By Veronica Cisneros
Mrs. Cisneros, a wife, mother of three and Licensed Marriage and Family therapist, is the founder of Empowered & Unapologetic, a program to help women identify who they are outside of all the roles they play in life.
It was September of 2004, one month after our daughter, Aaliyah, had been born and I was one month away from divorce. In that moment, I was not only heartbroken but I was also defeated. I thought that everything that I had identified as and all the roles that I thought defined me were being stripped away, so I wasn’t ready for the reality of divorce. When my husband had filed for divorce, I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell my mom. I couldn’t tell my friends. I couldn’t tell the women in my life that I’ve known since junior high because I thought that the minute I shared this out loud, it would be real.
I was determined to not let this divorce happen to me, and so I simply went on with my life and daily routines as though my Marine drill instructor husband was just gone on a typical assignment. One day, I had gone to the bank and the teller was not able to process my request for cashier’s checks. She informed me that my estranged husband had banking privileges there, but I no longer did. At that time, I had quit school and didn’t have a job, so I didn’t have any earnings or money of my own. I thought to myself, ‘Girl, you are going to have to do this on your own. And you’re going to have to do something quick.’ Because I had a baby now.
I immediately called my husband and yelled at him. I asked him how he could do this to me and he told me that he had talked to his attorney. From then on he was going to be giving me a budget every week to buy the things I needed and he was going to be taking over paying the bills. I would get no more money than the amount he would drop off. I was so angry when he told me all of this because in my mind, I had controlled the relationship. In my mind, I had done everything, and I had done everything for him.
Up until that point, any time he called me or needed me for support or intimacy, I was there. I would comprise myself by believing a lie that we would get back together so I would give in to him. Things quickly became very clear to me after that, so I got a job and sorted out daycare by driving my daughter to my parents house an hour from where I lived and then from their house drove another 45 minutes to work. I also re-enrolled in school.
Little by little, I started feeling better. I started to tell my friends about the divorce and what was happening. My friends were so supportive and were there for me; however, I still had hope that my husband and I would get back together. So whenever he did call me, it was like I was a slave to him, and I would go back for whatever it was he needed. Until one day when he was calling me late at night hoping for sexual intimacy. However, I had just picked up Aaliyah and I told myself, “I am not going to pick up his call.” I wish I could say it was easy, but I wanted to answer his calls so badly. I just wanted to pick it up and everything would be fine. We would be a family again and I wouldn’t have to be doing all these things and struggling. But I didn’t pick it up. He called me 20-25 times and each time it got easier until I turned off my phone completely.
The next morning I called him and he answered right away. I said to him, “There’s no way I am going to keep Aaliyah from you so if you want to see her, you are more than welcome to; however, you need to schedule this with my mom because I can’t do this anymore. And I will be changing my phone number. And you will not have access to it. If there is an emergency, I will let my mom know and you will be the first person contacted. However, moving forward if we’re gonna get this divorce, then we’re going to get this divorce and that is it.”
When I got off the phone, I decided it was time to do this for me. I had given him so much power to identify who I was and who I wasn’t. I had lost all sight of who I was by choice. I was scared but needed to leap.
Today, we are still married twenty years later. It has been a long journey. He had to do a lot of his own work and I did a lot of mine. I ended up going back to school and got my Masters. I had a private practice and began seeing women in a similar situation but suffering from deeper depression than I had gone through and wanted to help them so they knew that they weren’t alone.
In order to do something new, we have to practice it over and over. Then the feeling of fear subsides. If I want something, I have to lean in and try and try and try. I know it is hard, but this works. This works with everything in life.
So here are 4 steps to help you become Empowered & Unapologetic:
Step One: Perfectionism is a Lie
What I’ve learned is I just have to get it done regardless of how it gets done. Even if it’s not my best work. Before, I had the mindset that if it wasn’t perfect, it will never be submitted. I wouldn’t be satisfied so I would end up procrastinating. Let go of perfectionism and attempt it. Even if you fail, you will have learned something about yourself.
Step Two: You Are In Charge Of Your Own Destiny As Long As You Decide It’s Time
You have a choice! Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. We are under the assumption that people have power over our feelings. Think about how often you say, “You made me feel…” No one can make you feel any way, it is an active choice. If you feel that way, you have decided to feel that way because you are triggered by something you never worked on.
It is also a choice to change it. If someone triggers you, you get to do something about it. They didn’t make you feel that way because they don’t have that power over you.
Step Three: Ride The Wave of Discomfort
These things can be uncomfortable but if you learn to sit in the discomfort, the emotions will pass faster. These emotions are temporary, so ride the wave of discomfort until it goes away.
Step Four: Decide What You Want
Write down a list of five goals and then choose one goal and circle it. Next, list all of the steps you need to take to accomplish that one goal. List five steps. Try to avoid going too big, too quickly. We are building healthy steps, so make them small and doable.
Step Five: Define Obstacles
Then list five things that are going to get in your way from completing this goal. Be honest with yourself about your insecurities. Finally, give yourself a reasonable deadline. Be realistic. Making and setting attainable goals helps you move away from dysfunctional patterns.
With these five simple steps, you can begin to make changes in your life to live more Empowered and Unapologetic.