on taking back your power after sexual trauma.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains themes of sexual assault, sexual violence, depression, military veteran violence, and suicide.

“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

Walt Whitman

Of all the fruit in the world, I find the fig to be one of the most fascinating. For those of you unfamiliar with this fruit, I will take a minute to describe. The fig, though it has many varieties, usually is a tear drop shaped fruit. It is not generally bigger than a child’s fist, and it can come in many shades varying from green all the way to a deep purple. The fig feels heavy in the palm of your hand. It grows best in warm weather, and is native to climates in Africa, the Middle East and Italy. It is one of the oldest fruits, and is depicted in art throughout history. It’s considered the fruit of the gods. The fig tastes like honey. Sometimes floral, sometime more fruity. It pairs well with goat cheese, and various other creamy based cheeses. It is an excellent accent to your bitter based salads or dishes. Add a little prosciutto and a couple of nuts and you can’t go wrong.

Figs are a tricky thing to perfect. They can be finicky when they do not grow native to an area. They are a sensual fruit. To bite into one feels indulgent upon your tongue. When they are ripe, they drip a sweet milky honey from the bottom. Some folx dry them in the sun and let their natural sugar emerge. They can be used for baking and incorporated into desserts.

Something that has always drawn to me to this fruit, is that it is not actually a fruit at all. It is a flower. And the flower grows within the confines of its sacred, round, form. This flower is pollinated by wasps specific to their species. The wasp pollinates the fig from within, and when it is done the wasp dies. The fig, then consumes the wasp. This silent process is symbiosis.

The first time I ever saw a fig, I was small. I remember being smitten with the taste and drawn in to look closer at all the beautiful fibers that made up its inner contents. I remember holding it and feeling its weight. It felt like more than the tiny thing it was. To grow a fig tree takes time. It takes nurturing and communication with the plant. It takes deliberate intention, and devotion.

October 2017. I had just moved into my apartment on Alexander street. It was fresh and new and small and adorned with furniture and textures that were incredibly me. I was close to everything, I was paying my own rent and my own utilities. It was mine. It was not perfect. It was hot. It had minimal counter space. But it was mine.

This was a busy time in my life. I was in grad school. I was doing my internship. I was beginning research for my thesis. I was trying to balance so much and I was doing it well. My routine was perfect. I would get up around 8:00 am and head into my internship. After that, I would go home, have dinner and go to class. I would come home and do my homework and do it all again the next day. It was busy but I was liberated.

One day, I got a message from an old friend from highschool. We didn’t know eachother super well back then, but we knew eachother enough where he was more than an acquaintance to me. My palms are getting sweaty as I type this. I don’t know that I feel safe saying his full name in this space. I may come back and edit this one day, but right now, I don’t know.

Anyway. I got this message from him. We hit it off really well. Like really well. It was the first time we had spoken since highschool and I was, frankly, surprised. He told me he went on to join the Navy and that life was very different for him now. I told him about my experiences with college and we decided to meet up for coffee. We found out we lived really close to one another, so we met halfway and walked the neighborhood with our coffees. I told him about what I was studying and he told me about his experiences, and we were able to relate in big ways. I felt comfortable, but cautious as one usually is. The date ended and we parted ways. But one thing that I remember him telling me, and I guess hindsight is 20/20, was that he believed “the military should provide sex workers for free so that men wouldn’t rape women”. I get angry at this now, because I feel like he was telling me something and also why the hell didn’t my red flag alarm go off here?

Cut forward to a few days later, we’re talking a bunch and it seems light and fun. I was having a really busy day with school. I went home and wanted to just relax, but he asked to come over so I let him. This time, he was a little pushy physically. I remember feeling uncomfortable and asking him to leave. He did.

Give it a week, and he was back to asking me to hang out. I really didn’t want to. I told him I wasn’t sure it was a good idea given what happened last time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved anymore. I felt less safe. And yet, he convinced me he just wanted to come and talk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I let him in. It gets late. We’re talking. His apartment isn’t far but he says he really doesn’t want to walk home and “can I please just stay the night?”. I really didn’t want to let him stay. But I did let him. “Fine”. The wasp.

I mentioned the trigger warning above. I am going to mention it again here. These next few paragraphs are graphic.

I remember I was asleep when it started happening. I was wearing my usual pajama shorts and a t-shirt. Soft grey with draw strings. I was face down. I felt his hands on my wrists holding me down. I couldn’t turn my head. I felt his breathe on my neck. He was pressing past my shorts. It hurt so much. I remember whispering stop. I remember thinking “I do not want this”. I remember saying stop. I felt him get mad and more forceful as his body stopped cooperating. It might have been ten minutes? It might have been more or less. I can’t really remember. I stopped thinking and I stopped moving. He was in the Navy. He was much much stronger than I. I might have let out nervous laughter. I waited until it was safe to move and he was off of me. He put his clothes on and left. I don’t remember what I was doing in these moments. I know I texted my best friend because I really wasn’t sure what had just happened. I told her. She sent the word back. “Rape”. My whole body hurt.

I texted him. “I am not fine with anything that just happened and I need you to know that”. His response? “I understand, do you still want to be friends or nah?”. I was baffled. I don’t remember if I answered. I might have said something cynical like “nah”.

I was in my bed. It was quiet. There was dim light coming in from the window in my bedroom. In my soft gray shorts that would never mean comfort again. I loved these shorts. I remember being really mad about that. I couldn’t register what had just happened to me. So I got up. I took a shower and went to my internship and I tried to just forget.

The months following this, I remember feeling very confused and very angry. I told a few of my closest friends, but I still couldn’t say the word. Rape. I felt like my body betrayed me. I felt like I should have known this would happen. I felt like “I was the one who let him in. I opened the door”. I blamed myself for letting a snake into my sacred garden.

I would have trouble sleeping for months. I would go into a very deep and sad depression. I would start going on dates with random guys and hoping I would feel something again. I threw myself into it, because I was fearful that if I didn’t meet new people constantly, I would never want to meet anyone new ever again. So I met new guys and I tried to be present. But I wasn’t. There was only one new man after that that I would feel safe enough to come fully into my life after this. He is my life partner, and I am so grateful for him.

I don’t know what it is about power, and why humans need it. I don’t know why, when humans feel like they don’t have power, they feel entitled to take it. I can say, I have a strong bias against the military at this point. I know that isn’t fair. But neither is what happened.

I often find myself wondering, that at what point the switch goes of for someone that makes it okay in their mind to do this. I try to understand from their perspective, and there is never an answer. Because it’s not okay, and just because you wear a uniform, does not and should not give you a special pass. You do not have entitlement to the bodies and brains of others. You do not just get to take the things you want because you wear a certain color. I showed this person a small glimmer of who I was and like the wasp, he crept in and died. I felt dirty. I wanted to take my skin off and hang it up with the laundry. No amount of scrubbing helped me feel clean.

My therapist should be crowned a saint. She stuck with me through this in ways i will never understand, and that is even as a therapist. I was hopeless. I was calling suicide lines. I was trying to figure out what to do next. I was staying up until the early hours of the morning, calling my parents at 4:00 am because I was too afraid to be alone. I would sleep on the futon in my living room to avoid having to sleep on the bed.

I have mentioned EMDR on here, before but when I say it helped save my life there is no exaggeration here. My therapist and I completed at least eight EMDR sessions before I finally started to feel like I was clean again. I am learning about the pieces of me that have begun to bloom from within.

Why now? Why tell this story almost three years later? I was afraid. after this all happened, he called me again and I was home alone. I don’t know what his intention was because I didn’t answer, but I do know I slept with my doors and windows barricaded. My peaceful little home had become a dark place for me. I was not ready to tell this story in full. In my eyes, it was the past.

I never reported it. I think a part of me knew that my word would mean nothing against that of a man who wore a uniform. If this can happen outside of the service, it sends my head spiraling to think about what happens within. Vanessa Guillen’s story is the reason I am telling this story. There is a lesson here. People are people, no matter what they wear and who they serve and sometimes they are bad. We cannot trust that the people who belong to an organization or system are inherently good and that their intentions will always be to protect and do the right thing. We see it every day, more and more within our policing systems and now within our military. Accountability is the fruit that comes from deliberate intention. Like the fig, it takes time to rebuild an entire system. It takes devotion. It takes compassion and nurturing and communication with the plant and with the people. How can a nation stand on anything solid when the soil its planted in has rotted? What are we telling the world and the victims of violence and sexual assault about their worth? How are they ever supposed to “pull themselves back up” if the nation only cherishes those who pushed them down in the first place? Without taking a cold, hard look at where we plant seeds in this country, fruit will never fully ripen for everyone. And what is the point of planting seeds when the fruit will never fully nourish? There is no symbiosis here.

Here is what I know about reclaiming power in a system not made in your favor.
1. rest is rebellion. When you allow yourself compassion and rest, you are allowing the sun to kiss your leaves a little longer. You are filling yourself with nutrients.
2. You do not have to claim power alone. Pick your people. and if it doesn’t work out, pick them again.
3. Power is not anything but a feeling. It comes from real, authentic freedom. So rather than focus on power, ask yourself when you feel the most free. And do more of that.
4. If you do not want to do something, don’t fucking do it. “No” is a complete sentence.
5. If your gut is telling you you need something, listen.
6. Spend time alone with yourself. It will be hard to hear your thoughts. But your heart, and your head only ever want what is best for you. it will feel like a storm. It’s about what happens when the rain clears. Get to know yourself after this. Do not abandon you.
7. In healing, power is not definitive and loud. It comes in small, myriad ways every day. You can choose to turn left instead of right on the way home. You can choose to have an extra plate of something. You can claim power in the decisions you make every day.
8. If the very best you have for any given day is getting out of bed, then so be it. You do not have to honor anyone’s expectations of you.
9. You are not dirty. Your skin is clean because it is yours. You can bathe in mud and still be clean. recognize that your body did not betray you. Your body protected you. Your very flesh is a poem. Sing your praises from the mountain tops, even if the praises feel small today.
10. You can love people again. You can love you again.
11. Wear the textures that make you feel safe. Surround yourself with fabrics and pillows and make your environment yours.
12. When you start to leave your own head, call yourself back in kindness. You are not required to be mad at yourself for dissociating.
13. Feel. Own your feeling. You do not have to numb the pain to feel human again.
14. When you are fearful and act in ways you are unfamiliar with, it is a trauma response. You do not owe anyone an explanation for that.
15. Nourish yourself. With music, art, writing, meditation, dance, laughter. It is okay to do these things and in fact, they are necessary. If there was something you loved to do before your trauma, know that you do in fact deserve to do it again.

Try to find ways to refrain from punishing yourself for the things that were done to you.

I have claimed back my power in many ways, most of which are silent. It is what has worked for me. I feel stronger every day. I plant my seeds in soil that is rich, and full of nutrients. I spend time with my seeds before I plant them. My figs are sweet and full of honey. That honey belongs to me. It always has. That honey is mine. My flowers bloom more each day and I decide who gets to see them.

I will leave you with this:
What will you need to do for your soil to ensure your tree grows strong? What can you do right now to be gentle and tender in your process of healing? What does healing mean for you ? In what ways can you and the ones around you contribute to change? What do you choose everyday to re-claim your power? How will you refrain from self-blame? What does accountability look like for you ? How can we make sure that it happens? What allows you to feel safe?

Be will,
Gina

if you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and trauma and are seeking help:

RAINN- 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK


Call you local government to inquire about accountability for people in positions of power.
Write letters to government officials.
Donate. Defund. Be Vocal.

On identity, ancestry and the mother wound.

“All the eggs a woman will every carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as en egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”

Layne Redmond, “When The Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm”


It’s usually not surprising when I tell people I am doing some soul-searching. I think, at this point, most people who know me are very well aware that I am someone who is always seeking. I’ve mentioned on here before that I have always been someone looking for my own version of true north. Whatever that really means. I have always felt like a piece of me has been missing. As far back as I can remember I have been looking for that missing piece, unable to place exactly what it was. Some might say that it’s clinical depression rearing its ugly head around, and others say it’s lack of contentment with who I am as a person. Maybe it’s both, maybe it’s neither. This post is going to be a little different. This post is going to get really personal. This post is really for me, but I am going to invite you to read it in the hopes that you will find fruit here.

I’ve always known my story as it exists in my own life. But there is so much I did not and have not known about myself and the people in my family who come before me. This is why identity has always been a weird topic for me. I’ve been doing a lot of healing. We’re not talking going for walks and doing yoga. We’re talking healing from an ancestral standpoint. We’re talking looking at the mother wound. We’re talking reconciling with a heritage I didn’t really know I had.

When I was little, I can remember asking my mother to tell me about her life and about her side of the family. My father’s side of the family was well known to me at this point, and celebrated. I can remember feeling sad that I didn’t know much about my mother or her family. She later went on to tell me that she felt a lot of shame about some of the things that have happened on her side of the family, “especially compared to your father’s family”. I couldn’t understand that. I do remember strange instances where my mother would be faced with family members she didn’t want me to know. One time, they came to our front door, and we were totally uncertain of how they had found us. She told them to leave. Again. I couldn’t understand that. This was family, how could this be her reaction? I found myself getting frustrated and eventually I accepted that I would never know this side of my family. I think somewhere in my childbrain, my mother turning her family away was her forsaking part of her heritage. So I did the same. I closed the chapter on my Puerto Rican heritage. I began to identify as white. Afterall, I was the lightest skinned person in my family, so it wouldn’t be too hard to do. Hell, most people don’t even believe me when I say I am Puerto Rican.

I live in a community made up of mostly Irish, Italian and German people. I still hear comments all the time from people saying “You sound so white”, or “oh! You’re Puerto Rican? THAT’S where you get those curves and those lips and that thick hair!”. I would get burned by the sun and be asked “Well, if you’re Puerto Rican, why do you burn so easily?”. I grew up hearing about how my sister looks Puerto Rican and I don’t. I never really felt like there was a place for me within my own heritage. I have the privilege of having light skin. My life has not been made more difficult because of my skin. And still, my leaves do not match my roots. And this has always been confusing. I think a large portion of me has always wished that I didn’t have to try to prove my Puerto Rican-ness to people. I felt compelled to tell people right away at times, as if to try to grab at some inkling of pride around it. I found myself relying on the label because I couldn’t back it up with any real experience, because I didn’t have any. So eventually, I gave up. I gave up trying to explain my heritage to people who would just laugh it off anyway. It became something I felt shame about. What I didn’t realize is that this shame, was passed to me by mother, and to her from her mother and it was never their fault.

Our mothers do not try to pass pain to us. But when trauma is unhealed for too long, it is passed down to the next generation. We don’t only inherit the gifts and the features of our ancestors. We inherit their pain, their sadness, shame, anger. THIS is how I define the mother wound. I do not adhere fully to the definition placed in the world in terms of absent mothers. My mother was and is anything but absent. But she has pain and hurt and trauma that she carries around. Some of it was planted there far before she was ever born. Our mother wounds are never our fault. They are not the fault of our mothers. They are not the fault of our ancestors. There is no fault. Only healing.

Growing up, I was always very connected to nature. I believed that everything in nature had a spirit. I found myself, over the course of time, cutting ties with the Catholic Church I had been raised in and placing my faith into the natural world. The water was forgiveness, the air was a life giver and a healer, the earth a provider. I still feel that way. This is a spirituality I can see. Cut forward and I could feel myself connected to physical movement, finding rhythm in every day things, singing whenever I could. I remember finding meaning in symbols and totems such as the snail, and the toad. Animals became guides. When I think of it now, I think a lot of my healing has happened because of this. I have returned to this. These are the ways of my ancestors.

My heart has been feeling full and I am going to tell you why. Recently I stumbled upon an opportunity to explore my ancestral connections and ties. I felt something calling me, and I felt a true need to know where the mother wound in my family originated. So I embarked on a journey (Shamanic to be precise) and was introduced to a few of my spirit guides. On this journey I found myself on an island, spinning in circles (little did I know, it was an Orisha dance that I was doing). I was introduced to Yemaya (look her up), who told me to call to her whenever I needed her. I was introduced to my ancestors.

I had always known that being Puerto Rican, there was likely Indigenous blood within my veins. But this made it real for me. I was told that my ancestors were Taino. They were forced into Spanish families and raped. They were forced into slavery and this continued until they became indentured servants. My ancestors were also forced to denounce their heritage and deny who they were so that they could survive. They were considered non-humans. They were not free. I can empathize now with the shame passed down to me through the women who came before me. They were taught to hate parts of themselves, and they complied for survival. If you’re wondering where colorism in the Puerto Rican community comes from this, is partially why. The self-hatred is a trauma response and it runs deep.

I am a storyteller through and through. I respond well to stories. I learn from them and find meaning in each one. Part of why that is, is because I am able to see how a character or person evolves from the beginning until the end. I believe that part of why I have had so much difficulty in my life with my identity and self-love was because I didn’t know where my story began. Without that knowledge, I could never know myself wholly. It is very difficult to place together a puzzle when the pieces are missing. I needed to know this so i can begin healing myself and the ancestors who came before me.

Here are somethings that have started to change since beginning the journey:

1. I feel closer to my mother.
2. My heart hurts way less, and I feel lighter.
3. I do not feel like I am missing something as often.
4. I feel like my depression has begun to lift.
5. I feel a quiet sense of deep deep contentment and gratitude.
6. I have begun exploring my own spirituality again, especially in relation to Yemaya and other Orishas.
7. I have slowly. I mean snail’s pace here. But very slowly started to make peace with some of the things about my body that I have always hated and considered not to be feminine.
8. I feel called to the water in big ways.
9. The heat is very slowly becoming more tolerable.
10. I have expanded my self-care practice to include doing research on the Taino people.
11. I have narrowed down my niche and stopped calling myself a life coach. I am a healer and guide. And I focus on the motherwound, and generational trauma within the Indigenous Latina community.
12. The shame is lifting.
13. I have been having dreams about my spirit guides.

After my journey I promptly began research. I spoke to my mother. I asked her about her life. This was the first time she was able to tell me things in as much detail as she could. I also began doing research on the Taino people as well as Afro-Caribbean religions, deities, orishas, zemis and culture. In all of this, here some things I have learned.

1. The Taino were very peaceful people. Taino literally translated to mean “good people”. They did not create armor. They would utilize bow and arrow to defend themselves from a nearby group of people called the Caribs, who were in fact cannibals.
2. Taino leaders were called caiques, and both men and women held the title.
3. Taino men and women lived separate. Women valued their independence very greatly.
4. Taino people ate mostly fish, and yuca. They relied on yuca so heavily that they had a zemi (modern world’s gods) named for the Yuca and he was on control of many of the crops and crop season.
5. Taino people were the first people Columbus came into contact with. It is believed that due to the disease and genocide brought on by the Spaniards and Portugese, that the Taino people were almost completely eradicated. In fact, many believed that the Taino were completely gone, and only recently a study completed revealed that many Puerto Rican folk still have indigenous Taino blood within their veins today.
6. Documentation of the Taino by the Spaniards was scarce. This is why it is so difficult to know much about the language they spoke, though it is known that they spoke Arawaken.
7. The Taino are Amerindians who originated in the Venezuelan Orinoco Valley.
8. The Taino were agriculturally advanced.
9. It was believed that at the time of Columbus’ introduction to the Taino, there were over 60,000 people spread across the tribes. By 1548, it is believed there were only 500 Taino left.
10. Music played a massive role in Taino culture and was used for celebrations, and ceremonies, cure illnesses, as well as to initiate growth of crops and rain. The Taino were a seafaring people, who built circular houses and slept on banana leaves.
11. They had zemis, and had three types of religious practice: thye would workship the zemi for protection/health/safety/abundant crop; dancing in the village during festivals; and medicine men consulting the zemi for advice and healing. Shells, paint and feather were utilized as part of the dress for such practices. They would eat sacred bread at these cermonies. Zemi were often symbolized by snakes, toads, snails, turtles, alligators and various other animals. They believed in an afterlife.

I have learned a lot more, but I will plop it in another post in the future.

This is likely not going to be the only post I write about this. But this is the first installment of me publicly claiming my heritage. I know where my seeds were planted now. My name is Gina. Short for Georgina. It means “earth worker”. The name of my great grandmother, the woman I was named after. She is starting to feel like less of a mystery to me, and I am grateful. (If you’re wondering, she is one of my spirit guides). I am many things. Strong, powerful, loving, fierce, fiery, peaceful, generous, ambitious, ready. My ancestors have carried me, and they empower me in ways I have never expected. I am an Indigenous Latina and the holes in my heart are finally starting to fill. I am headed in the direction of north and I will break the cycle of pain. I will become my “ancestors’ wildest dreams”. *

I will leave you with this today.
What do you need to know about your ancestors and the folks who have come before you so you can begin healing? What do you not know? How can you go about learning it ? What wounds have been passed down to you? How would you like to see this change?

Warmth and be well,

Gina.

** I am not sure where the quote originated, but I believe it was Brandan Odums who said “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”.

*** Please note: All of the above is the information as I have it now. This does not mean some of this isn’t subject to change over time as I learn new things.

*** Also please note: All of the above is not said in relation to the BLM movement. However, I would like to make it known, though I have not been asked, that I stand in support of and behind the BLM movement. I am currently doing research, spending time examining my own whiteness, donating and supporting black businesses. I am in the process of composing a long list of businesses to support if you are a creative, as well as podcasts and books. It is imperative that we change so generational trauma can heal and Black folk are allowed to claim space for themselves in the country they built. Please, I encourage to do your own research, examine your own whiteness and explore how the system has allowed you to be complicit in this centuries long injustice. I am by no means an expert, and I am always going to be learning. Here is an excellent resource to start:
https://allblm.carrd.co/