Short answer: I’m white.
Medium answer: I’m white and White Supremacy is real. Also, federal job protections.
Long Answer: I’m white, married to a man, middle class appearing, attractive by general societal standards, and able-bodied unless I open my mouth and tell you I’ve got a host of mental health challenges that could be considered disabilities. I’ve got a masters degree and a good government job in a union environment. I’ve got two kids and a house I own in cookie-cutter suburban America. I use my free time to volunteer on boards and give presentations in middle and high schools where I share my mental health story for the good of the young’uns to know they are not alone and recovery is possible.
In short: I’m the most palatable version of this.
This, being co-occurring mental health diagnosis and addiction. This, being the mindfuck of services where the patient is eternally and simultaneously too much and never enough. This, being mental health disability…but the kind where you still function and produce for society and take care of your shit and are found inspirational for doing so. This. I’m the best bet at being seen because more intersectional women would have entire facets of themselves our world insists on being blind to. You can fit one box at a time. We can hold one truth in our conscious.
I get to be straight and white and educated and privileged and struggle mightily with depression and anxiety and addiction. And sometimes eating. I get to be all of that and be seen in the world. I get to be supported and, fuck, even acknowledged–and I get to be seen as an individual making choices that affect myself and my family and are not reflective of an entire race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification or socioeconomic class. I have the privilege to struggle, to fail, to fall down and need some time to get up.
It’s really quite amazing when you think of it. The fact that I can tell my boss I’ve got a drinking problem and I need to go to rehab. And that I can find support in that (though there’s no telling what judgement might ultimately come to follow). Black women don’t have the luxury of needing mental health support. Crack addicts weren’t held in compassion when they sat in realization of succumbing to their addictions.
Hell to the no they weren’t.
And so I find nothing more today than shock and awe, and gratefulness, and a significant stomach punch from my own privilege that I can protect myself by revealing my disability on the job and making space for understanding of the role that environment may need to play in my own healing.
This, by the way, is bullshit.
This, by the way, is where change needs to have seeds planted to burst open and shoot spurts of freshness, originality and innovation into our collective culture, individual ideologies, and larger societal stereotypes. Imagine the garden of resistance that could grow from a wider, broader, deeper, understanding of the struggle that some go through. The toll addiction takes and the transformative nature of healing from it. Imagine if there was space to hold this in a professional sense. If there was room for reverence and honesty about what healing needs and what success will look like and how our worlds support that. Or don’t.
I told my boss I was going to rehab. I shared that I’d started drinking four years ago after six years sober for work purposes. We danced around the elephant–what happens when you get back? What about happy hours and conferences and networking? Am I a less effective employee sober?! Or am I a more effective employee that will ultimately adeptly navigate those situation where alcohol is practically required?
No one can know.
I don’t hold the shifted conversation against her. How to you verbally navigate topics that dive into discrimination and unspoken job expectations and bullshit cultural standards? How do you dive into the unknown of unfacilitated interactions and a socially unlubricated performance? How do you so sweetly hold up the importance of the possibilities (being better, healthier, more free) without insinuating a negative that may not be further from the truth?
It’s a wretched place for us all to be.
We are doing the work. We white women. Learning for ourselves how to accept and navigate differences (and the ways they touch a sameness in ourselves) before we can allow ourselves loose in the world of color, the world of gentrification, the world of LGBTQ, the world of the people we so fervently serve–the poor, abused, and marginalized. Maybe we need to see it in ourselves first before we can hold the effect it has on you. Addiction and poverty. Addiction and homelessness. Addiction and undocumentation. Addiction and being black. Addiction while queer. Addiction while fat. Addiction while trans. Addiction while aged. Addiction while “imperfect”.
I think sometimes that white folks can only hold one identity at a time. It takes us awhile to fully comprehend the intersection of multiple marginalizations. I think that’s why us white folks should be speaking out more. To each other. About what’s really going on and how we sincerely struggle. We should show our imperfections and be known for them too. We should internalize our own strength and resiliency in keeping on–so we can recognize it in the others we’ll inevitable come across.
We have work to do white women. The burden is ours and the time is now.
So I’m gonna go off to a healing center for a few weeks. But when I get back…let’s finish this conversation.