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.

Beautiful You

Day 21 – Beautiful You – Consider When You Have Been Championed

Today: Consider these questions in your Beautiful You journal: Were there moments in your life where you have felt championed? What were those experiences like and what did you learn from them?

I spend a lot of time writing about the trauma I’ve experienced in my life and the people who have hurt me. I spend probably too much time thinking about it when I’m not writing about it. It is so easy to villainize those who have hurt me as well and lump them all into a category of terrible people and to also categorize myself as a victim. Some of those who have hurt me deeply have also stepped up to the plate in major ways to champion me, their only safe and trusted way to express their love for me. Some of those people are no longer in my life, but they are a big part of why I am who I am today.

And then there are the superstars in my life who constantly encourage me, check in on me, and remind me to consider myself, my feelings, and my happiness in everything I do.

Let me start with highlighting some of the good of the people I tend to only write negatively about on here.

I wrote about this on Father’s Day on Instagram: Where my dad has never been emotionally available for me (and never will be), he has shown up in other ways in my life.

While he worked on his feet 40-55 exhausting hours a week, he still came to the majority of my Saturday morning softball games growing up. He couldn’t understand my nervousness and why I could hit the ball to the fence during practice and barely make contact with the ball during games, but he was there when I cried during softball tournaments because I felt like my failure to hit the ball let down the whole team. (I’m a very competitive person and hate to lose.) Going to my softball games was the one thing we really did together, and that was his expression of his love language of doing things for me that I didn’t really understand until recently.

My mom has championed me more in the past several years. She tells me how strong she thinks I am, how I was always stronger growing up because I was in touch with the emotions she’d been shaming into avoiding. She says she wishes she could be as outgoing, friendly, and warm as I am even in a room full of people I don’t know, and how I light up the room with my sense of humor and smile. When we watched Inside Out and I commented that I feel like I am a combination of Anger and Sadness, she said no, “you are Joy, with a little bit of Anger when it’s necessary.” She has stood up for me through the horrible bosses I’ve had over the past several years and in my marital conflicts with John. We don’t have a perfect relationship and we still fight like sisters at times, but she’s been one of my best friends.

Another person, who has been out of my life for three years now and who played a huge role in pushing me towards my potential, was my college best friend Nina. I was very shy, had a horrible fashion sense, and spent most of my time before we met sitting up all night long on my computer in my dorm room writing Backstreet Boys fan fiction, specifically a story where Nick Carter fell in love with me and we wrote songs together for his solo albums (I wrote my own song lyrics in the story too). She was very outgoing and friendly, saw a lot of potential in me, and pushed me towards it.

That takes me to one time someone I didn’t even know championed for me in a way no one ever had before. My sophomore year of college, I tried out for a talent show and sang Shania Twain’s “The Woman in Me” a cappella in a dark-ish room with several other girls and a couple of judges. Some of the other girls in the room said, “Man, she’s good,” but one of the judges, whose name I’m not sure I ever got, told me, “You are a really talented singer. I think you can win this contest.” And I was sent on to participate in the talent show.

I didn’t win, but I got a lot of applause, and after the show, that judge came up to me and said, “You were amazing. Don’t feel bad that you didn’t win. Did you hear that crowd? They loved your singing and so did I.”

No one had ever told me that before, not like that. And Nina was the one who pushed me to get on that stage in the godawful rainbow-striped sweater I wore. While I don’t think she is someone I ever want to be friends with again, her adventurous, free-spirited, creative personality burst me out of my shy, soft-spoken, southern girl shell and into the loud, vibrant, determined, outgoing woman I am today, and I am thankful for her.

And as for the rockstars who championed me and those who continue to do so today:

I’ve never had a bigger fan or a stronger advocate than my maternal grandmother June. My college degree was really her degree because she paid for it and she stayed on my ass every day until I finally walked across the stage to receive it. She encouraged my writing (but told me not to write so much sex in my stories even though those books were all she read), told me she loved listening to me sing, enabled my Backstreet Boys obsession, and told me how proud she was to have such a beautiful granddaughter like me.

She fought for me even when she knew I hadn’t told her the entire story, and she fought harder when she knew I had and she saw how broken and hurt I was by it. And when she died and I read the letters about the sassy, fun, outgoing, wild child she was as a teenager and in her twenties, I saw myself in her. She gave me such high expectations for how I should be treated by others, which is probably part of my struggles because no one else revolves their life around me like she did, haha.

Ten years ago this month, I came to Atlanta to spend the weekend visiting my friend Sia who had just moved here from Montgomery with her then-fiancé Zach. On the way home, I felt God/the Universe/something tell me to move to Atlanta too. I was in a boring, drama-filled office job, living in a boring city, still getting caught up in my parents’ post-divorce drama, not feeling great about myself, and I needed a huge change. Sia and Zach offered to let me stay with them, and I moved in November 2009 with no job, about $3K saved up from working two jobs and selling everything but what would fit in my 2005 Toyota Corolla, and what was left of my belongings in that car. For about 3 months, I slept on a mattress on their dining room floor while I looked for a full-time job.

I always call Sia my “Greek Mama” because she is half-Greek, a mom, and she always looks out for me. She’s incredibly resourceful, smart, optimistic, and bossy, and she lovingly calls me out on my bullshit because she cares about me and thinks I’m smart, talented, and deserve more than I allow myself to have.

Christina is another dear friend of mine I met through my sister-in-law Sara about 5 or 6 years ago who is also brilliant, resourceful, empathetic, funny, and who also calls me out on my shit and pushes and encourages me to be better and also not be so hard on myself. She and I have talked nearly every day since the day we met, and I would be lost without her support.

And while our marriage has really struggled for the greater part of this year, I can’t forget to mention John. While he’s not outspoken in his support of me like my mom and close friends are, he has tried to clear the path for me several times in the past years to allow me to figure out what I want to do and do it. After I supported us with an incredibly toxic job while he was in school, he told me he would support us when we moved to Chicago, which allowed me to try a few new things like work in concessions at Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years and work as a barista at Starbucks, two jobs where I finally got to let loose, have fun, and make friends. This support, though not always without some criticism, has continued since we’ve returned to Georgia. He has been a shoulder to cry on and to talk about what I want out of life with in the middle of the night. He doesn’t always respond to me like I wish he would, but he listens to me. He continues to tell me to figure out what I want to do and he will pay our bills (minus my car payment and credit card debt).

I really appreciate this entry from Beautiful You because it reminded me I’m not alone, to not be so hard on myself, that I am doing okay in life (sometimes even great), and the wonderful people in my life are quick to encourage me when I feel lost, hopeless, dull, and useless. I am thankful for their support and especially for them listening to me because I feel often like I talk a big game then go back to doing the same bullshit or nothing at all. Because of them, I am still here and still trying.

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 17 – Beautiful You – Replace What You Heard

I have spent nearly all of my life apologizing for who I am.

For being fat.

Being emotional.

Not making perfect grades.

Not making enough money.

Not being enough, whether that’s pretty, smart, funny, patient, or faithful to my Christian upbringing.

Not speaking up for myself. Not putting my needs first. Not doing the things I want to do but am afraid to do.

In response to being told I’m egocentric, selfish, or a cold-hearted bitch when I stand up for myself.

Being blamed for another person’s emotions when I speak up for myself.

Being blamed for the conflict in the relationship because I speak up for myself.

Where do those voices come from?

From my childhood – my parents, siblings, grandmother, great-grandparents – and from friends, both current and former, and my husband. 

But they all sound like my voice in my head after all of these years of hearing them. And they all tell me I’m not enough, doing enough, or being enough. That I’m not living up to my potential or focusing on myself (or I’m focusing too much on myself) and I am wasting my life. And those are the voices I hear when I am hit with the panicked thought, What if I die in my sleep tonight? at 3a.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ve said over and over and over again from about the time I could talk. I’m sorry, Mama, I don’t know why it is so hard for me to behave myself, I wrote in a letter at about 7 or 8 years old, a letter my mom still has to this day but does not have any of the short stories I wrote and gave to her as gifts. 

I’ve blamed it on the trauma and dysfunction I experienced growing up. I’m sorry I’m so broken, I’ve cried. I’m sorry I’m such a burden. I’m sorry I’m too much and too emotional. I’m sorry you don’t want me.

I’ve mentally destroyed my body a million times, taking on others’ voices who called me disgusting, gross, and fat like it’s the most vile thing a person can be. I’m sorry my belly is so big. I’m sorry I don’t look like other women. I’m sorry I don’t have big boobs and a big butt and itty bitty waist. I’m sorry this is what you have to look at during sex or anytime I’m naked. You deserve a better body to touch and view. My stupid body and fucked up hormones, stupid PCOS, stupid hypothyroidism, stupid endometriosis. My body is ruined and it’s my fault, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I can’t find a job I love that pays well and that I can stay at, I’ve said to John several times over the past 3 years. I keep winding up with these hostile bosses who make an easy, sometimes even enjoyable job, torturous. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I’m doing something wrong, I am the common denominator here. I’m sorry I don’t have the fortitude to withstand their behavior towards me and continue working so I’m not a financial burden on you. I’m sorry my expectations for a job I want to stay at are too high. I’m sorry that staying at a job I hate for the majority of the rest of my life feels like a long, slow, brutal death. 

I’m sorry I’m so overdramatic and need so much, I’ve said. I’m sorry I can’t seem to let some things go. I’m sorry I want affection and affirmation so much. It’s because I didn’t get either growing up. I’m sorry I lean on you for validation. I should know better. I’m sorry I want you to tell me you think I am beautiful and you are so lucky to have me and that I keep telling you that my needs aren’t being met. I’m sorry, once again, things were going so well, and I fucked them up with my feelings.

Last night, in discussion with John after a horrible fight, I asked him if he ever feels like he’s repeating his mistakes from his previous marriage. After a pause, he said no. I asked, kind of incredulously, “Do you even know what your mistakes were then?”

He responded, “I won’t apologize for being myself.”

I still can’t decide if that is the arrogance, egocentricity, and selfishness I’ve always been afraid of being accused of possessing or if it’s self-assuredness. I am always apologizing for myself because I never want to see like I’m beyond empathy or thoughtfulness of those around me, all at the expense of the lack of empathy and thoughtfulness towards myself.

I don’t think the opposite of constantly apologizing for myself is a cold-hearted “I refuse to acknowledge how my behavior affects others,” but an acceptance that this is who I am, I cannot nor need to be perfect, my voice, feelings, and needs matter, and I can have compassion, love, empathy, and kindness towards myself while also having those characteristics for others. The key part is having them for myself first so that I have a larger capacity for them with others.

Those voices from my childhood through now that I’ve adopted as my own came and come from hurt people, people who have tried to stop their own pain through their treatment of me (but who only inflicted more pain on me), people who see a reflection of their insecurities and pain in me and react to that instead of me personally. The words that came from those voices were about them, not me.

To re-parent myself is to observe my thoughts, which seem to flutter in a roaring cacaphony of billions of butterflies inside of my head. To catch them as they come and ask myself, Where did this come from? Maybe it’s even like a mental version of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up: “Does this thought serve me?” If not, thank it and let it go; if so, hold on to it, listen to it, and see where it takes me.

In re-parenting myself, it is time to stop apologizing for being a human being with needs, emotions, and desires. To stop apologizing for “falling short,” whatever standards I’ve been held against or that I’ve held myself against.

The only apology needed is to myself, Amy, I am so sorry I’ve taken others’ hurts and made them my own.

To replace those words those hurt voices said and say to myself:

I am enough. My body is good as it is, no matter what. My dreams are worth aspiring to. My needs are worth being met. My voice is worth being heard. I am not too emotional – I am attuned with my emotions and they are valid. It is okay for me to keep searching and exploring and pushing through my fears and discomfort. 

I don’t know who said it, maybe Anne Lamott or Elizabeth Gilbert, but I don’t want to end my life looking like it was barely lived. I want to end it completely used up, my hair on fire, heart completely worn out, ready for whatever is next. 

I will apologize when my hurts hurt someone else, but I will stop apologizing for who I am and what I do when it pertains to becoming and being the person I was put on the Earth to be.


Today: Consider the negative messages about yourself that are in your head and ask yourself, “Is this my voice or someone else’s?”

Says [Dr. Amy Combs, clinical psychologist and the director of the Charlotte Center for Balanced Living], “…One of the first things we can do is to ask these questions of ourselves: Whose voice is it? Where did it come from? Why does it make sense for me to talk to myself like that?

If this negative message was shared with you at a younger age, how would you re-parent yourself? What do you think your friend was missing in her life that made her say that? Do you think this is really what your brother thought, or was it how he thought he could get you the most upset? What was the goal?”

Whatever you may have been told, replace it right now with what you wish you had heard.

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 16 – Beautiful You – Realize Everything is Just Information

Have you ever thought about how the way we describe ourselves, even to ourselves, affects how we feel about and perceive ourselves?

One way I’ve been thinking about this lately is when we use “I am…” versus “I feel…” and “I have…”

One way attaches a feeling, judgment, and even a diagnosis to encompass our identity which almost sets up a permanence in our self-perception and maybe how others perceive us. For example, saying, “I’m so dumb” when we make a mistake or “I’m a worrier” when we struggle with anxiety.

Another way is a description and observation. It could describe a chronic, permanent condition in your life, but if you say, for example, “I feel depressed” or “I have diabetes,” it feels more like we are describing just a small part of the wholeness of ourselves, like, “I have blue eyes and brown hair.” It solely describes us without trying to tell our whole story. In regards to chronic health issues or disabilities, it can put a responsibility on us that we don’t deserve and don’t need to bear beyond managing them with self-care.

This isn’t a “you aren’t fat, you have fat” type of thing or me trying to politicize how we describe ourselves. I AM tall. I AM fat. I AM white. I AM a cis-het woman. But that’s not my whole story. I have chronic physical and mental health issues, but they don’t identify me, just name how my body responds to my DNA and environment. I have privileges, but they don’t define me and they aren’t something to feel ashamed of. My identity is not wholly wrapped up in nature or nurture. You get what I’m saying, I hope.

It is about expanding, not diminishing, ourselves. Not narrowing ourselves down to a few words. Seeing what happens to us and how we perceive it is important. Attaching our identities to temporary experiences like making a mistake or permanent conditions like chronic mental or physical health or something traumatic that happened to us growing up limits us and can invoke unnecessary shame. Narrows our story.

It is totally okay to acknowledge the experiences we’ve had. To share what we feel and experience. I’m not trying to diminish that or silence anyone. Telling others what we feel, have, deal with, and are healing from is part of the human experience. All of our feelings and perceptions are valid and happen for a reason.

A few weeks ago, on my way home from a weekend at my mom’s, I decided to skip the 30 seconds it would take for my apartment complex’s entrance gate to open and go through the exit gate. Chewy, my dog, had to pee and had whined about it for 50 miles, it was 12:30a, and I was tired. All I could think about was “I hope no one tries to come out as I go in.” It was as I pulled over the tire strips that I realized what I’d done and why you don’t enter that exit gate.

“Oh, fuuuuck” came out of my mouth as air began gushing out of my front left tire. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten, the first time in the nearly two years we’ve lived here. How could I be so stupid? I chastised myself.

But I had been thinking about the topic Rosie wrote about in the prompt at the. Bottom of this post, so when I walked into the house with Chewy, I looked at John and said, “I did something really stupid and I need your help.”

Calling running over the spike “stupid” is still a little shame-inducing, but separating my actions and my identity in the moment helped me realize it was a temporary experience, a mistake and lesson learned. I was tired and ready to get Chewy and me out of the car and I made a mistake. Shit happens, ya know? And thankfully John is a kind and compassionate husband. He and I immediately started making jokes about what happened while he put the spare on, and the next day, he took my car to Walmart and bought me a new tire. Crisis averted, gratefulness and relief felt, lesson learned.

It is so easy to allow shame, trauma, health issues, and abuse to reduce who we are and cloud our judgment and perception of ourselves. We can’t control a whole lot in life (but I struggle with control issues; I’m not a “control freak”), but we can decide how to perceive ourselves and how to live our lives.

One exception (but not the only one) in this I am vs. I have/feel/do idea I’m writing about here is when we want to label ourselves by things we do but feel like we can’t because we haven’t won public accolade for it. If you write, you’re a writer even if you never get your words published. If you sing, you’re a singer even if you never sing outside of your shower. Dancer, if you dance. Hiker, if you hike. Runner, if you run. This is where participation awards totally count. If you want it and do it – or sometimes not do it because creativity is vulnerable even with us as our only audience – you are it.

This is all just a little newborn idea in my head so I’d love to hear what others think. I like the idea of holding thoughts at an arm’s length and observing them, not immediately absorbing them. Being curious about them. Curiosity is how we keep ourselves open to what life has to offer and helps us expand and grow. Shame and judgment are the opposites of curiosity, creativity, and vulnerability.

Like Brené Brown says, while paraphrasing Teddy Roosevelt’s grand speech, if you are brave with your life, if you live in the arena, you are going to get your ass kicked.

Don’t be an extra foot in your ribs and face in that arena. Use those feelings instead to pull yourself back up to persevere. There’s a lot of beautiful life to be lived in between those ass kickings.


Today: I want you to continue to shift your energy away from judgment to curiosity. When you feel inclined to judge yourself, shift your words. No longer condemn your choices or reality. Instead, I want you to gently ask, what information is this experience giving me? And prepare yourself to powerfully move forward with that information as a guide.

Beautiful You

Day 15 – Beautiful You – Consider What Self-Acceptance Can Add to Your Life

Last night, John and I went to the Atlanta Braves’ home opener against the Chicago Cubs, our first real date night in a long time. This game was special because of our ties to both cities.

We both grew up Atlanta Braves fans – me in Alabama, him in Georgia. Three years ago, we moved to Chicago for his then-job with American Airlines at O’Hare Airport. While in Chicago, I worked in concessions at Wrigley Field and got to watch the Cubs go to and win their first World Series in 108 years. Some say I broke the long-standing curse, haha. Because of this, I have such a special place in my heart for the Cubs, but I am also a Braves fan. You can see where it might get tricky.

Either way, John and I decided that he would come to my job and we would walk to SunTrust Park because it’s only about 4 miles away. Four miles is nothing for us. We’ve walked from Evanston, IL to Chicago, IL before, about a half-marathon in itself.

We’ve all heard our parents lament about having to walk “uphill, both ways, in the snow, barefooted” before, right?

Well, it wasn’t snowing last night and thank goodness I had on a comfortable pair of shoes, but damn.

Walking from Powers Ferry Road to Windy Ridge Parkway to SunTrust Park is literally uphill both ways.

My body was not prepared for this.

When we got to the biggest hill near the stadium, John bounced ahead of me like the little unlimited stamina bunny he always is when it comes to anything steep, and behind him, I gasped for air and forced myself to think of anything else to distract myself from the burning in my thigh and calf muscles. He turned around and asked if I was going to make it. All I could do was nod and grunt.

There were moments I felt embarrassed because the thoughts rolling through my head were, oh my god, I am so out of shape / I have got to lose weight / I am holding John back / this must be so embarrassing for him.

But then I had this flashback of myself when I was this size before, trying to walk a half mile down a mostly flat street and having to stop because my legs and chest hurt too horribly to go any further and here I was, pushing myself up one huge hill after another. I only stopped when I had to, like with red lights. I made it up to that goddamn stadium without stopping to catch my breath.

I am really fucking strong.

That was the voice that emerged from them all. I mean, think about it. John only carried 150 pounds up those hills, I carried around 265 pounds. A whole 115 pounds more. How strong do my legs, lungs, and heart have to be to accomplish such a feat? If John wasn’t impressed, I sure as hell was when I thought about it once we arrived at the stadium.

I gasped for breath just as much fifty pounds lighter too, but this time I had more to carry.

And then we did it again on the way back from the stadium and even he was groaning and complaining of his legs and feet hurting.

I walked over 10 miles yesterday, mostly up some extremely steep hills.

It was so uncomfortable, but it was yet more proof that my body can do and does incredible things, and this is so much of what I am trying to focus on when my anxiety over my body size and shape tries to creep in.


Today: In your “Beautiful You” journal, consider what self-acceptance would give you if you decided to embrace the practice in your life. How would your life be different? In what ways do you need to see the world as more abundant? How do you begin today?

I think if I embraced the way I saw myself last night, with more admiration or even just acknowledgement, so much of my anxiety over my body, food, and how others perceive me would melt away. I have struggled to trust myself – body and mind – my whole life and have so heavily depended on the guidance of and validation from others, people who can only talk to me via their own experiences and knowledge of themselves. I have sought diet and nutrition advice from doctors, relationship advice from my friends and books, financial advice from friends and books and the internet, and even when everything in me is screaming to run the other way or is so aggravated with myself for allowing others to try to run my life, I have felt like they know something that I don’t and their perspective is more valid than my own.

If I lived in my body with more acceptance and grace, my life and everything in it would feel more like it was mine, like it belonged to me, and with that authority over it, I would feel more freedom to live like I want to live.

I have lived with such a sense of scarcity around love, affection, acceptance, and personal freedom my whole life. They have all felt like they need to be earned with some sort of grand performance of perfection. And if someone else is getting it, there is less to go around for me. It has gotten me caught up in comparing myself with others and feeling like shit because I can’t seem to measure up.

If I could shift to a sense of abundance and realize all of those things are around me and in me, I feel like the sense of competition would simmer down because there would be nothing to compete or fight over. (Of course, I also understand the privileges I have too, in that scarcity is a real thing for far too many people in this world.)

Walking out of the stadium last night with John’s fingers interlaced with mine, it hit me how much love is right here for me in my own life. I’m not alone. I’m not invisible. Instead, I have been blinded to it because of the fear, shame, and insecurities I’ve allowed to create my perspective on everything.

I am strong because my body can do great things, but I am also strong because my body and who I am have overcome amazingly hard things to get me here. Life doesn’t have to be all or nothing. My acceptance of myself doesn’t either. There’s no perfect way to do anything, just the way I was meant to do it, mistakes and all.