This article was written by Peniel Okwuchukwu
Many advocates of healthy social systems and mental health enthusiasts of the 21st century were introduced into the world of advocacy only after experiencing personally, the social ill that they became committed to fixing. Oftentimes than not, a person who is passionately championing a social cause and looking to dismantle a system, started off on that path after they experienced an abuse stemming from that faulty system.
Of course, this does not and cannot apply to every social and mental health activist. I’m not even of the opinion that for one to be an activist hoping to correct any of the many ills in our society, they must first of all have experienced its horror as a sort of initiation.
Matter of fact, the very nature of human empathy avails us the grace to be dissatisfied with and take a fecund stand against an anomaly without having to first of all experience its darkness. But nonetheless it still remains a reality that many advocates first became aware of societal ills as a result of personal experiences that facilitated their venture into the life of advocacy. It is this reality that I am led to address today.
If you as an activist was first hurt or harmed before embracing activism, then you equally need to heal from the hurt that birthed your activism. Intentionally, dedicatedly, and completely, you need to also find your healing and peace.
There is a misconception whereby activists who were once victims, subconsciously believe that to rediscover their sense of self after their own ugly encounter, they need only to take down the system that gave rise to their abusers.
While this life of activism that we’ve chosen is godly and beautiful, this misconception is what it is; a misconception which we should get rid of. Activism – advocating, championing and instituting positive reforms won’t solely heal us. We won’t find healing exclusively from helping others heal, and we won’t be liberated from our pain simply by getting rid of the people that cause pain in the society.
On a very broad categorization, people who experience abuse and is not presented with a chance to heal from it, deal with it in two ways – they either allow the abuse to open up a world of darkness wherein the abused becomes the abuser, or they, in a warped sense of self sacrifice, choose to be the person who confronts the abusers on behalf of others who have been abused or is prone to being abused. Sometimes these two categories intersect somewhere in the middle and a victim turned activist would find themselves giving love and positivity to one group of people, while hurting and abusing another group. How ironic and self-defeating.
The problem with whichever of these paths you choose to take (as a result of your lack of healing) is that so many years down the line, you might one day wake up to the reality that despite what you did with your life – whether good or bad, you are still without happiness and salvation.
Many people who pick up a cause and pursue it wholeheartedly unknowingly do so as a coping mechanism, a way to deal with their own pain. Now while there is virtue in creating something positive out of your pain, there is no honour in choosing to live with your pain instead of overcoming it.
While you do what is godly and try to champion the freedom of others from the shackles of abuse, you too need to allow yourself to be saved, if not you risk a total inevitable breakdown at some point. Abuse is like a wound that starts out small but when left unattended to after a while, starts to fester. The source of the wound might have been taken out and even destroyed, but destroying the source of the wound would not guarantee that the wound be healed.
The 21st century activists who themselves were once victims of an evil social system is in an even more delicate situation, because social activism can be very engulfing and energizing that it keeps them going, soothing their pain albeit only temporarily. It’s like that high that keeps you floating, keeps you focused on others and their plight so that you don’t feel the burden of your own pain and darkness festering within. To the 21st century social and mental health advocate, there is an instant undeniable rush that comes from seeing someone become better because of their effort, and yet it is this fast-tracked nature of their superhero life that is dangerous, because it projects a false sense of wholesomeness unto the activist.
Dear mental/social health activist that has once been hurt or abused:
You need to know that in spite of all of the activities happening at the surface of your life, underneath it all is a wound that continues to fester. Perhaps at unguarded moments you feel it – the frightening jab of your soul by an unexplainable but negative feeling; the sudden rush of emptiness; the overwhelming and negative emotions that periodically threaten to strangle you but don’t shimmer to the surface; the lack of peace and true happiness.
And when you feel these indications of a pain that is still alive, you don’t acknowledge it because after all you are supposed to now be a master in this terrain. Or maybe you acknowledge it, but when you do, you acknowledge it only to intellectualize it and depersonalize the experience to just some talking points at your symposium. If you’re an artist, then maybe you romanticize it: sugarcoat it with fanciful words in your poetry or some compelling visuals in your work of art. You give your audience enough to brood over, but not enough to make you feel vulnerable, not enough to threaten the remnants of yourself that needs to heal to be made whole again.
Personally I’ve found wholesomeness through my faith in Christ Jesus, and I encourage every advocate of healthy social systems and mental health (whether you’ve ever been a victim of social ills or not) to not neglect your wholesomeness as first, an individual.
Always make the distinction between your well-being as an individual, and the well-being of the cause and path you have chosen. Seeing outstanding results in your advocacy against any social issue you’ve chosen to tackle doesn’t necessarily equate to the healing and salvation of your soul. It is a delusion to try to find salvation from saving others.
It is counted as greatness unto you if you dedicate your life towards the selfless service of others, but first, do not negate the fact that your soul needs to equally be made whole, healed and at peace.
I pray for each and every advocate championing any cause -gender equality, mental illness de-stigmatization, campaign against all types of abuse, against poverty, against exploitation through, against ethnic targeted dehumanization, against substandard educational systems, etc. I pray that you would be provided with the grace to persevere to the end of your time, and that you would also find true happiness because you too, deserve to be happy.
Thank you for reading!
As usual, here is completely useless information: I’m in love with fancy and stylish pens in a very emotional way. I currently have two pens that cost tens of thousands of naira, and they are totally worth it. They are fanciful, made of wood, have my names engraved on them bla bla bla. The pens are one of my most valued possessions not only because of how sophisticated they make me feel, but also because of the story surrounding it.
This probably makes me a man of low standards but one of the ways to get into my heart is to get me a really exotic pen, I’ll appreciate it more than I would appreciate millions of dollars (okay not really sha)
Anyways, thanks for reading. Love, light and free food!
This article was written by Peniel Okwuchukwu for Truth Zombie blog.
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