I am surprised by how hard it’s been for me to get these words out. I have spent the better a part of the last year meditating and journaling through my healing and transformation process. But with the thought of opening myself up to the world, all of the usual fears crept in. What if my thoughts aren’t clear enough? What if I offend someone? What if I’m wrong? I recently attended a retreat where I learned that these affirmations were coming from the Ittie Bitie Shittie Committee, IBSC for short. You know. That peanut gallery inside of you that never has anything positive to say, reminds you of your past failures, reassures you that you are wrong and might as well not try. Yeah, I was real familiar with the IBSC.
One day, a friend asked me, “Lila, if you had no fear and if you could not fail what would you do?”
The committee and I had just met, listed off all the things that were not going right in my life- my fears around making decisions, my feelings of powerlessness and being tokenized in a predominantly white and privileged Reproductive Health and Justice movement. I took a deep breath (hadn’t realized I’d been holding it in) and sighed, “not this”. No, if that was really the case, I would not be living THIS kind of life, I thought.
It was an AHA! moment. I had forced myself to stay in an oppressive work environment for the sake of “a cause” and under all of this was a belief that this was as good as it was going to get. As a health educator of women and girls, I was allowing the work to overshadow my own health and well-being. And double the irony, my work environment was neither supportive or healthy. While I worked for a leading national organization whose mission was to improve women’s health; it did not internally practice its mission and upheld a culture that felt manic and abusive, leaving me feeling worn out and contorted. Nothing added up.
If I had no fear and could not fail, I would not be doing this. I left my job.
But it wasn’t like I really knew where I wanted to go or do… I was sure I had done right by me but felt too bruised and traumatized to jump back into non-profit work and Reproductive Justice spaces. For the first time since my first job at McDonald’s at 16, I took some time off from working and prioritized my healing. Over the next couple of months preceded some of the hardest times in my life to date. I phased through stages of anger, loss, shame, doubt, isolation. Our family moved to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. What was I doing? Why give up a stable career? I was ashamed to tell my mom about my decision. She had worked her ass off to make sure that I had access to an education and good quality of life. Would this seem flippant and wasteful to her?
I was surprised by my mom’s reaction when I broke down the source of my frustration and dis-ease. I can still remember that call. She listened silently, I poured out my feelings of loss and abuse, how I was made to feel invisible in white workspaces, how the white privilege of the organization’s director left me with no space to do my heart’s work, how the inequity in our organization left me feeling frustrated, voiceless and used. My mother, who all of her American life worked 2-3 jobs simultaneously, who was forced to work under many different types of abusive and inhumane conditions with no negotiating power, told me:
“Mami, you did the right thing and I am proud of you. Recuerda, el sol sale para todos. The sun rises for everyone.”
With those words, mami liberated me. Mami reminded me that I was just as much human and valuable as the next person; and yes, just as human as some rich privileged white lady with a plantation owner’s mentality. Mami shared her experiences with abusive bosses and systems and told me it was not worth putting yourself through that amount of stress and trauma just to make someone else rich. Slavery had been over a long time ago and I was the hope and the dream of my ancestors who fought to make it so. She reminded me that in my world, I have a right to access my dignity, balance and wellbeing and to never allow work to get in the way of that.
Later that week mami had a stroke and then another the week after that. Left was a shadow of her consciousness, disconnected from her body. I flew down to Miami to be with her and over the next three months, we healed together. We each had refined our methods for self-avoidance using food and work. We couldn’t keep looking away, mami had an addiction to sugar that had developed Type II diabetes and was now life threatening. It was clear that the time had come for both of us to look at ourselves and exercise our right to wellbeing and balance. Providing each other safety, we learned to sit and reconnect with our bodies.
Our healing process pushed us into self-exploration. I came to learn that underlying all of our health symptoms was a lifelong belief that the space inside of us was not safe and should be left alone. Through meditation and prayers, I went into the dark rooms of my subconscious and cleared out the cobwebs of my memory. I had stuffed abuse inside drawers, hidden shame in my dollhouse, closeted my self-hatred. I found the baby girl inside of me, she had been hiding underneath the covers and promised that I would do a better job of nurturing her needs. This process allowed me to open myself back up to my mother’s love and let go of the anger I had felt towards her for never being around, forgave her and myself for the sexual abuse that I was vulnerable to while she was away at work…Love liberates. I came back from my exploration feeling affirmed that there is a safe and steady place inside of me and that I can always go there when the world around me feels unkind and unwelcoming.
So what does this mean for the Lila at work and in reproductive health and justice spaces, who has felt like she has to conform and contort to meet the expectations of a limited world around her? In my raised awareness, I realized that I did not need to compartmentalize myself anymore. I started to recognize that my truth was real and powerful and that I have every right to do and create the kind of work that allows me to show up as my whole self.
And since I know the truth now, that the sun rises for everyone and that I am a liberated manifestation of my ancestors, I dare to really ask myself, “What would I do in my fearlessness?”
I would rise above it all.
I would rise above the oppression, the bullshit politics, the limitations placed on me by oppressors (sometimes disguised as our allies). I would reconnect with myself and stay there. I would prioritize my health above all else. I would allow my curiosity and awareness to guide my life’s work. I would reject the limiting archetypes and identities put on me and relate to the world on my terms. I would re-imagine a world full of springtime and hope, where love and respect for the human being is abundant. Where creativity and imagination are encouraged, where people are free to critically think for themselves and speak their minds outside of the talking points. I would do work that honors my ancestry and experiences. I would allow myself to heal and balance with each breath along my way.
And how cool is it that I get to spend the rest of my life doing just that in deep self-exploration? No amount of racism and privilege can take that away from me. I now choose to spend my days traveling the curves of my universe and imagining the spaces I will stretch into. No matter where and how I choose to do this, the simple truth is that remembering who I truly am is my life’s work, and that’s a cause I feel safe and liberated to join.
I hope you will think about joining me as we use our wellness and imaginations as tools for resistance.