Stand Together With Love.
In 2004 I was 24 years old, lost, confused and 100% heart broken. I’d spent the previous six years busting ass, going through my undergrad program while commuting ‘the hill’ from Aptos, CA to San Francisco three times a week. I had been rehabbing my way through three seemingly endless knee surgeries the entire time I was in college. My sights had been set for years on getting into to UC San Francisco for their physical therapy program, and somehow, sitting in my sublet room one block away from Parnassus Ave, listening to the MUNI shake the building every 30 minutes, I wasn’t sure anymore.
I think the prestige of going to such an amazing school had lured me there, but 2/3 of the way through my first semester, I found myself completely burned out, craving the surf I missed in Santa Cruz, and hating the summer fog that chilled me to the bone. My heart hurt from a recent break up, and I felt totally and utterly scared and confused about what to do ‘next’. My inner wisdom told me that pushing through a 3 year grad program in the shape that I was in wasn’t going to work. And so reluctantly, fearfully, I met with the dean of the program and withdrew from the program that I had worked so hard for the prior years to get to.
Travel and Priviledge
I didn’t know exactly what steps to take next, and luckily my family was really supportive and understanding that I was at a really difficult crossroads. My heart pulled me to travel, and so within a few months, I found my way to the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica where I was able to restore my heart, soul, and faith in human connection. Between the years of 2004-2008 I couldn’t tell you how many months exactly I spent in Costa Rica, but I just know it was a lot. I openly admit I was working ‘under the table’ for 3 different employers there teaching surf lessons and working as a massage therapist. My employer took care of my housing, and the monies I made covered my expenses not only there, but most of my rent in the States too. I walked everywhere on the beach, I listened to howler monkeys in the trees and I made incredible friendships that lasted a lifetime. I am not writing this to gloat, I am just stating the facts.
Many of my ex-pat friends did similar things, working under the table, and instead of revisiting the USA every 3 months when their tourist visa ran out, they’d just take a bus to Nicaragua for a few days, and then come back into the country. Sometimes my friends would argue with me that I was taking a job away from them, and I don’t think I really understood it then. I figured they were late and showing up hungover half the time, so in my mind, until they got their shit together, I didn’t feel overly bad. Well… That probably wasn’t the most sustainable way to look at things, and in hindsight, I can see how hard the locals have had to work to regain employment in THEIR town. I will say, that in efforts to give back to the community that gave me so much, I did spend 3 months volunteering in their local hospital after I had gone through my graduate education, which helped me to feel validated in some ways for my actions, but not entirely.
I’m telling this story because it was my experience, my first foray into living and working in a foreign country. I travelled to Costa Rica by choice, from a place of priviledge, and on my own terms. I would be lying if I didn’t consider immigrating there, but at 24 years old, didn’t really have my shit together to figure out a lawyer, and move through with the whole process. And, frankly, after being outside of the US for an extended period of time, I came to appreciate a lot of things from my home country, and understood that I really had a lot of opportunity here despite my gripes about cost, crowds, cold weather (really?)..
Flash-forward 13 years to June 2018. News was being spread about immigrant families being separated at our borders, children taken away from their parents, deported to other detainment facilities, and the chaos that ensued from tearing apart families who may or may not have understood the language.
Brene Brown, one of my favorite researchers posted a story about her husband’s experience with hearing the cries that came from one of these detainment facilities1. Her husband with 20+ years as a pediatrician could hear the cries of terror and trauma from these children. Her post still as I write this gives me chills.
During the week of June 17th thru June 23rd, I couldn’t get off the internet. I was wide eyed with disbelief, and felt stuck in what I could or couldn’t do to help. I thought about all the childhood development and psychology classes I took throughout the 8 years of college and graduate education which taught the vital importance of connections that are made between children and their parents for normal and healthy emotional and physical development. I thought about Harlow’s monkey study that is classically taught as an example of the need of human loving touch and comfort during childhood.2 I read headlines that disclosed that the workers in the detainment facilities were instructed not to contact the children that were held there.
As outrage poured from concerned citizens across America, the Trump administration thankfully back peddled on some of their ‘no tolerance’ policies, despite finger pointing and creating a distraction of blame as to this being a political party issue not a human rights issue.3 Thankfully families began to reunite, but unfortunately the damage had been done. The trauma for these children and their families had already occurred. The international society for Traumatic Stress Studies defines Childhood Trauma as:
…negative events that are emotionally painful and that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope…The types of trauma that end to have the greatest adverse psychological consequences are those related to interpersonal or intentional trauma. These include childhood abuse and neglect. Childhood Abuse are events when children are threatened or harmed by those charged with their care or who are in a position of power or authority over them.4
I wasn’t present in any of the detainment facilities to witness how these children were treated, and so I am in no way arguing that the workers in the facilities were intentionally or classically abused to these children. However, by default of the order to separate these children from their parents, during critical development periods of their lives, where parental nurture and care is critical to development, I believe the situation to not only be traumatic, but abusive.
In writing this, I have had to stop several times due to heavy heart and tears. I wish I could be stronger about this topic, but it shakes me to my core. The actions of separating families and children are oh so reminiscent of what I learned in a textbook from the warm seat of my high school desk about Nazi Germany. The concept of sorting and scapegoating, creating divide amongst a nation is the very recipe for war as seen in WWII and others, as history tends to repeat itself.
In disbelief, when Time published on June 22nd, their Exclusive: ‘Navy Document Shows Plan to Erect ‘Austere’ Detention Camps’, disclosing that several facilities were being planned across the US to detain illegal immigrants, at the cost of 29 million dollars per 25,000 immigrants, my stomach wretched in disbelief.5 Not only did I see childhood trauma and abuse, but a public health disaster waiting to happen and at the cost of the taxpayers dollar while some private entity likely made hand over fist fortune. I would much prefer handing out $1000.00 to each immigrant family that was detained and saying, here, go hire a lawyer and do this the ‘legal’ way. I haven’t had to hire a lawyer and go through the process of immigrating here, but if it’s anything like I have seen for trying to immigrate to other Central American countries, it’s probably not easy or affordable.
I debated about writing this post for about a month now for a few reasons. The first reason (and easiest to fall back on) is that during this whole episode in our country’s history, I was recovering from a massive back surgery and physically unable to join a protest or go to a detainment facility to help. Ironically, due to the nature of my injury, I had been forced out of the country to undergo the surgery just a week prior to this, I had returned to the US with so much gratitude for being able to travel to Central America to receive outstanding medical care. So while I felt ‘forced’ to leave the country to receive care I chose to go out of the country under calm pretenses. I had even considered heavily immigrating to the very country I had my surgery in (Panama) for the value of better medical care and a more peaceful way of life. HOWEVER, my family wasn’t in harms way, there are plenty of opportunities here in the US for me, I don’t have a gang trying to recruit my children or a drug lord manipulating my future. I didn’t have any of that. I just had a desire to see what else was out there in the world and was warmly greeted, welcomed and cared for in a way that positively changed my life.
The second reason it’s taken me some time to write this is is a mix of feelings about my privilege attached to my experiences in Costa Rica in my 20’s, and now in Panama in my 30’s. My experience as a healthcare provider in multiple hospital settings throughout southern California, is that I have cared for many of the very immigrants and their families that are affected by this issue. I have had heart-to-heart conversations with patients who told me about their journeys to leave Mexico, literally crawling through sewers (that is not just from a movie) to come here, so that they could establish a job, a fake social security number to pay in (not necessarily receiving out) to our retirement systems, and earn the monies that they needed to bring the rest of their families here. Some of these patients told me how proud they were when they finally could pass the test they had to take to complete the process. On gentleman told me he failed the first time, and asked me if I knew the answers of some of the questions that they struggled with… and I didn’t. Many of the stories I have heard over the years had the same theme… that they wanted to become US Citizens, but, that the journey wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of time.
The third and most difficult reason to be open about I openly admit that my fear in being honest and open is a fear of retaliation, anger, rage, and insult in discussing this. Again, I wish I could say I was stronger, and I cry readily and easily about this issue for so many reasons. I am not here to change your mind about immigration, guns, walls, or political debate. You have Facebook for those debates, and I doubt that any of those arguments are ones with positive outcomes. I am writing this because as a white woman, I have realized I have to use my voice to speak out and create change through the choice of love.
Shine Your Light Day: Stand Together With Love.
Last month I began Shine Your Light day on July 9th, a movement that I hope to grow and spread to 10,000 people over the next year. The idea is this: take 2 minutes to unplug, quiet your mind, and honor not only your inner light, who you are on the inside, BUT another minute to send love to a group of people/friends/family that you care about. I plan to take these 2 minutes on the 9th of every month at 8am PST/ 11am EST for the next year and am asking others to join. This August, I will be spending my 2nd minute sending love to the families and children who have been separated at our borders and ask that you join me in standing together with love on this issue.
1)Brenebrown. “What’s Happening To These Families” Instagram. June 19,2018. https://www.instagram.com/p/BkOF1SaHXqM/?taken-by=brenebrown.
2) Harlow, H. (1959). Love in Infant Monkeys. Scientific American,200(6), 68-75. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26309508
3) Salvador, Rizzo. June 19th, 2018. The facts about Trump’s policy of separating families at the border. The Washington Post. Retrieved from URL https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/06/19/the-facts-about-trumps-policy-of-separating-families-at-the-border/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a3f5eb28da80
4) International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Accessed June 21, 2018. What is Childhood Trauma? What is Childhood Abuse?. Retrieved from URL http://www.istss.org/public-resources/remembering-childhood-trauma/what-is-childhood-trauma.aspx.
5) Elliot, Philip, Hennigan W.J. June 22, 2018. Exclusive: Navy Document Shows Plan to Erect ‘Austere’ Detention Camps. Time. Retrieved from URL http://time.com/5319334/navy-detainment-centers-zerol-tolerance-immigration-family-separation-policy/.