On Sunday, November 26, 2017, I celebrated my 1 year sober anniversary. One motherfucking year without a drink or any other mood or mind altering substance. Holy shit.
The magnitude of this accomplishment (and the gravity that brought the house down and forced me to take an honest look at myself for perhaps the first time in my life) is hard to put to words. The expectant alcoholic part of me wants to wrap it up in a nice little box or present it all in a ten point list with picture perfect quotes and photos. The workaholic in me wants all the insights and lessons to learned now, delivered, stamped, done, please, cuz c’mon this post should have been written YESTERDAY. On to the next thing! (Side note: It’s amazing how workaholism just sucks the joy out of everything! Everything gets turned into a list to be down, a task to be accomplished, laundry to be folded, workers to be trained, grants to write, dogs to walk, kids to be fed, babies to be made. No joy, no sense of wonder or appreciation—just an untethered freight train crashing around the world checking boxes and asking for approval from some unknown source.)
I don’t really feel like writing, because it all feels so undone. BUT, I’ll share some more of my half baked reflections on race, privilege, Trump and the sober life that have been swirling around my head for the past month, because I told myself I would write once a month. I forewarn you that given the random, unfinishedness of my last post that these reflections are probably closer to 1/4 baked—still 100% liquid in the middle. (But I am not 100% liquid in the middle, because I AM SOBER. BOOM!)
Recovery is radical equality.
Getting sober and sitting in circles with other addicts/alcoholics has allowed me to experience the gift of radical equality—a sense of kinship and connection that is beyond human grasp, that is beyond the imperfect, white, brown, red, yellow, black disabled, gay, straight, bi, trans, etc. bodies we all wonder around the Earth in. Over the past month, I have experienced this gift innumerable times though I haven’t always allowed myself to feel it. That’s right. I haven’t allowed myself to feel a sense of oneness and sameness. There is part of me that feels too smart, too woke, too aware, too trying to be a down ass white woman who “gets it” to acknowledge and feel that sameness. My neurosis around checking privilege, acknowledging difference, intersectionality and all those other important concepts creates these gigantic walls in the brain, barricades around the heart.
Radical healing, social justice and racial equity are at the center of my professional (and well, personal) life . At work, we host many identity based conferences, workshops and trainings for people who work in schools. One of these events was our annual Boys and Men of Color Workshop—an event where 250 young black men come together and explore masculinity, learn what to do when they get stopped by the police or when someone they know is arrested, and listen to other men and women of color talk about their experiences of what it is like to be a person of color today. Carmen Perez, one of the four leaders of the Women’s March on Washington, was our keynote. Bad ass motherfucking mujer.
During the conference, I attended a workshop facilitated by the Anti-Recidivism Collective (ARC)—a community collaborative dedicated to helping prisoners recover and rehabilitate. Their model is pretty much 100% the same as AA (shocker!).
I stumbled upon the workshop somewhat accidentally. I misplaced my program that morning—chalk it up to frenzied energy and excitement of realizing the key note was Carmen Perez. So, I stepped into the ARC workshop and had no idea what the session was about. I wrapped my fingers around the cool metal door handle, pushed the door open with my hip attempting to avoid any unwanted squeaks or creaks from the door hinge. I stepped inside the conference room, shoulders hunched over, trying not to interrupt the workshop that had already started. I push my shoulder blades against the bright white back wall of the conference room. I try to slide into the room, side stepping along beige indoor outdoor carpeting. I look up and see rows and rows of chairs in concentric circles, bright, rectangular fluorescent lights flooding from above. The banner above hung across the back wall. A panel of three men—an older gentleman with a Panama hat and tattooed forearms, a young Latino man with dark skin and commanding presence and a squeaky high pitched voice, a large, assuming lump of person whose faced looked like it was chiseled from stone sat on the end behind a small rectangular table in the front of the room.
My carefully calculated movement was an attempt to remain unseen—not only because I was coming in late, but because this workshop wasn’t for me or about me. I, a white woman from Upstate New York, the district administrator wearing the blazer over her Black Lives Matter shirt, wasn’t in that circle. I didn’t grow up in Sacramento or the inner city for that matter. I don’t know what it’s like to be a young man of color, to fear the police, to experience racism and discrimination at every turn, to get kicked out of school, to have my dad beat my mom, to live off food stamps. Moreover, this place is about the youth and we are the adult allies here to support their experience, organize the lunches and greet the young men when they jump off the bus buzzing with vibrant youthful energy. The mind ticks on, all the differences to be aware of lest we let our guard down and conflate solidarity and privilege. (Cuz I am aware of my privilege, so I know better than that. I know better than to let my guard down and feel something, to acknowledge that maybe, on some level we are the same.) I was just an observer there. I know my role and now my role is to remain unseen–to not center myself or my experience in anyway.
But then something bigger than me reaches in and tears down all those walls. I am left resting against a back wall in a conference room with tears streaming out of the corner of my eyes. I listen as former felons talk about their struggle with alcohol and drugs. Adults, six months out of prison, clawing their way back to life, preaching about how they “wished they would have focused on school instead of sports.” I hear youth talking about their drunk dads who beat their moms. How many of you have been arrested or seen someone arrested? All hands raised. I marvel at the bravery of our young men—the courage they have to just stand there, speaking their truth in front of their peers. There is no promise of anonymity here. There is only exposure—naked, bold, brave.
I stayed small, crouched against the back wall, during the workshop, but there was a part of my soul that cried out that day. Part of me raised my hand and said, “me too. I am one of you.” Our stories are different and—while I feel trite saying it—we are, in that moment, the same. Their struggle is my struggle. I am an alcoholic, an addict. I know the insides of the psychiatric ward, the emergency room, the hospitals, the broken family, lost love and connection chaos creates. And I need these former prisoners and boys and men of color if I am going to stay sane and sober. I need them to be brave, so I can be brave. And in that instant my soul feels something it was craving for so long—the kinship that transcends.
Radical Equality does not let us white folks off the hook.
My experience in the circle at the Boys and Men of Color workshop points to the source of tension I have been grappling with. My mind is perpetually jumping from two oppositional points and trying to make sense of them (and also figure out how to respond when white folks get uncomfortable with the things I am writing and talking about.)
My motivation to take a “deep dive” into the formation of my own “white” identity stems for my desire to know my own experience of white privilege and to come to terms with how that has shaped who I am and in a way, what I owe. So this is an exercise, fundamentally, in stripping away the large swaths and small interconnected threads that define my own inherited privilege. It’s an exercise in understanding difference. And this racial difference, I still maintain, is the most important for me, a white ally, to understand if I am going to be able to be effective at doing work around racial equity. It’s a story I have to learn how to tell.
And meanwhile, my own recovery from addiction and alcoholism demands that I believe in our ability to transcend these differences. It demands that I fully embrace and embody that idea that my liberation is bound up in your liberation and that we, the great parade of misfits, all need each other to heal and survive this wicked thing called alcoholism, addiction, drugs, chaos, brokenness and injustice.
I have been trying to reconcile two ideas that are oppositional and it’s really tough. And I think it’s hard to reconcile, because so often, us white folks are out there looking for trap doors, for the things that allow us not see what we can’t and don’t want to see. We want to find the edges that allow us to plunge off cliffs and distance ourselves from the discomfort of being born with body we didn’t ask for, with privilege and injustice we can’t undo. So, for now, I will just keep holding these two opposing ideas. I am not definitely not done yet.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!