Ep#21 Decolonizing our Healing with Gabes Torres
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Gabes Torres, who has been active in the work of anti-racism and decolonization, particularly in the fields of mental health, education, spirituality, music, and community organizing. Gabes is a racial and migration trauma-informed psychotherapist and intends to decolonize the therapeutic space. She also offers clinical support and care at recovery centers that shelter and support survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence.
Gabes speaks to us about finding balance between resting and fighting for revolution, navigating the mental health world with a decolonization framework, and why ancestral healing is so important for our growth and liberation. Then, at the end of our intimate conversation, Gabes shares a lovely poem she wrote.
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
This feels like a time where I’m intentionally stepping into my power and it felt like this was a clear nudge from my team of ancestors, spirit guides, and angels. I’m celebrating saying yes to this new journey with awareness of my guidance, confidence and protection, since most of my life there has been a lot of fear of my own power and of how people would respond to that.
How would you describe your medicine?
Stories are my medicine, listening and sharing them. Stories are a foundational and core component of who we are as human beings, social creatures, and members of the ecosystem. I believe they’re so powerful, that they can heal and harm. The medicinal and liberating properties of storytelling are available when you tell the truth.
What is your ancestral lineage and how has that influenced your medicine today?
I come from a lineage of educators and revolutionaries. My grandmother was a guerilla warrior and spy for the Philippines during WWII against Japanese occupation. I’m a descendent of a nomadic tribe from the Philippines, which is reflective of my own nomadic sense of being. I pay homage to them, their resilience, and their expansive, regenerative capacity to teach and tell stories about who we are and how much we are worth preserving and celebrating as a community.
Where do you find the balance between fight and rest and pleasure as a revolutionary act?
It continues to be a question daily. Immigrant and migrant culture holds the story of having to hustle all the time. As a woman of color and a migrant, it feels risky to take a pause and a breath. That’s okay. The journey of releasing the need to be perfect also doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m trying to be hospitable with myself and always check in with myself, consenting myself, and making the mindful decision to ask myself if I need to eat or take a nap.
That’s revolutionary because the story that’s told in colonialism is that you’re only a commodity, that you are a product or resource to be used and shaped by the colonizer. When you choose to humanize yourself by way of asking yourself what you need or want, that is being anti-oppressive.
How are you navigating the mental health world from this decolonial framework?
It’s really tough considering the mental health world is not exempt of having motivations and structures of white supremacy and oppression. There’s an over pathologizing of BIPOC to the extent that when BIPOC choose to resist oppression, it’s considered a mental disorder. Historically, it was coin a mental disorder coined by a white man psychiatrist.
In navigating these spaces, I lean into intersectional feminism or intersectionality (paying homage to Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw, one of the pioneers of critical race theory). This is how your social identities, based on race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, etc., have an impact on how you navigate the world and are perceived by different people and systems. To decolonize the therapeutic space, there must be an acknowledgement that the client or patient is coming in with these intersecting social identities, that there’s something about them that impacts treatment. The treatment should be different because the struggle is different. There’s a need to lean into these social identities and stories rather than just the symptoms. It might feel lonely for mental health practitioners, but you are not alone and you’re doing such incredible work.
Why is this so integral to our growth and liberation? What does that look like for you?
Ancestral healing is important because the trauma is intergenerational and that’s something that’s been overlooked because of living in an individualistic society. It’s pretty easy to think that when someone experiences trauma, that’s it’s only in your story, without seeing the interconnectedness of all things. Trauma is psychobiologically, genetically passed down so we have inherited ancestral trauma, harm, and shame.
My heritage workshop on ancestral interconnectedness only has BIPOC participants and we engage with ancestral rage and grief, processing that with mindfulness embodiment practices. We share stories about our ancestors, symbolism, (sleep) dreams we have inherited from ancestors, and so much more.
Every morning, I do some ritual with candles and guava leaf incense, asking permission from my ancestors, Mother Earth, and occupied territory guardians that I may do healing work, to play, to be nourished, and to love and be loved. There’s something about permission and consent that’s overlooked and not valued anymore in this culture and society.
If you could envision a future where we no longer have to talk about decolonization and dismantling these systems, what would that look like for you?
A world where there are more horizontal structures in supporting one another, as opposed to top down. Instead, we count on each other for mutual aid and security. I want to sing and read without singing and reading about oppression. Celebrating us as we are, eating and dancing together, and building a big ass alter on an island, revering our beloved ancestors. I envision a world where the stewardship of the land, like Turtle Island, is returned to indigenous peoples, and where we have paid reparations.
If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what would you say to young Gabes?
Eat that cake. Masturbate as much as you want. Keep at it, keep going. Trust your path and lean into the mystery. Love yourself incredibly well. It’s okay to read that poem and take your time with it or to rest on that couch longer than you’d expected. May you keep stepping into your power because that’s going to let others step into their power. When you heal, others heal.
Conclusion: We are all connected. Trauma is interconnected with everything, it’s not just in our story. It’s a powerful act to seek help and community when healing from trauma, especially ancestral trauma. To decolonize the therapeutic space, there must be an acknowledgement that the client or patient is coming in with intersecting social identities and that there’s something about them that impacts treatment.
Action Integration: Envision a future where we no longer have to talk about decolonization and dismantling these systems… what would that look like for you? Try speaking with “I have” instead of “I want” or “I wish”. Let’s manifest this beautiful, peaceful world!
Learn more about Gabes and her offerings:
Visit her website: www.gabestorres.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/gabestorres
Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gabestorres
Connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/gabestorres