I asked her what happened, although I already knew.
The scar carved from her swollen, purple eye down to her jaw matched those which sliced across both of her wrists before running up the entire length of her lean, weathered arms.
Her body had become an irate map of violence. Each mark a symbol of proclaimed territory, of perceived weakness.
Of ownership, even.
Engraving her skin empowered the immorality of such memories, no doubt. Etching their way from her body's canvas, right into her heart.
And then- of course- into my own, as well.
"He only comes at night," she whispered without looking up.
"The alcohol can make someone a monster, you see. And the darkness- oh, the darkness will mask the violence, and swallow your screams. When we live in darkness, we live in silence."
She gestured to the small, solemn girl glued to her side.
Her skinny limbs littered with a spectrum of fading blues & angry violets; colors so heavy they weighed the corners of her mouth down into a permanent frown.
"I named her Angel, because I believe she will be saved from this life I've been given. And it's true. Don't you see? This is not only light. This is hope. Soon, my voice will be completely free."
This is just one of many stories that has made a comfortable home in the center of my being.
One out of HUNDREDS that I've heard. Sometimes every single day.
These are the moments which often manifest themselves into reawakened fear and self-doubt of my own. The simplistic honesty of such words beginning to fester, and then thrive, in the deepest part of my core- curdling years of internal repair and newly cultivated self-love.
I can feel it. All of it.
I can feel the toxicity bubbling up within, threatening to spill out and cover those around me with that same suffocating pain if I don't take the time I so desperately NEED to remove myself from these beautiful, but often extreme environments.
And, the thing is- I love the work that I do.
I get absolutely high off of each five-hour jungle trek out to these remote villages, and sleeping on wooden planks under nothing but a star-studded blanket of velvet sky.
More often than not, my heart is exploding with gratitude for those who so generously house me, feed me, and keep me safe.
For those who have so little, yet offer so much.
These are the people who have illuminated my life over the years.
The ones who have inspired me to live the life that I've created. And the ones who unknowingly contribute to my constant evolution of highest self.
But there's another side to it, too.
A side that is typically goes unrecognized- completely unseen, even- especially through the glorified snippets of information and stunning images shared through social media platforms.
Amidst this bombardment of illuminated moments, there still lies a daunting darkness.
One that I've struggled to find the balance between over the years.
Teetering the line between wanting to give my whole heart to alleviate the hardships of others, yet losing parts of myself in the process.
In the past few years, I've come to appreciate the genuine vitality of emotional stability in this line of work.
When I first started out, I dove in headfirst- giving to everyone, except myself.
I never considered the repercussions of internalizing such heart-breaking moments, because I was too focused on how to "fix" them, instead.
To be completely honest, I felt like an asshole if I even spent a moment feeling bad for myself, or comparing my hardships to those of the communities with which I worked.
I diminished the worth of my own pain, because I felt the burden of unfairness in the ovarian lottery of life.
I felt that whatever I was going through (or had gone through before) was essentially irrelevant when I was living with people who struggled to eat more than just one meal a day.
Yet, over the years, I've realized how unnecessary it is to compare one person's hardships to another.
The reality was that when I was struggling mentally or emotionally, I was unable to offer my full potential of self in regards to serving others.
If I didn't take time to mediate on the value of my own thoughts, my own reactions, and my own feelings- then I only perpetuated those innate feelings of inadequacy even further.
I told myself that I didn't have the right to feel certain ways.
That I wasn't worthy of taking time to indulge in even just one day of complete relaxation, let alone removal from the environment, altogether.
This is still something that I still struggle with in my line of work.
I still have that nagging voice in the back of my mind. A tugging sensation at bottom of my heart that feels like the weight of guilt in the face of happiness and comfort.
Because, no, it's not fair.
It's not fair that I although I work in these remote villages for weeks at a time, I can still go back to the comfort of my guesthouse at the end of each experience. Relishing in the luxuries of things like electricity and hot water.
Sipping tea and writing about it all on a laptop as though it were all a dream, rather than a reality being lived by millions in that exact moment.
It's not fair that I just because I was born in another part of the world, I have the option to seek justice for the same violent wrongdoings that Angel and her mother suffer from each and every day.
It's not fucking fair that so many people live in silence.
Live in fear.
Live without ever receiving love, or seeing hope.
The difference between my present day reflections on this unfairness, and those which nearly ate me alive years ago- is that I can acknowledge when this tidal wave emotions gets to be too much.
When I simply need to take a god damn break. To reflect, to decompress, and to filter through all that dark, gooey toxic stuff building up within.
The past two weeks have been dedicated to just that.
After spending several months out in the field, I needed this break more than I realized.
In fact, I tried to write about Angel's story weeks ago when I first met her, but nothing came out.
I sat down COUNTLESS mornings, hands hovering above the keyboard, waiting for the words to spill through my fingertips with ease.
Instead, I continued to dream in visions of red each night.
My subconscious conjuring blood-stained memories back to life in the darkest hours of the night.
I would wake with a face wet with fresh tears, and a throat full of strangled screams.
Yeah, the past few weeks have a been difficult for me, as I've struggled to readdress some old scars which have resurfaced in the wake of doing work that I truly love.
Yet- despite the difficulties- writing here now, I can say that I finally feel like I'm coming out of it on the other side of it all.
With less than 24 hours to go before embarking on yet another five-week-long project, I couldn't be more grateful.
Grateful for granting my own feeling worthy.
Grateful, then, for the time I took to invest in such internal repair.
I'm grateful for liberated words which fell out the mouth of Angel's mother, and into my heart.
Hell, I'm even grateful even for all the fucked up shit (yes, those are the only words that adequately explain it all) which has brought me to exactly where I am today.
Most of all, I'm grateful for that unwavering light refusing to be extinguished, even in the face of the most grueling darkness.
It's time to let it shine.