During an age when a child’s only worry should be school, friends and enjoying their favorite pastime, Maria Trusa was dealing with an adult ordeal. At the age of 9, she was the victim of a violent sexual assault at the hands of an unconscionable and vicious man. The crime left scars that ran far deeper than eyes could see. An act that ravaged purity, burned a nightmare into her subconscious and took decades to heal. However, she was able to remove the cloak of victimhood, in exchange for a blanket of courage, spreading optimism to all those experiencing trauma.
Trauma is an emotional reaction to overwhelming distress such as a rape, combat, loss, or violent acts. Horrific events in life can trigger responses of shock, flashbacks, denial or manifest in other ways that influence the physical and mental state of victims. The effects of a traumatic event can last years or decades without proper treatment. It is vital to learn to manage feelings linked to any trauma and understand that you can recover. It’s estimated that over 400,000 Americans are victims of sexual violence each year, possibly more, as many are not reported.
The movement “I Say No More – Yo Digo No Mas” created by Maria Trusa is standing up against sexual abuse by helping raise the voices of victims. She has become an advocate, encouraging victims to break the silence in Latino communities. Embracing our truths is one of the strongest powers we possess. Speaking up, instead of living in shame or embarrassment is key to dissolving these curses. It’s time to see the faces of those that have been or are being subjected to the immeasurable pain caused by sexual abuse. The activism has sparked a level of defiance necessary to place the spotlight on a problem requiring real attention, inspiring others to interrupt a destructive cycle.
Maria gave me the opportunity to sit with her for a candid and heartfelt interview via Zoom. Prior to the meeting, I took time out to listen to her book, “I Say No More: Raise Your Voice and Rewrite Your Life,” also available in Spanish “Yo Digo No Mas.” It was necessary to familiarize myself with her story, in order to seriously consider the questions I’d be asking about a sensitive subject matter. Once we were both on screen to begin our chat, she expressed her fearless commitment to being honest with herself and others. The statement set the tone for a conversation that reinforced how owning and sharing our stories creates connection. AW is humbled to share the interview of a woman who transformed pain into power.
Firstly, a huge congratulations to Maria on being named one of Westchester’s Heroes, as well as, being acknowledged with the 2020 Woman of Distinction’ Award. The United Way of Westchester and Putnam hosted its annual ‘Take a Walk in Her Shoes‘ virtually in early December to honor her work.
She arrived the US from the Dominican Republic at the age of 15 and without even knowing the language, she pushed herself to a life of great success. Fast forward to present day, the CEO of Forme‘ Medical Center and Urgent Care has worked tirelessly to help the immigrant community receive proper health care, while continuing to educate herself and others on important social issues.
Your book is raw, full of genuine emotion. I commend you on such a sincere account of your story. It could not have been easy to write it but will help a lot of women. Who or what gave you the courage to put your truth out into the world? What was the most difficult and rewarding aspect of taking this important step? I am in a place in life where I know who I am. I am broken but we all are, I don’t judge others and I am radically honest. The inspiration to write the book was my son, Jeffrey, who I admire so much. He said to me one night, “You cannot leave this world without telling your story, you must share it.” Everything that led to the book, a documentary which is soon to be released, all comes back to my children. Everyone has made mistakes – not one but many. I’ve been a victim of abuse, fell in love with a married man, both which I discuss in detail in the book because I want people to understand the pain of such experiences. The good news is that we can come back from hurt. Once you choose to stop being a victim, it offers a gift. Every part of life, everything that happens to you is a connection that can lead to something better. When things happen, no matter what it is, I ask myself “What is the gift, I’m being given?”
There are parts of your story that will resonate with different women. You were 19 years old when you had your first child. The absence of emotional and physical support made life as a new mother, much more challenging. You discuss the impact of this and how lack of preparation hindered you from fulfilling early expectations of motherhood. A genuine account of your postpartum depression was eye-opening. What have you learned about being a mother that you would like your daughter to know, in advance of accepting the responsibility of bringing a child into the world someday? I share my life lessons with my daughter, with all my children. There is a mutual respect that exists with the 3 of them which is so beautiful. We have a nurturing and frank relationship. I discuss the importance of taking responsibility for yourself and doing the self-work before parenthood. I had 6 years of therapy, some of which focused on self-love. They must be willing to invest in self-improvement, in order to be the best version of themselves. I have an open relationship with each of the children, it has been essential to develop my listening skills, digest and sit quietly instead of lecturing to maintain a strong connection. These are all things, I’ve had to learn along the way and pass on to my kids to build strong relationships. Hopefully, they will incorporate the same into relationships with their own children, one day.
In your book, you discuss the sexual attack in detail. It is an incredibly uncomfortable subject-matter but you chose to share it with the world. It is painful, difficult, and sometimes humiliating for victims to recount their experience. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of you. I am sure that shedding light on this tough topic will help others. The experience left a trail of trauma that affected every aspect of your life. Instead of drowning in defeat, you chose to fight back by educating yourself, using all the tools available to promote healing. What is your message of hope for victims of trauma feeling ashamed, broken or beaten up? Anyone who may think they will never be able to live with what happened or get to a place they can be happy again, what can you say? No one is broken beyond repair, continue to work on yourself until the end. We are all broken, every day that you open your eyes choose to be less broken. Make daily deposits to your life that are positive, you get to pick how to add to your life. When you decide “I Say, No More” and take the lead to stop being broken, you take your power back. Change your thoughts, remember that what you think and speak, you create! You are not a victim, so revise the language you speak about yourself. Be kind and loving to the woman you are. There is so much living in our subconscious, as I realized when I read Joseph Murphy’s book “The Power of the Subconscious Mind.” Understanding that 95% of the decisions we make comes from the subconscious, it helped me change the behavior.
You were in a marriage of high expectations, very traditional with a partner looking for you to do all the cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. Your job was to be a good wife but you wanted a career, too. “Maria” wanted her own identity. Many of us, as women, experience the loss of identity in a relationship. Why do you feel it’s important for us to maintain our individual identity? I was a single mother for 17 years, I know what it’s like to losing yourself in a relationship, motherhood. It’s crucial to have the difficult conversations with our partners, it is key because they open up opportunities for change. If you don’t hold on to your identity, your happiness will always depend on someone else.
You talk about forgiving others, as being essential for our well-being to avoid absorbing toxicity. You also note that forgiving yourself is just as or more important to heal ourselves. What have you forgiven yourself for? I forgave myself for two things, the first would be the rape. Initially, I felt that in some way, I deserved it. I needed to learn that it was not my fault. I did not do anything to warrant what happened to me. The second has to be “Almost killing my son, as a baby, when I threw him on a bed in a moment of desperation.” My son has forgiven me and I too, found forgiveness for myself. I have no secrets, the more honest you are in life, the more you own your truth – the less weight you have to carry around. This road has been long but healing is possible.
You’ve said that “You found the beauty in the gray days” which isn’t easy to do. I like to leave readers with a positive quote or mantra that inspires good energy or hope. Can you share some words with AW readers currently experiencing a challenging time? In life, “When you concentrate on what you have, you will get more of what you have” and vice versa. Place the focus on what you can control or change, not the things that you have no say in. Your thoughts create your reality.
From time to time, I like to ask guests to take part in a fun exercise to give readers a bit of insight into the person you are. I will say a few words, you can say the first word that comes to mind!
Love – Life
Forgiveness – Enlightment
Positivity – Clarity
Vermont – Peace
Truth – Life
Success – Inner peace
Woman – Powerful
Maria Trusa came from poverty with little to no opportunities at her disposal. She endured an unspeakable crime that left a trail of profound scars. Her adult life was not short of struggles but she rose from the adversity to carve a path to greatness. She is responsible for building a tribe that has supported her dreams and at the same time given her a strong foundation of love and family. Having what she needs and wants in life has not spoiled her. She stands proud, amazingly modest and a beautiful human being who gives back to others as often, as possible.
Life will inundate us with challenging moments that are out of our control. The perspective and actions that follow help decide what happens next. You are not defined by the bad things that happen to you. Ultimately, the decisions that alter the course of life most, are the ones you consciously make, as you become the person you’re meant to be.
I am so thankful to Maria for sharing her powerful story with AW. During my hour with her, I laughed, teared up, carefully listened to her insightful words but most of all connected with her truth. Our stories are powerful and when shared with other women, they can be a source of comfort and inspiration. Hopefully, this interview will help at least one reader today feel less alone in their personal journey.
*This interview will be translated into Spanish and posted in the Latina Tea section of AW at a later date.
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