By: Devan Daniel, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
I remember faces. I remember names. I remember stories.
Before coming to Houston, I worked as a substance use counselor for a non-profit organization. I worked with opiate-specific clients, as well as performed assessments for admissions. One of the consistent themes of feedback I received from clients and supervisors was my ability to remember people and their stories. Clients more so were surprised about how I remembered small details they shared during a session and then mentioned them weeks later. This created trust and a sense of safety with my clients.
As a counselor, you are meant to create this environment and receive training to do so. My first client, a man that was failed by and trapped in the criminal justice system, always comes to mind. He hated me. I was another barrier in his life and another authority figure to abuse him. However, he chose to share stories that still walk with me. He told me of how his family abandoned him because of his identity as a queer man. He told me of the myriad correctional facilities, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers that colored his time as a young adult. He told me of his son who was the biological son of his long-term partner. I see the face of my first client as he sat across from me while he completed a coloring page because he needed to keep his hands busy as we spoke. His name is in my mind. Never left me and never will.
Empathy is my power. I hold space to be vulnerable and I will always be present for that vulnerability. Thus, I have been told stories by all people in my life. And, I retain them. Hold onto them. Treasure them. Often, I am told that I make people feel like that they are the only and most important person in the world. And they are.
On April 7th, 2021, the Public Health Committee of the Texas House of Representatives heard a series of abortion bills. Groups of people came together to discuss these bills and how they would impact the Texas population, specifically the impact on people with uteruses. Many stories were shared, powerful testimony about having to set aside personal reservations about abortion in order to make a choice that was best for themselves as well as the child. People shared their personal traumas from these experiences and how they had to overcome these experiences to move forward. Each testimony against the banning or restriction of abortion fueled me. Each reminded me of a community of people needing their right to choose protected.
However, these are not the only stories from that hearing that will stay with me. What also will stay with me are the stories of vitriolic disdain towards people choosing to receive an abortion. Watching parents coach small children to repeat rhetoric that they do not fully understand and to condemn a person’s choice. What will stick with me is the entitlement to strip people of their ability to make personal health decisions. These health decisions will have a lasting impact because of how this nation prescribes ideas of sex, abortion, and when life begins. These stories will stay with me. I will remember all of their faces. I will remember their names.
My empathy and connection with others is a power that has served me well. But, it is also a source of repeated trauma. I am traumatized by stories that fuel me. I am traumatized by stories that disgust me. I am exposed. I am traumatized. I am exhausted. However, I have learned how to process this trauma and not allow it to be my undoing. It is an aspect of empathy and connection. I want and will continue to lead with empathy in my conduct as a public servant.
I am a library of stories shared with me. I am a culmination of different walks of life and experiences. Now, to be clear, these stories are not mine nor do I claim ownership. Instead, they are a community that guides me as I continue forward as a public servant. Many hands taking mine as I participate in the legislative process to ensure I am going in the direction best for all. I am never alone, there are always other people in my mind. Faces, names, and stories that will never leave me no matter where I go.
I will always remember faces. I will always remember names. I will always remember stories.