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We love artists at The Wild Word.
Our Artist-in-Residence page provides a space for artists to showcase their work and to spread their creative wings. In their month of residency, invited artists are encouraged to collaborate with other contributors within the magazine, to experiment and develop new projects, while giving us an insight into their creative process.
Our SECRETS issue Artist-in-Residence is writer and doula Camalo Gaskin.
Believe Him the First Time: Co-dependence in the Trump Aftermath
Trump was elected president of the United States. This is an aftermath. A public one that reflects something very intimate and troubling. In too many of my social media communities women are retreating into despair or resignation. I am seeing many turn to their spirituality and professional gurus to find answers. They are confessing their disbelief about the abuse, injustices, and havoc this man has wreaked on their lives over the past two years. They are admitting that they do not trust the people around him. They are declaring their anxiety for the safety and well-being of their little sisters, black, queer, Asian, Muslim and undocumented friends. In our feeds we are seeing the backlash, and we know why. They are voicing what it sounds like when you get that wake-up call.
But something peculiar in the advice the gurus are offering their virtual daughters has set off some serious alarm bells for me and some of my close women friends—who also see red flags.
In a scramble to offer guidance, voices are offering their followers advice like this: “Just to win the presidency, there is an illumined vortex there. And deep in his heart he has been touched by that somehow. And I think to just focus on the things we don’t like is to almost give them energy. And as tonight we want to pray for Hillary Clinton… I think we need to pray for Donald Trump too. He is the president elect of the United States.”
Really? Is that our first option?
To salute him for his great achievement. Despite the abuse. Quieting the disturbance of his campaign’s gaslighting and his lashing out with no control.
There were posts among virtual friends attempting to take the post-election focus away from despair. Some comments seemed resigned to the could-be metaphysical lessons of this new paradigm.
“This is an opportunity to heal our ‘Inner Trump’”.
Such comments seemed to be an attempt to overlook the abuse witnessed in full public. The commenters’ tone suggests that the real policies Trump promised to introduce are targeted at people and places too distant, so they would not really impact their direct realities. This leaves more room for them to ponder the theoretical while this all passes over. They can go inward and hope it blows away without it ever returning to impact them directly. Meanwhile, our other friends are being directly affected and have to look at this head on with all of their tools – legal, political, artistic, journalistic, emotional and metaphysical.
Honestly, we may all have some issues, but I cannot fathom anything inside of me that resembles Trump and the backlash we’re seeing from his followers. Witnessing what has happened in just the few weeks after his election, I don’t think I have a choice to only see the benign in this.
Maybe my task is to embolden my inner healer to place a veil of protection over all those being attacked in this very moment. I see them.
I cannot imagine telling this “inner Trump” thing to the woman who had a Trump supporter assume she was Mexican and declare that he was awaiting presidential orders to assault and throw her over the wall. These are the people we have to think about when we make these recommendations, unless we deem them invisible. What’s going to save their souls?
If a little girl is grabbed by a strange man, she will not sit in that moment and question her inner self. Her sympathetic nervous system will lead her to try to get away. That is our nature.
Not everyone accepts it as a safe choice to stay near him. Metaphorically or otherwise.
This call to embrace this Trump moment is somehow tinged with fragility and sadness. Repentance even. Maybe for going off with that Nasty Woman. This advice is infused with a spiritual ideology that matches the laws the women in this social media universe have become accustomed to applying to their usually empowering daily practice—also learned from the same gurus.
And that’s where this peculiar interpretation of things has found a familiar home.
All that energy fueled from speaking out and mobilizing against all that abuse gets rationalized into this new easier submissive-apologetic norm.
Are there moments when direct action is necessary? When simply internalizing a crisis is not a choice?
It took us a while to pinpoint exactly what those alarm bells and red flags were leading us to. But here’s a window that happens to also be open. Let’s look at this for what it is.
Imagine a woman who is being abused by her husband. This woman does not leave. Instead, she cries, she is in pain. She knows that if she moves he’ll injure her. Or he’ll punish her son. This woman prays for him not to do it again. She believes him when he says that he won’t. She tries to “find her center”. She respects the rules of marriage. She summons her inner compassion, prays and waits to see what happens. When someone asks her “How are things going?” she says “Fine”. So that her husband doesn’t react violently. She is terrified, and paralyzed by that terror.
She is overtaken by horrible feelings about him. She may not recognize the warning, but this is the moment where those heavy, disorienting feelings are actually what could save her. Those horrible feelings are the ones that will guarantee that she sees the danger and leaves. But, she prays and gives everything over to God.
Imagine a different woman, one who is not co-dependent. This woman takes her child and runs to the authorities, to the neighbors, to the baker, to the yoga center, to wherever she can think of to escape the nightmare.
She knows this will be bad, but she is not waiting for things to get worse. She runs the risk of facing his threats and losing everything, but she does not risk her son’s future. She runs and shouts and her husband has to face the consequences of his actions. Her son understands and learns that that’s not the way you treat a woman – or any human being.
She prays but also she acts.
She is fierce in preserving her integrity and that of her child. There is no doubt, no negotiation. She sees the disorder and makes the hard decision to speak out and step away.
Spirituality can sometimes be a great mask to hide co-dependent behaviour. Sending prayers and light to Trump is fine to soothe yourself. It’s good if that helps you find your center. But to think that because he is now President he has changed, that, I believe, is a completely co-dependent approach. Are we operating within an old model of the paternalistic nation, where the head of the family goes unquestioned?
As Oprah and Maya Angelou’s domestic violence adage goes “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Domestic violence is a complex issue. We have to be clear that this call is not to blame victims or survivors of domestic abuse. Instead this is a call to ask ourselves whether or not our coping mechanisms in the aftermath of this election are serving to enable a new political figure who has exhibited a stark resemblance to those who get away with domestic abuse. A figure who is not only symbolically or metaphorically threatening women and other marginalized people. We are talking about someone who has promised to do so and now has the permission to wield real and actual powers that harm real people.
We have been hearing concession speeches from political leaders that tell us to forget about the abuse and threats and give him another chance. Perhaps he will be different. Never mind the death threats, the sexual assault, the threats to deport your family and friends. Hope for the best. You are responsible for keeping the family together – the American nation and our belief in the institution of democracy.
It is not unusual for a nation to view their president as the father archetype, the citizens as the co-dependent children. American politicos even explicitly write about “The Mommy Problem” when looking at the social issues addressed by the Democratic party. They are turned to when there are things like the housing crisis. Republicans are symbolic for being hard on foreign policy. But with the blatant disrespect of women being so visible in the most recent campaign, this is a case where we can refer to the rise of “The Abusive Husband Syndrome”.
To be clear, this is not a normal paternal or husband relationship, we all know better examples. One of Michelle Obama’s last speeches made this point abundantly clear. What sets the Trump example apart is that his abuses are also being played out on the most public global stage. Unremorsefully. This is not a problem that is kept secret, but one that is blatant, with a surprisingly large complacent public that witnesses the threats and abuses, but turns the other cheek. Or more accurately makes excuses for why it’s not as bad as it seems.
An example of a non- co-dependent approach came with Angela Merkel’s original response to the U.S. 2016 election outcomes. The irony is that she was willing to risk unraveling a long term political co-dependency by employing language that separates her from the gross misconduct of this partner. She is the German Prime Minister. Metaphorically she is the Aunt bystander who has an intimate responsibility for extended family affairs. A woman head of the Christian Democratic Party, with conservative fiscal values that could have been likened to the Republican party—before this era of blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia. In her address, she spoke to Trump in no uncertain terms. She set the stage by communicating with clarity. With a tone that says: We may have to share a house for the time being, but I have my eye on you. I know your type, I don’t like it. You step out of line, threaten me or the people I care about, and it’s over.
She speaks with diplomacy while setting clear boundaries on unacceptable behavior.
“I congratulate the winner of the presidential election in the U.S., Donald Trump, on his election victory. The U.S. is an old and honorable Democracy. The election campaign this year was a particular one with some confrontations that were difficult to stomach. I, as many of you, watched the election results with trepidation. The person the American people choose to be their president in free and fair elections has an effect far beyond the U.S. In the case of Germany, there is no country outside the E.U. that we have deeper ties to than with the U.S. Germany and America are bound together by values: democracy, freedom, respect of law and respect of people regardless of their origin, the color of their skin, their religion, gender, sexual orientation or their political beliefs. On the basis of these values I am offering to work closely with the future President of the U.S. Donald Trump.”
If he misbehaves he is out of our circle. There is a resolute and fierce clarity that lacks co-dependency.
As a political actor, she sets an important example for members of the metaphorical family to not be complicit and to lend their voice to protecting those targeted or vulnerable to abuse within the family.
We need channels to redirect that creative agency that lit up the internet the week before and after the 2016 election results were in. We saw flocks of 3 million bold and vocal women gather in less than 3 days in a single online group. Bringing with them their injuries and their voice. All calling on the nation to rise up and call that man out. Women lamenting, but inspired to find heightened solutions. Even metaphysical ones that recognize the plight of the wider family. Women seeking and exchanging creative guidance, resources and strategies that recognize their pain—and all of their parts—and still allow them to transform this into something autonomous. Actions that move us away from co-dependency.
It’s time to call him out and step away.
When Melania Trump is encouraged to plagiarize the words of another woman, Michelle Obama, this gives us the sense that women should have no voice. Sadly, she forfeited her own voice. Or simply has been robbed of it. This hails the complacent woman archetype as our new option. So do all the apologists who insist on building bridges, before removing the walls.
If we take a moment to register what is on the rise here, we can redirect this concern towards direct action. Rather than primarily pointing to the abuser’s well-being or simply focusing on seeing the abuser within ourselves, we can also direct our vision and prayers toward finding sanctuary for those who need it most by actively funding those whose work is all about that. Fund the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), domestic violent organizations like these here, and reach out to lawmakers responsible for protecting us, our sisters, our queer, undocumented, Muslim, black friends. All those that the abuser has targeted – not to mention, in this metaphor of the family crisis, reserve some resources for the sanctuary of Mother Earth.
IN THE FACE OF FEAR: THE STORY OF A CARE-GIVER
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie
In my work as a birth companion, I bring back my love of the written word. I spend lots of time finding ways to tell stories that help women and their partners rethink what they know about birth. I often witness the relationship between care and fear.
Environmental fear is transported by way of our stories. Stories reflect our worldview and expectations. Stories mirror our mindset. Stories reproduce our experiences. Our stories are how we experience life. Personal stories, then, also guide our care for others. During pregnancy and childbirth, it becomes pretty obvious that even without any actual personal memory of this experience, women come full of stories and expectations that eventually shape their experience. For better or worse, the stories that caregivers bring to this experience also dictate their responses. This shapes the outcome and influences new stories. Stories are our perspective and can become our experience.
I am particularly fascinated by the many ways we see and represent fear. I’m interested in what information and narratives impact our fears of birth, and what helps us work through or overcome fear.
The more time I’ve spent in the company of pregnant women and their partners, studying ethnographies of midwives, and hearing freshly trained doctors’ accounts of delivery clinics in various parts of the world, the more I’ve come to understand that our collective birth narrative is by no means a universal one.
Many of the most common accounts of birth instill a sense of anxiety in the thickest skinned of us. Every experience needs to be embraced and understood. Everyone needs a space to share their personal experience without feeling betrayed. Nonetheless the balance of stories have been overwhelmingly tilted toward troubling accounts of childbirth. This without taking into greater account the consequence of bad practices over time.
On the other hand, there are growing collections of deeply positive narratives of birth. Births in the security of our homes. Even necessary caesarian births that were guided with care, consent, a sense of control. Research and careful observation have helped us understand why some of our common practices result in complicated outcomes. These help us develop new and improved practices and stories.
Stories can reproduce physical experiences that resemble themselves. When worrying birth narratives run so deep in our society, information (or understanding) alone does not have the capacity to eradicate fear. Protective and compassionate care along with guided practices are needed to translate information about how a woman’s body usually works during birth into new stories.
For birthing women, these new stories provide a sense of empowerment in any situation. They include a wider spectrum of possibilities.
In a normal childbirth situation, these practices can help us recall this sense of ease and relaxation even in the most intense moments. These practices use tools like positive language, or little language, visualization, poses that correlate to childbirth physiology and anatomy of both mother and baby working in unison.
This kind of compassionate care that considers the impact of the stories we tell ourselves, combined with sound information, really matters. The range of birth narratives don’t only reflect negative side effects of interventions. They also resemble accounts of the normal intense emotional and physical challenge that childbirth can be for many. The challenges of a normal birth can surely play out as extremely fulfilling experiences, but may not translate in an outsider’s reading of the experience. This makes it more difficult to explain or prepare women for the things that worry us about childbirth.
Unfortunately, the differentiation between challenging experiences that result from disturbing the birth process or from a genuine complication or lack of anatomical knowledge is difficult to define. There is still so much we have yet to understand about the physiology of childbirth itself. As we continue to learn more, our care practices and stories continue to improve.
Because it is an unparalleled event in the life of a woman, we sometimes have to talk about birth metaphorically. Birth is hiking a mountain with a sometimes unpredictable weather forecast. It can be a great challenge. It can be filled with moments of inspiration. It can be rewarding. It can be triumphant. It can change our character. It can require motivation. It can be a solo expedition. It can be intensely painful. We can enter it with a kit to help us in case anything deviates from the norm. In severe cases, it can require a rescue operation. In most cases, with the right environmental conditions, mindset, and preparation, we have everything we need to successfully go through the experience.
This mountain climbing metaphor gives way to the obvious role of caregivers. Had this mountain climber a coach, the coach would expect this experience to be challenging, but they would also have experience navigating the terrain. They would provide preparatory guidance. They would be aware of the climber’s capabilities. They would understand the necessary first aid techniques and when more critical aid is required. They would only use these aids when necessary. They would be aware of the transformational character of the trek. They would be equipped with knowledge of the normal physiological responses to the challenge. They would have an overview of optimal nutrition and postures for the experience. Protecting the mindset of the climber would be prioritized. They would read signs of the climber reaching her limits. They would empathize. They would be alert to deviations from the norm. They would know when to interfere. They would be at ease with simply witnessing.
Back to Marie Curie’s statement. My response would be something like: Fear is dissolved under the auspices of awe, knowledge, and everyday practices of compassionate care.
Part of compassionate care is providing information, guidance, and allowing others to rely on their own inner tools for movement through these transitions. This familiarity can dissolve fear. Fear dwells around transition. It belongs to the unknown. Our stories and everyday practices can carry on those fears or they can help us release them.
I hold the belief that standing deeply in one’s nature has the potential to create a resonance so great that their voice can shift even the most indoctrinated of minds. The present time puts such beliefs to test. Moments like birth and death, and all those in-between eruptions of our stability connect us most genuinely to our nature. They challenge us. My time as the Wild Word’s Artist-in-Residence will give me that opportunity to feel through the eruption that is this month’s politics over the intimate and even the familial. It will give me that space to meditate out loud using my wordcraft, my storytelling learned from foremothers – known and unknown.. The mirror shall be held up to myself and the collective motherhood that’s been sent internal to self-evaluate the safety of the moment and the dignity of her archetype and her many children. It is a time for transcendence in the age of retreat and apathy towards extremism. This time will lend itself to self-possession and outright outcries
A contributor to the Huffington Post and other publications writing on childbirth, identity, and contemporary motherhood, Camalo Gaskin is the founder, host and curator of Birth to Birth Talks – a symposium series.
She is a birth companion and has spoken on the stage of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. She was invited to be among 17 international speakers for the German Foreign Office’s event Long Night of Ideas, hosted by Savvy Contemporary with a talk titled “Human birth beyond human time”. She was a panelist at the National Press Club in Washington DC for the Primal Continuum of Human Development summit and a guest lecturer in Medical Anthropology for the International Council on Education and Exchange. She was co-founder of the Fearless Birth Film Festival and Fund, to give access to birth choices for all families. She resides between California and Berlin and revels in the lessons of living alongside two bilingual and world-curious children.