Healing is Not Linear
Few pieces of art stay with me beyond the brief time in which I gaze upon them. Part of the beauty of visual art, I think, is its ability to create a singular, complete experience within each viewer. The moment is perfectly whole. Art, then, does not need to follow you out of the room or away from the page to have an impact. There is one piece of art, however, that has stayed with me ever since I stumbled across it on social media more than a year ago. The artist, who goes by Frizz Kid, creates affirmation art covering everything from mental health to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In this particular piece, flowers bloom from a jagged rhythm strip, tumbling along its peaks and valleys, anchoring carefully scrawled letters spelling out the following phrase: "Healing is not linear."
Healing is not linear. I have attempted to learn this lesson many times in my short life. Despite my best efforts, every so often I am still crushed under the weight of old wounds. I am somehow always surprised. Recovery is like this. Mental health is like this. And, much as I wish it wasn't true, relationships are like this, too.
In this day and age, the personal is more political than ever. The people we choose to keep in our lives, or cut out of them, seem to matter more than they did in the past. I joke with my friends that I'm constantly assessing those around me as candidates for my Trumpocalypse team, a horribly realistic version of the valiant survival crews assembled in dystopian zombie movies, but there's a level of truth to my reckoning. I often wonder how many silent Trump supporters I've met, how many white people who believe the freedom fighters of Black Lives Matter constitute a terrorist organization, how many men who secretly hate women but would never breathe a word of it aloud. I recognize that it's a privilege to only feel this way now, that Black/indigenous/people of color have felt this way their entire lives. It's much too late, but I am finally taking stock, because everyone's safety depends on it.
I wonder which minds I can change, and who is worth the effort. I ask myself if this person cares, if that person will hold me accountable when I make mistakes, if those groups would show up when called. If someone shows me they are not committed to taking action to achieve collective liberation - the idea that, as Fannie Lou Hamer said, "Nobody's free until everybody's free" - then I must reevaluate their presence in my life. If I can work to bring them into the movement in a way that's healthy for me, then I do. If they're not interested, and especially if they actively participate in systems of oppression, then I leave them behind. That may sound harsh, but the stakes are high. The reality is that there are many people who will not change unless there is a social or material cost imposed upon them. If I sacrifice a few friendships for that price, then so be it.
Family, however, is a different matter. One's flesh and blood, for better or for worse, tends to occupy a different category of importance than friendship. Setting aside chosen family, which carries its own particular considerations and complexities, our blood relatives are supposed to be with us forever. We usually share our most important life experiences - birth, sacred ritual, death - with family. Family is granted a special legal and moral status, perhaps for good reason, yet that means that when a family member abdicates their responsibility to our wellbeing, we become unmoored. We each have the right to be healthy and safe, but shared genetics are no guarantee of that. What, then, can we do when faced with a family member who sabotages the world we're working so desperately to build? No number of chromosomes can safeguard us from that violence. Blood may be thicker than water, but as Panama Jackson writes, "Blood is not thicker than freedom and it's not thicker than safety. Sometimes blood is just that, blood." This is a painful truth.
It is this truth that, again and again, reminds me that healing is not linear. No matter how hard I try to maintain this relationship in a healthy way, something happens and I come undone. I try to gather enough of myself to reinforce the two of us: here is the curvature of our noses, our tall spines, our books, our pile of coffee mugs, our anxieties, our addictions, our stories. Here we are. You made me. My jagged heartbeat pumps your blood through my veins, uneven thuds battering my ribcage, telling me that this is how it always is. But is it enough?