Exactly three years ago, I went on my first solo international trip to Chile. My maternal grandmother was from Chile and I always wanted to visit to explore her side of my roots.
Among many of the activities, I went on a hike to the base of a volcano in the Andes mountains.
This was when I was pretty deep into my drinking problem, so I partook in imbibing wine when we reached our destination.
It was the only and last time I took a drink on a hike…knowing my issue with alcohol at the time, I usually declined drinks from others on the trail.
This time though, I agreed to just one glass – which of course turned into two, perhaps three.
After taking my first drink, the plastic cup broke. I was offered more wine, I told the guide- “Oh, my cup broke- do you have any other ones?”
After he looked and couldn’t find any, he handed me the bottle and said “You are Chilean, you can drink from the bottle!”
Of course was being friendly and I deeply appreciated the acknowledgment that I was a part of this wonderful, vibrant and welcoming culture.
However underlying it was a bitter truth: He was right, I could. And I did.
Chile is a wine country. There are over 300 wineries sprawled up and down the region from Maipo Valley to Colchagua. The country’s wine industry even boasts about having their own signature wine blend called Carménère, deriving from French grapes.
Alcoholism in Chile has been noted as a severe medical issue since at least the late 1970s, around the time the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet took over the rule of the country for two decades.
It has come up in medical journals as recent as 2013, as alcoholism had been emerging as an even bigger issue for adolescents in the country.
However, from my experience, I know that it goes back further than that as my grandmother had a long struggle with alcohol earlier in the 20th century.
In the late 1940s, my United States-born grandfather traveled to the mining town of Tocopilla in northern Chile for work. It was there he met my grandmother, who had lived there all her life. Within a few years, they got married and planned to go to the U.S. to raise a family.
As they were on a “goodbye” tour of South America, they traveled to Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. My mother was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She was baptized Catholic shortly after.
When my mother was a year old, they made their way to America.
While in the U.S., they traveled around a lot for my grandfather’s work in construction. My uncle was born a few years after my mother, when they arrived in the States.
As California was in a period of rapid development, my grandfather would often be busy with construction work. His grandparents came to central California from Portugal during the California gold rush, so his roots were firmly planted in the Central Valley- if only for a few generations back.
My grandmother, however, had only a few people she knew in the States. As they made their home in various parts of the West Coast, she struggled with alcoholism, severely impacting her livelihood.
She passed away of liver cirrhosis before I was born.
A few weeks ago, I was practicing a yoga embodiment exercise in my room during what I would consider a shadow work session – lights off, candles on, completely in the zone to explore the darkness within.
As I rolled my body out on my mat; I let out a deep, sad guttural sound that came out like singing. I hardly recognized the sound coming out of me. It was like the song of a much, much older woman inside of me.
Then I started to cry. Loud, sobbing cries.
As I heaped on my yoga mat, something just gave way and I felt a deep heaviness inside.
Instinctively, I could feel what it was inside of me that felt so heavy: I felt the pain of other women before me in my lineage – particularly my mothers’ mother.
In the moments after, I thought about my maternal grandmother and how isolating it would feel to come to the U.S. knowing hardly anyone.
I thought about how she struggled with alcohol. I thought about my own struggle with alcohol.
The demon that consumed her life nearly consumed mine. Had I not stopped drinking last year, it would have taken me over completely to the point of no return.
I felt the sadness, the grief, the loss, the despair. I feel I have been carrying it for a while. I also had a feeling that not all of it belonged to me.
How can I feel connected to someone I never knew?
Little did I know, there is a reason why I feel her pain so deeply and why this connection is so innate.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Chilean filmmaker and essayist; wrote no matter how much of an affinity you have for your maternal grandmother or the childhood memories you have of her, you are attached to her through your genes.
It also just so happens Jodorowsky was born in my maternal grandmothers’ hometown only a year after she was.
This connection feels too powerful for me to ignore.
As I have entered the realm of recovery, I have been given the option to heal. My trauma, inherited and lived, do not define me.
However, it also a part of me – from both sides of my lineage, as well as my own experiences.
In particular, I feel my connection to my maternal grandmother comes from part of her residing somewhere inside me – which, according to Jodorowsky’s theory involving epigenetics, could actually be the case.
When I visited Chile, I felt like I was at home. There was this strange sense that I was supposed to be there.
There was also a strong feeling that I had been there before.
One of my fondest travel memories is going to Madonna Night at an all-night dance club in Santiago, Chile.
Madonna is global superstar, however I found she is huge in Chile – one of my Airbnb hosts had the Immaculate Collection album in steady rotation on her playlist, just as it was when I was growing up.
Right before midnight, Like a Prayer, my favorite song of all time (which, oddly enough, turns 30 years old this month) came on in the packed dance club.
Everyone in the club sang every lyric together. At some point, we all sang the breakdown in unison even louder than the booming music pulsating through the room.
Our collective voices were raised up to the point where I felt the vibrations through my body.
And it feels like home just a like a prayer, your voice can take me there…
It felt truly magical. I was on the verge of tears. For the whole seven hours of non-stop Madonna music (with only a few repeats), no other song had the same feeling.
I could never imagine something like that happening at home in the States.
Was it our inner psyche’s connection the Catholic church and transubstantiation? Was it a connection to the trauma stemming from the Catholic church and early colonialism of our native ancestors in Chile?
Perhaps it was just because we all were drinking, dancing and having a moment of spontaneous unity over a nostalgic piece of pop culture?
I feel there some kind of ancestral memory at play when it comes to this song and my connection with it, as I have loved the song ever since I was very little. Something about the spiritual message of the lyrics, the music video and its imagery of Catholicism…it always felt very familiar to me.
One of the beautiful things about this work is not knowing exactly the origins of our connection to certain areas, times, events or symbols; but an inner knowing that it is part of us and deeply rooted in who we really are.
Our soul speaks to us in ways at times we may not understand, we can interpret it in a way leading us to a place we need more than anything – home.
After 14 months of recovery from alcohol abuse, I delved into the world of healing through Amba Movement and embodiment. As I explored this way of healing, I also started to look into Latin American indigenous practices to deepen my practice and connection with my ancestors.
Last month, I received a womb healing deriving from female shamans of the Shipibo Nation in the Amazon jungle of Peru called of The Rite of the Womb, a ritual helping women free themselves of the suffering that manifests in our womb spaces.
Since then, I have become more aware of how my womb reacts to fear, anxiety and emotional pain. It is also where I can access & feel my inner truth and knowing the most.
It turns out there was a very special connection for me to this womb healing, going even deeper than the ritual itself.
This particular healing was first given to a Chilean medicine woman named Marcela Lobos. As it turns out, during my trip to Chile three years ago, I passed right by her retreat center on the way to the coastal city of Valparaíso.
If this meaningful coincidence isn’t a call to live my calling, I do not know what is.
I feel the womb healing was a gift from my ancestors and meant to carry me forward with my purpose.
As part of my purpose of healing all those who identify as women, I have passed on this womb healing and will continue to do so; as I received a message during one of my meditations shortly after the ritual:
You are here to heal your lineage and the lineage of each life you touch.
This is now my life’s work.
We all can be a part of the collective ancestral healing that is happening – as we become generational pattern shifters, clear our lineage of the pain and suffering and open ourselves to the light and show others the path toward it as well.
This is a time where we desperately need to heal our inner wounds, so we can heal each other and build a world that is destined to be united.
These are the questions I have for myself and others as we go along this journey.
How can we embody healing as a way of life? How can we best serve our sisters and brothers with their healing journey, in a time where human disconnection and conflict are taking a hold on a society holding strong potential for unity?