healing out loud/claiming frida

(drafted this last week on the road)

feb 24, 2014

last week i received my contributor copies of the anthology dear sister: letters from survivors of sexual violence. my piece in it, called “awakening”, was written about two years ago. it is about ‘how i was smart, how i survived long enough to fall in love with myself.’

it was so exciting to read where i was in my healing process at that point in my life. one of the paragraphs talked about my weight – how i gained weight for protection, as many people do. and how i tried losing it a variety of times and ways, but when people began to give me a certain kind of attention, i would lose my courage and go back to my pizza and chocolate beloveds. after years, decades of this, i finally felt ready for the change to begin.

i went on my sabbatical in 2012 with a goal of learning what health looks like for me. what i learned is that i had to really love myself, my body, as it was. and from that loving awareness, i would understand what transformation, if any, was needed.

in the dear sister essay i write about some of the ways i started healing and falling in love with myself leading up to and during that journey.

in that loving place, when i sought the answer to what health meant to me, i found i longed for strength, for the capacity to run and play with the kids in my life, to have a real chance at surviving any sci-fi apocalyptic conditions i could imagine, and to enjoy sex and pleasure without shame.

i learned that i would need to do it all at my own pace.

it’s important for me to notice how far i have come. in my early twenties i was eating pizza, hot pockets, fast food, candy, bread. since then i have learned so much about sustaining myself – how to cook delicious vegetables without meat or sugar displacing the nutritional value, how to make a salad dressing that transformed my relationship to raw vegetables, how to juice, how to shop the outer edge of the grocery store (veggies, fruit, fish, eggs) rather than the inner aisles (snacks, candy, cereals). and i have been actively practicing yoga for two years now, getting my body stronger and more flexible.

i have also been doing major healing work through somatics – learning to access and understand my whole self through the sacred ground of my body.

so it was thrilling to receive this essay about healing from trauma back into my life now, when i am almost halfway through a 21-day sugar cleanse. it feels like the next radical step in this lifelong journey of mine. and it feels like i have come far enough into my body to really notice, with curiosity and tenderness, the ways trauma still shapes me.

i started doing weight watchers earlier this year, which for me includes tracking my food and wearing an activity tracker. i felt like i had made a lot of shifts in terms of my health, and wanted to raise awareness now about eating and exercise. it was illuminating – i was still eating larger portions, eating worse when i traveled (which is a lot of my life), and being more sedentary than i want to be. i made changes with that awareness, but kept hitting pleateaus, particularly when i traveled. two pounds forward, one pound back.

the sugar cleanse came in because what i observed was that i had the hardest time controlling chocolate, bread, alcohol. i first cut out bread, and quickly learned that lots of the gluten free alternatives are also mostly sugar. i needed to know if sugar was keeping me plateau’d in my health. my sister starting the cleanse provided the perfect opportunity to do this from a state of inspiration and solidarity.

writing about it, sharing it, has been immensely vulnerable and powerful. i realize that actually a lot of my writing, here, in more formal essays, and even the fiction i am writing, is an examination of myself, my healing process.

which brings me to frida.

my bathroom walls are covered in self-portraits of frida kahlo. in fact, she has a presence in every room of the house. thinking about my writing, my subject, my passion, i feel i have to invoke her constantly as an ancestor who has made it not just ok but radical to create my art as an exploration of my life. she once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best … I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.”

her work as a queer, disabled woman of color was radical because it presented her beauty, her strength, her struggles, her resilience. things not yet to be assumed but claimed, carved out against all societal brainwashing to the contrary.

i feel similarly about my journey, though my medium is less often visual arts (though i will have three pieces up at the carr center exhibition on feminisms this month), and i dare not presume the talent of frida. but i am locating transformation at a level i can see, decipher, understand – myself. i am sharing that as transparently as i can in my art, knowing that the conversation i want to be part of at this time in history is how those of us who were supposed to be invisible instead became very loud, very whole, very powerful, very beautiful, and very joyful. very full, capable of creating our own healing journeys wherein we realize we are examining the breadth of societal trauma through the lens of ourselves.

to claim that full, whole space, i think we must claim the artists and ancestors who worked before us to carve it out. i have been claiming octavia, audre. i want to go on record as also claiming frida. she, too, is my sister.

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