TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains a survivor’s account personal account of a traumatic experience.
On my first day in Mexico City, I went to see a witch. “Tengo una maldicion,” I said. I have a curse.
“Donde le duele?” She asked. Where does it hurt?
All over. It hurt all over.
This year has been, all the teenage years included, the absolute shittiest of my life. I have struggled with addiction, divorce, sobriety, and so then inevitably relapse and depression and anxiety. Add to that aging parents, financial problems, dissolving friendships, business failures, suicidal ideation and self- and other-sabotaging behavior and you’ve got a not quite complete snapshot.
I was in pain in a way that I was fretfully unable to translate into my own language, much less Spanish.
“En todo,” I said. Throughout.
“Es una crisis espiritual,” she said. It’s a spiritual crisis.
“Si,” I said. Yes.
The bruja beat me with a fan of fresh blessed herbs. They were wet with tequila and Florida water. The spray flecked across my skin and soaked through my clothes.
“Por que estas llorando?” She asked. Why are you crying?
How could I tell her that I was barely standing? That it had taken every last effort of will for me to get to Mexico? How could I explain that while I had come to heal, I hadn’t believed it might be possible until I saw her and that even the faintest glimmer of hope created a blinding flood of tears?
On my third day in Mexico, I went to Lucha Libre. I had spent all day breaking down, crying inconsolably to my best friend via What’s App about my debilitating existential malaise. “I’m not surprised you’re feeling crazy,” she said, “what with the spiritual curse and all.”
Lucha Libre, is Mexican wrestling, for those who don’t know, and the level of sparkle and glitz and camp and tits and ass it delivered distracted me from my nausea of foreboding. I walked into the arena sick with a grief so potent that I could feel it seeping through my pores and dispersing in the air around me.
Something about Lucha Libre broke through my private miasma. I was so glamoured by the spectacle that I left like I had finally broken through. The neon vitality of the performance felt like a ritual designed to break my curse. I had hit rock bottom and could now start the glorious ascent upwards towards healing! In glitter and spandex, no less.
For the first time on the trip, I wanted to go out, to explore the chaotic beauty of Mexico City. I grabbed my friend D’s hand across our overfull plastic cups of foam and said, “Let’s Dance!”
I inhaled beer after beer and dragged D to something like six gay pulquerias, where I would dance for one song and then decide that I didn’t like the music or the crowd or whatever, and then pull him into the next. I was so happy to be happy. There was just no dance floor big enough for me. Serotonin animated my limbs into syncopation and I smiled. Like a fool in a cartoon, I smiled. For the first time in months, I smiled without meaning to.
On my fifth day in Mexico, I was drugged, abducted, and robbed.
I’m saying that all matter of fact like because, frankly, the trauma is too fresh for me to be subtle, and also because how else can I say it? Also, the thing about being drugged is that it makes things kind of hard to remember.
I was eating dinner at a restaurant. I started talking to a couple dining with two girls. We drank wine and ate dessert. We danced. Things got blurry. I started feeling sick. My legs wouldn’t work properly. Fog and flashes of cheap flip phones. Residue in my wine glass. I tried to dance. No. I tried to walk. No. The next thing I remember is the couple putting me in to a car which I promptly passed out in. I came to consciousness in the backseat with a man on top of me, his left hand pressing into my chest, his right hand in my pocket, palming my valuables.
I screamed and kicked my legs and pushed at him. Adrenaline pulsed. He was lots bigger than me. The The sole of my boot pressed into his sternum. Did that free me? I don’t know. Somehow the car door opened and I flailed down the street. There was nothing. It was not the kind of neighborhood tourists frequent. It was the kind of neighborhood where the residents know better than to be out on the streets past midnight. Desolate. Desperate. Dark.
I don’t remember how long I ran. Finally, I found a street vendor, an old lady sitting behind a steaming cone of pork. She registered no response as I screamed at her. She didn’t smile, didn’t blink. I don’t know what language I was speaking. I passed out.
I came to in the back of another car. I don’t know where they were taking me or how I had gotten in the car, but I recognized the neighborhood. We were just a few blocks from my hotel. I waited for the car to slow at an intersection, pulled the door open and ran all the way to my boutique hotel. More adrenaline got me into the lobby.
The night clerk didn’t buy my story. Obviously. I was a drunk white girl in a leather skirt screaming. I was the cultural definition of an unreliable narrator.
I could go so many places here. I could tell you about the rest of the things that happened. I could tell you about who helped me and who didn’t and what it felt like to be the dubious victim of a violent crime. But I’m trying to stay focused in my own way so you’ll just have to do without some of the details.
I spent the next day in my hotel room shivering in my pillow fort, watching Mexican TV, and trying to hydrate the drugs out of my system. The adrenaline that had helped me survive the previous night had evacuated, leaving me hungover and depleted. The day after that I flew home. During my layover in Houston, I bought cheez its and sat in a digital massage chair and I have never been so fucking happy to be in America.
My bff picked me up at the airport with hugs and snacks. I was gonna be okay. I tried to settle into the feeling of maybe being okay, but my nervous system was not cooperating. I was holding it together but it was a thin facade. I wanted to fall apart. But I couldn’t.
I think I thought that my friends and lovers had already been present to enough breakdowns on my part as of late and I couldn’t put them through another. So for a few days I soldiered on, all the while telling myself that I could just relax and have a good time because I was out of danger. My frontal lobe saw home, but my lizard brain sensed saber tooth tigers everywhere.
Everything felt dangerous. I went to the pool on a beautiful day with wonderful people and was terrified of drunk people bumping against me in the water. My friend touched my arm consolingly and I rushed out of the pool, totally freaked by contact. I went to therapy. I got a massage. I was not dying. Really.
After my my massage, I felt a little okay. On edge but able to function. I went to a burlesque show. My brain would not stay in my body and I didn’t know how to get it there. I sat through the show, dumb and numb and throwing back sparkling wine that had no flavor. My body made small talk about art and life with educated strippers. My mind dawdled and hovered. If I could just get my brain into my body, I thought, everything will be okay.
As I left the show, I noticed that I felt tipsy. Something about being tipsy set the alarms of my nervous system back into overdrive. There was a fucking tiger somewhere, I knew it. The lizard brain that had saved my life was fully in control and telling me to run. The combination of alcohol and trauma looping made me feel like anything could happen. I think I just kept saying, “I can’t handle this.”
When I got to my house, at first I couldn’t even go inside. I sat on my back porch thinking, “I can’t handle this.” I thought about packing my shit and moving right then. Escape seemed like the only potentially viable option. I tried to put myself in my body, to do the yoga things, but I had no sense of being a real person in material reality. Something was untethered.
I went inside. I tried to see my home, but all I saw were tigers, predators, my body unconscious in the back of a car. I could run or I could give up. Those were my choices. I gave up. I threw myself onto my kitchen floor and screamed. Some part of me knew that I don’t live in the kind of neighborhood where it’s okay to scream so I tried to stop. But I couldn’t stop. I just kept yelling. I curled up like a fetus on the linoleum and wailed and cried and pressed my face into the ground. My dog circled me, panting.
I thought, “I can’t handle this. I need someone to save me. Someone please save me.” I begged god to intervene. But no one came. My neighbors didn’t call the cops and my phone didn’t ring and my cats groomed themselves, unconcerned. I thought, “Okay, fine, if this is going to kill me, fucking let it.”
I let go.
Epiphany is too trite a descriptor. I had a knowing. I had a knowing in myself that I was going to die. But not right then. I knew the inevitability of my own impermanence. There was no negotiating with the reality of death. I knew with terrible certainty that I was going to continue to be a human in great emotional pain and that no one would save me and that some day, perhaps sooner than later, my body would rot under the ground as corpse.
And then I cried more, for the child I was and the adult who I am who will never be saved. I mourned the grief of every bad thing that had ever happened to me that I never cried about. And as I ululated my soul into the world, I felt my own humanity. I felt intensely and without doubt that there was nothing special about me and my experience. It was ordinary. I am ordinary. I will not be saved.
This pain is what it is to be human.
I got off the floor at 4 am. I was tired and my throat hurt and I was not dead. I didn’t feel better then. I didn’t feel anything. But the next day, I knew real hope for perhaps the first time. It was not hope based on constructing a finely woven and elaborately beautiful safety net. It was the hope of no safety net. It was the hope of knowing hope to be a bullshit ideal we construct to make ourselves feel safe.
There is no safe.
This life is not safe. Other people are not safe. None of us are getting out of this alive. Love is never forever. Everybody’s gonna get hurt. No one can save you.
These are the rules and they are not fair.
And if all that is true, if life is suffering and we can’t avoid it, then what’s the point? The point is stop trying. The point is that we are, each of us, desperately armoring ourselves from every discomfort in every moment and not seeing that our armor has become impermeable. It can’t keep out evil without also banishing the sacred. We wonder at the terror of our loneliness even as we double and triple padlock our chains of isolation.
I spent a year trying to become a better person so that people would love me more and forever. I spent a year doing the “hard self work” and “holding it together the best I could.” I spent a year desperately chasing hope and never quite catching it. I spent a year trying to control my body and my mind and other people and things and situations so that none of them hurt me. I spent a year delicately suffocating myself in the box I built to protect me from pain. I broke my whole fucking life trying not to break down.
And none of that shit worked. What “worked” was giving up.
Things that I think are bad are going to happen. Things that I think are good are going to happen. My life may seem, from the outside, a whole lot less impressive today than it was a year ago. I’m single. I have fewer friends. My business is not thriving.
But you know what?
I am neither comfortable nor annihilated. I am just a human being doing human things and feeling things. Really feeling them. My friend just handed me a piece of chocolate and I can taste it deep in the back of my throat. All the pores in my mouth have opened to announce its arrival. The texture is buttersilk buttermilk so soft it makes my tongue seem like a rough stone. My whole body is responding. The space between my brows is tingling with cacao, a burst of glitter.
I am not happy. I am not sad. I am deeply, throbbingly, poignantly alive.
This pain. This chocolate. This raw and wounded vulnerability. This intractable moment. This is life. This is what it means to be alive.
Alive does not mean healed. It does not mean unbroken. Alive is a pulsating fracture. With due respect to Leonard Cohen, the broken parts are not where the light gets in. My body is not a vessel for receiving your refracted radiance. The ways that I have broken do not make me whole and they will not make you whole either.
These fissures exist, not to me of me a portal for reflection, but to break open the blisters that seep my own being into the world. My light, yes, my light moves through these pustules that render me open to the world. But so does every bitter poison I have taken into myself.
Alive may be tender, but can also be venomous.