you/me

Dear you/me,

You’ve kept me safe when I didn’t have other tools to do so. You’ve kept my insides from spilling out. You’ve kept my mind organized and my speech listenable. You’ve committed and followed through. You’ve been the one who will do work when no one else will, and the one who doesn’t complain even when you know that isn’t equity. To accept the grand burden of being in charge, knowing the rules, directing the group, storing the resources and meting them out. You are strength. You are control.

You are the things that hold me back, even as you keep me safe. You cover my selfness in things borrowed for so long you forget they aren’t you. You negate my voice and loom like an ever-present rejection, waiting on my periphery. You keep me stuck in my head and lock up my heart. You guard the distance between me and my family, friends, strangers, acquaintances, ancestors, children, and you call it love.

Thank you for keeping me safe, for helping me navigate a world so twisted that we are born into a lie and spend the rest of our lives proving it to ourselves. It’s time to see if we can access ease. That deep breath your anxiety holds in a tight grip. As my sister said to me earlier this week, I am holding the end of your stress string—watch and feel the beads of stress slowly drift apart and give themselves space. Breathe.

Beloved IRS

Beloved IRS,

It feels as uncomfortable to embrace you as “beloved” as it did to come up with the prompt.

You were present with me even then. Perfectionism. Control. Comparison. One Right Way. Would the people who think white affinity spaces are racist be turned off by the slew of blogs? Would our accountability partners question the work that I’m leading? Doubt and Fear are often your roots and in this time of social distancing with no hair stylist to dye your grays, your roots are showing through.

I have disliked you for a long time. I have neglected and ignored your messages. I have pretended that you didn’t exist. I have been in denial of your existence. But now I want to offer you some love.

This is not entirely altruistic. I mean, I think it’ll be better for you, too. It will definitely be better for us. And it will be better for me if I can share the love I have with you. After all, isn’t that what you’re searching for? Isn’t that why you work so hard to look so good? Isn’t that why you compare and contrast? Isn’t that why you try so hard to be in charge?

I am working hard (but not too hard) to make space for you in my heart. To find joy in what you are here to teach me. To trust in what you show. To find compassion for my mistakes and weaknesses. To more fully embrace all the faces of me.

So maybe this is less of a love letter and more of a moment of commitment. And acceptance.

I commit to using you more wisely. I commit to spending my energy away from the direction of resistance and towards a warm, consensual embrace. I commit to holding you lightly, in my love, still working towards the day when you no longer need to be here, towards the day when you are no longer reinforced by relationships of violence, systems of oppression, and cultures of fear. I commit to loving and accepting you as best as I can as long as you are around. I commit to more fully loving me.

 

AKG

A complicated love letter to my (collective) IRS.

To my collective IRS: I see you. I am learning more and more about you. And I apologize to you. I am sorry that, through this process of learning you, I have treated you in some of the same ways you’ve been created to treat me: with analytic eyes, with judgment, with a demand to learn it perfectly to get it right. I am sorry that I have not taken up a different way. So today, I want to love on you a little, not for what you are, but for what you try to do. Love on your attempts to take care of me, to protect me, to keep me safe. And I hope that by reflecting on the ways that you try to take care of me, you and I can together appreciate what we’ve come through and how we came to be twinned from womb on.

To Control: thank you for knowing that I have learned to be fiercely afraid of “things falling apart” (which really translates to things being messy or not being able to take care of it myself or having big feelings and not being able to contain them right away) and trying to get out ahead of those scary feelings. You are a ruthless boss, but you never take a day off.

To Perfectionism: thank you for seeing that the expectations put on me were just so unattainable that you picked up the slack. You whispered all the motivations I needed to avoid disappointing others, to avoid feeling humiliation, to get out ahead of criticism so that I could protect my inner world. You taught me that if things look great on the outside, no one will come looking too deeply inside and at least I can have that privacy.

To One Right Way: thank you for sorting and organizing things for me so that, by showing me one road and that I was definitely on it, I knew that I was “good.” Being “good” was of utmost importance, and you knew that, because being “bad” made you unlovable, and being “bad” was just not an option.

In writing this letter to you, IRS, my training and work as a psychologist makes it impossible to not see you in the family of defense mechanisms. I have known this family longer- they have called themselves my family. You have never called yourself my family because you have called yourself me, and I did not see you as anything other than what I am at my core. My defense mechanisms called themselves “other”- employed by me, familiar to me, but not “of me.” Repression (really just “forgetting” in ways that maintain an emotional balance) helps me lose those difficult childhood memories, helps me not see such ugly parts of people that I care about. Sublimation (turning “negative” impulses into socially acceptable “positive” impulses) means that my life-or-death desire to take care of other people so that I feel I deserve to be taken care of led me into psychology (and now out) rather than deeper into co-dependent and harmful interpersonal/romantic relationships. Projection (seeing in others what I can’t bear to see in myself) allowed me to become a social justice warrior, working in prison abolition work before having the self-awareness that the first and ongoing work needed to be abolition of prison and police within me. The ultimate goal of defense mechanisms, as introduced by Anna Freud (Freud still gets all the credit, but he only talked about Repression with a capital R; it was his daughter who found the nuance, who expanded the emotional range) is to minimize states of anxiety, to regulate a highly aroused and agitated psychological state. IRS, you are defense mechanisms incognito because you have functioned to help keep me balanced, and high-functioning in a social structure that demands I buy into you, that I think you are me. I do not perform perfectionism, I used to say, I am perfectionistic. I do not use and abuse control over others, I am helpful and a leader. You have helped me succeed in a white-supremacy culture, because you have shown up every day to show me the roadmap, to make clear the signage that shows me the one right way.

Like all defense mechanisms, you functioned out of a sense of necessity at the time. My white family in my mostly-white-state in my definitely-white-supremacy-culture never talked about whiteness. We just lived it. And there you were, supporting my family expectations (perfection, academic achievement, never looking like anything is wrong) in ways that allowed me to survive my family by living their values. You essentially brought me in line with my family in ways that helped me avoid being shamed for falling short of these expectations. And, like all defense mechanisms, you can be let go when two things happen: 1) you no longer function in my best interest for health and well-being and the communal good, and 2) there are other ways of managing anxieties in place that can be employed and support me instead.

Big picture, I see how you never functioned in my best interest, but in the interest of white-supremacy culture and my family’s investment in that. In fact, you wrapped me so tightly in some of your protective layers that I have been suffocating and trapped and am only now finding ways to wriggle out of some of these binds. Seeing that I can actively work to take you off, even though some parts of your fabric has fused with my skin, is liberating and terrifying. If I am not a perfectionist in my core, what am I? If I cannot help others, am I worth anything? The fear of what might not be there underneath your binding has kept it close.

But perhaps this leads me to my biggest thanks, what I can truly speak out of love, which is that seeing you as not-me has allowed me into deeper relationship with what is me- not learned behaviors, not social norms, not embodying the expectations and wishes of others, but what comes from a deep place of knowing and recognizing spirit and self-ness. I don’t know that I would know myself as deeply if I had not mistaken some of you for me and begun to let that go. So my love letter to you ends like this: thank you for letting me see you so that I can better see my Self.

Befriending my Shadow Self

This question of befriending my shadow has been presented to me a few times in various wording and each time tears immediately filled my eyes and I felt this fear and pain within my chest.  As I’ve sat with this question and contemplated my response throughout the week, a lot has been coming up for me.  Even as I write now, I feel shame, fear, and anxiety — my heart is beating quickly, my chest and throat are tightening and my breath is shallow.

I started writing in an essay format to answer this question and then I realized I was intellectualizing and distancing to avoid the pain and shame of talking directly to my shadow…so here is my letter to my shadow…

Dear Shadow,

“This is how whitemalegod uses imperfection, missed connections, and maladaptive behavior to keep us under its control – by convincing us that that imperfection says something about my core identity, shaming us for it and convincing us that the only way to heal our shame is by conforming to intentionally-unattainable standards of perfection.”  Christena Cleveland

It’s hard for me to find words to talk with you.  I carry a deeply buried shame in my body because for so long I was told and believed that you are my core self and that we are separated from and rejected by the Source.  I’ve feared you and have been ashamed of you.  I hid you by learning to express you through traits that were accepted and encouraged in society (IRS).  I’ve thought for so long that your existence means I am not good, I am not love or lovable, I am not enough.  

When I have been forced to confront you, and now as I am willingly recognizing you, this shame is triggered within me.  These messages and frequent reminders of our “total depravity”, which I received (and still receive) from those in my life who are trying to love me, scream their voices in my head and fill my body with shame.

BUT, these messages are not the truth.  You are not my core self, but you are a part of me.  Your existence does not separate us from the Source.  We are not rejected by the Source because you are a part of me.  In fact, one of the great mysteries I am discovering, the Source holds space for you.  Somehow, you are used in this human experience, to bring me back to the Source, back to love, life, and connection.  I see this play out in the cosmos around us as even death is used for life.

This does not mean you get a free pass to continue your patterns of harm to me or to others, but it does mean that rather than condemn, avoid, or deny you, I can acknowledge and befriend you.  I can practice curiosity and compassion with your presence, your development, and the ways you have been used to provide a felt safety for me in navigating life.  I can see you as a guide and teacher back to the Source and to my True Self (the Source, Love and Goodness within me).  Rather than get stuck in shame, I can acknowledge your presence and learn to give you what you need, so that I can live freely from my True Self.  I can practice gratitude for the learning experience and growth opportunities.  I can learn to sit with my deepest fear of not being enough, of not being good, of not being love or loveable and practice receiving the Love that is always there.  I can see your connection to the collective shadow that is dominating our society and choose to do this work in community as well as individually.

Because Love holds you, I will practice holding you.

Shelly

Antidotes for in the moment of shame: breathing exercises with affirmations; guided meditations; energy releasing practices such as yoga, a variety of body movements, walks; practicing joy and pleasure

Long-term Antidotes: spiritual learning and practices; reading; writing/reflections; learning and exploring nature; practicing curiosity and compassion with myself; therapy including work with my child self; receiving love, compassion, and accountability through community

Showing up in the Virtual Space

Showing up in the virtual WWG5 space:

Sometimes I feel like a voyeur: this isn’t “my” space, I should just step back and not engage. I’m a just mentor, I should let the other members of the group work it out. I’ll be silent until called upon. I fall into detachment and individualism.

Other times, I feel like a lightning bolt of full-speed-ahead determination. I’m READY. Let’s DO This! I go about this work like it’s my job (possibly as a replacement for my “real” job that was put on hold due to COVID). It’s reactionary to the current events happening around us, under the guise of proactiveness. I want to DO something. Now. I forget about meeting people where they’re at. I forget to trust the process.

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COVID-19/Whiteness-2020

White supremacy is a virus. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Stay at home. Assume you have it, and take the known steps to mitigate its effects.

It’s deadly to all of us. It’s just tricked us white folks into thinking that we’re immune, that it doesn’t affect us, that we’re somehow separate from the collective (kind of like that one anti-face mask person we all know). It disconnects us from our humanity, and our souls suffer.

Ignoring the virus will exacerbate the problem. You may not feel it yourself, but you’ll spread it around. You’ll normalize living in an invisible sickness. Just, wear the f*cking face mask. Do it for your own health, and the health of your entire community, because you’re not separate from this. Use the knowledge and tools (like face masks) available to you now, and you might discover an even more effective way of dealing with the virus.

It is unpleasant and uncomfortable to confront the virus, but maybe it doesn’t have to be only that. Maybe some pleasure will come out of it, too. Maybe you’ll video-chat with distant friends and relatives that you haven’t talked to in awhile. Maybe you’ll cherish the rare moments you do get to spend with friends (6 feet apart and with face masks) so much more than you did before. Maybe you’ll be fully present and attentive to the human life in front of you. Maybe you’ll be more acutely aware of your physical and energetic presence in public spaces – how you move through the space, how you treat the others around you (hopefully 6 feet apart and with face masks), what signals your body is giving off (taking over the job that your face used to do, since it is preferably now covered with a face mask). Maybe, you’ll discover a genuine love for the aesthetic beauty and endless options of face masks. And maybe, though this virus has you stuck at home, you’ll come to appreciate the time-out, because it forced you to slow down, take some deep breaths, and spend some time getting to really know yourself.

I can only speak for myself, but this has been my relationship with the COVID-19 crisis, and, really, with learning about and noticing my internalized racial superiority.

I can’t say that I love my IRS. We’re not there yet. But, I can appreciate it for what it is – a reaction to a devastating, world-turned-upside-down, dumpster fire of a virus.  I can thank it for the awesome growth opportunities that it provides, and recognize the value that it has in the bigger picture of understanding and combatting the virus of white supremacy.

So, thank you, IRS:

  • For providing a constant reminder that I’m not separate from this virus.
  • For giving me insight into how white supremacy has informed how I move through the world and deal with conflict.
  • For challenging me to dig deeper into what’s really going on when I notice you.
  • For providing incredible exploration and learning opportunities.
  • For helping me develop better tools for dealing with this virus – tools based in love and collective thinking, rather than fear and individuality.

White supremacy isn’t going to go away overnight, and neither is my IRS. So, rather than ignore it and risk spreading and normalizing the virus, I’ll make nice with my IRS. I’ll get to know it, so that I can deal with it more skillfully when it inevitably comes up again. I’ll use the tools available to me now to develop even more effective tools for the future.

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with picking apart my IRS in anti-racist spaces like WWG. Now, I want and need to make a practice of speaking about it regularly, with people outside of these spaces – people like my parents, my coworkers, and my distant friends and family that I’m reconnecting with thanks to the loneliness of COVID-quarantine and the technological miracle of video-chat. And to not only notice my IRS in these instances, but to really dig deeper into why and how it shows up, and thank it for its valuable insight.

It will sometimes be unpleasant and uncomfortable. But it will also lead to deeper relationships, a better understanding of myself, and a reclamation of our connected, collective humanity.

 

 

Befriending IRS

Even as I write this title, I’m still of two minds.  At the intrapersonal level (which I guess is what we are talking about since the “I” is internalized), I believe that a shadow side is inevitable and we need to welcome it, invite it to be known so that we can transform it’s destructive power, and receive it’s wisdom.  Is this true for IRS as well?  In many ways it is.  It maintains its power through secrecy.  It reveals truths that need to be exposed.  The word ‘befriending’ to me means that we have to build relationship with all parts of ourselves.  Even the parts we are most averse to will always have seeds within us, even when we choose to cultivate their opposite. 

Paul Levy suggests that we can kill our Wetiko/virus of selfishness and I would like to think that is possible. I like to imagine a future generation in which the evil of racial exploitation is inconceivable.  I think it is important to uphold the vision and intention for a world that is free from this virus.  But the image of killing, for me, contradicts the methodology needed to get to that vision.  My experience is that we need to befriend and transform in order to move the balance of power from IRS into its opposite.  For me, this requires a counter-cultural practice of both self-kindness and accountability – accepting all parts of myself AND seeking to expose and transform they ways that I cause suffering. 

Intimate Partner Relationships

My intention was to write this long before the deadline and to consider blogging without an assignment.  Neither happened.  This in in part because it feels hard to focus on intimate partner relationships with so much happening around racial justice since George Floyd’s murder.  Just when I think I’m collecting my thoughts, more stimulus comes in.   I know that this incoming is all connected and that waiting for things to distill could be a long process.

Reflecting on IRS and intimate partner relationships validated some things that I know about myself and have been working with.  At the top of this list is my delusions about time, productivity, and value which keep me from relaxing into the present and connecting with others.  Another aspect this highlighted for me is the challenges I have around self-expression and creativity.  I see how I have cut myself off from most forms of creative expression and I wonder if I would discover new things to say if I could speak these languages.  A third aspect that is both clear and murky is my disconnection form my own body.  I sense this intuitively and work with it in a variety of ways but it is a slow unpacking.  I’ve appreciated how all of this work pulled me into my right brain – feeling and finding my way into new territory.  The information and organizing in response to George Floyd has a more left-brain, action-oriented focus to it which can actually pull me away from what I need to feel.  I’m recognizing the importance of both continuing to discern what my work is. 

Intimate Partnership and Fear, Oh Boy.

I have been meaning to write this blog post for a long time. And by meaning, I don’t just speak to intent, I mean that I have written parts of, broken down structure of, imagined the ways to write this post and yet until now I have neglected to put it down on the page. And I did write this, I insert today, on June 11th, only posting it to the blog today. What is that about, I wonder? Reluctance to be read, to be seen?

My question or area of curiosity is about how we navigate relationships, especially the closest relationships (for me, my partner; some days my immediate family) with those who are in a different place or have a different level of interest in doing personal work around IRS. I feel as though, even since I’ve first articulated this question, I’ve found some wisdom around this – by having it in mind I’ve been more attuned to what I hear and learn that speaks to this, and also mine my own self-awareness. But I am hungry to hear about others’ experiences navigating this. It seems that differences here translate so specifically to values and ethics, and these are so specifically the areas that can make or break a relationship.

When I am experiencing hard emotions about recognizing different interest in doing this work, my IRS go-to’s manifest in a really intense way. Self-righteousness, perfectionism, and control are obvious elements- I feel compelled to tell my partner what he needs to read and listen to, what he should be thinking about, diminishing his process when he shares how he has been thinking about anti-racism, and thinking if not communicating ultimatums around his ability to “do this work” and our long-term future together. In the moment, these behaviors feel necessary and urgent, correct and authentic. Once I take a wider lens, however, it feels embarrassingly tense and controlling.  And it feels as thought there is a much more available middle-ground: yes, it would be wonderful to have a partner who is thinking about and making personal changes directly in the service of anti-racism work, at exactly the same time. But when that is not, most likely, going to be the case, how do you stay in relationship (and good relationship) with a lover or loved one who you see as having an essentially different way of showing up in the world?

I feel this coming up in my neck and shoulders. Like I’m armoring up, squaring up, and getting ready for some sort of violent altercation. I detest violence, and yet I feel violence in the intensity of the emotion that comes up around judging others. I feel like, in the best moments with my partner I feel soft, open, safe, vulnerable, and silly; and how when the subject of anti-racism work comes up, I feel hard, cognitive, cold, and demeaning. It is a gross feeling, and one that I move away from as quickly as possible.

At the same time, I recognize that I give more forgiveness toward what I see as problematic behaviors the farther away from me and my inner circle they exist. For a total stranger, I empathize with the situations and conditions that only that person could know in full, in mitigating whatever behavior comes up for critique. For my partner, however, I feel the worst and heaviest version of a negative parental voice: you should have known better, I thought more of you, I am embarrassed that you didn’t sound more knowledgeable about these things. And I recognize just how deep in my bones that messaging is that I learned from family about how to keep up appearances, how to be “smart” about everything (oh, the early planted seeds of my intellectualization-addiction), how to use mean words to cut to the quick.

And yet, there are moments of loosening when I remember, and these are more frequent moments to be sure, that I am ecstatic to know this human, and that they are on their own path, on their own journey. Spirit has different questions for each one of us. And I chose this person, in part, because of the ways that he to me is gentle, kind, accommodating, loving, and unconditional. That does not negate the harm that his white body can cause in the world, and I need to be able to sit in the discomfort of that. It is not my job to direct his work around anti-racism; it is my job to reckon with and own the responsibility of choosing partnership with a person who meets so many of my needs in the most delightful of ways, and who perpetuates harm on the world in ways, and that I have a very specific lens on that, as a white woman in partnership with a white man. Specifically, a white woman engaged in this work for some time, seeing whiteness as the ever-presence that it is, trying to dialogue about this with someone who sees whiteness as a categorization, not culture. It is relatively recent for me to recognize how deeply and quietly I was heavily indoctrinated into white culture. So much so that I see the threads of white culture as characterological, and personal, as personality. That is the ultimate propaganda is it not? To make something so familiar that it feels individual, exceptional, proprietary, mine? And so I see in him now where I recognize myself several years ago: still feeling that I could put things like perfectionism, over-scheduling, urgency as traits of mine, rather than learned behaviors to keep up the status quo.

 

Hello Blog, It’s Been Awhile

Oh yes, it has been quite awhile. I honestly don’t remember the last time that I blogged. There are a lot of white-lady-IRS feelings tangled up here – I can’t remember my login (avoidance, playing victim), this assignment is technically for WWG5, not WWG3 (compartmentalization) I don’t like the format of Word Press (expectations of comfort, definitely my lamest excuse), I need to have a perfectly thought-out, eloquent and profound blog post in a 5-paragraph structure or I’m not doing it at all (hello perfectionism, intellectualization, and one-right-way!)

These IRS manifestations are familiar to me. They’re the easiest for me to identify when I act them out,  and I can identify them a lot in my life. Like in my intimate partner relationship. I made a whole art project naming them!

When I think about writing (or not writing) blog posts, my first thought is often one of guilt, because I know I’m not holding up my end of our accountability agreement. When I think about my intimate partner relationship, the theme of accountability comes up again. After I made my art project & shared it with the group, my partner and I sat down for a lovely dinner & talked about it. It was awesome! But in reflecting on accountability, I have to ask myself – why was that the first time we talked about it? Why didn’t I share my art project with him as I was doing it? And why haven’t we talked about it since?

The answer is the art project: IRS. There’s intellectualization (“Did you read this article analyzing this awful thing that happened?” vs. “The situation this article describes makes me feel ____ “), there’s expectations of comfort (“I don’t want to get into anything messy right now”), and oh boy, is there perfectionism (“I can’t speak about my feelings unless I know beforehand exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it and have prepared for every possible response and we’re both sitting down and have at least an hour to talk and I’ve meditated beforehand so I’m in the right head space and we’re both hydrated and everything else on my to-do list is done and the temperature is set to 71.5 degrees and there’s a light breeze but it’s not too cold and I have a sweatshirt nearby just in case…”)

It’s a lot of exhausting mental work. I can come up with a million excuses to avoid talking about my feelings or writing blog posts. I feel it swirling around in my brain, but it’s totally detached from the rest of my body. In my art project, I named some possible antidotes to get over my IRS blockages – trust, openness, curious exploration. I know, in theory, how to overcome those blocks. The tricky part is to get out of my head, feel into my body, and translate that theory into practice – a continual practice.

Feelings in general can be confusing and tough. Feelings around whiteness are especially  tough. I’m lucky to have a partner who cares about me and is committed to doing the hard work of undoing racism with me. We both want to grow and do better. Right now my work is to make a practice of sharing and embodying my emotions, so I can support my partner in this work and also open myself up for support.