DISPATCH 001: Contagious Transformation
And the effects of bearing witness to it.
Hello & welcome to the first installment of Dispatches from Chrysalis, an honest offering from me to you in the form of a newsletter. My name is Priya Florence Dadlani and I am an NYC-based Indo-Caribbean cultural worker, community organizer, and strategist. I was born and raised in Silver Spring, MD to parents each of their own unique double diaspora. In 2018, I founded SPICY, a collective led by and for women and queer/trans people of color utilizing the transformative power of art to change the world. I am also a member of the Jahajee Sisters grassroots action team, working to end gender-based violence in Indo-Caribbean communities. You can learn more about my work, experiences, and background on my website.
As I work to build a digital community in different, more intimate corners of the internet, I’ll pop up in your inbox monthly-ish with Dispatches from Chrysalis - the liminal space I often find myself, constantly on the edge of becoming. I’ll also be including journal prompts in some of my newsletters so we can process various topics together from wherever. I feel like it’s important to say that these newsletters are for me to work through the chaos of my life as much as they are for y’all. I’m no expert, no genius, and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m simply trying — trying to heal, trying to find my way, trying to find the words. And I’m infinitely grateful you’ve agreed to be a part of this process. Thank you.
xo. Here goes nothin’ ~
“Had I not created my whole world, I would certainly have died in other people’s.”― Anaïs Nin
Well friends, it’s a new year. And while time is simply an illusion, I can’t say I didn’t feel the blessings wash over me when midnight struck on the eve of 2021, and I witnessed the metaphorical leaf turn over after the soul-gutting, heart-wrenching, anxiety-inducing spiral that was 2020. Of course, knowing that this year may very well be no different… 2021 has already been truly delivering when it comes to chaos and unease. Nevertheless, if you are reading this I am genuinely glad you are alive and that we can enter a new year, if anything, together.
From virtually attending funerals of community members to internally attending funerals of my past selves, 2020 truly ate me up and spat me out looking very different, yet somehow even more myself. Shedding old skin, birthing new selves… and as you may have guessed, one of these very raw selves wants nothing more than to rip off the band-aid of perfection, manically shake the dust off the keyboard, and get back to writing.
Ever since I was young, writing has been the one thing that allows me to fully acquaint my brain with my emotions. As a child and into my teenage years, I probably filled up over 12 diaries. This was instinctual to me, like eating or sleeping. This isn’t to say I’m not a talkative person, those who know me know I am extremely chatty (and loud). But I’m rarely talking about my raw and present emotions or past trauma, and when I do it can take hours just to get out one coherent, accurate sentence. I’d much rather listen to you vent. So for me, writing about my day, my interactions, what I felt, what I feel, etc. was always cathartic. Without the exercise of putting onto paper my emotions, my secrets, my unfiltered thoughts - I would be a mystery to myself. Well, that is until I have an unexpected and seemingly irrational emotional breakdown that sends myself and everyone involved into a spiral of confusion about what the fuck is going on with me :-)
Maybe I’m disconnected from my emotions because my birth chart is overwhelmingly full of earth and air elements, and nearly devoid of water. Meaning I live lots of life in my head, and lean towards being detached and choosing to process things logically as opposed to emotionally.
Or maybe it is because as a survivor, I have learned to practice an intense level of detachment from my body that can now occur involuntarily. Disconnected for years from what is going on inside me, shutting down the pathways of feeling that could open wounds of hurt, while also blocking pathways to pleasure.
Or maybe social media has robbed me of this somatic connection. Creating a fissure between my mind and body, while threading an addictive, connective tissue between my mind and phone screen. Witnessing my digital existence can be, and has been, healing in some ways. But it is not the same as looking in the mirror, putting one hand on your heart, one hand on your stomach and asking, how do you feel?... AKA something I have literally never done. Instead I go online, scroll, see others, their digitized voices and bodies, and feel empty after. When my social media intake was at its highest, I remember regurgitating a self-image that didn’t even sound like me… immediately cringing and deleting. Maybe the algorithm stole my inner voice. Maybe I’ve been hacked.
Or maybe it was written centuries ago, when my ancestors boarded ships in India and traveled for 112 days to a small country in South America called Guyana. They endured painful physical labor on sugar plantations, violence from the British government, and women’s bodies especially were the site of conquering and staking flags of ownership from all sides (to learn more, read Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur). Dissociating from the body may have likely been a coping mechanism to survive and maintain sanity, passed on to me genetically and culturally through the last four generations. Sri Lankan writer and critical race theorist, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, once wrote, “We are here because you were there.” He was directing this at the British. I am too, and therefore to my ancestors as well.
Regardless, writing is my chosen weapon in my fight against dissociation and disconnection. It is not a hobby, but a necessity. It allows me to meet myself. It puts me in my body and gets me digging. It’s magic the way my inner voice starts guiding me from my brain down my throat, through my beating heart, my anxious gut, down to my waist, legs, and back up to my hands where I begin to spit out all of what is coming up. It’s a purge. A cleansing. A clearing of all the unattended emotional wounds, observations, desires, feelings, and more.
However despite it’s imperativeness for my sanity, I realized a little over a year ago that I had simply stopped journaling about my life since middle school. Every now and then I did a bit in my iPhone’s Notes app that maybe later became an Instagram caption, or I would bolt up in the night with a sudden observation that I needed to scribble down. But other than that, I had more or less just stopped writing. The thought of writing overwhelmed me and I became frightened of what would come up. The things I wouldn’t be able to bury any longer and what the implications of that would be on myself, and anyone who reads my writing. Remember when Cady Heron had word vomit in Mean Girls... yeah, I’m scared of that.
Simultaneously, the fear of not being a “good” writer has also prevented me from writing and especially sharing it, a worry that stems from the imposter syndrome that has always kicked me when I’m down. No matter how many times someone may tell me that I am good, worthy, or that they would like to hear what I have to say, the voice of, “PRIYA, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!” in my head doesn’t fade (I literally heard it this morning). It’s disgusting proof that feeling successful is not linear and is somewhat of a farce. Cause what does “success” or being “good” even mean if you don’t feel it, or if the voice you rely on most is the meanest one in your head.
However, I went through Four Portals that transformed me and offered me a renewed desire to commit to consistent writing [cleansing] and vulnerability. Within this newsletter and in my next three, I will share about each of these portals.
Portal One came to me in late 2019 actually, and ended up being one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It was a retreat led by the Jahajee Sisters, a movement building organization led by and for Indo-Caribbean women and gender non-conforming (GNC) people with the aim of ending gender-based violence. I had recently been accepted into their Leadership & Empowerment Institute and this retreat kicked off the nine months programming. The facilitators spoke about how in building leadership skills we must start first with the self, knowing and ultimately healing the self. Little did I know, we were about to embark on an extremely intense, collective healing journey and through sharing, spirituality, and siblinghood we were going to tap into a powerful energy that transcended time and space - taking us way back to the cyclical nature of our past and also the infinite abundance of our future.
I was like, really not ready. On the first day we each pulled cards, mine was acceptance.
There is so much I won’t write about what happened because it would not be fair to those who participated in the retreat, however I will speak a bit about my personal experience. For starters, I had never before sat in circle with a group of Indo-Caribbean women and GNC folks of all ages who had such similar ancestries to me and most importantly such similar experiences — and were willing to speak on them. Throughout the weekend, I learned about my scarcity mindset and how to begin embracing abundance, I held siblings as we shared stories of violence or abuse we witnessed or personally endured, and I unlocked a desperate need inside me to hear myself and trust my inner voice.
Specifically my littlest voice, the voice of Baby P. This voice emerged as I was listening to others be vulnerable and share. I unlocked memories from my youth that I’d somehow managed to completely black out. What looked like vintage movie reels flew into my brain of a 6-year-old me hiding, a 7-year-old me in a weird white therapist's office talking about my fear of sleep, a 12-year-old me sitting on the steps of my aunt’s house in DC for hours as we waited for someone to get home and let us in, a 14-year-old me punching every single glass picture frame in the house out of blinding anger, and much more. It was jarring. What else had I forgotten? How many memories could one just black out? How common is this? I had no idea, but I knew that there was a connection between me hearing others share their stories and me remembering my own. The contagiousness of everyone’s honesty and clarity activated me in a way I had never felt before, and I shared things with these strangers, now family, that I never thought I would with anyone. It was liberating and necessary, but to be honest, within weeks of returning I had to take my ass to therapy because I simply couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle remembering.
At the end of the retreat, we each had to come away with a new affirmation that resonated most deeply with us. It had to be something that felt right, but not too easy - something that kept us on a growing edge, but pushed us towards the person we felt we needed and wanted to become.
Mine felt elementary, but it was the one: “I hear myself, I accept myself, I fulfill my desires.”
When I came home, I was unpacking my bag and opened up a little blue notebook covered in butterflies that we received on our first day. I noticed that during the retreat I wrote and journaled more than I had in years. I was documenting my feelings, writing poems, recording memories, drawing flowers, writing letters, all of it.
The best way I can explain it is... imagine two threads. One going from your throat to your brain, and one going from your throat down into your heart and gut. Typically, I follow the one that leads to my brain because it is a clear path. There is no brush, debris, or blockages. I am usually fully connected to my analytical, logical functions. It is where I feel most comfortable, and what guides me most of the time. However, I often try to follow the other thread, because I feel it pulling and tugging - I know something is going on down there. But when I follow that thread, it gets real murky, real dark, and real silent. The path only usually gets cleared when I am in an environment of complete safety and acceptance (AKA, rarely). But after this retreat, after hearing others and hearing myself, this path busted WIDE OPEN. It remained open for a while, and continues to open more easily. Meditating on my chosen affirmation, going to therapy, learning how to safely remember (as well as forget), and especially journaling all help to clear the thread’s path. It’s the spot where me and all past and future iterations can meet up.
On the last day of the retreat I scribbled these lines that have stuck with me since:
It reads: “Even when things seem darkest, you never know what will come next. It may, it probably will be, a butterfly. Never doubt the chrysalis phase. You’re growing into something you’ve never seen before. Transformation is coming. Hold on tight.”
What got me through the last year, and probably my whole life, was the knowledge that the sun would rise again. To be certain of that each morning, if I couldn’t be certain about anything else, is what helped build my hope for tomorrow. My will to live actually. This is because with each new day, I got another chance. Another chance to change.
A few weeks ago I was extremely bored. A childlike boredom that made me want to do something crazy. We had no food in the house, but we had lots of tomatoes. I had a flashback to when I was a toddler and my grandmother made me bite into a tomato as if it were an apple. Obviously I hated it, spit it out, and have despised raw tomato since. But all of a sudden I picked one up, put salt and pepper on it, released all inhibition and just… bit into it. It was very refreshing. Weird though. But something different. I bit it again. Then tweeted about it...
Because of this retreat, which occurred on the brink of a pandemic we had no idea was coming, I now know that transformation is contagious. I know a drop of water causes a ripple effect. I know the flap of a butterfly’s wings in one city can cause a revolution on the other side of the world. I know one day I can bite into a fruit I’ve hated for years and then all of a sudden, something shifts and I love it. I know your vulnerability will light the way for my vulnerability. That is the purpose of this newsletter. To spiral in public and share the views from chrysalis. A place where I change, become, and emerge over and over again. Which to me is the best part of being alive. The fact that transformation is always possible, always available. And we’re never too late. We are always right on time. That’s my offering, today and always.
Journal Prompts to Witness the Contagiousness of Transformation
Imagine one thread traveling from your throat to your brain, and another from your throat to your heart and gut.
~ Which thread do you normally follow when thinking, seeking solutions, or even just speaking? Why?
~ The thread less traveled… Do any activities make following this thread more available to you? List them out.
~ How many hours a week do you spend doing these activities? Is this enough?
~ How will your world be different if you could follow this thread more?
Think of a person whose vulnerability sparked a desire to transform within you.
~ Write down their name.
~ What did they share with you?
~ What did they awaken in you?
~ How has your life shifted since that moment?
~ Write them a letter letting them know how their vulnerability transformed you (text or email works too). Send it to them, if you want.
How does knowing that transformation is always possible make you feel? Why?
Transformation Affirmations (inspired by the work of MediaSutra which helped me create my affirmation!)
~ Where in your life are you seeking transformation?
~ Which of your beliefs, both real and imaginary, are preventing you from transformation?
~ On the other side of this transformation, who are you? On the other side of this transformation, what are your new beliefs?
~ Write a short and specific affirmation, in the present tense, that would represent you on the other side of this transformation. For example, if you would like to transform your life by setting better boundaries, your affirmation can be, “I set and protect my boundaries,” or, “My energy is valuable, sacred, and needs protecting.” If you would like your transformation to be building up the courage to leave a toxic job, your affirmation can be, “I am confident and worthy of respect.”
~ Repeat or write this affirmation daily (✿◕‿◕)
If you’re able to do the journal prompts, please let me know how it goes and do share any feedback! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me at @priya.florence.