“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde
If there is an action more powerful than loving yourself, keep me posted. If there is a movement that has more impact than that of taking care of yourself, I have yet to experience it personally. And okay, you may be raising your eyebrow at the buzzword-y idea of “self-love,” but let me follow this by saying that I am not just talking truisms here. And that caring for yourself means more than just spa days. For I too am wary of tired sayings that people utilize on repeat. But, sometimes, they simply are true. They are powerful. They bear repeating. But perhaps in new ways.
Perhaps we will ruminate more upon the now-trite kinds of statements, ones like You can’t love anyone until you love yourself, when they are presented beyond the realm of romantic relationships. When, as the poet Audre Lorde (if you don’t know who she is you gotta go here) asserts, self-love is seen as an act of political warfare, an agent of change. Of course romantic relationships should be examined through this lens, should be undertaken once the love of self is established, but love is more than romance. Love is an instrument of transformation, and I know this firsthand.
This realization began to take shape around three years ago, when I quit drinking. (Tomorrow, February 20, is the day!) After I made this decision, over months of self-reflection and finding other ways to be, everything else started to become more and more clear. And when this began to happen, I could see that my decision was renewing my life, and because of the change in me, it was renewing the relationships I had with those close to me. It all began when I, however unknowingly at the outset, chose love. Radical love.
Years ago, the idea of loving myself was not even on my radar. How could I think about loving myself when I didn’t even know who I was? When I was constantly trying, and failing, to blend in, to be like everyone around me? It figures that I didn’t even know I was worthy of care, because I had never permitted myself the chance to find out who I was at my core. Behind the wild actions, below the roaring tides of mayhem and misfortune (often self-created), who was I? What did I stand for? I didn’t know that unfurling beneath these tidal waves was a riptide, more powerful than any wave above me, a wave of love that had long been ignored.
The love that I harbored was a long-buried love, one that I thought I’d finished with as I grew older. A love for the world, for beauty, for the mysterious nature of being, for being. Love for the unanswerable questions, love for the glittering glimpses of humanity amidst the murkiness of human existence. Love for stories of any kind, stories that made valiant attempts to capture the parts of life you can’t put into words. As this love surfaced again, it became clear that, if I loved the world, if I loved the people within it, then by logic alone I loved myself. Had to love myself. For I, a mere drop in a vast and endless sea, am a part of the sea nonetheless.
Believe me when I say, I did not come to this conclusion overnight. I did not decide to quit drinking and wake up the next day saying, You are beautiful! You can do anything! I still don’t say that. And not drinking has of course been challenging at times, but I can unequivocally say, as I’ve said before here on A Wild, Free Life, that the discoveries I have made during this three-year journey have been worth any discomfort or doubt I have felt along the way. Not drinking has provided me with a clarity that I could not have found otherwise. For when I decided to stop drinking, I was making a decision, however unconscious at the time, to take care of myself. To love myself.
In our perfectionistic culture, it is a radical, defiant act to say that you love yourself, especially when you are a woman, and even more so when you are a woman of color. As Lorde declares, caring for ourselves “is an act of political warfare.” It is practically revolutionary, to speak aloud or say to yourself when you look in the mirror, I am enough. I am worthy. I am here. Because throughout history (yep, including today, in 2018), we have been told, You are not worth it. You are less than. You are other.
Experiencing this “otherness” has changed us, in ways we can see and ways we cannot. We have tried to fit in, we have straightened our hair. We have stayed out of the sun so our skin wouldn’t turn a darker shade of brown. As little girls, we searched for ourselves in the pages of magazines and, finding no one, tried to become who we saw instead. We have tried to be, to look like, anyone but ourselves. For what we saw was overwhelmingly white, European, blond—it was clear, we were not the ideal of beauty. We believed the doctrine, the adoration of upturned noses and cascading waves of hair. We wished for a different reflection looking back at us in the mirror.
So what does this have to do with my giving up booze three years ago? Everything. I didn’t know it then, not really, but what three years of perseverance and learning and love have shown me is, one of the reasons I drank the way I did was because I, whether I acknowledged it or not, didn’t like myself. In hindsight; duh. And so much of what I didn’t like, I see in hindsight, was because I was told/shown that I shouldn’t. Pretty much everything I saw and read was either devoid of people like me or was peopled with caricatures, stereotypes, sidekicks, one-note characters. Not to mention I grew up in a non-diverse, mostly white area (I talk more about that here).
It is an act of courage to decry these societal falsehoods, and obviously many women throughout history have had the awareness and strength to do so, but it wasn’t until I became more aware, which happened when stopped drinking, that I was able to see the big picture. Taking booze out of the equation took a lot of uncertainty and indifference out with it, enabling me to see that I was only fulfilling a prophecy, and one that was not my own. I was fulfilling the prophecy that I was destined to fail, subscribing to the belief that I was not the ideal. When I drank, I was stamping these falsehoods across my forehead, imprinting them in my brain, shouting them from a bullhorn, making them real. I was saying, I am not worth it. Not that I knew this then.
But what I did know then, three years ago, was that as long as I kept drinking, I was not going to achieve what I wanted to. I saw that I wasn’t truly engaging with the world, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t being creative (I don’t know how so many notoriously boozy writers were so prolific. Not me). It seemed that the only direction I was heading towards, no matter what it looked like from the outside, was one that ended in failure. And I knew that I didn’t want that for myself. So I quit.
Which meant that I was also deciding that I was worthy of not being a failure. That I was going to prove myself, and anyone who had ever doubted or underestimated or dismissed me, wrong. I was going to love myself, and in doing so I would hopefully, one day, be able to love others. To help them see their inherent truth and beauty. To destroy the modes of injustice that attempt to destroy the people who are “other.” By saying enough is enough, by endeavoring to take care of myself, I was unconsciously taking the first step towards dismantling the self-doubt of other girls like me.
Girls who believe the voices of others over the voice from within, the true voice, the one that dwells deep. The voice that does not lie. This voice comes from the place that is true, the eternal place where we exist beyond earthly planes. It is the voice of our ancestors, our grandmothers and grandfathers, those of us who were never expected to live, let alone thrive. Yet we have. Even when we were erased from our history books or from the planet itself, our existence has remained. We have remained and persevered through stories, through art, through love.
The fact that our people were brought here to work and to die, yet we are still here, generations after, creating and loving and innovating; that is proof that the love of self, the love of beauty and truth, is power. That taking care of yourself, by any means necessary, is an act of more than mere survival. It is an act of righteousness. I am worthy. I am here. If these women and men birthed the generations that have in turn created us, we owe it not only to them and to their memories, but also to ourselves, to prevail. To believe in truth and beauty even in times of peril, like the moment where we find ourselves now.
The moment we are in now, where a man who maintains racist belief systems has been granted the ultimate platform of the presidency, is a time when loving ourselves matters more than ever. When the president of our country says that we are worthless, that anyone who is not a heterosexual white male is a stain on a country that is stained with our blood, we laugh in his face when we continue our work of living, and living from a place of love.
Whether this love is fostered by removing alcohol from the equation, as it is for me, or by meditating or eating healthfully or whatever it is that makes you feel more in alignment with who you really are, it doesn’t matter. Because doing what makes us feel good and alive and connected to others clears the path for positive action. And though I don’t expect everyone to give up drinking, I will note that love, real love, has never been found when we are numbing or harming ourselves.
My path of living without alcohol may look different from yours, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t headed in the same direction, or that we don’t want the same things. For love triumphs when we set forth on a clear-eyed course, one that will not be altered by what homogenous culture dictates as true. It triumphs when we look deeply within, so that we may look beyond ourselves, eyes burning with the intensity and heat of radical love. That’s when we get shit done.
I wish you a wild, free life.