Lately, it seems there’s a new piece of violent, traumatic news coming out every day. Or more accurately, multiple times a day.
In the past 10 days we’ve had the transgender memo, pipe bombs being delivered to the members of the media and prominent democrats, two black senior citizens were killed at a Kroger by a white supremacist who was also seen trying to enter a local black church (which, by the way, has had barely any national news coverage), 11 Jewish people were shot and killed in their synagogue, Trump has called the press the enemy of the people, he is spreading lies and stoking fear about a caravan of migrants from Central America who are headed to the U.S. to seek asylum and, just today, he has mentioned he wants to remove birthright citizenship that is protected in the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. These are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head! In fact, it’s almost certain that a new tweet or act of violence or other news story will pop up between the time I’m writing this and when I post it.
Things are scary right now and getting scarier every day. I have a near constant pit in my stomach wondering if I’m doing enough, worried for the lives and safety of my friends and acquaintances who are doing real work in different areas of social justice, wondering how I know so many people who seem to still be so oblivious to and/or complacent in what is happening both globally and nationally (If this is you and you want a good faith conversation and resources, let me know. We can talk.)
I am constantly assessing who I can count on; who will be there to support me and have my back if and when things get bad enough that I have to worry about my direct, physical safety as a queer, non-cis human. I am also constantly assessing how I can be more reliably supportive to black, brown, indigenous and trans folks who already are worried about their direct, physical safety.
I know what you’re thinking right now, you’re thinking: “But, Murph, with everything going on and all of the stress that’s piling up and all of the work to do, how can you possibly stay sober? Don’t you just want to escape!?!?!”
The thing is, my sobriety is the exact reason I CAN deal with what’s going on in society right now. My friend and I were talking recently about how we’ve changed in sobriety. She brought up a time when she had heard some members of my family say terribly racist things and my response was to basically just plug my ears and say I didn’t want to hear about it. This was not that long ago, maybe six or seven years, tops. I’m not proud of the way I handled things that day, or any other time I knew members of my family or friends were saying racist things. I do know that that was the only way I knew how to handle anything at the time: ignore it, avoid it, numb it.
The ways we learn how to deal with things are the ways we learned how to keep ourselves safe when we otherwise had little control over what was going on. As we heal, we have the responsibility to change those responses because, just as they kept our wounded selves safe, they will keep our healing selves from becoming fully healed. In my sobriety, after I made it through the initial painful stage where I felt like my skin was coming off of me and my insides were in a constant rolling boil, I have learned how to actually face things head on. Now that I am no longer under the anesthesia of alcohol, I am now able to see violence and injustice clearly. I’m also able to communicate about those things in an effective way, which means I no longer plug my ears or avoid discomfort.
Acknowledging the ways we contribute to the oppression of others is uncomfortable and talking about it is even more uncomfortable but, learning how to sit in discomfort was a huge part of getting sober for me. The discomfort of having feelings, the discomfort of having to face things, the general discomfort of being a human – all of these things taught me that being uncomfortable is not dangerous. As white people we are taught by society that comfort is the ideal state. Discomfort is bad and to be avoided at all costs. Systems are set up to keep us comfortable and the slightest jostling of that comfort can feel like an attack on our safety. It isn’t. Discomfort is an opportunity for growth.
As we grow and are able to take on more and more discomfort, we need to remember to take care of ourselves. When I was first getting sober, I knew that my number one job was to not drink. I worked, paid my bills, fed myself, rested and I did whatever else I needed to do in order to not drink. Sometimes that meant shutting my phone off or watching the same comedies over and over again on Netflix. Now that my sobriety is solid and more time tested, I no longer need to treat it like a newborn baby but I do need to continue to nurture myself.
Taking care of yourself while there’s a daily onslaught of trauma being thrown at you is imperative. And when I say this yes, I’m talking about baths and massages and taking breaks, but I’m also talking about therapy, enforcing boundaries and other less glamorous ways to stay mentally and physically healthy. Learning that other people’s emotions and reactions aren’t my responsibility has cleared up an awful lot of brain space for me to be able to have conversations with people without feeling like I need to coddle them. Really, truly, digging in and interrogating myself and my beliefs is just as much caring for myself as it is caring for others. If you’re not able to afford therapy, there has been evidence to suggest that expressive writing can be another way to heal yourself. Additionally, Leesa Renee Hall has an excellent resource that utilizes expressive writing to work through white fragility and spiritual bypassing.
So, yes. Things are scary.
And, yes. If you are just getting sober or you feel like your sobriety is in jeopardy, you need that to be your top priority.
But, for the rest of us, our sobriety is the best weapon we have against oppression. We don’t need to drink our way through scary times, we need to stay awake and clear headed. My sobriety has been my greatest resource in dealing with the reality of life in the United States over the past couple of years. It can be yours, too.