The soda can rolled down the chute inside the buzzing machine and landed in the little compartment. I stuck my hand in quickly and felt the freezing cold metal in my hand.
The holy grail of my childhood was always soda.
I was not normally allowed to have junk food or sweets. My mother, not wanting us to consume all that sugar, always made sure a can of soda was split between me and my siblings…
I felt the satisfaction shiver down my spine as I clicked the tab of the soda can open, and heard the familiar, delicious fizz of the pressure releasing. I looked down into the crystalline, orange liquid.
A can all to myself. A whole can. All to myself!
This felt powerful. Finally, something that could be all mine. That I didn’t have to share.
And then I heard the words: No, that is not just for you. You have to share!
I don’t know what happened in that moment. Normally, I complied.
But today, I felt tired. I felt a feeling of despair and anger rise up in my chest.
I felt so exhausted from having to share everything all the time, and not have anything to myself.
I didn’t want to be the good, easy child. Not today.
Today I wanted for once to have what I wanted. All. To. Myself.
My sister innocently reached out for a gulp of the fresh, clear, artificial orange liquid.
No! I said, moving my hand away from her, wanting to keep just this one thing to myself.
Lisa! I told you, you cannot have that can for yourself! You have to share with your sister!
My mother’s sharp words rung out into the air, warning.
And something in me broke. I completely lost it.
My mother had to drag me, spanking me, screaming and crying, across the sidewalks into her car. I pitched a fit the likes of which she had never seen.
And all along I clung to that orange soda can, willing to receive whatever beating, punishment, or trouble that may come from asserting my own desires, and having them be heard just once.
I was spanked. Hard. All along I raged, fighting until my last breath if I had to, refusing to submit.
Why do you always have to be so difficult?, my mother said.
You were never like the other babies, she says.
You were posterior. You wanted to be born facing the sky, instead of downwards like all babies need to do to come out of the birth canal smoothly. I was in labor with you for 17 hours.
From the moment you were born, I went to check on you in the nursery.
All the babies were sleeping peacefully. You were wide awake, looking everywhere!
You never slept!
The nurse said your brother had the worst colic she had ever seen, and I told her she should have seen you when you were a baby. Yours was 100 times worse.
You would not stop crying. It was horrible.
At that moment I understood why some people shake babies to death.
You were a very difficult baby.
This is what I was told when I would ask the adults in my life to tell me stories about myself as a child.
Difficult. Challenging. Strong-willed.
I have heard this my entire life. It became a secret shame I carried inside of me.
When someone didn’t want to be my friend. When someone didn’t love me back.
It always came back to this for me: you are hard to love because you are difficult.
As I grew older and became more aware of my own desires, every time I would voice them, resist, or say I wanted something different, I always heard it, again — Oh Lisa, why do you always have to be so difficult?
You have no sense of humor. Stop being so sensitive. Why do you always have to want to do things differently? Why are you so emotional? Why can’t you do exactly what I say? Why can’t you lose 40 pounds? Why can’t you stop speaking up about what feels wrong to you?
When I look back on it now, my mother had me at 21. By 27, she was working full time, trying to manage three children. And she had a very powerful, wiser-than-her-years, seer for a daughter — one with a definite sense of what she wanted, and what worked for her.
With three children, and her being so young, I can imagine she was overwhelmed. I don’t think she had any idea what to do with this powerful little girl who knew what she wanted, and could see right through her, down to her soul.
And when we are overwhelmed, or baffled by a child, we sometimes seek the quickest solution to make a problem go away: shaming them. It was easier for her to use a little bit of guilt and shame by branding me “difficult.” In that way, I’d try to go out of my way to prove I wasn’t difficult. That meant I would behave and do as she said, always.
It worked like a charm.
But not always.
A person’s true nature is not something that can long be repressed.
It was the end of my fourth year in business and I was so tired.
I was frustrated with my team.
I was still driving everything, always having to stick my hands in the administrative piece of the business, when I needed to be focused on my zone of genius.
No one could do anything without me telling them exactly what to do.
I went through team member after team member, not understanding why I couldn’t get the support I needed. I was so burned out, and it was clear my team was not supporting me like I needed to be supported.
But I kept picking people who couldn’t support me, who were not up to the task, who balked at the slightest bit of pressure.
It took me a year with my therapist to realize, it was because deep down, I had this belief that I was difficult. Therefore, I did not deserve to have the support I needed.
Who could support such a difficult person? Might as well pick anyone. Difficult women don’t deserve proper support because well, they are difficult.
This is the same belief in different flavors I work on now with my clients — successful women who have created the most amazing things in their worlds, wondering why they aren’t feeling as fulfilled or happy as they should feel.
Even though I had team members tell me I was the best person they had ever worked for, and the kindest “boss,” I still kept carrying people on my team that should have been fired long ago.
Because I still believed that I was difficult. I paid my penance for being difficult by choosing people who couldn’t support me and couldn’t leave me free to do what I really loved. I picked people over and over who left me feeling half supported, and who really didn’t have my back.
I drove myself to the point of exhaustion by perpetuating this belief.
Only then could I prove that I wasn’t difficult.
That I was good.
I worked 5 years with a mentor who created a huge change in me. I loved her to death.
She was so important to me. I still think she was instrumental to my growth as a human.
And then, little by little, I noticed it creeping in. The implication that I was the “difficult” type.
In how I was classified… In little laughs and knowing looks along the way… I don’t even think she realized that she was doing this. It was in her blind spot. But I saw it.
In our last interaction, I was told I needed to look at this “thing I have” around respect.
As if there was something… difficult… about that aspect of me.
Years later another mentor, when I recounted this story to her, told me, what is wrong with respect being such an important value to you in your relationships? Why is wanting people to be as respectful to you as you are to them, “something you need to work on or look at”? You don’t need to work on that. It’s okay to desire respect in your relationships. That is not you being difficult, she told me.
I was fired from my bartending job when I was in my mid-twenties.
I stood up to a woman who was bullying everyone and taking more tips out of the jar than anyone else…
I refused to pretend I would possibly one day exchange a blow job or sex with one of the managers in exchange for preferential treatment…
I didn’t hike my shirts down low to please the male customers…
I reported unfair treatment of female bartenders to the manager I got along with the most.
I thought he would want to know.
He seemed disappointed.
He told me so.
He thought I was, different than the kind of woman who complains about such things.
He thought I was the sweet, good girl who would do as she was told and act pleasant, slightly flirtatious, and submissive.
Instead, I was being difficult.
I got liposuction.
I went on a million crash diets and fainted a million and one.
I left puddles of sweat in the gym.
I lost 45 pounds over and over again.
I took pills that made my heart race and made me productive.
I got a prescription for Adderall, for my real-life ADD, with the secret motive of it helping to tame my difficult appetite which refused to be ok with eating only a handful of nuts for lunch.
I gained the weight back.
My appetite and my body refused to comply.
My mother, shaking her head over and over again… every time I came back home with the weight back on me.
My grandmother telling me, you have such a beautiful face! If you just lost 10 pounds you would really be a beauty. Why don’t you straighten your hair? It looks so much prettier than that difficult unruly mess it looks like when it’s curly.
The way I laughed was too loud. Like a fat girl, a so-called male friend said to me over the phone.
Nice, classy women don’t cuss.
Don’t be a femi-nazi by calling out the sexism in the internet marketing party you just went to.
Laugh and pretend to be flattered, as that man from the networking event’s first words out of his mouth, when he meets you, turn you into an object of fetish: “You’re a Latina? That’s sexy!”
Don’t be difficult and demand that he look you in the eye and treat you like a living, breathing human.
Because I have fully formed desires.
Because my body refuses to comply with a standard set by someone who was not in their right mind.
Because I take up space.
Because I speak up and have a voice.
Because I am powerful.
Because I am powerful.
And that scares them. It’s scares them because they don’t know their own power.
Lisa, when I met you, I was triggered as fuck, my best male friend in the whole world, Sam, tells me one day.
Because I knew that in order to be close to you, in order to be your friend, I was going to have to step it up as a man. I knew I was going to have to be the best version of myself to really get inside your heart. You weren’t demanding this verbally or expecting it. But I knew it. You didn’t operate at the level than most of the women I knew at that time. Your presence required me to be my best self and drop the BS.
Thank you. You have made me a better man. And I am so grateful to be your friend.
I am so glad that I decided right then and there that I was going to step it up, to meet you where you are.
I am paraphrasing this a bit for the sake of brevity, but those words washed over me as I felt a little whimper leave my heart, and get stuck in my throat.
I felt seen. I felt really, really seen.
I felt so loved.
Something in me began to heal on a primal level.
I thought about those words recently.
I met a man who wouldn’t let me in. Not fully. I felt an invisible hand pushing me away every time I tried to connect and be friendly. Sometimes I felt a slight feeling of resentment coming off of him when I spoke about things that mattered to me, and initiated deep conversations. He kept it as surface-level-friendly as possible.
I couldn’t figure it out. Why was he acting this way towards me?
It’s because you are existing at a whole other level than the women he is used to. He can feel he’s going to have to step it up just by being around your energy, and he does not want to step it up. So, your natural energy that would be received well by an open-hearted man, one who wants to meet a woman in that place, to him it feels like a challenge. And he resents it.
This is what Sam would say to me. He’s said it before about other men who acted strange around me.
After a week of trying, I gave up.
Because I don’t have to prove to him that I am not difficult. I don’t have to punish myself by trying to create intimacy by making myself less powerful, so that the natural flow of my energy is not intimidating to this man. I don’t have to make myself likable to his standards so that he is more comfortable with me.
Because I am not difficult.
I never was.
And you are not difficult, either.
To have desires and standards is not difficult.
It is knowing yourself.
It is honoring and respecting your life force, deeply.
To have a voice that refuses to stay silent when things are not fair or hurt others is not difficult.
It is refusing to be a coward in exchange for a false sense of acceptance into the mind-numbing “norm.” It is courageous and honorable.
To have and love a body that takes up more space than what society has deemed “acceptable” is not difficult.
It is an inspiration and a mirror for the truth that beauty is diverse.
It gives men and women everywhere permission to love what they love, without judgment.
You don’t have to keep paying penance because some overwhelmed adult long ago, who did not know how to handle your powerful energy, and your strong will, didn’t know what to do with you.
You don’t have to keep shrinking and dimming your mind-blowing glow, because someone is uncomfortable with how you ask them to love themselves through the mere presence of your being.
You don’t have to keep trying to act like a “likable person” because someone shamed you, and made you believe you aren’t, in order to get you to conform.
You don’t have to defend your desire to have a whole can of orange soda to yourself.
I feel the power that was beaten out of me that day coming back to me, from every corner of the earth.
Repeat after me now.
I am not difficult.
I am powerful.