I am a superhero. This is the first thing you need to know about me. It is the first conclusion you will come to if we ever meet. It is a conclusion I hear any time I meet someone and they start asking me about my story. It happens the same way. Sometimes they use different words – everyone doesn’t say “superhero” but they are just as likely to use that word as another.
One such time my husband and I visited his coworker on the west side of the San Francisco Bay peninsula. They were working on motorcycles together so Christian, my husband, could get a few spare parts for a project bike of his own. I went along because at the time I was about four months pregnant. I told myself the outing was for my personal sanity. Christian’s motivation was probably to keep an eye on me.
I remember his coworker’s girlfriend was there. She was a sweet young woman, slightly younger than myself. She offered us juice, cookies, and crackers.
As I politely took a cookie, she asked me question after question.
“What do you do?”
“Well, I’m a writer and blogger. But for my day job? I teach art to inner city underserved elementary students in Oakland.”
“Wow. What’s that like?”
“Really great.” I smiled before adding, “It’s really nice to watch kids learn – to celebrate their successes, however small.”
“And you’re a writer?”
“What do you write?”
“A little bit of everything, but mostly fiction. I have a couple of series out.”
“Well, I just published the third book in one series and I have two in the other. I’m working on finishing the fourth and third books respectively.”
“While you’re pregnant?”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “I figure I have to get as much done now as I can.”
She asked me more questions. Somehow it came up that I liked music, and that I performed with my father, that we’d recorded several albums. Then she asked about my schooling, and I explained I’d studied art before switching to peace and conflict. I told her about my travels. I told her some of my wild stories.
“Wow Alexis! You are a superhero! A real life superhero!” I smiled and looked away.
“I guess, when you look at it that way, I guess. Yeah. Maybe I am.”
“I wish I could be like you.” Then I smiled at her and met her eyes.
I have done many things, and they are impressive. I have done things society says are difficult. My accomplishments make me seem like a superhero, but that is just one side of me. It is the side that people know, that can be found with a search engine.
I have recorded two music albums. I graduated with my bachelors cum laude, as a transfer student, switching from a humanities to a social science major. I traveled to Central America and Great Britain. I studied abroad in Hungary for a semester. I lived in India for six months. I graduated with a masters degree. I have been interviewed on television, radio, and in newspapers. I volunteered and served in education, family, religious, and creative non-profits. I taught children and adults art. I taught adults public speaking and writing, and got top student reviews for my teaching. Students have cried when I left schools. I have been featured in multiple art shows, and had single shows of my work. I gave birth to my son completely naturally, in a birth center, in only 8 hours and it was magical. I have written and published 15 books, and am working on more. I have no plan on stopping.
But most importantly, I did this while suffering. I believe a person is known through their suffering. How I interpret my experiences is what shows me for who I really am. Some people do not suffer well. People tell lies to avoid suffering or pretend it doesn’t exist. They lie to themselves and others about the situation. It does them no service. People will buckle under the pressure of suffering. They may have a nervous breakdown. They may hurt themselves physically. Maybe it was their first experience with suffering. Maybe they lived a sheltered life. Regardless, their reaction often leaves deeper wounds than the cause of suffering.
A defeatist might say such people were born this way and there is nothing they can do to change. It is true that some people are born with greater mental or spiritual strength, just like some people are born with the tendency to have bigger, denser muscle tissues. Does that mean that everyone can’t work out? No. Anyone can make themselves strong. Anyone can make themselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually fit. Likewise, anyone can transform their suffering into superpowers. No one has to be a victim. Everyone can thrive.
I am not saying these things to belittle difficult situations people encounter. I know how hard life can be. I have experienced many difficult things in my short time on this earth. There are absolutely things that occur in life that are hard, that are outside an individual’s control. I can turn on the news or bring up my social media feeds and see story after story about police brutality, sexual assault, natural disasters, domestic violence and all manner of terrible awful things happening all over the world. There is suffering. I do not deny this in the least. Still, despite whatever happens in that chaotic world outside, I still have control over one thing: myself. This control makes all the difference in the world.
It is how I transformed from a victim into the superhero I am today. I thrive despite being molested as a toddler, experiencing misogyny cloaked as “bullying” throughout childhood, or being raped in college. I thrive despite my friends’ and family’s disbelief, my struggle to heal, and authority figures who made me feel unsafe. I thrive despite years of traditional unemployment and hidden homelessness.
I am not writing about these things to commiserate or elicit pity. I am not a victim. I am a superhero. I am a superhero by choice. It is a choice I make every day, as opposed to wallowing or seeking victimhood. A series of bad experiences did not define me, so it does not need to define anyone unless a person lets it. It is a choice – a daily choice we all make.
Life is not perfect. Things happen. It is messy. People we meet bring their own baggage which affects their actions. They can do bad things to us or try to bring us down. Life can be hard. Difficult things happen. We fall down. We are kicked while we’re down. Life brings us lessons we never intended to learn – never realized we needed. In those moments, we could let everything bring us down even further. We could give up. However, in those hardest of times we have opportunities. We have the option of taking the best gifts of these lessons and changing our life direction to reflect the strength these moments can give us.
This is how anyone can transform from a victim into a superhero. This is how anyone can thrive.
Alexis Donkin lives in Southern California with her family and real life familiar. She has lived many places and studied many things. She paints, sings, and dances when she’s not writing or speaking. Pick up a copy of THRIVE: HOW I BECAME A SUPERHERO to read more about her personal journey. Be sure to connect with her and check out other books at her website.