Active Grief Affirmations: learning to grieve when the world won't stop spinning

Update:

In the wake of the violence that occurred in Dallas resulting in the deaths of police officers I added two new affirmations. This morning two more were on my heart, as inspired by a Facebook friend. She reminded me that while yes, some of us can grieve for the lives of #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile, Melissa Ventura, and other black and brown folks while also grieving the the lives of the police officers in Dallas, some of us cannot; nor should we be shamed into doing so. 

However your grief manifests itself is okay. You do not owe the details of your process to any one; your grief process does not have to fit a socially expected nor respectable narrative. 

With that in mind here are 5 new affirmations:

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My Miscarriage Helped Me Become a Champion for Autonomous Reproductive Decision Making

During the fall semester of my junior year in college I found myself in an abusive relationship. My partner at the time was verbally, emotionally, and later physically manipulative. The relationship developed during a period of extreme depression and low self worth as I tried to suppress and deny my attraction to women by dating a series of men.

My first relationship with a woman had ended traumatically and due to my very religious upbringing I took that as a sign from God that it wasn’t the “lifestyle” I should be living. So I cut my own metamorphosis short. Rather than continue to transform into the beautiful queer butterfly I would later become I reverted to being the fear plagued caterpillar that followed the life she thought others wanted her to follow. This translated to putting myself in less than pleasant situations. It meant not believing that I deserved certain things. It meant being with men because it was what was my religion, culture, and family expected of me even if I was being abused and I was exceedingly depressed. In my mind, my family would prefer whatever personal hell I was in to my being a dyke.

To be honest, I didn’t even know I was pregnant until it was too late. I was away on a professional development retreat with a student organization. Our first night there I started experiencing what I thought were menstrual cramps. Given my history of very heavy bleeding and severe cramping I did not think it was unusual, at first. I then realized that it was a little early in the month for my cycle to start and became slightly perplexed. The cramps intensified and within minutes I was doubled over. From the bunk bed I was sharing with another student I felt the blood begin to run, as quickly as I could and without drawing too much attention to myself I grabbed my phone and headed to the restroom. By the time I got there the cramping was even worse and I realized that it was not just blood leaving my body. Horrified, my mind made quick associations and I called a close friend. As soon as she picked up I blurted out the words through the pain, “I know this is a sore subject for you and I’m sorry for bringing it up but can you tell me what it was like when you miscarried last year. I think I’m having a miscarriage.” As she described what she had seen I noticed similar substances and remnants leaving my body, I asked her to stay on the phone with me until it was over and cried, mostly from a mixture of fear and shock. I had no true friends with me on the retreat, no one I could tell in confidence, so for the rest of the weekend I kept it to myself, more suffering in silence.

When I got back to campus I went to my school health center and told the nurse practitioner that I thought I had had a miscarriage. She examined me, took my blood, and administered a pregnancy test. The results of the pregnancy test came back negative, however, there were elevated hormone levels which indicated that I had been previously pregnant.

At first I was not sure what to feel. My suspicions had been confirmed, yet it all suddenly became too much to process. I returned to my campus apartment and laid on my couch trying to make myself feel something, I’m not sure how long I lay there. Finally, my roommate came home and asked me if I was okay, she eventually got me to get up and go to our room. Once on the bed she asked me what had happened. It all came pouring out of me, when I had finished she told me how sorry she was and I realized she thought that I was sad. She had assumed because of my religious affiliation and my personality that I would naturally be upset at having had a miscarriage. However, as soon as her well-meaning apology was out there my emotions came home to me and it was not sadness that I felt, it was indescribable joy. The moment I recognized my true feelings another set of emotions quickly followed, disgust, fear, and surprise. Joy? How could I possibly be feeling joy?

I kept my feelings of gratitude to myself that day and for a long time after. While friends of mine in college were facing the decision of terminating their pregnancies or parenting I was hiding from the fact that I had not had to choose. The decision had been made for me, somehow my body and spirit knew that had I been faced with that decision I would not have been able to decide to terminate at that point in my life.

For years I vacillated between two forms of shame. The first form was directly linked to my relief and happiness as a result of the miscarriage. As someone who has close friends and family that have experienced miscarriage after a wanted pregnancy I felt so ashamed that I was thankful for mine. I silenced myself because I thought it made me a horrible person. I had never heard of someone being happy about their miscarriage and with conservative religion in my ear I thought I was a horrible person for feeling the way that I did.

The other form of shame came as a result of having people in my life that had chosen to terminate their pregnancies. Here were people I loved making difficult decisions and being ridiculed and stigmatized for it. And there I was, free from the burden of having to make the decision myself, and protected from being shamed by the public because my abortion had been spontaneous rather than medical.

I came to loathe myself for my happiness and was convinced that I would never be able to tell anyone, on either side, my story.  Things began to change as I bared witness to friends and colleagues publicly share abortion and miscarriage stories. Here were people who were either being ridiculed for the reproductive decision they had made or silenced because miscarriage makes our society uncomfortable. Yet, in all these stories I still did not see myself. I did not hear any miscarriage stories that did not end with, “it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” I yearned to feel validated, to feel that my experience was okay, that my being relieved, elated, and thankful for having a miscarriage was a "normal" reaction.

I want to be clear. I am not sharing my story in opposition to those who share their heartbreak around their own miscarriages. I am sharing my experience in the hope that it will bolster the effort to normalize all reproductive stories. My hope is that by sharing my narrative room will be made for someone else and potentially reduce the stigma faced by those who do have to choose to terminate, who did not have the luxury of “nature taking its course” like I did. I wholly understand that my reaction and experience are different from what is typically discussed and portrayed. I am also aware that it is only recently that cisgender women in particular have been sharing their miscarriage stories and the pain and trauma they have experienced from being silent and going unnoticed. I affirm these stories and am so glad that light is finally being shed on a topic we in the reproductive health, rights, and justice community have often shied away from. These stories should be normalized and these women should have the support they need.  This does not negate the need for my story being normalized and for all reproductive decisions and outcomes to be normalized.

People faced with difficult reproductive outcomes and decisions deserve to be heard, supported, and seen. No matter if we are deciding to terminate or are facing a miscarriage, we are entitled to the range of emotions that we feel and shouldn’t feel shame, even if we are thankful. 

Repentance

what would it look like for our entire nation to repent for the sins of those who make decisions on our behalf?

i know, i know, you did not give your permission to the President to blow 150 Somalian people off of the face of the earth;

but what if you repented for it anyway?

what if instead of throwing your hands up and saying, "I didn't enslave anybody, I wasn't alive then"

you got on your knees, you tore your garments, you exposed your heart and repented with every ounce inside of you for the sins your ancestors committed, for the continued persecution of black life

what if instead of pretending like you're fine with the gender neutral bathrooms in your work place,

you repented for your use of derogatory transphobic slurs behind closed doors, for the way you turn your head when people openly harass trans people in front of you

what if you repented for looking at another creation of the Holy and not seeing them for the divine reflection that they are, for not seeing them as a person

what gaping fractures could repentance close?

what radical healing of trauma could occur if we repented for the impact of our words instead of clinging to what we intended

i do not want your empty, "I'm sorry you were hurt by what I said."

i want you to get down into the ditch with me, the ditch where the systems you benefit from have put me

pull me out of the ditch and turn away from the evil structures that make it so that you benefit over me

what if repentance meant more than 'sorry'?

what if, "I repent" was code for "I will rise up, I will overthrow the systemic evils of this world, no longer will I be complicit, no longer will I be silent, no longer will I whisper behind closed doors, no longer will I turn a blind eye, I will live life as though your liberation is bound up with mine, and I will not stop until we are all free."

 

The Wall

Today we saw the #apartheidwall that the Israeli government has illegally erected under the guise of "security" in order to continue the systematic disenfranchisement of Palestinian people. This was in #Bethlehem. Tomorrow we will see another part of it in #Jerusalem. This is the reality of the people who live here, the people indigenous to this land. For them, simply waking up and going about their day is an act of resistance to the occupation they face, and still they risk themselves by resisting in countless other ways. #psrimmersion #freepalestine #supportpalestinianresistance

 

(Un)Holy Places and Displacements

It is now Friday morning in this part of the world; it is a little after 5:00AM to be exact. And though I had my very comfortable, super efficient gel earplugs in I heard the call to prayer. I heard it in my spirit and felt compelled to get up. I was being called to be a witness to the movement of Spirit. 

On Thursday evening we crossed the Border from Jordan (the country-East Bank of the Jordan River) into Nazareth (West Bank of the Jordan). I wish that the spoken word were adequate enough to capture the degradation and humiliation that I witnessed last night. However, I do not think it is something you can truly understand unless you experience it yourself. The culture of fear and desperation that has been cultivated by the Israelis in the hearts and minds of Palestinian people is deplorable. My classmates and I were pushed, shoved, stepped on. We were perhaps seen as not only foreigners but also ignorant travelers not familiar with the brutality of the process. While I do not blame these people for their actions it was hard to be conscious that their behavior is a more product of the environment that has been created than it is a reflection of their own morality. And while I know this to be true I had to succumb to this culture along with the rest of the group in order to succeed in completing the first step in this dehumanizing process. The East Flatbush girl in me revealed herself very quickly and while it now brings me shame to admit I had no issue with accessing her in that moment; the moment where the desperation that permeated the air took hold of me. 

I do not have a picture to show you. I think everyone in the group was so entrenched in attempting to process what had just happened that it didn't even occur to us. But also I am glad I do not have a picture to show and did not think to take one, because the humiliation that Palestinian people endure going through that process is enough without some foreigner, who is presumed to be Christian, documenting it for her own consumption. I do not need some gruesome memento to remember this night, and I refuse to turn what I bore witness to into no more than entertainment, as has been done with Black Pain through the sharing of videos of our slaughter. 

The contradictions that were experienced in the span of our 15-hour day are vast and yet not really contradictions at all. Rather they reflect the complexity that is the human experience quite accurately. My morning and afternoon found me immersed in some of the most sacred and spiritually rooted sites in the world. My group and I had the privilege of visiting the site that is thought to be where Jesus was baptized and then we walked down into the Jordan River; we walked through the wilderness that archaeologists and historians say John Baptist and Jesus traversed to get there. I stood in the Jordan River and felt the presence of all things holy there, I wept for the injustices and atrocities committed in this holy land in the name of man's religion. I wept for Jesus as I thought about him willingly going to his death in the name of Justice over Empire. I wept for every agent of social transformation who dared to do the same, before and since Jesus, who were also executed by those in power. I wept for the generations of people uprooted from the land on which I was accessing through my American and presumed Christian privilege. And then when the tears stopped I renewed my promise to justice and my commitment to the vocation I am being formed for. 

It took everything in me when we initially got to the checkpoint to resist intervening where I saw injustice occurring. I battled between operating under the savior complex and the (a)pathetic neo-liberalism of "this is not my responsibility." As I stood in the lines I remembered the prayer we the group had been led to pray earlier that day:

“…May I grow in understanding of my own motives,

knowing that people often act out of their own fears.

May I be a force for replacing fear with insight…”

I know that part of my reason for being on this trip is to be a witness and share what I witness with others who may be ignorant of what is happening on this side of the world. Our fear of the “other” fuels the continuation of the decimation of a people, a fear evident in my home country of the United States. May you gain insight from my experience, may you replace it with any fear you may possess.