What is your story of strength?
My strength came from my upbringing. I come from a single-parent household, and seeing how much my mom struggled really affected me. We missed so many opportunities because of the reality of our situation. For example, I look at things like a “traditional” house and everything that comes with having two parents – that’s something I missed out on. I also missed out on opportunities that come with just getting to be a kid, because I always had responsibilities. For a long time I had to act like an adult but my friends just got to be kids. And my mom missed opportunities of her own. She couldn’t take a better job because she wouldn’t have been able to to take care of me.
I just had a gut feeling that things seemed off from what they were “supposed” to be. When society tells you you’re supposed to have this nuclear family, and you don’t have that, you start to question what you do have. We moved around a lot because we couldn’t make ends meet, and that was something I didn’t want for myself in the future.
I always knew I wanted something different for myself. My mom recently said to me: “Since you were young you’ve never been the type to conform.” I always wanted something different and something more. I finished high school and knew I wanted more for myself, so I went to college. I still wanted more, so I went to grad school. Then when I finished grad school, I wanted to help people. It’s always been about wanting more. I thought about things like: What is safety going to look like for me? What is home going to look like? I just wanted stability for myself and I knew I was going to have to take a different path to get there.
What is something you’re working on or trying to improve in your own life?
I’m working on learning how to loosen up and let go of control. Because I had to be the adult in my family for so long, I was always worrying about other people instead of taking care of me. As an adult I’m learning it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay for things to suck sometimes, and I want to work on allowing myself to just feel and be okay with that.
Part of that is learning how to open up to people. Because of my upbringing I learned to not open up to anyone. I learned to struggle on my own, keep problems to myself and just take care of the situation around me. However, I started going to therapy about a year ago because I was having panic attacks. I had been keeping so many things in that I had suppressed from my childhood and had been coping by trying to control these feelings, and it just wasn’t working. The experience of having a panic attack was like something was being shoved inside of me, and I needed to let it out.
There was a lot of trauma in my childhood. I was sexually abused when I was very young. It happened, and I need to say that. It was this big secret for so long, partially because I just didn’t know what it was at the time. I was so young, and I didn’t know how to recognize it. I was honestly embarrassed about it. I would ask, “What if no one believes me?” I was always expecting someone to be like, “No that didn’t happen,” or, “That’s not legitimate,” or, “Are you sure?” because for so long I didn’t get it myself. I hid it from people and denied it to myself because I had to be the strong one and I had to have myself together. When I think about why people don’t say anything sooner when something like this happens – it’s because you suppress it, you deny it, you see people questioning and think that they will question you or not believe you.
I am so thankful for therapy because I am honoring those pieces of me that I previously hid that make me who I am. Something that I’ve learned is that I’m not broken. There is nothing wrong with me. There are things that have happened to me, but it’s not about what I went through – it’s all about how I’m coming out of it and using it. I’m learning how to fight for myself. I am a chingona. I have my own opinions. I have a voice. I am finally opening up to myself and owning what I’m worth. And now I can empower other people from different walks of life to empower themselves. That is my line of work now, and I want to give other people the tools to do that, too. I hope that what I say and do can help other people.
What’s a gender norm or expectation that you wish didn’t exist?
I wish that women weren’t seen as weaker – I wish people believed women and believed in women. There’s something about being a woman that means there will automatically be some doubt about your word. You don’t have an assumed level of credibility that men have. You see it all the time, even in mundane things. When I say to someone at the mechanic that I need them to change my oil, it’s like, “Are you sure it’s your oil?” Yes, it’s my oil, and then I have to defend how I know it. And guess who taught me all the car stuff? My mother. She taught me how to check my oil, change my tire, everything. I know what I need but I don’t get the benefit of being trusted because of my gender. It’s like that with mundane things and with the big things. As a woman, you’re assumed to not know things. It’s like someone needs to explain something for you in order to be understood. People don’t trust what women are saying and don’t trust women to get the job done. I wish that didn’t exist.
What would your adult self tell your younger self?
If I could talk to my younger self, I would give her assurance and comfort and let her know she’s going to make it. I would acknowledge the shitty parts but I’d say: “You’re going to get there. You’re going to get to a place of safety. Things will be okay. I know that you went through shitty and scary things, but it’s all about how you come out of it. And you’ll come out of it. You are going to find and identify your own support system. You will learn how to open up in a way that you never thought you would. There will be a place where you feel safe.”