Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self
In West Africa, the story is told of an animal expert. This expert knew every animal in the bush. In America, you say forest, but the real word is bush. One day, as this expert was
walking, he passed a farm. In the back of the farm, he saw so so[*] chickens, and in the middle of the chickens was an eagle. The man was vexed to see the eagle acting like a chicken. He went to the front of the farm and knocked on the farmer’s door.
He said, “Bop bop.” In America you say knock, knock, but the real sound is bop bop. The man inside said, “Who that?” The man outside said, “That me. You must open the door and see.”
The farmer opened the door and said, “What’s your business here?” The man outside said, “I’m an animal expert, and I see that behind your farm, you have so so chickens, but in the middle is one eagle.”
The farmer said, “No, I don’t have any eagles. Only chickens.” The expert said, “Let me show you.”
They walked to the back of the farm, and the expert picked up the eagle and said, “Listen to me. You’re an eagle. You can fly. They’re chickens. They can’t fly. So go now and fly.”
The eagle looked at the man and then looked down at his chicken brothers and sisters eating their chicken food. He hopped off the man’s arm and started eating the food. The farmer laughed at the expert and said, “I told you. I don’t have any eagles.” The expert was shamed and vexed. He said, “I’m coming to go.”
He left the farm. The next day he came back so early in the morning that God was not awake yet. He knocked at the farmer’s door. The farmer was frustrated but let him in. He walked to the back of the farm and picked up the eagle. He climbed on top of the barn. He told the eagle, “All your life people have treated you like chicken. They taught you to talk like chicken and eat like chicken and think like chicken, but you’re not a chicken. You’re an eagle. You can fly now, so fly.”
At that moment the sun started to rise. The animal expert said, “You see how far that sun is? You can go there. Now fly.” The eagle thought, “This man will come bother me every day until I try this thing, so let me try.” He stretched his wings, and my people, you have never seen such a beautiful sight. The eagle flew toward the sun, and the farmer never saw him again.
points in your life have found yourself living like someone you are not. You may have started acting different because of how you were treated, or what other people told you about yourself, or how you saw others acting. You have not felt comfortable or safe enough to truly be yourself or to feel at home in your identity. The recognized and unrecognized traumas of your past may have taught you to hide your gifts and voice in order to survive. This book facilitates your journey back to who you really are, so you can own your full identity and fly.
As a psychologist and a minister, I enter into spaces where people have been wounded when others have tried to define, limit, or erase them. Yet I see people as much more than the sum of the injustices and invalidations they have faced. In writing this book, I have the same hopeful conviction that you can heal the wounds of your past and journey back home to your authentic self. I wrote this book because I believe each of us can live more connected and in tune with our authentic selves. Daring to live authentically is so important because you come to realize that despite the ways you may have been derailed by adversity, you can genuinely love and accept yourself. This is liberating. I am so glad a part of you believes homecoming, or living authentically, is important, too.
Your decision to show up for this process is an important step as you acknowledge the desire for a more authentic, fulfilling, and centered life. A centered life is one that is grounded in your core values rather than changing based on the most recent trend, compliment, or outside expectation. I invite you to take a sacred breath. In this moment as we start the journey, give yourself permission to become aware of the ways you may have lost sight of yourself. Homecoming begins as you set an intention to reconnect to yourself, to acknowledge and heal the disconnection so you can be your authentic self again—or for the first time. The stress and traumas of life may have disconnected you from your sense of self, your confidence, and even your thoughts and feelings. As you heal and grow, you get to a place of appreciating and honoring yourself in mind, body, heart, and spirit.
You may be homesick, longing for your psychological home, which is not based on geography or a physical living space, but your interior life—it is the ability to know, honor, appreciate, and love yourself wherever you are. You are a sacred being, worthy of care and compassion, and you are not alone. Cojourners is the term I use to describe our community—those who are somewhere on the journey between disconnection and reconnection, between wandering and grounded, and between homesick and homecoming. Each person reading this book along with you has had some experiences that took them off course. Those experiences may have occurred years ago during childhood or as recently as this month. There are also some who, like me, have had multiple points of disconnection. There may have been major roadblocks in your journey, or a series of potholes and speed bumps that slowed you down. Regardless of the path that led us here, we can make this journey together—the journey home to our authentic selves.
As a womanist psychologist (a liberation, decolonized psychologist, centering the voices of Black women and others who have been marginalized), I use us and we intentionally in order to honor our shared humanity. We have lived full lives that include both seasons of self-neglect and seasons of authentic homecoming. I reject the idea that mental health professionals or ministers are blank slates or all-knowing, perfect beings. I want you to remember throughout your journey that you are not alone, that there is a we present in this homecoming. The information in this book, combined with your wisdom and life experience, can position, guide, and nourish you for the journey home.
Like some of you, I had to make the journey home to myself on multiple occasions. During my early years growing up in Baltimore, I was teased and demeaned for having a dark complexion. This teasing was based on colorism, which I later discovered exists not only in the Black community but also among Asians and Latinos. As a result of White supremacy, many people globally have been treated better based on how close their appearance is to Whiteness. I had to actively work to resist these messages to be able to see and embrace my beauty and worth. I came home to self-acceptance in part because of my wonderful experience living in Liberia, in West Africa, during high school. While living there, I saw that everyone who was in a position of power looked like me, and this was liberating and affirming. I was at home within myself, and then devastatingly, at the end of my second year living there, a civil war broke out, and after the violence escalated I was abruptly evacuated with my family and other Americans back to the States, left to grieve the loss of many friends and the community that had so readily embraced me. Journaling, dance, faith, community, and therapy helped me make the journey back home to myself again. Homecoming may be a journey you take multiple times in your life. But I am here to tell you that it is possible and that you are worth every step.
I appreciate everyone on the journey and would particularly like to acknowledge those who are looking to create a life that they have never experienced. For some of you, this journey is about cultivating the kind of life you have never experienced, or you witnessed others experiencing but had doubts about whether it was possible for yourself. You may never have seen a healthy relationship modeled in your family, but you want to end that cycle. You may never have seen anyone practice healthy boundaries and self-care to protect their mental health, but you want that for your own life. You may never have experienced a sense of joy, fulfillment, or purpose in your work, but you would like to create a life where you enjoy your week and not just your weekend.
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