In Gratitude for Mel Gardner

I just learned that my EMDR therapist died in early May.

Without using this language directly in therapy (although if therapy moved in this direction, by white therapists, that would be fantastic!): I started to learn of the harmful affects of white supremacy and internalized sexism on my body. I started to learn that complex PTSD was not really about the cumulative effects of my individual mistakes–but the systems in operation in and around me.

In our first session I was asked, “How do you know when you are done with therapy?”

My answer: “When I accept myself more fully.”

We often talked about the deep aptitude I have for solitude, how I long for it. And how terrified I was of being alone in my body. How terrified I was for seeing myself clearly, because then I have the choice to enjoy and take responsibility for my life.

Through EMDR’s contemplative & stream of consciousness processing, I experienced how my trauma blocked my own truth-telling, my own self-definition, my own intuition. I was scared to be seen for fear of being abandoned. I saw my own unhealthy relationship with white men, having been raised to be independent, yes–but also to be suspect of my desires and to feel vulnerable without their protection. To maintain the status quo as a white person–namely white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy.

I felt a deep disgust and ache in my gut for the ways not trusting my intuition left me complicit. Left me doubting and second-guessing myself constantly. Not truly able to show up for myself or anyone else in an authentic way.

Mel held space for me to say yes to myself. To my desires. To my rest. To my own pleasure and love. Mel had faith that the best parts of myself would emerge over time, when I didn’t know if I had the perseverance anymore.

I entered therapy with an urgency. I didn’t have much money; I really didn’t know how long I could afford therapy. What I didn’t know was that I finished my time with her 3 months before she got cancer. I met her just in time.

Mel Gardner was direct, affirming, and held space for my own rage and agency. She believed on a spiritual level that waiting could be anxiety and trauma in disguise. She believed in healthy anger to propel confidence and intuition. She believed in the ability of the brain and body to heal–but not in a complete, linear way devoid of the unknown. She knew that we need to co-create our reality; that we need to speak to our inner child gently, over and over again. To be in community that affirms our existence, our thriving, our gifts.

“Know that when you drift, there’s time to find your way back to yourself.”

Rest well, Mel. And thank you, thank you, thank you.

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The White Card & the Abortion Ban

I just finished reading the play “The White Card” by Claudia Rankine. In her introduction, she states that the play took shape after a white man asked her, a black woman, a question at her poetry reading. He asked, “What can I do for you? How can I help you?”

To which she answered, “I think the question you should be asking is what you can do for you.”

The play explores theme of white saviorism and the many ways liberal white people may read all the “right books” and know all the “right terms” and yet what prevails is this dominant need for white people to “be right” and to imagine black people as always having needs that white people can heal.

We often don’t ask, “What is my need as a white person?” Not as a way to center in a conversation, but as an internal excavation. We often don’t ask this question in racial terms.

As I’ve seen the abortion vote occur in Alabama & Georgia–the focus is mainly on the cis white men who voted for the bill, but not on the white woman who sponsored the bill and the white female governor who signed it into law.

White women in particular want gender to be visible, but not whiteness. White women would like to present the fact that the women’s movement is united across race, when it isn’t.

Take time to notice the differences between the Guardian article and The Root article. The first is calling out Republican white men, the second white people as a whole.

May we follow the lead of black women who have been organizing around reproductive justice-and donate to their work! (Alicia Garza suggests Arc-Southeast, SPARK, Women’s Feminist Health Care Center.)

What is my need as a white person? I keep sitting with this question. It’s to know that if an immediate “What can I do?” question surfaces out of urgency, I need to ground and remember that black, indigenous & people of color have been doing this work forever. My urgency & lack of education does not help. It’s to know that I often lack historical grounding, and I need to educate myself. I can donate to local, grassroots organizations. I can follow the lead of people of color leading this work and discern my gifting and my limits. I can ask myself, “Is this work mine to do?” I can speak openly, I can direct others to these BIPOC orgs doing the work, I can speak with those in my spheres. I can stay in my lane. I can admit that I don’t know.

This work is both political & spiritual. Justice cannot be extracted from the spiritual realm.

So what can I do for me?

I can speak to the necessity for a spirituality that is grounded in justice as a spiritual director. I can read books, watch films, listen to music created by BIPOC. I can re-learn history from BIPOC historians. I can give my white students books to read that do not center their racial imagination & we can talk about it together. I can talk to other white people. I can accept that my own growth and unfolding is mysterious; it’s in giving up control. It’s about always changing and evolving. I can know that healing happens when my needs are not centered.

I can linger in this question when I don’t have any “answers” at all. I can regulate in my nervous system, be in my body, rest & experience pleasure.

And for all those who have been triggered deeply this past week, so much love. May pleasure and healing be yours.

To Rest & Grieve

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

I’m tired and I’m grieving.

And given these circumstances, I’ve been writing less lately. Which is okay for a short time, but writing is such a creative and therapeutic process for me, that when I step away for too long, everything in me is trying to find a way to return.

Interesting thoughts have come to me lately, almost like I could write about this or that. I graduated from college 7 years ago! What?! I moved to Indy 5 years ago. About 2 years ago, I moved to Westfield and my life re-started in many ways. It’s just been a time when a lot of memories keep popping up.

What I am learning year after year, especially as I pay closer attention to the seasons–is that I have my strongest environmental reactions in May and June.

These are months I deeply appreciate for the warmer weather, for the spring turning into summer. And I experience environmental reactions in buildings as the weather warms up, but the air conditioning hasn’t been turned on yet. My body can still feel the mustiness, the lurking mold in buildings.

It feels like my body fighting to return to this deep patience within myself. A patience that accepts what is happening. A patience that can still cling to gratitude, somehow, even in the midst of a brain struggling to make coherent sense of the thoughts moving too quickly to process. A patience that resists my brain telling my body about how active I “should be” (Should is a huge warning word!!!) especially since the weather is warmer.

A thought came to me while driving in the car this week–my body still associates May/June with intense performance, whether it was big track meets growing up, exams and finishing school, graduations, moving. There is this intense feeling of needing to improve, that I’m learning to sit with more gently.

As I’ve taken time to just be with myself, to observe all that is swirling around, it’s also clear that my body is trying to be distracted (even though I wasn’t truly conscious of this until today) from the fact that I was sexually assaulted by a doctor 4 years ago. At the end of May. The urge to disassociate feels really strong right now. And generally I just feel distracted.

I’ve felt like I needed a lot of alone time; and simultaneously like I didn’t know how to be with myself.

I just finished reading The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. In this second chapter he says, “Out of the days through which we fight and from whose ugliness we ache, we look to the Sabbath as our homeland, as our source and destination. It is a day in which we abandon our plebeian pursuits and reclaim our authentic state, in which we may partake of a blessedness in which we are what we are…”

So far May has felt like accepting how I feel, and also showing up to my life in ways that I can. Showing up in the lives of friends. Being gentle with myself and my limits, and accepting that showing up often can’t mean “in person.” It’s meant watching those protest Millions Missing, in hopes for more government funding for ME/CFS. It’s meant showing up at a local school board meeting. It’s meant offering a spiritual direction session between tutoring sessions. To grieve the loss of some beautiful white ancestors: Rachel Held Evans and Jean Vanier. And to grieve Sandra Bland’s arrest & death as more footage has been made available.

It’s meant realizing how much rest I need, even with fatigue it feels like the rest I need feels extremely elusive, like that need is never going to be met. And yet the longing to rest, to be in my own unique authentic state is there. So I’m giving myself space to grieve and hold joy. Giving myself space to realize what I need and to rest. To rest from the reactions I have from buildings and to recover.

And not to recover just so I can go work really hard again and collapse. And repeat that cycle again and again. Heschel states in the first chapter: “To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work…The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays, the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”

So this summer, I’m going to keep leaning into rest and pleasure, not just as a thought process, but to embody them in new ways. For the sake of life.

I finished out my tutoring week, by reading this piece with my student honoring Jean Vanier’s life and work. As my student was giving supporting details about Vanier’s legacy, he said, “It seems important that laughter and play were important parts of Vanier’s life and calling.”

Yes, I most certainly agree.