I've worn many hats in my career but ALL have one common thread. I have always chosen to work with the exiles-human beings who our society has largely turned their back on including children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, adults who spent a majority of their lives institutionalized, out of school at risk youth, formerly incarcerated, teenaged parents, foster children, young adults who “aged out” of the system and were rendered homeless, those with mental illness, those challenged by addiction, marginalized populations and in ALL of it I realized the same thing. We all have a fundamental need to feel like we matter.
We all have a need to feel safe, seen, heard, understood, validated and celebrated in the fullness of who we are. But there is SO much that stands in the way of this including trauma and systems of oppression. This often looked like low funding for pretty much every program I worked with. Failing to invest in certain populations is just one of the ways we exile people.
When I think of the stories I have read and heard in my career--atrocities that I cannot even begin to scrub from my mind nor would I want to because they are a source of righteous rage that motivates me. When I think about the suffering in the world, I think we need more people willing to turn towards the pain of others instead of turning away. But, how can we turn towards the pain of another in a way that is supportive, compassionate and nourishing if we ourselves have not learned to turn towards our own pain and to see it with eyes of love?
Instead, we learn to exile our pain. We learn to stash it, stuff it, minimize it, deny it, bury it, gaslight it, judge it, contain it, control it, sugarcoat it, hide it, and hold it in our bodies. In my experience it is the holding and hiding that hurts-physically and emotionally. The past is never behind you, it is within you.
We also learn to exile the parts of us that our culture and family have deemed undesirable. Exiling parts of who we are is another way of saying rejecting parts of ourselves. We are shaped by the relentless cultural messages hurled at girls/women.
Be nice, be helpful, be kind, be good, be quiet, be a good girl, be happy, be polite, pleasing and smile, be grateful, follow the rules but think for yourself, don’t be too bossy, don’t be too emotional, don’t be too dramatic, don’t be too loud, be skinny but not too skinny, be strong but not too strong, be sexy but not too sexy, be assertive but not too assertive, be smart but not too smart, be who you want to be but also fit in, have a successful career and have a family, get older but hide all signs of aging, and ultimately BE EVERYTHING for everyone but feel NOTHING. This is what we are dealing with.
Mother Wound Healing, as I have come to understand it and practice it personally and in my work, is the act of creating the inner safety and resources to call back ALL parts of who we are. It is to take out of hiding all those deep dark secrets we bury, the parts that feel too much, the shame filled stories, the emotions we learned to run from, the needs we learned to suppress and to see each part, each emotion, each need, each story, each memory from a place of deep love and acceptance. This is reclamation. This is wholeness.
And the more we are able to turn towards those parts of ourselves that we have exiled with love, the more we can turn towards others exiled in our society by the oppressive systems that exist to keep some in power while keeping others out.
This image by Artist Mia Ohki reflects beautifully what mother wound healing looks like. We become the unconditionally loving presence we have always needed for OURselves and then this extends outward.
As I scroll social media, it seems as though there are 2 choices for women. Burnt out or blissed out. We can either swallow the lie that we aren't enough and work tirelessly towards some standard of success that has been determined outside us. Trying to contort our bodies, conceal signs of aging, give our kids a better life, accumulate wealth, have it all and be it all for everyone else. This keeps us perpetually distracted, drained and disempowered. OR We can swallow the pill of toxic positivity, show the world our highlight reel, focus on the bright side and hide out in the “comfort” of our lives. This keeps us disconnected from reality.
What's the other option? BELONGING. I've been thinking a lot about belonging as well as the difference between comfort and refuge.
As a trauma survivor and child of alcoholics, I worked tirelessly to create a comfortable life in what can best be described as the American dream. I put down roots to give me a sense of security that had been lacking throughout my early life. This American dream, once achieved, felt more like a nightmare because it asked me to abandon my inner life to create a picture perfect outer life. And, what at first felt like comfort, began to feel uncomfortable because outer comfort cannot replace inner refuge which is an inner sense of safety and true belonging.
Mother wound healing is about creating inner refuge and belonging to oneself first so we can remember that we belong to each other. The politics of healing is simple but not easy. The more we come home to ourselves and reclaim our full humanity, the more capacity we have to see, honor and work towards more just systems that honor the full humanity of ALL our people.
Here are some questions I've been sitting with that I'll leave with you.
Which parts of yourself have you exiled?
Which parts are ready to be revealed?
Do you feel a sense of inner refuge, belonging and safety in your body?
If not, what barriers prevent you from showing up fully, fiercely and tenderly as YOU?
Are you afraid to take a stand in matters of politics and human rights because you never learned how to be with the discomfort of conflict?