I sat in the middle seat of the plane headed back to Western Canada. I was feeling very much like my Dad, which means that I was feeling like disregarding social boundaries and getting into other people’s business. I turned to the lady beside me and asked her, “If there was something you could do and know you could not fail what would you do?”
The lady, who was in her sixties paused for a second then replied, “Nothing. I have done everything I wanted to. I just finished hiking 37 kilometres out of the mountains and am on my way home”.
I asked the young woman on my left the same question.
“Well, I am in my last year of med school. I think it would be to save lives. I am going to try to do that regardless but other than that I have done everything I have wanted to”.
The elderly lady shared the same name as me. Helen. I was not surprised. I only ever meet older white ladies that share my name even though I was named after my very Cree great grandma who raised my dad.
Helen asked me, “Well what about you?”
I didn’t have an answer for the question that I forced on the women beside me. I sunk into the middle seat as they carried on a conversation over my lap as I slipped into deep reflection. I was a little stunned. I don’t know people in my everyday life who could boldly declare that they have fearlessly done everything that they wanted to do. I was born into limitations and life was an experience that validated their existence.
As a teenager I was given a wooden box that was hand painted as a gift from my dad. It was sky blue and a native woman sat on the front of it under the yellow words “Reach for the Stars”. I was supposed to be that woman. The woman who expanded into the horizon and arranged her own constellations. A woman who declared her own future and wrote them in the stars.
I had a family who wanted these things so desperately for their children but whom were also unable to define what these things were or how to go about getting them. Many of us grow up where success is preached but no roadmap is given. I remember hearing the buzz of teenagers in high school who were planning to go to this college or that university. They wanted to get Bachelors degrees and major and minor in different subjects. I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t know what these degrees were or how one would go about getting them. During this time I was also heavily distracted by my own personal addiction and trauma as well as a home life that included alcoholic episodes and nightly dramas. I was too busy surviving to entertain the notion of thriving.
Soon after I dropped out of high school and shortly after that I became pregnant with my son. For the first year of my son’s life we got by on 350 dollars a month and lived with my parents. Each cent had purpose and was accounted for each month. Diapers, food, and whatever other baby necessities had to be pulled from that money. I learned how to stretch myself so thin I was convinced of my elasticity. I learned how to bend with the weight of the struggle instead of break under it. I am currently in my Master’s program and am launching a company where my day rate is more than what I used to live off of for a month. Over the weekend I drove around thinking about this fact. I can now make in a day what my newborn son had to live off for an entire month. It is mind boggling to me.
Had I accepted the external and internal limitations I had come to believe in at a young age I wouldn’t be where I am today. Admittedly, I still have some ways to go but I am content and dare say I am thriving in a world that convinced me I would always be struggling to survive.
It is easy to exist within the confines of the struggle.
Of course if you’re still struggling, that life isn’t easy at all. It’s a hard fucking life. But if you never risk pushing past the possibility of failure and make sacrifices to thrive then you’re never placed in a position of discomfort past what you already know. When I think of this a specific memory comes to mind. I caught the bus to and from school in my social service worker diploma program. I was picking up my son from daycare and we had missed the bus. It was -15 celsius or so outside which isn’t too bad in northern terms. I picked him up, quite literally. He was a massively chubby baby and your arms felt the strain even during general carrying in the house. I carried him the 8 blocks home, some of it uphill, through freshly fallen snow with my school bag and diaper bag. I had to pause often to readjust everything I was carrying so that I didn’t drop him. I KNEW from the deepest part of my being that my discomfort then, would have a long term pay off. You already know you have a certain threshold of pain and discomfort. You already know you can survive a life of struggle because you’ve been doing it already. You have to challenge it and yourself for growth.
We have been conditioned to believe we only deserve something that is “not that bad” instead of a life that is “fucking spectacular”.
Had I accepted, “not that bad”, I would be working two minimum wage jobs in order to survive. I would still be continually triggered by situations and possibly still active in my addiction. Maybe my son would be in foster care and maybe there would be no hope for me to get him back. I was that kind of alcoholic addict. I was all or nothing. I don’t think, “not that bad”, was ever an option for me and perhaps that is why I had to change so dramatically. It literally came down to choosing to live or die. Living demanded that I surrender myself in totality to the path of healing.
My historical trauma had always whispered in my ear, “you are not good. There is something wrong with you. You don’t deserve anything good”.
Plus I was a Native woman so the voices latched onto that too, “you are disposable. You are dirty. You will never be accepted. Indians never have nice things. We don’t do that kind of stuff”.
This was my experience and these were the voices I had to challenge in order to blossom into myself and remember just who the fuck I am. I was given a script by life and society. I refused to conform to it.
My dream is to walk into a room full of Indigenous women and pose that question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
And hear the replies, “I am already doing it.”
There will always be external voices telling us what we can and cannot do. There will always be the media and severely systemically racist and unjust systems that try to define who we are. But if we choose to remember…. If we choose to call our shards of spirit back to us that we have lost along the way and become whole. We become an unstoppable force seated in our own power. The more that we choose to do this we model it for others and allow them to see it is okay to become themselves and take charge of their lives. Freedom is more than just liberation of self and others from unjust systems. It is what we currently and perpetually have to fight for but what lies beyond that is the freedom to self-actualize, to manifest, to create, and to love without limitations. Sometimes we get so tied up in the fight for freedom that we forget to actually act and live as if we were free. Freedom is inherent. It is your birthright. The voices that tell you that you don’t deserve good things or can’t achieve anything are merely the conditioning that you have received. Choose the truth.
I have rambled a bit so I will leave it here,