I’m Coni and I’m here to describe how my PTSD affected my Santa Muerte-centered spiritual practice and how She has augmented my treatment. Growing up in an older family plagued by chronic illness and sudden passings introduced me to heartache and instability beginning at the age of three. It wouldn’t be until my mother’s traumatic death in my early 30s that I would stop trying to outrun Death. This led to me turning around to face my fears and slowly walking toward Her in search of understanding.
A few years prior, I had started drifting away from Catholicism again when my mother’s doctors explained the gravity of her condition. Thus began my reexploration of syncretic systems like Santería, which allowed me to call on others for help. Syncretism was necessary because of my family’s roots in Catholicism and Pentecostalism, but also I continued to struggle with whether I was risking my salvation by reaching out beyond the Holy Mother and Trinity.
Thanks to the internet’s algorithms, Santa Muerte began popping up regularly throughout the process and my thoughts continually returned to Her. Listening to this, I decided to focus on Her and quickly discovered that my concerns about engaging with a possibly evil entity were unfounded. Soon after, I wound up in an ambulance thinking I was bleeding to death. I wasn’t, but doctors found a particularly aggressive form of cancer. Less than two months later, COVID lockdowns started.
All my worries about my family’s history of fatal health problems came bubbling up to the surface. Post-discharge, my PTSD was out of control and soon to be exacerbated by trying to keep us alive through a pandemic. Because trauma rewired my brain, innocuous sensations within my body became my biggest triggers. Even my insomnia was partly fueled by an irrational fear of dying in my sleep. Luckily, I located a therapist specializing in Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART).
Mastering how to bring myself back online when my PTSD kicks my rational self offline was key. As I learned about mental health, I began building a relationship with Santa Muerte. Diving into both worlds simultaneously showed me how easily I could integrate my Spiritual Godmother into my management protocol. When anxious or triggered, I think of five of Her symbols, which I wear on a bracelet. They pair up perfectly with different tactics I use to ground myself.
- The World:
- A globe represents the vastness of Santa Muerte’s presence and power versus my limited abilities. One of the first concepts introduced in therapy was “Circles of Control”. Can I affect any change in the outcome for this concern? As one who ruminates and catastrophizes, the answer usually is “no”. This system-check approach serves as the clutch helping me shift out of the Fear Gear, which unchecked thoughts and emotions knock me into.
- Like others, I want to help my loved ones despite my PTSD being triggered by witnessing aspects of their mental illness, chronic ailments, or chemical dependency. I must surrender to the truth that trying to control them injures me and alienates them. All I can control are my thoughts and actions. Regarding my own health and mortality, I work to maintain a healthy lifestyle, stay accountable for my physical and mental health, and keep away from toxic relationships. I commit to these boundaries to honor Santa Muerte, when I’m struggling to do it for myself.
- I’m easily susceptible to what-iffing the past and future considering how quickly I’ve lost loved ones due to their lifestyle choices. I’ll never know how much time any of us has. Instead of succumbing to panic, I honor Santa Muerte and whatever time remains by letting go. Rather than procrastinating, I take action for Her when I can’t for myself. When I feel my anxiety trying to dissuade me from enjoying life, I keep moving forward as a tribute to my Madrina. After all, She’s the only one who can see how much sand is left in her hourglass of life.
- Santa Muerte, Herself:
- Santa Muerte is a mother to all those marginalized and abused. No one is turned away over origin, identity, lifestyle, or circumstances. There is no feeling of being “less than” caused by alienation I’ve experienced in traditional Christian practices. I spent years diminishing myself as a woman and hiding parts of me deemed by others as unsavory or displeasing to God.
- This poisonous cocktail of shame, self-hate, and anxiety has been forced on many, myself included. But Santa Muerte empowers me to rebuild my love and value of self. She doesn’t teach me to accept being a servant to an establishment or to yield to those who view me as undeserving of equality, dignity, and respect. Her guidance doesn’t cripple me or lower my expectations. Instead, She helps me grow the strength to step more fully into myself and to embrace all the parts of me previous religious figures scolded me for.
- The scales symbolize keeping life balanced. Obsessive or avoidant behavior prevents me from acknowledging difficulties and proactively addressing them. They also weigh things out to keep perspective. We all have issues influencing what we say and do. It doesn’t take away accountability or justice, but it works to ensure fairness isn’t forgotten. No one is born perfect with everything they need for this life. Mistakes and missteps happen. There will be days when I try my hardest and it might not be enough. Through this fairness, I’m able to forgive myself.
- Against a society in constant motion, the owl embodies the stillness needed for wisdom – to listen, observe, absorb, and integrate. Thinking of the owl often perched near Santa Muerte, I let the noise quiet to notice things I may have missed before. Sitting with my thoughts and feelings grants me a greater understanding. Those eyes are a reminder to look without blinking, without turning away, to see all sides of myself, others, and circumstances. I can pray for Her to reveal things to me, but I still must look.