Tribe

I wrote the below in my journal after an Extinction Rebellion (XR) regenerative practice evening with other rebels who were holding Waterloo Bridge during the international rebellion in April. It was a space for us to debrief and process our thoughts and emotions and experiences whilst we were on the bridge and as we integrated back into ‘normal life’ in the days following. I wrote it because I wanted to capture how I felt at that moment in time, and also because I wanted to be able to share the peace and contentment and excitement I was feeling with K three days later (often when I try to share good things shame creeps in and stops me, and I knew this would be something I was even more likely to feel shame about than normal).

When I tried to share it with K I couldn’t say the first line (‘I feel as though I’ve found my tribe’) out loud because it was scary and shameful and exposing that I had such feelings of belonging. So she read the first line for me and closed her eyes and asked me to look at her and say what I saw:

Me: you look the same

K: I look the same. Am I smiling a little?

Me: Yeah (we both laughed)

K: That feels really important, doesn’t it, that you could look at me, and I read it and we’re still here and nothing bad happened.

Me: And you didn’t shout at me

K: No, I mean I’m just delighted that you found a tribe. That has been a big part of our work, hasn’t it? This kind of replacement family. So this is a lovely moment I think. Take that in because that’s amazing because as you said, you didn’t really want to go and I said you should and you did and it’s actually been a really lovely thing to happen.

Me: it felt like you were there with me on Friday night

K: Great.

And she said how we are combining our efforts with XR (she volunteers in a support capacity) and that it’s a lovely thing that ‘you know I’m there with you and I know you’re there with me‘ and there was SO MUCH LOVE in the room. All our work has got me to here – finding my voice, finding my tribe, finding a place where I feel at home, where I truly feel like I belong and where I can share my true self, vulnerabilities and feelings and all. Somewhere I can be authentically me – at last.

Here is what I read to her:

I feel as though I’ve found my tribe. A deep sense of peace engulfs me and I want to write this now so I can share it with K on Monday, because I know shame will sweep it away and I want a record – I figure the more I share and have validated my feelings of belonging and connection, the more likely it is the switch can be tripped and I will stop dissociating due to the shame around these feelings. I wasn’t aware of being dissociated this evening – usually I am acutely aware of being depersonalised in groups like that, but the whole time there it never entered my consciousness that I was dissociated (I probably was a little, I nearly always am blurry, but it wasn’t apparent to me – it didn’t dominate at all).

It was the regen evening for people on the bridge who were not yet in an affinity group, to debrief and process emotions. I hadn’t realised how much I needed it, needed to share and listen, to be heard and to hear others. It was such an incredible thing to be part of [holding the bridge] – so much love and compassion and grief and gratitude and despair and hope all at the same time, and so hard to explain to people who weren’t there. It’s so hard to explain that despite the excitement and joy it was also sombre and sobering and SO FUCKING REAL – the reason we were there was brought home to me so deeply that day. 

This evening there were 3 older women – Jane who I met on the bridge, and Lizzie and Christine to facilitate, and then Amber who is my age and was really struggling tonight – she was on the bridge for a week. It was such a safe space. I felt held but I didn’t feel I was only taking. People were really listening instead of waiting to say their piece. We started by each sharing our bridge experience. There were tears and smiles. I heard that Jane got arrested that afternoon, while I was on suncream duty. So fucking surreal. So crazy that we are having to go to these lengths to have some semblance of a habitable planet. People shared their limitations and when they had needed to step back (a key XR principle), their joy, their excitement, their optimism and HOW MUCH LOVE there was on the bridge.

I talked about the things I’d found difficult too – about the guy with the speaker and the angry shouting, about my tears during the meditation someone led to de-escalate after this as arrests were being made, about the singing I led at the front by the lorry to calm down the rebels who were locked on awaiting arrest. I said how triggering I find London usually and yet how the energy there that day meant I hadn’t experienced any anxiety at all, despite being in close proximity to people all day and with a lot of stimulation around. And after we’d all shared the well being person said if anyone’s struggling a number of therapists have volunteered support for XR rebels. And it felt safe and right to share that I see a therapist already, that I had for nearly 4 years, and that climate change had come up a lot in our work already but especially in the past six months. I said how grateful and lucky I am to have a therapist who really gets this stuff and doesn’t pathologise my fears and grief. Everyone was so accepting of this, it felt so okay to be ‘in therapy’ – why wouldn’t you be?!

Then we did another exercise in groups – I was with Jane and Lizzie. Jane in particular has wonderful elder, feminine, heart energy and I need this in my life so badly. We shared an experience of how we felt and what we did and what we were thinking at a particular time on the bridge and someone else made notes and read it back to us. It really helped integrate and process. And it helped to be with such open, loving, authentic people. I talked in more detail about my experience during the meditation, about how sombre it was to really connect with the grief and compassion I feel for the species going extinct and the people suffering due to climate and ecological breakdown. I said how hard the grief hit me but how good it felt to open to it and cry and to be surrounded by people who got it. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was about there being such deep grief but being able to connect with others, how opening to the truth is REAL and authentic and brings connection. There was much agreement and shared understanding. Jane said how she feels we now have one last chance to save ourselves from extinction, and she (at around 70) feels as though she’s finally found her tribe too.

My whole body breathes when I am with people who get this, who know what’s really happening. I can be me. I can allow the feelings around this I’ve held inside since I was 8 or 9 to come out and be witnessed. I can share how much love I feel. I can be vulnerable and sad and scared and struggling. I said how wonderful it was on the bridge to be with XR people who really get it, so it’s there as a shared understanding, a backdrop. I said how strange it is because people think it’s depressing to talk about these things but it is quite the opposite – it is real, authentic and there is something deeply joyful in that – the connections and community are as important as what we are trying to achieve. I said about finding a tribe, and then all three of us had a long hug (!!!) and it didn’t feel weird or awful. There is something so deep and unspeakable we all share. 

Jane then said about allowing grief and joy to co-exist, and it reminded me of my therapy journey, of what I’ve been opening to and allowing. Opening to this deep grief for our planet and the species living with it is joyful too because it enables compassion and gratitude and love. It is so refreshing to be with people who know how dire things are and yet instead of lapsing into denial choose to stay with that and choose to connect with others in it.  The regenerative culture of XR really, truly works. It makes it sustainable and possible. Without it, with only action, there wouldn’t be space for the big feelings and the raw honesty which is so important. I get so tired in daily life of squashing my grief and anger and fear in order to be socially acceptable.

I mean it is also fucking horrifying that gentle, female elders are having to be arrested because we face near-time extinction and government isn’t acting – what the fuck?? But I feel SO MUCH GRATITUDE to those people who have been arrested, so much gratitude that it is hard to put into words. And I feel so much gratitude to K and for our work. So much of me, the me I am now, is because of her, because of us. My Mum was formational to who I have been but K is formational to who I am and will be. She has helped me find the person inside I was always meant to be but was too scared to be and definitely too scared to show. What we’ve built is incredible. She chooses to be there for me. And if there was love on that bridge then there is love in our room. How could there not be after all these years? She soothes me and helps me soothe myself, young parts included. I know she loves me even if she never says it. I spend so much time focused on what is still hard in my life but the truth is I am so much better than I’ve ever been and because of that I am able to hold the climate and ecological breakdown, stay (relatively) sane in it, and use it to at least live my truth, in whatever time we have left.