flawed together.
Safety and love are linked to liberation- you can see all of the different buckets that get poured into my river and still like me.
I feel loved and therefore the most liberated when I’m given the space to just BE WITHOUT SHAME.
what would a community that is cared for look like?
Getting rid of shame is the first step.
Shame was on my mind a lot that day (and still is, in rotation with all of my other musings). When someone who is inside the Circle of Human Concern, someone with societal power says “X thing about you is wrong (anything we are targeted for- race, disability, immigrant status, gender, religion, sexuality, etc.) and that needs to be fixed,” it is getting rid of community or pushes me out of communal spaces. I want to be focused on investing in relationships and meeting people where they are without shame. See that you’re struggling with eating, I’ll send you reminders or take that first bite with you instead of thinking “you look gross,” “why are you starving yourself.”
Individual acts of care and what the person’s unique needs are, not generalized like X treatment will work for everyone or friendships have to look a certain way or follow a certain formula.
Power (do we need power? That means someone is beneath you- what about access? care?) is more evenly distributed and those that have been pushed to the margins have a voice. At this point, I think having a cared-for community means starting with the basics of seeing our humanity.
I felt like I was circling around Abolition and Care Work so tried to think about things from that lens for a teensers. Also thinking back to the first set of prompts, anything that involves breaking free would require abolition of some sort.
The basics of Care Work that immediately came to mind were food security, driving, cleaning: ways we can use our privileges and resources to help out someone else in our community. Because it’s the right thing to do, not because I expect a favor in return. There may be times when my community rallies around me and uses their resources to assist, but I don’t want it to be an expectation that I did something for you, you now owe me.
I’m no expert and surely wasn’t doing research while writing/journaling with this group, but I think abolition is also about prevention: building in new ways to prevent harm from happening, that are people/community focused and allow us all to thrive. For me, that was the core of the question: I want my community, other communities, me as an individual, to be able to thrive and soar and not have to question belonging.
In order to belong, don’t need to be dialed down version of yourself: no code switching here! Now, societal pressures feel limiting: from who is allowed to have body hair, to White (and cisgender and heterosexual) voices always being the main ones prioritized.
Part of my cared-for community is us not having to extend too much of ourselves. Labor would be an invitation to create, not an indicator of livelihood and your worth. We can rest, to resist grind culture and White Dominant Culture.
Rest is also important to me, because I see it as a portal, a way to tap into our imaginations/day dream about the type of future we want to create.
My future, with my loved-on self and thriving community has broken down the shackles of White Dominant Culture, the cages of shame, the false cure of saviorism, and allows us all to not question our agency or autonomy, to exist in abundance and thrive knowing our communities, our support networks uplift us as our whole selves.
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