By Rae Swersey
Feb 16, 2016
“Listen to me, your body is not a temple. Temples can be destroyed and desecrated. Your body is a forest—thick canopies of maple trees and sweet scented wildflowers sprouting in the underwood. You will grow back, over and over, no matter how badly you are devastated.”
On most days, I am not sure what love is. Or if I’ve ever felt it true in my bones. I know that I have tried. And I know, that it has never been enough. In a society that preys on my unhappiness, there are days when I am just an empty gutter of knowing my oppressors have won. I am unsure of what love is, not because I have not loved immensely. Rather, how do we know what love is when there are systems that thrive off of our self love decay?
I want to make sure. Wholeheartedly sure, that I am not upholding the standard of beauty that profits off of the idea of healthy meaning “the white pure body.” I am not selling something to feed our demons of shame, tired, and pity until we wind up empty handed. There is a debate of whether the idea of self care is a privilege. Whether it has a place in radical movements. Whether there is space for thinking of one’s needs. If it is possible for the needs of the individual to not be in opposition to the needs of the community.
I bristle when people say “You can’t love anyone until you love yourself.” How dare you curse me like that. I am unlearning decades of self hate and it’s inner workings and I can not fight it without love. With every plant I meet, I learn deeper what it means to fall in love, to flirt, to ignite passion. With every failed relationship I gain more understanding of how to respect myself. As a polyamorous radical queer who transcends gender I can tell you without a doubt, my heart has the capacity for more than fixing my broken self. That I aim to love myself so ferociously it breaks open new meaning. Perhaps self love is just the consistent mending of trust and heartbreak, past and future falls, hope and abandoned cells.
There is no cure, only the radical self involvement of the demise of our failed self love. In what ways do you defy?
As someone who has been single more than coupled, consistently considered the “other person”, and fatefully intertwined with how my sadness and chronic pain affect my intimacy, I have the right to talk about love. We learn a lot from the healing of our broken hearts. I’ve mended more than my fair share. Still mending. Forever stitching. Forever a hopeless romantic. That belief in romance keeps me humbled in my political work. It gives me strength to dare to dream outside our current reality. I believe not just in the healing in our guts, but the groundbreaking knowledge that as oppressed people who hold simultaneous opportunities we need to give a damn. And manifest our perfect soul mate within ourselves. Love ourselves because and in spite of how skillful our demons show up.
Listen to me and hide under your covers. Dig deep. Be relentless. Build a blanket fort out of your unspoken desires and stay there until you have memorized every stain on those tacked up sheets. Quiet your soul when you are alone. It’s a loud world. Authenticity, though often the harder road, grips you down into always making the right decision. Plant medicine has taught me that.
The idea of self care got coopted because the institutions that profit off of us never knowing what self love is spits in the worn face of authenticity. Self care became #selfcare because the social media picture of us in the bath is easier to accept then being present in our bodies. It’s true. It’s hard. Not that it isn’t a step in the right direction. But I am wary of the way we market the journey. I am nervous for the impact this cooptation has on our ability to connect with ourselves and with our capacity to heal. The herbalist community has a responsibility to uphold a holistic model outside of capitalism. It has the ability to be an alternative. Don’t let yourself down.
It’s intimate to ask for help when you are unwell. There is nothing wrong with you because you are a patient. We are all unwell. We are all the patient. We are all trying to take care of ourselves. We are all trying to break free.
The act of self care is different than taking care of yourself. And it is never in opposition with your core values or the values of your community. It is not ignoring your friend but it may be turning off your phone for a while. I think that when we start to see signs of burnout, #selfcare commodity starts to show up. I wonder what would happen to our nervous systems if we got so so so quiet about the special moments that fuel our love for the work we do, the people we love, our daily moments of gratitude.
In 2006, I decided to only have dates while sober. However, I continued to put myself in dangerous positions. I threw myself into risk, and the consequences grew higher. What I learned from ending up in those bedrooms, those bars, and those lost jobs is that what becoming sober really means. It was my vitality rising up to meet with my integrity. I started to see my anxiety as in opposition to my inner knowing of what I needed to do to end that cycle of hurt. Most of the time, if I tried to have a genuine, and often painfully vulnerable response, my anxiety decreased and thus my active training in self love had begun. There will never be an end. Many roads lead me back to self hate. Redefining this journey will always be crucial in my process of learning how to forgive myself. Every night is a mirror into my morning.
Because it’s Valentine’s Day season-I am highlighting my LGBTQQIA Resistance Potion for all my powerhouses in the self love game. It’s for the dating and non-dating alike. It’s for survival in the every day. Cultivating our romantic journey with ourselves happens whether you are single, dating, fucking, married, and some other glorious attempt at connection. We are socialized to feel shame from New Year’s Day to February 14th; perpetually stood up at the altar of a lifestyle that, perhaps, we don’t want in the first place. Anyone who buys a formula from me in the month of February who needs the “I’m single and could use a shout out” discount gets 5% off. I see you.
Some days I wake up with no way out but in. I ask the plants for help to guide us back into that sacred space within ourselves. Do you know what Rose Medicine can do? Roses are all around us. On our tables, in our songs, edging our gardens. The magic of a rose lives up to the hype.
(Photo from my old garden in West Asheville, NC. From my second small batch of Wild Rose Flower Essence)
Rose Flower Essence:
Helps you to emerge from the past; from grief, defeat, and suffering. This essence helps you to see the world in a new and open way. It helps you to emerge from a disheartened and dispirited state into a “willing to try” place. For those who become resigned to all that happens without any effort to improve things even during the absence of joy. They have surrendered to the struggles in life and have no motivation to change to make things better. Rose flower essence gives support, motivation and strength to make those changes.
Rose essence increases confidence in those feeling insecure about their sexuality and who have feelings of shame or timidity about their bodies. It can enhances confident sensuality. It helps you to open up to love and bring your desires into action. There is pain in life but also pleasure and this essence softens you to still be open after painful things have happened. I find it useful for those who have experienced multiple traumas to their bodies. It can allow one to relax into the body when the body has every right not to trust touch.
The Rose petals and buds (Rosa spp) are astringent, tonifying to tissues, an antidepressant, ease digestion and soothe irritated skin. I liken it to a deep heavy grateful sigh for each cell in your body. The wilder the rose the better. Next time you see a rose (that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals) place a petal on your tongue. Watch as your tongue puckers to it’s flavor. It’s properties raise each taste bud to attention. Pulling yourself together. Leaving no more room for the heartbreak to live. Without it, you are able to make room for so much more self love than you thought possible within your lonely vessel.
Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Stay strong. Don’t feed your demons. Take out the trash. Holler at a witch.
Rae Swersey is a clinical community herbalist currently in private practice in Asheville, NC. They received their certification in 2008 from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. From there, they founded the Sassafras Community Health Collective and ran a multitude of community projects including a Drop-In Herbal Medicine Clinic at AHOPE, Asheville’s homeless shelter.