Something that causes someone to feel upset and frightened because they are made to remember something harmful that has happened in the past: A trigger is something or someone that sets off a flashback, transporting the person back to the traumatic event.

Because of the title of this blog, I must first express that I am in no way blaming my children for triggering me. I understand triggers are not about others; those discomforting feelings that arise in me are reminders that my heart still needs time and attention. I could never blame my children for how the vicious cycles of my addiction, abuse, neglect, and familial trauma continues to impact them and circle back to me like a bloody chakram. As I observe them unpacking their trauma, I viscerally feel what my insanity deposited in them; there is this traumatic exchange of violent memories tracking between us that causes my old wounds to burst open–repeatedly. As young adults whose personalities and passions are emerging and who are encountering the world in new ways, I am seeing what I did to my children come back to torment them and haunt me. In the places where I once felt forgiven, I am now experiencing a different sense of guilt and shame. In the places where I once felt successful because I turned my life around, I now feel like a failure.

Long ago, new in my recovery, when my children were young and showing the symptoms of their trauma, I remember thinking that as I healed, my children would heal, and although I knew this to be true, I now know their pace will be uniquely their own. Once complex trauma is experienced, we are powerless to determine how those seeds will bear fruit in the lives of our children. As resilient as children are, their healing process cannot be timed, nor can we, as parents, control how and when our children begin to heal or what their ever-evolving version of healing will even look like. As mothers (parents) in recovery, we can do our best to address the harm we caused by asking for forgiveness, wrapping our children in clinical/therapeutic services, initiating age-appropriate conversations, intentionally creating space to nurture a relationship with God, fostering healthy community engagement, and loving them completely with healthy boundaries in place. Still, there will be variables out of our control, like DNA, the impact of family narratives, cultural influences, and the autonomy and agency of a child who eventually becomes an adult.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “What do I do? How do I stay present with my adult children, who are working through what I’ve done to them? When does appropriate support become enabling?” I don’t have all the answers, but I want to share what I’m learning…

  1. Remember, you are forgiven. I must admit that forgiveness for self has been difficult for me during this season, but I’m doing the work to remember and embody that I am forgiven. Forgiveness does not acquit me, but it liberates me to participate in my children’s healing journey–if I cannot forgive myself, I contaminate our ability to heal.
  2. Do not be offended. My adult children can now share their version of me and my addict behaviors, and it hurts, but I cannot turn away, and I must not be offended. I must own my past behaviors and not try to minimize what my children saw, felt, and heard.
  3. Find appropriate support. I shared my feelings with another mother, who immediately said, “All parents fail their children. You gotta stop blaming yourself.” Her response was not helpful to me; I failed my children for decades, to the extent that, as children, they were removed from my care for years. So please find a therapist, pastor, spiritual director, or trauma-informed friend to process this with; not all support is appropriate for what we carry.
  4. Remember your own season of questioning. My mother was the first to hand me drugs, and she was always down the hall sleeping while I was being sexually assaulted in my bedroom as a little girl, so it has helped me to remember my season of questioning her. By remembering my feelings and questions as a young adult, I can better understand what my children may need from me now. By remembering how my mother stayed present for the accusations and hard conversations, I am inspired to do the same for my children today. When we stay present, we heal our family and ensure that no family secrets remain to fracture generations to come.
  5. Don’t be afraid.  I have been both fearful and fatigued, feeling unequipped to handle this new level of reckoning and reconciliation, but life has taught me that fear turns pain into suffering when l ignore the symptoms. It is better to sit with this pain, process it responsibly, and wait for the virtues of grace and healing to flow. There is no dawn without the stillness of night, there is no spring without winter, and there is no transformation without surrender.

This may not be an appropriate New Year’s blog for some, but for others, like myself, despair is felt most intensely in contrast to the hype, consumerism, and emotional demands of the holiday season. But, regardless of the season, disrupting cycles of despair is an important topic. Is it possible to live and never linger in despair? I don’t think so. The Oxford Dictionary defines despair as “The complete absence or loss of hope.” I have known this hopelessness, and it has known me. As a contemplative person who wrestles with the “why’s” of life, despair has often had an easy trek to my innermost being. Despair makes my introverted tendencies toxic, and I isolate myself for lack of interest or energy. Despair introduces loss and futility to mock what I am trying to achieve, while capitalism demands more of my dreams than what is in my coffers.

I know faith; it’s how I changed my life. I know the hope that contends with despair. I know that purpose can redefine futility while joy can sustain the soul, and although these virtues don’t need rest, those who rely on them to rise above the madness do. And we often need concrete ways to embody these virtues. This list of ways to disrupt cycles of despair is not exhaustive. I am not a licensed therapist, nor have I mastered all of these practices, but I’ve overcome enough to share them with you. 

Engaging the Unconscious/Subconscious Mind:

  1. Remember Who You Are. I believe we are more than animated dirt or repurposed dust, so part of how I disrupt my despair is by remembering that I am a multi-dimensional being and re-engaging in spiritual praxis. This belief doesn’t make me impervious to what it means to be human, I still know what hopelessness feels like, but it does offer me a hope that transcends what cannot be fully understood. However, not everyone believes this way, so there are many ways to remember who we are; this includes expanding our consciousness, taking care of our bodies, and purposeful, creative living. (Benevolent moral authority, stoicism, and humanism are philosophies/concepts to explore)
  2. Pay Attention to Self-Talk. So many of us have unhealthy mantras we’ve been reciting for years, i.e., “I can’t do this.” “I’m not qualified.” “I’m fat.” “This is pointless.” “I’m not worthy.” Replace these unhealthy mantras with positive statements that energize and affirm you. Reprogramming the mind takes work, so be intentional about reading, listening, and conversing about your aspirations.
  3. Be Gracious with Yourself. Don’t use the world’s rigid standards to process a new way forward. Comparing ourselves with the rigid standards of the world fuels despair because those standards are unrealistic and often imaginary. It’s necessary to learn from others, but in doing so, remember that your journey is your journey. Celebrate your uniqueness and allow it to help you find your true north.
  4. Read. Reading allows us to see ourselves and the world around us in new and invigorating ways. Turn the TV off and spend some leisure time reading. What we choose to read can be something other than what is familiar to us; let’s try reading books that expand our thinking and offer perspectives that may challenge our own. 
  5. Quiet Time. I intentionally create pockets of solitude several times a day; it gives me time to listen for any unhealthy mantras shaping my experience. Quiet time also allows me to unplug from the world’s constant chatter and re-evaluate a situation I may be dealing with at the moment. I have even found a bathroom stall to be a place of reprieve on a busy day. Practicing mindfulness is essential to disrupting cycles of despair.
  6. Therapy. Not everyone, including myself, can always afford a therapist, but having someone to process life with can be beneficial. Friends who share in your despair aren’t usually helpful, so find someone who listens and encourages you but challenges your unhealthy beliefs and behaviors. I have also used journaling as a means of tracking my thoughts when I’ve been unable to find a safe place to land.

Integrative Practices:

These practices are not new, but it sure did feel good writing them down and considering where I am. What are some ways you disrupt cycles of despair? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you. Please consider leaving a donation, and thank you for your continued support.



It was the last Wednesday in June, and my sons were visiting – Joshua, a recent high school graduate who was anxiously dreaming about his future; and Richard, a creative soul stomping about the planet trying to find his footing in an often inhospitable world. We spent the day together. We all grabbed coffee, headed to the gym, and then walked to the grocery store. Exhausted from the Texas heat, we retreated to our own spaces, each of us doing our own thing as the AC cooled our bodies. Later on, Richard got up and cooked us dinner. We sat and ate together and then my daughter, Ma’at stopped by.

Time passed. The sun had retreated. I came out of my room to inspect the kitchen and to light my the-kitchen-is-closed candle. But when I walked into the living room, it was dark and quiet. Well, not entirely. The TV was muted, reset to some colorful default screen. There were two blankets, some pillows tossed about, and two distinct deep breathing patterns. Ma’at had texted me earlier that she had made it home safe, and my sons had fallen asleep in the living room. I stood there looking at them and listened to their breathing. I leaned against the wall and smiled, and then almost immediately, my eyes filled with tears—all on their own. Curious at the sudden unexpected emotion, I began to inquire within myself, searching the layers until finally, my body alerted me to the source of my reaction.  I was crying because my sons were with me, soundly sleeping in a pocket of safety while Jayland Walker’s bullet-riddled body lay in a morgue in Akron, Ohio.

I thought of his fear and the adrenaline forcing his pace as he ran, trying to stay alive when the situation was beyond de-escalation. Shots ringing out! Ninety or so, with 46 bullets tearing into Mr. Walker’s flesh. No matter how fast Mr. Walker ran, he could not outrun this nation’s history of violent disregard for life, particularly Black life. I thought of the vicious loneliness he must have felt as he heard the shots releasing each bullet, the deadly force intended for him as he ran away. I stood there on a Wednesday night while my sons slept and thought of Mr. Walker’s parents, family, and friends. It didn’t matter to me that he attempted to evade the police; people run from law enforcement whether they are guilty or innocent. I really didn’t care if he had committed a crime or not. What mattered to me was Mr. Walker was dead after an alleged traffic violation. There would be no jury of his peers, no judge, no representation, no proper conviction, or exhausted appeals. A flood of other names ran through my mind like a never-ending funeral procession, and like some psychic pallbearer, I shook with rage and grief as I carried the weight of each body within me.
From a place that felt both near and far, past and present, I could feel centuries of grief. Fathers sobbing at gravesides beneath dull gray skies. I heard pews creaking as mothers rocked back and forth, wailing, and I saw weary old folk with locked jaws weeping silently, holding firmly the hands of knowing, wide-eyed children. This grief is not only overwhelming and unrelenting; it’s old, haunting even the most intimate of moments like a violent specter.

[1]Smith, Christen A. “Facing the Dragon: Black Mothering, Sequelae, and Gendered Necropolitics in the Americas.” Transforming Anthropology 24, no. 1 (2016): 31–48.

I like my home very neat. It’s a habit, a way of being in my personal space that brings me joy. For whatever reason, clean, uncluttered spaces are calming for me and offer a sense of orderliness in an otherwise chaotic world. To ensure my home remains clean and uncluttered, I have my day-to-day routines, things like making my bed, wiping down my bathroom, and cleaning my kitchen. I also have my weekly routines: washing bed linens, cleaning my entire bathroom, mopping, and vacuuming. On the surface, my home is clean, but then there are times when I schedule a deep cleaning, a spring cleaning, and I move things around only to find crumbs, dirt, and dust just beyond the surface. It takes additional work to move the refrigerator, vacuum under my couch, and wipe down my ceiling fans, but for me, it’s essential work.

Like many others, I have had some extreme ups and downs in the last eight months. Not only within the layers of the world I inhabit as a citizen of this nation but within the layers of my personal life as well. As a child/woman who has endured some particularly violent trauma and used drugs for twenty-eight years to cope, it is imperative that I be mindful of how turbulent times impact me. Like the inner rings of a tree, I, too, have rings, a record of every season held in my mind, body, and spirit, and when the turbulence gets intense, sometimes old injuries begin to ache. This aching, albeit familiar, taught me a new lesson this time, and the ring was the ring of rejection.

In March, I was offered not one, but two fantastic career opportunities that were later rescinded. These weren’t just any jobs; they were next-level positions that would have utilized everything about me. My past life experiences and my position as a clergy person. I felt that all of my work was paying off, but when each organization decided to go in different directions, I began questioning my worth and purpose. I started doubting the work I’ve done to change my life, and from there, the self-talk became extremely toxic. As a result, I was spun spiritually and emotionally out of control. I slowly stopped doing the day-to-day habits that once kept me balanced and moving toward self-actualization. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped eating healthy foods and reverted to comfort foods. I stopped reading and writing. I stopped meditating, and for five weeks, I was sitting on my couch, lost.

The issue was more profound than me just not getting a job; it was the pain of having the door of opportunity swing wide twice and then slammed in my face–twice. I felt as if my purpose and joy had been run down and hogtied by self-doubt and despair. It was the pain of releasing the hope I had, for a moment, to earn enough money to move beyond survival mode to financial freedom. At this point, I was unemployed, my car was in the shop, and my bank account was low. Honestly, I was angry. I had been trusting God and doing the work, not in pursuit of perfection but with a sincere desire for growth and freedom. I had been showing up for my life, family, and community. Through my tears, I railed against God. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong and why it seemed I was doomed to struggle.

And then, one evening, as I was wiping down my kitchen counter, my dishcloth pulled some crumbs forward from beneath the microwave. So I pulled the microwave out, and as I cleaned the crumbs untouched by my day-to-day cleaning, I received this message in my heart… There are seasons when you will endure experiences that expose the crumbs, dirt, and dust in your composition that are hidden just beyond the surface. These experiences can feel disruptive and painful, but the intention is never to simply cause you pain. This experience was painful because it exposed you to a professional level of rejection you had not experienced before, and there can be no healing without exposure. Healing happens in seasons, not sessions. The larger your dreams become and the more you accomplish, the harder rejection will feel, and you cannot throw yourself away because of it. Yes, these experiences disrupted old day-to-day routines and inspired tearful, perhaps angry self-reflection, but all of that was to initiate a spiritual spring cleaning. You need to know that when these organizations decided to go in a different direction, it had nothing to do with your worth or purpose. It is imperative that you know who you are and what you’ve been called to do because the world will not always affirm that for you. This turbulence was not about the career opportunities being rescinded, it was about exposing how fickle your confidence is.

The crumbs, dirt, and dust provide a loose analogy, and it has nothing to do with being perfect or imperfect; that’s not the point. Instead, they are symbolic of areas within me that may go untouched by my day-to-day rituals of faith and self-care, and it took some upheaval to expose them. I don’t want to throw away life-giving practices when I hit a bump in the road. I don’t want to sulk and question my worth and purpose just because I experience rejection. This season of despair taught me that my rituals of faith and self-care can’t just comfort me; they must challenge me to do the hard things, to continue to lift and look under the traumatic events that have shaped my life. As I continue to grow in my understanding of what recovery and success look like, I am learning that just as spring cleaning is essential to the climate of my home, spiritual spring cleaning is essential to the stability of my mind and spirit.

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I didn’t grow up in an intergenerational family, never ran to embrace a grandmother or grandfather. There were no holiday dinners or birthday parties, no summers with great uncles or aunts. I didn’t meet my paternal grandmother until I was eighteen, and by then my grandfather was deceased. I didn’t meet my maternal grandparents until I was thirteen and placed in kinship care. So, as a little girl who had no relationships with older people, I feared them. I feared their dark, deep-set eyes, and their paper-thin skin that did little to cover the soft sinews, bones and blood vessels of their fragile, claw-like hands. When an old person would reach for me in public, grasping at me for emotional connection and physical touch, I would cry, and squirm away while telling them, “no.” As a young adult, with my own unresolved pain, that fear morphed into indifference. I had no patience for the aging. I would roll my eyes and briskly pass them when their pace frustrated my own, or aggressively speed around them when they drove ten miles below the speed limit. I didn’t know what it was to sit and listen to an elder tell a story. I couldn’t surrender my attention long enough for them to get to the marrow of the tale, and I didn’t trust there was any to be found.

I also had little tolerance for the fickle temperament of fall and the unaffectionate touch of winter. Being from the east coast, I did love when the leaves would catch fire without being consumed. I admired the trees standing valiantly, while their leaves danced in contrast to the coolness of an icy blue sky before falling to the ground, but I hated the winds that carried them away, and I saw no beauty in the barrenness of trees. It was as if they had been stripped of their purpose. While winter offered both the invitation to play, and to be still, I resented the earth being blanketed in snow. I did not like when my face stung from unrelenting winds. To me, the world seemed harsh, bleak, and the snow was only beautiful when it was captured, stripped of its verve and held placidly in the creative space between an artist’s canvas and the imaginative strokes of their brush.

I also despised death. I thought it was rude, and the concept of heaven did little to soften its non-negotiable intrusion. I remember the night my grandmother died. I heard her calling out for help, but her voice was not clear and robust. It sounded as though she was struggling to breathe. It was early in the morning; the sun had not yet peered in from the east. I ran down the hall and turned on her light. Her eyes were wide with terror, and she was reaching for me, grabbing my arm as if I were the oxygen she needed. I ran downstairs, screaming out for Tommy, her adult son. He shoved me out of the way as he sprinted up the stairs yelling, “call 911. Call 911.” Within minutes the street was lit up like Christmas morning as the ambulance lights twirled and the sirens went silent. A cold blast of air chilled the house as the EMT’s rushed to the second floor. I stood in the living room, watching as they ascended and descended the stairs. As a new day was dawning they carried her away, and I never saw her again.

Nothing could explain away the mystery or fill the vacancy death left behind. I have never been comforted by the clothes or the make-up that was used to adorn death with a familiar guise. I knew the casket’s plush inner lining and satin pillow were really for our heads, our sentimentalities, not the eternal comfort of the deceased. All I could see was death, and in that moment I refused to sit with any other parts of the cycle. I contemplated the pain; I had to, but my contemplation was tainted with a resentment that denied all that was good about the gift of living. The summation of the person’s life was lost for me; if death was the end, then their living, my living was all in vain.

This week I was sitting in a Zoom call and just above the rim of my computer screen was a week-old bouquet of flowers that had been gifted to me. Uninspired, and no longer interested in the conversation that was happening online, I found myself lost in the graying folds of a single flower that seemed to be speaking to me. It had changed and so had my joyful devotion to its care. The flower was shrinking, and what was once a soft rose-salmon petal with a sturdy flesh had become paper-thin, its color shifting from blush to pallidity. I slid my laptop over, pushing the chatter aside. My eyes followed the head of the flower to its bent stem, once erect, and observed how it was no longer able to hold the weight of the flower. Captivated, I searched the glass vase and the stagnant water as I tracked my thoughts across a lifetime. My gaze finally rested on the table where some brittle leaves had fallen. Inspired by the wisdom of it all, I smiled and looked back up at that simple flower so confident in its season…

November 23, 2019, was the most difficult day of my life. My mother, Sandra, passed away. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. My mother had been my best friend. We talked every day. Monday through Saturday we facetimed at 6:30 in the morning; on Sunday I would facetime with her after church. We had spent years dealing with the trauma of my childhood and had come to a beautiful place of healing, joy, and divine reconciliation. I had forgiven her, and in turn could forgive myself for what I had put my own children through as I carried our collective, familial trauma into their lives. There wasn’t a time that we didn’t laugh or say, “I love you,” during those calls. I told her often; I wanted her to know, without a doubt, just how much she meant to me.

As I sat in the waiting room of the ICU waiting for the last procedure to strengthen her heart and return her to me, a nurse came out and said, “Ms. Christy, come with me, your mother is actively dying.” I couldn’t believe my ears. The blood circulating through my body, my heart had turned to sludge. Although adrenaline was rushing, my heart could not keep pace and a heaviness fell in around my chest. I followed the nurse to my mother’s bedside, and looked up at the numbers that were recording the pace at which my mother’s life force was leaving her body. I approached her, and took her hand, rubbing her brow. I didn’t beg her to stay. I had already done that, but I could not believe things were coming to an end within moments–that I would never speak with her again or laugh with her again, or hear her say, “I love you Leena.” My senses could not hold the intensity of the void her absence would leave in my life. I spoke to her. I thanked her. I told her I loved her, and I wept, quietly.

Within minutes the doctor walked up behind me, rubbed my back and said, “I’m so sorry. Your mother is gone.” In the moment I resented his calm demeanor, his comforting touch. I wanted him, a stranger, to fall into my grief with me; to take a portion of the pain that was consuming my heart. I looked up at the machines, they had been turned off. The team was standing at the foot of her bed, watching us, observing death again, perhaps in their own way holding vigil. I turned back to her and laid my face against hers. I whispered “No Mama. No. No. No. I can’t do this without you. Mama? Mama? Noooo…” She didn’t answer. Death had come, and she had been released. I walked out.

I returned to her home to settle in for the night, but I could barely enter her house knowing that she would never greet me again, that it would never be the refuge it had once been. I struggled with the thought of her lying beneath a white sheet in some cold, indiscriminate space within the hospital morgue. I knew she was no longer with her body, but my grief had not yet freed my mind to separate the two. I sat on the edge of her bed, grief and unbelief settling in my body. I grabbed her nightgown that hung on her bedroom door and cried myself to sleep, wrapped in the scent of my mother.

One of the ways my grief manifested was in wanting to wear, touch, and hold what had been close to my mother’s physical body, as well as her heart. Since her passing I have carried the same bag she told me to use to bring her toiletries to the hospital. I also have a purple teddy bear that was on her bed for as many years as I can remember, as well as a crocheted cross that she used to mark her place in her Bible. I knew she touched those items every day, and I wanted to do the same. I have also worn her jewelry every day since the day it was given to me. That is until last week. Last week I was gifted with a necklace from someone I love, and I wanted to wear it. As I reached for the clasp I realized I had never taken my mother’s necklace off since November 26, 2019. I hesitated. My hands released the clasp, and momentarily found their way back to my side. I looked at myself in the mirror, and took my mother’s necklace off.

Several days later I received an email from the attorney who is handling my mother’s estate, and after all this time they are prepared to put her house on the market, but first they offered me the chance to purchase it. I sat back in my chair, stunned by the intensity of emotion that shook me to my core. I wasn’t prepared. I don’t want to purchase her home because I never intend on living there, and neither do my siblings, but I did not want to let it go. Letting her house go is like being forced to acknowledge her death again; it meant releasing something else that defined my life with her. If I sell her house, she can never return to it. This sounds insane, but those were the irrational musings of my heart.

I have since decided to sell my mother’s home, and I’ve also dealt with the simple truth that the strap on my mother’s bag will one day snap. Other people who love me will buy me beautiful things and I will want to adorn my body, my life with their gifts. I now can release in life what my mother released in death. It is good for my heart, my mind to acknowledge the nuances of my grief and how it has manifested in my life. This is important work, not only for my own sanity, but in allowing me to walk with others as they live, love, and grieve. I love my mother dearly, and often my heart still aches as strongly as it did those many moments ago when she slipped beyond the veil, but I don’t have to hold her things in grief. As her daughter, a flower from the garden of her life, I am the thing she held most dear. I am her legacy. I was the center of her joy, not her favorite purse, her purple teddy bear, necklace, or even her home.

She loved me, and I loved her and that is all I will ever need…

I had just gotten home from a seven day working vacation in Colorado. Although the trip was amazing, I was excited to get home. With my son staying in Colorado for a few additional weeks it was going to be the first time in sixteen months that I would have my home to myself. But things haven’t been working out the way I planned. After taking Dramamine to get through my flight I made it home around 2pm, exhausted. My plan was to shower, unpack and maybe do some more research so I could finish a fifteen-page paper that was due in two days, of which I only had six pages completed. But that didn’t happen; I was too tired to focus. I chalked up my fatigue to the Dramamine, and the emotional toll of my visit with family and friends in Colorado. I rested. The next morning I woke up feeling unmotivated, like really unmotivated; it almost felt like despair. I had no choice but to research and write because the paper was due the next day, but it was a painful process, and the paper was not what it should’ve been. I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch, silently berating myself, and watching The Handmaid’s Tale until midnight.

The next morning I made the necessary edits to my paper and submitted it, but I was still feeling unmotivated. Usually I work through moments like this. I know to sit with myself and do the work of discerning which part of me was in need of care, but somehow I had emotionally settled in a much more complex, but unfamiliar place. Before I knew what was happening I had already put on the boxing gloves and starting beating myself up for not being more productive with my time. I wasn’t sure what was happening, and I don’t like to use the word depression lightly, but for someone like me who is ambitious about the plans I have for my life, I was feeling void of energy, and light. I started to tell myself how incapable I was, and that moving to Texas and beginning this degree and non-profit had been a dumb idea. I was telling myself that no one gave a damn about my ideas, and I didn’t have the strength, or the mind to accomplish them anyway. It was bad. I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch, silently berating myself, and watching The Handmaid’s Tale until midnight.

The next morning, since there was no urgency to get any more class work done, I decided to meditate before I got out of bed. My home was quiet. I sat in the stillness asking God to explain what I was going through—no answer. I got up, feeling good about having had the desire to meditate, and opened the curtains determined to do some simple things around the house just so I wouldn’t spend the entire day watching The Handmaid’s Tale. I made a few necessary calls, and on one of those calls, with a new acquaintance, I dared to mention my struggle. Her response was, “You know, you should watch what you say out loud. You are speaking curses upon yourself. You are confirming where Satan has you and giving him power to keep you right where he wants you.” I said, “Huh? Ok. Well, yeah. I’m gonna go. I got some stuff I gotta do.” It didn’t bother me personally, I have my own belief system, and it doesn’t include remaining quiet when I am hurting, or feeling lost. I think that many people hold their pain, alone, and it can have devastating effects. Kinda like holding our shit, or trying to swallow vomit when the body is obviously trying to purge.

Later that day I went to the grocery store and bought lots of fruit and veggies. That was a good idea. I came home, cut them all up, refrigerated some and then made a really good stir-fry for dinner. Thinking maybe I was dehydrated or something I drank plenty of water, and I also took my vitamins. I still spent the evening, curled up on the couch, silently berating myself, and watching The Handmaid’s Tale, until after midnight.

The next morning I woke up, meditated, did some reading, and sat quietly looking at the tree in the courtyard. I still had my boxing gloves on. I decided to call a friend, someone to be a gentle witness for me because I was being emotionally violent with myself. After listening, she began offering me the grace I could not offer myself. She suggested I was fatigued from my trip, my first year of a doctoral program, and the lingering grief of my mother’s passing. I hadn’t thought of all those things being able to shut me down, but then I added that I was feeling intimidated by my non-profit work as well. I told her that I was feeling incapable, and she repeated to me what I so often say to others, “Don’t try to eat the whole pie at once, just get one forkful at a time.” She told me to make a list of what I needed to do and address each task at my own pace. I felt better. I spent the evening, curled up on the couch, watching The Handmaid’s Tale, until eleven. It was the last episode.

The next morning I woke up and told myself to smile. I meditated, did my devotions, and sat quietly looking at the tree in the courtyard, but the boxing gloves were gone. I still wasn’t feeling myself, but I knew I needed to keep moving. I decided it was smoothie day! I put on my music, and my apron and started cooking down bunches of baby spinach, cutting up ginger, apples, and every other good thing I put in my smoothies. I make enough for ten days and so the process takes some time, and that time is a gift to myself. I wasn’t thinking of anything particular when I received a thought, “Expectations diminish the benefits of grace and gratitude.” I rinsed my hands, turned off my music and sat down to write. Behind my despair was the weight of my expectations.

I have spent years living under the weight of expectations. Some expectations I have placed on myself because I am wanting to earn trust, forgiveness, and respectability. Thinking that if I achieve some good things, some great things, I can somehow redeem the time I’ve wasted, and mop up the tears I’ve caused. Some expectations I have placed on myself because I want to show my children a better way, and change the legacy of poverty, violence, and addiction that was handed down to me. Some expectations I have placed on myself because I’m alive and so many of my sisters died in their addiction, walking the same streets I walked, but succumbing to the violence I was able to escape. I realize there are healthy expectations, I should be striving to change my life, and to leave a different legacy for my children, my family, but not at the expense of my peace—my joy.

Expectations set against this idea of redemption is not okay, and this is hard for me because of the way I have lived my life. I want to fix what I’ve done, but I can’t, and running myself into the ground trying to redeem the time will only frustrate how I am able to love and value myself. Unhealthy expectations lead to emotional violence. I must remember that my dreams are not about what I can achieve, but the unfolding of who I already am.

Many years ago, maybe twenty-seven years ago, I worked for a man named Glen, here in Fort Worth, Texas. Glen was a good man, a nice man, very professional in the work place, and he had given a woman like me, with a sordid past, the opportunity to work. The office was a hodge-podge of good, but troubled folk who came from varying backgrounds that simply needed to find their footing in life while earning a living. Well, not quite a living. But, I enjoyed working for Glen, and it was because of him, and his character reference that I was able to move on and become a file clerk with the City of Fort Worth even though I was a convicted felon. Several years after leaving Glen’s business my life fell apart, as it had always done, and I found myself working the streets of the Southside of Fort Worth to support my crack addiction. I never saw Glen again, but he had never left my heart, my mind, as a person who had given me a chance. In 2008 I moved away from Fort Worth. I moved away because being there kept me too close to the painful realities of my addiction and I needed to go away and heal.

In August of 2020 I moved back to Fort Worth to reconnect with my daughter, whom I had lost custody of in 2003, and to begin a Doctor of Ministry degree at Brite Divinity School. I came back to this city a different woman, and my intention was, and remains, to do the work of walking with women like me, wherever they are. The Dallas-Fort Worth area feels like the appropriate place for me to open a drop-in center for women who are active in their addiction and living complex lifestyles to support it. Over the years I had done the work of engaging the physical abuse, addiction, and sexual abuse of my childhood, as well as the physical, spiritual and psychological trauma of being a drug-addicted prostitute for much of my adult life. But the work of engaging trauma, and turning it over to become fodder for something better, is an ongoing labor of self-love and self-preservation that embodies one’s self-worth. I have always known that different parts of my story could resurface at any time—not to serve me, but to shame me, re-traumatize me, and undermine my progress. I believe that is the nature of trauma, resolved or not. I write this story in light of that revelation because one day I will be able to share my journey with women like me, and perhaps this will bring awareness to the snares that arise from the residue of trauma lingering in the spirit, the mind, as well as the body.

Several weeks after arriving in Fort Worth I drove past many of the places where my addiction and life as a prostitute played out. I always want to be mindful of where I have been, and who I have been, because it centers my life in purpose and gratitude. I also know it is important, at least for me, to see the spaces I have been and to sit with whatever feelings they provoke in me because suppressing memories, no matter how painful, only creates dormant pockets of unresolved issues or pain that can circumvent my healing. These dormant pockets, if untreated, create space within me for toxicity to quietly carry on within me, and though it may not seem to be aggressively exacting anything from me it compromises my overall health in subtle but vital ways. There is nothing worse, for a person in recovery, to face triggering difficulties only to find their health is only as deep as the masks they wear, and are now lacking the integrity, or the spiritual or emotional equilibrium, to maintain their sobriety. It’s not a good time to find out that termites have consumed the foundation of a home during a storm; it’s best to know, and do the work of repair in advance.

So, one day, as I was moving through the city, I passed by Glen’s place. It was all boarded up. I pulled over and sat there reminiscing about all that had transpired since my days in that office. I felt a beautiful wash of nostalgia cascade over my memories, and I sat there smiling with tears in my eyes. As I pulled away I wondered whatever happened to Glen…

Six months later, in March of 2021, I was driving through Arlington, and stopped for gas. I walked into the gas station and to my surprise, Glen was in line at the register. I couldn’t believe it. I called out, “Glen?!” He turned and stared at me, obviously trying to put a name with the face. “Oh my God! Yevette? Girl. Is that you?” We hugged, and laughed, repeating the improbability of running into each other after all those years. I was so happy to see him, and there was so much to be said so we exchanged numbers and promised to catch up. The next day I began receiving calls from Glen. For several weeks the conversations were good, and then they became intense. After catching up on the details of our lives and families, Glen let me know that he had been in love with me since I worked for him all those years ago, and that he believed God had brought me back into his life in response to that love. At first I didn’t take his words to heart. We had never been romantically involved, and he didn’t know me to love me. But then he began to profess his love, repeatedly, with tears, pleading with me not to leave him again. He told me that he had been unhappy in his marriage for decades, but now, because I was back, he felt empowered to make some hard decisions. I could sense that he was being earnest, at least in his own mind he was, and it’s important to note that his heartfelt confession did settle in around the gratitude I had for his kindness to me those many years ago. I care about Glen deeply, platonically, so his tears caused me to feel empathy for what his heart longed for, but no other passion in me was quickened.

Not wanting to be mean, or disconnect from Glen altogether, I took another call. Again, the call ended with him crying, and professing his love, and I had a thought: “You should just let him hold you. You should go and comfort him.” This thought shook me to my core. It was as if some other woman had entered my headspace and was making this wildly inappropriate suggestion. Why would I think such a thing? Why would I consider offering him my body? For what? Although I know this thought, in part, arose from the ways women have been groomed, and called upon to exhaust themselves in nurturing and serving others, especially men, I knew for me those thoughts emerged from a much more personal space of embodied trauma, and the emotional history that gave voice to it. For years I had used my body to earn money, to please men, to address their emotional needs and sexual appetites. Even in relationship I learned that the way to calm a man was to offer him my body; it was easier than dealing with his tantrums. Hearing Glen cry and profess his love triggered me; his words, his grief settled in around my gratitude towards him and attempted to manipulate me into betraying my own sense of well-being and self-worth. This is why the work of healing and self-actualization is never done.

There would have been a time that I would have been moved in my mind and body to satisfy his love for me, his desire for me, but that woman is dead. No matter the commitment, or how good a man has been to me, I don’t owe him, or any other man, anything—not even a conversation.

Glen did not ask me to comfort him physically. My triggers were my own embedded beliefs and trauma, but, as sad as it is, I must release Glen to fade away, again. Not because he is a temptation, but because he has set a course with me that will not end amiably. As a woman in recovery, this is a vital lesson. The inability to spot a trigger sets in motion additional triggers. The inability to hear old voices makes it easier to entertain them and ultimately be lured away from one’s path of recovery into familiar but deadly terrain. If those thoughts, “You should just let him hold you. You should go and comfort him,” hadn’t hit me as strange, I could’ve shifted into a dangerous space. How? Because addiction is clever, almost as if it has a personality with a specific agenda, and if I walk away from the parameters of care I have set for my body, then the addiction senses I’ve become comfortable in relaxing my efforts at integrity. There’s no pressure, and there’s no fear, because fear is not life-giving, but I do live with an awareness that has been groomed by my spiritual moral compass. The work of engaging trauma never ends, and for me, as an ex-prostitute, there is a depth to this truth that must take root in my body. One, so that I can be healed and experience a loving, healthy sexual relationship with my future partner, and two, so that I honor the inherent worth of my body and resist it becoming abused, objectified and marketed again. I cannot live my life in a bubble. There will always be triggering moments that tempt me to betray myself, and so I remain engaged, doing the work of developing the wisdom, and clarity of my new voice.

After enduring the Texas blizzard of 2021, I was ready for the warm temps that crept in during the following weeks. One morning, after having showered, I realized my feet were in need of some care, and my toe nail polish was from fall of 2020. Giggling, I thought to myself, “today would be a good day for a spring pedicure,” and I grew excited to see my friend, and nail technician, Tina–we just clicked. I go to “U Nails” right here by the TCU campus and they’re always as happy to see me as I am to see them. I got dressed and headed over there. Tina, who is Vietnamese, asked, “Where you been? I scared you move.” She was using her hand to do the go away gesture to complete her thought. I told her “Oh, no, my program runs another two years. Don’t worry, I’ll be around for a while.” and we hugged. She took my hand to look at my nails, and asked, “What you want?” and I told her, “Just a pedicure, I haven’t had my feet done since you did them last.” She replied, “They look bad then,” and walked away laughing. I followed her to my seat.

I know that having my feet done, especially during the last year with the increase of crime against Asian Americans, may seem in poor taste, but for me it wasn’t. There are several reasons for this. First, to enter Asian owned places of business is to be in solidarity with my Asian American siblings and embody my resistance to the terroristic propaganda of fear and blaming as generated by the last administration. Second, after the strict quarantine was lifted Tina was asking her clients to come in; she and her team needed to reopen their doors for financial reasons. And third, I personally value Tina as a human being, and the sense of community I feel when I enter her shop. It’s easy to say I value her humanity, but it makes me cringe when I think of saying I value her service and hospitality because there is a place within my sensibilities that realizes service and hospitality within the White elitism of American culture are weighted terms. This nation was built upon religious and political ideologies that have ingrained in some people that Other is inferior and unwanted, unless Other can be enslaved, interned, or commodified. And from personal experience, the oppressive essence of commodification is most easily discerned in areas of service, and hospitality. And so, it is with great care, and awareness that I textualize my gratitude for Tina and what she does for a living. In my course work we have been in discussion about Black, and Brown people in the service industry, and its inherent complications, but this story is not about dismantling service industries; it’s about how we, as human beings, enter them.

I took my seat and opened my textbook, The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Tina was running my water, and I sat back to read when it dawned on me that I hadn’t asked how they were doing in light of the recent spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans. I spoke loudly, not aggressively, but clearly above the shop noise, because I wanted everyone, clients and all, to hear my question. “Hey! So, how have y’all been doing? Has anyone harassed you or tried to harm you? Do you want me to come sit down here with y’all sometimes?” Tina looked up, patted my leg, and said, “Oh no, no, not here, but yes, thank you. It scary.” The rest of her team also answered, “No, nothing here.” At that time there were two women in the shop with me, and one turned around and asked, “What do you mean? What’s happening?” I responded incredulously, “You don’t know what’s been happening to Asian American’s since this time last year? She spun around completely, stood up, and walked over, “No. I don’t. What’s going on?” I told her, “There’ve been like 2,800 documented crimes against Asian Americans in the last year. You really should take some time to read about what’s happening.” “Oh, I will! I will!”

Many people are oblivious, or simply indifferent to the death-dealing realities of Black, and Brown people. So, there this woman was, sitting in an Asian American business, receiving a very personal form of service, and had no idea about the real threat these women were currently facing at the hands of other Americans. Her feigned ignorance reminded me of post-racial theory which purports that systemic racism is a thing of the past, and so attempts to quiet demands for justice by shouting a counternarrative. When something happens, violent or otherwise, post-racial theorists either ignore it altogether, rename it, or find fault solely with the individual without holding the nation accountable for its racist propaganda, state sanctioned violence, and leniency on White domestic terrorists. What’s familiar and dangerous about this is how the dominant culture is again re-writing history, familiar, and not being held accountable for the Black and Brown people who will suffer because of it, dangerous. Post-racial theory is also insidiously clever in that it declares #AllLivesMatter, which is a wonderful notion, and so when Black and Brown people cry out that #BlackLivesMatter, and #AsianLivesMatter, their passion, and discourse are intentionally regarded as being divisive, or anti-all. We haven’t done the work of deconstructing systemic racism, and to behave as though we have is dangerous, it’s like ignoring cancer. #AllLivesMatter is a nice banner hashtag, and I wish it were true, but it does not reflect our reality.

My time at the nail shop wasn’t over. As I was sitting there with the musings I’ve just shared, in walks another woman who immediately called out for Tina as if she were a pet. A tech approached her, but before she spoke the woman said, “Hi, yes. I have a one o’clock appointment with Tina.” I looked at Tina and observed she had no intention of getting up. She started pointing and speaking, giving instructions in a dialect I didn’t understand. I was grinning behind my mask because it was easy to discern that the woman was becoming agitated, and I like to see privilege sweat, but ultimately she would win, or so it seemed. The tech, guided the woman toward a pedicure seat and said, “Please, sit here. Penny take care of you.” Penny attempted to take the woman’s bags, but she pulled them out of her grasp, and tucked them into the seat she would be sitting in. By now the woman has seen Tina, and she looks at me, and then says again, “I believe I scheduled this hour with Tina.” Tina didn’t respond, and I can feel the woman’s frustration and confusion. Why they sat her directly across from me when there were six other seats open, I’ll never know. At this point I’m thinking one of my professors has set me up for this social experiment.

Penny is running the water and the woman complains about the temperature of the water. “Could you heat up some water in the back? I like my water extra hot, that’s what Tina does.” I look up, and we make eye contact. She doesn’t hold the stare long; she couldn’t keep up with my Black woman rage. I was no longer grinning behind my mask. She’s throwing her energy around and I don’t like how disrespectful it feels. She was developing a counternarrative that would get her what she was being denied—deference. Penny literally scurries to the back and heats up the water, and I don’t like that either. She returns with the kettle of hot water and is pouring it into the tub, and the woman asks for a pillow, the tech grabs the pillow from the chair closest to her, and the woman says, “No, not that one. Where’s the green one? It’s fluffier.” Penny looks around, and scurries across the room to get the green pillow and handed it to the woman before heading to put the kettle back. She returns and sits down to begin the woman’s pedicure. Immediately the woman calls out to the front desk tech, “Um, excuse me. Excuse me. Yes, I also need a manicure, but I don’t have time for one hand at a time. I need a person on each hand.” The room erupted again, a tech came from the back, and the front desk tech was pulled from her station.

I suppose fifteen minutes passed and the woman got a call. She pulled her hands away, put the call on speaker, and began digging through her purse for her planner. The two techs stood there, patiently, and waited for her to finish her call. The woman settled in again for a few minutes and then said, “Is there anyone who could do my eyebrows when y’all are done? The tech responded, “Yes, I do for you.” The woman asked, “I don’t have to go in the back do I? Can’t someone do them right here?” The tech told her, “No, we do in the back.” The last straw for me was when Penny asked her did she like her color, the color the woman had picked out, the woman looked down and said, in her sweet Texas accent, “You know what? I don’t like that red, do you have something red, red?” The tech turned, quietly opened her box, and pulled out polish remover, while another scurried to get a polish that was red, red. This woman never said, “please,” or “thank you.”

It was time for me to leave, and with a heavy heart I headed to the front to pay. Tina saw my tip and said, “No. No. Too much for you. Too much for you.” And I said, “No, Tina. You deserve that and more. I’ll see you in a month or so.” We hugged and I went and sat in my car and cried. Why was I crying? Because this willful ignorance, and subtle violence is not only hurtful, but dangerous, and it’s at the heart of what’s wrong with America. If we cannot be respectful in the simplest of ways, in the ordinary spaces of our lives, then how can we be present for those among us who have been violently relegated to the margins? When we dehumanize people there is no way we can know what advocacy or justice is. When we dehumanize people it’s easier to harm them and deny how we are complicit in that harm. I could only imagine what Tina and her team endure on a daily basis as they sit at the feet of those who act as if they belong there. Once again, from my personal experience, the oppressive essence of commodification is most easily discerned in areas of service, and hospitality. This story is not about dismantling service industries; it’s about how we, as human beings, enter them.