we don’t have to take all of it in

sticker art of an open mouth with full lips -- in between the teeth are the words, "I'm now ready to get rid of anything that keeps me small" and signed by the artist Blur

Yesterday I shared this message with the writers in a couple of my workshops, and wanted to expand it a bit here:

Last Thursday, I decided to turn off the news.

I had help in this decision — in fact, I needed help to make the decision. In spite of the fact that I was (literally, I think) making myself sick with the constant influx of adrenaline and horror, it took conversations with four different people who are deeply important to me before I felt like it was ok for me to step away from the 24/7 “news” stream. 

All weekend I didn’t read the news. I didn’t listen. I didn’t look at it on the phone. I get the main points — it seems unavoidable (subject headers in emails from mailing lists, conversations with friends) — but I am no longer (at least, for the time being) soaking in grief and terror and rage.

I kept getting triggered, kept imagining I could deal with whatever the latest awfulness was, metabolize it, before the next bit of awfulness, but it just wasn’t possible. The awfulness kept flooding in. More details of assaults, repetitions of those same details, more lies, more white men in power pretending to give a shit about the violence done to women’s bodies and psyches from the day that they’re born … more white men (and women) in power listening to the stories of that pain and grief and just simply not caring about it enough to make a decision that might end up impacting their positions of power and control.

None of it is surprising. None of us are surprised. We are outraged, we are grieving, but we are not surprised.

It’s true that I hoped. Ridiculously, I hoped for a different outcome — just like with the 2016 election, just like with the invasion of Iraq in 2002. In all of these instances, massive outcry and protest did nothing to change the behavior of the white (mostly) men in positions of power.

Is it ridiculous to hope, though? I look at that word up there and see an inner voice that’s not always so kind. Calling myself ridiculous for continuing to imagine that change is possible (given what changes have already occurred in the world for women and others around sexual violence) is an unnecessary violence. It’s doing the work of the abusers for them.

Of course, it’s much harder to sustain that vision, to hold open a place of possibility within myself, when I am continually retraumatizing myself with the “news” and commentary, nearly all of it hostile and negative (because that’s what makes the best clickbait).

Just one day off the news made a difference. Yes, I’m still angry. But I don’t feel flattened. I’m able to remember the power of each survivor’s voice, what we offer each other when we speak, when we shout, when we whisper, and what a difference that makes. And that difference is what matters most to me. That difference is what’s important. That difference is what will change the culture we live in. It can’t not make that change.

Dr. Ford’s testimony made a difference for me, and for thousands of other survivors around the country, millions around the world — as did the testimony, formal and informal, of the innumerable other survivors who have been sharing their stories in person, via social media or blog posts, in classrooms, in small groups, through graffiti or anonymous notes or whispers on the bus.

Every single fucking time we stand up and tell the truth about our lives, we make a difference — in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. Every single time we stand up and shake off someone else’s hands, refuse to keep their secrets any longer — that makes a difference. It makes a difference to someone else who had still been afraid to speak. It shows us what’s possible.

I couldn’t remember any of this when I was binging on horror news stories and so-called commentary. I couldn’t even hold the possibility. I couldn’t write. I was so depressed I could hardly articulate a thought. I couldn’t remember why what I do matters, why any of the work of all the brilliant and powerhouse survivor-activists I know mattered. The catastrophic clickbait news wants me to see the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal machine as unstoppable– and I did see it that way for awhile. And then I turned off its media arm.

We are told that we have to know what’s going on in order to be good citizens. But I’m having to remind myself that there are, for me, ways to stay informed that don’t leave me feeling drained of all energy to take any action in my life.

We don’t have to take all of it in — all of their hostility, all of their rage, all of their fear. We can say no to it. We can turn off those screaming, outraged faces, and turn our attention to the faces that we love.

We already carry our own trauma realities, a 24/7 flow of fear and grief and rage already in our bones and veins. We also carry hope and joy and desire and curiosity. It’s so important to make decisions for ourselves and our lives that leaves room for that second flow as well… because that flow — the tremendous power of our creative genius and delight — is what is changing our lives, our relationships, our communities, and the whole fucking world. I mean it.

At some point, I’ll turn the news on again — I do miss NPR in the mornings. Maybe later this month. I have something pretty important I need to be able to focus on first. I also need to be able to focus on the writers in my workshops, the folks who are contacting me about groups — to be able to focus on my family and love, to be able to feel what else exists in the world besides murderous rage. I am grateful to be able to turn away, and to turn toward possibility, to turn here toward you.

I am so glad you are here. I hope you’re doing whatever you need to do in order to best take care of you today — and I’m grateful for all the ways you are easy with yourself.

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