Showing Up

Becoming Okay with “I Don’t Know”

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I don’t do well with the unknown. I don’t think I am alone in this. However, I’m living in the middle of a great unknown right now. Maybe even an unraveling. No, definitely an unraveling.

Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I wondered why. I’d only slept 5 hours the night before. I felt restless. Couldn’t get comfortable. I tried to read, tried coloring in my paint by numbers app, nothing until about 5a. It was about the time I fell asleep that it hit me.

Nearly everything I have identified myself by is falling away or has fallen away. Shedding parts of your lifelong identity aren’t just as easy as brushing crumbs off a counter. There are layers upon layers upon layers. And when you think you’ve peeled off the final layer, you realize this is a task that is going to take a while, maybe the rest of your life.

Not to mention, there are so many emotions involved. Trauma. Shame. Guilt. Sadness. Searing anger. Disappointment.

I’ve spent most of my life in defense mode, survival mode, with a wall taller, more fortified, or bigger than anything Trump can imagine around me. Always ready to either fight or flight or completely shut down. Shutting down as a teenager felt easy, but in my 30s, I’m facing what I did not feel strong or capable or smart enough to handle back then. I’m not exactly sure I’m strong, capable, or smart enough to face them now, but it’s no longer a choice to keep avoiding them.

Childhood and teenage me numbed out or took flight, nearly 37-year-old me walks around looking for a fight. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong, I dare you, it says. Treat me like I’m stupid or naive, say something about my weight, tell me I’m too much or too emotional. Fucking try me. Okay, maybe I’ve always been like that too, it is just more focused these days and my patience for bullshit is thinner.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately realizing my life is my own. I am my own responsibility. What I do, say, think, believe, feel, and how I live is up to me and for me. I can’t live for anyone else but me. I will never be who my mom wants me to be or the way she thought I might live out who she wanted to be or felt like I could be for her. I will never be quiet, submissive, and compliant like my dad always wanted me to be.

I am outspoken and I talk a lot. (Or really, I vacillate between talking incessantly and taking an unintended monk-like vow of silence.) I am introverted but typically outgoing (see: my vacillation between talking and monk-like silence). I love to use the word “fuck.” I have always been, and will always be, curious about sex and have a unfiltered sense of humor. (Though in all of this, I try to be respectful of others and behave appropriately for their comfort levels in these areas.)

I have never been containable, which both parents reminded me a lot like it was something to be ashamed of mostly because I’m female, but which I realize now is a superpower. I don’t like being told what to do, I’m stubborn, I also refuse to walk blindly into anything anymore (and I’m not sure I ever did unless it was on purpose), and I am done allowing people to tell me what to think about myself and my life. (Now, if I can just figure out how to be my own boss so I can work for myself, haha.) I was taught growing up that I could not trust my heart, body, gut, or mind, that I needed direction from someone or Someone else.

I have felt restless my whole life. Curious and questioning about everything even when I let other people shame me out of it by threatening that I would isolate myself if I believed differently than them. I felt so starved of love and a sense of belonging growing up that I squashed and belittled every thought I had that opposed those around me. I guess this is that part of human evolution where we adapt to survive, and adapt I did.

Last week, it hit me when I started to write about some of my identity changes that I don’t have to explain myself. That hit me like a ton of bricks. All my life, I’ve tried so hard to make people understand me and gotten so upset when I’ve felt unheard or flat out ignored. I have laid myself bare as a plea for my parents, friends, and John to please know me, understand me, and affirm/validate me. Or I’ve used it as a way to try to get them to open up to me. See? I’m telling you everything, now it’s your turn. But it wasn’t just to connect. It had more manipulative intentions. It was about control. I wanted them to open up so I knew everything I could know about them so a) when they used their knowledge of me to hurt me, I could do the same, and b) because I thought it would protect me if I could predict what they were going to do before they do or right as they were doing it.

But, I attracted people whose defense mechanism was, and maybe is, to keep me at arm’s length. So I could never fully know them, so they would never become predictable to me, so I could not manipulate or control them. This is a smooth steel wall I’ve tried to climb with John for eight years, never able to grip my limbs onto anything, just sliding down over and over again. I watched a video the other night about attachment styles, and as soon as I heard/read about the insecure avoidant attachment style, I knew that was the attachment style John has. It is one that struggles with control and trust issues and dealing with emotions (or avoiding them at all cost).

I, on the other hand, have a similar one that screams, “I’m okay as long as you’re okay” and almost never feels okay because I can’t tell how okay the other person is while also trying to please them, and if they’re not okay, I’m not okay – the insecure anxious attachment style. Our attachment styles are a topic for another post though.

I have put so much trust in what others think of me for so long, and those whom I’ve trusted with this seem to recognize this mistrust I’ve had with myself and treat me how I treat me, like I’m naive, stupid, and incapable of making any good decisions on my own. I really cannot put into words the anger this has caused in me lately. Not so much with the other person, but with myself.

See, the thing is, no, I don’t have to have explain or justify myself, life choices, or anything else with anyone else, except maybe the person or people I’m making those decisions with. However, I do have to explain them to myself.

What I have realized lately is this: I’ve had these lifelong fears of abandonment, rejection, and neglect, being unloved and unwanted while doing all of these things to myself. I have been projecting all of those fears because I could not look inside of myself and see that the one hurting me the most was me. 

I have spent so much time worrying about how everyone else will perceive the changes happening within me that I haven’t bothered to check in with myself. Hey, Amy, how are you feeling? How are you dealing with this? Are you okay? What do you need? I didn’t even realize how much I need to do this, how important this really is, because I was always taught that my self was not a priority, that I was supposed to put the needs of others before my own.

I think for all the times I’ve felt so hurt and angry at others for ignoring me, it has been my body and my spirit being hurt and angry at being ignored by me and put as a lower priority than others. 

And you know what? No, I’m not okay. I haven’t been for a while. I am coming to terms with things I’ve believed my whole life being mostly, but I don’t think intentionally, lies and a container to scare, control, and diminish me. Keep me in line. Keep me distracted from the real shit going on around me and to keep me from fighting against the injustices going on around me that I’ve been privileged enough to not recognize.

I’m not sure I am ready to go public with what these things are, but they are the bedrock of who I have been my entire life. Me trying so hard to be good enough to be loved, only to be told I haven’t been this from the start while also realizing I have been (what a winding road of a sentence). Yeah, I know it all sounds confusing and vague right now. I hate vague posts because I too am nosy and judgmental, but right now, I am putting myself first. Figuring out where I stand, how I feel, and if I want anyone else to know anything else about this.

Suffice it to say, I am in a great unknown. Thankfully I’m not alone in this, as the more I walk along this dark path, the more lights I find in various places, communities of people who tell me, “I know exactly how you feel,” and people who don’t feel exactly as I do but who tell me they understand why I feel that way. At the same time though, I feel alone. I am also coming to terms with the fact that it is okay if others don’t understand me as long as I understand me (or try to). My validation most importantly needs to come from within, though yes, it helps when others do it too.

But this isn’t something to look at with nothing but trepidation. I am becoming the person I was always and am meant to be. Right now, because I am still dealing with lifelong shame, trauma, and a scarcity/survival mode mindset that includes people-pleasing and codependency, the authentic me is still a little bit of a stranger. Or maybe an acquaintance, like I recognize her, talk to her occasionally, but don’t really have a real connection with. I am learning how to know someone without it being as a means of controlling them, and this includes myself. A relationship without manipulation or high steel walls or trying to work out my issues through them. Boundaries are good, and I’m learning how to establish and maintain them, something I was never taught or that were never respected growing up.

I was not born with a deceitful heart or worthless or unlovable until someone else loved and sacrificed for me. None of us were. I refuse to believe this anymore. I refuse to believe I should be ashamed of myself for who I am at my core. I was born loved and will always be loved, no matter what. I was created from the same materials as the earth, sky, and universe. I am small in the grand scheme of things, but I play a role like everything else created. I am just as needed, just as important even in my insignificance in this vast, infinite creation.

I have always loved Marianne Williamson’s words, “Who are you to play small? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” I’ve said for years that I’m done playing small, but playing small is safe and comfortable. Not easy, but safe and comfortable.

I will be 37 years old in 11 days, and as I get into my late thirties, I realize, life is finite, I can’t keep waiting for everything to align to live my life fully as I am. That’s not even a real thing that happens. I am living now and have been since the minute I was born. I can and will continue figuring things out along the way and make room for the person I am becoming and will become as I keep moving along.

There is no one “real” me. I, like everything else in this universe, am constantly evolving. And often, evolution requires deconstruction or even destruction. We see it every day in nature itself. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, erosion, eruptions, the earth is constantly making room for new, reminding us we are always all in flux, and shifting to maintain balance. Now, instead of clinging to the parts of me I need to let go or expectations of others or perceived expectations of others as a means to feel adequate and worthy of love, I’m thanking them for how they got me here and letting them go.

A couple of weeks ago, I cried in bed next to John, “I feel like I am living my life in one giant circle, forever coming back to the same place, people, and experiences!” I was so upset because John didn’t get the job he interviewed for in Savannah, and it meant we weren’t moving out of the Atlanta area. I thought, though I knew better, that maybe if we moved to a new area, my life might get better, easier. (Just like I’ve thought with losing weight, getting married, getting out of debt, and making more money.) I could find a job without worrying that the people I interview for know me already from past jobs and past bosses who probably don’t have kind things to say about me. Maybe there’d be some new area I could find a job in, something more creative, even if it paid less.

But we are staying here. Thankfully, we are moving this month back to Smyrna and it’s not the apartment complex we lived in before we moved to Chicago. That is different. I am different. John is different. Our marriage is different. This is not going in circles on flat land, this is spiraling up the staircase which means coming back around to the same things sometimes. Until I face the deepest, most broken, most painful and shameful parts of me, I will continue to run into them.

(And as soon as I find a job, I will be going back into therapy.)

I have identified with my trauma, shame, sadness, resentment, and guilt for far too long. Identified with being a child of divorced parents, raised in an abusive, traumatic, and dysfunctional environment. Identified with the size of my body and always being too big, too loud, too outspoken, too brash, too stubborn, too much. Identified with a religion with a book and leaders all too okay with using shame and the fear of condemnation and eternal separation from love to incite pain, violence, and suffering in anyone who doesn’t conform to it, especially women, instead of the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that is talked about in the beginning of the second half of that book. I have felt and known a lot of it was bullshit most of my life, but did not know anything else but that and did not want to feel even more ostracized than I already did, so I followed along (like I mentioned early, intentionally blinding myself once I knew better for self-preservation).

I don’t know what to do with quiet, calm, and peace. It stirs up turmoil inside of me and makes me want to create drama and stress for myself, and, oops, John. Old habits die hard. I’ve been in survival mode my whole life, not realizing until recently I don’t need to anymore. No, it’s not going to be smooth sailing from here on out, but trust isn’t black or white.

Trust isn’t about perfection. Trust is an action taken that tells me I will be okay no matter what, a fulfilling life is about risks, and oh my god, it is okay to make mistakes. That’s something I was taught against growing up, being taught that mistakes were bad, why couldn’t I “just behave,” failure deemed me worthless, I had to be perfect to be loved. What a fucking lie. 

So here I am in the unknown. I mean, life has always been this way, but now I am embracing the lifelong unchartered territory I am moving in. Life is finite. This is it. My purpose is to acknowledge my connection to the universe around me in all of its moving parts, embrace whatever is coming as just a part of life, enjoy as much as possible, and release what needs to go.

October will be a busy month. John and I both turn 37 next week, him on the 10th and me on the 12th. We start moving to our apartment in Smyrna on the 13th, and my dad and brother Caleb are coming on the 20th to help us move the big furniture (or what is left after I sold almost everything). John is off from October 19-28, his first real time off in the two years we’ve been back in Georgia, so after we move out of our apartment in Marietta, Caleb is going to stay in our new apartment with our dogs while we go on vacation somewhere. I’m voting for the beach while it’s still warm, but we’ll see.

These are, at least, our plans. I’m also going to be more seriously applying for jobs during this time. I was fortunate to make enough money from the sale of our unwanted furniture to keep me afloat in paying off my credit card and car through October, but I will need a job by early to mid November.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past four months of being unemployed, and I’ve been facing a lot of what I’ve tried so hard to ignore most of my life. I am in another cycle of deconstruction and evolution and know this will be ongoing throughout the rest of my life. I am still learning it is okay not to do anything and that sometimes I will have to push myself (but with more love and grace and less harsh criticism like I was given growing up). I don’t profess to have anything figured out, and I’m learning that, really, no one totally has their shit together. It just seems that way on social media because we curate it that way.

Right now, I am getting to know myself as I am now. Being as authentic to who this person is as possible. Checking in with myself first. Trusting myself. Understanding that how others people think of me first of all doesn’t define me, secondly isn’t any of my business, and lastly isn’t nearly as important as how I think of me. Learning myself under all of my disguises used to try to be enough for everyone else. Becoming less passive, less passive aggressive, and telling others whom I know mean well, “I appreciate your input, but I am doing what is best for me in my way and even if you think I am wrong or naive because it isn’t how you’d do things, this is my journey to live and learn and I will and have to live with whatever happens along the way.”

Like I said earlier, I will not explain, justify, defend, or rationalize myself to other people unless it is in a discussion or decision that involves them. This will be incredibly hard for me because this has been forged into me, into that survival mode, all of my life. I’ve always been incredibly reactive, which those who have abused me feed off of and use to victimize themselves. But no, I’m practicing slowing down, taking deep breaths, remembering how others treat me is a reflection of them, not me, and the same applies in my thoughts, feelings, behavior, and reactions to them. I am asking myself, Why did that bother you so much? What part of you is this speaking to? What is triggering this behavior in you?  

And as far as boundaries go, here are a few things I will be drawing the line on, meaning I will no longer be an open book and will decide how much I want to share:

  • My religious beliefs (or for now, lack thereof)
  • My body: its weight, size, and look
  • Diet/Health
  • My marriage
  • My career choices
  • Where we live/whether we buy a house or not
  • Whether we have kids or not
  • Political beliefs
  • Other sensitive topics

I don’t know how much I will tell of what’s been going on with me lately, but I can tell you that facing this identity breakdown/evolution/deconstruction/whatever you want to call it and saying it out-loud to myself and those I trust most has felt so healing. And I’m just starting. I am still afraid of what may become known in the weeks, months, years to come, but as soon as I said the words to myself and those trusted people, my head cleared unlike any other way ever (without the use of Xanax). I felt free. The feeling waxes and wanes now as I begin to deal with all of the trauma I’ve experienced in those identities, but a truth has been spoken, and I know I’m on the right path.

In late August, I asked God/the Universe/myself/anyone listening with any sort of power or influence over all of this to break me of my need to know and control everything. And in the past few weeks, I’ve felt my iron grip on these needs tighten around my body to the point of suffocating and crushing me, then slowly relaxing and releasing. No, I’m not okay, I may not be okay for a while, but I am moving in the right direction.

I am becoming okay with “I don’t know” and finally, coming home to myself and healing my most important relationship of all, the one with myself. I am scared. I still want to run, fight, and distract myself with every possible thing, and that’s okay too. There’s no right or wrong here, just information. I will forever believe everything is working out as it is meant to, and I need to get out of my own way.

 

Letters to Myself, Showing Up

Letters to Myself, # 2 – Slow Down (They Don’t Love You Like I Love You)

Quotes about gratitude

(Thanks, Beyonce, for the title inspiration from your song, “Hold Up” from your best album yet, Lemonade)

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Dear Me:

Hey there, it’s me again. I want to thank you for your response in the first letter when you reminded me throughout a really stressful, busy week last week to find and hold on to my joy.

Thanks for allowing Happier Us to stick by my side through apartment A/C issues (and getting the property manager & maintenance supervisor to realize we needed a new unit), babysitting two small, very fun and active girls two days in a row, traveling to and from Savannah in about a 36-hour period (and keeping Cynical Us from screaming “We’re going to die!” as a very exhausted us and John tried to navigate the last 30 miles home in early morning Atlanta traffic), not getting really good quality sleep, and it being so damn hot outside.

In this letter, I want to talk about something else I’ve noticed directing our life and decisions: Scarcity Mindset. The feeling that there is never enough and we are never enough. The way it makes us settle for shit we don’t want, ignore our intuition, mistreat our body, envy others whom we think have what we can’t have because they have it, pushes us so hard to try to make money any way we can to pay off our debt and be financially secure (knowing that in this mindset, no amount of money will ever make us feel secure), and keeps us trapped in comparison and feeds our feelings of inadequacy.

It isn’t our fault. We were raised in a scarcity-based environment. In America, it is called capitalism. Being shamed for our so-called inadequacies, told we can have “it all” if we just work hard enough or have enough money to buy it (ignoring all of the privileges many have that a lot were not given or born with), and being told to rest is to be lazy, worthless, and dumb.

In our family, we were taught that money is scarce as we watched our family members go into massive credit card debt and then one bankruptcy after another and saw no one ever had enough to be happy. We were taught to fear money or see it as evil. We were never taught how to be responsible with it or how to give ourselves the power over it and not the other way around.

We were taught that appearances matter most. Not who we truly were or how we truly felt, but what we and our lives looked like.

Our family tried so hard to seem financially well off and like everyone had their shit together and there were never any conflicts or issues.

Don’t you remember how Daddy was so mean to Mama, the boys, and us on the way to church and how as soon as we got out of the van and walked in the church doors, he became the man all our youth group girl friends wished their father was like, who the women Mama knew in their Sunday School group wished their husbands were like? And how as soon as we were back in the van, his friendly, warm smile returned to a sneer and his honey-dipped words returned to venom?

Or how Lib, June, Brophy, and Robert congregated on the porch, laughing and talking whenever the police showed up because someone (sometimes us) called 911 because their violent fights were so loud and frightening?

From around kindergarten up, we learned that food wasn’t a security either. It isn’t that we were really ever short on food, but it was the shame around being told we couldn’t eat the food we wanted because it was “making us fat” and being a fat girl was a vicious, dreadful sin. It ruined our “appearance” of how a thinner body was seen as beautiful, smart, hardworking, and cared for, and our fat body only showed neglect, laziness, gluttony, and lacking self-care, self-respect, self-esteem, and intelligence.

The more food was held as forbidden to us and the more we were told our body was “wrong,” the more scarce food felt to us and the more we rebelled, binged on it, and hated our self.

And in puberty, not developing breasts or round hips and instead developing rounder, broader shoulders and a rounder version of the pot belly we’ve had since infancy made us even more of a disappointment and eyesore. Here, we learned that love, acceptance, desirability, and attractiveness was scarce, and we were to blame for it.

In these times of scarcity, or perceived scarcity, we are conditioned to rush. Rush to sneak the “forbidden” food and shove it down our throat thoughtlessly, without enjoyment, and riddled with shame and self-loathing. Rush to lose weight in whatever means possible so we can finally be considered attractive, lovable, and worthwhile. Rush to do whatever we can to please others, regardless of the way we neglect our self and our needs in the meantime. And then rush to numb our pain, shame, sadness, and anger by whatever means necessary, which for us was/is food and spending too much time scrolling through the internet and social media.

There is no slowing down in this scarcity mindset. No time to think. No time to consider. There is so much to do to finally get enough so we are finally considered enough, and with every step we take, the ruler measuring success, achievement, control, safety, adequacy, and being considered worthy of love and acceptance is pushed a little further out.

Driven by this mindset, we went to a college we didn’t really like, settled on toxic behavior by men we were attracted to and wanted to feel noticed and wanted by, accepted the crumbs of attention from toxic friendships out of deep loneliness, a deep mother and father wound, and always being taught to feel worthless and like we had to take whatever we could get.

We settled on one job after another because we were told it was “smart” and secure even though they stifled our creativity and left us feeling miserable and lost.

This scarcity mindset taught us love is scarce and we could lose it at anytime so we better not do anything to “rock the boat.”

Things like:

  • Don’t speak up about your hurts and anger.
  • Don’t do or say anything that could be seen as critical or he’s going to leave.
  • Always be pleasant.
  • Don’t talk too much.
  • Don’t be needy.
  • Don’t speak up for yourself.
  • Squelch those emotions, you know you have too many of them.
  • Don’t do anything that could make you seem like a burden.
  • And for God’s sake, lose the fucking gut already, no man wants to look at that.
  • Always remember that whatever has been given can and likely will be taken away.
  • Don’t get too comfortable.

You know, this mindset keeps me up at night worrying about dying and never getting to live the life I want many years to live. Makes me so afraid we will die young and miss out on all life has to offer us. Makes me feel sick to my stomach at thinking about John moving on, finding someone else, and realizing we were never the woman he thought we were or that he ever really loved.

I get angry too, thinking about everything we want to do and how we never seem to have the money to do it because we can’t find or keep a job in a healthy, fun, creative environment. It makes me think of friends and family who are traveling where I want us to travel, doing jobs I want us to do, having money I wish we had, and comparing way too much of myself and life to everyone else.

Where there is a scarcity mindset, there is a focus on what we don’t have and a furious impatience to get it. To have control. To know what’s coming next, how to get it, when it’ll arrive, and how happy we’ll “finally” be when it arrives. I mean, isn’t that all the lie of every diet and/or exercise program we ever try? Every book or movie or TV show about finding “the one”? The sales pitch behind every beauty product and fashion line?

Scarcity mindset is the mindset that sells and makes billions of dollars in marketing and advertising for every possible thing you can think of from diets to religion to fashion to cars to homes and etc. “Let me tell you what you lack, how others perceive your lacking, and how buying this product will finally make you happy.”

Where there is scarcity, there is depression, war, greed, famine, sexual/physical/emotional violence, addiction, infidelity, genocide, treating people who don’t look like us as an “other” and dehumanizing them, anxiety, power-grabbing, fear-mongering, and depravity. Scarcity makes us take whatever we can get, however we can get it, no matter who – including ourselves – gets hurt.

Most of all, it takes us out of the present and robs us of joy, peace, love, and gratitude. It clouds our intuition and depletes the quality of our life. And quality always matters more important than quantity.

Amy, we are enough. Our life is happening as it is meant to, in the timeline it is meant to be on. There is no one set timeline for everyone. There is no need to rush.

We don’t have to worry about not having enough or being enough. There’s nothing we need to do or change about us to be worthy of love. Our very name, Amy, MEANS “beloved.”

If there is anything we can hold on to in our constantly evolving spiritual faith and what we learned in church growing up, it is to not allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the trappings of this world. Everything is temporary but it doesn’t mean it is scarce. Being weighed down by all of the stress that scarcity brings mean not being able to see the constant flow of joy, opportunities for new beginnings, love, and good still alive all around us.

Let’s slow down when we think, rest, eat, and dream. Our body is worth trusting and wants us to trust it. We are so privileged and lucky, Amy, we really have no idea. Let’s focus on our abundance so we can share it with others. When we know what we have, we know what we can give.

There is enough food to fill our belly and to give us pleasure and we don’t have to feel ashamed of what we eat. We can enjoy, savor, and be mindful of how and what we eat and why we are eating. We don’t need permission to feed our body when it is hungry. We don’t need to eat past fullness out of fear we will never get to eat that food again. We don’t have to restrict anymore.

We can move our body for the sheer joy of it and in appreciation of all it has done, is doing, and will do for us however many years we are meant to live.

Let’s not be inactive because the diet mentality is so deeply ingrained and twisted around exercise in our brain that it is hard to separate moving our body from the hope of weight loss, which is really just a hope of being seen as worthy of love and acceptance.

Our body is strong and still somewhat flexible (let’s try some yoga for this, okay?) and healthy, let’s focus on the abundance of this and move our body out of that mindset.

We aren’t our family. Their money issues aren’t ours. Their inability to have healthy relationships and marriages and live authentic lives don’t reflect on us. We are not doomed to repeat their mistakes. If anything, we have learned from them. How about we stop living from all the “what not to do’s” we learned from them and start focusing on what we have overcome, let go, forgive, and move on to the healing and the abundant future awaiting us?

Perfectionism is another scarcity mindset lie. It doesn’t exist, nor should it. We are free to make mistakes and learn and grow from them instead of feeling ashamed of them.

We were not born evil and in need of being made good and lovable by someone else. We were born in the image of God, who is all things love and goodness. Forget all of the fear-mongering, shaming, narcissistic religious bullshit shoved down our throat as children. That was all about control, another scarcity mindset tactic, and Amy, we are free. We are so fucking free to be exactly who we are.

Our marriage to John is beautiful because it is real. It is raw, vulnerable, and ever-growing, and it is authentic, transparent, and real. Don’t compare it to someone else’s marriage. We can’t see into the lives of others.

Let’s not rush the healing, depth, effective communication, and intimacy in our marriage. God willing, our marriage is growing into a mighty oak wrapped in decades of rings with unbreakable, replenishing roots that sway with the wind without snapping.

Right now, it is still a young, vulnerable sapling, only eight years old. It needs love, care, grace, understanding, forgiveness, nurture, trust, faith, rest, unity, sunshine, and patience. It needs time and it will need storms. Don’t be afraid of this.

Let’s not worry so much about money. We have enough to get by on. Let’s not be in such a rush to pay off debt, save money, buy a house, or whatever we see others doing that it’s not yet our time to do that we settle again for work that isn’t right for who we are, forces our self to stifle who we really are and what we really want, and lie awake at night in such unnecessary fear, anger, envy, resentment, and frustration. And remember, just because someone else has what we want doesn’t mean there’s now less of it left for us.

Amy, the way out of this scarcity mindset we’ve lived our whole life in is trust. Trust in ourselves. Trust in God or destiny or the Universe or whoever created us and is running things. Trust in our body to work and look as it was written in our DNA. Trust that we are always abundant in love, even if rejected, abandoned, and hurt by the ones we love. Trust that pain and suffering are a part of life and not to be feared because we also trust there is an abundance of good and joy in the world, no matter what our Twitter feeds tell us daily.

Slow down. Take deep breaths. Live in the present. Feel emotions and know none of them are wrong and all of them are valid and valued. We are not too much. We are not a burden. We matter. Our dreams and passions matter.

Our purpose is to live as our authentic self, love who we are exactly as we are, love others exactly as they are, and know our purpose will shift and change as our story weaves, waxes, and wanes through everywhere we’ve been and everywhere we are headed, no matter how long or short the story is.

Everything is happening as it is meant to. Listen to your gut. Listen to your heart. Take care of yourself. Be responsible for how you treat yourself and others and how your words and behavior affect others. And live in gratitude because really, we have been through hell, but we have never been defeated and we’ve truly never been unloved. There is nothing scarce in who we are, what life has given us, or what life still has left in store for us.

Love,

Me

Letters to Myself

Letters to Myself, #1 – Can We Be Friends?

Dear Me:

You know we’re together through it all, right? Like where you go, I go? Who you are, I am? Who you love, I love? You and I, you and I, you and I, we can conquer the world in loooove. Oops, got sidetracked at the thought of Michael Buble singing “You and I.”

Anyway. I know, it often feels like we are twins, two bodies developed from one egg, similar bodies and faces but totally different personalities. One of us is more adventurous, creative, silly, fun, outgoing, affectionate, optimistic, and joyful. The other of us is sullen, critical, brooding, mean, depressed, anxious, distrusting, cynical, and prefers to be left alone in a dark room and never touched. Both are pretty hilarious. I guess they at least have that in common.

And by God are they always at war with each other. The happier of us two says, “Go live life, it’s great, everything is so beautiful, let’s make the most of it, I love everything!” while the other creeps away, walking backwards with two middle fingers in the air, screaming, “Everything is fucked. Nothing is safe. How can you be so naive?!”

Happier us says, “Amy, you are beautiful, loved, and wonderful just as you are. You don’t have to be so afraid of being yourself.” Cynical us says, “You really need to lose some fucking weight, Amy. Why else do you think your body aches so much now? Why bother trying to live a life you’re not fit enough to live. Who could love you, really? Really?”

Ah, Cynical us, I see you’ve invited shame to this party. How cruel when you know our history. 

Look, I get why we don’t trust each other. Happier us is sick of being dragged down by Cynical us. Happier us is sick of cynical us’s shit. Cynical us is tired of comforting Happier us when Happier us gets its feelings hurt. Cynical us thinks it’s the adult and wishes Happier us would grow the fuck up because there’s too much shit going on that we need to be prepared for.

Neither of us trusts that the other is telling the truth about who we are.

Cynical us lost hope years ago when it saw there was none in the context of all the dysfunction of our family. All it wants is to not be like them. Not be like them. Not be like them. So it focuses on things like being smarter with money, moving to a bigger city, trying to have a healthier marriage, thinking, “God, if I could just do [this], everything would be perfect,” not realizing the set up for disappointment and inescapable failure this sets us up for. (By the way, totally okay to fail, just not okay to wallow in that failure or encapsulate that failure with shame.)

However, none of this touches the core of what we are clawing the steel walls to escape from: that deep, dark, aching, fucked up, vicious cycle of shame, hopelessness, and fear.

Happy us has been fighting to be heard since Day 1. Look how we find things to laugh and smile about even when there is so much to be sad and angry about around us. Look how much we love the ocean, clouds, pink sunsets, rainbows after thunderstorms, the view of and from mountaintops.

Think about how our heart swells with joy when we see puppies, babies, people treating us and each other with kindness, songs that lift us from our feet and having us jumping all around, when we play with children and forget how “grown up” we’re supposed to be.

And writing, oh my god, while Cynical us has definitely inspired more words, it has also, probably without meaning to, opened us up to our pain and helped us empathize and view the perspectives of others. We make a really good first-person perspective writing team. Hey! Maybe we should write a book together! Huh? Huh? Whaddya think?

I know it hurts to get excited about something then let down. I know it feels like we are forever waiting for whatever is meant to happen to us. I know it is easy to think we are what we do. And sometimes, we are what we do. But doing is not the entirety of our being or self-worth. We are worthy just by being…alive, happy, sad, cynical, optimistic, however we show up day to day.

And that life that we keep waiting to happen for us? It’s happening right now, guys! It’s been going on THIS ENTIRE TIME. Mind blowing, I know. Of course, we think about that too, but get so impatient. Oh and there’s also the whole thing where we’re going to die one day but we don’t know when and oh my god, what if I don’t get to do all the things I want to do? That loves to keep us awake in the middle of the night, doesn’t it? We can collectively agree we hate it when we can’t control everything even though we know being in control takes the fun out of life, right?

Okay, Cynical us, maybe this is your realm. Maybe knock it off a little bit?

Cynical us, did you know Happier us feels scared too? Joy feels so good that it is frightening. It is fleeting, yes, but what we don’t understand is that one joy moves out so another can move in.

Joy is an ever-rushing current with an infinite number of stops along the way. We hold so tightly to one joy, one memory, and squeeze our eyes shut til we see stars behind our eyelids because we think if we let go, we’ll never feel joy again. Cynical us, I think you see this happening and you love Happier us so much that you step in to protect us, but it’s okay. You can both open your eyes and arms, let that past joy go, and look together for the next moment, which should be here any second.

Happier us, all Cynical us wants is to be loved, safe, and to be seen as good enough. You have both been taught that to be vulnerable is to be weak, that vulnerability is to be avoided at all costs. You have been through so much, and what you don’t realize is that you’ve had each other this whole time. You’ve worked as a team through it all.

The divide is not as large as it seems and guys, it is most definitely NOT your fault. Not your fault, not your fault, not your fault. You did not do this to each other. This divide was dumped on you by people who had their own inner divisions and pain dumped on them. HOWEVER…it is your responsibility to try your hardest not to dump your inner turmoil on anyone else. We are meant to stop this intergenerational trauma, which is why I’m writing all of this in the first place. It is really important we find a way to get along.

Happier us sees being openly joyous as being vulnerable – naive, childish, silly – so it allows Cynical us to step forward with its complaining, sarcasm, bitterness, and resentment. That seems to speak the language of the media and of most of the so-called “adults” around us and acts as a protective shield. The only thing is, that shield doesn’t just protect us from painful emotions, but every emotion. There’s no filter. 

Cynicism, rage, shame, bitterness, and fear have been the water around us for a very long time, and we, with our empathetic, sensitive spongey nature and need for love and acceptance, have soaked it all up until we are so swollen and dripping with it.

Life is hard enough as it is. Division outside of us will destroy us if there remains division within us.

Cynical us, keep protecting us as you do, as what you do keeps us alive. I appreciate that. I know you are doing what you’ve always done, survive in whatever way possible. There is nothing wrong with you, nothing to be ashamed of. (Ha, I sound like Happier us and can feel you side-eyeing the fuck out of me. Sorry. I promise I’m not taking sides here.)

All I am saying here is that you can relax. We don’t live in that dysfunctional family home anymore. There’s no violence, abuse, gaslighting, or negligence going on anymore.

I know you must be sweltering under all of that armor you’ve layered on throughout the years, so take some of it off.

You had to grow up so quickly. You never really got to be a child. I know you resent Happier us sometimes because it is so child-like, bright, sunny, light, and free, but I know how much you want to protect that joy too. I see you. I’m not going to ask you to be who you are not because you are needed and loved just as you are. Like I said, you’ve kept me alive, you’ve gotten me through a lot of shit. I am only asking that you don’t close yourself completely off and that maybe you tell shame to fuck off, we’ve had enough for a lifetime, it’s no longer welcome here.

Happier us, thank you for keeping the child in us alive. Keep looking for the rainbows after storms. Don’t be so afraid to sing out loud when a song comes on that you love or it just gets stuck in your head. You have the most infectious, deep belly laugh and you always find stuff to laugh about. Keep making up goofy songs about your dogs and picking them up and dancing around the house with them. Don’t stop unabashedly loving “The Little Mermaid” or other Disney princess movies. Be the little girl you never got to be.

Bake cookies because you love to bake cookies – quit worrying about sugar being “the devil” and don’t let diet culture take you away from something you love to do. Enjoy your ice cream and don’t let guilt or shame about your body keep you from savoring it.

Wear all the floral prints you want. Buy the skirts and dresses that twirl when you spin in a circle and twirl your heart out.

Who cares if no one else gets as excited when the thunder roars as you do?

Those pretty flowers you notice on your walks are there for you to notice and see beauty in them. And that eternal need to see and hear the ocean? Don’t laugh it off or ignore it. When you need to see the ocean, go see the fucking ocean.

Ride your bike, dance, hike, go for walks or jogs, swim, and forget you ever heard anything about calories burned or weight loss or any of that bullshit that tries to take the joy of just moving your body for the joy of it away from you. There’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying your body and your life, and there’s absolutely nothing you need to be or do to “earn” or “deserve” that joy.

Cynical us tries to shut you down so much, I know, but it is trying to protect you because all it was taught is that there is nothing in this world but fear and shame. When you’re vulnerable, it feels vulnerable too. I’m not saying it is healthy, but it has always done its best with what it knows, as have you. And this is not me shaming or bashing the Cynical us, but showing I understand where it is coming from and I feel so much compassion for it.

So, friends? Can we really try being this? I’m not asking for perfect harmony, that doesn’t exist. It’s okay if we fight, but can we do it more productively? Can we start the work of understanding each other better and empathizing with each other? We are all equal here. We all serve a purpose. We can protect each other without demoralizing one another.

Can we work together to heal all of the hurt, anger, shame, criticism, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, negligence, and abuse we’ve been through together. Can we try to thrive now and not just survive? Be okay with each other as we are? Not argue so destructively and angle to continue the cycle of abuse we experienced at the hands or words of others? Try to love each other even if we don’t always like each other? (And understand it is okay if we don’t always like each other as long as we respect one another?)

Can we have peace? Compassion? Forgive each other? This body we share is exhausted. It is so worn down from this war we’ve been waging throughout our life together. My nerves are raw. My bones ache. My spirit is ragged. Please, I beg, can’t we find a way to get along?

I hope this letter has brought some perspective to this division inside of us. I surrender, white flag and all, and await your response in the hopes you both will come to an agreement on the best way to move forward…together. I really do love you, I hope you know that, just as you are.

Love,

Me

Showing Up

Anger Triggers: My Uncle Robert

This will be a very long-winded, punching bag of a post because I am so furious today. I’ve yelled at the dogs, snapped at John, and felt like a volcano about to blow. To pinpoint where I feel all of this, since I am trying to recognize where I feel my emotions in my body, I feel this in the upper part of my chest, like an elephant sitting on top of me. I can breathe but God, the pressure.

Why?

Because I dreamed about being back at my great-grandparents’ house and around my sorry, piece of shit Uncle Robert.

I’ve briefly written about him before, but maybe it’s time to unleash everything because I am tired of being so angry every time I think of him and the way he manipulated my great-grandmother Lib and tried to do it to me and how he made me feel so disgusting about my body and how he has affected my view of men throughout my life, including John. I’ve had dreams of killing him, beating the ever living shit out of him, and trying to avoid him while he cries and tells everyone how hateful I am and how he loves me and I’m so cruel to him.

I keep waiting for him to die and wish it would just happen already.

That’s how angry I am and how angry I have been for the majority of my life because I spent so many years around him and his dysfunction, narcissism, and abuse.

Robert is my grandmother June’s half brother. Brophy was his father, June’s stepfather, Mama’s step-grandfather, and my step-great-grandfather. Lib was his mother, June’s mother, Mama’s grandmother, my great-grandmother.

Mama said growing up, Robert was kind, thoughtful, super smart, and helpful. He was a star football player in high school and was personally recruited by the University of Alabama’s legendary coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. Then while attending Alabama, he was involved in two near-fatal car crashes, both times under the influence of drugs. In the second crash, he lost total vision in his right eye and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Mama said when Robert came out of the hospital after those wrecks, he was a totally different person. He dropped out of college, couldn’t keep a steady job (nor wanted to), gambled whatever money he had, and became manipulative, violent, and abusive.

He was very possessive of Lib, in a really creepy, Oedipus Complex sort of way. He would sleep all day long, not help around the house, then get up either when Lib was cooking or eating, and start talking to her about the dumbest shit.

And with Robert, if you interrupt him, he gets really angry and has to start all over again. No matter how many times he is interrupted, he is going to say whatever the fuck he has to say.

Brophy would finally get fed up and start cussing him out. This got Lib and everyone else at the table, including me, upset. Lib would go lie down and Robert would follow her, still trying to get whatever it was he felt compelled to say out. Then Brophy would go in to get him out, and they would start screaming and cussing at each other. Brophy even pulled a gun on him once (albeit, a rusted out, non-working WWII gun).

This happened nearly every time we had dinner, but it was guaranteed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas, and several times, it led to a fist fight breaking out outside. There was never a peaceful family gathering in the Brophy house.

June and Brophy often picked the phone up threatening to call the police, but he’d take the phone from them, sometimes disconnecting it, or he’d momentarily calm down until they changed their minds and then he would start up again.

Other times, the neighbors called the police on them because you could hear them down the street, screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. I was forced to stay in June’s bedroom with her, which was right next to the living room battleground in their small house.

When Brophy died and Lib no longer had him to run interference between Robert and her, he became worse. He grabbed her throat once, grabbed her arms hard several times, and had her screaming, crying, and begging for him to leave her alone over and over and over. June still threatened to call the police but she mostly did nothing. Either chain smoked in her bedroom with me on the bed behind her or stood behind the recliner in the living room, watching all of this abuse and violence go on in front of her while almost like looking through it. I think she just stared at the TV and did her best to drown it out. I was both dumbfounded and angry with her for this.

(Before Brophy died and he was so sick he couldn’t take care of himself but too heavy for Lib to lift him, Robert did it, and Lib, June, and Mike all saw him handle Brophy too roughly when Brophy was incapable of defending himself. This led to a several fights between Robert and Mike where Mike punched Robert and Robert just took it. One time, he hit Robert hard enough in the chest to leave a giant bruise, but Robert never hit him back, oddly enough.)

I lived with them full time at this point, after Brophy died. I’d graduated from college and moved back home. I tried living with my dad, but that turned into daily fights of our own, so I chose the violent, abusive, extremely dysfunctional home over him. That should say a lot about who my dad was to me at the time.

When I moved back, I wanted my own room in the house. Growing up, I’d slept in June’s queen-sized bed with her, but when I came back, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that anymore. Plus, by this point, she had late-term emphysema and COPD and had to sleep with oxygen that came from a very loud machine next to her side of the bed. I was 21/22 and needed my own space.

The only option was Robert’s bedroom, an addition Brophy built on the house in the 1960s to accommodate him and my uncle Mike, the last two of the four brothers at home then. For the first few months I was there, Robert stayed gone, mostly either gambling in Mississippi, or staying with his supposed girlfriend who was a prison guard at the women’s prison. (June told me one night when I was still in college that they were all at it and he said he was going to stay with his girlfriend. June snapped, “You don’t have a girlfriend, you’re a queer,” which wasn’t exactly the most PC thing to say but it made me laugh because it was one of the few times she ever spoke up during these fights.)

At first, when he returned a month or so after I moved in, Robert slept in the queen-sized bed in his room during the day while I was at work, on top of the covers, and I slept on the bed at night, under the covers. Later, he slept on the couch or June’s bed during the day.

Another thing about Robert that made him so disgusting: he had the worst personal hygiene of anyone I’ve ever known. He never showered, never washed his hair, always smelled like shit, maybe brushed his teeth once a week.

I hated sleeping in that bed at night when he slept on it during the day, sweating in the room that wasn’t well insulated or ventilated and got extremely warm in the afternoons in the summer. He didn’t sleep on my pillows or sheets, but I still felt my skin crawl every night when I got in that bed, and the room smelled like him no matter what. (This is probably part of why I’m so obsessed with cleanliness and germs and wash my hands so frequently now.)

He also never cleaned his shower or bathroom (and by then, it was too much work for nearly 90-year-old Lib to do, though she tried). I hated even using the toilet or sink in there because he would take a shit, somehow get it all over the seat, then leave it, and not wash his hands. I yelled at him several times about this and he laughed in my face every time before finally cleaning it up.

Lib often cleaned the house, vacuumed, swept the porch, and raked leaves outside by herself because she got tired of his bullshit excuses and harassment when she asked him to do it. There was never a “yes” or “no” response from him. He always had this long-winded story about why he couldn’t help her. I started helping her when I moved in so she didn’t have to ask him to do anything. Sometimes he’d wake up to her sweeping or vacuuming and ask why she didn’t wait for him to do it, and she’d snap, “Because I’d die first before you ever even picked up the goddamn broom.” Of course, this started a fight too.

He rarely kept a job longer than 3 months. Those were the only times he was awake during the day. He’d work these temp jobs, long enough to collect unemployment, then gamble the money away, either spending days at his friends’ house or going to Biloxi to the casinos. Otherwise, he just slept all day and stayed up all night, often eating and watching TV or on the phone.

He was always in Lib’s personal space, trying to kiss and hug her. Telling her how pretty she looked, her hair and her outfit. He’d get her so upset then tell her he loved her and “God bless you.” It was sickening to watch.

He only seemed to interact with June when she tried to get him to leave Lib alone.

Me, though. He often tried to get too close and too affectionate with me. Whenever I’d leave to go somewhere, I always kissed Lib and June on the cheek and told them bye. I’d done this since I was a child and it was the only real affection that happened in that family. I’d kiss Lib, Brophy, and June on the cheek and tell them bye.

Robert seemed to believe he should be a part of this too despite all of the times I went out of my way to avoid him. When I would tell them bye, he would step in my way with his horrible stench, tell me bye and that he loved me, and kiss my cheek. It made me feel sick to my stomach every single time. Sometimes I could get out of the house while he was at the table in the dining room in the back of the house and avoid him, but other times I tried to do this, he followed me outside to my car.

Finally, one night, he came out and I couldn’t get in my car fast enough, and he tried to move in on me. I put my arms out and snapped, “Robert, this is my personal space. I don’t want you to ever come into this space ever again. I don’t want you to touch me or kiss my cheek or anything else EVER AGAIN.” He, of course, tried to discuss this with me and make me feel bad, but I got in my car, seething, locked the doors as quickly as I could, and left to go to visit my dad, Ben, and Caleb for the weekend. He went back in the house, told June I was an asshole, and said that I should be grateful because he “let” me have his bedroom. June snapped, “No, I let her have that bedroom and you need to leave her alone.”

Whenever I came home from work, I would go into the back bedroom, change my clothes, sit down in the recliner, and get on my laptop, likely to write a LiveJournal post about my day, which I often did back then. One night, he came back there and decided to take a shower, which he’d done before but he always got dressed in the bathroom too. Not this time. By the grace of an ever-loving, ever-protective God, I had my laptop up on my knees with my knees up in the chair when he walked out of the bathroom, completely nude, holding his towel. My laptop covered up everything on him from the waist down. I don’t remember anything else but the disgusting smirk on his face and him saying, “I didn’t think you were still in here,” even though I was loudly typing on my laptop and watching the news.

The thing with that family, the greatest dysfunction, is that all of the dirty little secrets were supposed to stay secrets and the one who told them was the “dirty” or shameful one. I also learned that both Lib and June would not protect me from the men we lived with and would often instead blame me for their behavior.

In this case, I told them what happened, how gross I felt, and how awful it was. Later that evening, I heard Lib talking to Robert, asking him what happened. Later, she told me, “Amy, you shouldn’t be in the bedroom when Robert is taking a shower.”

Where else was I supposed to go to be alone in that 1100 square foot house? I didn’t want to sit in June’s thick cloud of cigarette smoke that already gave me (and still gives me) bronchitis every time I get a cold. Didn’t want to sit in the living room with Mike. Didn’t want to be in Lib’s way in the kitchen or dining room while she cooked dinner. I just wanted to be alone and decompress. Robert, as I mentioned above, rarely ever even showered. He did this for the exact reaction it caused in me. He even “joked” that “there wasn’t much to see anyway,” referring to his penis.

When June and Lib refused to call the police on Robert when he had Lib in hysterics, I called them. I begged the 911 operator to tell the police to tell Lib and Robert that a neighbor had called to complain because I didn’t want them to know it was me. Another time, I called them, told June I called them hoping she’d be relieved or thankful that I stepped in to help. Instead, she told Lib, who stopped for two seconds at screaming at Robert to scream AT ME to call the police back and “cancel” them coming out. I said, “No! The police aren’t Pizza Hut. I can’t just ‘cancel’ my order!” I didn’t talk to June or Lib for a week after this happened because I felt so betrayed by both of them when I only wanted to help them get Robert out of the house.

I never felt like I had any privacy in that back bedroom anyway. You could see through the side of the door and through the blinds, and I always felt like he watched me at night, whether when I slept, exercised, changed my clothes, or other private things I did. I locked the door whenever I exercised and when I went to bed. When I worked out, he’d knock on the door and ask me what I was wearing to work out.

After June died, I lasted about 6 months in that house. Robert had Lib almost entirely to himself. Definitely all day when I was at work and most of the evening after dinner when I was in the back bedroom on my computer or working out. That house was small, like I mentioned above, and the walls were thin, so I could hear everything. After that call to the police where I was berated, the police showed up, and they (including June) acted like they were this perfectly happy, loving family, just having a lively discussion on the porch that was “misinterpreted,” I vowed I’d never call the police again unless he became physically violent.

He had no respect for any boundaries I set up. I told him I wanted to have a life, to go the gym, hang out with friends, go spend the weekend at my dad’s but he needed to be home so Lib, 90 years old and starting to fall more often, wouldn’t be left alone. He would wait until I got home from work, tell me he was only going to be gone for an hour, then be gone the rest of the night and I had to stay with Lib. I loved Lib dearly, I didn’t mind spending time with her and being there for her, but like I told him, she was HIS mother (not mine), and I wanted to have a life of my own. He would get so angry at me for saying this because he was such a selfish fucking asshole who wanted no responsibility for anyone or anything, but I told him tough shit, she was his mother and he needed to take care of her.

Mama bought me some noise-cancelling headphones to drown them out during their fights since there was nothing I could do to stop them, I was saving up money to move out on my own at the time but didn’t have quite enough, and I had nowhere else to go and I felt like I had to stay to be a witness or protection or something for Lib in case Robert got physical. They would start fighting, I’d lock the bedroom door, and put on the headphones and listen to music. The headphones helped, but nothing could drown out my 90-year-old great-grandmother screaming at the top of her lungs for help and for Robert to please, please, please leave her alone.

As soon as she started doing this, Robert started banging on the bedroom door. “Amy, let me in there,” he’d say over and over again. At first, I turned my music up to drown him out because he wanted to tell me what had just happened even though I heard every bit of it. Then I’d yell for him to get away from the door and shut the hell up, I heard everything, I don’t need his “side” of the story.

One night, I was on the phone with a friend when this fighting erupted and he started banging on the door. Finally, like he always did, he made up one of his excuses for me to let him in, like he needed his toothbrush or something. I knew it was bullshit but I finally let him in so he would get out whatever he needed to say and leave me the fuck alone. This time, he started his shit while I’m sitting there, holding the phone with my friend listening on the other line, and I snap at him to get out of the room and leave me alone. He lunged towards me, eyes wide open, and all I could think was if he came any closer, I was going to grab the scissors off of the dresser next to me, and stab him in the jugular. (Part of me still wishes he had and I’d killed him then.) Lib saved his life though because she stuck her head around the corner of the dining room hallway, which led to my bedroom, and screamed at him to leave me alone. My friend, still on the line, heard all of this and all she could say was, “Oh my god, Amy, are you okay?” No, I was definitely not okay, but I had to deal with it because I had nowhere else to go at the time.

Another night, on the phone with another friend, he tried the same shit, tried to get in the room to tell me his side of the story with a dumb excuse (by the way, he didn’t get his toothbrush in the part mentioned above), and I hung up with my friend, called the police, then called her back and told her what was going on. While I did this, he stood outside the door listening to me and whispering, “That’s a fucking lie. She’s a fucking liar,” before walking away to prepare for his show in front of the police with Lib again. Okay, that was the last time I called the police on them.

Robert is almost exactly 30 years older than me, by the way, in case anyone wondered.

I spent nearly every weekend in that house from the time I was 3 years old until I moved in when Mama kicked me out so her second ex-husband could move in when I was in high school and then again after college. I was told not to get involved in the fights, shamed for calling the police, and told not to cry when it was so overwhelming that I started crying. I was also not allowed to talk to the police because they knew I’d have Robert out of there in a flash. Often, they’d make him leave for the night, but he’d be back the next day, at it again.

June died in May 2006 and my uncle Charles, Robert’s oldest brother, got sick a couple of months later. Charles was no saint either and made me feel uncomfortable and made horrible comments about my body and weight. He had even spent time in prison for sexual assault on a minor boy and girl and was on the National Sex Offender’s list. He still never made me feel as awful as I felt around Robert though. Charles was living at the house at the time, but someone reported him and the police forced him to move because he was too close to the elementary school in the neighborhood.

So he and Robert went and stayed in this rundown motel a few miles down the road and spent the rest of Charles’ life, about six months, buying and using crack cocaine and doing God only knows what else. What Charles didn’t know, especially when he was close to dying, was that Robert was cashing his Social Security checks and using them for himself, mostly to buy drugs. He also drained the rest of the money Charles had, so when Charles died, there was no money left to bury him.

Lib, my aunt Carol (Robert, Mike, and Charles’ sister), and Mama had to come up with the money to bury Charles. We also found out that Robert had found some checks of Brophy’s that weren’t thrown away after he died and was writing bad checks for stupid shit like Pizza Hut, and the attorney general of the state of Alabama was looking to press charges against Lib because her name was on Brophy’s account even though it had been closed.

One night, right after Charles died, Mama, Lib, Carol, Carol’s husband Ed, Mike, and I basically had an intervention with Robert. We told him we knew he’d stolen Charles’ money and the checks, what he’d spent the money on, and how much that cost Lib who had to pay for most of the expenses out of the little bit of money she had. He fucking laughed in our faces like he’d just been told the funniest goddamn joke ever. Laughed. Then denied stealing the money. Said he’d used it with Charles’ permission to help Charles buy groceries and cigarettes. Never showed any remorse or empathy. Acted like it was no big deal.

This was the final straw for me.

I’d spent weeks telling him to shut the fuck up, leave Lib the fuck alone, that if he didn’t go back to his room in 5 seconds I was calling the cops and I was going to talk to them alone and tell them every fucking thing that had ever happened in that house, and then counting down when he tried to call my bluff.

In late January 2017, he started his usual shit with Lib and she threw a glass of tea at him, getting tea all over him, the glass shattering at his feet. He asked her in his sickeningly innocent voice why she did that, that he was only trying to talk to her.

I had been sitting in the dining room, trying to choke down my hamburger while all of this was going on, and I finally yelled, “Shut up, shut up, shut up, ROBERT, SHUT THE FUCK UP.” He turned and moved towards me and I was so angry, my whole body vibrated. This was it. One of us was leaving that house alive, and it sure as shit wasn’t going to be him.

He used that same tone and asked me why I was yelling at him and tried to tell me he was “just talking to Lib and she got upset.” I started screaming. I told him how sick and tired I was of him harassing Lib, tired of his lies, tired of his fucking bullshit, and I told him again to shut the fuck up. He and I are standing in the middle of the living room floor with Lib watching and begging us to stop while seated in her recliner.

Robert turns to me and says in that sickening voice, “If you love Lib so much, why would you talk like that in front of her?”

I said, “Oh, fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck. You are so much fucking worse as a person than any words I choose to use to tell you to shut the fuck up.” I can feel my blood boiling right now, picturing this scene.

I told him how much I hated him and how I’d always hated him. I think I stopped short of telling him I wished he was dead, even though I wished and wish he was. I only stopped myself from stabbing him to death because he wasn’t worth the blood on my hands or the prison time I might face for killing him. I think a lot of people have felt the same and it is why he is, as far as I know, still alive today.

I went to the back bedroom, called Mama, told her what was going on, and asked her to please come get me. I would not, and did not, spend another night in that house. That was a Friday night. I wound up instead driving to Mama’s, even though I was so angry I couldn’t see straight, immediately poured a big glass of rum with a tiny splash of Diet Coke, got super drunk super fast, and passed out on the guest bed with the room spinning around me.

The following Sunday, my dad followed me over to Lib’s house where he stood between Robert and me so that I could pack up all of my stuff, load it into my dad’s and my cars, and tell Lib goodbye. Even then, Robert cornered me in Lib’s bedroom and started his big alligator tears, telling me how he hoped I didn’t really hate him, that he loved me, and he didn’t want things to end like this. I didn’t say anything to him or maybe mumbled that I didn’t mean it to get him to leave me alone. Lib cried and cried because she didn’t want me to leave, and I held her and told her I was so sorry that things were so awful and that I loved her and didn’t want to leave her but I had to for my own sanity. She said she understood but she was so sad and would miss me so much. I told her I would still come visit her but I couldn’t stay there with Robert anymore.

When June died, he was supposed to be one of the pallbearers. We almost didn’t think he was going to come, but he finally showed up in a too-small suit, sweaty, and smelling to the high heavens. He put on a show out at the graveside, sobbing about his losing his big sister. Thank God Lib was still in the hospital recovering from her abdominal surgery (removal of colon cancer and part of her colon) and couldn’t be there.

When Lib died in July 2010, he behaved as expected and even worse. He called everyone he knew, who knew Lib and Brophy, people from the church Brophy had attended until he died, people Robert hadn’t seen since he was a child. He put on this big theatrical sob show about how he’d lost his dear mother and didn’t have enough money to buy a suit or get his hair cut for the funeral. As soon as he got them to say they’d give him some money, he’d hang up, take a deep breath to put on the next show, pick up the phone, and go again. Mike found burns in the carpet from where Robert was smoking crack during this time. He also found out that when Lib was still alive, Robert would have his drug dealer come around to the back of the house for drug/cash transactions in Robert’s bathroom window. I jokingly referred to it as “CrackDonalds.”

And to show how full of shit Robert was, he showed up late to Lib’s funeral too, smelling like he’d rolled in his own shit, and boy, did he put on a show for that funeral and at home afterwards. He grabbed my brother Caleb at the graveside (like he’d grabbed me at June’s graveside) and told Caleb, “Ask me how I’m doing.” Caleb, who was about 20 at the time but still pretty sheltered from all of this madness, mumbled, “How are you doing, Robert?” to which Robert pulled Caleb to him and said, “Terrible, Caleb, just terrible. I just lost my mother.”

Caleb, like I felt when he did this to me at June’s funeral, wanted to set himself on fire afterwards to cleanse all of the Robert off of him.

As everyone began to leave and Lib’s casket was lowered into the ground, he threw himself on the casket and wailed and then walked away, only to repeat this several times as people got in their cars and left.

He put on another show at home, lying in the floor with his shirt unbuttoned and his massive belly exposed and his stench permeating the hot house, and cried, “What will I do now without my mother?” Then he made up some dumb song in the kitchen that Caleb and I found so bizarre that it was hilarious and we still make fun of it now.

And when Mama, who’d been made Lib’s Power of Attorney because her none of her children were responsible or competent enough for her to trust, had to get Robert out of the house. This took about a month and, I’m pretty sure, the sheriff. She had the water and electricity turned off, and he stayed. He sold nearly all of the appliances in the house and pocketed the money. Mama and Caleb went to the house when they finally got him out, and both said the state and smell of the house were atrocious. For weeks after, he came by her house at least once or twice a week, beating on the door and begging her to let him in, that he “just needed to talk to her.” Mama was well versed in Robert and her patience was thin, so she told him to leave or she’d call the cops. Finally, he’d yell, “LOVE YOU BYE, LOVE YOU BYE, LOVE YOU BYE!” then left. (My brothers and I make fun of this and say this to each other, and John and I do it too. It is funny, but it always reminds me of him and makes my stomach turn.)

I haven’t seen him since Lib’s funeral, but every time I’m in Montgomery, I look over my shoulder and scan the crowds for him. Now that my uncle Earl, the only brother Robert, Carol, and Mike have left, is in a nursing home with dementia, Robert is spending time with him and likely stealing whatever he can from him. Mike keeps in touch with him some. Mike has been the only “normal” one of them, but he is becoming harder to be around these days too, as he’s beginning to repeat himself over and over while complaining about Earl, Robert, and his long-time girlfriend Lynn.

When John and I lived in Chicago, I dreamed about seeing Robert on the bus and ignoring him and him crying and telling everyone on the bus how much he loves me and how cruel I am. (He used to call me crazy whenever I told him he was crazy.) I dreamed about beating the shit out of him.

Last night, I dreamed Caleb and I were at Lib’s house and we saw Robert. He didn’t say anything, but Caleb and I said, “God, he is so disgusting. How could anyone ever want to date or be with him” and I felt my skin crawl and this anger surge inside of me.

I am writing all of this because this story needs to be written, needs to be pulled out from inside of me. When John’s and my marriage counselor told me I have PTSD from what I grew up in, I pinpointed it to Robert. Yes, my parents’ marriage was horrible. Yes, my mom was verbally and sometimes physically abusive towards me and said things that tanked my self-worth and influenced the vicious cycles of self-loathing, restricting, and bingeing and the shame towards my body that I still deal with today. Yes, Lib, Brophy, and June were complicit in enabling Robert and allowing him to stay in that house and keep the chaos train rolling 24/7/365.

But that river of boiling anger that ebbs and flows inside of me is Robert for contributing to so much pain, trauma, and lack of safety and security in both that house and in my own body. He never sexually assaulted me, but often it feels like he did from the comments, lack of respect for my boundaries, and the invasion of my privacy. I still feel so on edge all of these years later and being so many miles away from him. While there were really no safe men in my family growing up, he was the worst and made me the most mistrusting towards men, including John.

He gave me the worst perspective on men, that they are leering, perverse, manipulative, self-involved, narcissistic, and have no capabilities of love or respect towards women. I had boundaries but they meant nothing to him (nor really to anyone else, including June). I had to sit there and ENDURE all of the screaming, hysterical crying, threats of violence, actual violence, incessant lack of love or consideration or respect for years, the foundation building years of my life. I had NO VOICE, no say in what was going on. I was told not to cry or told by others I was too emotional, a burden, too much because I tried to voice how I felt to all of these people who were so fucking dead inside.

I don’t trust men not to be violent or abusive or narcissistic, including John though he’s none of those things. John used to say, “All right, all right, all right,” like Robert (and Matthew McConaughey, whom I used to like until Mama said his personality reminds her of Robert) and it’d make my skin crawl and I had to tell him to stop saying it.

I’ve either removed or disrupted my own boundaries because I don’t feel like they will be heard or respected, and I am so tired of screaming into what feels like a void to be heard and considered. I hate them for showing me that anger is the only way to express emotions, and not just any anger, but raging, screaming, irrational, frightening anger, and hate myself for all of the times I’ve chosen to emulate this behavior.

I can’t bring myself to be fully open in my marriage – body, mind, or soul – because I am still so deeply wounded and still so fucking angry that none of these were protected when I was growing up and I don’t trust that they will be now. I can’t even be open in these ways with myself because I am so ashamed of all of the parts of me I was told to change or keep quiet because no one else had the capacity to guide me or give me the love, affection, or affirmation I needed. I was NOT safe then. I was NOT secure. I did NOT feel loved or wanted or heard.

I still hate Robert so much, but part of me hates Lib, June, and Brophy for enabling him, for never getting him the help he needed, for never having or enforcing boundaries, for taking him on as “their problem” even as his path of destruction far surpassed just them. I hate them for not being open, for only acknowledging anger and shame, for not addressing the violence, abuse, and dysfunction they caused, for not trying to bring me up in a better, healthier environment.

But at the same, I know they couldn’t because that abuse, shame, silence, dysfunction, tension, and violence is all they knew. They were all wounded. Hurt people hurt people and all. And they passed it on to my mom, who saw all of the same shit growing up and who married into it twice, maybe three times, though her current husband seems to be the better of the three despite the fact that he was married for the first half of their now 14-year relationship, and who passed it on to me. I got it both from the same toxic spring she was forced to drink from growing up and the one she created from growing up in all of that.

Brophy died 15 years ago, June 13 years ago, and Wednesday will mark 9 years since Lib died. I cannot wait for Robert to die too to release this well of anger inside of me and drop the hot rock that is burning my hand but doing nothing to them. Even if he dropped dead right now and I saw his dead body lowered into the ground, that alone would not make this anger go away. (Though, honestly, it would help a little.)

I know forgiveness is not about absolving the way a person has hurt me or giving them permission to do it again and again. It is about me finding peace and resolution in my heart and moving on. I hope that writing all of this out will help me unload some of that anger, but I still feel like I have a long way to go from healing from it. It isn’t just Robert, but he is the living representation of all that was so fucked up in my family. He is just the trigger in the PTSD I have finally been able to name as such, the trigger that sets off the anger that stands up and brings to the surface all of the pain and trauma that continues to live on in me though most of the people to blame for it are long dead.

I believe I am the person in my family that will see the end of this dysfunction and bring forth generations of healing, healthy relationships, and love, but to get to that, I have to go through the pain. I have to feel it. I don’t say this as a martyr because I will not die doing this or for this. I say this as the warrior, the leader, the alchemist who will twist, mold, and burn this pain so that no one else after me has to endure it. I will be the one to slay this dragon once and for all. I won’t be alone in this, my brothers are doing it too, but they didn’t grow up around the Brophys like I did, not even Adam who spent some weekends there.

But I cannot do this work while I am still burning up inside.

So now is when I start to work through that anger that guards my hurt, fear, trauma, and pain, and eventually towards forgiveness towards my family, including Robert.

Beautiful You, Showing Up

No Longer 14

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“How to heal the inner child” is a topic I’ve been coming across a lot lately. I mentioned The Holistic Psychologist’s Inner Child Meditation a few posts back and how hard it was for me to visualize being back at June, Lib, and Brophy’s (maternal grandmother and great-grandparents) house, adult me holding the hand of the child version of me, and telling her she is loved, wanted, and safe.

I read something else recently that said something along the lines of, “When something happens to you and you react to it, how old do you feel in that moment?” I’ve also read that often we stop emotionally/mentally growing at the age where we first experienced trauma or when we were abruptly expected to become an adult.

Yesterday, I searched all of my files and even read old LiveJournal entries, desperately trying to find a poem I wrote as a teenager, then rewrote for a poetry writing class in college called “The 14-Year-Old Mom to My 39-Year-Old Mother.” (It might not have been called exactly that, but it’s what my memory says it was entitled.)

In this poem, I wrote about how, at 14, I was suddenly expected to stop being a teenager and start being a mother because my mother couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t just suddenly feel responsible for my brothers, especially Ben and Caleb who were respectively 7 and 5 at the time, but also for my mother. She and I would get into these horrendous, often physical, fights and she would tear me to shreds and burn me to the ground, and then an hour or so later, she’d crawl into bed with me, hold me, and cry, saying she was a horrible mother over and over again. She didn’t have anyone to talk to. She didn’t have anyone to lean on. She had no friends she could confide in. My dad was no longer there for her to blame for everything.

So I was suddenly supposed to be every one of those things for her. At 14 years old.

John and I were up late talking Monday night, and I asked him what he was like in high school. Did he have hobbies? Did he read comic books? What did he dress like? What did he do for fun?

He said he couldn’t really remember but said he figured he’s not that much different now than at 15 or 16, that most people’s identities are forged in their teen years and they don’t really change.

I feel like, as much as I joke around, I am so serious deep down as a person because I felt forced to be serious as a teenager. I still feel like such a child. I joked to John that I’m always looking for the “adultier adult.”

I felt so hopelessly imprisoned growing up.

My teen years were spent under a crushing weight of condemnation, abandonment, judgment, shaming, belittlement, violence, dysfunction, and abuse. I was never good enough. Always too fat. Not pretty enough. A disappointment. Afraid to make mistakes. Always so fucking angry, as I absorbed all of the emotions around me, not knowing that labels like “empath” or “highly sensitive person” existed, or that both labels described me. I was basically a sponge at the bottom of a toxic waste runoff pond. And I too often spewed out what was poured into me.

I felt so unloved and unlovable. Like a burden. Too emotional. Too much. I was so wounded and sought comfort in things and people who couldn’t really give me the attention, affirmation, and affection that I needed, no matter how much they loved me because they were so wounded and seeking the same.

When I think about my life as a teenager, it was always with thoughts of how to escape. I read everything I could get my hands on, about like I do now. Lost myself in fiction, music, and movies. I had some fun, typical American teenage girl times too, obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, going to concerts and high school football games when my dad finally let me my senior year of high school. All I thought about was how much I wanted to leave, but I also felt so compelled to stay because of Ben and Caleb.

I did not know what to do with my freedom when I got to Mobile and I was three hours away from home. My freedom didn’t feel free because I was so worried about everyone at home and felt guilty that I wasn’t there, especially for Ben and Caleb.

I also did not know what to do without the constant, daily trauma going on around me. I did not how to loosen up. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I didn’t know what to do with the quiet.

When John and I talked about all of that, I told him how the only reason I would go back to my teen years is if it meant I got to do what other teenagers did – have boyfriends, go to prom and other dances, make out in the backseat, hang out with friends at the mall, just be carefree. Adam and, even more so, Ben got to do that. Ben is the sibling most like me, in both looks and personality, but I see so much of who I feel like I will never be in all that I’ve watched him do, both horribly stupid and incredibly amazing. Maybe having me to do all of the worrying for him growing up gave him the freedom not to worry so much and just live his life.

The stories I’ve told myself since age 14 are stories where I’m a victim and a martyr, all laced in fear and pleas for someone to finally tell me I am enough just as I am. I’ve regaled myself with tales of who I will be once I’m thin, get married, get out of debt, move to some new town, feeling so much hope and excitement for that perfect person I will be if I just put my head down and keep pushing myself, and I’ve beaten myself up when none of those things make me happy or my life what I want it to be. Someday I will be loved, worth loving has turned into that mirage of an oasis in the desert in this quest. The finish line that keeps getting moved further away.

I don’t feel capable of the hard conversations, the really vulnerable and deep talks that lay me wide open for all kinds of destruction and pain.

I still feel very ashamed about sex, my sexuality, and my body as a sexual being. When things get awkward and uncomfortable, I either shut down or make jokes or get angry and accusing. My brain has me convinced that everyone my age has got sex figured out while I’m the one still fumbling in the dark and awkward as fuck because they got started long before I did. There are so many times where I wish I’d had sex way sooner and with more people but I didn’t because of growing up in a purity culture and being shamed for being sexually curious from an early age.

Now in my mid-30s, I’m floundering, not knowing what to do next, job-wise while almost everyone else I know is settled into a steady career like I was in my mid-20s. I’m currently procrastinating in trying to find another job because I’m so afraid of winding up in another toxic and boring office job because I don’t trust myself not to settle for whoever wants to hire me.

Last week, when I saw someone mentioning healing the “inner teenager” instead of just the inner child, I thought, This is where I’m at, this is how old I feel emotionally and mentally, this is how old my feelings of maturity and responsibility are.

This is the age range in me that needs healing, grace, and accountability. This is where I need to tell myself it is okay to be exactly who and where I am. Where I remind myself there is no real timeline in life, birth and death are the only real certainties, and no one of any age has it all figured out, that “it all” looks completely different for everyone. Where I start asking myself those questions like, “What would you do if you could do anything?” and I answer from me and not from my expectations of the perceptions of those around me. This is the version of me that needs to be told, “You are safe, you are loved, you are wanted, you are not too much.”

I knew 10 years ago that there was more to my life than spending it in Alabama, caught up in my family’s drama and trauma, taking care of everyone else but myself, and I made the decision to move to Georgia, still the best decision I’ve made thus far. And while I’ve distanced myself from it all physically, I am still distancing myself from it emotionally. Learning that I what I experienced was actually trauma. That I do have some PTSD from being in family dysfunction I couldn’t escape from, with people who couldn’t address the reality of that dysfunction and trauma and just accepted it as normal. Understanding that I am an adult, I’m not 14, and I am allowed to be myself, exactly however that means. That my feelings and voice matter. That I have the power and privilege and responsibility of my present and future, and even more so, I don’t have to figure out my entire life right now, and, goddamnit, I am allowed to make some fucking mistakes. 

know these things, but I still feel caught up in all of those old fears of judgment, condemnation, shame, abandonment, and rejection. There is shit I no longer have to put up with, but I still hold onto it anyway.

But…

I’m allowed to have boundaries now, and I am learning what they are, how to establish them, and how to maintain them. I no longer have to stay in any situations or dysfunction that hurt me. I am always, from here on out, free to let go, walk away, and move on to better, healthier habits, mindsets, situations, and relationships. 

All of this actually really just hit me while writing this post.

I want 14-year-old Amy to know I love her, I’m proud of her, and I am the strong, empathetic, kind, hilarious, thoughtful, and self-aware person I am now because of her. That she doesn’t have to worry about what will happen to everyone around her if she’s not there to pick up the pieces constantly. That everything has turned out pretty well. She can relax and play.

And I think she’d tell me, You don’t have to be sad or angry for me anymore. You don’t have to feel bad for me. You don’t need to be my mother or anyone else’s anymore either. You can let go and have a life of your own. 

And by the way, 36-year-old me, YOU can now relax and play. 

 

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 24 – Beautiful You – Describe Yourself

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From the book “Inward” by: Yung Pueblo

Today: In your Beautiful You journal, describe yourself as completely as you can.

I have put off writing this post for a week now because I’ve spent a lot of time wondering who I really am vs. who I think I am supposed to be in my too-high regard for what others think of me and how they perceive me. 

I’ve also spent a bit too much romanticizing some of my past and trying to recover who I’ve been at previous times, forgetting also what I’ve worked through since then.

Who am I now, at nearly 37 years old, married, and once again unemployed? Definitely more than just those things even if I allow just those labels to identify me all too often these days. 

I guess the answer is, who I am right now is fluid and forever transforming. Ugh, that sounds too vague. Even if the walls are constantly being repainted and the furniture changed out, the foundation of who I am is still pretty much the same.

So who I am right now? What is the foundation of me?

Last week, when I got a much-needed pedicure, the woman who did it and I got to talking about children and she asked me if I have any. I said, “No, but at nearly 37, I guess my window is starting to close and I need to decide soon, huh?” She said she would’ve guessed I was years younger and said, “It must be because you are a really happy person, I can see it in your face.” I joked back, “Having such chubby cheeks helps.”

Later, when I texted my mom and told her about it, she said, “I know you’ve had a rough year, but deep down, you are a joyful person. You laugh and smile a lot and that shows in your face and makes you look younger.”

I do find a lot to laugh about. I love to play around with my two dogs, Missy and Chewy. I find funny memes to share with John and my brothers. I think I’m pretty funny personally and laugh at my own jokes even when everyone else thinks my jokes aren’t that funny. My sense of humor varies from silly/goofy to sarcastic to dirty. 

As critically as I talk and think at times, I am also deeply optimistic. I’m currently in the midst of one of many deconstructing/sometimes self-destructive periods in my life, but I am still hopeful. I know it is temporary. I still know how to find something to smile and laugh about.

I love to read and learn and always have. I will read the book before I watch the movie, and though the book is better most of the time, I can think of several movie interpretations that turned out better, like The HelpThe Secret Life of BeesP.S., I Love You, A Time to Kill, and a few others. I read constantly, whether it is books, articles posted on social media, or stuff I google or see on Reddit. 

I’m on a lifelong path of continuous self-growth and self-evolving. I try to keep an open mind about most things and find the middle ground. I’m starting to learn it is okay to question the things I was once so sure about, like the Christian faith I was raised to believe in. 

In this process of continuous self-growth, my acute self-awareness flourishes. When I get angry with how others act or how I feel they’re treating me, I stop and think, Why does this bother me so much? What unhealed and hurting part of me is reacting to this? I am trying to become a more thoughtful and less reactive person.

I love to write. Author Jon Acuff wrote in his book Start that a passion is something you can do without ever being paid for it and something you lose track of time while doing. Writing is both of those for me.

I miss writing fiction. I miss writing songs. While I am getting better at verbally communicating my thoughts and emotions, which is especially important because tone can be hard to read in written communication and I can come across as a huge bitch sometimes, writing still helps me process my thoughts best. 

I’m an outgoing introvert. I can go between talking to people at 90 mph for hours to basically taking a vow of silence for 2 days. Like others in my family, I have rarely met a stranger. Being a southerner, this is especially true when I meet other college football fans because SEC football is its own language and religion. I have a very thick southern accent that refuses to subside despite John not having much of a southern accent. Not even living in Chicago for two years dampened it. Sometimes, I think it is charming; other times, I think it is annoying. Maybe those are the times I take the vow of silence, haha. 

I love to sing in the shower or alone in my car. I love singing along to Disney songs and musicals and often love movie soundtracks better than the movies. I also love to make up and sing silly songs about my dogs, mostly changing the words to songs already recorded. 

I love to dance and am not as shy about doing that in front of others if I’m at club or wedding. I mostly dance in the shower, while I’m getting dressed, baking, and/or waiting on my food to cook in the microwave. My dog Missy seems to love when I hold her and dance too, as she runs up to me whenever I start and waits for me to pick her up. It’s so cute.

I also love to bake, though I don’t do it as much as I used to because my body doesn’t react well to sweets anymore (yay, IBS, gastritis, and insulin resistance). Baking is one of the few things I connect with my dad on, and it is one of the few things that clears my head and helps me relax.

The other thing about me that connects my dad and me is that I’m a huge weather geek. I tell John every day I am ready to move closer to the beach because summer doesn’t feel right without afternoon thunderstorms and they seem to evade us here in Atlanta. I get mad when it storms down the road but not here. Thunder and lightning make me feel so alive.

I’m a night owl, something that I’ve been my whole life and probably always will be. Every time my schedule is interrupted when I’ve quit a job, I wind up sliding into my natural rhythm which puts me at staying up often until 3a or later and sleeping late. I’m most awake in the late afternoon and then again just after midnight. 

I wish I was more gentle, but I tend to be, as my great-grandmother Lib used to say, “a bull in a china shop.” I am strong and have strong enough hands to open my own jar, but often John has to take things from me before I destroy them. I also wish I was more patient, but I get frustrated and flustered easily. John says I have “Hulk hands,” strong and ferocious, so when I accidentally break something, the term is that I “Hulk-handed” it. 

I am sensitive and empathetic, no matter how I came about acquiring these traits. I can’t watch painfully awkward, violent, or sad parts of TV shows or movies. I cry easily. Get my feelings hurt easily. 

I am determined to have a vibrant, fulfilling life, so you can imagine how impatient and anxious I get when I don’t have the extra money to do things like travel. I’m also an all-or-nothing person so it is hard for me to see that even if I can’t fly across the country or world, there’s still plenty to see right where I live that doesn’t cost a lot of money or any, beyond maybe gas in my car.

I think I have this vision deep down of what I want my life to be like, but I can’t quite fully grasp it yet or I just see it in flashes. The flashes I see are things like living near the ocean, riding my bike in the sunshine, and having a small cottage style house with windows all around to let the sunlight in and a big kitchen, and baking for John, me, and friends. Lots of books to read, storms to watch roll in over the ocean, room to dance, songs to sing, conversations to have, and stories to listen to and write. This feels too easy at times or I don’t know how to get there so I ignore it, but I’m slowly learning it is okay to find joy in life, enjoy my life, and to stop rushing through the good to plan and brace for the inevitable pain and loss. To stop thinking I can’t just have good things, I have to earn or deserve them through lots of pain and suffering. That way of living and thinking is draining me though. I’m ready to experience and be enveloped in the good whether I deserve it or not. 

I could probably go on a bit more, but one thing is clear: I have a pretty good grasp of who I am. There are a lot of shifting parts going on inside of me and a lot I am moving through and healing from. I could’ve written about my struggles with my anxiety and depression, but even though these feel so big so often, they are really a mix of wonky brain chemicals, impatience, and the high expectations I hold for my life. I’m restless and antsy and so ready for more, but I also need to not neglect the present so often. It’s all just me trying to find balance, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and healing in my life. 

Even in the darkest depths of my sadness and worry, I’m excited about life and my potential to experience it. That’s a light that I don’t ever see going out because I’ve been through some shit and it’s yet to extinguish. It is a light that is with me for life.

 

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 23 – Beautiful You – Realize That You Are What You Pay Attention to

Today: In your Beautiful You journal, reflect on what you pay attention to, what you give priority, and what you put your energy into on any given day. If we are what we pay attention to, are you comfortable with this reflection of you? If not, how can you adjust to more accurately reflect who you are at your core?

Eight years ago today, John and I met when he joined his sister and I on a trip to Tybee Island, Georgia for the day, and our relationship immediately began. Tomorrow is our fourth wedding anniversary.

Eight years feels both like a long time and barely a blip. Our relationship is as old as a third grader, and we both can act like third graders at times. And man, year 8 has been a fucking doozy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I struggle a lot with codependency that stemmed from my dysfunctional family and dysfunctional relationship with my mom growing up. I am a fixer. I equate being able to help with being lovable. I feel like if I can’t do something, I am worthless. This has really reared its ugly head in the past 3 years with my bouts of unemployment while John works full-time.

I also struggle with boundaries because I was not allowed to have them growing up or they were completely disregarded and stepped over, and this has caused me to stew inwardly on a lot of ways I’ve allowed John to treat me without saying anything and then blowing up at him during a minor disagreement over something unrelated or that is barely related.

I’ve spent a long time giving my energy to making others happy in the hopes that they will love me and won’t reject or abandon me. Making myself responsible for every conflict, telling myself my needs, desires, boundaries, and emotions are all too much. Living in fear of my own voice and the light inside of me that threaten to burn me up from the inside out if I choose to continue to ignore them. Feeling inadequate and useless. Feeling stuck in all of my struggles with my body image, debt, jobs, and oftentimes, my marriage.

John is very different from me in a lot of ways, but he is also a mirror for me, and it’s often a mirror that highlights everything I either hate myself for or do everything I can to ignore. Things like settling for whatever I can get, being afraid of criticism, my anger, shame, fear, and unwillingness to really face my emotions and not just push through them with the power of logic and rationalization.

I also spend a lot of time projecting my own perfectionistic tendencies on him, and compare our marriage to others that I only get glimpses into here and there but still convince myself they’re better.

I expend too much energy worrying about what others think. I tend to tell my friends only the bad stuff after a fight and then when they ask if I’m sure I want to stay married to him and I say yes, I feel like they’re disappointed in me or feel like how I felt towards my mom when she wouldn’t leave my dad or her second ex, even though those marriages were extremely dysfunctional and abusive. And then I feel like I have to rationalize and justify and honestly, it is exhausting worrying about what others think of my marriage, especially when I spend more time worrying about that than the marriage itself.

When I’m angry at John, when I feel like he throws all of the responsibility on me in our relationship, when I feel like he doesn’t give a shit about me, when I feel like I’m just a warm body to sleep next to, I am consumed with fear and darkness. The fear is that I married my dad. I’m repeating my mom’s mistakes. I’m repeating their marriage. I feel like I’m suffocating and I need to escape as fast as I can. I convince myself he is the one responsible for when our marriage feels shitty. Everything becomes cloudy and dark, and I can’t focus or concentrate. I shut myself off to everything and everyone and wish I could just cease to exist because being alive hurts too much.

It’s been a dark and stormy past few months, let me tell you.

But…

But thinking that way shuts out all of the light. The laughing together in bed at night on the weekends when he’s off. Him thanking me for keeping the dishes washed and taking the dogs out. How good it feels when we get in bed and he pulls me to him and I rest my chin in the crook of his neck and he feels so warm, soft, and safe. That he kisses me goodbye and tells me he loves me every time he leaves and I do the same, and this is very important to both of us. When he and I talk in bed, in the dark, in the middle of the night about stuff going through our heads. How he’s taking on paying for our living expenses so that I have the money to pay towards my debt and car payment while I try to find another job. That he listens to me even if he doesn’t always know how to respond. Our walks together where we talk about a lot of random stuff but also try to work out our future. That he is willing to work on things with me even when they are out of his comfort zone.

When I am so overwhelmed with fear, I forget that I have a person who wants to listen to me, wants me to talk to him, wants to know me, has told me many times that I am not too much or a burden for him. That is the past chattering so loudly in my ear that it drowns out the present.

I am not happy with this reflection of me that is so consumed with fear and the feeling that I’m lost and have no direction and no control. Trying to control everything has gotten me nowhere but more cynical and more closed off. It has not lead to a happy, fulfilling life, and it is not allowing me to accept myself or John and relax and enjoy our marriage and take the bumps as they come. It is not allowing me to use my voice or talents to contribute to a better world or happier me.

It is mercilessly killing me and turning my marriage and me into everything I’ve been so afraid of them becoming.

This is such a hard ship to veer off its current course, but there’s an iceberg dead ahead and the ship will sink. I’ve always been good at acknowledging my emotions – or at least that I am having them – but I’ve never been good at sitting with them. Figuring out where I feel them. Validating them. You know, feeling them. Learning how to soothe myself.

Instead, I’ve tried to chase them off by berating myself for having them in the first place, blaming them on someone else, or numbing them with food, social media, self-improvement books, sleep, or spending money I don’t have. This has led to me being dull, broke, and feeling even more like shit about myself and my body.

I have spent the past couple of weeks really acknowledging my codependency issues, behaviors I adapted into years ago to endure trauma that I no longer need to protect myself from, and understanding my deep need for boundaries. I’ve been following The Holistic Psychologist on Instagram and YouTube and finally, after weeks of procrastinating, I started her Future Self Journaling.

I found the Emotional Needs Questionnaire that our marriage counselor gave us three years ago to complete at the end of our time with her, gave John his copy today, told him to fill it out, filled mine out, and once he’s done with his, we will switch and go over what we both need in our marriage.

I don’t want the house John and I live in to be a broken one like I grew up in, very cold and tense, where the only emotion expressed is anger. I don’t want the house I live in – in my mind, body, and spirit – to be so closed off, distrusting, fearful, and cynical either. (Basically, I don’t want to be my dad.) I can’t control everything, I know, but I can choose how to handle life as it comes to me.

And I want to see the good. I want to feel okay with seeing the good as it comes and stop worrying when it will be over and the bad will return. To live in the present. To understand I am good and loved – things I was not taught in the version of Christianity I was raised in – just as I am. And that John is too. That we are both doing the best we can with what we have. That that is enough, it is okay.

I came from a very negative environment growing up, and I am done allowing it to define my thoughts and define me now. It was what I knew and I know better now. This is what I will be paying more attention to from now on.