Healing Cycles of Harm: Releasing the Hot Stone
The following is a preface for RooT’s (Reclaiming Our Own Transcendence) Healing Cycles of Harm workshop guide to be made open source late 2019. The workshop and guide offer those who have caused mental, emotional, and physical harm a supportive, culturally relevant, and collaborative healing space, using psycho-education, somatic awareness, and art healing approaches, as working tools.
For most of my upbringing, I was never allowed to feel grief. I was never allowed to feel disappointment. I was never allowed to enjoy happiness without it being laced with guilt. You see, growing up in a household where violence is all you know, you then begin to have to use tools that allow you to survive in an environment that condones toxic behaviors.
I suppressed my emotions, except for anger. At the time, anger felt like it validated me. It held me close and kept me warm with hot words that ignited my emotions of pain. Anger became my weapon while surviving in a world where burning others along your path was better than showing any signs of weakness. Anger was all I knew and all I’ve become.
For me, anger was this hot stone that I was holding with my bare hands, ready to throw towards anything that was coming my way. I held it with all my pain and with all my pride, yet I failed to realize it was burning me more than it was protecting me.
I then realized that living this way wasn’t emotionally, physically, or spiritually sustainable for me. Toxic behaviors and anger helped me survive in the past, but now they were slowly deteriorating me and those around me. Attending this workshop really allowed me to safely explore things like grief, compassion, and accountability. It allowed me to look at the root cause of interpersonal violence, take a holistic approach on the ways I can heal myself, and take action on what accountability looks like. For me, compassion opened the door to having a conversation with myself and say things like, “you did the best you could,” which gave me strength to let go of this hot stone and begin healing the wound, my wound.
-Sal Tran, former Healing Cycles of Harm Participant, Fall 2019 Co-Facilitator
Liberation is scary. One of the biggest blocks to receiving blessings and healing is an awareness that anything we gain gets taken away, because it has happened. We live in a world that practices punitive action by taking things away. Whole communities organize and fight to acquire rights, protection, basic needs, and rightful recognition which get taken away by those with more resources and power. We carry this practice in our relationships. When someone fucks up or doesn’t give us what we want or what’s important to us (outside of upholding healthy boundaries) we take away our time, our transparency, our compassion, or shared resources as forms of punishment. We do this with ourselves. We remove ourselves from the people and places that bring us joy and affirm our identities, we stop doing the things we love, we stop aspiring and become stagnant in our own shame and self-harm. Mia Mingus, transformative justice activist and disability rights activist, reminds us that “Normalizing abusive relationships with ourselves helps to normalize a culture of abuse at large. It lays the groundwork for harmful and toxic relationships and sets a heartbreaking model for any children or youth in your life who are always watching and learning from you.” We say we want to heal, practice self-care, engage in healthy patterns of relating, but once the work is in front of us, fears surface that hold many of us from engaging in the work:
What if I find out I’m a more horrible person than I actually think I am? What if I don’t deserve to be happy?
What if I let go of my trauma? Who will I become? What if I can’t feel as strongly without it?
What if I engage in all of this hard work and I don’t end up getting who or what I want?What if I access healing and get hurt again? What if I backtrack on my journey? What if I fail?
What if I become someone my family, friends, or colleagues don’t like?
What if “new me” doesn’t suit my work or social environment? What if I lose respect from others?
A huge part of this accountability work is actually learning how to loosen our grip in order to heal. To function and relate from a healing mindset can be scary when all that has been familiar to us, all that has held our world, our households, work places, relationships with ourselves and others, has been wrapped up in violent and toxic ideologies we’ve taken for granted for generations. bell hooks reminds us how many of us learn how to accept abuse in order to receive some version of love (“Feminist Movement to End Violence,” Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center). Letting go of our attachments to abusive patterns might mean letting go of the ways we currently accept love, which is scary when it is the only form of love we’ve known how to access.
For those of us who are seeking healing, we’ve likely reached a saturated point of clearly observing how materially and tangibly toxicity has affected and lived through us. The terrifying clarity of finally feeling the connection between our lack of contact with our core selves and the harmful choices we’ve made bring us to a sense of urgency. We’re DONE with living in this contradictory state of existence. We hit rock bottom, we’ve decide we’re done hurting, hurting ourselves, hurting others, enabling hurt. We feel and sense our lack of contact with our own and others’ humanity. We don’t want to keep living at the surface level of our lives. Anything better than continuing to live in cycles of harm, even when that life is not yet clear, is worth the loss of rewards, perceived or real, that come from toxic engagements. We’ve realized how much time and attention cycles of harm have stolen from our ability to live in our integrity, from our ability to live in the present, from our capacity to experience deeper ways of giving and receiving genuine care, love, and recognition. Only the individual knows if and when we’ve reached this point of readiness, and release our grasp on the hot stone Sal Tran describes.
This work is collective work, though self-paced. We share what feels safe to us while encouraging each other to be curious about our discomforts. It is work where we can reimagine, recreate, and test new ways of relating to each other and ourselves as we uncover and nourish the parts of ourselves that exist beneath our histories of recurring traumas. This work is grieving work. We become faced with a resistance from within us to change and a resistance from those close to us who, with words and action, communicate discomfort with our new ways of engaging with ourselves and others. We can’t control others’ responses to our changes but we can adhere to our own commitment to healing. While this work aims to build a collective culture of consent, accountability, and compassion, it will not keep others or institutions from exploiting us, marginalizing us, attacking us, or being unaccountable to us as they refrain from doing their own work. It is up to us to create the world we want to live in by starting within ourselves and in our private spaces. Yes our healing presence can be a resource to others and our modeling might ignite others to see themselves and others a little differently, but we cannot even make this possible if we’re not continually committed to our own liberation or if that so-called liberation is purely performative.
As facilitators of this workshop, one important recurring reminder is that this work is ongoing for us, too. Our own trigger responses, urges to control, and forms of avoidance surface. Healing is constant, especially in a world that does everything in its capacity to resist it, devalue it, and capitalize on our lack of it. There is no room in this work for someone who thinks they have reached some level of quintessential embodiment of healing. We learn with folks who are actively doing the work. Facilitating this work keeps us honest. Keeps us committed to our own work. This is accountability work for both participants and facilitators. The first person is intentional in this work. The clearer we are about our ongoing commitment, the more we are able to offer ourselves and those we build with.
Though this work is hard work, it isn’t a doom or form of punishment. The fears we perceive as losses in the midst of this work transform into gains:
I realize the harm I have done and the harm that has been done to me do not define me.
I have the courage to release my attachments to toxic dynamics with myself and others so that I can open up capacity for healthy dynamics. I have much more to offer and gain from a healthy existence.
I have a new set of tools I can use when life throws punches at me. I know how to overcome challenges without harming myself or others.
I understand that I’m both whole and imperfect. I’m not broken. The more I learn to love the parts of myself that have experienced harm, the more I can respond to others’ imperfections and humanness with compassion.
I release my grip on familiar patterns of toxicity and reclaim the present, who I am, and who I choose to become.
This work is hard but also creates space for abundance. It creates space for us to redefine for ourselves, and with those we love, what wealth is. This work creates possibility for more and deeper joy by uninviting a culture of violence into our interpersonal spaces. This work gives us the opportunity to define ourselves outside of the victim/aggressor dichotomy, while being accountable for the harm we cause. It centers self-care as resource building practice and a form of resistance. It disrupts top-down approaches to healing and highlights the assets each person in the workshop has to contribute. It is necessarily fluid work with space for individual and collective revision. This work belongs to those who are done with engaging in cycles of harm, are ready to face the imperfect work of being done, and want everything to gain from getting better at being done.
Rosa Cabrera, Founder of RooT (Reclaiming Our Own Transcendence)