School work - 1946

Self-examination with a weighty purpose

I am white and female. I am privileged. I am Oklahoman. I am American. I come from a place where the past is uncomfortable, painful, shameful, and unspoken. The traditions I come from rely on compartmentalization and denial. The culture taught to me was to cover feelings, to move on to move forward. I have a lot of Work to do.

The Work: the Work is mine. I have to figure it out. No one can tell me what to do for the Work, but they can help me find it. They can help me know myself, articulate my intrinsic knowledge. I find the Work when I find hard truths- the parts of myself and my history that make me cry or shake or freeze or swallow hard. When I identify these places, I have found what I must confront. These are aspects of myself that are scary for me to venture into, but they are same areas that, if not reconciled, make me dangerous and harmful to others. 

What sort of frightening messages do these truths hold (and how do I know when I am close to them)? They tell me I am stupid and wrong (I convince myself I am right). They tell me I am weak and vulnerable (I make myself impenetrable). They tell me I am not good enough (I think, at least I’m better than you). They tell me I am unworthy of love (I project that on to you, too).

It takes courage to do the work of breaking through defenses that I put up to then do even more work on repairing parts of myself that hurt. In the past, I surely tried to breeze by these painful parts of my life or my mind. Maybe I drank. Maybe I shopped. Maybe I busied myself. Maybe I moved away. Maybe I found someone to love me. Maybe I blamed them when the pain resurfaced. Maybe I didn’t want to face it, and I kept reaching outside for something or someone to heal me.

Now is the time to do the Work. My country, my culture, my workplace, and my family are shifting. Hidden internal conflicts are coming to a head all around us.

Collectively, we have to resolve years of festering neglect to our interconnected social and environmental systems. We have to find a way to reshape our world so that we can, quite literally, survive. COVID-19, racism and prejudice, and climate change are threats to us all. Our social structure, our collective uncomfortable history and painful truths must be confronted in order to move forward. To do this, we need brutal honesty and humility at the individual level. I have to do my WORK.

I, along with the rest, am called on to do the Work. As one causing harm, I am called on to do disproportionately more of the heavy lifting. I have to. It can only be done by me, because it is my heart, my mind, and my actions that have to change. It doesn’t mean anything if I try to get the answers from someone else. Deep down, I know what I have to do, or at least where I have to start.

You have to stay focused on the work…Y’all know what the work is. If someone has to tell you what the work is, then you don’t want to know what the work is. Then you don’t want to do the work. You know what the work is. Anybody who wants to do anything knows exactly what the work is. And if you don’t know what the work is, find out. It’s easy to find it out.  -Billy Porter

This however, does not mean that I don’t have support as I go through this journey. I am doing my Work while those around me are doing theirs. Others share their stories, and I share mine, and we learn from one another. I have my therapist, friends, family, teachers, and mentors to help. They help me work through sticking points. They help me say the unsayable, and then it becomes less scary. They help me trade my harmful habits for healthy ones. They help me understand that I am worthy, that I am lovable even with flaws, and that I can overcome my mistakes.

This journey may seem like it is dwelling in the past and stirring up trouble. But it is nothing compared to the prolonged anguish of doing nothing. Of always looking around for a magical antidote for mental unrest. Of feeling shame and guilt in the most unlikely of places. This Work is for me. It is for others. This Work is worth it.