I have PTSD.
Sometimes it feels like my brain is broken, like shards of glass are poking into my skull.
To say this diagnosis sucks would be an understatement, but I am learning it is mine and mine alone to heal.
I am a survivor of assault and domestic violence, and mine is a story of repeated trauma, something that is common in the survivor trajectory.
If I were to make a timeline of ages when my body and/or soul were violated it would go something like this: 5 years old. 17 years old. 18 years old. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 years old. 26 years old. 28 years old. 29 years old. 31 years old. 32 years old.
27 years of sustained abuse in total.
Not all of those years are moments of trauma but each of them represents a re-traumatization of sorts, patterns of abuse that I learned and relearned and normalized over the years whether it is was verbal or physical, psychological or spiritual. Boundaries that were crossed by others, or even me because I did not know my worth. Instead I knew I occupied a body that served as a target of objectification, a soul fragmented beyond recognition.
With each of those years I could make a small cross, marking the site as a grave, a way to honor the loss(es) that occurred. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writes about this practice of memoriam in her book, Women Who Run with Wolves, empowering each woman to take a look at their lives and offer Descansofor the losses they experienced. She states that every time a boundary is crossed, or a loss is faced, a part of our soul dies a little death. It is with Descanso that we can offer some healing to those parts of our souls that have died yet not been laid to rest, it can ease the ghostly wondering and feelings of deep hopelessness.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I took my own Descanso, laying out my pathway of tiny crosses through the mountains and valleys of my life. What surprised me was how vividly the memories came flooding back- the first time he hit me, the way it felt when I fell to the cold wooden floor, the sound his fist made when it met my jaw, the ringing in my ear for days after. I also remembered the times I called out for help. The medical center at my university that simply told me to apply ice and sent me on my way, never once making a note in my chart that I was being abused by a fellow student. The police department on my campus looking at my arm- black and blue- from where he last attacked me, only to say it wasn’t part of their jurisdiction and that I should file for a protective order with the city. The calls I made to my housing department, begging for a transfer or at least a police officer to patrol more because my ex-boyfriend was repeatedly violating the protective order and stalking me and my young daughter. I remember dropping to the floor when he was outside my apartment, hoping that he couldn’t hear me breathing and muffling my daughter from talking- “let’s play the quiet game,” I would say, trying to make a game out of it knowing all too well that at any moment he could break in and abuse me or worse. The time I ended a toxic relationship and my safety was once again threatened by a man I thought I could trust- how deep that deception ran as he stood over me and said, “I will ruin you.”
Along my Descanso I could build a mausoleum for the time I sustained nine months in 2011/12 of being stalked by my ex, a then Ph.D. candidate in one of the country’s best public intuitions in the world. At the time I was an undergraduate single parent on welfare nearing the end of my degree. Dropping out would have been the easier option but I felt a dutiful need to do all that I could to pull my life forward for myself and my daughter. So, I chose to commit a form of soul suicide, internalizing the trauma and abuse, relying on over the counter sleep aids to keep the demons at bay, numbing myself in every way I could so I could simply get through. My abuser was my ex and my neighbor, and he had constant access to me; walking to my car to take my daughter to school or going to the grocery store became a warzone for me. Driving home at night, after my full day of classes and work, with my young daughter in the back of my car, was like setting off a bomb inside my head, the carnage of my trauma and re-traumatization was seeing him watch as my car drove by then praying that he would not come to my door, demanding to be let in. I knew my university would not to help me, I was alone in this battle. Every single day for those nine months I lost a part of myself. At the gates of this mausoleum let it read “Fiat Lux” the motto of my university and hang my honor cords from graduation day over the entrance; a golden symbol marking my academic successes- but also a reminder of how those same cords tied me to a life of trauma.
Put the ghosts to rest, let them find a sanctuary from all this wandering.
As my Descanso comes to an end, the years 2017-2018 can be marked as a mass grave in remembrance to the souls lost, with collective stories sharing a similar narrative of abuse and silencing.
Build on these hollowed grounds a monument that reminds us we suffered together, but we also spoke out together, and we did what we could to shed light on the patterns of abuse.
“#MeToo” could be the marker above the names etched into a cold marble wall, with dates of the abuse honoring when each of our souls died a little.
Lay flowers here, let the space be vibrant with growth and joy, let the tired ghosts find refuge from their aimless wandering, spirits sent adrift for years, with unfinished business. Generations of hurt and sorrow and hiding in the shadows. Rejoice for us. Rejoice in us. But never forget the lessons learned, let this Descansoserve as a beacon of light in the darkness, guiding fragmented souls’ home.
By Melissa Barker – Founder, The Phoenix Project