Uncovering Our Strength

I watch as smoke drifts upwards from a small fire in my friend’s backyard. As the smoke lifts into the night sky, I ask it to carry my prayers and pleas up to Spirit. Inside the house, a map of the United States filled in with mostly red, is displayed on the screen of the TV. No one is in the house watching the TV any longer. We are all sitting outside staring at the fire shocked and in disbelief that Trump had become president. Stunned and terrified we hesitantly tell each other softly, “our fight continues” and “activism is alive.”

I’ve never felt such visceral fear in my body about an election before. There’s a neighbor up the street with several Trump signs in their yard. I found it comforting that other neighbors around them, three to be exact posted signs for Hillary facing the street and facing the house in a direct response. Yet, I can’t ignore that live in a red state, one where a majority of people voted for a man who campaigned on hate, violence and fear. Safety is suddenly my new everyday question. And I know I’m not alone in this intense vulnerability.

At home, I hold my partner and cry a bit letting myself drop fully into the fear of what will happen to me as disabled person, as the daughter of an immigrant, to this border I live nearby. I fall asleep exhausted completely immersed in my vulnerability and fear.

In the morning, after confirming the truth was still what I had left the night before, I sit by myself alone. I feel consumed by fear and knew if I don’t get grounded, I will lose myself in worry. Getting grounded means feeling a stream of energy from my hips going down deep into the earth, feeling that energy come back up through my body out the top of my head into the universe and then feeling it return down into my body again. Being grounded means I’m aware of my body, and this helps me understand what I need and what actions I want to take. But, I was lost in the stack of emotions piled on top of my center, the ground I sat upon. I was unable to feel the stability beneath me. I had to delve through these feelings first.

Sinking into the feelings and how they feel in my body is different than thinking through the feelings. I try to not analyze or create logic or to get lost in the imaginings of the future. Instead, I focus on the pressure in my lower chest, the intensity of throbbing pain. I sit in my awareness of this for a long time. My mind wanders and I pull it back to just observe. After a while, I notice the pain had shifted to my back. I sit and observe this shift. (This discomfort is different than disability pain. It’s literally the manifestation of how I’m feeling in my body.)

Finally, the pain fades and I am able to imagine a cord of energy dropping down from my hips into the earth. I feel the ground beneath my body.

Sometimes in the midst of upheaval, we need to create a small space for our bodies to be present with our feelings. Talking to my partner later, he says, “It’s hard for me not to be shutdown. To succumb to the despair I feel about the current reality.”  “Yes,” I say. Then I shared with him what I had done, how I had sat and paid attention to everything inside of my body which was reacting to feeling so vulnerable. When we are giving ourselves attention, it is hard to be disconnected.

Underneath vulnerability is strength. Meaning, underneath all of these emotions and fear, however connected to reality they are, lies our desires, intentions and love. When I am in touch with my feelings of vulnerability, then I am also in touch with my desires and strength. Yet, if I stay in a place of disconnection and let myself shutdown, then I will live in my trauma both current and in the past. I will live in a place of fearful anticipation which makes me more open and susceptible to panic and shame. I need to touch my strength, even if it’s only with my heart.

Pile of rocks against a mountain backdrop. One rock juts up with a large spiral petroglyph carved into its surface. In some ways, I feel the need for my world to get smaller. I might try to check in with my neighbors more and ask friends to tell me how they’re doing. I know I need to fall back into a place of witnessing and supporting those who are around me. If we could all do this, then we all would have something, some kind of support. My partner also reminds me of the importance of engaging and changing systems. To change and support the structures which provide for our day-to-day lives. The balance of time and energy to devote to vulnerability and strength, to witness each other’s lives and to cultivate and listen to our desires and dreams is now our current task.
Connecting to our own strength is essential in making it through what will come. We must draw a circle in the sand. Take a moment to sit there alone and allow ourselves to have a safe containment for the vulnerability we need to witness within our own bodies and hearts. Breathe. Touch the dirt. Give ourselves attention. In our strength, our desires and our love are the gifts the world needs now.

Your Truth - Where Self-Care Starts

Self-care doesn’t start with “doing.” Taking care of you doesn’t start with routines, activities, goals. Self-care starts with the truth, being in your truth.

As a Disabled Mestiza raised in Latinx culture, my childhood was mostly about medical professionals using the idea of “fitting in” and having friends as a way to motivate me to do what they wanted me to do with my body. This made me think, especially when I was feeling sad about being excluded, that I had to change who I was in order to be accepted by other people. I had gained a bunch of weight after my first batch of surgeries, which I never lost and I gained even more as I got older. I felt split. Part of me wanted to do everything I could to control my body, like forcing myself to exercise by walking as far as I could, even if that meant I was sore and unable to walk for a week after. Another part of me just wanted to rebel by giving up in a self-hating kind of way. Both reactions weren’t my truth.

Artwork by Naomi Ortiz. Black and white drawing of a disabled foot. Scars running up the inside of the foot from the bottom of the foot past the ankle.
Beautiful Foot
Medical professionals never discussed with me what I felt was my truth. They believed they were the ones in charge of fixing bodies which were “not-normal,” especially bodies like mine, broken bodies. I began to believe their lie, that if I tried hard enough, I could fit in and have the same opportunities as everyone else. Believing this set me up to consistently feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough.  

Ultimately, I had to fail at controlling my body in order to begin to understand my truth. Relating to my body only through control wasn’t self-care.  In my 20s, I found disability community, other people both different and like me, who had experienced control of bodies. Talking to them helped me realize that the problem of why I was excluded and/or discriminated against wasn’t me. The problem was society excluding those who are disabled, fat, poor, queer, and/or people of color, immigrants, etc. by not being accessible. I learned a truth, that all of who I was (disabled, fat, mestiza) is a valuable part of human diversity.

Once I connected to community, I saw there was lots of ways to live in these bodies. Some people walked, other people used wheelchairs. Some people used their energy sitting still, others used their energy to create or write while they rocked, played with their hands and made noises.  Disability community let me know that my body is fine as it is. This didn’t mean that rejection didn’t hurt. The kid who walked behind me, imitating my beautiful disabled walk, hurt me. This rejection, this fear people had/have of my body, it hurts. That’s my truth. That it hurts AND that it’s not my job to educate them or make them feel differently or better.

As I get older, what people think still affects me, but I’ve began to pay more attention to what I think about issues and what I experience. I’ve began to care more about what I notice as beautiful in the world. As I pay more attention to what I find fascinating I’ve become fearless about asking questions, investigating, pushing boundaries, learning, growing, and putting myself out there in a more public way through my art. I met my partner and we are navigating life supporting one another. I’ve made friends with people who are truthful and courageous. When I pay attention to what I think, see and my emotions, I’m able then to start to notice how my body feels.

I’ve began to pay attention to how my body feels eating certain types of food. I pay attention to how my body feels moving in a certain kind of way. After a period of time of just paying attention and not over analyzing what I noticed, I’ve realized important information about my body, my truth. I realized I have food allergies. I’ve realized my body really feels good moving in water. I’ve begun to understand that I have to exercise slowly, paying attention to when I reach exhaustion so I don’t max out and hurt myself. I’ve had to figure out what types of exercise and movement feel okay for my body, not just going with what the medical professionals told me to do.

Now I am living in a body that I’m not afraid to pay attention to. The self-care of “doing,” is about trying my best and paying attention to what feels true in my body. I notice the effects of my goals and activities and adjust to respect what makes me feel the best. Taking care of my body is about listening to what my body needs. I listen to my truth.

First published on BEDA Online:  http://bedaonline.com/self-care-starts-wsaw-2016/