I arrive at the homeless shelter for refugees seeking asylum in the United States with a cluelessness that comes with being born into white privilege. My white skin has afforded me the luxury of being naive. I arrive in the middle of the night to a situation that is completely unknown to me in El Paso, Texas. I had continued to second guess the idea up until minutes before arriving because I was scared to be somewhere new in my emotionally fragile state. I had sold a story of confidence in my journey to propel me out of my doldrums and now I was questioning my decision to come somewhere new. I had projected a swagger that I didn’t fully believe and wanted desperately to find again: the desire to run was just a part of the process. My friend, who was interning at the shelter, had encouraged my trip because she recognized my flavor and we had found magic in the midst of trauma some months earlier at the eco village where we had both lived; me forcing myself to maintain my writing regimen through the chaos and her reaching out over my walls to explore art and writing with me. We fell in love, but I wasn’t sure if or how that would transcend the space and time that had elapsed since our last interactions. I was scared that our bond was false because we had been forced to find some kind of camaraderie in order to survive an intense situation.
Once I was there I became aware of the true roots of my terror. I was re-entering a social work space after leaving that world behind me when I quit teaching in the public schools. I know what giving your life to something feels like and I saw my friend being a superhero in this space and not giving herself time or space to process her own grief and trauma. I tried to get her to open up in the midst of needing to put on a strong face and heart for people in need. The fact that I judged myself and still do for “not being strong enough to handle teaching,” or “not being able to cope with my mental health in order to help the future,” makes it so I look at other people as stronger than me if they are working with people in dire circumstances. I saw my friend giving selflessly to a cause and I felt miserable for my frivolous choices; judging myself for not being hardcore enough and for taking the easy way out. Meanwhile, my heart is broken and I am going through a mental breakdown because I became enmeshed in a codependent/toxic/abusive relationship that left me feeling isolated and helpless. My rational mind knew that it had to be over, but my addictive brain was thrashing around inside of my skull and berating myself for my choices.
My problems soon were compared to those of the people around me, who had fled their countries’ despite the trials and dangers of crossing the border into the United States (a terrorist war zone) because they were in fear for their lives. “There’s no trauma-shaming,” she said and I heard her, but I still didn’t quite believe it all of the way. I know that my pain is real, but I also know that my pain isn’t alone. The whole world is in pain. And people everywhere are living through it because that is what we have to do in order to survive. There is a tragic beauty to that realization; when you look around at all of the souls moving about their lives despite and because of the pain that they have endured; and how their presence in front of you proves their desire to live. We are in this together. We are connected. Our struggle is a part of everything.