Showing Up

I Am My Own

Sexual liberation
Source: @evyan.whitney (Instagram)

Over the past week, I have seen a lot of posts by sex educators on Instagram about the trauma of purity culture, fatphobia, and sorely lacking sex education. I also read Jamie Lee Finch’s “You Are Your Own” as my first book of 2020, which I am still unpacking emotionally as I related so much to her story.

I feel like I have written a post about my own personal trauma around purity culture and the fatphobia of my family members that I have embodied in my life, but as I scan through the posts on this blog, I can’t really find anything. I also feel like I have worked through and discovered more about my sexuality in the past year or so, so maybe an update is needed if I have written about this previously.

I thought I would mention a bit of my own trauma and how purity and fatphobic culture have affected me and my views on my own sexuality and body throughout my life because I have become increasingly angered by the lack of sex education I got growing up and the way purity culture derailed my natural curiosity about sex and pleasure and made me feel so deeply broken, ashamed, and split in two.

Let’s take it to the bullet points here:

  • Sex education: In Alabama, in the 1990s (and probably still today), boys and girls were separated and each were taught the very, very basics of their own reproductive organs, very little about the opposite sex’s reproductive organs, told to abstain until marriage, and taught nothing about the beauty and pleasure of sex. It was all about procreation (but only after marriage).
  • True Love Waits: Also in the 1990s, this was a purity culture movement in church that involved comparing sexually active women (but surprisingly not men) to chewed up bubble gum or wadded up paper and signing vows not to have sex until marriage. (I went one step further and bought a ring with the movement’s name on the band.) Joshua Harris took this one step further in the fucked up direction by writing a book while also a teenager himself about how couples shouldn’t be left alone and shouldn’t even kiss until marriage. (He has since apologized for writing this book and perpetuating these shaming beliefs and has come out as no longer a Christian.)
  • Masturbation: Something I sort of accidentally discovered when I was 9 years old while rocking my hips back and forth then squeezing my thighs together, often in class at school. Around the same time, I read in my mom’s Christian parenting books that masturbation was wrong, sinful, and should be stopped if discovered. I wound up writing a mom a letter when I was about 12, “confessing” my “sin” of masturbation, and the only response I remember from her as I sobbed in bed was that I needed to “save those feelings for marriage.” So many of my long-destroyed journal entries from my teens included beliefs that the reason I was a later bloomer and why my periods were never regular was God’s punishment for me masturbating instead of fucking PCOS. Even as I became an adult and decided God would probably rather I masturbate than have sex every time I wanted it, which was 24/7, I still felt a lot of shame for giving in to my body’s desire/need for sexual pleasure.
  • Being a Fat Teenage/Twenty-Something: I’ve mentioned before how my mom told me that the guy I liked in college never wanted to date me because I was fat, how I’d never attract a “normal” man while fat (even though she’d never attracted any winners while thin), how I’d never be happy while fat, how being fat made me smell bad, walk “like a man,” isolated me from others, and more. Purity culture and my biological, hormonal, sexual desires and curiosity as a teenager split me in two, and being fat seemed to be my protection from acting on those sexual desires by making me undesirable sexually, at least according to my family and the culture around me. I tried to lose weight many times, but every time I started getting more attention and compliments, I quickly sabotaged my efforts and regained the weight lost because the thought of suddenly having “sexual temptation” readily available to me in my increasingly acceptable body size fucking terrified me.
  • Being a 28-year-old Virgin: Despite all of the crushes I had in high school and college, none of them felt likewise as far as I know. I know I pushed down my natural desires to flirt and desire to do all the things high school kids did with each other, which I sometimes regret now as an adult. In my 20s, I was treated with kid gloves once people learned I was still a virgin and had never been kissed. I often heard things that made me roll my eyes like, “Aww, that’s so sweet, I wish I’d waited,” and “I don’t know how to act around you now,” like suddenly I was a little kid or something. Some “friends” were afraid to drink, cuss, or talk about their hook-ups around me. Others thought I wanted to live vicariously through them so they constantly reminded me how hot everyone thought they were and about their sexual conquests.
  • Mistrust in Men/Boundaries: I was taught that men could not be trusted and all they wanted was sex. I was also taught that I had to be careful how I acted, dressed, and talked so as not lead men astray. When men were inappropriate with me, I was asked about my behavior and told what I “should’ve” done differently. The men in my family and at my jobs seemed to feel like they had the right to talk about my body and sex in a vulgar way, which left me almost always feeling unsafe around them and unsafe as a woman in my own body. Being fat seemed like an easy way to protect myself from men, but it hasn’t always worked. I’ve also learned when you shut down your sexuality to protect yourself from creepy assholes, you also shut it down from enjoying and embracing your sexuality with the men you want to have sex with who feel likewise. It requires being able to establish and enforce boundaries, which I did not learn how to do growing up. Any attempts to keep the self-entitled creeps in my family out of my personal space often led to gaslighting and name-calling. Any boundaries I may have attempted to have growing up were completely disregarded and disrespected as well. I was a girl/woman, who did I think I was to have any say so over my body or personal space around men?
  • “That’s What She Said”: Talking about sex in an intimate way is still incredibly vulnerable for me, so I wind up talking about it in jokes or in a way that sounds like I am making fun of it or, in this case, John. I was not taught to call my genitalia by its anatomical names even with a mom who was a labor & delivery nurse and looked at vaginas 40+ hours a week as she helped deliver babies from them, and saying “penis” still makes me giggle. I don’t like the terms “dick,” “cock,” “pussy,” or “cunt” because they feel too much like porn to me (nothing against porn, but what I’ve seen of it feels too fake and cheesy for my personal taste), so I wind up not saying much during sex. I feel so uncomfortable being direct sexually even with the man who is now my husband, and I know it is because that voice is still lost inside of me, in that part cut off by the shame of both purity and fatphobic culture.
  • Premarital sex: The first few times John and I made out, we often went pretty far. I would always stop at the last second and tell him no. He was frustrated but respected my wishes. It was so fucking infuriating for me because I’d waited what seemed like forever for all of that and yet growing up in purity culture and still being a Christian and being taught sex outside of marriage was wrong and damaging and the “worst kind of sin” continued to essentially cock-block me. When we finally had penetrative sex two months into our relationship, about two weeks before our 29th birthdays, it was a sweet experience, but I felt so much shame that I wasn’t sure I could do it again, and it didn’t help that the person I considered my best friend, who’d regaled me with stories for years about how fuckable she was, shamed me for not waiting for marriage by saying I was the one who was “supposed to wait” because I’d already waited as long as I had. At church, we couldn’t be in the singles group because we were together but were told we couldn’t be in the married group because we weren’t legally wed. A Christian counselor and friend/coworker told me flat-out that the reason for any normal relational conflicts John and I had were because we didn’t wait for marriage. On the night of our 24-hour honeymoon, I was so exhausted, emotionally spent, and ashamed that we didn’t wait that I could not physically have sex with my now-husband and instead cried myself to sleep in his arms.
  • Orgasms: While I know many cis-women cannot physically have orgasms during PIV (penis in vagina) sex with their cis-male partners, I felt so broken throughout the first half or 75% of our relationship because I could not orgasm even with oral or manual stimulation. John tried so much at first, but I couldn’t get out of my head and could not communicate what I needed from him. Instead, we just rely on my very reliable Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator to get me off, which it has done for the past 12 years I’ve owned it. I know there is nothing wrong with this, but my expectations have definitely needed an adjustment through the years around this.
  • Marriage Outside of the Bedroom: Because I bought into the whole bullshit “your body is not your own” tale of religion and purity culture, I felt myself trying to be who I thought John wanted me to be for probably 6 or 7 years of our 8-year relationship. I lost so much sense of self, so much personal ownership. I was taught that my body belonged to my husband once we married, so I guess I thought that included any opinions or desires I may have as well. I tried to submit to him in this way even though every part of my strong-willed, independent mind screamed, What the fuck are you doing, Amy?! Even John wondered what the fuck I was doing because after me asking for his opinion one too many times when I already knew what I wanted to do, he said, “Amy, you are a smart, independent woman. Stop asking me to think for you.”
  • Trusting My Body and My Intuition: Growing up in church and the purity culture pounded into my brain constantly that my heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted, I’m worthless without God, to “lean not on [my] own understanding,” and that my body is supposed to be a temple for God to inhabit and not a place for me to inhabit just as I am, whoever that is. It was not mine before birth, not mine throughout my life, and will not be mine in death. Despite the name I was given at birth being my own and all of my organs and blood and cells being in this body, I was taught that all of this is temporary, and just basically a placeholder for my soul. There was no point in getting to know this body, as that’s all it is. If I “sinned,” it was because the devil tempted me and I, a weak human, fell for it. If I accomplished anything worthwhile or treated others with love or compassion, this was from God, and in no way could I do any of this good on my own. I developed shame and guilt for my sexuality and also for thinking I could have any worth on my own, and believed that I could never be loved just as I was, and really, did I even really exist on my own in this body? I sure didn’t feel like it.

I have felt so much anger, resentment, shame, and loss in the trauma I’ve incurred through purity and fatphobic culture. I have felt so detached from my body. Often, I’ve felt huddled in a tiny, dark corner of my body while the rest is like your shoulder and arm when you’ve slept all night on them: totally there, but also totally numb. I’ve felt powerless, voiceless, hopeless, and lifeless. I’ve felt robbed because all of those years of trying so hard to be small, pure, quiet, submissive, and society and religion’s version of pretty did not gift me with the life and love they promised.

My expectations about my body and sex, promoted by both society’s and purity culture’s versions of sex, relationships, and beauty/desirability in media and church, were so greatly skewed and only led me to feeling so broken, ashamed, and like something is deeply wrong with me. They’ve caused unnecessary conflicts in my marriage as well as unnecessary and very damaging beliefs about my self-worth and worthiness of being loved by others. They’ve led me on a lifelong chase of seeking validation from everyone but myself and feeling like shit when I don’t get it. I often feel so immature among my peers and like I really missed out on some huge milestone by not getting the relationship and sexual experiences they did as a teenager and in their twenties. (At the same time though, I do still feel like I missed out on a lot of heartache, and a huge benefit of being single for so long was the self-awareness I gained and the enjoyment of being alone that I might not have otherwise gotten.)

A few weeks ago, in bed with John, I told him about my struggles to find my voice when it comes to sex. I had just recently told him how I was officially done with Christianity, so all of this that I’d kept pushed down with my back and forth about my faith had started bubbling to the surface. Also during this time, all that I’d been trying to figure out and do as far as trusting my body and learning to eat intuitively seemed to be clicking into place. That probably also had a lot to do with giving up my faith along with all of the rules I’d lived under my whole life, whether I still felt like I had to or not.

I told him how it feels like there is a wall inside of me, and on one side, there is so much of my sexuality I want to explore and communicate with him, and fear and shame have kept me from accessing all of that. I told him how I lose my voice when we have sex and find myself often going through the motions with him because I’m afraid if I tell him I’m not in the mood, we’ll never have sex again (this fear is not a reality and stems from a lot of conflict we’ve had over me being the higher libido partner). I am still so afraid of rejection that I can’t bring myself to touch him how I want to (how he’s told me he wants me to) or initiate sex with him even though he told me in marriage counseling that saying “no” to sex at the time I initiate is not him rejecting me but saying he’s just not in the mood.

He didn’t respond, but getting all of that out of me caused a shift inside of me. Like maybe I had finally given that other side of me a voice. A small one, but one nonetheless.

In December, after this talk, I decided to stop taking my birth control that I had been taking for eight years, basically all but the first 4 months of our relationship. Not so I could get pregnant, though we’ve discussed that we’ll go through with it if I do get pregnant, but because I did not like being on fake hormones for nearly a decade and wanted a break.

What’s funny is that since I’ve come off the pill, my libido has shifted. I knew it wasn’t the same anymore once I went on the pill, but I didn’t realize how much it had actually lowered. I am 37 now so I also realize that my body may also be going through a last call on the baby train sexual peak. Who knows? Either way, I seem to find John 1000x more attractive, and I was already very attracted to him before, and I want sex pretty much all the time and told him so. This admission has definitely benefited me – well, both of us, really – and brought us closer together.

As I come out of Christianity and see firsthand how damaging and traumatic it was/is for me, I am beginning to realize the freedom I now have, that I have had all along. In church, I often listened to these sermons about how grace sets us free, breaks our shackles, and opens the prison doors but yet we still sit there in the prison like we’re still imprisoned, and I thought, Why can’t I walk out? Why can’t I leave? I’ve been saved, I’m free because of Christ dying for me, why do I still feel like this?

And I realized it was because Christianity did not make me free. Instead, it made me small. It made me hide who I really am. It made me unable to trust my own body, voice, thoughts, and intuition. It kept me child-like and submissive. It left me on this seemingly eternal quest for validation of my worthiness from everyone else but myself. It told me that I was wrong from birth, would never be good enough on my own, and that no love or good could come from me alone, but that I had to constantly seek it from someone whom I could not actually access in any form. It told me that nothing about my body or my life belonged to me. That I could not receive credit for the good I did because that belonged to God. That my mistakes were permanently etched into me as marks of how broken I was, not just lessons learned and things that make me into a stronger, smarter, better, more empathetic person.

Christianity, purity culture, and fatphobia have all sought to keep me forever chasing the wrong things: the opinions of and love/acceptance from others about me. And it is all to keep me coming back to them for more. To spend my money, energy, body, and life in my dependence on them. They keep the charades going so I don’t see how fucking powerful I am on my own and how powerful I have been all along.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately envisioning and silently talking to younger versions of myself. Telling 9-year-old Amy it is okay to feel pleasure and be curious about sex. Adult me sitting in the place of my then 35-year-old mother – funny we are close in age now – and telling 12-year-old me that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, exploring your body is normal, healthy, and loving, and that I love her so much for being so brave to tell me something she felt so ashamed of. Thinking back to 10-year-old me in her green tights and green leotard playing a sunflower in a school play and telling her how freaking adorable her little round belly is that she feels so shy about. Talking to college-aged Amy about her big crush back then, smiling at all those times it felt like he liked her back, and telling her I know it sucks he doesn’t actually feel the same but girl, you dodged a huge fucking bullet. Sitting with the late 20s version of me and telling her I understand why it is so hard to relocate her repressed sexuality and feel good about it, but we will get there, I am getting there for her.

I’m still in the very early stages of my healing and I don’t expect huge changes overnight. It has taken me two years to begin to be present in my body when I eat and exercise and actually understand what both hunger and satisfaction and love of movement feel like in my body. Learning to remain associated with my body during sex will take time just as it did with food.

There are so many rules when it comes to food, exercise, how I feel in my body, how I look, the space in my body I’m allowed to take up, sex, and just living my life and trusting myself that I no longer have to abide by, but old habits die hard. My first step in this is simply observing when I feel myself abiding by those rules and gently asking myself, Who told you that you have to live this way? What do you want to do?

My body, spirit, personality, mannerisms, thoughts, actions, voice, intuition, emotions, choices (and their consequences), growth, mistakes, sexuality, and spirituality never, ever, not even once, belonged to anyone else. I am accountable to me. My relationship with myself is first and foremost about me. The beliefs, thoughts, words, opinions, and behavior by others towards me has nothing to do with me.

I have always, always, always been my own. Purity culture, religion, and this fatphobic, patriarchal, misogynistic culture constantly try to rob me of this because they gain nothing when I do not need them, but…I do not need them. I will not allow them to dictate or direct my life anymore. I don’t quite know what this means yet, but I say to myself:

Get it, girl. Get it all. Take back your body and your life. They are yours to trust, love, accept, and do whatever the fuck you want in them. 

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

Showing Up

There Is Only “Now”

A few weeks ago, as we were eating breakfast, I went to get a second piece of the quiche I made right as I finished the first, and John said, “Maybe you should wait before you eat anymore. It takes at least 20 minutes for our brains to register that our stomachs are full.” I both felt enraged that he was spitting that diet mentality bullshit back at me and like I’d been stabbed in the heart. The look I gave him was enough to motivate him to get up and cut that second piece for me.

I didn’t know what to say. I knew I needed to say something to let him know that I cannot have him commenting on my eating habits like everyone else has my whole life. All I got out at the time was, “You sound just like my mom right now.”

While sitting there, barely acknowledging the piece of quiche I’d wanted just moments before while I ate it, I thought about my baby book. My mom gave it to me a couple of months ago. I remembered all of the notes about my weight she’d gotten from doctors and decided to hold onto as keepsakes. After breakfast, I grabbed that book and sat down on the couch opposite of John and started flipping through it.

I knew there were a lot of notes from my pediatrician about my weight in the book, but I was appalled to find out how far they went back.

The first one was dated September 28, 1984. My brother Adam wasn’t even a month old yet. I was about 2 weeks shy of my 2nd birthday. I first remembered being conscious of my body and weight around 5 years old, but it turns out the seeds were planted much earlier on. In the notes, my then pediatrician told my mom to carefully watch my weight. She, with her own lifelong history of disordered thinking around her body and weight, took that shit seriously and never stopped until just recently.

When I finished reading note after note about watching my weight, I looked at John and said, “I have never been able to have any peace with my body or with food. I never got to learn how to intuitively eat. I’ve never been allowed to trust my body. My weight and what I eat has been a topic of great concern and commentary my entire goddamn life.”

I have been thinking about this ever since, and unpacking the trauma behind it all. I have a lot of internalized fatphobia around it that I am continuously unpacking as well.

I have been obsessed with my weight and body my whole life because I thought I had to be, to seem like I was paying attention to it and working on it to make other people happy. I’ve been blogging about it since October 1, 2001. I’m beyond exhausted over it all and just want to stop.

I told John today that I don’t give a shit what people think of my body when I’m out in a swimsuit at the pool or beach, but that was a lie. Today, I almost didn’t go to the pool when I heard a couple of teenagers talking and playing in it. Then I turned away from them, like I turn away from John even though he knows what my body looks like from all angles, to take my pants off, took a deep breath before I turned around, walked to the edge, and jumped into the pool.

I worry about people thinking I’m pregnant because my belly sticks out a lot in comparison to my proportionate chest, hips, thighs, and shoulders.

I worry about John telling me, “Okay, this is about as fat as I can stand you. You need to lose weight.”

My brain continues to remind me that it doesn’t believe that I can take care of myself without the strictness of weighing myself and counting calories.

I talk about others never allowing me any peace or trust in my body, but I don’t have it for myself either. I instead run a continuous loop of all of these scenarios in my head to prepare myself for the comments of others that never come and if they did, do not define me.

I decided to take the above pics tonight to make a statement to myself to stop looking at myself as some project to fix and a body I can’t fully inhabit until it is societally acceptable. There is nothing wrong with it, nothing that deems me unlovable, but yet…

I have stopped dancing because I don’t like seeing my belly and thighs flopping all around when I shake my hips.

I have stopped wearing some of my favorite dresses because they still fit but more snugly around my belly.

I always wear leggings under my dresses because I don’t like how lumpy my legs are and because my thighs merge into one large mass when there is no fabric between them.

I am always making jokes about how fat I am in front of John.

Last week, I listened to @the.holistic.psychologist’s (Instagram) inner child meditation on YouTube. In it, you envision walking up to your childhood home (in my case, my grandmother June’s house since my parents moved every 2 years until they divorced), seeing the little child version of yourself, taking them by the hand, walking through the house and seeing every room, walking back outside, kneeling down to the child’s level, holding them, and telling them, “You are safe, you are loved, you are wanted, you are enough.”

I felt a wall of resistance at the beginning of the meditation. I thought, No, this is dumb. This is stupid. I can’t do this. I can’t meditate. I can’t get the breathing right. I don’t want to do this, but I persisted. Just at the point of holding my little child version’s hand and going into the house sent sobs wracking through my body. I could see every room in that house, and I heard June and Lib in the kitchen, but I didn’t see anyone. I could feel all of the pain, trauma, shame, and tension that I lived in at that time and for years to come. Coming back out and kneeling to about 5 or 6-year-old me, hugging her, and saying those words, more sobs came out instead of the words.

I never felt safe in that house. It was impossible to with all of the fighting and dysfunction and two uncles who made me feel very aware and very protective of my body while also very ashamed of it.

I never felt loved or wanted by parents. I only felt in the way. Hearing my mom say years later that I was too emotional, a burden, and that neither her nor my dad wanted me when they got divorced felt like a confirmation of that lack of love I felt from them and that it was my fault.

I never felt secure then and I don’t now. I know that’s why I go so all-or-nothing and fantasize that if I could just lose weight/get out of debt/find a husband/find a job I love/etc. as fast as possible, I can finally relax and enjoy my life. And life doesn’t work like that.

The peace I want isn’t just about being able to eat without diet advice or commentary. The trust isn’t about just preventing myself from binge and emotional eating so I don’t get any fatter.

This is all about grounding myself in who I am so that I don’t base my identity on how others see, think, or feel about me.

It is like those poles you see at the beach that tell you how high the storm surge of each category of hurricanes can get that actually survive the hurricane with the marks to show disaster assessors how high the waves got during the peak of the storm. I want to be firmly planted but able to bend and sway in the wind without snapping in two.

A friend of mine recently said my “color” (fire) seems to dim more and more every year, and she questioned if my marriage has played a role in that.

I don’t believe it is my marriage itself, but my expectations of myself in our marriage and my issues with codependency and people-pleasing. (This is not about the conflicts in my marriage that relate to both of us, and I’m not bearing all of the responsibilities and blame in them either.)

This is about me always putting myself and my desires on the back burner, something I have done my entire life. Spending more time wanting to be a different person, or at least have a different person’s body because I’ve been convinced my whole life that mine is wrong and flawed. About me still believing I am too much and being afraid of shining too brightly. About me being so intent on developing relationships with others that I don’t have the time or energy to develop the lifelong one with myself.

I’ve wanted to felt seen, known, and heard my whole life, yet I procrastinate and do everything I can to avoid allowing the person to see, know, and hear me to be me. I ache to be encouraged, celebrated, and affirmed, but withhold those things from being done by me. I thought the other night that I keep looking back at the me John found more attractive nearly eight years ago that I don’t stop to acknowledge how much I’ve been through in those eight years and that maybe, quite possibly, I’m a completely different, but stronger and better, person now. And that being in this relationship was the catalyst that made me face a lot of the trauma and associated emotions that only being with someone else, no matter who it was, could help me face and heal from.

Last Friday, I quit my second job in the past year and a half because it wasn’t right for me. I went against my gut yet again and wound up with a boss I had doubts about from the get-go. Again, settling and selling myself short. However, in this one, I began to find my voice and speak up for myself. I also decided to trust that my debt will get paid off, but that it is better that it is not at the expense of my mental or physical health. I am very fortunate as well that John is a supportive husband and has the means to cover the majority of our living expenses while I figure out what to do next.

First step is that it is time to get to know myself. To spend my free time alone and start not only hearing myself, but actually listening. To live fully in and enjoy my body as it currently is because no matter what, it will change numerous times throughout the remainder of my life. To write and maybe learn to meditate or at least figure out how to slow the swirling thoughts down in my head. To find things that scare me and do them.

To enter into a peace treaty with myself and decide okay, I am going to trust myself.

My goal this summer is to take life as it comes each day and take myself just as I am in those days because “now” is all I really have.

Showing Up

Self-Care and Exercise

Source: @therdnutritionist – Instagram

These days, it is so hard to separate the connection between exercise and weight loss. Fitbits, apps like Runkeeper, and workout equipment all tell you not just the distance and time you’ve covered but the estimated calories burned.

Though they are few and far between, I can remember being active as a kid without knowing or caring how many calories I burned.

I am the oldest and only girl in my family with three younger brothers. My brother Adam and I are 22 months apart in age so we were playmates as kids.

We played freeze tag, hide and seek, basketball, football (I was the QB and had to play two hand touch while the boys could tackle me because they said I hit them too hard, haha), and kickball.

When I was 10 years old, my mom signed me up for softball and Adam up for baseball. He played 2 seasons; I played 4. I loved playing softball because I was good at it. I’m super competitive which led to some emotional meltdowns when we lost, but I could hit the ball nearly out of the park and throw harder and further than any other girl on the team. (And people were always surprised that a chubby kid and teenager like me was such a great softball player, which spurred a love of defying others’ expectations and stereotypes of me as a fat person for the rest of my life.)

When I think back on all of this, even though I’ve been conscious of my weight and body since I was 5 years old, I don’t remember wondering how many calories I burned. I don’t think I was of the mindset yet of bargaining with myself over how long I had to work out to eat whatever I wanted to eat.

That came along with the Jane Fonda workout tapes and aerobics classes I did at the gym with my mom.

Even back then, exercise did not help me lose much weight, but it made me leaner, but I still equated the two.

They are still so deeply intertwined in my brain, exercise and weight loss, and trying to exercise because I enjoy it (I actually really do) has felt impossible because it keeps triggering thoughts and hopes for weight loss. Being unable to separate them has actually kept me from working out altogether even though I really want to.

So in some ways, I’m not sure if it is all me grieving or feeling fearful in my heavier body over where I am physically now versus then or if that nagging desire to lose weight is behind it all. Either way, I’m not doing anything. And I’m tired all the time and feel weaker and it is mortifying for me when John and I walk somewhere hilly and he’s ahead of me and asks me if I’m going to make it because I am breathing so hard and unable to keep up with him. It just reminds me of all the other times I was the one in the back of the pack gasping for air and feeling like I was a burden to the group.

Maybe it is all of those things, but how do I proceed from here?

I think I need to start thinking of exercise the way I think of other important parts of my life, like my job, marriage, friendships, finances, and etc. I do actually love to exercise, like I love my husband, making money, spending time with friends, and etc. even if I don’t always want to get out of bed to do any of those things. Moving my body is as vital as brushing my teeth. I can tell the difference in my body when I’m not moving it regularly and not in a weight loss/weight gain sort of way. My legs, back, and hips are so tight and inflexible from not stretching and moving them enough and that contributes to the pain I feel when my endometriosis flares up.

I decided to re-join LA Fitness back in February because there are gyms by my job and apartment and I want to get back into Zumba and have a place to do the Couch to 5K training when it is raining or cold outside.

I think I have been maybe four times since then.

I’ve “graduated” from the C25K program several times, the last time outside where I was able to run four miles without stopping and it was glorious, but now I can barely run for more than 90 seconds. I am so awkward and uncoordinated in Zumba because I am so out of practice with dancing because I struggle with how I look now while dancing in my bigger body. I haven’t dared to hike the mountains around here like I used to because it feels so uncomfortable trying to move and breathe with my lost endurance. I haven’t cycled either even though I now have a bike for similar reasons.

I also want to work on letting go of the all-or-nothing mentality that is the dying breaths of the diet mentality and perfectionism. To stop feeling like everything has to be structured and organized or it won’t work. I’ll never have a clean desk at work, for instance, but I don’t stop going to work for that reason and I still go home when it’s time to go home even if I’m not “finished” with everything.

Self-care in re-learning exercise outside of the diet mentality means letting go of the rules that diet mentality brought to exercise. Moving my body in ways I want to for however long I want to. Not forcing myself to stick to a schedule, but still finding time for myself to move my body so it stays strong and flexible like I find time to brush my teeth so they don’t rot and fall out and time to shower so I don’t become the “smelly coworker” and I don’t slip out of John’s arms when he hugs me because I’m so greasy, haha.

This is easier said than done, but I don’t have to get it right. It’s an experience and an education and there are no right or wrong answers.

How do you dissociate exercise from weight loss and the diet mentality? What do you enjoy doing? Tell me about your experiences with exercise and moving your body out of self-care.