I want to preface this and the following posts about my critical and compassionate voices by saying, I am writing my story. It is both a gift and a curse to be an empathetic and understanding person. My tendency as an empathetic, understanding people pleaser is to rationalize and justify why others treat me the way they do and try to tell their side of the story from my perception of their perspective. While yes, this helps me understand that how others treat me is more dependent upon their thoughts and feelings and their story than me, it also leads me to discount how their words and behavior have affected me. I invalidate my feelings while trying to validate theirs. I eschew blame towards them and burden myself with it instead.
Others’ stories are not mine to tell, nor can I tell it wholly from their perspective without any self-bias. I mean, yes, if this was some biography of my family or a memoir, I would delve more into my family’s history. But it’s not. Not yet. This is me writing out my perspective and validating the events and feelings that made me who I am today. It is a tremendous struggle for me. I want to protect those whose words and actions deeply affected and, in some cases, wounded me even when they did not protect me or regard my heart growing up. This is not to make myself out to be a martyr or hero or victim. This is out of love, empathy, growth, and understanding. No one is a monster here. We all have our faults and wounds and when we hurt, we hurt others.
This is all me unraveling the origins of the voices, thoughts, and feelings that have carved me into the person I am today. This is me finding myself in each of those things and learning to hear and trust my own voice most of all.
Deep breath. Whew.
With that being said, I would like to start this journey into untangling the wad of critical thoughts in my head with the person whose voice has been the most critical and loudest for most of my life even now as our relationship has started moving in a healthier direction:
I am often told how much I resemble her. As a child, I was called “Little Linda,” because of how much I took after her. This went on even as I entered puberty and became five inches taller than her and about a hundred pounds heavier.
My name, Amy, means “beloved,” which she says is because I am her beloved first child and only daughter. When I asked why my brothers all got Biblical names – Adam Michael, Benjamin Zachary, Caleb Joshua – and I did not, she said, “Your name, Beloved, is all throughout the Bible. It’s the most biblical of them all.”
I did not feel very “beloved” for a very long time.
I felt like a burden. I felt like Mama wished I’d been born a boy or that my brother Adam had come first. I felt unwanted, inadequate yet also too much, and unloved.
She told me she had no idea how to love and raise a daughter, as my grandmother June was absent emotionally and physically when she was growing up and my great-grandmother Lib was physically present but had too much going on with my uncles and aunt and great-grandfather Brophy to really give her the love, time, and affection she needed.
As a baby and child, I had skinny limbs and a pot belly. When I was about 5 or 6, my pediatrician told Mama that my weight needed to be watched because I was about 15 pounds overweight for my age. This triggered flashbacks to being a chubby child and teenager, and I was put on my first diet.
I was also a very vocal, argumentative, emotional, and independent child. My brother Adam, born 22 months after me, was Mama’s “golden child” from the beginning, and I was extremely jealous of him. I will write more about this in a future post.
Another source of contention between Mama and me was my close relationship with her mother, my grandmother June. Mama has joked my whole life that she gave birth to me and handed me to June, but it’s true. Mama felt like June gave me the love and attention she could never give her and because of this, I felt she withheld those things from me out of anger and resentment.
When I was 15, June attempted to adopt me in order to get social security benefits to help pay for school stuff and living expenses for me since I lived with her, and it was like a stab with a twist to my heart when Mama nonchalantly agreed with “That’s fine. She’s always been more like a sister to me anyway.”
She knew how to hit me exactly where it hurt, which was my weight and how I felt about my body. I was about 15-20 pounds overweight until I gained 100 pounds between 10th and 11th grade after being diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
Mama and Daddy divorced in July 1997 and she began dating Tim around fall of 1998, or at least that’s when I first recall them together. I knew he was trouble from the very beginning, but she wouldn’t hear it.
It was during this time that she and I began fighting not just verbally but physically. It started with me accidentally shoving Adam out of the van because he farted in my face. She screamed at me and shoved me around until I finally had enough and shoved her back. At this point, I was much taller and heavier than her, and she wanted me to know I did not intimidate her with my size. When I shoved her back, she accused me of trying to kill her and said I had anger issues.
Every time I defended myself and knocked her off of me, I was told I had anger issues. When she made me so angry I visibly shook and began crying, she made fun of me. After our fights, she would come lie down next to me in bed and cry and say how she was sorry she was such a horrible mother and she just wished I wouldn’t fight her so much. She wanted me to be there for her while she hurt through the process of divorcing Daddy, but I was only 14-15 years old and I needed to feel loved by her and instead felt like she wished I would just disappear.
A few months before Mama and Tim got secretly married, she kicked me out of her house. Said she couldn’t deal with all of my anger and defiance and I had to live with either Daddy or June. I chose to live with June because I wanted to finish high school with my friends and Daddy lived in a different county. Plus, he and I also didn’t get along very well at the time and there was very little room for me at his new home with all three of my brothers and my Grandma.
Mama and Tim were married for eight years. During that time, my brothers and I saw her maybe once a month, once every two months. She said it was because he told her if he couldn’t see his two children, it was not fair for her to see her four children. She also later admitted to me that due to never knowing her father, being loved and wanted by a man was a higher priority to her than her children.
When I graduated from college, I moved home at my heaviest weight and the most severely depressed I have even been in my life.
It was during this time that Mama told me the reason the guy best friend I was in love with in college did not date me was because he did not want a girlfriend as fat as me. I was told no “normal” man would love me as fat as I was, that only men who fetishize fat women would love me. She said I would never be happy unless I was thin.
She told me that when she and Daddy divorced, neither of them wanted me to live with them. (He vehemently denied this when I told him what she said years later.) She said I was a burden to them both because I was so emotional, especially so angry, and did not like to be told what to do. She said she did not know how to handle me.
Around my brothers, she loved to make fun of my weight and join them in calling me a “whale.” Loved to talk about how I’m built like a man and said I walk and carry myself like a man. Because I never had a boyfriend in my teens and early twenties and was a bit of a tomboy, uncomfortable with my femininity, she loved to joke about how I was probably a lesbian and said it’d take a “one in a million” man to love me. All this while she went from my dad to an abusive alcoholic asshole to her married high school boyfriend.
She told me I smelled bad all the time which was attributed to my weight (my brothers, who have always been brutally honest with me, said this was not true). She mocked how I kept gaining weight while she lost weight and fit into clothes I could no longer wear. Whenever I mentioned anyone complimenting me and telling me they thought I was pretty, including June, she laughed. She never had anything nice to say about me.
Despite all of this, I desperately sought her attention and did everything I could to prove I was an adequate daughter and there for her and worth loving. I stood up for her against my dad when he called her a slut in front of a very young Ben and Caleb. I took her to the emergency room when Tim busted her head open with a can of green beans the day after Christmas 2003.
When she didn’t listen to me and didn’t press charges against him, I sobbed and told her I could not protect her any longer. I could not save her and I was tired of trying to. She called me a heartless bitch.
I was called self-absorbed, crazy, and egocentric, projections of the person she could not bring herself to look at in the mirror.
I was with her through major surgeries, dropping everything in my life to help her, only to have her tell my brothers that I did nothing for her and ignored her the entire time for my computer, which I never even turned on.
I found that “one in a million” guy she said it’d take to love me and so often, I feel like I’m a burden to him despite visibly acknowledging his love for me and him reminding me constantly that I am not a burden to him.
It is so hard for me to consider myself and validate my feelings. Self-care is a novel idea for me. I am a people pleaser, as I mentioned above.
Too often, I still allow people to disregard me and invalidate my feelings. It’s still not second nature for me to speak up for myself, though I can easily do it for others. I was even reminded of this in my job yesterday and a coworker, who witnessed what happened, said kindly, “I hope you know you don’t have to allow people to treat you like shit.”
I can encourage and offer grace and mercy to others all day long, but struggle like hell to offer these things to myself. I am better about it than I used to be though.
“What do you want, Amy?” John has asked me this in several ways from helping me find a job, take better care of my body, how I want him to treat me, down to our sex life. I know, but I don’t. I know but I can’t say it. I still don’t feel like I’m allowed or deserve to bring those desires into fruition despite how often he asks me and offers me the safe space to. As talkative as I am with him, I still keep so much to myself.
It was ingrained in me to walk on eggshells and I learned to mind and emotion read at a very young age because I wanted to do everything I could not to upset either of my parents. I still do this extremely often in my marriage with John and because he is less outwardly emotional and vocal than my family or me, this often feels impossible and I retreat into the critical voice and assume the worst. One of my biggest faults in our marriage is forgetting that John does not think of nor see me the way I think of or see myself.
My first line of defense when hurt and angry in my marriage is criticism and shaming. I use humor to deflect my anger and hurt. I can be extremely self-deprecating. I completely lost my temper once in a fight with John and it scared both of us, but unlike Mama, he understood that my anger was not the problem in itself but an indication of how hurt and unheard I felt from him.
Mama and I are more like sisters. It’s in our blood, I guess. Lib and June were 16 years apart and more like sisters than mother and daughter, though it’s sad to think that maybe June wished Lib had been more like a mother to her than emotionally distant sister.
When Mama and I are good, we are fantastic. We go to the beach together. We shop. We text back and forth for hours. I send her selfies of new haircuts and colors and outfits, and she tells me I look cute. She tells me how much she’s always admired and envied my strength and fortitude and how funny, charming, and likable I am.
She has even apologized for all of the hurt she caused my brothers and me in abandoning us for both Tim and her now husband Jimmy.
Sometimes though, when things are going exceptionally well, we get into a stupid fight over something so inconsequential; tempers flare, small texts turn into novels and ALL CAPS, she becomes condescending and blames me for everything, and then we don’t talk for several weeks, sometimes up to a month or more. The worst were right before John and I got engaged and then again right before we got married.
As I said in the preface, I cannot tell her side of the story without my own personal bias. I want to. I want to defend her and rationalize her behavior and swear to anyone reading this that I did not write any of this to make Mama out to be this horrible monster and myself her victim.
Where I am now at nearly 35 years old and what the critical voice she contributed to still says to me is that I still can’t be exactly who I want to be because being that person is selfish. However, these days, I am learning to acknowledge the voice and also respond in grace.
I push through the fear to think for and highly of myself. I push through the critical voice telling me, That’s stupid. You’re stupid. You’re not good enough. You’ll embarrass yourself. You’re too much. You don’t have the body for that. You can’t be sexy or attractive. You still need to lose weight.
I am often thrilled to defy others’ expectations of me, especially in a body society says I should hide and be ashamed of.
I am writing this blog and this post even though my teeth chatter and my body trembles in fear.
Mama carried me for nine months and gave birth to me. She named me. It was her love and approval I wanted and needed most growing up and did not receive in the way I hoped or expected. My need for her has been my deepest and greatest heartbreak. It’s not something I hold against her anymore, but it has deeply shaped me as a person.
She and I still look a lot alike, but where we are most alike is our voice. Over the years, her words in her voice became my words in her voice and then my words in my voice, though I have often convinced myself it’s still her hurting me when it’s me.
In addressing this voice and the weight it carries, I can continue to heal.
I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are
(“Know Who You Are” – Moana soundtrack)