Since being back from Iraq, this was one of the most therapeutic things for me in dealing with post-war trauma. I found a sense of peace in the desert and driving through such surreal vistas provided a sense of comfort in which little else could remotely compare. This is what peace of mind looked like through my eyes.
The open road was seemingly my only friend for years upon end since leaving the Middle East. The road embraced me. It let me breathe. And more importantly, it did not judge me. That was the thing about being back in the US, I was constantly facing judgement for what I did or didn't do as a veteran. Hardly anyone ever asked me open-ended questions about my experience, let me freely speak of it, or simply let me be.
Someone once told me that the complete vision of your goal - in my case, home - must come first, and then you travel to it. However, I didn’t even know what home was supposed to look like anymore and had no idea where to go until I traveled to Arizona on a business trip. Amid my restlessness, I was sure that somewhere out there in the beautiful Sonoran Desert that I would find home, a place where I could relax, inhale the air around me, and feel part of the world again. For years I was plagued with a feeling that left me as a ghost merely inhabiting a body, wandering through streets and markets like a lost spirit, alone and invisible.
I could spend hours on the open road. It didn’t matter where I was going, I just needed to keep moving. My pursuit was one with no map, searching for this seemingly mythical inner-peace and sense of belonging. The intense desire to be whole again was undeniable, and indeed a treasure that I was determined to find.
While traveling, I was happy; never staying long enough in one place to get attached, a perpetual nomad and stranger in any location. Relishing in the anonymity of wandering the earth alone, I was enjoying the journey, savoring every morsel of solitude until I could find my sacred space. It sounds lonely, but it was more fulfilling than anything within my reach.
Travel was never really about buying tickets and arriving somewhere luxurious, or the novelty of a road trip. It was about constantly testing my courage to live. Traveling was a desperate attempt to be happy, so it didn’t matter where I went so long as I was on the move through air, sea, or land. I needed to keep moving. Stagnation meant there was idle time to look back at my past, and even more so my time spent in war. Stagnation meant death.
That’s why I love the road. Just the horizon and the gentle lure of wanderlust inviting me on another adventure. It was the only time where peace was remotely felt in what appeared to be a chaotic and failing community reintegration as a female combat veteran.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt alone, even in a crowded room? Perhaps you were facing relationship troubles, financial burdens, or the death of a loved one? Whichever your reason may be, you know that feeling. Trauma can shake the core of your being and leave you feeling alone with a mountain of broken puzzle pieces, and questions about your place in the world. Since I’ve returned to the United States after Iraq, that feeling was tough to shake. It was, unnervingly, a perpetual walk through Wonderland as a newly displaced and jaded Alice.
Along with my road trips across the Sonoran Desert, my artwork really began to take shape once again as I had trouble for many years since my post-war return in rediscovering my artistic mojo. Something about this magical desert and my walks or drives past mountains and cacti really woke up a part of me that I thought would be asleep forever. Something about this seemingly harsh environment nourished a part of my soul as though I had tapped into a hidden well, a source of rejuvenation and renewal for someone whose broken spirit seemed beyond repair.
Stay tuned for the rest in the upcoming book, The Desert Warrior.
Dispatches from an itinerant and irreverent artist.