Healing White Bodied Supremacy Through the Alchemy of Story

Tanya Taylor Rubinstein
9 min readSep 7, 2021


One of my favorite memes that I’ve seen recently is a picture of Helena Bonham Carter, ostensibly from a film where she looks wildly unkempt and raggedy. She is rustling around in the garbage.

The line underneath is: “Me letting myself go to rock bottom because I know how alchemy works!”

While the line is not politically correct, it is magically correct. It made me laugh in recognition.

At the beginning of 2020, I knew I couldn’t work like I’d been working anymore. I had burned myself out.

Over decades, I had done so much incredible work with people on their stories — helping them write books, solo shows, and transformational monologues, all kinds of storytelling work.

There were occasional talks at conferences, TED coaching, story-centered retreats that I co-led, school workshops, and for some years, I was the official writing mentor at a residence for elders in Santa Fe.

I knew on a soul level that I had become a Story Alchemist and magician. Story has always been my form, my art.

But within a cultural context of capitalism, always running, always moving, always giving, my nervous system was fried. I was starting to experience panic attacks that I thought I had addressed and resolved years before. I was worried about all kinds of things, most especially trying to discern a way to continue to be sustainable financially to my responsibilities while serving through my story work in a way that wasn’t going to shave years off my own life. Honestly, I had personally sacrificed myself for my clients’ results as a regular practice.

In menopause, at the end of the world, I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was open on some level to things changing, or so I thought. But I was still obsessive. Even during the pandemic, working every day, I was consumed with questions about what my new business model was going to be.

Then something happened that broke me out of this repetitive cycle: George Floyd was murdered.

That energy completely stopped me.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, even in the midst of the world being shut down, some of us had egos that had continued running the show.

Mine was one of them.

Busy, busy, busy.

But when George Floyd died I could think of nothing else.

I became activated and set on fire.

Suddenly I could see and feel the spirits and ghosts of white supremacy everywhere — inside the culture, inside myself, inside my family, inside my community. I was tracking the story from the inside out, and it took me over.

I saw and felt the spirit of white supremacy in white bodies, but also in black bodies, in business systems, in politics. It was everywhere as it had always been, but the difference was that I could now personally see it because I had allowed myself to feel it, all the way down.

At this time, not unlike Helena Bonham Carter in the meme, I stopped taking care of myself in the way that they tell you to do in 12-step programs and therapy. I couldn’t separate myself out from the energy that was changing me. There was rage, grief, shame, and despair coursing through me and I gave into it.

Every day I would go into my own somatic writing and of course, it wasn’t called Somatic Writing at the time, it was called something else and it was taking place inside of my Facebook community.

I would speak about my own process, speak about the protesters, share the insights I was having about decolonizing my own whiteness, what I was seeing about my whiteness, what I was understanding about my history, and how it connected to my own patriarchal wound.

With the energy working through me and burning old patterns away, I was letting go of reservations, discomfort, tension, and any holding patterns that had kept me oblivious until that point.

The feelings of shame and despair were relentless, as was my desire for justice over my own comfort, facing and ultimately obliterating my own desire to keep moving on as business as usual. There was something about letting myself go all the way down into the rock bottom of my own unconscious racism, my own internalized classism intersecting with racism, to radicalize on an even deeper level.

It was a time of deep unlearning. Unlearning, I would have told you before, that I had already faced and completed. But the unlearning that was being asked of me, to face everything in my body, my psyche, ancestral memory, as well as environment — that level of unlearning — was something totally new, born of the specific time and space of summer 2020.

In the unlearning, I found out that the spiritual virus of white supremacy had not only infected me personally but infected my interactions and expectations with the people I loved. I learned that there is no such thing as “subtle” racism, even when it’s covert or unintended. That is not the way a virus somatically works its way through an individual or cultural body.

It sounds cliche, but until facing my own somatic demons (including those which I’d inherited ancestrally and culturally), I had believed that I was “one of the good ones.” The unlearning of summer 2020 showed me there are no “good ones” when it comes to white folks confronting entrenched racism, only varying levels of willingness to face and reconcile the range of the uncomfortable to the horrific.

I pushed back against the shame and despair I discovered inside of me to be visible and seen in it. I wanted to show my ancestral stories of harm, as well as my ancestral stories of abolition and resistance. I wanted to start to show the full complex river of humanity running through me around racism instead of being afraid, as a white person, to act at all. Certainly, I was done trying to be politically correct. In my Facebook group, showcasing my process and unlearning, I desired to show the multifaceted truth of what it meant to face these issues with eyes and heart open, feet on the ground.

During the time of this unlearning, I landed somewhere new because the universe always knows exactly what it’s doing.

During the pandemic, while my husband Cid and I were looking for a permanent home here in Nashville (the original land of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek native peoples, among others), we lived in a rental house. The house was located in a formerly all-black red-line neighborhood, now mixed and partially gentrified. It had a second bedroom that I refused to go into for the entire three months we lived there. I could feel that some sort of racialized trauma had occurred there, and the energetics of confronting what was in my lived environment were a part of the reckoning I was facing on a daily basis.

The face of my old, wizened black next-door neighbor, as he observed from his stoop all the comings and goings of the privileged/blonde/matching hairstyle/identically dressed/white sorority girls staying at the AirBnB across the street (complete with a rooftop bar!), told me everything I needed to know about how the storylines were continuing to play out locally.

Who has access to money and power? How did they get that access, and why does the story of access matter?

What are the storylines across time and space? As artists, healers, writers, and cultural changemakers, how can we powerfully affect the changes we want to see in our lifetimes, to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive world?

How can we help people see the unseeable and speak the unspeakable, without going crazy?

What can we learn from our ancestors about being truly resilient?

How could I use my own experience as a story midwife to help to shift, and potentially even eradicate, the viruses I was watching play out on multiple social levels?

These types of questions were haunting me. Wrestling with answers, my body began to take on the untended questions, the psychic weight of other people’s storylines, including of my own ancestors’.

I gained 30 pounds. I outgrew my clothes and didn’t replace them. I wore sweatpants every day and paced that small backyard, around and around and around, the energy of the unlearning and of the unanswered questions seemingly taking over my being and my body.

So much was pouring through me. As insights came, sometimes I would write and sometimes I would speak out audio files into my phone and listen back, getting another vantage point, like a third-person perspective on what was arising.

I heard myself speaking my thoughts on how the poison of racism had infected me, my family, and those I knew throughout my lifetime. There were so many stories. I was seeing my entire life history from an entirely different point of view. I would sit immobilized by the energy, feeling it, feeling it, feeling it, letting it burn through me. Every morning I woke up with a new burning happening through my body.

My business dropped away. I wasn’t making any money. We were fortunate to have a roof over our heads and have money to put as a down payment on a modest house. It was still scary because we’re queer artists living in late-stage American capitalism.

Then in August of last year, from the bones of the dead on that rental property, words arose from the Earth. Arose from deep within this land imprinted by the ancestors — the native peoples,the ancestors who had experienced racism — and their descendants — who continue to experience racism here in the South where the legacy of slavery and acknowledged racism hangs like a pall over everything. On that day, the words didn’t descend upon me, but rather rose up from the ground that I was standing on, landing in my body. “Somatic Writing? What is that?” I thought.

And before I’d even fully asked the question in my mind, the entire cosmology rushed straight in and to me, offering itself to me, to my protection and my care. I now know these two words, “Somatic Writing,” codified for me. All of the work I’d done, not only as a story and writing mentor for so many years, not only encompassing all the things I’d done on my own deep, profound healing path, but the stories of walking out my own self and story in New Mexico. A framework to hold it all together had suddenly arrived, and while I wasn’t looking for it, I had been listening…

I was given the Somatic Writing path right away. This made complete sense as those have been my pathways, work in all those ways, and my personal healing devotion for so many years. It encompasses an entire cosmology that moves from the darkest, most fecund center of the Earth, up into the cosmos and the galaxies’ somatic grading: as above/ so below: body, land, ancestors.

I figured somebody would already have the domain name, but I immediately went inside and looked it up to check. I was astounded when it said that I could buy it and not as one of those premium names I sometimes looked up that said it would cost $5,000 or $10,000. I bought the name Somatic Writing for $1: humble, low to the ground, available to me. I told my husband Cid I couldn’t believe it. And he just turned to me and said, “That’s because it’s yours. What’s yours waits for you, or what’s ours waits for us to be ready.”

This past year has been a year of exponential growth, clarity, and freedom. Not because I tried to push through a business model from my ego or mind, but because I continue to show up and listen to Somatic Writing, its spirit, what it wants from me every morning. I am humbled to be in its care.

I know that descending deep down into the psychic, energetic, ancestral, and environmental well last summer is what created this alchemy that rearranged all the molecules of my own being as well as my own work in the world. Somatic Writing is here as a deeper path of devotion for the rest of my life, a modality and practice utilizing all of my skills and my maximum potential.

Somatic Writing is my deepest love and passion for story for healing, for magic, and for alchemy, offering itself as a practice for personal and planetary evolution in these times of change.