Our Stories: Fabian Romero, Writer, performance artist and activist

Trigger Warnings: Addiction, Depression, Anxiety

 

Self-care is not something I grew up with - I think this is very common dynamic among Mexican cultures. I’ve also seen it replicated in my friends that are white and born in America. It’s this expectation that if you’re raised to be a woman, you will have to be the caregiver, not the person that actually receives care. In Mexican culture, this is called “marianismo”. It’s almost like we’re being raised to be the Virgin Mary - which is ridiculous.

I caution people that are not social justice-minded, that this is not a specific thing that only happens in Mexican culture. I’ve seen it in every single culture, in some way or another, this expectation on women to be caregivers. In Mexican cultures specifically, it is a religious thing. I was raised to be Catholic. I just never felt right about it. Growing up, I knew that I was indigenous, I didn’t know what it meant to be indigenous and Catholic when Catholicism was used to colonize my people. It was unsuccessful, my people are Purepécha from Michoacan, Mexico and they had their own belief system that was not at all connected to Catholicism. I took more to the Purepécha culture, than the Catholicism. Because racism is very prominent there very much how it is in the U.S., my family decided that we would not identify as indigenous or as Indian. But I knew that it was a part of me. I grew up in Mexico and I came here at 7 years old, and in the U.S. it was even more intense. Whereas in Mexico, It was pretty blatant - you’re going to be the caregiver. However, you have all these Mexican women to talk to and be in the community with. In the U.S., it was like I’m going to be the caregiver and I have no community, especially because I couldn’t speak english. I was a really poor kid in Everett, Washington, which is known to be a refugee city. At the time, it was during the Iraq war and there were a lot of refugees there, and I grew up with that community. Nobody spoke Spanish, so I was doing this whole thing by myself and with my older sister. I moved around a lot, never in my childhood was it like “Fabi, you should probably take care of yourself.” Care was demonstrated to me as women who sacrificed everything for men.

I knew I was queer early on. When my mom would try to get me to obey and try to prepare me to be a good wife, I would just laugh because I knew it was not the path for me. I would try to tell her, “Mom, I’m never going to get married” but I was too scared to tell her because I was queer. It wasn’t even in my head, I didn’t have those words yet. I didn’t even know what queerness was until I was much older. I don’t think people know these things exist until they are exposed to it. I feel the same way about self-care -  I don’t think people know what it is until they run across some blog or person that says they should eat better and they’re like “Woah, what? What is this world shift?“ I spent all my life doing things for other people. When I was a teenager, I had a drug dealer boyfriend who knew I was queer and thought maybe I would grow out of it. We were together for 7 years and during that relationship, all the care was for him. He had a lot of things going on in his life and I basically bent over backwards for him. He showed some level of support for me but it wasn’t the same.

Then I started partying and using drugs all the time, it was during this time that I thought I discovered my self-care. I thought this was all I needed to deal with all my stress and pressure - the stress of not becoming a wife like my mom had wanted me to be, the stress of having a boyfriend but really wanting to be with women. The first time I did drugs and alcohol, I was sick and I blacked out. Looking back at it now, I feel scared for my younger self. I went from zero to 100 in a few seconds and stayed there from age 17 to 24. My self-care really began when I started working at a co-op and getting involved in activism. Part of the training required inviting a community speaker to talk about oppression. They discussed racism, gender oppression, and ableism. For the first time in my life, I had a language for all this pressure I had been feeling. Not only have I experienced gender oppression because I identify as gender non conforming, but in the U.S. it was doubled with race. Now it made perfect sense why I was going through what I was going through. As I was trying to come to terms with this, I headed even deeper into drugs and alcohol because I had this new language but I didn’t have the skills to use it. When I talk to people who are newly aware, I see them racing to find a solution or trying to stop every instance. It’s a never ending battle. We can never escape oppression, we are in it always, that’s the air we breathe. It is a painful learning curve to become aware of this.

That’s what I went through right before I tried to get sober. The thing about being a drug addict or alcoholic, is that you run through friendships so quickly. I was in and out of cycling through friendships, they never lasted more than a month. By week three, they were sick of my shit and sick of having to rescue me or having my puke on their clothes. I would apologize but nothing changed. People got sick of me and I am grateful they did.  I had no friends and my job told me I had to get my shit together or I’m out. I’d been going to work drunk. Everyone in my life was sick of me, even I was sick of me.

I went to a month long training for social justice trainers. I thought this was my answer. One of the rules I had to follow was to not drink or use drugs throughout the duration of the training. This was something I didn’t think I could do, but I went through it and I don’t think I learned much because I was too self involved to learn anything. But I did get something out of it. When I got out of there, the week I got back to Olympia, Washington, I decided to get sober. I went to an AA meeting and I initially thought I was doing this for my physical health. I couldn’t wrap my head around all the mental damage I had caused. I was in a bad way, 24, had liver damage. Addiction runs in my family so I knew the pattern. I inherited this monster, I’m a monster, not a normal person, and I went into a self pity spiral. I stayed there, but I needed to be there. I do think drugs and alcohol saved my life. I do have this idea as a sober person, that not everyone needs to be sober to live a life that is great. I think that, for me, it stopped working, it was no longer self-care, it was self-destruction, self-hate, it was everything that was wrong with me, every single time that I drank. I know some people that don’t have to be sober and they can be fine. I’ve been sober 8 years but I still believe in self-harm more than I believe in sobriety. I believe in showing up for addicts more than I believe in getting everyone to be sober. I don’t have the answers, I just know what worked for me. I got sober and that created all of this time. When I was drinking, all of my free time was spent in a high or trying to find someone to buy me beer. I had all this time that I didn’t use properly. I didn’t use that time for myself. So when I got sober, I had all of this time and I didn’t know what to do with it. I would go to meeting after meeting, trying to talk to people. Mind you, I had no relationship skills and I was replicating all the same shit I was doing when I was drunk. But when I was sober, people actually believed that I could change, whereas before people didn’t think I could change. So, they stuck around. They stuck around as I pulled them through the ringer, I manipulated them and yelled at them and they stuck around believing I would change. Sobriety has been a part of my self-care, it has helped me transform myself.

The biggest part of my self-care wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t exposed to anti-oppression theory. I started anti-oppression workshops and I learned about micro-aggressions. If you experience them on a daily basis, they will start to accumulate and affect your mental health. The more marginalized you are, the more intersections you experience on a daily basis, the more frequent these micro-aggressions will become. As a person, I hit almost every area of oppression but I’m college educated, a christian, and a citizen of the US. I hold all of these things very dearly and carry them as my privileges. However, I still get a lot of micro-aggressions. The turning point for me was doing anti-aggression work. I realized I had all this energy to create change and make things better for people.

My writing is also a big part of my self-care. When I was learning english like a weird, immigrant kid, my writing was the only place where I didn’t receive any judgement. So I started writing poetry as a little kid, my poetry was deep as a little kid. I was writing about my relationship with my dad, and that’s a hard relationship. As a kid I was trying to figure out how we could care for ourselves when even our parents didn’t love us, how do I imagine a better world when my reality is so hard? My dad is not someone I talk to now. So the driving force behind my writing is very similar. It is very justice based - I believe if I share my story, it can help others to share theirs. I don’t know everything and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I try to be accountable for them. I write about my reasons for sobriety and about my immigration experience. I also try to center things on joy and hope, because without hope and joy, we can easily get bogged down and stop moving forward.

Writing keeps me connected to my values. I believe my purpose as a writer is to be a hope builder. I haven’t had the easiest life at all but I also haven’t had the hardest life. And I’m not here to compare, I’m not here to do oppression olympics. I will not say that my life is harder than other people’s lives. I do think my life has helped me gain perspective on how to be there for other people. And the different ways people can show up and the different ways people try to take advantage. I mean my family, is immigrant laborers and I’ve experienced things where people try to take advantage.

How do I write in a way that helps shape the world that I want? I think imagination is a really beautiful thing to have and to foster. If we can’t imagine a world outside of this, how can we build a support system that helps us out of this? Imagination is such an important thing and my writing is how I connect to it. If I can imagine something better, I can work towards something better. So when I write, I work towards something better. And it’s still rooted in reality. I’m not trying to calm dissent, I’m not trying to have people calm down, I think their life is valid and their experiences are very valid but I don’t ever try to say what we need to do is unify. I try to say if you’re not able to value difference, then we’re never going to get into a place where, people can be seen and power can be transformed. Power focuses on pretending like everybody’s the same. We can’t talk about race because if we talk about race we’re racist. We can’t talk about sexism because if we talk about sexism, we’re sexist. That shit operates on the idea that everything needs to be the same. I try to interrupt that with my writing, I try to be real. Difference will always exist in our world, and when we acknowledge it, we will transform the power behind it.

Honestly, I'm always working on myself, so I don’t fall apart when I make mistakes. If I fall apart every time I make a mistake, I’m never going to get up again. I deal with depression and anxiety, and it’s awful to deal with at the same time. What’s gotten me out of my deepest depression, is being really real with myself. I have some privilege, so I can still show up, so things aren’t hopeless.

 

Fabi's websites: facebook, vimeo, tumblr, fabianromero.com
Pronouns: they/them