I remember the color of the air was beige and teal as I arrived in the U.S.
I was around 6 or 7 years old, and we had landed at Miami International Airport. It was December. We were on our way to D.C. where we were meant to live for 15 odd years. My stepdad was eager to show my mom and me just how lucky we were to be living in this haven he’d provided, and in getting us out of 1992 Colombia. We came from a town you could easily call Macondo. Wedged at the bottom of the Andes middle ridge, where it’s hot as hell. A perfect scenario for your grandmother to sell ice cubes to those who cannot afford a refrigerator, but also a place where you had to be home by 6pm because you never knew if sicarios would mistake you for someone they were meant to kill. At the time it did seem fortunate, and my mother was ecstatic she’d landed a man who promised to provide.
We stayed at a nearby hotel. My stepdad had plans to explore the city the next day. All I ever knew about Miami was that it was the land of Micky Mouse, so we took a trip to Mickey-styled stores. That’s how it was with my stepdad, always giving a knock-off version of the real deal; the hotel room was the swankiest I’d ever seen, but in hindsight, it could have easily been a Ramada Inn. My yellow-colored peasant face was easily impressed, but being a child who grew up playing soccer barefoot, and roaming the streets playing with an old bicycle tire and a stick, I knew something wasn’t quite what it promised to be.
By the next morning, my stepdad looked like the president of the world on vacation. Decked out in pure '90s style with his loose, silky, emerald-colored shirt, navy blue trousers and white loafers. He was affluent in Colombia. He’d already lived in New York since the '70s, and he told me stories about how rich his family was. Naturally, he had this gallant smile and spoke with flare, and his jokes seemed to be pleasant to everyone. That’s how he looked to me, too nice to be true. My mother was in the bathroom bathing my little brother who was a baby. He was their son, while I was the bastard daughter of one of her failed relationships.
I was sitting on the edge of the bed in front of the TV struggling to open a Yoplait, very concerned about not spilling it on the flowery linen dress he had gifted me. I guess he saw me because he called me to offer help. I remember climbing over the bed to where he was standing, and stumbling over my purple leggings because they were too big for me, and my mom used to always tuck the leftovers under my foot, which worked perfectly because my shoes were always too big for me anyway.
Standing on the bed in front him, he took the yogurt, and lifted me so I could be at his eye level, held me by my armpits, which began to ache, and then proceeded to hug me while sliding me down until we both felt his erect penis. He never did open the yogurt.
That’s how the rest of my life was for many years, like an unopened yogurt. Everything rotten happening inside me and I could not open the lid to let the rancid smell out. And when I did, the lid was shut and sealed harder. I had a part to play, and with that part I had no voice, no power. It seemed like I was a transaction to satiate necessity, a form of payment, except no one worth knowing did anything. People only seemed to care enough to hide it.
My mom always said I was a problematic child, always causing commotion, questioning too much, talking too much; I was always too much to handle. I hated her, growing up. One Palm Sunday, I asked the priest why God chooses to make some kids suffer if they didn’t do anything, and he told my mom I was rebellious and had no faith. So she made me spend Sundays from 12 to 7pm at church for the next nine years. I learned that she hid behind the Bible whenever my stepfather’s truth would come to light, and it happened several times in our lives. The evidence could be found in home movies, in inappropriate zoom-ins, hidden cameras around my room. Several times he threatened me with taking my brother away, another time he took my green card and almost ripped it saying he would deport me whenever he wanted. He would hold me accountable for the fights at home, saying I was in control if I wanted to stop them.
One winter after getting the chicken pox, a time when I was cared for like a child, which was what made everything so confusing, he decided to take me and my brother to the Disney Store in Pentagon City mall to buy me a gift. I saw a Snow White pencil box with hidden compartments where you could store your eraser, a sharpener and a small calculator. I was floored by this technology. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and show off. For that moment I had forgotten everything bad about my life, and saw my stepdad as a dad. That night he tucked me in bed and as he lay next to me while I showed him the pencil box. He began to caress my leg, so I yelled at my mom to come to the room, and then there was a fight between them, and suddenly it was lights out.
To the outside world, our lives seemed normal. We vacationed every summer, we went to church, and there was even a little cross with the sacrificed Jesus atop his bed. Our fridge was always full of food, I had nice clothes, my brother had the most amazing toys, and we lived five minutes from the Pentagon. We celebrated Christmas like any family, his adult kids from another marriage would come sometimes, and we seemed so happy. Actually, Christmas was special; it was the only time he vowed to leave me alone.
I learned about social caste from a very early age. I knew that as a small-town girl, descended from peasants, rider of donkeys, I was not nearly as respectable as a girl from the city. That’s my karma, for whatever reason, I was born into that. But my grandpa and grandma were of tough character, and for the time they were a part of my life, they instilled values that were the pillars that held me together for many years.They hated my stepfather too. They hated that he would go to their home and demand he be treated like a prince. I remember one day my grandmother pulling me aside and asking me if everything was okay. I knew what the question implied. I said nothing. I was told to say nothing. My silence was enough for the family to turn the conversation to my mom, I don’t know what happened that day or what she said, but I went back to D.C. as if nothing had happened. I’ve questioned for many years what must have happened to my mom to make her rationalize this way.
I’m thankful for the lessons my grandfather taught me while we were searching for gold in rivers, or milking one of his goats. I’m thankful for all the dresses my grandmother sewed for me while scolding me never to be ashamed if we were called poor because we were raised with dignity and integrity.
I think the pressures of being a woman in Colombian society failed my mother. She and I are nothing alike. The media and endless telenovelas failed her by giving her a false sense of existence. An expectation that the woman must be submissive, never speak out of line, always find an affluent man to take care of her troubles, and always, above all, look like something rather than be someone. My dad and his social formats failed her. I was told he wasn’t allowed to marry her because they weren’t of the same social class. She failed herself, and so the destruction of an adult began with me.
I had a couple of friends, went on dates, to prom, and loved school. Although I tried never to take girlfriends home because I didn’t want my stepdad near them. I know this sounds very abstract, and many people ask how this went on for so long, but I was later explained that it’s really called "conditioning."
The day I decided I had had enough came at the cusp of the suicide of a very loved boyfriend. I was 19. His death in a way was the catalyst for my leaving the house. I will always be indebted to him for that. By this time we lived in Miami, I was going to college, and had very few friends. I got the call he had died, and fled to the home of the only person I knew would take me in. I mourned his death for weeks, until my friend, who would later become my husband, began to notice I was very hesitant to go back home to even pick up new clothes. I was ready to leave it all behind. That’s when he asked me to tell him what I was hiding. We sat down and I spoke all night, he only listened, getting angrier every time I went into further detail. By that morning, dazed from not sleeping, my tongue numb from talking, he offered he’d support me if I prosecuted. It was the first time anyone had ever offered help, so I began to prepare for a prosecution.
My stepdad got 12 years. He admitted to his crimes and was taken away. A chapter was closed. But the story is not finished.
I always asked myself, why did this happen to me? Who would I be if I’d never tried to prosecute? My mother once told me I was a very vengeful person. Those words stung like acid on the skin, but even then I was more analytical than reactive.
As I began to live my life attempting the whole "normal" spiel, I realized I couldn’t. The wounds were so deep they had exit holes. I had no idea who I was, I realized I didn’t know how to love, how to respect, and had very low self-esteem. I became angry, furious and unable to cope, once again, with the reality that our societal formats was an accomplice to all of this. They should have listened, they had done something, shown me that I mattered, that I was more important than the abuser. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was just a kid, and here I am, again a kid, left to clean up my broken pieces. Why? The theory of looking in the mirror long enough until you see a Bloody Mary is true.
Soon I began to destroy myself slowly. I was left with trust issues, depression, suicidal thoughts; I felt jailed with him. Our society isn’t equipped to help people like me. I called sexual abuse non-profits only to have my messages unanswered. I started seeing a psychologist because he was a licensed hypnotherapist, and I’d read that regression hypnotherapy is used in people suffering from a traumatic childhood experience. But three sessions in, I began to hear my doctor snore, literally. By the fifth session I stopped going.
Life chewed away, and I started developing a very odd sleep cycle. Each day I would sleep longer. I would dread waking up. I hated everything about my life. I broke off relationships. I began drinking, and stopped exercising, which was one of my favorite things to do. When I prosecuted my stepdad, the detectives told me that 90% of the women with cases like mine end up prostituting themselves, working at strip clubs or in porn movies. The though crossed my mind multiple times. I got older, and it became harder to go back to school, and more difficult to get work. What kept me from pursuing my hooker nature was the guilt of thinking I’d be contributing to the demise of women. Through all of this I was blessed with a good partner, but I was also messing him up.
I remember the first time I dropped acid, and actually felt hope to fight. During those trips I made art, told jokes, loved people, and whenever I saw myself in the mirror I saw a beautiful girl—honestly, I’d never seen myself so beautiful. But acid is hard and illegal to find. Alcohol isn’t, though, so one day coming home extremely drunk, having cried at some bar making a fool of myself, I came home to a very worried husband. I proceeded to destroy all of our artwork, and made a run to our balcony to jump off. I thank him for pulling me off the rail.
One day I heard the word peyote. I cannot remember where, but it stuck around. I researched it, and it led me to ayahuasca (yage). I researched that some more for several weeks, eating up all the information I could find. I got a palpitation in the center of my chest, and I knew I had to give this a try before officially killing myself. I didn’t want to die, but since nothing had worked before, with all my questions gone unanswered, I was beginning to hate myself for living. Hating the fact that even from afar, he still made me his victim.
I had no idea how to connect with someone who legitimately served ayahuasca, and going to Peru seemed way too New Age and dangerous. Something about paying an agent to go do ayahuasca just felt completely disconnected. But just as mysteriously as I had been dealt my life, the opportunity to fly to Costa Rica to sit with a taita (a shaman) came about and soon I was on my way backpacking, riding on a milk truck up a mountain.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I lived those four nights in the jungle. I was with a group of 40 hippies gathered around a fiery circle led by a taita from the valley of Sibundoy, Putumayo, Colombia.
I was told to prepare an intention for the first night, so I wished first to reconnect with the girl I was before it all happened; the girl holding the unopened Yoplait. We were gathered outside, it was a bit cold, and the fire was going. The taita introduced himself, spoke about the sacredness of the ceremony, asked that we all keep to ourselves, requested the assistants be on alert if anyone needed help, introduced the concept of the purging, spoke the word of his tribe, and wished us all buena pinta (translates to having great visions; they never call them hallucinations).
My turn came, and as I walked up to get my cup, my gut flinched, very anxious, but when I looked into the taita’s eyes I felt whatever fear I had dissipate. I held the earthy brew and wished for this medicine to work, and gulped it. Despite what I had read, it simply tasted like bark. I sat there waiting for something—I had no idea what. I was waiting to feel the effects of an acid trip, but they didn’t come. And then it hit me. I looked down at my hands and they began to take the shape of a grandmother’s hands. I later learned that indigenous tribes call ayahuasca "Grandmother," because she’s the ancestor spirit of the root.
Seeing my hands change shape, and seeing the poncho I was wearing—which by coincidence was from the Andes—I immediately knew I was where I needed to be. I began to cry inside my poncho. The tears felt very strange against my face, fresh, like a river. I began chanting to myself, "Please help me find her. I need to find that girl."
That’s when I began to see spiral-shaped lines that looked like a tunnel. I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on looking at the center, when an explosion of lights began to spark. Something said to me it was time to have a conversation with someone, so I opened my eyes and got out from under my poncho. I felt a strong inclination to sit with my back against the bonfire and the taita’s in order to face the valley. I walked toward the edge of the plateau, facing out toward the cusp of the trees, with one particular tree directly in front of me, my shadow cast onto its branches and leaves. I began to have a conversation with my shadow.
By this time, I was having an intense purge, and taita had said the entire purge must be let into the Earth. I was purging with my head inside some bushes until there was nothing left to let out. That’s when the most intense part of the conversation with my shadow began to take place. It spoke about the love I have for everyone, and most importantly myself. It told me it was this love which had protected me all this time. It had been me, the little girl who had been inside moving pieces to get me to where I was at that present moment.
The shadow told me that my stepdad had been sexually abused as a kid by one of his teachers (probably a priest) when he went to Catholic boarding school. It told me that my mom had endured a lot of abuse from my stepdad that I never knew about. It said that I was in love with the figure of my stepdad, and that I needed to unknot this from an analytical perspective in order to set it free, because that love was the love I wanted to give and receive from a father.
The shadow then asked me to reconnect with my real father and forgive him for leaving me alone. It asked me to forgive my mom for her ignorance. It asked me to forgive my stepdad for what he had done to me. I struggled with these requests, and spent a great deal of time battling my ego. When I finally understood the liberation behind it, I released all forgiveness, and began to see as I cried my heart out, clinching the dirt beneath me; I began to see the little girl dressed in purple leggings. I began to see her inside of me. She began to morph into different eras of my childhood, wearing my favorite clothes from back then, showing me my favorite toys, and saying, "It’s okay. I forgive you."
I kept asking her to forgive me, and she kept replying, "It's okay now." In the darkness I began to see my cat and husband’s faces, my home, and she said "I’ve always been here." At that point I physically could not contain my crying, I must have sounded like a howling monkey. Someone finally came to my side to hand me water, that’s when I realized I had dug my face into the dirt, and was crying into it. This woman’s hand felt warm, motherly. I had never seen a woman like that before in my life. She was soft. She held me and I slowly stopped crying. All I could manage to say was "gracias." I was in silence for the rest of the day.
By the following evening, the next ceremony, I had an intense pain in my lower abdomen. It was particularly stronger than any other day. In 2013 I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, and told I was not fertile. I had already gotten used to seeing my lower abdomen swollen all the time. I was unable to sit in certain positions, and often felt a stabbing in my ovaries.
My intention for that night was to figure out a way to raise the little girl I had reconnected with. A crash course of sorts where in 12 hours she could help me be the woman I was except be what I always wanted. I thought that by creating that connection, I would be healing the physical trauma in my ovaries. The ceremony began, we sipped the first round, and the pain in my abdomen became harder to stand. I had no visions during that round, just a lot of internal chanting to heal the pain in my abdomen and be able to release it. It felt like I was constipated, but no matter how many times I went to the latrine, nothing came out.
When the taita called for the second round, three hours later, I was fully awake, walking hunched over trying to figure out the type of pain I was feeling because I couldn’t recognize it. I went up for my second cup of brew, and told taita I needed help. He must have seen the pain in my eyes, and I told him I was not being successful in releasing what I was feeling.
He served me a nice big cup, prayed over it, asked my name several times, handed it to me and I gulped it, asking the brew for help, and feeling very grateful that I was in this process. What transpired next shook my entire belief system forever. By then the pain became unbearable, I was sweating, and my breathing changed to long inhales and exhales. I began to feel a buzz rising from my toes, traveling through my body and exiting through the tips of my fingers. I was in an electrifying trance until heard a glass cup break behind me, which woke me up. The moon was shining on a patch of grass in front of me, and as if floating I walked toward it, laid down my rain poncho, and sat down under the moon. I started to whimper in pain, everything around me looked wavy and shaky, I started to lose strength.
I felt I couldn’t push anymore. That’s when I realized that I was sitting in a birthing position, and breathing the way you breathe during birth, and pushing something out of my vagina. The taita came over to aid me, I remember seeing smoke around me, and he began to sing icaros, his native songs. I kept doing what I was meant to do, feeling on the verge of giving up, resting for moments, and pushing again. And then I began to feel a head coming out, and literally heard a popping sound when a gush of liquid finally came out. It splattered all over the grass, my legs soaking wet. I touched my vagina and felt it pure, and touched my abdomen and felt no pain.
I let out a scream of happiness, mixed with laughter, giggles, I’d never heard coming out of me before. Then I became inundated with gratitude, and beauty, love, happiness, relief, pride, and humbleness. I began to cry uncontrollably from so much emotion. I yelled out to the jungle to hear my voice, and couldn’t recognize the voice I was hearing. I looked up at the moon and it looked new to me. I touched the vaginal purge in front of me, and thanked it. I thanked that trauma, thanked time, thanked space. With my hands on the Earth, I thanked Mother Earth, and I saw and felt the ground inhale and exhale.
I heard every cricket, every ant, every leaf ruffle, and when I started feeling the breeze inside my skin, I yelled out of happiness and heard the howling monkeys answer back. This entire episode lasted the whole night, until the taita tapped my head and calmed me down, telling me there was no need to cry anymore. I opened my eyes and it was dawn. I felt I had aborted the putridness, sin, evil from my stepfather’s sexual abuse that had been living inside me all these years clutched to the walls of my ovaries, and yet also felt I had given birth to myself.
I was dumbfounded, checking every five minutes to see if my head was still attached to my shoulders. In the shower that day I touched my vagina and it was as if I was getting to know it for the first time. It felt cleansed, One thought kept racing through my mind: these organs are sacred, and they are beautiful. They hold the beauty of who we are. Some people cannot stand so much beauty, and they resort to destroying it.
These organs are not weird, are not sinful, not ugly. They are misunderstood, because we’re so afraid to talk about them in a natural sense. We’re told to be ashamed of our reproductive organs, and that masturbation is a sin. What else are you going to do except touch yourself? It’s how you get to know how your body feels. The church told me to be ashamed, just as it makes other women and men feel ashamed for being sexually abused. The church is raising frustrated adults who in turn end up hurting other people. And the cycle keeps on spinning.
I went to the doctor a couple of months after my ayahuasca experience, and the ultrasound was clean of cysts. I’m not saying I’m cured forever, but I also cannot say it didn’t help. Life continues to be life, with its ups and downs, frustrations, but I can say I no longer look back at the cocoon of pain. I’m no longer walking backward. I feel like I’m looking forward. I reconnected with my dad and we are rebuilding our relationship. My mom is slowly accepting her mistakes, still clutching that Bible and waiting for a miracle from god.
My stepfather is due to get out soon. It’s been a little over a decade since his sentencing. I’m sure his family knows where I live by now, and I know he knows where my mother and brother live. I’m no longer hiding though, and perhaps I’ll have another story to write, because the law also failed in protecting us.
I write this story because I understood after my ayahuasca journeys, that it wasn’t mine to keep quiet. It belongs to whomever it may help, perhaps going through similar situations as mine. This story also belongs to the people who are the support systems of the abused. We need your help. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my husband, or the woman who let me sleep on her sofa for three months while I prosecuted my stepdad, or the friends who heard my story and didn’t judge me, who pushed me to get out of the house, who listened and asked questions instead of making faces of disgust.
Education is the first step to ending this cycle. Teach your kids about these issues, not shamefully, but with truth. If the justice system failed you, rebel against the cards you were forced to play. Make so much noise that if a judge decides to be lenient, he will fear being labeled an accomplice to the abuse. Walk without shame, speak without fear, because we’re not victims, we’re survivors, unapologetic for taking a stand.
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