But probably not for the reason you might think. Apparently standing up for something important has become trendy and viral. Like a catchy and/or questionable article title. Something that either has to trigger your red hot “I’m offended” button.” Or agreeable enough so you will actually click to see what it’s really about. It makes me nauseous.
Does hashtag activism even work? I have thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. Especially because I generally address issues that typically make people feel uncomfortable. Because of stigma. Not because it doesn’t belong in public discourse. So if you are one of those people that is easily offended or annoyed by someone else’s life experience, buckle up.
I am constantly facing the backlash of people who clearly do not want to hear about my “stuff.” Sorry if my sexual assault, mental illness, or addiction issues are crowding your safety bubble. But if your life experience thus far has harbored you from any one of the faux pas topics we don’t dare address in ordinary conversation, heads up my friend, because you are privileged. And the world needs your strength. Not your judgment.
I have spent nearly forty years struggling just to stay alive every. single. day. I’m not waxing philosophical here. I mean it. Literally. My brain visits the idea of death approximately once a day. Sometimes more. I am forced to beat it back with whatever emotional, physical or spiritual resources I have learned over years and years of therapy. And medication. And church. And love. And empathy. From the people in my life that matter. The one’s who give me a reason to keep breathing.
I am going to share a couple very pointed things now that might offend you. The catch? They are true. Whether it makes you “feel good” or not. It’s called transparency.
We live in a world where certain things are just not discussed. Ever. Several of these particular subjects now present as large, and I mean disturbingly gigantic, elephants in the metaphorical room of life. In fact, you can go just about anywhere these days and the world is being overrun by these invisible life sucking mammals. And regardless of sex, religion, financial status, race, age. No one is immune. I like to think my elephant is probably one of those severely malnourished and abused ones from the circus that just got loose and is now on the war path. You feel sorry for it but not sorry enough to stick around and help. Look out. I'm coming' for ya.
We don’t even have to be taught to avoid people like this. It’s a learned ideal. But not all ideals are appropriate or true. No matter what your family, school, society, church, environment might have led you to believe.
We live in a world now where within the click of a button a person can launch a social movement. A small flame instantly ignites into a raging fire. Consuming everything in it’s path. So if you are connected to social media, someone living in the path of this fast moving inferno, you cannot avoid the onslaught when the latest cause comes along. Whether you like it or not.
So you hop on. Cause it feels good. Feels right. You feel obligated. Congratulations. You are on the social justice train. Fighting for the oppressed, the weak, the needy, the underprivileged, the abused. That is, until the fire inevitably dies out. Then people move on. They don’t stick around amidst the rubble. The burnt out remnant of what once was a human life. Now just ashes. No one wants to live there or even hear about it. It’s not comfortable. Or convenient. And that is sacrosanct in our modern world. Everything and all things ME.
You are not required to share your pain just because status quo says it’s ok for the next 72 hours. It is yours. Yours alone. To share IF and WHEN you want or need.
Most people don’t have room in there “me space” for the dying and the desperate for the long term. And this is why no one openly or comfortably talks about their stuff. Their baggage. Instead we have created dark, quiet rooms for this sort of thing. Places where we are reduced to outright denial or whispering our truths because no one really wants our demons to be brought into the light. Heard in public. That would wreck everyone’s zen.
News flash. The light is the ONLY place that these demons can be addressed and destroyed. Not just in therapy sessions and small back rooms of churches and community centers on a week night where all the other weirdos gather for bad coffee. A place where all the afflicted gather together because everyone knows that if you have “stuff” then you are contaminated. And what do we do with the contaminated? We quarantine them.
Every single time someone is assaulted, murdered, commits suicide, makes the news for whatever their given elephant is, there is a brief moment when we all gasp in horror. Then comes all the but hows, the whys, and what could we have dones. The trumpet sounds and we charge ahead with our hotline numbers and hashtags. A window opens for the briefest of moments to let the breeze of justice and empathy in to fall on the forgotten. And I believe this wave of sentiment is genuine. Just not enough to breach the main stream.
Here’s what we really need.
START TALKING. About all of the things. Not just the stuff you are comfortable with. Make contact. With other human beings. Make room for other people’s elephants. Start with the people in your life. Ask questions. Do whatever you have to to start making your safe space a safe space for others too. Not just inadvertently a place that is, in actuality, detrimental to those that need safety the most. Be part of something that actually has the power to be effective in reducing the horrors of this world.
Talk about depression. Medication. Therapy. Disorders. Suicide. Addiction. Rape. Whether it be yours or someone else’s. Because we increase the power of stigma and it’s ability to harm when we decide we have no control over it. That is a LIE.
START LISTENING. Without condition. Make your life a place where others feel accepted. Heard. Don’t let the silence become awkward. But really listen. Let the words and experiences of others saturate the air around you. Don't interrupt, or blame the victim, or make it about something else (diversion), or make it about you. Let it make you more understanding. Empathetic. A decent human being.
Do it openly. In public places. Make it normal. Like any other illness or cause. Because by not being open and honest and dragging this crap into the open where it can air out and be conquered, we keep trying to shove our dirty stuff of life in closets and then wondering why it smells like shit when someone opens the door.
THAT IS STIGMA.
And probably why we all have that one unmedicated Aunt that turns every family holiday gathering into an episode of Jerry Springer where the cops get called before the pie is served. #fixherjesus
I refuse to live in that place. To be ashamed or tied down to any of the things that afflict me. Or others. They do not make me who I am. They are just symptoms of a difficult life. And I cannot be ashamed of things that I did not ask for. And neither should you.
So if you truly care and want to see an end to the rape, or suicide, or a family member going to rehab for the 8th time, you have to make room for ALL the rapes. ALL the suicides. ALL the addictions. ALL of the icky. Not because the world expects you to fix it. But because the world needs you to make room for it so these people can heal.
Don’t just tweet, hashtag, or post a hotline number. That’s like handing a bandaid to someone who has lost a limb. Wanna really make a difference? Let the discourse begin. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of weakness because it is really just unharnessed potential.
And then maybe teens and veterans wouldn’t be killing themselves in disturbing number, men would not be so indifferent to sexual harassment and the general objectification of women (the birthing ground for rapists and pedophiles), addicts and the mentally ill would actually begin to receive the care they both need and deserve so they don’t turn into criminals.
And by the way, if you don’t mind locker room talk but don’t want to hear about the time I was assaulted, you might be an asshole. But I still love you.
This is why I adore Jesus. He has room for all my drama. He dedicated himself to brutal honesty. To making himself available to ALL. To spending time with the labelled and marginalized. He made contact. He talked to people, regardless of their stuff. And he praised those that would do the same. Live an honest and empathetic life. He lead with love and truth. And he didn’t whisper his message. Maybe it’s time we did the same.
So if you have endured a critical incident, suffer from any form of mental illness or addiction, or are one of the hurting in this world, I see you. And I want to hear you because there is room. And not just at church or in a dark room. I am with you in the public domain. Because I am not afraid of your pain. Your loss and heart ache in life is NOT a passing trend. What has happened to you should not be a hash tag.
I was attacked by a naked man in a mask in 1997. See? That’s how it’s done. I can say it now without batting an eyelash. It nearly destroyed my life back then. But not anymore. Because I have learned to talk about it. And that act alone has healed and restored so much of what I thought I lost. Because I refuse to allow any part of that day or that act to define who I am. I am more. And ladies, I want you to know that your are more too. Your courage in sharing is beautiful and courageous. Just remember though, you are more than your experience being reduced to a passing trend.
Share THIS with the people you love.