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IV. We are shaped by the systems we live within.

We have the families that we have and we live in the society that we live in. And many of the ways that we behave in these families and this society are bonkers. We get separated from the truth of our soft feeling bodies from very early on. You know this: you look at some families and you can see their particular kind of struggle and pain written on every member. You’d know that alcohol, for instance, is a problem way back in the family and that it is there to try and fill up the emotional void.

We can look at our social systems (I’m in BC, Canada, but you’ll have your own where you live) and we can see the places where the systems fail us individual humans and you can see how much people struggle to try and make it work for them. We can look at school systems and see how they try, with differing amount of success, to meet the needs of their myriad variations of students. And we instinctively see the ones that they system fails to meet: the surly 14 year olds scuffing along the corridor with their hoodies pulled up against the world, the ones who can’t read because it all went too fast, the ones who look like they’ve got it together when they’re at school, but inside themselves and inside their home it’s all falling apart…

We look at our medical system and notice the gaps, the places where it fails us, the places where prejudice has set in: fat shaming, for instance - the belief that being overweight is always the root of someone’s illness. Ableism is another example. I have a client who has very limited mobility. It took me a while to really, really understand that nothing that she was asking me to shift had anything to do with managing or changing her physical reality. The result was that I had a crash course in understanding that people with every kind of body imaginable have a rich internal and spiritual life. Duh. But this was big for me. I had internalised so much of the language and thought process of ableism, as though there was actually some “normal” that was everyone’s goal.

When we enter into the allopathic medical system, we become a collection of symptoms to check on, not whole beings. When we see a doctor, we have limited time to go into our issue. In an ideal version of this medical system, we would be in relationship with our doctor for years. We wouldn’t have to try and explain our history every single time, or make like it doesn’t matter by not speaking of it at all.

In this ideal system doctors would have more time to spend seeing us a whole beings. They would be trained to see sign of emotional and physical abuse and know that it matters. There would be resources to support them as those who support us. Doctors would be trained to see the human being struggling to be in whatever body they’re in.

It would be an amazing thing if people with large bodies, neurologically different bodies, gender non-binary and trans bodies could engage with our medical system without fear of being shamed for existing as they are.

So we know that these social systems are meant to care for our most at-risk folks and we also know, if we’re paying attention, that it’s just not enough. More often than we might like to believe, engaging with these social support systems can compound issues of abuse and addiction that were already present in these individuals’ lives. We have a tendency to judge and blame people for the very things that they have no choice over.

We know, too, that the caregivers, moderators and workers within the system experience trauma and burnout. Nurses, for example, often go into their profession because they care. But the task of caring for people’s physical well-being in an emotion-denying system quickly drains folks, or hardens them. In my thinking, the moveable piece that could change everything is putting it front and center that we are all feeling beings in physical bodies. Some days we struggle, some days we hurt. Let’s make space for our emotions in our systems. I recognize that this is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to do. But let’s start, anyway, because we need some different people care systems.

Let’s wake up and pay deep, kind attention to the places where we can make change. We can do our healing work for ourselves, for our families and for the larger systems and these will change.

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