The Only One Stopping You Is You with CJ Lopez - Conny Graf

My guest Christina, or CJ, an Air Force Retired Master Sergeant who has found her passion for giving back to people.  When asked who she is, she says "I am imperfectly perfect and free". 

But she wasn't always that way, she grew up in a chaotic household and she was full of doubts and limiting beliefs. Listen in what changed her life, how her time in the military shaped her and what it taught her. 

We talk about

  • How living in different countries and cultures enriched her life and made her confident.
  • The difference between taking a break and giving up
  • How studying psychology helped her understand herself and eventually others
  • How her grandmother, the champion of her life, inspired her to give back to her community

You have to know yourself. You have to sit, I always call it you have to sit in the deepest darkest places, with yourself, to know yourself enough to understand it when you're giving up, and when you're just taking a break.

Because when you can understand those two, then you're not going to limit yourself, you're you're actually going to keep going and you're not giving up you're just taking that break. Because if we don't, then all we do is we burn ourselves out

Never give up. Always understand that things around you are going to change. It's not going to be easy, but if you just stay steady, that you will find your way through the mud. ~CJ Lopez

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Christina Lopez

entered the United States Air Force in 1997, where she trained as a supply manager and later an Operations Craftsmen for Civil Engineers.

Christina had the pleasure of traveling to many locations throughout her military career including Japan,  United Kingdom, and Germany. 

Upon retirement, she worked first at scheduling and planning events and then in 2020 she followed her passion and created her own company, iLO Multimedia RGV, where she and her husband work diligently to help people get noticed.

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Reading instead of Listening (Transcript) 

FYI: this text is not polished, I try to keep it as close as possible to how the guest expressed herself/himself . 

Conny Graf
Welcome Christina, very happy to have you on the show how are you today?

Christina Lopez
I'm good, thank you for having me, I really appreciate being here.

Conny Graf
I appreciate that you took the time to come and talk with us here about limiting beliefs and organization and all that good stuff. But first tell us a little bit, who are you and what do you help people with for what is your specialty?

Christina Lopez
So I me. perfect and free that's what I tell everyone, perfectly imperfect and free. As I say that is because I grew up most of my life, invisible, you know as so many people do. I was somebody's sister, somebody's daughter, somebody's granddaughter, somebody's friend but I wasn't just me. I couldn't be me because I didn't know who I was.

So it took me many many years to understand who I was and accept who I was. So I went on that journey, and I was grabbing at straws, grabbing any straw. I joined the military, I left at the age of 19, and I grabbed that straw because I thought I would find myself. I spent 20 years looking for myself and it was a great time, I will never complain. I got married at a very young age, and got married to somebody who emotionally abused me and took away a lot of my self identity to the point where I even questioned my own reality. What was real, what wasn't real. And then I had to dig deep and find out who I was, who am I like.

There was days where I laid on the carpet and I thought, What am I doing here what is my purpose? Why am I even still here? And then I started to heal from that. There was a voice that at some point broken me and it said, you or whoever you want to be, stop being afraid. At that point, I started living fearlessly, and it was a great experience to start doing that. Then me and my kids traveled around the world, just me and them for 10 years. I was a single parent and I was active duty military. I went on missions and my kids would go to my parents house. And then I pick them up and we would go to the next place that we would live. We lived in Japan for four years, England for three, we lived in Germany for three years, and a couple of places in the States.

We were just thick as thieves and then after 10 years, I met a wonderful man who accepted me for who I was. He helped me pick up those final pieces that I was still trying to find and I retired in 2017, and I haven't stopped yet.

Conny Graf
What a story and I always love when people live in different countries because they have a different perspective on everything. And I feel like too, I don't know, maybe you can confirm that or not, but I feel always like they have a different sense of self and a different confidence because they lived in other parts and we're not just at home.

Christina Lopez
I agree with you wholeheartedly. I often tell that to my kids, because they would go to school once we got out of the military, and come home and say these people don't understand a lot of things. And would say yes honey because they've never left the square block that they've lived in, they have never been anywhere else they don't understand. Where as my kids, my daughter was four months old when she moved to Japan, and she was four when we left there.

So they've been to a lot of different places and they got to see what it's like to live in a country where you don't speak the language. You go there and you are nobody, you have to learn how to drive on the opposite side of the road. You have to learn that you have to pay in England for example, you have to pay tax to watch a TV or to have a TV in your house. You have to pay that TV tax. So those are the things that we take for granted. You have to learn all about that the different cultures and even in the United States where I'm at, our cultures differ from the different states that you live in.

A lot of people that don't move anywhere they never experienced that. So they're very.... they stay kind of in this box, and they never leave that box, so it's hard to explain some things. And to me, I found the majority of them, not all of them, I've met some very phenomenal people that have never lived or been anywhere, but the majority of those people are very close minded.

Conny Graf
Yeah, I agree. And that's just their way of living. And we're we're not, we don't want to criticize them it's just their way of living. But I do feel like it puts everything in a different perspective when you're somewhere else, I noticed that too. I grew up in Switzerland I live now in Canada, it's completely different. It's things you take for granted in your home country that are not the same. Wherever you are, and I always joke and say if I would have moved to Africa, I would have known that it's gonna be quite different.

But sometimes you move to a country where you think they're like us, maybe you when you move to England you had a similar first thought. When I moved from Switzerland to Canada I thought well yeah the Canadians they're similar like the Swiss and then you notice that it's in the details. It's the little things that you have to adjust and adapt to and and that's where I feel where then the different feeling comes from, because you have to deal with this so in the end you have maybe less limiting beliefs, because you have to overcome certain obstacles.

Christina Lopez
Yes absolutely, and I'm not criticizing anyone that hasn't been anywhere because I often sit there and go man what it would be like.... My husband, he was in the army he did for years and he came back home and he stayed. He still knows the people he went to elementary school with and I love that, that sense of community when you stay at one place forever is phenomenal. The town that we live in now he's been here his entire life, his family, five generations of his family have raised their family in this town.

Everybody knows everybody and I absolutely love that. So there is so much in staying in one place and never going anywhere. I just wanted to make sure that was very well known I admire that about people. But, like you were saying, I had to learn so much more. When I went to England we speak the same language, but we really don't. I had to learn a fork and a spoon is cutlery, and I was like what is cutlery, and then a napkin was a serviette and I was like what you have all these fancy words I don't know what you're talking about and then a lorry. And it was funny because when I came back to United States, we call them semi trucks here, in England they call them lorries and I couldn't remember what the American word was. I kept calling them lorries and everyone was confused and I thought, I don't know anymore okay.

Conny Graf
Yeah. It's so funny and this is what I mean, like when you move somewhere where you think they're the same or similar then that's almost trickier than if you go somewhere where it's completely different. It's so funny. I learned in school more British English so when I came to Canada I had to learn a lot too. I had no idea what a semi was I'm like what the hell is the semi, you know, they don't even call it the semi truck they just say a semi or, or the police they call here RCMP and I'm like, who or what is RCMP? Yeah, so it's really funny.

Christina Lopez
When I was in Germany. One of the biggest things that I found in Germany. I was working in food booth there on the base, we were doing a fundraiser, and we had run out of forks, but we sold these little chicken nuggets. Well, the Americans would just grab a chicken nugget and eat it with our hands. But it was a German national who was buying the chicken nuggets and he was looking for forks. I said to him, we ran out but it's not a big deal, you can just eat them with your hands. And he almost threw them at me he was."No, that was disgusting, Americans!" and he put them down and he left and he just couldn't fathom.

Then one of my friends who has a German spouse explained to me that that is very unsanitary to them to eat with their hands that way. There's only very specific foods that they would eat with their hands, so I had offended him and I didn't know that because I didn't go into that situation thinking: He's German, I'm American, and we have different ways. I just automatically assumed we're the same.

Conny Graf
Yeah, it creates funny stories. So what do you think, how has your military career helped you with dealing with limiting beliefs?

Christina Lopez
I was in the Air Force, yes, I did 20 years. One of the things that it taught me was to never give up. And to always understand that things around you are going to change. And it's not going to be easy, but if you just stay steady, that you will find your way through the mud, for lack of better words. It taught me to not doubt myself as much and it took me a long time to get there. Most of my life I did doubt myself and I still have days, I have days where I go oh you can't do this.

And I have to pep talk myself I have to say wait a minute, oh wait a minute, and I have to get myself out of that frame of mind and go back into that fearless frame of mind and say. Hold on, you've done this, this and this in your life and you mean to tell me you're not going to go walk on your treadmill today, because you don't think you can do it. Get up, get on the treadmill and get going. So those are the things that it had taught me. It taught me that no matter what is going on in my life, I've been through a lot already and I can keep going as long as I continue to believe in myself.

Conny Graf
Yeah, and I'm think sometimes we just need also a break. Like sometimes the limiting beliefs could also tell us, or when we think we can't do something, that happens to me sometimes, is that I've pushed myself too much. So maybe I just need to take a step back, take a break, and then I have refreshed energy to go again. So never give up that, that's a good tip, and so hard to do sometimes, because it sounds so daunting and these days when you can't do it.

Christina Lopez
You're right, Conny, you have to take a break for yourself, you have to know the difference between when you're giving up just because you don't believe in yourself and when your body just says hold on a minute, let's just take a little bit of a break. You're not giving up, you're realizing when you're at a breaking point, and you have to know yourself. You have to sit and I always call it you have to sit in the deepest darkest places with yourself, to know yourself enough to understand it when you're giving up.

And when you're just taking a break. Because when you can understand those two, then, then you're not going to limit yourself, you're you're actually going to keep going and you're not giving up you're taking that break. Because if we don't, then all we do is we burn ourselves out, and then we break down, and we get even further down than we was in the first place. Like I said I laid on the carpet I don't know how many nights when I was going through the worst time of my life. What I thought was the worst time of my life, and I laid there crying and I said I don't want to do this anymore I don't want to feel this way anymore. I'm not a good mother, those kids are way better than me, I don't know how I can continue to raise them by myself. I don't have enough money. I don't have any family to rely on.

But the thing is, I got back up. And if I didn't get back up. those kids wouldn't have had their mother right. So I keep telling myself. It was okay in that moment to take that break, because I needed it, I needed to cry. I needed to feel a little bit of something at that moment, but I had to get back up at some point.

Conny Graf
Yeah. So I love that, making sure that you know the difference between taking a break and giving up. So I know that you studied psychology, is that something that you learn there? How do we know the difference between taking a break and giving up? Because sometimes it can feel like taking a break would be giving up. That's why I can just say from me. I sometimes feel like no I can take a break because if I take a break, then it's it, I may give up because I'm closer to giving up.

Christina Lopez
Yes I did study psychology and the reason why I studied psychology is because I wanted to understand myself a lot more. I also thought I wanted to go into the field of psychology until I started listening to people's problems and them talking. I do like listening to people, but I also have such a soft heart that it would consume me to the point where I think that it would be very bad for my soul and for my own psyche if I actually did it as a profession.

So I did not go into the field of psychology I went into the field of podcasting and authoring instead. But I went into psychology so I can learn more about myself and understand how the brain encodes certain things. How it picks apart your life and how it understand certain things. Me knowing my breaking point where I need to take a break versus giving up, that's knowing myself. That's being on that carpet and getting to my lowest point and literally having that, for the lack of a better word, having that "coming to Jesus moment with myself". Saying you know what ripping yourself raw, knowing everything about you.

Have you ever seen that movie The Runaway Bride?

Conny Graf
Yes.

Christina Lopez
So she was always getting into these relationships and then she was like her eggs scrambled with this guy, her eggs fried with this guy, poached with this guy, but then when she finally finally stopped getting into relationships, she didn't know how she liked her eggs. So she went on a self discovery mission to find out how she even liked her own eggs, and that's what I did. Not exactly in that way, but kind of.

I sat down with myself and I said, Who are you are at your core being? Do you really like your red hair or do you like being a blonde better because I've been a blonde before. Do you really understand why you are reacting this way. Why are you quick to anger, why ? All of these questions, and it helped me by studying the psychology and understanding why people react the way they react. And then I read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and understood that everything in your life is a choice. At first I was like hold up that is not my choice. I'm not choosing for that person to make me mad that person's getting on my nerves.

And then I was like, hold on. I can choose to allow that person to get on my nerves or I can just lock them out. And that's when it all started making sense to me. And I just said, Okay, I know enough about myself to know what I can handle and what I can't handle and it's not a perfect formula because there's moments when I ....

Conny Graf
Well I hope so we're all humans, otherwise I would be scared of you,

Christina Lopez
I'm an analytical person, I love to analyze things, and I love to research. That's how my brain works, and if I can research it I can correlate it I can understand things how the brain encodes memories, and how something that has an emotional effect to it, you're going to encode it a lot stronger in your memory that something doesn't have an emotional effect. Like what I had for breakfast this morning: if wile I had it a loud bang went off at the same time, or my dog bit me at the same time, then I'm not gonna remember what I had for breakfast.

So, when it's correlated with something with an emotion, it's going to stick longer. Right. So learning those things helped me understand the brain and, and why it does the things it does. And then understand the psyche, based off of Stephen Covey's stuff and then I went on to read so many more books like that to understand, and then just how it all affected me and what I was doing with my life and I just went from there and said, You know, I'm not going to be in this cage that everyone walks around rattling that I'm responding to.

Conny Graf
That's beautiful and because of it you had a successful military career and you now have your own company as far as I understand you have your degree in psychology and and you told me that when you were younger, it didn't look that bright for you. So you definitely did overcome your limiting beliefs by doing all this.

Christina Lopez
Yeah, growing up, we lived in a crazy household. I love my mom and I love my family but it was wild it was, it was an inner city lifestyle. My mom cussed and screamed and carried on she still does she knows it. And she drank a lot, and people were coming in and out of our house all the time. We didn't have any rules, we just live the way we wanted to. My sister had her first child at 15, I was 13, which means I was the babysitter at 13 years old I was helping to raise him.

Then she got hooked on drugs, and it was just this downfall and then my family didn't show emotions to each other so they didn't tell each other that they cared about each other. It was just, hey you're stupid you're f*ing this and you're f*ing that. We had just very nasty words for, well some people would say they're nasty words but that's how we expressed ourselves to each other and how we cared. 

So growing up I thought I was stupid, I thought I was ugly, I thought I was bad. I was bullied and I turned into a bully to stop the bullying, and I graduated with a 1.7 GPA, not even high enough to get accepted into any colleges. The colleges told me I would have to pay them to take some classes in order to be able to get a high enough GPA to take college classes that mattered. I was like Why would I pay you to do something like that? So I just sat around for two years after I graduated and my attitude was, don't know what I'm gonna do, but I don't care. I partied with my friends, sat on my grandma's couch until my uncle told me that I was not going to be anything but the crackhead with a bunch of kids, in and out of jail just like my sister. But I was like, no sir.

Conny Graf
Yeah, that was probably the fork in the road there? That was the fork in the road where you decided whether you wanted to start creating a life without these limiting beliefs or whether you wanted to believe what's going on and just lay down and give up to come back to what we were talking about before.

Christina Lopez
Yeah, that was that fork in the road because he put it right in my face that I was going to be the product of my environment. I had never thought about it before because I was just going through the motions of life. I was doing what everyone else was doing, but I never thought of myself like anybody else. Because I didn't do what everybody else did, I wasn't doing the drugs, I was drinking but I wasn't doing all the other stuff everyone was doing. But when he put it right here in my face, I was like, oh no I'm standing up on this one.

I got a flyer in the mail, I left and I never looked back. I love my family I go visit every once in a while but I never looked back. Later on we found out the reason that my mom is the way she is that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So she struggles with that every single day. She's on medication now so she is a lot better than she was back then. But you know we didn't know that growing up that she had that mental illness, we thought that she was just wild.

Conny Graf
Yeah, back then I think most people with some kind of a mental condition they were just not treated or like it was a huge stigma more than these days I mean, I think it's still probably a stigma on it but it was much worse. So, when you left you said you left was then when you went to the military is that how that happened?

Christina Lopez
Yeah, I left for the military and I'll tell you the first two years Conny I tried to get kicked out. I was like, I'm not staying here these people are not going to keep me down. I grew up not having any rules. The first 10 years of my life I live with my dad and my stepmom in Missouri and there was nothing but rules and it was a structured environment we ate at the dinner table it was the perfect household family life.

Then at the age of 10 we (my sister and I) moved up to Indiana with my mom, because we were given the choice. Nobody was ever home, I was 10 years old walking the streets at three in the morning, what's the big deal. So we chose that life, and then I go into the military and they're telling me I can't drink because I'm not 21. I have to do this, I have to do that and then somebody is telling me to stand a certain way and you're not gonna talk to me any way you want to. I mean, the streets that I grew up on, nobody is going to talk to me that way. We're gonna fight. That is how I was raised.

So the first two years I was like I'm done, I'm coming home I can't do this. And then, even though, and this is the crazy part, even though my kids biological father is the one who really rocked my world emotionally for seven years and broke me down. Had I not married him and had my kids, I would have went right back to the place that I fought so hard to get out of.

Conny Graf
Yeah, but good, so good, you didn't. And I think good for the military. It kind of gave you structure that you had when you were younger and then you didn't have any more. And when I look, you you sent me your bio, and you have this long list of medals and awards and decorations. So, it must have been a successful time so is there one of these medals or awards that you're especially proud of?

Christina Lopez
You know, I just had such a great time. I just look back on those 20 years. And I'm glad I'm retired, don't get me wrong I'm so glad I'm retired I was so tired. But I look back and the people that I came across in my life in those 20 years.... I can remember my Joint Service Commendation Medal I got in Kosovo. I got that for the work that I did there. I loved going out into the community. I went into the local women's shelter and we took computer so the women could get on there and start to learn how to look for jobs.

These were women that had lost their husbands during the war in Kosovo. And they brought their children there so we brought clothes and shoes and that was great and I got my Joint Service commendation at that deployment. I got commendation medals in Oman, we went and we stood up a base from nothing. There was nothing there, and we stood the base up so we could get material in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and that that deployment was when my grandmother passed away during that deployment.

My grandmother was the woman who raised me because my mom was running in and out my grandmother raised me. I lived with her my whole life, and so did my mom and my sister. So she passed away during that deployment, so I look at that metal and that metal I got for that deployment and that was..... you know, I thought going through the divorce with the kid's dad, and everything he did to me was hard.

But not being there the last moments of my grandma's life, that changed me and who I was. That changed everything. Once again my whole life changed. So I look at all of them and then the last medal I got my meritorious service that was the culmination of the whole 20 years, so each of them had a very special meaning to me.

Conny Graf
That's beautiful and congratulations for all these medals and sorry for the loss of your grandmother. I lost a few family members. I know how hard it is to lose them even though we all know we eventually gonna lose them but it is so hard, so hard.

We had a really great discussion but I want to be mindful of your time and our listeners time so I was just wanting to know is there any last tip or wisdom that you would want to get across for people on how to stop or turn around these limiting beliefs and actually live, like you said, be proud of who you are and what you do?

Christina Lopez
Yes, I want to tell everyone the only thing stopping you is you. There's nobody out there, nobody out there that can control anything about you, other than you. I quite often tell people just go. Every time you're sitting there and you're going through the 50,000,001 reasons why you shouldn't, maybe you shouldn't, I don't know if I can, I don't know if I should, oh my goodness..... Stop right there and the only two words you need. Just go! It can make the difference of changing your life, that's what it will do.

Conny Graf
Thank you so much, Christina, for all your wisdom and sharing your story with us. Especially for me from Switzerland, I have no idea how it is in the military but I hear a lot of good stories where people actually can turn their life around because they can go to the military, and it sounds like you are one of them. So thank you very much for your time. Where can people find you if they want to find you? I know you have a podcast, you probably have a website, promote yourself a little bit.

Christina Lopez
You know, I'm a little bit of all over the place because, like I just said, I believe in "just go". If I wake up and I want to try something I'm going to try it. So I do have a podcast, you can go to https://SisterSisterliveshow.com, and you'll see that we have a channel, and that channel we have eight different shows. Two of them I do and the rest of them I do the production of. You can also find me on https://authorauntienann.com/ because I am a children's book author. Those are the two main websites, if you go those websites you will see every single one of my social media pages. You can always find me on @cjiveslopez. That is me, the true core of who I am. You know I was born Christina, I chose CJ as my name as when I basically felt like I rebirth myself. You can do that, you can choose your own name, that's what we do.

We built our podcast because my grandmother always told us, well growing up, she always brought people in and fed them and let they stay there for a little while. She was always taking care of the neighbor kids, their moms, their dads, anybody she could take care of she always brought them in. She was a champion in our family. And then in 2019, one of the people who was almost exactly like her, she lost her life to domestic violence. She was beat to death in her own home, and it was her daughter who found her laying on her bathroom floor.

They took her to the hospital, and her daughter's, who were young, they're still young in their late 20s, they had to make the decision to take her off life support. So they took her off life support and on her 50th birthday they took her to the funeral home to be cremated. And once she was cremated they brought her over to the house my uncle's house, and we have a celebration of life for her for her 50th birthday. So we do our show to honor her. My sister goes out every Sunday in our community, the community that we grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, she goes out and she collects donations all through the weekend. Then on Sunday she goes out and she feeds the community and she gives clothes and socks and anything that is donated to people.

Eventually we're going to create The Sisters Roarhouse because my cousin's last name is Roar. And you know if you roar loud enough.... so we're going to create the sisters Roarhouse because she goes out every Sunday to feed people we want to feed people three meals every single day, and give them resources so we have a resource show every Saturday on our channel. That's the one that I host. And what we do is we bring in different resources of people that are shedding their light into the world, so that we can take what they give and let everyone know what they have to offer. So that somebody can connect with them if they have a need. And eventually, we just want to bring everybody home one conversation at a time.

Conny Graf
That's so beautiful. I will make sure I have all these links in the show notes that people can check that all out and possibly help if they can. Thank you very much for your time and for coming here to my show.

Christina Lopez
Thank you so much. It was great to be here, you take care.

Conny Graf
You too. Thank you. Bye. Bye.

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