Shame Doesn’t Survive in the Light

It’s mid-afternoon on Friday, I am facilitating a workshop this evening and planned to get coffee with a friend beforehand. Instead, I’m propped up at my kitchen table writing this as a distraction from the some intense pain and discomfort. For a few moments, I was confused as to why I felt like this. I then realized I ate a meal without restriction portion or food groups for the first time in  weeks. I got myself together and went grocery shopping, made a meal and ate it before I got too overwhelmed. I’m still proud of myself, but despite years of experience, totally forgot I would had some side effects due to my body not being used to eating regular portions.

This is a less-talked about aspect of recovery from restrictive eating. It’s not inspiring or doesn’t have that trauma-porn style of intrigue that many “recovery” stories hold. I didn’t struggle as much through this meal or any other recent meals than I did a year and a half ago when I was in treatment, or a year before than in the rare time I would attempt to eat a full meal. That was a whole different kind of terrible, which often involved a lot of crying and anxiety. Today, I cooked and ate and felt guilty and enjoyed it and texted some friends and listened to The Internet. I sent an email afterwards and did my laundry. 20 minutes later, as my body tried to digest this meal, I was struck with intense pain, I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I’m hot and exhausted. My body is currently working overtime to handle the amount and type of food that it is not used to. This part of recovery is not the hardest, it’s not inspiring. It just is. It’s an after effect of the years of deprivation and damage, my body has experienced. This has happened to me before and will happen again. Each time it gets a little worse – so if you don’t suffer from an eating disorder you may wonder, well why don’t you just keep eating normal amounts and avoid this?

I used to be really hurt by these questions, but for one, not many people ask anymore, I’m weight restored and am better at strategically using highlighter. Secondly, I have a bit of distance from the depth of my disorder and I kinda understand it now. Why can’t I just eat? I am fully aware that this happens. I am rational, intelligent and has work and academic experience in food and food security. None of this matters. It doesn’t matter how smart or experienced I am, anorexia [as well as other restrictive eating disorders] has an powerful hold on those of us that suffer. Most of the time, I don’t even want to be extremely thin anymore, but the desire to achieve some sort of celestial ideal of deprivation and thinness captures me. I feel trapped by this whether or not I am acting on these desires. I have learned to go through the motions to keep myself relatively well but not to the point where my body and mind has been able to rest and heal.

A couple of years ago when I was posting more regularly, someone asked me if I was uncomfortable with people knowing my vulnerabilities. I hadn’t thought too much about it at the time so the question made me deeply uncomfortable, however, over the last few years, I have come to understand that allowing myself to be vulnerable and open is an integral part of my healing process. Shame doesn’t survive in the light and writing my experiences exposes them to light, it gives me a feeling of validity and I hope, raises the consciousness of others. I hope those who love someone with an eating disorder can learn how to better support them. I hope that if someone reading this is struggling, especially, if they are at the beginning stages, that they will seek help. I imagine sometimes how different my life would be if I accessed treatment 10 years ago. I know my body would have been through the things I have dragged it [us] through. Perhaps, recovery would be less of daunting task if I knew what it was like to be an adult and to be well [for more than a couple of months]. I do experience embarrassment and shame at being almost 28 years old and struggling to feed myself, however, in order to dissipate that shame, I have to bring it to the light. So here I am. Writing this three days before my 28th birthday, having cried once over my thesis and twice over my body. I am not where I want to be, but I can feel the light blessing me.

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OPACITY

i feel like i am drowning

swallowed by whiteness

fragmented

alienated by sameness

 

multicultural *

 

*stands for _______

 

assimilation

polite smiles

and working twice as hard

for half of what [they got]

 

Canada*

 

*stands for ________

 

stolen

h o m e

forgotten

[a better life]

 

i am tired

of white women asking me to explain

Why we feel this pain

of white women touching my skin & my sister’s hair

stop girl – you gonna hurt yourself before that hand gets to this body

 

i am tired

of our men

making h o m e s in our hearts

only to set them on fire

for becky with the good hair

 

their healing and our heartbreak

are touched by desire – not for our love – but the

O p a c i t y of [whiteness]

 

i am tired of skin bleaching

and hair relaxers

more common that shades beyond ivory &

mayo

 

i am tired of shame

and hiding our magic

i am tired of my brothers & sisters dying

i am tired of my relative safety

that my proximity to whiteness equals proximity to safety

and not knowing what to do –

and how to shed this shame

trade it in for action

not reaction

 

mixed *

 

*code for _______

 

“you’re pretty for a..”

“don’t tan too much”

existing outside the lines

“but what. are. you?”

of love crossing lines

 

May 5th 2018

skin

 

S K I N

tracing fingertips along

lines made of our ancestors dreams

 

S K I N

tastes sweet like peaches

in hot summers

 

S K I N

smells of oceans salt

sounds like i love you, whispered

 

S K I N to S K I N

i let you envelop me

i drink in sweat//memories

2018

h o m e

I dream of loving you

So deeply, clearly

Falling into each other like melting

Clouds on my tongue

I taste [h o m e] in you

 

I turn the words in my mouth, looking for the right way to

say i don’t know where i __________

And you pull the words [h o m e] right from my lips

 

I step back in to the soft glow of longing

I sink deep into you, while i wait

While we wait

For [h o m e]

On Grief

May 3 2018

it washed over me like a wave

only a child when I felt something bloom inside me

lacking the joy and colour of childhood

it was hard and empty in its birth

 

this seed of grief grew

it sprouted the first time a man laid his hands on me

it pushed through the surface by the tenth – or twentieth –

time fists made contact with my skin

 

its tender leaves blossomed and flourished within me

as i starved my body

and closed my heart

it grew – unruly – constricting the little bit of myself i had left

 

the rest of my faith died with a woman who fed me life

6:34am: i knew before i called

this grief would consume me

no longer a seed, it is rooted deeply in me

 

i made my home in these roots

laid my life at the base

let the poison seep in my bones

and travel through my blood

 

I hold this grief tighter, closer

closer than joy

closer than love

closer than the living

The Dark Side of Healthy

 

CN: anorexia, disordered thoughts, diets, exercise.

 

I recently read an article by activist and writer Virgie Tovar called “(Re)Discovering My Love of Food After Dieting” (link), it’s short and emotive and captures the importance of unlearning diet culture and embracing bodies, food and pleasure in radical and liberating way.

 

I saw much of my own experience and that of my peers in Tover’s journey to find pleasure in food and eating. My research involves food (agriculture), I worked in food justice and the food service industry, I have a foodie instagram. I find baking relaxing and believe in the connective power of food and community. I just don’t enjoy eating. This is not a natural part of my personality (despite my insistence to myself and others for too many years). My thoughts around my own consumption of food are nothing but disordered:

 

How many calories is this?”

“When can I leave this dinner to go work out?”

 

“If I had X yesterday can I have X again today?”

 

“Is this healthy?”

 

I have cycled through many eating disorder behaviours but they have all been based on restriction. Whether that meant eliminating an entire food group, only choosing foods I considered “healthy” or under the banner of  “clean eating”, fad diets or excessive exercise, denying myself food and pleasure in that food has been ceaseless component of my eating disorder since I was around 12 years old.

 

This is not say that I have never enjoyed food or eating, I have had moments of enjoyment that are mere seconds or might last a day or two where I can enjoy the experience of eating, but those moments still exist within a rigid set of rules that define what is of “good” and “bad”. What is good or bad has changed and evolved throughout my disorder. These changes have been influenced by personal experience, diet culture, friends, family, and different treatment programs. When I am very sick, what is considered good is a short and sad looking list, when I’m better, it grows along with my capacity to experience other joys of life.  Yet, I have not be able to move beyond the boundaries that my disorder has built. This is not health. I may not be as sick as I once was, however, the insidiousness of anorexia still lurks in my thoughts and actions.

 

Being healthy is great, but it is not a possibility for everyone. Chronic illness, socioeconomic status, environmental factors and genetics all play a role in health. Unfortunately, we tend to moralize health and bodies in ways that are incredibly harmful. Health is associated with thinness, whiteness, being able-bodied, wealthy (comparatively) and cis. Health is seen as something to be achieved through hard work, but it is often not something we can control, and being healthy is so much more than what fits into these narrow binaries.

 

Fat people are healthy. Disabled people are healthy. People of colour are healthy. Queer and trans people are healthy. How we define health beyond survival is shaped by social relations of power and how we validate knowledge of bodies, health and care. The dominant narrative of what is healthy and what bodies should look like has been shaped by white supremacy. Our medical system has made the advancements it has through horrific levels of dehumanization and cruelty towards black people. This legacy still affects how bodies of colour are treated (and not treated) in the healthcare system.

 

Health is important and  the resources to be as healthy as we can be should be accessible to everyone, however,  none of this should translate to one’s health does not defining their worth. Unhealthy people – whether they have made choices that led to health problems or not – are just as valuable as healthy individuals. The idea that health = worth is something we first have to challenge in ourselves and then recognize that our positionality and experience may have benefited us in ways that others have not been excluded from. I am a thin, able-bodied, cis woman. This gives me greater access to resources. This means that I am not charged extra when flying and strangers generally don’t express their “concern” about my health. We must recognize that we live in a fat-phobic society and those of us who are not fat (even if we feel fat!) need to be in solidarity with fats folks who bear the brunt of body shaming.

 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, but it is important to ask ourselves where this motivation comes from and how we define what health is. Does health = thinness? That is not only inaccurate, but can lead to other, perhaps more severe , health issues.

 

The obsessive drive I feel to be fit into a eurocentric version of healthy, has contribute to serious health effects of anorexia, both mentally and physically. As it has for many others who suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other forms of disordered eating. Healthy is different for everyone and changes as we move through life. Rigidity around health and bodies is not in line with nature. Nature is complex and does not suit the binaries we place on ourselves and each other. In order to be truly healthy, we must accept the complexities of bodies and experiences.

 

Tover closes her article by saying, “I can’t opt out of this culture, but each time that I choose what I want I know I’m one step closer to the freedom I crave.” I am in the process of unlearning the ideas on health and bodies that have kept me from moving closer freedom and liberation. To learn to feel joy and pleasure when we – especially as people of colour – are told that we are undeserving of this or that denying this pleasure will lead to a greater pay off, is not a simple task. It takes time, commitment and all the gentleness that we denied ourselves for so long.

Let the Water Carry You

It is almost a year ago that I traveled to New York City to the first annual conference held by Women of Colour in Solidarity (check them out/support their work, they are raddest people doing the real work). I had been on a journey to connect with my ethnic and cultural roots and this experience solidified that my ancestors were – and are – guiding me on a path of learning, growth and healing.

 

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with author and activist Lynn Gehl at the Racial Justice Symposium at Dalhousie University. Lynn spoke with my classmate and I about the memories our hearts hold. Gehl writes about decolonizing her spirit and identity in her book, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. I haven’t had a chance to read the book, but am excited to explore it this summer. Lynn spoke with us about the importance of connecting to our ancestral memories and the histories we hold in our heart. I left our brief conversation feeling shaken – in a beautiful way. I felt her words deep in my soul. There is an ancestral places of longing, belonging, remembering, searching, healing, loving, that exists in the bodies of people of colour. I have been discovering how deeply we hold these histories  which then manifest in physical bodies as well as our psyche.

 

Someone dear to me suggested I listen to a few episodes of  “How to Survive the End of the World”, a podcast hosted by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. The first episode I listened to is about Black Panther, and it’s obviously amazing (so many spoilers!) The second episode I checked out is called “Let the Ancestors Speak”, the hosts discuss their writing processes and the role of their ancestors in guiding them through their practice. Y’all should really listen to the podcast but I want to talk about their discussion of the memories that water holds and the ways in which the ocean remembers our ancestors.

 

The oceans hold the ancestors who chose death over bondage, the oceans hold our ancestors who tried to find their way back home, our oceans hold all their pain and all their creation. This water carried us, this water sustains us, this water was changed by our passage, this water flows through us, carrying the stories of our ancestors. The stories whose multitudes and intensities can only be carried by water and blood-memory as pages would crumble beneath them and there are not enough words in the colonizer’s tongue to tell the stories of our ancestors. The ocean is as vast and as powerful as our ancestors. The ocean moves, the ancestors speak.

 

I am on dry land. Parched. Trapped. The water has stopped flowing through me. My soul lies dormant. This is the imaginary that comes to mind when I reflect on the times that I have not been open to the ancestors guidance. When I have chosen assimilation with the colonizer, when I use my eating disorder to cut myself off – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

 

A year ago, in New York, I was able to connect to my ancestors in ways I had not imagined possible. Surrounded by women of colour who share my visions for a just future informed by the wisdom of our ancestors, I heard their voices clearly.

 

I have struggled to deepen and build this connection, but as the seasons change, I am beginning to hear their whispers again. I long for the ocean and what it can teach me, and as I prepare to go ‘home’,  I imagine the stories of my ancestors carrying me, teaching me, and reminding me that we hold multitudes within us. If we are open to receive the wisdom of our ancestors, the ancestral memories that live within us can be revealed.

 

Links:

l o n g i n g

I feel a longing for home so deeply in my centre

It’s like fire burning through deep winter ice

I have not been

 

h o m e

 

I do not know – h o m e

 

I move desperately

reaching reaching

I move across oceans in my mind

never reaching the shores of –  

 

          so

 

I go back –

I stay a little later

work a little harder

move towards h o m e

melt my centre

 

and

 

                    hope

 

I am moving towards something

that tastes familiar

 

and

                                     sweet

 

my words drip out my mouth

not fully formed

rich with desire

 

                                                  longing

 

for something i can’t name

can’t yet touch

 

fear chills me

desire melts me

I am open and –  

 

                                                                        ready

 

Nothing tastes as good as [whiteness] feels

I haven’t written in a long time, mostly because being in grad school has turned any part of my brain not used for course and thesis work into a foggy mush. The other, smaller, but perhaps more meaningful reason, is that the things I want to write about are hard to discuss. This mirrors most of my life right now and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Discomfort can be motivating, it tells us that we need to take action or risk sinking deeper into this discomfort. It is also ok to be a little uncomfortable, it forces us to ask why this discomfort is present.

“Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels” and this became a mantra of self-hate for myself  and many others. I repeated this for years as my identity became wrapped in my eating disorder. After my first stint in treatment/recovery, I began to move beyond an outward obsession with thinness but still remained desperate for all it represented.

Five years later, I am more comfortable in my identity as a multiracial women of colour. I’m more comfortable in my own skin and know how to speak with my body and soul in ways I was unable to before. The work I have put into myself in the last year and a half has never been simple or easy, yet it has allowed me to see more clearly how my own trauma manifests as well as how systemic racism and sexism serve to harm people of colour on a broader scale.

Yet, here I am: losing my centre on my yoga mat, distracted by the thin white bodies that surround me. Thinness – and whiteness – represented all the things I have wanted and could never have. Acceptance, stability, success. I am loved, I have achieved things, my life is pretty chill overall. But I will never achieve whiteness. No matter how little I eat or how much I exercise, I will never reach whiteness.

I spent ten months in an eating disorder clinic and will be forever grateful that I was able to access healthcare in the ways i have been. However, with an all white staff and all the other clients being white, I felt alone in both my illness and efforts for healing. One of the programs at the clinic is to eat meals in a group, and after breakfast one day we were checking in and it came to be my turn. I shared that I was having rough morning because a man on the bus kept asking me where I was from and told me how much he liked exotic women. The women at the table easily understood the fear and discomfort that comes with a strange man approaching you on the bus, however, they (all but two) became to assure me that my “exotic” looks were actually a plus, that this was a compliment, albeit from a creepy source. As good as their intentions were, I felt utterly alone. How could I heal from the subtle racism that permeated my life when I was attempting this recovering in a place the recreating similar experiences?

So where do we go from here? The majority of my non-school work revolves around creating spaces of healing and care and I am still unsure what that looks like in the context of eating disorder recovery. I know that attempting to recover from this eating disorder on my own is not only pointless, but often dangerous. How then, do we improve mental health care for POC? What does healing from the trauma of colonialism and racism look like?

I don’t have these answers and I don’t know if I will find the ones I am looking for. I do know that working towards releasing myself from the trappings of whiteness will lead towards something that is better, something that brings more wholeness and acceptance.

Good White People

What happens when your white friends or family says or does something racist? How do we cope when someone we love excuses or condones racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic rhetoric and actions? If you’re a person of colour existing in our current world, you have probably experienced this. I have white family members, my best friends are white, I have fallen in love with white people. Most of them, at one point or another, have said or done something hurtful. It often comes from being ignorant or so unaware of their place in life that the comment or action doesn’t appear harmful to them. I had brushed this off as a part of life, something I would have to contend with. As a light skin, relatively privileged WOC, I figured I don’t have a right to complain. My thoughts around this have changed as the climate of racism and white supremacy intensifies. Recently, a POC pal mentioned how hurt they were that their white friends were not empathetic towards them when they experienced racism. At times, they were argumentative and refused to believe that things could be “that bad”. It’s often easier to see things when it’s not happening to you. I hated seeing a person I care about hurt, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how common this experience is. Recent events have reignited a local conversation on racism and white silence/violence. We, as poc, are all too aware that racism is a systemic and insidious problem.

These are not new conversations for us. Every time, something happens, whether it’s in the news cycle or something closer to home, I see and hear white folks coming out with, “It’s [insert year], I can’t believe this is still happening!” or how the perpetrator(s) of said racism are sick individuals, filled with some unknown source of hate. These good white folks are confused. They are scared and they feel helpless. If this is you, your feelings are valid, but your surprise and lack of awareness of your complicity needs to end. POC are not surprised, this is not new to us. We also know that this isn’t a problem with one individual. Racism is systemic issue, it is built into our institutions and structures. individuals may act, but the rhetoric, stereotypes and reasoning behind their actions are deeply rooted in structures of white supremacy.

The majority of the white people I know are Good White People™. They are proudly call themselves allies, they attend anti-racist events, they post on social media, they might even attend a protest or work to call out the ‘bad’ white people in their lives, i.e. ones that are openly racist. Good White People™ pride themselves on being part of the struggle, they love having POC friends, they like Solange over Beyonce, they are the best ally, they ask a lot of questions during Q&A’s at racial justice events, they are not racist. Good White People™ may also be your parent, your best friend, your lover. They genuinely love you. They don’t want you to experience the pain racism and discrimination causes. At the same time, they stumble over their words when you gently point out that maybe, just maybe, they could do more. Good White People™ get just a little bit upset when you start celebrating your ancestral magic, they prickle when you call them out, their silence is is palpable when racism happens in your community. They post 7x a day about racism in the US, but their feed is empty when it comes to the racism happening at the local bar or on campus or in their own home. Good White People™ want racial justice – as long as it doesn’t disturb their status quo. They want to see the end of discriminatory policing practices, they want to see more WOC in leadership roles, they advocate for a vague kind of Reconciliation. They don’t want to confront their own racism, those deep internal thoughts that are inescapable in a white supremacist society, they do not want to give up their 10 minutes at the Q&A, they still want to point about that “all women are beautiful y’know, not just woc” every time we uplift our sisters, they are reading this blog post thinking about all the other white people they know that fit this description, but not them, because they really are a Good White Person™

This is not to say there is no way to unlearn this or that their is not a place for them (you) in the struggle, but it takes work. Hard, uncomfortable, on-going work. POC have been doing this work, we need to unlearn internalized racism. We learn at young ages how to deal with racism with a smile on our face because it may not be safe to respond. We are here, resisting by simply existing. We are doing the work and we don’t need allies, we need accomplices. We need white folks to put their whiteness on the line and take the risk to share their power and privilege. The understanding that achieving liberation for POC means white people losing power is rooted in white supremacist notions of power. That is to say that, to achieve liberation, we need to shift our understanding of what power means, how we organize our communities and how we share power and responsibility in relationship. This is an ongoing conversation that is made harder when so-called allies take over spaces of activism and cloud the vision of true liberation with neo-liberal, neo-colonial concepts of “diversity” and “multiculturalism”.

I understand this is daunting. Challenging your own racism and prejudice is scary, but is it worth avoiding and staying complicity in white supremacy? Being a Good White Person™ is often an important phase of ‘getting there’. We can’t expect ourselves or those around us to wake up one day, fully released of any racist notions, that is unrealistic given the society we live in. I do expect myself and others to commit to unlearning. I expect the white people around – if they want to continue to be Good White People™ or “allies” or whatever – to confront their racism in a humble and open way.

So if you have read this whole thing, and still think it’s not about you, it’s probably about you.

If you read this and think it is about you, you already completed the first tiny step. Educate yourself, don’t ask POC to do the work for you. Be patient with yourself, learning and unlearning takes time, but hey, at least you’re moving forward.