Sade LaNay is a poet from Houston, TX and graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. They are the author of Härte (Downstate Legacies) self portrait (Birds of Lace) Dream Machine (co•im•press) and the forthcoming I love you and I’m not dead (Argos Books). I am so happy to have them here sharing their words. LaTonya
The process of finishing my fourth collection of poetry allowed me to see the abuse I experienced in childhood with more language and openness than I had at my disposal in my twenties and adolescence. Using my creativity and intellect to dissect and reckon with the complexities of that trauma is a never-ending labor. In my case, I developed a complex PTSD from an absence of nurture, repeated sexual violence, and physical and emotional abuse spanning the duration of my childhood and into my early adulthood. This trauma recovery compounds with the labor required to navigate an endangered capitalist landscape as a fat Black femme with invisible chronic illnesses.
At 32, I have spent the bulk of my life as a captive of or a fugitive from my trauma, prioritizing a frantic escape through academic achievement, hoping it would act as a cure-all. The double consciousness is frustrating: I am at once the vulnerable child who has been harmed and the overwhelmed adult who is responsible for the care and wellbeing of that child. As a child I lived in a dissociative state. I cannot parent myself affectively using the same coping mechanisms that helped me survive my childhood. Still alive–check. Bones unbroken–check. Same amount of teeth as yesterday–good job. Depressed? Let’s lie in bed and eat candy until our problems disappear! Recovery is not glamorous, and I will use anything as a distraction. I’ve avoided the work that parenting myself requires because I feel afraid of making mistakes and convinced I do not know what I am doing.
I never noticed how hard I was on myself until I actually began self-parenting. Watching my friends parent their children, I see that parents protect, support, encourage, and celebrate their children. They never treat their children the way my mother treated me or talk to their children the way I talk to myself. They are gentle. They listen and take an interest. They provide safety and structure, model accountability and boundaries. Self-parenting is demanding. I feel ill-prepared. I feel like I need too much. But I also know that those feelings are the lingering trauma. Rejecting myself, neglecting my own needs, and engaging in negative self-talk all keep me locked in the pattern of abuse from which I want to break free. Parenting myself is an opportunity to love, accept, and care for myself consistently. I do not have to carry myself like a burden. I can receive myself as a blessing.
Above all, I want to show up for myself. Everyday. I want to pay attention to myself without feeling the need to pick myself apart. Allow and teach myself to rest, to be nourished, to be free. And while I’m still at the beginning of this journey with myself, where my self-trust is tenuous, I’m determined to see it through. I’ve avoided the work of recovery because I was acting from the distorted belief that I was not worth the effort, that other people’s needs and feelings matter more than I do. Now I know how inaccurate those beliefs are. I want the child that I was/am to know that they are safe, that their feelings are valid, that they are lovable because of who they are and not what they can do. Even if only to myself, I am worth the effort, I am worth healing.
(Photograph by Subway Hands via The Cut)
Thank you for reading, Michelle! Loved having her share her insight, and feel like so many women (including myself) needed to read it.
Great post. Sade’s clarity is extraordinary and admirable. “I want the child that I was/am to know that they are safe, that their feelings are valid, that they are lovable”. Such a good perspective!
Thank you for reading. I was thinking the same thing. Loving her perspective and words.