"I'm not weak!" I remember yelling this so clearly to my therapist. We had just uncovered trauma that I'd buried for decades. I had been molested at the age of 6 and the memories came rushing back, memories I had blocked out for decades. While crying hysterically I remembered my Mayan princess brown girl roots, the lessons I'd learned that "Latina women do not cry…it shows weakness." What my therapist said changed my life forever: "But crying and showing your emotions is far from weakness. Think of how strong and brave a person it takes to face the hurt and face what has been hidden. The weak are those who bottle it up and never let go." Mind. Blown.
I was 26 years old and in my last year of graduate school. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to save the world. Yet at that moment, the pain I experienced, the feeling of being cheated from a "normal life," the anger—emotions so new and so raw—made me crawl home and lie in bed. For the next couple of weeks I mourned; I avoided everyone and any kind of human interaction as I tried to make sense of it all. No one ever told me that when you experience hurt like this, you go through something similar to the stages of grief.
What burned through my soul most was how my cultural beliefs were challenged. What do you mean emotions aren't weakness? So you mean all those talks from abuela and tia (grandma and aunt, respectively for non-Spanish-speaking folks) were not entirely true? I'm a brown girl who was raised in a full-fledged Latino household but was born and raised in American culture.
I had new information that did not align with my Latina beliefs. Instead of brushing aside all I knew, I incorporated both worlds, both pieces of information, just as I had incorporated both worlds growing up. I reminded myself of all I had been taught about being a Latina, a strong woman, a force to be reckoned with, and an advocate for myself and people of color. I made room for the new information and made it my mantra in moving forward and leaving behind my past.
I finished therapy and immersed myself in positive activities like working out, reading self-improvement books, helping other women deal with trauma and life challenges, and reminding myself on a daily basis that I was a strong Latina who feels, has emotions, has dreams. I worked hard in establishing myself in my field and building my reputation in helping inner city youth of color. And anytime I came across a young female who had experienced trauma like mine, I made it my duty to show them the importance of vulnerability and allowing these emotions to be while being true to themselves. In other words, your emotions matter and do not define who you are. You come out stronger each time you face them—believe me—I know firsthand.
This is why you should share your story and embrace whatever is holding you back. The more you share, the less power you give to whatever pains you and your road map becomes that much clearer. I'm not saying to go and spill your guts at this very moment because only you can decide when you are ready. But hear me when I say this: You deserve the best. You deserve to live the best possible life you can. If your story has been holding you back, flip the script and start small. Reach out to trusted family, friends, or professional help because you matter. Treat yourself with kindness. Take yourself out on dates, buy the perfume you've been dying to have, have a girl's night, run that bubble bath, eat healthy, take the Pilates class, or have some alone time with Netflix.
When you are ready, use your story to empower yourself and create the life you deserve. Use your story to give others hope, which in turn reinforces your desire to live a life you love. Think how awesome it feels when you help someone else or put a smile on their face. It is the most amazing feeling! After all, when you help others, you help yourself. You do this at your discretion and share however much or little as you want. You'd be surprised how many people end up confiding that they, too, have experienced similar pain. Trust me, you are not alone. No longer answer to victim but to survivor. Show your true strength because, dammit, you are worth it. In the end, your story is one worth telling, and don't you ever forget it.