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When I became a Hero…

When I realize that I was trying to fulfill the role of the "Hero" based on social constructs associated with my gender, I decided to break away and redefine my heroism.

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“Take stock of those around you and you will see them wandering about lost through life, like sleep-walkers in the midst of their good or evil fortune, without the slightest suspicion of what is happening to them. You will hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyze those ideas and you will find they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.’ –Jose Ortega y Gasset

In this era of great revolution, I found myself in a constant exploration of the SELF in the context of my gender. For the last 5 years I have being working with my human growth and optimization not only as a human being but as a woman. On this path I discovered that I’ve been living life believing many myths that maybe were at some time constructive.  As I advanced, I discovered that these myths were not as functional or congruent with my reality.

Moreover, I realized that there is a realm of contradictions that rule our lives. Contradictions that are masked with a lot of confidence and false sense of certainty. Consequentially, leading us to believe that there are no other choices, other possibilities or other ways to live. Awakening from these contradictions unveils the fact that nothing is certain. Awakening help us to build our own reality and our own rules and schemes.  We live the life that was given to us, until we open our eyes to a totally new world. This “sight or awakening’ as a metaphor for consciousness sometimes comes after a critical moment resulting in a painful realization about the lies that we are conditioned to.

The stories, myths and lies are entangled in a cultural and social ecosystem that tries to explain life. We are all part of that ecosystem. Ernest Becker exposed exquisitely in Denial of Death: “The social hero-system into which we are born marks out paths for our heroism, path to which we conform, to which we shape ourselves so that we can please others, become what they expect us to be.” In this hero-system my identity became a good reflection of what it meant to be a woman in the social ecosystem.

I grew up in a matriarchal family in the commodity of the country side in Puerto Rico. Catholicism and machismo radically contradicted with the new paradigm of feminism. At home I had a strong, dominant, resilient and independent mother. Yet she submitted to a marriage that was filled with unhappiness. My father was very passive, quite, hardworking, ex-veteran. He was a kind man that didn’t have any academic education and had a limited emotional intelligence. My mom on the other hand had only 9th grade education but was smart and sharp. I was the youngest of 5, arriving into a family of adults except for my youngest brother who was 13 years old when my eyes first saw light. My mom was 43 when I was born and because of her age my birth became a phenomenon in such a small town.

Even though I don’t feel that my father was a strong influence in me, I am aware that there are many things about him that did impacted me. But it was more about the things that he never did than the things that he did. In other words, the impact was more his lack of connection than the connection itself. In the context of a family there is a constant feedback loop that somehow keeps us interconnected based in our roles. My father complied with the expected role of being a provider. At that point, I thought that a man was strictly someone to provide financially and not interpersonally. Now I realized that he wasn’t expected to do more. Don’t miss understand me, I loved my father and he was a very good man. He just was not the person that I looked up to or would run to for comfort and protection.

My mother complied with everything else. In a way I learned that a woman should become a superhuman or superhero. That for a woman to be classified as a “Good Woman” we would have to become some sort of being that is full of opposing forces. A woman needed to take care of everyone in the family without showing dissatisfaction, she needed to be a great administrator, an infallible nurturer that didn’t need affection, an extraordinary cook, smart, strong, submissive, selfless but beautiful. Moreover, she needed to be a friend that only socialized at work, and a believer that was willing to sin in the bedroom. She would be a person full of stoicism that was supposed to be able to keep a whole town together. In the so-called hero-system structure the meaning of being a woman came with the myth that in order to comply with the hero role, she would need to be the one totally responsible for making everyone else into a hero. The various rules, behaviors and customs surrounding the female figure was centered around the biological fact that we gave birth, and had the initial responsibility of feeding, nurturing and making life happen. What was forgotten was other piece of the fact that included the participation of another human being in that process. What defined male heroism was more into them being the hunters, a tribal warrior, and the ruler of a family.   

During my puberty I somehow realized that my family wasn’t a normal one. My role as a daughter and sibling was confusing. I was raised by parents in there 50’s and by siblings that because of our age difference might have being my parents as well. I also observed how my sisters quickly turned into superwomen, assuming great weight and responsibility over their marriages and families. I also had my first encounter with depression, guilt, fear, anger and despair. At a young age the demon of trauma hunted me as I opened my eyes to sexual abuse. What in my early childhood I considered a “game”, turned into a horrible nightmare that hunted me. That’s when Thanatos emerged in my life. For a long time, I struggled with my existence. Courage saved me when I opened to my mother and decided to talk. I learned that I was not the only victim and that by me speaking of it, others also decided to release themselves from the slavery of such a secret. The process of healing led me to my most valuable superpower: resilience. The power of being able to recover from such a terrible trauma marked somehow the beginning of the superwoman in me.

After my teenage years I started to question all the myths that surrounded what it meant to be a woman. In college feminism was a new discourse that started to make a lot of sense to me. I understood that my brain was capable of many other things other than family life. For instance, I was able to accomplish what many men did, and I was going to strive to have a partner that could see me as his equal. I still believed in marriage and in many other myths surrounding my role as a woman, human, and sexual being.

By 18 I was 75% independent. I went for my bachelor’s degree, worked part time and managed to start a committed relationship. At 21 I married and started my doctoral degree in clinical psychology. At the same time, I worked full time managing more than 10 accounts at an accountant firm.  At 26 I had my first-born child, graduated from graduate school and completed my board exam for clinical psychology. Step by step I became a fearless doer.

Marriage was nothing like I imagined. I just knew it was going to be hard and so I did what I knew best, I became the superwoman. My first child came into this world to keep me in a self-reinforcing loop at being resilient. Autism confronted me with many other myths about parenting, love, pain and patience. My marriage at some point after the Autism diagnoses started to crumble, but there I was steadfast and stoic. During the good and bad times of the relationship I also played the doer, the superwoman and the supermom. I lived under the assumption that because I was all those things in one, that it was going to be enough to sustain my marriage. In other words, I felt for many years that it was me who carried it all. I was aware that even though I felt that way, there were many times when he carried some of the burden. Even when he did help, I was so absorbed in me fulfilling the hero that was expected from me that I didn’t acknowledge it.

I allowed the circumstances and my own biased thinking to take over. I became a survivor, but I was not alive. Dr. Esther Perel, a clinical psychologist specialized in trauma and couples, expresses in her lectures that after trauma “there are those who didn’t die (survivors) and those who came back to life”. By trying to play the one who fights, solves it all, who didn’t say no, was not a quitter, who sacrificed for others, I ended up suffocating myself. I felt like that was not the life I deserved or wanted to live. I felt lost, empty, unmotivated. Survival became this constant burden and a constant interrogation of when? why? And how?

Trauma hit me again in the form of divorce, but this time I decided that I was not just going to survive. I was going to live. Being resilient I kept walking with every breath one day at a time. During this new path I understood that been a superwoman was not only about sacrifice, perseverance or commitment. It was also about having courage to speak up and accept when the “story” that once worked and made sense is not congruent anymore. That conforming and repressing is not healthy, and it just keeps you with a bad taste and sour feeling.   

When I least expected a new hero appeared in my life. This character unraveled a possibility that I thought was too great to be true. Many women talk about how men make them stronger by traumatic interactions that ended up teaching them to build new boundaries and to rely more upon themselves. I learned that a relationship didn’t need to be traumatic to show me that I was worth more than I thought. In his eyes I saw admiration, strength, passion, genuineness, purpose and will. When he looked at me, I was able to see a sparkle that was not only just for love or lust, but also for the great admiration he had for me. I was able to see myself in his eyes. He believed that I had all great values and virtues which inspired and revitalized me. I called that period of my life “the oasis”.  He gave me a new meaning of heroism. Although the relationship ended and became one of my greatest and most painful losses, what I gain from it is invaluable and made me into an extremely confident woman.

In my journey to find myself I ended up making drastic changes. Now in my 40’s I started to realize with more appreciation the painful truth about my mortality. The notion of time escaping me served as an impulse to build new realities and the making of new dreams.  I relocated in the U.S., leaving behind my beloved family and closest and most gratifying friends anyone could wish for. I left my business and divorced my loyal business partner for more than 5 years. It seemed I divorced from many things that were familiar to me but not fulfilling anymore. I turned my energy towards my profession, my kids and myself. Loneliness helped me understand myself better and taught me to love in a totally different light. I still have the ego of a super woman, but the difference is that now I am happier with both my weaknesses and my failures. I allow love to rule my life not only towards myself, but to anyone who somehow touches me. I also learned to dance with the dualism of being a hero with vulnerabilities and imperfectionism.  Slowly but certainly, I started to learn how to satisfy what Maslow called the Self-fulfillment need. In other words, I started to build myself as a different hero.

Good self-esteem depends on us coming to accept our flaws and still valuing our self in high regards. As a woman I don’t need to be anyone else’s myth. I am now painting a reality of who I want to be. My transformation is obvious in every aspect: inside out. My brain and body are so different now. I accepted the dualities and contradictions as part of my new founded reality. Now I am a woman that accepts being an outlier, a question mark, and an enigma for many. Rollo May said: “…. I must be able to say I am, to affirm myself, in a world into which, by my capacity to assert myself, I put a meaning, I create meaning.” By creating myself I created a hero that helps me feel that thing called purpose in life. 

The meaning of the hero in us lies in first accepting that we are creatures of indisputable vulnerability. That same vulnerability should prone us to assert our responsibility in the creation of the “self”. What means to be a hero to each one of us is unquestionably a unique and very personal responsibility.  Our experiences in life and how we give them meaning undeniably shapes and influence the different roles and characters that we play in life. My meaning of a super woman- my hero- lies in me being resilient, independent, authentic, compassionate, defiant, proactive, loving, caring, bold, brave, committed, unique and above all believing in myself.

I believe that my story can help someone realize that humans are full of super powers that can only be uncovered when we become aware of them. That as a woman we don’t have to follow the social path that society have designed for us. We can defeat the fear of rejection and judgment and live a life that feels fulfilling and meaningful. Lifting the curtain of consciousness opens our mind to a new world where we paint ourselves and our reality with totally different colors, shades and shapes. Moreover, we can always paint on our canvas, a new vision, a new perspective and a new story where we can become great compassionate heroes.

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