Rest and Self-Care Is Abolitionist Work

June 6, 2021

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~ Audre Lorde

“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

"Jesus took time off when He’d had enough of people."  Pete Briscoe and Patricia Hickman

"I need to get the fucks out of my head!" ~ me

Earlier today I decided that I would take a summer break from one of the groups that I spend a lot of time supporting. I am going to a convention called,"Surviving Race: Intersection on Human Rights, Disability, and Injustice" in late August/early September and I am expecting that I will return recharged, excited, passionate, and ready to work on issues like police violence and the intersection of BIPOC and folks with disabilities.  In the meantime, I need a little rest.

At first I felt a little guilty for taking this break, but then several quotes that I love entered my mind, prompting me to journal and to make my peace with this decision to take care of myself and rest.

I think of how Jesus often took time off to be by himself and to pray when he was overwhelmed by people.  I'm sure Jesus must have been a highly sensitive person like I am, and the intensity of highly sensitive people's emotions demands a more rigorous use of self-care.

I have been feeling the need to assess what I am doing advocacy wise-is what I am doing really all that helpful or should I focus my energies elsewhere?  I don't know and that uncertainty concerns me.  I worry about not doing enough but I figure that activism without self-reflection is shallow and impulsive.  I should not do the typical white woman thing where I read a book and then proclaim myself "woke."  And yet, I know that the way to be most effective is to take some time for self-reflection.  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches me to not ask myself if it is good or bad, but what is the most effective.  I don't want to join causes as a quick fix for my part in the system-I want to be effective.

Sometimes I compare myself to other civil rights activists and admonish myself for taking breaks.  Surely Martin Luther King Jr. did not take breaks.  Ella Baker famously said that, "we who believe in freedom cannot rest."  I think there is a dialectic there though-if I don't rest sometimes then I will burn out and will end up not doing much good at all.  Perhaps the way to not resting is to rest?  I give myself breaks in order to be more effective in the long run.  In our capitalist society, rest is not highlighted often, but I am sure that all great religious and social justice activists must have rested sometimes.  Also, I am not Martin Luther King Jr. or Ella Baker, but my own person with my own limitations, as we all are.  To compare myself to anyone is a common mistake and I am working on it.  As some people in recovery say, "only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday."

In order to model self-care, I must choose it for myself.  I must unchain myself from the shackles of white supremacy, capitalism, and ableism.  White supremacy wants me to not think deeply about what I am doing, capitalism wants me to work all the time, and both capitalism and ableism wants me to think that my worth is defined by my production.  However, Jesus and my Wise Mind says that my value is rooted in my love for others and for myself.  By being a certified peer specialist I am a model to other people on how to live a recovery-centered life and to me, recovery is about centering love and kindness in my life, as opposed to other destructive forces.  Forces like white supremacy, capitalism, and ableism must go.  Of course, all the other -isms like homophobia and age-ism must go too.

Ableism also says that disability is bad, when I believe that disability is not good or bad, but rather a natural part of life. I have a disability of anxiety.  This disability is not a shame or a sign that I am broken, but a natural part of myself that needs extra care and attention.  Sometimes I need to challenge this anxiety by forcing myself to do whatever it is that is causing me anxiety, but other times I need rest and self-reflection.  Neither is good or bad, just more or less effective in the long run.

In thinking about these quotes more deeply, I realize that it is wrong to do "the right thing," ad nauseam.  Sometimes the right thing is to rest.  Like Howard Thurman states, it is right for us to be a people fully alive, living out our passion.  I am about to start a new peer support group called, "Creative Mindfulness," and I am very excited about it.  We will practice mindfulness and self-care, sitting in nature and doing creative things.  The world needs abolitionists and policy changers, but it needs to learn about the freedom found in self-care and mindfulness too.  Ultimately, we all need more freedom, and the pathways to freedom are many, all of them important.  We must work together, in many ways.

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