The Freedom of the Abyss

There is a weightlessness to the descent into the place that scares me most
A finality and loss of control that is frightening
Liberating
The leap into the abyss of my darkness
Shows a new perspective on faith
Of the sorrowful hour that needs my trust in its cathartic surrender
I have let this night of my soul consume me
Let it swallow me alive
Let it burn me
Let it take me over
I have no wish to keep up the fight to keep my shadows at bay
I have learned to accept everything I fear
Let the finality of smoky candles remind me I am kneeling on sacred ground
The rest in the cold solstice has always carried the gift of renewal
Winter silence, the death that is necessary
The place my true self will be tested
Where I will be brought to the bottom, face-down sobbing
Brought into this sanctuary of unshed tears
Bathed and cleansed by their salt; this water my salvation
Where I feel the years past I never knew were still alive
A proper funeral and space to grieve deeply
Silently the divine guidance stands guard
An illuminated ring of prayers leads the path
My body curled in fetal position
Rocked by the chaos and the unknown as this womb holds me
The agony of death so close to the opening
Weightlessness giving me the freedom of my full sensation
My vessel being emptied of doubt by overflowing with it
I fall
Finding solace in the promise of the dawning day
The deeper this darkness plows, ravaging and rattling me
The more light I can contain

Homelessness

I lost my sense of home at age 17. My parents decided, without much input from myself and my siblings. They moved to Albany and I stayed in the Bronx with my godmother. The decision was a double edge sword, and was more harmful than anything else. Although I was grateful to graduate with my classmates, I lost something really huge. I lost my home.

I spent senior year feeling incredibly depressed. I loved my godmother and yet did not feel at home. I’ve only known my mother’s house as home up until that point. I was so sad and confused, dealing with puberty and womanhood alone, knowing that I had also lost my mother completely due to her bi-polar diagnosis.

Whenever I did go up to Albany to visit, it would be incredibly painful. My mother was on heavy medication, so she was in bed and out of it all day. It hurt to see someone I saw as a go-getter become helpless. Something else that stabbed me deeply was my sibling’s ambivalence. My relationship with them was broken because of the move. They would taunt and laugh at me, saying, “you don’t even live here anymore.” They thought it was hilarious. I was angry. And it was true. I didn’t live there anymore. I understood why the house only had 3 rooms – one for my parents, one for my sister and one for my brother. It wasn’t practical for my family to have a spare room waiting for me. I got that. I was still saddened that there was no space for me at all. I could barely sleep with my sister without her messy room driving me crazy. All of this I carried with me.

New Paltz became my home during my college career. It was a consistent place that I could count on having somewhere all my own to sleep. I would dread the winter and summer breaks in Albany, and as my family continued to fall apart, I escaped to the homes of friends and men. I found solace in alcohol and weed. It was my way of coping with the incredible sense of displacement I felt. I no longer belonged to my family. The silence that permeated my whole life became deafening and heavy in my mother’s house. So not only did I not have my own space, the tension was unbearable. So I drank. So I smoked. So I left.

Towards the end of college, I knew that I was no longer the person my parents dropped off in freshman year. The summer and winter breaks gave me glimpses of what life would be like. I remember telling my mother a week before graduation that I was different. That it was going to be hard to live together. By this point, I had completely embraced my innate spirituality and my African roots. I had grown into myself.

It only took 3 months for the shit to hit the fan in her house. We had an argument about my tarot cards and interest in witchcraft, as well as the vibrator she “found”. She wanted me to change, to give up everything, to stop being anything less than Catholic and repressed. She didn’t understand who I became in college. She wanted me to be heterosexual and to throw away my beliefs. I packed up all my shit and moved.

Since then, I have moved more times than I care to recount. I’ve been running with all my stuff with me from house to house of friends and people who were loving enough to let me rest my head for a while. I had to figure out a lot of things quickly living in NYC. I have often beat myself up for not getting a regular 9 to 5 to ensure my stability in terms of home and food. I feel irresponsible most of the time, that I move around so much. I ask myself, what am I chasing? Why can’t I be normal? Why am I homeless? Why didn’t I give up my beliefs and just live with my parents? I would have died inside.

I am discovering in therapy that I’ve been recovering from losing my home 10 years ago. This week I finally admitted to myself that I am homeless. Although I have never slept on concrete because I have people in my life who would never let that happen, I have not had my own home in a long time. I  have not known how to take care of my basic needs. I have blamed myself for not being practical and just getting a job like everyone else, for wanting to do something more with my life, like touch others deeply with my work.

Today, I am sad about this, as I sit in isolation in Oswego, NY. It is bitterly cold and all this snow makes me feel trapped in a way I can’t even describe. I have .44 cents to my name, a school that keeps calling me to pay a bill and half of my stuff is packed up, as per usual. Of all the blame and regret I am releasing, realizing I have been doing the best I could with a wounded 6 & 17 year old trying to get my attention from deep within. I feel like a failure a lot of the time. I feel ashamed because I feel undependable. Most people know to ask me where I am and what my number is, because those two things change so often. The instability is killing me. I am tired of blaming myself for this and feeling like I am doing something wrong. I feel like people look at me and pity me because of all the moving I have done. The sad part is that I pity myself. All this moving has made me feel very alone and ashamed, because moving this much means your community is scattered and never physically with you. This is some of the deep sadness I am finally facing and owning.

I want my own home.

4/100 – homeless

call my possessions a shell
things that make me remember
i used to have a home
a long time ago
though friends will never let me sleep on concrete
i fear often that i am one trauma away from it
that maybe their homes are not big enough for it to be mine
i don’t have a home of my own
i despise those who have a rent to be stressed out about
i’ve prayed for food stamps like i never knew i would
just so i could eat and not pretend to fast
everything i own is in bags
everywhere i rest my head is temporary
give me a shopping cart so my things won’t weigh me down
some days it takes everything in me not to give up
the temptation to go back to the vodka bottle is strong

i force myself to continue
make myself write and share my story
as a warning
as hope for those about to find out what this is like
i find myself running away
trying to find somewhere safe
somewhere that is home
my home

The Woman Formerly Known As Carmen Mojica

I remember vaguely as an elementary school child not liking my given name ‘Carmen’. I couldn’t quite explain why, but the closest I get is that it didn’t feel like who I was. I embraced my name as I grew up, and saw it as something that connected me to my family tree and to a special date – my birth date. July 16th is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or in Spanish, El Dia de la Virgen del Carmen. I was two hours shy of being named Diana. According to the story, my mother was in labor for 25 hours. Being my mother’s first born, my grandmother was worried about her daughter and was also praying that I’d be born on that date (the 16th) so that I’d be Carmen. And so it came to pass, I was born Carmen Erlin Mojica at 10:01pm in the Bronx.

Given my passion for childbirth & pregnancy, I asked as many questions as I could about my own entrance into the world. My grandmother told me that a relative had had a dream in which there was a hole in the ground full of water. My mother was in it, naked and very pregnant. On her belly was the image of la Virgen del Carmen. I was born with meconium in the amniotic fluid, which is when the baby poops in vitro. Usually it is linked to distress of some sort. I always wonder what was happening to me that I experienced some sort of stress before getting here. From asking my father about my birth, I learned that an offering of some sort was made after I was born by my dad because of the prayers and things asked for my safety.

The first time I chose a name was when I crossed into my sorority in Spring 2004. I chose the name Ori, which the Yoruba traditionally believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one’s Ori. Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters it is taken to mean an inner portion of the soul that determines personal destiny and success. 4 years later, I chose another name in a self-initiation. At the time, Wicca and Earth-based religions spoke to my soul loudly, and on a cold Imbolc in 2008, I consecrated myself to my beloved Moon Goddess as her priestess Artemis Celeste. These were names that marked important transitions for me as I began to embrace myself on many different levels.

In my post-college life, I began to meet people who had legally changed their given names for many reasons – spiritual initiations, marriages, transitioning to another gender, and ancestral affirmation. I gave the idea of names more thought as I reflected on names I had picked along the years. At this point, my name meant a lot to me. It connected me to my mother and father’s lineages, and told the story of colonization. I wore my name then as a source of pride, as a symbol of being my mother’s daughter and being proud of the struggle and sacrifice made to get me, a modern day Afro-descendant woman, to this juncture.

Shortly after I completed the first draft of my book, Hija De Mi Madre, I had a nervous breakdown. I had taken so much out of me that I was unsure how to move forward. Writing the book was the end of my ignorance and the painful process of enlightening – of shedding light on the shadows of my life, on the things that are not spoken about. I knew I would never be the same again. And I am not, and never will be. I published Hija De Mi Madre in 2009, and shortly after that faced a confrontation with my family, mainly my mother. She was intolerant of my spiritual views, and who I was becoming – a woman who was interested in her West African roots, Egyptian culture, Afro-Caribbean dance and religious practices, and completely disinterested in chemically processing her hair, shaving her body hair, a heterosexual identity, or abiding by a “womanly” dress code.

As I recovered from my family conflict, I suffered another blow and was retraumatized. From that summer in 2010 until the end of 2011, I unraveled quickly as I struggled with my demons and pursued my personal aspirations in the midst of barely taking care of my basic needs. My road to recovery started when I finally went to therapy in October 2011. It was my first time trying psychotherapy. At first I was apprehensive because mental health had been such a taboo with my mother’s battle with being bi-polar. I knew I was fucked up and was scared of what speaking to a therapist would bring.

I realized at this time that I was grieving. I had lost more than I acknowledged in the course of my then-26 years of life. I was also beginning to feel like I was no longer the self I knew as Carmen. It was a very intense period of my life where I felt parts of my former self dying as a rebirth was surfacing. Around this time, I went with a delegation to Ayiti and came back feeling very clear about my life purpose: to heal myself and in turn heal others. I knew then that my desire to present at colleges and universities was fueled by my belief in the healing power of witnessing. There is something very powerful about witnessing someone else’s story, poem, song, or documentary and feeling like another person was able to help you on your journey by just sharing themselves. Early in college I realized my words had the ability to move people. I wanted to use that power intentionally to help Afro-Latinas and other Afro-descendant women feel understood and validated. I want to help someone feel a little less alone knowing that what they’re going through is not only common but also has historical and generational precedence. It was the feeling I got when I first read the article “LatiNegras” by Marta Cruz-Janzen. I felt so relieved that my experience was validated somehow just by another woman like me sharing her story and giving it a context.

2012 brought a lot of change for me. After coming home from Ayiti, I knew I was shedding old skin and becoming an evolved version of myself. I embraced this new person I was last summer after the last confrontation I had with my family. This time, I realized that in order for them to be happy, I would have to repress myself. It felt like I was being asked to shove myself back into my old shell. I knew there was no going back to oppressing my hair, skin, heart, sexuality and self-determination. Distancing myself from my family was the last straw for me. It was like the last crack in the dam before the water floods out.

About a week before my 27th birthday, I felt the need to choose a name that encompassed who I was becoming. I met with my therapist and explained how I felt like I was vibrating on a different level. He told me about how yogis often change their name when they initiate into their spiritual life. On the way home, I began trying on names. In my meditations, I remembered my fascination with the goddess Inanna. It became a chant to me that felt soothing.

In the 5th week of my nursing program last semester, I had a serious nervous breakdown. I was hospitalized for a few hours before being released to my partner. I had broken completely. All the traumas that I have experienced were too much to handle. I have continued to go to therapy after breaking down last fall, and am grateful for it. It forced me to heal and release years of pain and silence that Carmen held onto and Ynanna needs to let go of to travel light.

I chose Ynanna as my name, honoring the energy of the multidimensional goddess I was awakening in my healing journey. I spoke to a mentor of mine about names. He gave me a lot of powerful thoughts to mull over. The one that resonated with me was the idea that your name speaks your destiny every time it is said. That to name something is an act of power; naming something defines it.

I realized that the name and identity ‘Carmen’ came with expectations and characteristic given to me. ‘Carmen’ pegged me as a silent, reserved, Catholic, good obedient little girl. ‘Carmen’ was a reminder that a Eurocentric mentality was being forced on me, my physical appearance and what I was expected to do with my life as a woman of color. The act of choosing my name, Ynanna Djehuty, is my commitment to shaping my future and destiny on my own terms. It is a statement of self-determination, a vow to transform myself, a claim to the birthright stolen from my ancestors, and a dedication to breaking internalized cycles of abuse.

Ynanna is my spelling of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and warfare. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She is the embodiment of all the phases and parts of feminine energy and is one of the oldest myths that has remained intact before patriarchy took hold. It is also one of the stories the whole resurrection of Jesus was taken from. Her most famous myth is a metaphor for the ultimate spiritual initiation into wisdom, expanded consciousness, and adulthood, in which one willingly faces their shadows and their demons, to embrace both sides of them and be complete and stand in their power. Djehuty is the Egyptian God of wisdom. He maintains the order of the universe, the system of writing, speech and law.

My destiny is to face the shadows of my life and stand in my power so that I may help others, particularly women, stand in their complete power as I channel the divine wisdom guiding me, using my words and my voice to restore order and justice in this part of the Universe.

About Mujer Negra: Evolution

Mujer Negra: Evolution is the continuation of my first book.  In October 2009, I published Hija De Mi Madre (My Mother’s Daughter), which is a combination of memoirs, poems and research material that explains the effects of race on identity from an academic standpoint. I share my personal story as a living example.

Mujer Negra: Evolution is a journey of transcendence, in which the importance of defining the experience of Afro-descendent women across the world is brought to life using my personal narrative. I use my experiences to aid in contextualizing the contemporary Afro-descendant woman’s reality in modern day society, interweaving historical precedence to ground our story in an interconnected web. The book explores how the trauma of the African enslavement has carried onto present generations of women living the legacy of oppression and self-hatred created by white supremacist patriarchal and capitalist ideologies.  This book is geared towards Afro-descendant women and their holistic health and well-being, primarily because the disparities in the healthcare system not only affect us the most but are also lacking in understanding all the factors that contribute to the statistics.  The intention is to contextualize the experience of Afro-Latinas and other Afro-descendant women and shed light on how their diverse lives are impacted by the forces of oppression in the world.

Status: Currently being written.