Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.


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But sometimes you’re wrong

Yesterday, my four-year old said something profound and refreshing, in the effortless, unrehearsed way four-year-olds say almost everything. She told me, “I’m really smart. But sometimes I’m wrong.” The timing of her statement was exquisite, as I had spent most of the morning brooding over some unexpected wounds and the loved ones who unintentionally created them. These wounds led me down a path of questioning motives and behaviors, good intentions and profoundly negative impacts, and the many ways in which we can be wrong, even when we are smart, kind, generous, and empathetic. Even the wokest among us prove to be acutely problematic on occasion. In the moment I simply responded, “Everyone is wrong sometimes,” but I let those words sink deeply into my own spirit.

The beauty in my daughter’s simple statement, of course, is the space it holds for multiple truths about herself. She acknowledges her own intellectual strength, without dismissing her fallibility, and the skill to do so is both powerfully healing and tragically lacking in Western culture. Too often our fragile egos and a perversely overwhelming drive to protect them gets in the way of doing the most important social justice work before us—the work we must perform on ourselves.

Take me as an example. I use ableist language. Not as often as I once did, but more often than I’m proud to admit. “Stupid, lame, crazy,” are all words attaching negative value to human states of being none of us are qualified to judge. “Crazy” is just a derogatory term for “mentally ill,” “lame” is a word that demeans the differently abled, and “stupid” is a word to describe someone as intellectually inferior to oneself. So if you stop and think about what it actually means to use one of those terms as an insult or as a descriptor, you start to really feel like an asshole. “She’s acting so mentally ill!” Is it empathetic and justice-seeking to demean someone for presenting signs of needing help or treatment? Of course not. This language is intensely problematic, and the damaging assumptions and stereotypes it upholds need to go.

Yet when someone points out that I’m using ableist language in a given moment, what happens? Honestly, it hurts my feelings for a minute, and a small part of me wants to shout out, “That’s not what I meant!” Still, I resist this urge, and I thank whoever is calling me out, because I understand intellectually that my problematic behavior doesn’t make me worthless or unlovable. It just means my good intentions aren’t serving me well through my language, and I need to make some adjustments. I’m an empathetic human being. But sometimes I’m problematic.

So often we seem gripped by an immense fear that admitting we are wrong about anything important disqualifies us from being well-meaning or conscientious individuals. It’s as if the possibility of imperfection lessens the value of anything we bring to the table of humanity, ever. And this dangerous dualism upholds a mountain of oppression and injustice, by preventing us from being accountable for the ways in which we embrace these destructive forces.

When it comes to systematic white supremacy, this dynamic is too prevalent for words. What I need all well-intentioned white folks seeking to be allies to know is this: You are guilty of complicity supporting systemic white supremacy. This is not an accusation of personal immorality. This is an acknowledgment of a devastating ideological poison which has saturated every inch of the globe, leaving no soul untouched, yet remaining largely imperceptible as the air we breathe. Do you ever breathe? You are infected with it. Profoundly. You are not so special or so good as to have somehow magically escaped.

If I, as a woman of color, have to vigilantly inspect my view of self and of my brothers and sisters, if I have to search my language, attitudes, and behaviors, to be sure that I am free of it, then you must fight it from within yourself as well. And you must be willing to hold multiple truths about yourself within your consciousness if you’re going to accomplish this. You may very well be a compassionate human being seeking social justice as best as you know how. But sometimes you will do and say things that serve racism. Are you willing to be called out? Are you willing to acknowledge your problematic language and actions (or problematic lack of action) and make some adjustments?

If so, consider removing these phrases from your collection: “I don’t see color,” “I have a black friend/significant other/child,” “I don’t have a racist bone,” “I have been doing racial justice work for X amount of years,” along with the knee-jerk reaction to deflect blame and avoid self-examination. Instead, try adopting a stance that invites constructive criticism and self-reflection. Remind yourself, “I’m still learning. I’m learning about how much I have personally benefited from a system which violently oppresses People of Color. I’m learning about my contributions to this system and doing my best to reverse them.” And instead of defending your good intentions when problematic words or actions (or lack of action) are pointed out, listen. Because no matter how much you learn about racism, sometimes you will still be wrong.


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My Black life matters, or Ramblings of middle age

The past several months have left me feeling sluggish and out of sorts. It’s been a period of rapid change professionally and personally, and to say that I wasn’t ready would be an understatement. It’s also been a time when being middle-aged has become quite real to me. Bodily changes are coming at me fast and furious…and why am I always hot? Seriously, I am always hot or at least that’s what it feels like. I swear, I am running 20 degrees warmer than most people these days as evidenced by the fact that when other people are wearing sleeves and coats, I am quite content sans to bare my arms and shoulders. Frankly, I find myself wondering: Must I wear clothes at all?

So, I am on fire all the time just when my body has also decided that sleep is optional and that my memory is something it doesn’t need to spend much time maintaining anymore. Nothing brings this perimenopause thing home like being in a meeting and forgetting your words in mid-speech. All you can do is laugh at yourself…wait? What is that word again?  Then, to add insult to injury, caffeine no longer loves me. Last year when my healthcare provider told me that some of the bodily shifts could be mitigated by giving up caffeine, I balked and agreed to lessen my consumption. Apparently that wasn’t enough, my body is flat out rejecting caffeine and when I do have a day where I don my inner toddler and declare that “I am the boss of me!” My body pretty much lets me know that caffeine is not my friend. Sob.

No matter what this “40 is the new 27” world tries to sell me and my peers, my body is saying “Not so fast” and I suspect a lot of my “I’m still young” fellow middle-agers are getting the same or at least similar bodily reminders. Aging is real and there is a physical and mental component and, despite my best attempts at ignoring it all, the CHANGE is here and is demanding my full attention.

Growing older in a Black female body is a special trip, though, especially because the majority of the health indicators aren’t exactly in our favor. Did you know that heart disease is the number-one cause of death for men and women in the U.S. but, moreover, Black women have heart disease rates twice that of white women. I have an aunt who isn’t even 60 and she’s been living with congestive heart failure for years now. We have higher rates of diabetes, and diabetes is prevalent in certain segments of the Black community. Oh yeah, there is also breast cancer, which is the most common form of cancer that affects Black women. The life expectancy gap is closing along racial lines but that is namely due to the plight of white folks dying earlier than they once did…probably from the stress of realizing life isn’t going so much their way as it used to and that only the really well off have futures with any comfort (welcome to some semblance of the world we Black people have lived in for decade upon decade upon decade).

If that wasn’t enough, there is also the cumulative effects of racism and patriarchy and the sense of being expected to always carry the loads. And yet rarely is there reciprocity. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote so many years ago “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”  That pretty much sums things up. We are often the first to show up, the first to do and yet almost always the last to be acknowledged or cared for. For all the work we do, it most certainly isn’t reflected in our economic status.  A study several years ago found that, on average, Black women have a net worth of $5. Then again, we do live in a world where the racialized wage gap leaves Black women earning sixty three cents to the white man’s dollar. It’s worse for our other sisters of color.

So you get to middle age as a Black woman and realize that all your hard work probably won’t prevent you from a retirement spent with the occasional kitty chow for dinner inside either your kid’s house, the subsidized apartment that may not exist by the time you actually get to retirement age or a snazzy cardboard box under the bridge. This while you are juggling whatever ailment that you are statistically doomed to suffer.

You can either get pissed off as hell, roll over and wait for the end or you can grab some joy where you can. I recently opted for “grab some joy” and did something that I have never done before. I went on a mini-vacation for two days and…damn it!…I feel refreshed. A few months ago, it hit me that I have never been on an actual vacation. All my travel has been either family or work-related. Never have I treated myself to unscheduled time alone. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that, since my Facebook feed tells me that most of the people I know are always traveling. However, I decided on early marriage and motherhood and spent my late 20s and 30s putting myself through college, graduate school and starting a career. They say shit happens but in my life shit happens often enough that the idea of vacations never materialized.

I am returning today from two nights away that fed my soul. I didn’t go far from home but I went just far enough that I was in an area  of Maine that is not part of my daily rounds.  I threw caution to the wind and it felt good and while racial bias is never far from the life of a Black person (a racially prompted traffic stop on my way to my getaway, plus being mistaken for the local help and not a lady of leisure by a waitress), it was just delightful overall.

My two nights away made me reflect on the importance of time away and how it is good for everyone. But for Black women and femmes, it is even more critical. Our bodies exist in a society where psychic and emotional abuse and misuse are the norms; we often internalize it, and it is hurts us. Too many of us are juggling too many balls often without a real support system. Too often our support system is simply another form of stress.  

How often do we look at the Black women and femmes in our lives and marvel at their strength without asking what that outward strength is actually costing them? How often do we profit from that strength without questioning it? How often do we truly give back to the Black women and femmes who bring beauty, knowledge and so much more into our lives? Do we ever see them as people who need a hand or a hug? Or do we sit so comfortably within the box of white supremacy that we take them for granted because deep down, we think they are indeed the mules of the world?

In a world where we must vocally declare that Black Lives Matter, I am declaring that my middle-aged Black self does indeed matter and that I will honor this vessel that I reside in, treating it as well as I can given my realities. If we say  that Black Lives Matter than we need to make sure that we are honoring those closest to us.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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