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The Importance of Building Community in Healing Trauma: Motif Reclaims Wellness for Women of Color Through Storytelling

The Importance of Building Community in Healing Trauma: Motif Reclaims Wellness for Women of Color Through Storytelling

I never felt safe as a child. While a long list of incidents robbed me of my safety, one word sums them all up: Trauma. I was acutely aware of every element of my life, with an emphasis on the bad, including violence in and out of the home, abuse, addiction, an absentee father, and more I won’t pity you with. But, as they say, there is no good without bad. Today I recognize that my trauma has been a gift in many ways. It has helped me to see the world differently and to discover joy in ways I never thought possible. Most of all, it has helped me to build community and support women of color in their healing journeys by sharing my story.

I’m a Black woman and my upbringing and life experiences are different from most, if not all, of the white women I know. I grew up in the late 80’s and 90’s right at the tail end of the crack cocaine epidemic, experiencing the devastating impact the War on Drugs disproportionately had on people of color (and still does to this day). Both of my parents struggled with addiction during my formative years. And, while I am certain there are white people who have addiction coupled with a single parent household as a part of their family’s story, I haven’t found it common. I grew up with my mother and whenever I shared this with a white man or woman, I was met with the question “Where was your dad?” Repuncturing a wound I had long ago dealt with. On the contrary, the Black, Latinx and Indigenous women of color I shared my story with never had a follow-up question, but instead offered a subtle nod of deep understanding and knowingness.

I have always craved connection, specifically from women by whom I felt seen and heard; women who “got me.” 2020 was an upheaval of the known, but it provided the opportunity I’d been searching for. In the midst of the suffering from a global pandemic, front and center systemic racism, and collective grieving, what started off as a whisper of me acting on my purpose and creating community for women of color seeped into my dreams, and then into my reality. In November I launched a storytelling platform, Motif, to forge a safe, welcoming space for BIPOC women to share their life experiences. Motif was conceived when I realized that there were no spaces for women of color to simply share the life events that are unique to them. Today, the Motif Podcast and regular articles provide stories for and by women of color, including contributions by conscious beauty entrepreneur Jas Imani; Evelyn LaChapelle, founder of EightySeven Months and Partnership and Reentry Coordinator for The Last Prisoner Project; People’s Yoga co-founder Leah Gallegos, and more. But for me personally, Motif is a by-product of what I needed as a child, and a woman who’s healing.

Shanetta McDonald (C) Tracy Nguyen

I speak as someone who has lived in small and major, rural and non-rural, cities throughout the United States. I have been a part of fairly diverse spaces, from moving through elementary school to high school, to navigating national and global organizations. The lived experiences of white people and people of color differ immensely.

Economic stability or the lack thereof is a significant divider. Poverty doesn’t discriminate, but it overwhelmingly impacts people of color more. On episode 8 of The Motif Podcast, author and decolonial healer Dr. Rocio Rosales Meza explains how financial insecurity was a part of her trauma as a Latinx and Indigenous woman due to her family’s origins and subsequent limited resources. This rings true for so many people of color. While the concept of food famine and “not enoughness” is foreign to many white folks, it is all too familiar to Black and Brown folks.

Racism is yet another issue uniquely experienced by people of color. The soil this country was built on was labored by Africans and founded by Native Americans, yet we are still not recognized as worthy of equal opportunity, resources, and life by the majority of those in power. Our existence and human rights are still debatable hundreds of years later. Last summer we witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd while we were simultaneously grieving the assassinations of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. The impacts on the mental health of the Black folks during that time – and any racism-led acts of violence – are great, and weigh heavily on not only our hearts, but our entire well-being. During that time, I sought support from my therapist, which was extremely helpful for me in processing my emotions and feelings of anger, despair, and hopelessness. But I also leaned into the relationships with the Black women in my life, and those who personally knew what it felt like to fear having a child, or parent, or even themselves, potentially become the next hashtag. Most recently the violence against Asian Americans are yet another reminder that racism is very much still alive. It is also a reminder that people of color will always be healing from the traumas that not only our ancestors endured, but that also currently face us.

My personal story additionally involves recovery from an eating disorder, specifically bulimia, which is likely due to my childhood trauma coupled with unhealthy coping mechanisms and probably some unlucky genetics. Like many people who have addictions and isms, I struggled in silence. For years I never thought about telling anyone what I was doing to myself. Yes, my silence was partially due to denial, but eventually, it was just shame, guilt and a feeling of being the only one going through what I was experiencing. Eating disorders – any addiction – create extreme isolation. I hid my self-harm and harmful behaviors from everyone around me and lived in fear of “being found out.” I never thought anyone would identify with the weird and screwed up stuff I was doing with food and my body. 

Then one day, I hit my bottom. I started to develop acid reflux from purging and was desperate to find out if someone else also had this side effect. I began googling the effects of bulimia and came across a blog post written by Black woman who was recovering from the disorder. For the first time I didn’t feel alone. Not only had someone suffered like me, but it was someone Black at that. This was almost eight or nine years ago when disordered eating wasn’t as widely discussed as now. Black women especially hid their experiences with such disorders. But because someone I identified with decided to share her story, it gave me the courage I needed to get help. And today I’m actively in recovery for my eating disorder, openly sharing what that looks like for me, because my story just might help another woman of color who is battling what I went through.

Connection is vital to those who have dealt with trauma. My healing has never happened on my own. It’s always been some form of community. And I invite women of color to find a tribe of women who will support them in their healing journey.  Whatever that looks like. Hold space for one another. Sharing your joy, sorrow, humor and everything in between is community. Let your authentic conversations activate your healing. You are deserving.

Find more stories on Motif at ourmotif.co.