Renewal Counseling and Consultation Services, LLC 

Why Now?

This was the question circulating through my head during my staff meeting on Monday when my White co-workers were processing their feelings about the recent events that have been occurring to African Americans in America. There were a lot of awkward silences as I supposed they were waiting for the few Black staff on the team to break the silence; interestingly we said nothing. Why?

Were we tired? Were we tired of having to “blacksplain” issues to non-black individuals. Tired of having to share with them why watching people that look like our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, sons and daughters be executed right in front of our eyes might be getting to us just a little bit. Were we angry? Angry that we have to explain why the killing of anybody but especially those targeted because of the color of their skin and the stereotypes that accompany is dead wrong. Were we over it? Sorry you’re feeling badly but I’ve got my own feelings to process and those of my loved ones who are still moving targets in this world. Be your own Kleenex. Were we resentful? Resentful that White privilege allows my White co-workers to pick and choose when they want to be bothered by social injustice.

I don’t know. Maybe it was one or all of these reasons- either way, we were quiet. And maybe that made more of an impact than if we had ranted about the injustice or shed tears for the assassinated. I also wonder if we wanted to have private grief of this issue. I am sure if we had been face to face, as Black staff we would have made a point of checking in with each other and having a conversation, if not with words with our eyes, our touch or our hearts.

This question of Why Now? sat in my head all Monday. It rang even louder on Tuesday as I saw the black boxes popping up all over social media and posts of people filming themselves being involved in protests around the country. Why does this particular killing get everyone involved? It’s not like black people haven’t been dying in this country for centuries- so Why Now? At this point I made a choice. To reframe my question. I don’t think I’ll ever get an answer to the question that will make sense to me or make up for the centuries of complacency, inaction, nonchalance, dismissiveness, or gaslighting that has occurred by the majority to the non-majority in our country.

The new question is – Why NOT Now? I could lament for all the times that Whites had the opportunity to get involved and they didn’t- and how their presence could have expanded the movement exponentially. Or I could accept that they are finally having an Awakening. Granted, I had the same awakening the moment I took my first breath from my mother’s womb- but at least they are having it. I have White people in my life that I consider family. What is my responsibility to them and vice versa? Do I give up trying to educate and share my experience so they can empathize and decide to use their privilege for the betterment of all? No. Do they stop trying to understand, ask questions, acknowledge their blindspots? No. 

One of my favorite quotes from James Baldwin is:  "If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see". And I do love people. Regardless of their color, or sexual preference, or age, or gender, or social background, or height, or weight, or religious preference. I could go on detailing all the ways that we are different. But I choose to focus on how we are alike. I think that’s what people who are prejudiced often forget. We are all more alike than different. And maybe that’s Why Now- people are beginning to focus on our similarities rather than differences. We’re all suffering. Whether we’re experiencing isolation, financial strain, illness or death from COVID-19; whether we are sickened to see yet another senseless loss of life; whether we are disgusted by the lack of humanity shown by the people that are supposed to be leading us. We have more things that draw us together than pull us apart.

I’m glad it’s NOW. I’m glad whoever has been living in the fog of “I don’t see color” is waking up to the realities of this world. I’m glad people are mobilizing and organizing and standing up. I’m glad my co-workers are having dialogue about what they don’t know and don’t understand. But what happens when the protest dies down and stops? How do we perpetuate this momentum? How do my co-workers show their continued support? I’m a grass roots type of person. I’ve dedicated my career to working with disenfranchised populations and have always been a boots on the ground advocate. Marching is great. Changing laws and policies is great. But who implements the change? Who ensures that the resources are there to support the change? That would be me and people like me- social workers, human service workers, social advocates- and we come in all shapes, colors, sizes, sexual preferences, religious backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and regional locations.

I am hopeful that my co-workers will start small and figure out what they each can do to make our work environment more equitable. How can we do a better job of reflecting in our staffing composition and policies that we truly understand and value the diverse experiences of the individuals that we serve? How can we show each other grace and understanding- ask questions when we don’t know, show our humanity at all times with one another? The new question- Why NOT Now? stands tall. To paraphrase the great Gil Scott Heron, the “revolution is being televised” so tune In, turn up the volume, pay attention, take notes, and starting living a life that’s congruent- back up your words with action.

"I Never Can Say Goodbye"

The look on her face says it all. You’re sitting there listening to whatever excuse is being shared about why this person can no longer continue a relationship with you. Your face looks like this because this isn’t the first, second or third time this person has had this conversation with you. In fact, you can’t remember how many times you’ve been sitting at the same proverbial table sipping the same bitter tea being served by someone who says they care for you. A question could be, “what’s wrong with this person that they can’t recognize how amazing I am and that they need me in their life?” But a better question is “why do I keep wasting my amazingness on someone who doesn’t recognize, appreciate or desire to be in it’s presence?”

Why is ending a relationship that no longer serves you so hard to do? Whether it be romantic, familial or platonic- why is it so hard to say goodbye? As a therapist, many of my clients come to process issues related to this very issue- deciding when to move on and then actually doing so. I always start with the things about the individual that attracted you to starting a relationship in the first place. What were you searching for in them? What need were you trying to get filled by inviting them in your life? We then move into discussing what was good about the relationship. Everything is not black and white and people are not good or bad. I utilize a strategy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that highlights the idea that someone can be both good and bad at the same time; or a situation is not just black or white, it can be grey. So reflecting on the good times is just as important as the times that weren’t so good. There was a reason this person was in your life and in that time frame good times were had. They should be recognized and appreciated.

You’ve finished reminiscing and now you’re sitting here with this load of rocks in your chest. You’re losing sleep, you’re engaging in a lot of self dialogue, self critique, self blame. You’re fighting the desire to obsessively call or post cryptic messages on Facebook or Instagram about how you “know your worth” etc. The red flags have been waving for some time and in your heart of hearts you know it’s time to move on. You see others in your life in similar situations, and in your sista-friend chats you hype your friend up with praise and tell them to move on. But then you go home and secretly check your phone to see if he, she, they have called or responded to the thousandth text you’ve sent. And then the social media stalking begins. I could go on but I won’t because I know you see me right now.

Unfortunately the reason it’s hard to move on is multi-faceted. Let’s start with what you can’t control- there are people in the world that you will encounter who will do hurtful things to you, take advantage of your good intentions, and break your heart. That is a fact that cannot be denied or avoided. They will come wrapped in pretty packages and many of them will absolutely deny any intentions to do the aforementioned things. To add a ray of hope to this dismal reality though is that often times those people send you some warning signs that they are of this breed. Whether it’s being untruthful, manipulative, inconsistent, lazy in the relationship, nonchalant, uninterested- they send you messages that they may not be on the same page as you about the goals of this relationship.

Why don’t we heed the warnings? This is where like a diamond, they are many facets to providing an answer. Some of this is in the category of what you can’t control. You can’t control that negative people are going to be drawn to your positive energy (I mean any 3rd grade science class will show you opposites attract). What you can control are your boundaries, your bottom lines and your deal breakers or standards you set for yourself about how you want to be treated and how you choose to treat others. You can also control your perspective about relationships. Sometimes we feel that our life will not go on if a relationship ends. But if we check the facts, it isn’t true. We do wake up the next day, a little sadder, eyes a little puffier- but we survive the night and every night thereafter.

Another reason we may not heed the warnings is because of what the ending of a relationship means to us. Do you take it as a reflection of a personal deficit if a relationship doesn’t work out? Or do you see it as a natural progression of a relationship; people being in your life for a time, season or reason. It’s hard not to turn the camera to selfie mode when a person gives you an ambiguous or bogus-feeling reason for why they are choosing to exit from your life and to question what it is about you that has caused them to run for the hills. I invite you to turn back to camera mode and take a panoramic view of the landscape. Look at the person, their patterns, the trail of bodies left in their wake. I think you’ll find that it’s less about you and more about them. But you know this already, you are telling yourself this as you dive into that second carton of Ben & Jerry’s, wiping your snotty nose on the sleeve of his, her, their sweatshirt they left at the house. Just because you know it, doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Let’s talk about the hurt. Part of the struggle to say goodbye is wanting to avoid how you’re feeling right now. The sadness, the disappointment ,the hurt, the weight that sits like a half digested burger from Cookout in your chest. No one like this feeling. NO ONE. But let’s sit with it for a moment. Often we try to rush through negative feelings because they are painful and we don’t give audience to the lessons they can teach us. Give yourself time to mourn and grieve the loss. Because it is a loss when a relationship ends- a loss of hope, future plans, dreams and desires. That deserves some time to breathe. It is unfair and you deserve the time and space to say so. Vent, cry, yell, feed your feelings- do what you need to do to get through the initial stage of hurt.

After you’ve had your moment- now is the time for reflection. Since you’ve provided space for your emotional release, you can look back over the relationship with a more logical and analytical eye. I like to use this metaphor with my clients and ask them if their life was like a movie, where would they rewind back to make a change or do something different. With a less emotional mind, you can analyze the relationship and notice moments where things could have been done differently. Why do this reflection? I already feel like crap, now I’m going to reflect on all the places where I messed up or didn’t recognize a warning sign? No. That’s not the purpose of this assignment. The logo for my private practice is a Sankofa- which is an Adinkra symbol that means “go back to the past and bring the lesson forward”. Reflecting on the course of the relationship is a useful tool to chart your course for future relationships. What red flags will you look out for. What potholes will you avoid. How will you assert your needs and boundaries differently.

This is a long post that basically says there’s not an easy way to end a relationship. It’s hard and its difficult for each of us for different reasons. One thing that is true for everyone is that it is hurtful to end a relationship with someone you care about. What is is also true is that the intensity of that hurt does not stay at the same level forever. Another truth is that relationships have both good and not so good moments. A final truth is that mourning the loss of the relationship is a necessary step to beginning the process of moving on from the relationship. Engage in self care. Surround yourself with relationships that are good for and to you. We can get stuck in a vacuum and lose sight of all the other great relationships that exist in our lives and are still here for us when a relationship ends. Process your emotion, then take the lesson and use it for your next relationship.

What Does Self-Care Really Look Like?

We hear about “Self-Care” all the time. It’s quite the buzz word in my profession. But was does it really look like? I mean for normal people… not the fitness gurus, or yoga lovers, or hikers, or people who can afford a week in Bali. I mean for the people who work 40+ hours, have a family, have responsibilities and operate at a persistent low grade level of just plain “T-I-R-E-D” everyday. That’s who this message is for.

I always thought self care was for the new age, crystal wearing, yoga loving crowd. However I have found that to be false. Self-care is for everyone and is possible at anytime. For me, yoga is not relaxing. It’s painful, I sweat, and I can barely get into any of the poses. Yoga is NOT my self-care routine. But I do love listening to a great song, or catching a Sonic happy hour and getting a lemon berry slush, or riding with my windows down, or taking my puppy for a walk, or cooking and eating a great meal, or taking a long hot shower, or painting my nails, or watching a great show, or sitting on my deck looking at the stars, lighting a candle, putting some of my friend’s homemade shea butter on my feet, having some belly laughs with friends, or just getting into bed early. The point is self-care is what makes you feel good and can be done whenever you need to change how you’re feeling or refill your spiritual tank. 

Think about your work day, we all have those moments that if “one more person asks me a question or sends me an email” they will receive the full experience of Black Girl Magic Gone Wrong. Perfect time for self-care. Step away from the desk, grab a snack or beverage, take a walk around the building, put your earbuds in and listen to a song that makes you feel good. That’s self-care. That’s putting your needs first. That’s listening to your body and mind and giving them the break they deserve. We can often feel that we are just “too busy” to stop for a few moments and do something for ourselves. Listen here, you might be too busy but eventually the universe is gonna make you stop and take care of yourself. I suggest you be proactive in this area and not let the universe take over on this one because though helpful she can be rather inconvenient. You don’t have to break all the way down to rock bottom in order to take care of yourself. Do little things along the way to keep the machine running smoothly. Self-care is possible and necessary- so do it!

Feeling Trapped? How Trauma Keeps You Stuck

There are several definitions of Trauma. The working definition I’ll use in this blog is that of an event that you experience as stressful that threatens your sense of safety and security. With this broad definition, many situations and experiences can fall under this umbrella. No matter what you have experienced the fact remains that the trauma but more importantly it’s impact can affect the quality of your life far past the incident itself.

In looking at your life to determine if you have experienced a trauma, don’t just focus on catastrophic events. Just because you didn’t survive an earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, a terrible car accident, or survive an abuse doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced a trauma and may still be impacted by its aftermath. Being Black in America is traumatizing. The ending of a relationship is a trauma. Being diagnosed with an illness is a trauma. Trauma and its effects can come at us in different shapes and sizes. What are the lingering effects of trauma? Let’s look at the physiological effects first.

Usually in a traumatic situation our survival instincts or our primitive brain kick in and take over to get us through. The primitive brain is the brain stem and controls functions basic to the survival of all animals, such as heart rate, breathing, digesting foods, and sleeping. This is our “fight or flight” system. When the primitive brain takes over to protect us it shuts down the frontal lobe of our brain where logic and reasoning reside and we run on pure instinct. We also experience an increase in chemicals such as Adrenaline and Cortisol which increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies as well as enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. These chemicals help us maneuver stressful and traumatic situations with our survival in mind. However, the dissipation of these chemicals from our system can take several days to weeks and can cause feelings of exhaustion and depression. If you think about this it makes sense. Think about the last stressful situation you found yourself in. You were able to get through it but afterwards you were exhausted. You may have slept for a long period after the event or felt depressed or irritable.

What are the psychological effects of trauma? It’s not objective circumstances that determine if an event is a trauma, but rather your subjective interpretation of the event. During and after a trauma you may experience: shock, denial, disbelief, confusion, anger, mood swings, anxiety and fear, guilt, shame, increased isolation, feeling sad or hopeless, or feeling numb. You may notice trouble sleeping; obsessing, edginess, restlessness, nightmares or vivid dreams, fatigue, or difficulty concentrating. A tendency is to downplay the significance of the event and the feelings you are having. You try to rationalize, explain away, compartmentalize, ignore or avoid addressing the fact that you have experienced a trauma and you’re not bouncing back like you thought you would. You minimize what you’ve experienced and tell yourself to “get over it and move on”- but you aren’t, you don’t, you can’t. It’s still with you, seeping all over areas of your life.

Why is it hard to accept the fact that we’ve been traumatized? Having our sense of security and safety threatened is a frightening experience. Whether our trauma is related to a financial, relational, health or environmental stressor- it’s scary when it happens and we don’t want to feel what we are feeling ever again. How do we prevent that from happening? By avoiding situations that could lead to that event happening again. If it was financial- then you might save every single penny you come by so you’ll never experience a financial stress again. If it was relational- you swear off relationships, build a wall and moat around your heart and keep people at your social distancing measurement. If it was health- you become a borderline hypochondriac, taking every supplement you can and following whatever health guru or fad is promising eternal health. Is this realistic? And what’s the impact on our quality of life? Is this the life you envision for yourself- living as a semi-hermit, heavily guarded and defended, afraid to take risks or pursue the uncalculated and unknown?

A step in decreasing the impact of trauma is to first acknowledge that you’ve been traumatized. As a therapist, I watch clients dance around their acknowledgment of their personal traumas trying to explaining an event in any other word than what it is- a TRAUMA. Validation and acknowledgment that something terrible happened to you, that was unfair, or undeserved is important. Acknowledging how out of control, scared, insecure, unsafe, vulnerable you felt during that event is crucial. Feeling vulnerable is such an exposed feeling kind of like the dream that you’re at school or work giving a presentation completely naked. It’s scary, it’s humiliating, it’s embarrassing, it’s shaming. Finding a safe place with people who will acknowledge and validate your experience and your feelings is important. Having someone look you in the eye and tell you that they are sorry that you experienced what you experienced and it wasn’t deserved and it wasn’t fair can be the exhale moment you need and the permission slip to drop the weight you’ve been carrying on your shoulders.

Acknowledgment and validation are the first steps to letting down your defenses and beginning to recovery from trauma. What’s the next step? Keep reading for Part 2: Recovery from Trauma- Getting Unstuck.