Why I create collective healing spaces

A brilliant article by Dr. Shawn Ginwright posted on May 31 on Medium just validated so much of the work I'm doing: 

The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement

Shawn Ginwright Ph.D.

In every women's workshop there is a moment where I say that the personal growth mantra of individual change is kinda bullshit. It's gaslighting. We cannot fix the sociological problems of gender based violence with individual psychological solutions. The people harmed are not the problem. The systems that harm us are.

If trauma is collectively experienced, this means that we also have to consider the environmental context that caused the harm in the first place. By only treating the individual we only address half of the equation leaving the toxic systems, policies and practices neatly intact. - Dr. Ginwright

This essay is brilliant, accurate and very much needed. Please give it a read. 

Dear Sugars take on Emotional Labor

Like a modern-day Greek chorus, women from across the country wrote in to the Dear Sugars inbox echoing identical inequalities in their relationships with their husbands and boyfriends. The Sugars commiserate with this aggrieved chorus along with Gemma Hartley, the writer who set off a national conversation about emotional labor with her viral article in Harper’s Bazaar, “Women Aren’t Nags — We’re Just Fed Up.”

Tracee Ellis Ross on the wisdom in women's fury

“Women have been trained to think that we are overreacting or that we’re being too sensitive or unreasonable,” she continued. “We try to make sense of nonsense, and we swallow the furious feelings. We try to put them into some hidden place in our minds, but they don’t go away. That fury sits deep inside as we practice our smiles ... and try to be pleasant ... because apparently, women aren’t supposed to get angry.”

Sex, Power and Leadership 2018


Amy Jo Goddard and I talked a bit about the questions leaders need to ask themselves about power and sexuality. We have many questions and a few answers.

To gain a lot more perspective on sex, power and leadership, check out this brand new online conference running April 30-May 7th. You can get a complimentary pass to Sex, Power and Leadership here.

For women in the East Bay, I'm teaching Building Solidarity via Collaborative Leadership on May 2nd in Oakland at the East Bay Community Space. Get tickets here!

Denise Jolly and I talk codependency and not giving a f*ck.

Call and response video. I talk about a RoleReboot article on sexism, gender, codependency and giving all your fucks. Denise Jolly adds her perspective and a fuck she's being mindful of no longer giving. 

Here's the article: http://www.rolereboot.org/sex-and-relationships/details/2018-03-sexist-culture-contribute-codependency-women/

Maureen Benson on SPARK Seat

SPARK Seat with Maureen Benson: A conversation about education, bias, what makes "breaking news", and why it takes courageous leadership to disrupt the status quo. This interview shows the power of dismantling power structures, interrogating times we feel like we don't have choice and how to look at media with an intersectional lens.

What do you need to not give a fuck?

I'm thinking about those of you who have been to the workshops, those of you who I've been working with one on one, those of you who respond to my emails with questions or stories, and I keep coming back to that thunderstruck feeling of how our fears and frustration are not simply individual challenges, it's not just me, it's not just you. It's US. All of us. And we have neeeeeeeeeds. I'm typing that again N E E D S.

And I'm down to do whatever I can to help us give less fucks about the bullshit. Be unapologetic about our experience and existence. To give less fucks and live more life.

And in honor of how fucking busy I know you are, I'm making it as easy as possible for you to communicate your needs. Take the not giving a fuck survey!

Create your own user feedback survey

11 things I want men to commit to. Right now.

  1. Question the mentorship you received. Teachers, bosses, leaders; who have you looked up to and learned from? Were they misogynists or sexual predators? Identify the unlearning you need to do.
  2. Be honest about your relationship to power. Do you crave it, do you never have enough of it, do you feel entitled to it, do you resent others for not giving it to you? Are you afraid of it? Do you avoid it? Get fucking real with yourself. Your actions are already being guided by it anyway.
  4. Invest time and energy into friendships with people you aren’t interested in having sex with. In the words of the mighty Michelle Obama: "Y'all should get you some friends. Y'all need to go talk to each other about your stuff, because there's so much of it! Talk about why y'all are the way you are." 
  5. Don’t pursue sex with women you work with. Not peer to peer, not subordinate to supervisor or vice versa, just don’t fucking do it.
  6. See women as the leaders they already are. Step back from leadership roles. Cycle out. Create a transition moment. Invite women of color to step in and get paid.
  7. Learn and appreciate the difference between competence and confidence. You're getting snowed, my friend. 
  8. Expand leadership roles so that more than one person occupies the role. Legit checks n balances. Co-leads, Co-facilitators, Co-chairs, Co-directors with equal decision making and veto powers.
  9. Be outnumbered by women in your collaborations. Make this shit happen. I don’t care how it’s done. Just do it. And make sure the women are paid equally.
  10. Stop talking over or interrupting women when they speak. Also, pay attention to when another man does that and tell him to fucking stop.
  11. Hold men accountable. If not you, then who? Another woman or group of women and we're fucking exhausted.

It’s not business as usual anymore. Men don’t get to blunder their way through work environments, communities and social scenes expecting women to clean up their messes. 


No Sacrificial Women Required

It used to be when I wanted to offer someone support, I had two women in mind. The first woman threw her body over yours to shield you with her own, taking blows and absorbing pain on your behalf. The other woman rolled up her sleeves and planted her palms on the flat of your back to push you uphill wether you liked it or not. I aspired to be those women. Single-minded women. Heavy-handed women. Self-sacrificing women. Women who acted from a place of absolute knowing. I am protecting you or I am pushing you. That is how I supported me too. Protecting myself or pushing myself. Single-minded. Heavy-handed. Self-sacrificing. I didn’t understand how my concept of support was disempowering and damaging. Especially to my own sweet self. I was too in love with my own brute strength and force of will. I was too scared of uncertainty to allow myself anything other than an unwavering ability to act.

As a parent, not only is that not an effective way of transferring life skills for success to my kids, it’s fucking exhausting. It’s also a little soul bruising for them. And my desire to keep my sons’ beautiful hearts as intact and vibrant as possible won out over the fear and led me to learn new ways of parenting.

As a community member, it was downright dysfunctional. There’s no growing together. There’s no taking turns. There’s no room to learn from mistakes. As a lover and friendship partner, it was just not cool. Where is the choice? Where is the recognition of unique skill sets different than my own? Where is the display of belief in a loved ones ability to choose their own adventure? So I tried new ways of being supportive. New ways to show I’ve got your back, but they were shaky attempts. I wasn’t quite sure of what I was doing. I didn’t know if I was being as helpful as I could be. Maybe I should go back to pushing and protecting. This whole being gentle thing is so mysterious to me.

As much as I love being right, there’s something so satisfying about being wrong about what support looks like.

I’m now 6 weeks out from an intense surgery. The months that led up to the procedure were pain filled and emotionally draining. Sometimes I didn’t recognize myself, I was so far from the woman I thought I had forged myself into being. I was not in control of what was happening inside of me. I could not reach into myself and fix the problem. I also had this sinking fear that if I was not the heavy-handed, single-minded woman I have relied on in my past, I would fail to heal and my children would suffer greatly. Yup, all of that was there and no, none of it happened.

Instead, the kids and I were supported so deftly, so deeply, by so many loving, sweet, strong, kind people. People who never disempowered me as they held me close. Support that looked like a steady hand to hold and be guided by. Support that was many arms in a squooshy soft embrace. Support that came with check ins and me being asked “is this ok?” sincerely. There was no heavy-handedness on the scene.

I am beyond grateful, I’m transformed. This level of love and support is healing me on so many levels. My body is no longer in pain. I’m in the process of regaining my stamina while remembering to be gentle with my body. I’m also healing the broken heart that comes from never having experienced what empowering support actually feels like. The world is a lot less scary when you know people are capable of effectively caring for you. And now I have so many more examples of what it means to help than I could have imagined! A whole new menagerie of helpers now live inside me.

And I want to keep being helpful in this way to others too. To empower and support. To create the sustainable container for growth. No selves need to be sacrificed in order for care to emerge.

Mothers with dangerous voices

Today is the shared birthday of three women who inspire me in all parts of my life- my parenting, my studies, my activism, my art, my sexuality, my feminism and my belief in radical love: Yoko Ono, Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde. This post is dedicated to these three brilliant brave women. 

So you become a mother. Maybe a young mother. Maybe not. Maybe having children in your early 20’s isn’t anything to write home about. It’s just what your people do. And you have a man. A man in your life who comes home to you every night and you’re still young enough to think that seeing someone everyday is all that really matters in regards to love. And you have these children and you love them more than anything else you’ve ever seen or even imagined seeing. The love for your children creates a foundation inside you that maybe you didn’t know you didn’t have. And suddenly the world around you becomes so shockingly not good enough. The man in your life is too quick to anger, too sulky, too demanding of your affection. The education nobody thought you needed feels as necessary as the clean air your babies deserve to breathe. You look around for the same expression of discontent and need and want and curiosity on the faces of someone, anyone, you meet during your daily routine of child rearing. But you don’t see them. 22 hours a day you spend at home. Who are you going to see?

So, you pick up used books. Maybe many. You buy used CD’s. Maybe spoken word and poetry. And suddenly there they are.

Fierce, brilliant, wordsmiths. Women. Mothers. Artists. Activists. Scholars. 

There they are. And now you are not alone.

“Each time we don’t say what we wanna say, we’re dying.” – Yoko Ono

 And now your fire has a name. And now you have elders. Mothers who think dangerously. 

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” ― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

You now know yourself as a dangerous thinker. And everything has to change. Begin by breathing.

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” ― Audre Lorde

Breathing in a room full of strangers. Stretching muscles forgotten. Stretching feelings gone dormant. Every breath brings you closer.

Each breath in, “I am here.” Each breath out, “And it fucking matters.”

You read. You listen. You breathe. You read and listen and breathe. And you leave.

To follow your elders. 

It started with socks; On self care and adulting.

Last year, around this time, I wrote in a blog post, “It’s no big deal, I just have to go away and dream me all up again.” Dreaming didn’t look like what I thought it would. First my mother had a stroke, and that was terrifying. Then, I didn’t get the position with an organization that I had my heart set on. That was painful. Next, I was laid off from the organization that I was working for. That was depressing. 

Looking back now, I see myself suffering from anxiety and neglect. This is the face of a woman putting her own precious self last on her own list of priorities.  Too much uncertainty. Too much struggle. Too much “just keep a roof over the kids’ heads and you’re ok” thinking. When life was hard, I was the last person I wanted to take care of. What I secretly wanted was for someone to come take care of me the way I took care of everyone else. And I say secret because never in a million years would I admit this to myself, or to anyone else. It was a shameful thing for a grown ass woman to want. And I did accept that I alone was responsible for getting my needs met, I just made sure I had as few needs as possible and I didn’t put much effort into meeting them. I was practicing self abandonment. I was doing to myself what my parents had done to me; something I would never do to anyone that I loved.

And then my best friend bought me 2 pairs of socks for Christmas, because I didn’t really own any. I made sure my kids had drawers full of socks, all different kinds, I just never thought to buy myself any. 

There’s this funny line my friends say when someone is flubbing up a moment, “Do you need an adult?” It’s ironic since we’re all super capable competent adults, and yet in certain moments we all suck at adulting. What struck me though, was how much I really did need an adult because I wasn’t being the adult my own self needed me to be.

Part of getting in touch with all the unmet needs I’ve carried with me from childhood was welcoming in the sad, unloved needy parts of me. After months of counseling support, the fears of being pathetic or unlovable that I had been suppressing burst through the stage door of my super ego and claimed the spotlight. My strategy of loving other people well as a way to prove I was worthy of love had to go. I needed to show up for my neglected self in a whole new way. So there I was, knowing I needed to do a thing, but not knowing how to do it.

And then something magic happened.  I went on a retreat. Me! I don’t do these things. For one, it’s been impossible to take time away from the kids, and two… I just don’t retreat. Ever. It was an offer to get away from it all for 10 days and do a whole body chemical detox all made possible by friends who loved me. I said yes because this was the thing! This was a way for me to prove to myself that I mattered to me. I stopped eating sugar and drinking caffeine, it’s been 6 months and I feel amazing. 5 months ago I started moving my body more, I hated it at first. The sadness of not taking care of myself for so long overwhelmed me. But the joy I’ve found in movement is astounding to me. Every day that I prioritize my health is a day I know I am loving me. The loving connections I’ve made throughout the past year have made all of this self love possible for me. From a pair of socks to a whole new way of eating, I’m adulting!

Each moment of change that year led to another step of even greater change for me. Like dominos. And it has been so uncomfortable at times, so much stored up pain that needed to be metabolized. There have been moments of shattering, where all my unconscious desires to be cared for rushed to the surface and it felt like I was drowning in grief. Moments of confusion and anger and bitterness and envy.  Impatience with my own process. Regret for not having done this for myself sooner. Embarrassment at how delusional I was. It’s all in there. And right next to it is acceptance, and kindness and understanding, and a gradually developing maturity. I’m so grateful to have an entire community supporting me in this process.

I did dream up a whole new me. I have a whole new profession, a whole new relationship to myself, a whole new vision of what’s possible for my family. And…now since I’m learning to care for myself, I’m all glowy!