Updated: Dec 11, 2019
I’m surprised by how hard it’s been for me to get these words out. At the thought of sharing my process with the world, all of the usual fears crept in. What if my thoughts aren’t clear enough? What if I offend someone? What if I’m wrong? Ya sabes. You may have a peanut gallery of your own, the committee that never has anything positive to say and tells you that you might as well not try. I once heard it called the Itty Bitie Shittie Committee, IBSC for short.
One day, a friend asked me, “Lila, if you had no fear and could not fail what would you do?” The IBSC and I had just met, listed all the things that were not up to par in my life- my fears around making decisions, backed up by feelings of powerlessness. I was exhausted with feeling tokenized in my work life, a predominantly white and privileged Reproductive Health and Justice movement. I took a deep breath (hadn’t realized I’d been holding it in) and sighed. Not this. No, if that was really the case, I would not be doing THIS kind of life, I thought.
It was an AHA! moment. A health educator of women and girls, I forced myself to stay in an oppressive work environment for the sake of “a cause”. Underlying was a belief that this was as good as I could expect it to be, to the point of allowing the work to overshadow my own health and well-being. And double the irony, while I worked for a leading national organization whose mission was to improve women’s health; it did not internally practice its mission and upheld a culture that felt manic and abusive that left me feeling worn out and twisted. Nothing added up.
If I had no fear and could not fail, I would not be doing this. I left my job.
But it wasn’t like I really knew where I wanted to go or do. I was sure I had done right by me but felt too traumatized to jump back into other non-profit or service-based work. For the first time since my first job at McDonald’s at 16, I took some time off and prioritized my healing. I phased through stages of anger, loss, shame, doubt, isolation. Fearing what my family, some of whom had migrated to the US in search of the American dream, would think of my decision. Why give up a stable career? What kind of work will you do next? I was ashamed to tell my mom about my decision. She had worked her ass off to make sure that I had access to an education and good quality of life. Would this seem wasteful to her?
I still remember that call with Mami. When I broke down my frustration and dis-ease. She listened silently as I poured out my feelings of loss and abuse, how the white privilege of the organization’s leadership left me with no space to do my heart’s work, how the inequity in our organization left me feeling frustrated, voiceless and used. My mother, who all of her American life worked 2-3 jobs simultaneously, forced to work under many different types of abusive and inhumane conditions with no negotiating power, told me:
“Mami, you did the right thing and I am proud of you. Recuerda, el sol sale para todos. The sun rises for everyone.”
Her words reminded me that I was just as much human and valuable as the next person. Recuerda, slavery has been over, and you are la esperanza of ancestors who fought to make it so. Remember, tienes todo el derecho to access dignity, balance, and wellbeing, never allow anyone or any work to get in the way of that. With her words, Mami reminded me of who I am, me libero!
Later that week Mami had a stroke and then another the week after that. Left was a shadow of her consciousness, disconnected from her body. I flew down to Miami to be with her and over the next three months, we healed together. We each had refined our methods for self-avoidance using coping mechanisms like food and work. But we couldn’t keep looking away, it was clear that the time had come for both of us to look at ourselves and exercise our right to wellbeing and balance. Providing each other safety, we learned to sit and reconnect with our bodies.
Our healing process pushed us into self-exploration. I came to learn that underlying all of our habits was a misconception that the space inside of us was not safe and should be left alone. In meditation and prayers, I visited the rooms of my subconscious and cleared out the cobwebs of my memory. I had stuffed abuse inside drawers, hidden shame in my dollhouse, closeted my self-hatred. I found the baby girl inside of me, she had been hiding underneath the covers and I promised that I would do a better job of nurturing her needs.
This process allowed me to open myself back up to my mother’s love. I was able to let go of the anger I had felt towards her for not being able to be around, forgave her and myself for the sexual abuse that I was vulnerable to while she was away at work. Come dice Dr. Maya Angelou, love liberates. I came back from my exploration feeling affirmed that there is a safe space inside of me that I can always sit in when the world around me feels unkind and unwelcoming.
So what does this mean for the Lila at work and in reproductive health and justice spaces, who has felt like she has to conform and contort to meet the expectations of a limited world around her? I was aware now, that I did not need to compartmentalize myself anymore. I started to recognize that my truth was real and powerful and that I have every right to do and create the kind of work that allows me to show up as my whole self.
And since I know the truth now, that the sun rises for everyone and that I am a liberated manifestation of my ancestors, I dare to really ask myself, “What would I do sin el temor?”
I would rise above it all.
I would rise above the oppression, the bullshit politics, the limitations placed on me by oppressors (sometimes disguised as our allies). I would reconnect with myself and stay there. I would prioritize my health above all else. I would allow my curiosity and awareness to guide my life’s work. I would reject the limiting archetypes and identities and relate to the world on my terms. I would re-imagine a world full of springtime and hope, where love and respect for the human being is abundant. Where creativity and imagination are encouraged, where people are free to critically think for themselves and speak their minds outside of the talking points. I would do work that honors my ancestry and experiences and allow myself to be and become with each breath along my way.
And how cool is it that I get to spend the rest of my life doing just that in deep self-exploration? No amount of racism and privilege can take that away from me. I continue to choose to spend my days traveling the curves of my universe and imagining the spaces I will stretch into. No matter where and how I choose to do this, the simple truth is that remembering who I truly am is my life’s work, and that’s a cause I feel safe and liberated to join.
I hope you will think about joining me as we use our wellness and imaginations as tools for resistance.
Lila has devoted her work to reproductive and sexual health education and justice. Based in New Orleans, Lila works as an educator, writer, doula, and yoga teacher.
Originally from the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, her life’s journey, like yours, has crossed many roads and she spends a lot of time thinking about a) how'd I end up here? and b) what was my motivation for the decisions I’ve made along the way.
Ever since she can remember, Lila's been in deep self-exploration. "I travel the curves of my universe and imagine the spaces that I will stretch into. I am a wildflower, a futurist, a non-conformist--using my imagination as a tool for resisting the dominant “normal” and applying lessons learned about my unique truths to my health practice. Remembering who I am is my life's work." -li
Li's escrituras dabble in personalized storytelling, mind-mapping, free-flowing mixed-media and use of different languages. Her work leans towards the poetic, fantastical, and quirky. You can check out Lila's musings at Travelingcurves.com and on the gram @ /lila.arnaud