This past week, I was honored to publish a personal essay entitled “Trauma is Like a Snakebite” with Vela Magazine. The article explores my personal journey through an account of physical and sexual trauma and everything that followed – fear, irrationality, anger – all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The initial violence took place over five years ago. I can nearly count the number of days since it’s happened, which is a bit odd for a person who is pretty terrible at remembering birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates. June 10, 2010. So much of who I was changed on that day.
I’ve been both conscious and unconscious of how I’ve changed. It’s like travelling somewhere you’ve never been before and then going back to where you started. It takes awhile for change to surface in the body and mind, for one to recognize what’s no longer the same, and what can never go back to the way it was before.
Those closest to me know me as hot tempered. I’m fiery. Passionate. Foolish, certainly.
But I feel anger differently now, particularly when responding to stories of injustice against people. It’s a deeper burning. It’s as if the bruised heart remembers. I’m not trying to appropriate the injustice that others experience and make it my own. But relating, yes. I am trying to relate to people I know and to strangers, too. Isn’t that what makes us human?
I remember the first year I spent living in southwestern Uganda. I remember the story a midwife told me about a woman who attempted to sign her name to her husband’s land title. By the time she reached home, the woman’s husband was waiting for her with a panga (machete). And he killed her. After the midwife told me, that story burned in me.
It burned so hotly I wrote a story the following day called “My Daughter Wants to Be a Farmer” – the title borrowed from a Nigerian farmer who wrote a policy paper outlining the fear she felt for her daughter’s future — such an uncertain future with the pressure of market volatility and the increasing threat of climate change. Her article was one amongst 30 others reporting on gender and agriculture, yet she was the only author who was both a woman and a farmer.
Looking back, I reread that story and feel almost embarrassed by my passion – and my ignorance, too. There was a lot I didn’t know then. My writing was inflamed by anger. But I can see how I was attempting, trying to connect the dots between the personal and the political. The anger I felt from my own trauma led me to that an initial essay.
The anger I’ve felt about how the global food system impacts women has played a role in where I am today and the book I’m writing. Though it’s interesting to me. I’ve spent the last two years of my life focusing all of my creative intellect on Women Who Dig, this project that’s continually shaping who I am, and yet with all the reflection, I couldn’t see it before. So much of my book and the reason I’m writing it stems from what happened on June 10, 2010. From anger.
From anger, which I realize today, is actually an expression of compassion and love.
“…under the hardness of armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart (2000)