My surprised skin bumped into the chills of the new fall morning air. Inhaling deeply from its fresh coolness, I steadied my beating heart’s morning aches that were left over from last night’s racing internal discussion about a life and a death. A young 19-year-old woman hung, suspended before my mind with her long, coarse, strawberry blond hair pulled tightly into a knot behind her head. She’s an average height, not skin and bones, but there’s not much extra. Her eyes don’t mask the dark terror of the voices. This body holds at least 16 years of consuming trauma. Trauma has mapped itself well, topographically: old scars and new ones mark her dips in and out of reality. She paces nightly, in pj shorts and tank top, racing through her own internal dialogue with accusing voices, imprisoning her body in my plain sight.
The darkness of Fall seems to have arrived too early. I am unprepared for its tepid response to my request for a bit more light. Average gray clouds hold in sadness, lust, anger, desire, joy, and anguish, engulfing Seattle in the inevitability of pending violence. It’s the edge of a knife. The sharp edge presses my skin to see if I am real. Wincing, I look at the complications of loving, caring, justice and reality. Her body remains unmoved from my mind.
With limited shelters and limited resources available to commercially sexually exploited persons, the short list of helpful and innovative options grows shorter when mental illness haunts bodies infected by complex traumas. This young woman will make frequent visits to the hospital in hope for relief and yet, return to her life with little protection from the realities of her invasive trauma. Mental health hospitals diagnose these persons with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, disassociate identity disorder, major depressive disorder, suicidal ideation, and more. The self-harming behaviors of cutting, and dreams of suicide are identified, categorized and the diagnosis procured.
Her shadow catches my eye. She walks down the street to wait for an UBER. The hospital door slams shut. She needs help and calls a friend.
The hospital releases her soul into a world of harsh expectations with little understanding of how in the hell she will come back from her severe mental illnesses.
I suppose, given the diagnosis, the hospital hopes that a plan of medication, therapy and support will lead to healing. Without a buffer of time between the perpetual trauma and every-day life, hospitalizations, and a community that offers unconditional support, the commercially sexually exploited persons swim alone. They swim in dark, cold waters, gasping for air in systems unable to hold them compassionately.
Cutting edge therapeutic techniques are available to treat complex trauma; however, the skilled therapists are often financially bound to pay back student loans, bills, and support a family. It’s difficult or nearly impossible to find social networks, churches or systems that support the healing process of the lowest in society. And, most commercial sex workers are not white. They are Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Latino/a and bi-racial persons. When commercial sex workers walk into clinics, already stereotyped, reeking of addictions and death, only able to pay through state health insurance, there is not much hope to be held in those spaces.
These are the least of these. This is the trash run.
She sits, legs pulled to her chest, in the small shelter’s office, asking for grounding; she wants to get back to reality. Her phone buzzes just like mine, and her articulate analysis of her own internal reality questions my limited understanding. I mutter frustrations directed at a God who sees both of us. I resign to listen again to the accusing voices she narrates so clearly. We sit for less than 15 minutes because I am waiting on an Uber to take me home to a warm bed, husband and four children. It is no consolation that I have spent precious hours away from my family to work here and get paid to chill with this woman and others. I don’t feel morally superior. I look at my watch one last time, and excuse myself, telling her I am praying and hoping she stays safe. And now, I remind myself that I have completed my shift on “The Trash Run.”
Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.
Hi Danielle. This was a very powerful and disturbing piece. The Trash Run. The unwanted, marginalized people “reeking of addictions and death.” I couldn’t help but think as I read this, that these are the kinds of people Jesus was drawn to. The people without hope and often without help. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your world as you try to make a difference by being ears that listen and a heart that cares.
Blessings on you, Barbara! We are in this together.
I am both pleased and disturbed by your ending. It felt disjointed and undone. I see her wandering back into the cold and you hoping safety is findable by her. There is no bow to make me feel like it’s going to be ok now. Which is also why this slice of reality is perfect. Well done. I feel your angst.
It is hard to wrap up. I wanted to, but I couldn’t at the same time. I, too, feel suspended by the complexity of the issues and challenged to press forward.
Incredible writing my friend!!!
Thank you. It was written from my gut. Blessings on you!
Danielle, I felt so impacted; disrupted and heartbroken reading your words. Thank you for sharing your passion and visibility in bringing this valuable, tragic, beautiful young woman to life before my eyes. Oh, how I long for a safe place for her, for earth to be like heaven. And, wish I had the bandwidth to do more than pray. But pray I do and will and continue to be so grateful that you can do more. You are a treasure
Thank you, Annie. We are truly in this together. I believe that. It’s caring for one person at a time. Thank you for your encouragement, it was a blessing to me.
Thank you for brining yourself to these beautiful women. Thank you for your desire to see them, to know them, and to “be” with them in the midst of all the complexities. You are giving voice to all the voiceless women who will again be exposed to trauma as they set feet to the streets of Seattle tonight! We are in this together! Keep fighting for you and for them, for us!!!!
Marj, thank you. It is an honor to walk alongside you.
Reblogged this on dsruebcastillejo.
Wow. Just wow. Your writing is compelling and moves me to action. Thank you for your voice here. Christine
Thank you for your encouragement. I am glad we are not alone.
Danielle, I am grateful for your tenacity while studying for a degree to help many types of people. Bless you as you juggle, four children, a husband, school and a heart filled with awareness that must of us refuse to think about. It’s gut wrenching work. Thank you. You are a gifted writer and how good that our paths have crossed..
HI Becky, Your words are a treasure. Thank you for your blessing. We are truly in this together. Each doing our part.
You band it well, the reality of so many. I resonate with the sense of helplessness as community development was my door in to gift presence. And yet I can walk away….