Guest Blog: The long and lonely road to owning your power by Sara Kassem

Please allow me to introduce my wonderful friend Sara Kassem, who has so very kindly written this guest blog for you all. Its thought provoking, rallying, empowering, and it’s something that many of us, myself included, need to hear.

Sara is a Clinical Therapist and Registered Social Worker in Toronto, Canada. She has a deep reverence and respect for the healing process, and believes the only way to do it justice is by really seeing it, in all its complex glory. She believes we shouldn’t hate or reject our darkness, but take a deep breath and walk into it with our flashlights in hand. We can’t heal a wound if we don’t look at it. We can’t mend an injury we don’t understand. And we can’t just close our eyes and pretend it’s not there. We can’t “good vibes” ourselves out of it. In this spirit, Sara’s goal is to help us hold hands and walk with courage through everything the human experience has to offer.

Over to Sara…

Like Saf, I believe I have a responsiblity to let people know they aren’t alone in facing challenges in life. Because sometimes it can feel like we’re the only ones struggling. Especially in the age of glossy social media, it can seem like everyone else has their shit together but us. We think, “No one else is this lost,” and we fall into a dark hole of isolation and loneliness. 

There’s nothing wrong with darkness, there’s not even anything wrong with hopelessness. And it doesn’t need more shame and judgment. It simply needs illumination, and a light shone on it.  When things go dark we must not hate the darkness, but find a light to turn on and say, “What have we got here?”

I met Saf in a dream-like time of both of our lives, living the beach life in a magical surfing town on the coast of Nicaragua in 2013. We have both since gone on to other journeys. Both happy and painful, short and long. But the greatest, scariest, loneliest, most fulfilling journey any of us will ever go on is the journey to really owning our power.

Owning our power means looking at what we’ve been through, naming the impact, witnessing the pain and taking a stand against the patterns we keep repeating that no longer serve us. It means saying “No” to being treated as an afterthought. It means saying “Yes” to the power of our own voice and hearts. 

Owning our power is critical now, more than ever. I had a client say to me in my therapy practice yesterday, “This is why I chose you as my therapist. Because you’re bold.” And I had the same thought I’ve had many times recently, “We don’t have time!” We don’t have time to not be bold and to play small. We don’t have time to be meek. We don’t have one more minute for one more morsel of unused potential.  

Not to be the wild, doomsday lady but have you looked at the world lately? We have children in cages. Daily murder sprees. Poisoned water. Missing and murdered indigenous women as a trend. Genocide of indigenous people in general. Naked and blatant White supremacy. Innocent Black folks being shot with impunity. Plastics falling from the sky in snow. Continued rape and violence against women. Sea animals full of party balloons and straws. People dying because they can’t afford medication. This list isn’t even exhaustive. We’ve also got a pathological blend of “every man for himself” and lethal apathy.

I read the most badass quote from Greta Thundberg, the 16 year old climate activist, who said,

“Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. And then I want you to act.”

And honestly girl, SAME! I wouldn’t say I want people to panic, but I do want to stress that now is the time to act. Hope and inspiration will not help the world. Healing ourselves so we can give the parts of ourselves that will genuinely help this hurting world is what we must do. 

I sit in empathy with my clients at the beginning of my journey with them, but you better believe that if I get even a whiff that you are ready to level up, I’m calling you off the bench! You better believe that if you have even a molecule of extra light that you are holding back because you’ve been conditioned to please, conform, be small, not make waves, I want to make it crystal clear that we need you! And we don’t have time to not have you!

But making this walk to your power is both scary and unappealing. One of the reasons is that it will disrupt the shit out of your comfortable life. You will lose people you once loved dearly. You will question everything you’ve ever known about everything. You will be in incredible pain. Often. You will upset people. You will shock people. You will appal people. They will accuse you of being extreme. “Isn’t this a bit dramatic?” they might ask you.

We are tribal animals. There’s nothing we love more than the status quo. Both personal and societal. In caveman days, sticking together meant staying alive. We still have these urges and concerns: “Stay together! It’s safe here where you stay quiet and in-line with the group!” So as we are about to embark on our journey to our power, the tribal part of us kicks in. And our voices to ourselves kick in. The Minimizer says, “This thing you stood your ground on isn’t even that important. Saying nothing would have been better. It’s embarrassing that you care,” and then the Catastrophizer says, “This will end in disaster! Do the easier thing.” And then the Fear will say, “Why are you doing this? It’s not worth it!” But it will be worth it. And you can thank those voices for trying to keep you safe, and then politely tell them that you’re doing it anyway.

It will be so, so hard but it will be worth it. Because you will start to understand that your voice has meaning, regardless of how it’s received. You will start to learn that you matter, independent of people’s judgements. You will start to hear your body erupt in cheers when you say “No” to something that compromises you. You will start to notice that pain and discomfort is just pain and discomfort, and if you did it before, you can do it again. 

And you will start to notice that the people who you thought were your allies, are not your allies. You will start to notice that some of the people that you thought accepted and loved you only love and accept one version of you. A diminished, palatable, compartmentalised version of you. And you will have to let them go because you are on a mission. Because we don’t have time! We need your light! But there is no light where there isn’t dark, because you wouldn’t recognise the sunrise if you didn’t have the night. Being comfortable in the darkness will be the greatest gift that comes from this long walk.

But then the allies you need will show up. The mentors you need will show up. Therapists, books, online workshops, community groups, new friends, new gurus, healers of all disciplines. You might never have known them. They might have always been around, but were waiting in the wings for this moment. For your decision to say, “Enough. I accept the call to be the most I can be.” 

Your allies can’t meet you on the path if you don’t lace up your boots and hit the road. It will be arduous. It will test you. You will wonder if you can do it. You will think it should take less time, be easier. But it won’t be. You’ll check your map. Multiple times. You will hate the shit out of your map. But you’ll get there. Stronger physically. Stronger emotionally.

But most importantly, like the monsters under the bed, if you don’t look at what you’re scared of you stay frozen, on your bed, hoping and praying for things to be OK until night turns to day. But if you get out of bed, lift up your bedskirt, you’ll see that…oh, it’s just a bunch of crumpled laundry and boxes that you’re storing, and it certainly doesn’t look neat and pretty but it’s OK that it’s there. And it’s also OK for you to take it out and to have a look. And it’s also OK to put it in the recycling if it takes up space in your life that you don’t have time for. Because, really, we don’t have time to keep the clutter of things that no longer serve us. We just don’t have time.

There is one final note I’d like to make. While I think setting boundaries, saying “No” and distancing ourselves from dysfunction is generally accessible to most, it’s not for all. And the deeper work of healing becomes even less accessible. I wouldn’t really be a Social Worker if I didn’t acknowledge that, for some people, life is far too oppressive, abusive, and precarious to do much beyond hang by the thread they are hanging by. The process of owning our power is not meant to be easy. It is meant to require sacrifice, stretch and reprioritising. However, that’s just an impossibility for some. Which makes our responsibility to our own work that much more important.

It’s like one of those seemingly unscalable walls in obstacle course races. Whoever makes it to the top has to reach down and pull the next person up. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe you got a head start. It doesn’t matter how much hard work or skill or strategy you had to use to get to the top. Just reach down. 

Imagine if you insisted on taking the time to let everyone know how unsure you are about helping them, because of all the things you had to do to get yourself to the top. It would sound ridiculous. Some people start the race a massive distance behind, due to institutional and structural brokenness. Some people don’t. Either way, imagine how preposterous it would be to stop the race to demand an explanation of why others didn’t get to the top as quickly or as gracefully as you. We’ve talked and talked about these things, and now we just need action. 

Life is an obstacle course. Humanity is a team. And we are in a race. Not even for a better world, but a world that survives. So just so we’re clear, the only acceptable thing to do when you get to the top of that wall is to turn around and pull the next person up. Period.