A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My pain was so valid

I'm grateful. I'm so grateful for the changes that have occurred in my life these past couple of months. I'm grateful for having an entire community of people that love and support me. I'm grateful for being in the process of falling in love with myself like I never have before.

Last year was intense. I was in a very dark place in my life despite everything going so well. After years of financial struggles, I finally had a great job that I loved; I also made the move from Jersey to New York. I was supposed to be happy. But instead I fell into a deep depression. Apparently, when you've been struggling all your life just to survive, you don't have space to deal with any past trauma that you were or are experiencing. Finding myself in a space where I could actually live comfortably, allowed me the mental space to deal with past traumatic experiences. When explaining this, I always refer to the "hierarchy of needs," coined by 20th Century psychologist Abraham Maslow. This pyramid details the different needs of human beings as a pyramid, with physiological and safety needs at the bottom and love, esteem, and self-actualization at the top in that respective order.

As soon as I stopped worrying about food or making the rent, I started living above those two needs, and so I found myself having dreams from my childhood and having levels of anxiety that were beyond my control. I essentially felt small, and insignificant. I wanted to disappear.

I can't believe the harm that I inflicted upon myself at that time. And yet I can. Hospital bills from when I was taken to the emergency room prove that it happened. I was so ashamed of the pain that I was feeling. So many people were telling me that I was blessed and lucky, that I had no reason to be sad. So many people were telling me that I needed to try harder. And taking anti-depressants only added to this shame. Now, working with mental health clinicians have taught me that the phrase "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" has been proven incorrect. The more trauma someone experiences, the more difficult it will be to live and the more likely that person is to resort to harmful ways of coping with emotional pain. Therefore, we must stop making people feel ashamed of their feelings. If you cut me, yes I will bleed. And those anti-depressants that I was taking at the time and that so many people told me I shouldn't take saved my life.

So many people tried to invalidate my feelings, but my pain was so valid, even during the times when I didn't understand it. As I sit here, in tears, I know that the pain and anxiety are still lingering, and yet they are no longer taking over my life. And I'm beyond proud of myself for having come this far. I'm proud for having overcome that time when I had been so lost.

And now, I'm determined to live more fully and more truthfully.

You see, I am living for more than just the person who I am at this very moment; I am living for the many ancestors who survived so that I could be here today. I am living for more than just the person who I am at this very moment, but also for who I was last year, and for the insecure little girl that I was while growing up.

Throughout my life I felt so small and now all I wish to do is take up space. I want my presence to be felt in the room when I walk in. I want my words to resonate in everyone's ears. I want to be able to talk about my accomplishments without feeling like I'm inadequate or don't deserve them.  I also want to remind myself constantly that I'm beautiful. So much importance is placed in women's beauty, and so many standards of beauty are based on whiteness that I somehow had never felt whole. And now I want to feel that every aspect of me is beautiful, not just my figure and hair, but also my skin, my eyes, my lips, my nose, etc. I am beautiful. And I want to celebrate every aspect of me because every aspect is so damn worthy of celebration. 
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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Poem: Like Branches in a Tree

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My Hair is not like water

It doesn’t Flow
It can’t be molded into a container
It doesn’t move with the breeze
It doesn’t caress my cheeks
like the water caresses rocks on the beach
It doesn’t stay still when calm hits
My Hair doesn’t sit like water in a pond or in a cup of tea

Instead My Hair is solid like branches in a tree
It grows upward
then falls
like giant leaves in coconut palm
It is textured with the security
of an entity that knows its wants and needs

My Hair is solid like branches in a tree
It is grounded in mother earth
and it gives birth
to curls
that tell stories of mothers wrapping their children across their chest
My Hair is like a permanent nest on my head
It gives life to knots
Some branches thick, some branches not
It can hold ornaments beads and rocks
or trap lovers’ fingers as if to remind them of who’s the boss

My Hair is solid like branches in a tree
In the summer in glows like a crown
transforming me into a queen
Don’t tell me to tame it
Don’t tell me to straighten it
Cuz you see
My Hair is autonomous
It needs none of your support
And when I do iron it, it resists
Then your only compliment tends to be
“I like how your hair gets curly in the tip”

My Hair is not like water
It doesn’t Flow
It can’t be molded into a container
It doesn’t move with the breeze
Yet it brings a nice shade when the sun hits
It doesn’t disinfect your wounds
But it is the antibiotic for colonial views
And when the drums hit,
It dances with the moon
And prays for us to be free

My Hair is always reminding me
of my history
Of strength and beauty
You see, You may have stolen our tierra
You may have uprooted us from the mother land
But our ancestor’s roots are still growing in our heads
And We won’t be pushed into any container
You see, we are not moldable like the water in the sea

I said, My Hair is solid like branches in a tree. 

-Amanda Alc√°ntara
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