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Silence Is A Cancer

The thing about pain is that it is universal. It lives inside of us – grief cohabiting with joy, unrest nestling with peace. We can’t escape it but we spend all of our energy trying to surpress it. Sometimes it lets up and joy wins for a time; and sometimes it spreads like a wildfire, consuming everything good.

The thing about me is that I’m a silent sufferer. The more intense the pain, the quieter I become, until I forget how to use my words to ask for help.

I’ve always been crazy about justice, wanting to make sure everyone gets what they deserve. It made me a little unforgiving as a child, and emotionally stunted as an adult living in a broken world. But thank the Lord that mercy triumphs over judgment. I don’t know when it started, but somehow – not by my own might – I began choosing mercy rather than judgment. And now, I’m the girl who can’t bring herself to hate a mass murderer; the girl who can’t bring herself to write a Facebook status about how she doesn’t understand how messed up and evil a person would have to be to kill dozens of people; the girl who feels overwhelming sympathy for the people we label as devils.

You know why? Cause I understand that we’re all in pain. We don’t admit it – I don’t admit it – until it eats away at all our healthy flesh and consumes us from the inside out. Everyone starts off thinking that they’re strong enough to be better than the next person. I’ll never cheat on my husband. I’ll never get to the point where picking up a gun and pointing it at someone is my release. I could never engage in non-consensual sex with a woman. We all start there, but we’re all in pain. And if we don’t choose to find our words and ask for help, if we don’t stop perpetuating this myth that suffering in silence is being strong, if we don’t let each other feel and grieve and mourn and break – we will all end up killing the good things around us too.

I can’t hate a mass murderer because his pain is not foreign to me. I can only imagine that they are silent sufferers too – ones who were told that to be strong is to wear a perma-smile and act like everything’s fine, until it’s not. Sure, I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t even know how. But I’ve at times gotten so deeply lost in my own pain that I begin to lash out at the people around me, even the people who love me. In an effort to find a reprieve, I’ve killed good friendships, hurt good men, used my tongue to lacerate my loved ones, and walked away from people who needed me. Sure, it doesn’t get the position of honor on the 9 o’clock news, but I have left my own trail of wounded, hurting people in my frantic attempt to stop my heart from hurting so much.

I’ve had my own share of trauma and abuse and heartache. And I spent years hating the inflicters of my pain until I realized that they are just as broken as I am. No, that doesn’t excuse what they did or give them any right to repeat it again. But it helps me not to demonize them, because only broken people hurt other people. And we’re all broken in various places.

So I can’t hate them. I will never condone the acts of evil they carry out in their own quest for peace, and I will never underestimate the agony the hearts of those directly affected have to endure. What I will do is remember my own brokenness, and that I am only one step away from their hell. That step is graceful surrender. The only thing that will keep me from being a cheating wife or an abusive mother or a mass murderer is the choice to not rely on my own ability to be good and do what’s right, but instead to make an honest confession that I’m broken and I’m in pain and Jesus’ grace is the only reason why I don’t go out and try to break other people. And that surrender, that choice, needs to happen moment by moment, not one time long ago in the back pew of your parents’ church.

Let’s celebrate together the joy and beauty we discover amidst the filth in this world. But let us also embrace the pain and stop telling each other to be “strong” and suck it up and pretend like we’re fine. Strength is found in raw honesty, in beautiful vulnerability. Don’t entrust your heart to people who tell you that breaking is a sign of weakness, or that feelings are for little girls. Even Jesus wept. If we don’t start breaking on a regular basis, we’re all going to be walking around with emotional tumors that can rupture at any moment.

I’m no better than that guy on the news, and neither are you. We’re all in pain. There’s a time to laugh and dance and sing, and there’s a time to break. If we don’t let ourselves break, we end up breaking others. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break.

***The best gift I’ve ever given myself is going to counseling. No, it’s not for the “crazies” – it’s for everyone who breathes. Yes, it can be expensive and intimidating. But I’d rather starve for a few days every couple of weeks than remain emotionally stunted. Recommend is not a strong enough word for the situation, but if you need a safe place to break and it is in your power to do it, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing a counselor. Your heart will thank you a million times.***

The Girl With The Fro

I went natural a little over a month ago. Being natural, for my non kinky-haired readers, simply means letting your hair exist free of chemical straighteners (also known as relaxers) and other such processes to alter its original texture. Technically, I’ve been natural for over a year now – my last relaxer was after graduation last year and was an incredibly horrifying experience. I had been rude to my hair for months and it paid me back in kind.

My decision to go natural wasn’t really thought out in advance – I had waited too long between relaxers and my hair had practically made the decision for me. It was hard to maintain because the bottom half of my hair was new growth that had never seen any chemicals, and the ends were scraggly, damaged, over-processed hairs. So I tucked it all away and wore weaves for a whole year, hoping my hair would grow out to the point where cutting off the relaxed ends wouldn’t make me look like a boy. I was transitioning.

Transitioning is that awkward process between where your hair is and where you want it to be. I didn’t want to do the Big Chop and start from scratch, so I transitioned for a year. I thought I was only transitioning hair textures, but as it turns out, I was going through a major transition in my mind as well. You see, I was taught that “good hair” meant long, straight hair or defined, silky curls and waves. Big, afro-textured hair was not acceptable in good society. And certainly not in my mother’s house. Good hair was white hair – which explains the inordinate amounts of money black women spend on weaves and relaxers every year.

I felt my prettiest when I’d hang out with my friends right after putting a new weave in and they oohed and aahed over my hair. Oh, and when the guys oohed and aahed too? I was SOLD on this good hair being white hair thing. Once when I had long straight hair, I had three of my guy friends on separate occasions tell me to never change my hair because I looked so good. You’d think that would make me glow with sexy joy, but it made me sick inside. Because I felt like a joke, like the person I was presenting to the world was a sham.

And to some extent, I was. I was a chameleon – I changed who I was based on where I was. If you expected me to be very serious and very “Christian”, I could do that. If you expected me to be rambunctious and full of dirty talk, I could do that too. If you wanted good advice, I was your girl. If you wanted to go clubbing, I was also your girl. I could be anything you wanted because I didn’t think who I was was ever going to be enough.

I talk the talk, but learning to truly accept who I am has been a rather difficult journey. If I could’ve paid as much money as I did for my weaves to become instantly funnier, wittier, curvier, flirtier, more self-assured…I absolutely would have. And everyone who knows me is probably thinking, “But you are those things!” It’s not enough for the world to tell you wonderful things about yourself, you have to believe those things in the quiet places where no one else ventures. That is what my year of transitioning taught me.

The girl I was last year would never have left her house with her hair in a baby fro – she didn’t have the guts to. She would never have done many of the things I’ve found myself doing and saying recently. She would probably have caved and put in another weave when her mother disapproved of her natural hair. She would have made every bad thing that happened to her her fault. She would still be obsessed with trying to do the right thing at the expense of her sanity and joy.

Going against the grain takes guts (especially living in Vanilla Valley where the first day I rocked my fro, people stared at me like I was an alien). It takes believing in yourself – the self you are, not the one you put on before you walk out the door. It takes accepting your imperfections, loving them even. And it takes giving a middle finger to societal, familial, and relational pressures and expectations. Who you are is enough.

When I decided to let my fro out of hiding a month ago, I did it while I was away in Texas visiting my mother. You know, just incase I hated it and didn’t want anyone else to see it. And it was a hot mess during my first week of experimenting and trying to figure it out. But I stood in front of that mirror and said, “You, my dear, are beautiful. This is how your hair was created to look and feel, so stop fixing. Just enjoy the skin and hair you’re in.”

I’ve given myself that pep talk at least once a week since then. It’s taking a while – I’m learning to have patience, to not compare my hair to other naturals’ curly locks, and to listen to it in order to learn what it needs. On a scale of extra fine to extra coarse, my hair is as coarse as it gets. It’s tightly coiled and cottony and doesn’t keep a defined curl for more than a day. It shrinks to about twenty percent of its length once it gets wet. All it wants is moisture, but it cannot seem to figure out how to retain any. It is kinky and full and I feel like I’m growing a forest on my head, but I have never felt more beautiful. And I have never felt more like myself.

I still have minor freakouts regularly. What if my hair shrinks overnight and I look like a boy in the morning? What if I’m not conditioning enough? What if the dry Colorado air kills my hair and it all falls off? Oh and my favorite thing to freak out about isn’t even my reality yet: What if my husband doesn’t think I’m sexy because I go to sleep with my hair in twists AND wrapped up in a scarf, instead of long luscious hair spread out over the pillow like in the movies?

I’m giving myself grace because I’m fairly new to this process. But regardless of the amount of work it takes or the [few] weird looks I get, I am committed to never altering my hair texture with chemicals again. Concurrently, I am committed to never altering who I am just to fit in. This past year hasn’t just been about transitioning. It hasn’t really been about my hair at all. It’s been about accepting who I am, believing that I am beautiful – kinks and all, and learning to not let comparison steal my joy. I’m finding myself, and this is one grand adventure.

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