On Validation

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tw: mention of sucidal ideation and abuse

A couple of months ago, I think just as Like A Bird had come out, I realized I needed to ask my friends to validate me more. It came as a realization, I think because as the book came out I was stranded in Montréal, staying in my old apartment after not being allowed to enter back into New York, where I live. I found out I couldn’t enter at Lisbon airport, just as I was ready to leave to prepare for my virtual tour for a book I had spent the last eighteen years of my life writing… yet here I was, a suitcase I had spent two months living out of, about to talk about a book I started writing so I wouldn’t kill myself, while in quarantine and not in the safety of my own home. On top of that, the person I had visited during a pandemic, for love, couldn’t sympathize on anything and I felt crazed for feeling as if I was about to publically fail and fall flat on my face. I had so much anxiety, so much fear that I was secretly useless and a terrible writer, and I was also feeling this deep grief for an old self, which is just a dead self, and the child I could never be. Nobody, outside of one or two friends, really asked me how I was doing, and the truth is I don’t think I even knew at the time.

It took me months to process that the grief was also that I didn’t know who to turn to, I didn’t really know who had my back through all of it, all the ugliness that was surfacing about how I felt about myself, how worthless I used to feel all the time genuinely shocks people… we don’t talk about that enough, how lonely it is to find companions when your path is rife with darkness. I was also living through my Saturn Returns while producing all of my work that would put me more into the public eye (would not recommend?) and that in itself felt so lonely and crazy-making. Everything collapsed. Multiple times.

Not getting the validation I wanted for Like A Bird made me want to hide. It made me feel embarrassed that I had had enough hubris to think that I would be understood by anyone, or that this book would be validated in the way I thought it deserved. Though the book had taken so long to get to where it was—and that itself was an achievement—I felt because I wasn’t nominated for any first novel prize or any prize, or that I’ve never received a grant for anything, even though I’ve tried—I felt these were all explanations and examples of how I was a failure. My corny dream was that my baby would finally be seen, elevated to another stratosphere of success. The comedown was a shattering of self and what I thought success was.

After a few ayahuasca ceremonies later (I’m sorry I’m like this but I’m very sincere) I began to see how much power I gave others to feel good about myself. I had known that but it was clarified in a somatic way, and when I began to understand it, this thing I craved, I realized what I really wanted was not so much industry validation but the validation of people who loved me because they could hold all of me. It felt clunky & strange to name, and, yet, like all things that feel like the truth when you feel them, it felt right in my body. By doing this, in acknowledging my own need for validation, I felt less ashamed because at that moment I was witnessing and holding that these desperate parts of me existed and that that was OK. These heart-tingling parts of me that lingered in the shadows, hungry to be known, that had been so numbed through age and trauma, were ready to reveal themselves. What I wanted, I guess, was to be seen in my wholeness, not just my fragmentation.

Though I do get a certain amount of public recognition my resistance to owning that “prestige” or whatever the fuck people call it is because it has such little effect on my day-to-day life and wellbeing that it’s hard to feel affirmed by such abstract things. I was still monetarily struggling after the New York Times wrote about me last year, I’m still living paycheck to paycheck four books in. My friend Raven whose novel Luster also came out last year (and was so delicious) told me recently that there’s always this fear of seeming ungrateful (especially when you are a Black and Brown woman, particularly) if we want to talk about the difficulties of our lives, especially when you have a certain amount of attention that others might claim as “success” or “note-worthy.” People assume your life is suddenly perfect and nothing hurts anymore. When you are forced into public life, or even when you choose it, it takes such a toll on you in a deep, energetic way that I’ve found I need people to see how hard I’m trying all the time, and how despite not wanting to every day, I keep going.

Right now I juggle writing this newsletter, teach a weekly class, take care of my own freelance writing career, deputy edit the Violet Book, co-run and direct Studio Ānanda, am finishing Who Is Wellness For and Survival Takes A Wild Imagination, I’m also touring Like A Bird (the paperback is coming out August 3rd and I’m doing an in-person reading + book signing at my faves Playground Books + Annex if you’re in Brooklyn…come!!!), doing frequent panels and talks as well… I’m also working on a bunch of other things that I will tell you all about in the months to come but this is all to say your girl is busy slash also exhausted. May I also add that on top of this I am an actively healing trauma survivor? That’s a full-time job tb-motherfucking-h! I too, like Sarah Jessica Parker in that movie How Does She Do It? wonder how do I … do it?

I sometimes fantasize about having a partner who can validate me without asking, or when I do ask, makes me feel like my needs are worthy. How little are our needs even validated let alone our need for validation? ? ? I’m no longer attracted to people that remind me of my parents, punishing in their love like that’s the only tone they come in. The thing that’s helped these last few months from sinking depression is being super frank about my needs with the closest to me, as well as myself. That’s meant acknowledging that I’m in recovery, as a psychic told me the other day (I didn’t tell her about my childhood) and that claiming and being an incest survivor feels like doing the work of a magician, of hardwiring my brain and body out of pain and into lightness. I’m learning witchcraft, I’m learning by hearing my ancestors call through me, by validating them and their pain by acknowledging it in my own body.

*

I would say I validate people very easily. I am someone who compliments willingly and I have noticed through my time of being in a femme body (for 31 years) that most women—especially cis and straight women—can’t really compliment easily or readily. Jealousy is so easily felt and accepted as a norm in relationships between women and yet it’s rarely unpacked, given the time it needs to breathe. Why do we want to succeed but feel threatened when somebody else does? This has been confusing me a lot recently.

I hate feeling jealous and often have a lot of shame for it when I do. I have an obsession with being perfect and so I eliminate parts of myself that I don’t like or that I think are part of me being “bad.” My trauma therapist reminds me that it’s OK to feel complex or even “bad” feelings… and yet whenever she says that to me, something from deep within me replies: “Not for me, though.” No shit a lot of this stems from my abuse. I wanted to be pure because I thought that’s what would get me love. This is something I’m still healing from.

Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to engage with other women, only because it seems that all of us have bought into weird power dynamics where we withhold affection, withhold care and maybe intentionally make others feel small… just because we’ve been taught to engage like that. So, instead of being honest in a situation — all of a sudden there’s competition, there’s projection, there’s assumption — without a desire to crack into something deeper and more healed, we turn on each other. I have often found myself in weird power dynamics with female friendships and I’ve noticed it’s often during “successful” streaks in my career where all of a sudden other people’s insecurities come out. People find me intimidating, instead of complex. I witness all the time how women malign other women so readily, meanwhile forgiving men quicker than you can say “forgiveness.” I’ve seen how often people will presume the worst of me even when what I’ve shown consistently (as I always try to) is the best of me. Sure I’m not perfect but it’s confusing to keep getting misread by people I presume to know me. It’s such a strange dysphoria that plays into my abuse as well; my mother abusing me while calling me bad, satanic, evil.

On a call with my friend Aditi this weekend, we talked about how my standards of friendship are incredibly high. I’ve been told this many times in my life, and in the past, I have felt as if I should be embarrassed that I ask for so much (apparently) when through my trauma therapy it’s been revealed, amongst other things, that I don’t actually ask for nearly enough… It’s funny that a highly traumatized CSA survivor should have “too high standards” for other people… In a fit of comedic frustration, I also realized, that my “too high standards” is just… respect. That’s what I want the most, and it’s scary because I think respect is actually what I get the least in my life.

Respect, for me, means that I am being treated in the way I treat others (with respect, with care) but it also means the other person is able to hold me in my complexities just as I can hold anothers’. I have been recently flabbergasted by the number of people who would much rather choose to believe a narrative that they’ve created, that protects them, when they could just be candid and open to accountability. When I ask for anyone’s accountability I am not forgoing my own, I believe so often there are two sides, and that most people can do the work to see eye to eye—but it takes humility, on both sides, to do that. With my mother, I can see how her own narrative protects her from culpability and how as a family we’ve all accepted that narrative for 30 years. Except then I asked for accountability, fully knowing that I’m not a perfect daughter, but wanting to be heard of my grievances nonetheless.

I know it is hard to ask someone to validate you when they have so rarely validated the happenings in their own life which potentially is what led them to transgress you in the first place. I have seen a correlation between someone being incapable of validating you with them not being able to validate themselves.

Because women have been socialized to believe that our value is attained from another, our muscle to do that for ourselves is understandably weaker and you can see it in the dynamics between female friendships. Of course, this is not across the board and I have met a lot of women/femme folks (usually with at least one loving, available, nurturing parent) who aren’t like this, which is a valuable thing to offer to people in your life, to use your privilege and sublimate it into love and patience for others instead of labeling people as needy or weird when you don’t understand them. Because societally we also believe in scarcity somebody else’s success feels like an impediment to us, as opposed to something that could be a gateway for us; and then not enough people who have a lot decide to open doors for others, therein creating a weird power grab. And yet so much of the work of unlearning patriarchy is in these acts. To be abundant means to feel that for somebody else as well.

A couple of months ago I asked myself why I was feeling jealous of a close friend. When I realized it was because I actually thought my friend was really cool and that I wanted to be like her, I used that information to humble myself, as opposed to feeling angry at myself… which inevitably would become a wave of latent anger towards my friend as well. It was so healing, at that moment, to see that I could re-route a feeling I didn’t like into something that was productive to the friendship. These last few months, after a healer told me to do so, I’ve been tracking and acknowledging my own positive shifts and evolutions. Doing that has shown me that we all have a deep capacity to become the people we want to become, and who we need to be for each other. And that made me feel fucking confident about myself. Now, I do this as regularly as I can. When I have some small victory, I remind myself that I am trying so hard to be good and that despite my life, I really honor myself for trying every fucking day because that’s a commitment.

“Integrity is the capacity to affirm the value of life in the face of death,” writes Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery, “to be reconciled with the finite limits of one’s own life and the tragic limitations of the human condition, and to accept these realities without despair. Integrity is the foundation upon which trust in relationships is originally formed, and upon which is shattered trust may be restored. The interlocking of integrity and trust in caretaking relationships completes the cycle of generations and regenerates the sense of human community which trauma destroys.”

I guess it comes with accepting your own death, but how do I want people to remember me? Not just a writer, but as a person? It’s easier to have integrity in yourself, your community when you remember death. When you remember that all this could disappear so fast it helps you hold others more tenderly, because you see yourself as a fragile and human thing, as well. I’m tired of seeing myself as strong. I want to see myself as my true and honest self: in a constant state of trying. That’s what I am. I’m succeeding some days, sure, but don’t strip my vulnerabilities away from me. Every day is a ceremony.

Seeing how many of us choose pettiness over communication or articulation over our feelings says more about our childhoods and the way we were raised and socialized than it does about anything else. I think about the lies we were told in our youth about women, and I see how that plays out in adult relationships all the time. When someone accuses me of something I know I would never do, it hurts less to be misunderstood because these days, as much as I’m affirming myself, I’m also leaning on my friends, and the people who love me, to help me see myself. There’s a double-action there. I’m reminding myself that we can all learn to meet each other’s needs and that all I ask is to be met in the middle. It took knowing that, and setting boundaries that helped me to know when I was in myself or when I was reaching too far toward somebody else.

All of these practices are a forward and backward beckoning motion of balance. We learn, we fall, we take risks, we get lazy but then we try again, we get up again, we learn how to fly new heights, with our friends and the people who love us, our community, by our side.

*

I’d like to take a moment to say thank you to my first two cohorts of students that I’ve been teaching. I’m crying as I write this, as they’ve seen me do so many times in class—cry—cry at their brilliant pieces, at their evolution, at their shifts into softness, of how much vulnerability can save a heart. It saved me, that’s the thing I should’ve started with, becoming vulnerable meant knowing that this deep pulsing thing is a tool, and that sometimes it’s even a weapon. But when vulnerability is used with heart it heals people. I’ve seen how validation heals people, too. I’ve seen how it heals my students to hear people applaud their work, to hear the sighs and thank yous that come out after to the cheer and immense admiration of the entire class. Each person deserves to feel this way, to feel that they are worthy, that their work is important. Some of us didn’t get this from anybody. Imagine being raised like that? I’ve come into this world, I think, to be the person who can validate other people, readily, happily, from my heart. I say this truly, it’s a deep honor to look into anyone’s face and to tell them they are special and to really mean it. One of my gifts is that I can see it in people. My desire for connection is real, and my hunger to give and recieve love is as well.

If we all validated ourselves more, not expecting anyone else to, but also had people that we turned to, who we trusted to hold us, imagine how we could then hold another person’s need for validation. “The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself,” writes Joanna Hedva, “To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care.”

All I’ve ever wanted was people to see the light in me, but only because I thought that’s what I needed to believe it. I’m telling you from my experience — the more I see myself in my wholeness, the more I tend to myself and my needs, the more I learn to healthily lean on others and believe people when they speak to me about what they love about me and the goodness they see, the easier it is to validate others, the easier it is to hold their light alongside my own. The easier it is to just love. Every day… to just get up and choose love.


How To Cure A Ghost is a free (almost) weekly newsletter. If you find value in what I write and read this regularly, please consider financially supporting its creation by becoming a paid subscriber or Venmo or PayPal me. If you find value in what I write but can’t financially support its creation, please share.