I have been thinking a lot about the intersection of sobriety and social justice. Seven and a half years into this journey of recovery, I know I could not do any of this work in the world without my sobriety. It comes first, and I must protect it at all costs.
I feel like so many of my friends and others in the world are waking up right now. To be sober is to be awake. You wake up on that first morning after your last drink or drug, and you look around with bleary eyes. “This can’t be right? Is this what the world really is like?” You are slow and sluggish. You are hungry for knowledge and a way forward, but you tire quickly and need rest. Your energy is frantic and fleeting, but when you’re in the midst of it you barrel through trying to fix everything that is broken. You look back at who you were yesterday and all the days before that and feel such guilt. Such shame. You want to make amends. You want to beg for forgiveness.
That time will come. But I learned very early on in my journey that the best way for me to atone is through living amends. I do this by waking up every day and living my life in a way that allows me to make amends to those I’ve hurt. My service-focused life is an amends to the people I love.
In his book, “How to Be An Anti-Racist,” Ibram X. Kendi talks about how being anti-racist is a lot like recovering from addiction. You have to do it one day at a time. You have to wake up each day and say, “what will I do to stay sober today and what will I do to be anti-racist today.” And you don’t do it once, but every day, sometimes every hour. You won’t be perfect and it will be hard, but you have to keep going.
In recovery rooms we have a saying: Once you’ve become a pickle, you can’t turn back into a cucumber.
In terms of sobriety, this means once you realize you have a substance abuse problem, you can’t go back to being a “normal drinker.” You will always feel that guilt in the pit of your stomach if/when you drink again, even if it’s just a glass of wine with dinner. I’ve been lucky that relapse has not been a part of my story, but I’ve heard from enough friends in recovery to know it’s not pleasant.
When it comes to social justice, the same saying applies. Now that you see the systemic and racist system around you, you cannot unsee it. Life will never “go back to normal.” It shouldn’t. If this is your first step, you may not realize it yet. But you are forever changed. You are newly sober in this world.
Do you sit in the guilt and shame of being a part of this system? Do you keep drinking the poison that won’t only kill your light, but also entire communities? Or do you actively recover? Do you dig deep and find the courage to make change?
The choice is yours. Have courage. Make the right one.
I am incredibly grateful the organizers of this event asked me to speak. I have been struggling with how to use my voice in this time in our country. As someone who has been involved in social justice for many years and has never been one to stay silent, the last few weeks have been a reminder to me of the importance of stepping back and listening. I am sometimes asked why I haven’t run for political office yet, and often my response has been “I don’t think our community needs another privileged White lady telling them what they need, I’d much rather support a female candidate of color.” I felt the last thing that these amazing, impactful protests needed was another cis-gender, straight, suburban, White women saying anything. But when the leaders of the Social Justice March for Educators reached out, they told me how important it was to them for us to speak out and speak the truth. They told me how impactful it would be to have someone who isn’t a minority speak up for Black students, teachers and families in our District. And while I do not want to center myself (I have much work to do), I hope seeing this will inspire some of my White friends to do the same. Maybe you don’t need to be speaking out in front of a crowd at the microphone, but speaking out in your own circles…to friends, to your kids, to family, at work. We won’t be perfect. You might say the wrong thing. You may get called out by a Black friend or colleague because you screwed up. I screw up all the time. That’s when you say, “thank you for teaching me, I will continue learning and will do better next time.” Then you take the time and initiative to learn, so you can be better and keep speaking out.
But not saying anything because you’re scared…it’s not good enough. We have work to do. As an educator said yesterday, now is the time to use your outdoor voices.
Special thanks to the organizers of this event, particularly Dr. Janet Carter who invited us to speak. It was an honor and I am so, so grateful.
Happy 14th birthday, my beautiful girl! I know this birthday isn’t exactly what you were hoping when you thought about turning 14. I mean, for one, I’m sure you didn’t imagine you’d be a few months deep into a quarantine due to a global pandemic? But here we are.
It’s hard for me to even look back on your 14th year on this planet without getting stuck in the pandemic section…we have remarked that February feels like a hundred years ago. But there was a whole 10 months of your year before coronavirus stopped the world, and they were a good 10 months. You really grew into yourself at school and with your friends, and I have loved being able to watch from the sidelines. Because that’s what it’s like being a parent to a middle schooler…a lot of watching from the sidelines, while telling yourself to sit down and stop cheering so loudly because you are so embarrassing OMG.
You learned to snowboard, got your braces off, dyed your hair red, went to two sleep-away camps, and generally became a young adult before our eyes. It is extremely weird to go back through photos from last summer and see how much you have changed. I thought the big, dramatic, yearly growth stopped after kids turned 4 or 5, but the amount you have grown (physically, emotionally, mentally) in the past year is just completely bonkers. That’s not to say we haven’t had challenges, because we definitely have, but the good times far outweigh the more difficult times. And every hard time has been worth the lessons learned, even when it didn’t feel like it in the moment.
Then the pandemic hit. And my girl, I have never been so proud of you. In the span of a few weeks, your entire life changed. You lost every sense of normalcy, your schedule, your friends and your school. You went from a busy teenager with daily play rehearsals, homework, skating lessons, and lots of time with your peers, to being sequestered in our house with your parents and little brother. You were right on the cusp of independence, getting dropped off for activities, staying out later, meeting up with buddies on your own with no parents involved…and then it all ended. School? Cancelled. The school play? Cancelled. Skating? Cancelled.
I am so proud of how you have handled this season of disappointment. The silver lining of this dumb pandemic has been watching you get back to some of the basics of childhood that were squarely in the rearview mirror prior to the quarantine. You head to the park and the creek with your brother, you play board games with us, you hang out for movie night. You ride scooters down the street as fast as you can. You put together an entire Hogwarts Lego set.
Unfortunately, I feel like this season of our life is going to be weird for a while (if only people would just wear their damn masks!), but I know that you will handle it with grace, laughter and joy. Of course, there will continue to be hard moments. There will be times that you can’t stand to look at us anymore, and you yell that you need privacy. There will be times that you put in your headphones and refuse to talk to us at all. There will be days where you slam the door on your little brother and scream at him to leave you alone. I get it. But I also know you. And if there is anything that is constant, it’s that you, my Lulu Light, will always find something to smile about.
If I’m going to be stuck in quarantine for a while longer, I sure am glad it’s with you.