Showing Up

Playing by the Rules

Last night at work, I inhaled helium from a balloon and heard my squeaky voice, which was hilarious. I have never done that before. I was even afraid to do it when my coworker passed me the balloon. Afraid of it making me sick. Afraid of getting in trouble. Afraid of breaking some rule.

I tried to smoke marijuana once when John and I lived in Chicago, but unlike our former president Bill Clinton, I did not inhale. I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I was scared of what might happen if I got high. Scared, even in my 30s, of my parents finding out and being disappointed in me. I also tried a small piece of cake that a former friend said had weed in it, also in Chicago. I was so scared to try it, but I did it, and then I waited to see what happened and took hypervigilance of my body to a whole other level. Nothing happened. Nothing at all.

Just before John and I moved to Chicago, my anxiety had reached such a severity that I could barely eat or drink anything because my throat would close up and I’d nearly choke every time I tried. I had panic attacks in the bathroom at work and while running along the Silver Comet Trail and cried nearly every single day. It finally reached the point I asked my doctor for a prescription for Xanax, and he gave me 10 pills. Those 10 pills lasted me two years.

It took me about 2 months to take the first pill because I was so afraid of what it might do to me. Right before we moved, while John was in Dallas for training at the job he’d accepted that moved us to Chicago, I had a panic attack all alone in our nearly empty apartment in Smyrna. Missy and Louie were with their grandma in Savannah, where they stayed until July 2016, and at that point, we were sleeping on our air mattress in the living room. Or I was, since John was in Texas.

I had to try it and see what happened because the anxiety was unbearable. So I swallowed the pill, laid down, and just hoped it didn’t make me sick because I’m terrified of vomiting even though I haven’t done it since I was 6 years old.

I fell asleep, had the craziest dream about vampires, woke up groggy, but I felt like the cacophony of racing thoughts in my head had dimmed to a dull roar. I could actually have a single thought for once! Still, I didn’t want to become addicted to Xanax or anything so I saved the pills and only took them when my anxiety was at its worst.

I never wanted to smoke growing up or as an adult because I watched how it sickened June and later killed her. I hated how I smelled from being around her. I hated that living with her for so long meant every cold or flu I got turned into bronchitis or pneumonia, something that continues to happen today.

When I went to college, I avoided the parties and alcohol because I didn’t want to get drunk and not be in control of myself, but I also did not want to throw up, and I especially didn’t want my dad to somehow find out about me drinking because he is so against drinking because his father was an alcoholic and alcoholism runs in his family.

I also didn’t date or hook up or even kiss anyone though I wanted to, so much. I was so curious about sex and wanted sexual experiences with others, but I’d been raised that it was wrong to do anything sexual before marriage so I avoided anything romantic with men pretty much until I met John, minus a couple of attempts at dates with total duds.

And even with John, I was terrified and guilt-ridden. I barely slept the first night we slept in the bed together and only kissed, and I might as well have been wearing a chastity belt because I normally sleep in just a tank top and panties, but I had a sleeved shirt, bra, pants, and panties on and kept my arms in front of me because God forbid I touch John or he touch me. And when he spent the weekend with me a few weeks later, and we did everything short of sex, I was a mess. I’d never been in that situation before and I’d waited a long time for it, but I’d broken THE rule: no sex or anything sexual before marriage. It really fucked with my head until and even after we got married, and it bothered me so much on our honeymoon that I was physically unable to have sex and instead cried in John’s arms in our beautiful honeymoon suite in St. Augustine, Florida.

I have lived with a lot of rules in my head and been afraid of anything that might put me in situations I can’t be totally in control of. Some of it came from church and all of the rules of religion, but a lot of it came from my dad.

My dad was so overprotective when my brothers and I were growing up, but it’s only as an adult that I see it was because he lives with a lot of fear inside of him, which probably started with his mother who was afraid of everything herself.

I really didn’t get to be curious about much growing up. I was not left alone for even two seconds when my dad was around. On the weekends when he was off work, my brother Adam and I couldn’t go outside. We had to sit on the couch in the living room while he snored and watched the back of his eyelids (slept) with some dumb Western movie on TV. He had to know where we were at all times.

I never got to have sleepovers or go to sleepovers or birthday parties until I was a senior in high school. The only person I could spend time away from home with was my grandmother June, and my dad didn’t really like me being there with all the fighting that went on.

I didn’t go to school dances. Finally got to go to football games my last year of high school. Didn’t go to prom (not that anyone asked me but that was probably because no one ever saw me anywhere but in school and they never really got to know me).

I was so afraid to do anything wrong or bad. My dad’s hypervigilance became my self-hypervigilance. I went off to college and kept to myself and wound up severely depressed and suicidal by my senior year because I’d stifled my desire to explore, make mistakes, and learn from them during these four years and I’d isolated myself out of fear and shame.

I dreamed last night about the guy I had such a crush on in college, and in the dream, his wife told me he never got over me, was still upset that nothing ever happened between us because we had such a connection back then. I still think about him sometimes. Not in a way like I wish I was with him or anything like that, but that I wish I hadn’t been afraid to kiss him and see what happened. I feel like I trapped my sexuality behind a wall with a boulder and turned off the lights when that part of me so naturally and so desperately wanted out, and it appeared as if I was asexual or not as sexually or romantically interested as I was.

That part of me still wants out. I’ve moved the boulder back a few inches at times but then slammed it shut again. But is it really me though or is it just shame from purity culture and about my fatness?

I am terrified of being in any situation where I can’t be fully aware or have some sense of control. Getting drunk, high, having sex, trying foods outside of my comfort zone that might not settle well in my body, flying, etc. all terrify me.

As an aside though, flying is exhilarating for me. I always break out in a huge grin when I feel the plane tilt back and begin to ascend. I’ve even cried before, it is such a rush.

I thought about this when I went to Chicago to visit my brother Ben and sister-in-law Sarah last month. Once I’m in the plane, everything else is out of my hands. I’m at the mercy of fate, jet streams, the pilot, the airplane carrying me, and if the plane crashes, there’s nothing I can do but go down with it.

I’ve never been blackout drunk before, but when I’ve been drunk with John or friends, it feels so similar. I’m floating. I’m giggly. I’m less inhibited sexually. I’m in a great mood and then I’m sleepy. Sometimes I wish alcohol didn’t have such a dire effect on my stomach and digestive system so I could have those feelings more often. I also wonder sometimes if my own tight grip on the control of my body isn’t the reason my stomach aches anytime I have the chance to try something unfamiliar or that might loosen me up.

I think I am scared to get high for the same reason.

As I’ve started trusting John more and seen him becoming more open and intimate with me, I’ve found myself letting go more during sex and getting more pleasure out of it, but it is only when he initiates. I cannot bring myself to initiate it myself. I still feel so held back when it comes to making my desires known when he has zero issue letting me know when he wants me.

I am a tightly wound coil. I was such a goody good church girl growing up that people tiptoed around me. To get around this persona, I developed a love for swearing like a sailor.

And that’s part of the rebel inside of me. The mischievous side that only comes out in swear words and dirty jokes. Or, you know, when people tell me I can’t or shouldn’t do something, and I’m like, hold my sparkling water (you know, since I can’t stomach beer).

I grew up with rules around food and my weight. No junk food so I learned how to sneak Little Debbie oatmeal creme pies without that cellophane wrapper making a single crinkle as I walked to the bathroom to basically inhale it as a giant “fuck you, I’ll eat what I want” to my parents. (It’s funny to me now how I snuck junk food at June’s house too when that was the one place where that food was bought for me to eat and I had all the permission, minus snarky comments about the size of my ass from my great-grandfather Brophy and my creepy uncle Charles, to eat as much of it as I wanted.)

As a Christian, I found myself constantly praying to be obedient, to rid myself of basically me and to be the submissive person I was told God made me to be. Always asking for forgiveness. Always ashamed of my thoughts and, often, my disbelief. Even as I tried to do all the right Christian things, so much of it felt hollow. That rebel in me wanted so badly to question everything I was told to believe, but I put her in the boulder-covered cave with my sexuality.

So now, in the wake of leaving Christianity, I’ve thought, Okay, so all of these rules I’ve tried to follow all of my life don’t really mean anything anymore. What now? What now when it turns out I’m supposed to be me, not some temple for God, not some submissive, “pure” servant to John, not a lifelong child to my parents, but me – my desires, needs, talents, curiosity, knowledge, strengths, etc.? What do I do with this freedom?

I am still figuring that out. It is an inward battle because I was taught to be so vigilant, cautious, distrusting, to never walk into situations or put myself in situations where I don’t know exactly what’s going on, to never allow myself to be harmed or manipulated (oops, that happened constantly growing up where I had no safety or choice in the matter). I still worry too much about disappointing my parents even as I’ve seen my brothers do stupid shit and just shake it off and our parents still love them anyway.

I’m not saying I need to be able to get blackout drunk and puke all over the place or get high or whatever to say I’ve truly lived, but I want to adopt my attitude around flying with everything else in my life. To be able to let go and trust that it is okay for me to relax and to allow myself, my body, to loosen up and accept pleasure, joy, and freedom, and maybe lose myself in it from time to time. To accept that I absolutely am not in control of anything but how I react to life – and sometimes not even that – and THAT IS PERFECTLY FINE.

John asked me a few weeks ago if I’d want to know when and how I die. Part of me says yes so I could prepare for it, but most of me screams no because I’d be so apprehensive about it that I would not be able to enjoy any of my time left. I always want to plan and be prepared, and I’ve realized lately that all the preparation in the world, all the looking over my shoulders I want, will not prevent suffering or my eventual death, but it will prevent me from truly living my life and making the most of whatever time I have left. Nowadays when that little voice in my head says hey, you’re going to die someday, I respond, yeah, I know, so how about we enjoy life while we have it, huh?

John is the mischievous one of the two of us, which would probably surprise many because he is so quiet and often socially withdrawn. However, if we are walking somewhere and, say, I see a sign that says we can’t go past a certain point, I’ll say, “Wait, the sign says no” like the little rule follower I am. I can’t even finish pointing out the sign before John has already pushed past it and gone inside. I usually wind up following him even though I’m looking over my shoulder constantly hoping we don’t wind up getting arrested or shot.

This isn’t an often example – we don’t make a habit of trespassing – but it is an example of how John doesn’t let fear get in the way of his curiosity. He has so much confidence to do whatever it is he wants whereas I’m going through all of the worst case scenarios inside.

And I think it is good that I do have some of that mental preparation going on because it has kept us out of trouble, but I’d like to have more of his confidence. This is a good area of where we balance each other out. He trusts me and I trust him so we just follow each other along. He leads when it’s something I’m afraid to do and I lead when I’m not afraid (or I am but I’ve let the brave little rebel inside of me come out of the dark cave I’ve shoved her into).

I don’t really know where I am going with this, but it is all something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about lately when it comes to unleashing myself from all of the fear and shame-based rules I grew up in from everything pleasurable in life and from the need for validation and approval from everyone else.

I want fun stories in my life. (I have fun stories of my life, though they’re hard to recall at times, especially when I listen to others talk about their high school, college, and early 20s years where they partied, traveled, and explored and I remember how I went right to the boring career and search for security and stability my family told me I needed to do.)

I am tired of writing about all of the bullshit and trauma I grew up with. I’m tired of clenching my butt cheeks so tightly, I could turn a lump of coal into a diamond in no time. I know most don’t see this side of me. I know I am fun to be around (most of the time), funny, adventurous, and laidback around others, especially those I’m comfortable with.

I want that outward expression of myself to spread more inward too. Baby steps though, I guess, unless I want to jump out of an airplane, which John has done but I do not feel the need to do myself.

My acts of “rebellion” have been tamer with rainbow hair and pierced cartilage in my ear and nose (piercings I no longer have) and having sex/living with my boyfriend now husband before marriage, haha. Oh, and drunkenly running through the sprinklers of a baseball field at 2a one time with another guy I sometimes wish I’d just kissed to see what would’ve happened with even though I know now that the way everything happened (or didn’t happen) is how I ended up where I am now. It isn’t perfect but it’s good. (My future retired self is also thankful for those early career years where I socked money away because I’m way ahead of a lot of people my age.)

This life is mine to live. This is my story to write. And all of those rules growing up are mine to break. I’m not telling fear to go away – or convincing myself it needs to in order for me to live a fulfilling life. I am breaking a generational habit or trauma or something of the sort. Sometimes I feel like I need to do it for those in my family who can’t break free, but then realize I can only live my life for me.

I don’t know. Just more rambling from all I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m not really writing to fix myself or figure everything out. I am writing to hear myself, to understand what I am thinking and feeling.

And what I’m thinking and feeling lately is it is time to forget all those rules enforced upon me out of fear (and love and wanting me to be safe) growing up and figure out what I want to do and how I want to live the rest of my life, on my terms but without such restriction.

Showing Up

Peace in Place of Chaos

My brain freaks out when things are going well. When life is calm and peaceful and every day is routine and the normal I craved growing up.

When there’s no drama or chaos, my brain sees it as a vacuum. Like something is wrong. Why is no one screaming? How is everyone getting along? This whole not fighting thing is fucking weird. It’s time to change that.

I become paranoid and the paranoia leads to me trying to control everything which leads to overthinking and catastrophizing to the extreme. Silently accusing John of hiding stuff from me. Thinking maybe he’s cheating on me or wants to divorce me or thinks I’m gross now because I’ve gained weight and can only have sex with me if it is dark outside and he can’t see me.

My brain has to find something. And when it creates something in the wake of not discovering anything to latch onto, I become resentful, bitter, mean, critical, angry, and my anxiety skyrockets because I’m so ashamed of the shit my brain has pinging around throughout my body that I am withdrawn and can’t talk about it. It shuts me up until it shuts me down and I feel like I’m being suffocated by my own mind and body.

I told John two weeks ago that my anxiety attacks were creeping back into my life, and he said he had no idea I was even anxious because I wasn’t talking about it and hadn’t shown any signs of distress. I told him it is because I am tired of telling people about my anxiety and feel like people are tired of hearing about it. Same old, lifelong song and dance. Amy is worrying again, tell her to stop because, you know, that works.

I have PTSD. I grew up in a battlefield. It was predictable in that fighting would occur but unpredictable in exactly how or when. I had to tiptoe around every word that I spoke because when someone in my family – often my parents – was in the mood to hurt someone because they needed to offset their pain, I was an easy target. One false move, one unintended tone, and I was belittled, shamed, gaslighted, projected upon, and criticized.

And it wasn’t just me. The air was so taut with tension that fights grew like thunderheads and clapped so violently they shook my great grandparents’ house, which was probably the closest thing to my childhood home since my parents moved us around so often. There was always something to fight about. The police knew my great grandparents’ and the uncle who almost always started the fights by name, they were called so often by neighbors.

Peace was superficial and temporary. When my great-grandfather Brophy died in 2004, my uncle Charles gathered us all in the living room of Brophy’s house and gave this moving speech – moving but inauthentic or maybe just ineffective – about how we had to get along from then on, that it’s what Brophy would want; that it was time for us to love each other. By nightfall, he and his sister, my aunt Carol, were cursing each other out in the dining room of the house, just feet from where he made that speech.

Peace doesn’t feel trustworthy. It doesn’t feel genuine. It doesn’t feel dependable. It feels like a set-up. Like if I set down my armor for a few minutes to rest and revel in the quiet, my head will be knocked cleanly off my shoulders.

Like right now…for the first time in now four years, I have a job that I really like with people I really enjoy working with. It is nice to look forward to going to work. Sure, I might have to deal with rude customers from time to time, but I have a boss who is fun to work with and who has my back.

John and I are getting along pretty well, have been more intimate and open with each other, and coming off the pill, I’ve never been more attracted to him. (Not sure if it is just getting adjusted to my own natural hormones again – more testosterone with my PCOS – after eight years of being on the pill, being in my late 30s and all aboard the last call on the baby train before menopause or both or just becoming more comfortable and settled in our marriage, but damn he’s been looking extra good to me lately.)

Things are good. We moved back to Smyrna. I love our apartment, love where it is located, love that my job allows me to schedule my shifts around John’s so we’re often off on the same days (though that is changing a bit with John’s new schedule that changes weekly), etc.

So of course my brain is on the catastrophizing super speedway. All day long, it’s running through “what ifs” and scenarios where I could lose everything. I went through a two-week period in January, hot on the heels of finally deciding I don’t believe in Christianity anymore, where I was terrified I was going to die every single day. Not terrified of dying, though that was there too, but terrified it was actually going to happen then. Every ache in my body was a heart attack or cancer or kidney stone or something else waiting to kill me when it was really just being so tightly wound and clenched that my muscles ached. (I think a lot this started from some slightly abnormal bloodwork in December that I have to get retested for at the end of February that my doctor really isn’t concerned about, that is probably just something random.)

When my PTSD brain is tired of worrying about dying – or thinks mission accomplished – it moves on to worrying about my debt or weight or John leaving me. Anything it possibly can to stir up chaos around me since chaos was the “norm” for the first quarter or so of my life.

During this point, I am accused of being too negative, complaining too much, stuck in my head, overdramatic, and never satisfied. I feel myself grasping for something to control. I think about going on diets and trying to lose weight. I question John about what he’s doing on his phone or ask him about his finances and get mad when he won’t tell me anything. I ramble on about nothing. I forget what I’m talking about, what I’m doing, and find myself repeating myself or doing things like putting Missy’s medication in the fridge when it goes on top of the fridge.

Anxiety and PTSD leave me with a foggy head, upset stomach, and stiffness throughout my body. I am hypervigilant of my own body and everything around me, but then find myself with my car in two lanes on the way to work.

I am no longer at war or on the battlefield and haven’t been in over a decade now, but I still wear my armor and I still jump at anything that reminds me of war. Still have flashbacks. Take the way John responds to me at times as being exactly how my dad responded to me growing up even though they’re too very different people when it comes to their feelings and behaviors towards me. Feel self-conscious about my weight gain around my brothers and flinch at just the thought of them making fun of my size again (like my brother Adam addressing me as “fat” instead of my name for about a year there when we were in our late teens). Chastise myself for having a part-time job now when I “could” be making more money and being a better partner financially to John (even though what does that even mean and how am I better if I’m miserable?).

It sounds so melodramatic, but all I really knew was war growing up. The armor I developed to survive it has varying degrees of effectiveness from empathy, resiliency, and sense of humor to codependency, people-pleasing, and putting the need for approval and acceptance from others over my own self-validation. I told John tonight that my giving love language seems to be Acts of Service because I like doing things for him and giving things to him, which is good in its own right until it veers off into People-Pleasing territory where I’m suffocating him, he’s irritated and tells me to back off, and my feelings get hurt. I read recently that codependency’s roots lie in not feeling wanted so you decide to do all you can to feel needed. This is exactly how it started for me, especially with my mom.

Growing up, I was not taught to self-soothe. I was taught that if I cried, I’d be given something to cry about and that it wasn’t worth doing, didn’t accomplish anything, was childish and stupid. If I was afraid, I was taught to pray, read my Bible, or listen to church sermons on the radio, and that if I was afraid, it meant I didn’t trust God. If I was angry, that anger was shamed or matched and outdone. When John and I went through marriage counseling in 2017, our therapist told me I needed to learn how to self-soothe. I got some ideas on how to do it, but I think most of the time the only thing I have the energy to do when I’m upset is cry. At least I know now how healing and relieving it is to do that.

This week, while crying in the shower because I’ve been so overwhelmed with racing thoughts, paranoia, and panic, I thought, Amy, when are you going to take care of yourself? When will your approval of yourself matter most? When will you stop trying to be who you think everyone else wants to be and be yourself? When will you stop hiding your desires and needs because you don’t they deserve to be spoken or that they’ll be heard or acknowledged? When will you realize you have the same rights as everyone else around you to live your life in a way that makes you feel fulfilled and peaceful?

I can’t continue to respond to my anxiety the way my family did either: anger and criticism only serve to make it far worse and more shameful, which makes all of those fears that much stronger and more incapacitating. My mom still tells me to pray but 30+ years of it never really made it go away. I do miss talking outloud and the weight lifted off of me when I thought someone was listening to me even if the only person listening was actually me. Reading my Bible never helped and I haven’t owned one now for four years. Church helped some, but when you realize that it is religion and its associated legalism and shaming that has you feeling imprisoned and even more afraid to be yourself, that relief is temporary.

I know I need to go to therapy again, but I can’t afford it. I’ve looked on Open Path Collective for someone who specializes in trauma, but no one popped up. I still feel like this was some kind of filter error on my part because there has to be someone affordable in Atlanta, but I don’t know.

I think the silver lining is that I am self-aware. I understand what is happening. The lack of peace growing up makes it unfamiliar territory to a brain so used to chaos – whether from family or jobs or other relationships – and my brain, like most human brains, doesn’t like the unknown. Fears it. Our brains like predictable because predictable is safe. Or feels that way. The hell you know is better than the hell you don’t know, so the saying goes.

Writing it out always helps. Writing in my 20s is what helped me survive them, made me self-aware, and helped me break through the patterns I saw growing up. I guess it is a way of self-soothing because once I get everything in my brain out, my thoughts slow down to a somewhat manageable pace. I am keeping my blog as part of my Instagram of the same name but no longer broadcasting my posts so I can focus on more stream-of-consciousness writing and not curating my content for social media. I’m craving authenticity so much, and I feel unable to be wholly authentic when I know more people could be reading. It all goes back to the need for validation and approval mentioned above and not wanting to burden people with my pain or alarm them with my fears.

In the meantime, I am talking to myself more. Trying to find the right words and tone to help myself through all of the emotions and racing thoughts. I started snapping at myself to quit all of this “nonsense” earlier this week when I stopped myself and said, “I’m sorry. That was Daddy talking, not me. That was his voice. Those were his words. I’m not talking to you like he did because that was neither helpful nor loving.” Sometimes I feel crazy doing all of this, but I know how I talk to myself is going to be one of the best ways to work through the PTSD I have from all of the trauma I’ve incurred.

This is how I will learn to trust in the peace and calm and let go of the need for the familiar chaos.

Letters to Myself

Letters to Myself, #3 – Happy Birthday

I originally meant to write this blog post around my 37th birthday in mid-October, but between moving from Marietta back to Smyrna, going to Destin, spending time with my brother Caleb, getting adjusted into our new apartment, and finding and starting my new job, this post never happened past me uploading the photos included in the post. Maybe this is a good thing though because being 3 months out from turning 37, I have more to say to these younger mes.

This will be a very, very, very long post, so if I am the only one who ever reads it all, that is totally fine with me.

****

October 1989:

Dear 7-year-old Amy:

Oh, sweet girl, happy birthday. I wish I remembered what I got for my birthday this year, but I’m sure it was something along the line of more Barbies for our 5-year-old brother Adam to rip the heads off of, dresses from June like the one in the picture above (as she was the only one who seemed to remember you are a little girl who should have pretty dresses and not be dressed like her brother), maybe some books.

This will be the year you start writing your own short stories, stories about tornadoes that you dreamed about and had to write down as soon as you woke up. Tornadoes are the shared fascination between you and Daddy, the one thing you can talk to each other about, the topic you get his attention on as you squeeze in next to him on his Lazyboy and watch hours of the Weather Channel together. The only other time you get his attention is when you are being yelled at for misbehaving, which usually involves fights with Adam. 

You’re going to be a big sister again soon too, and you will love it. At least at first. Ben will be your twin born seven years later in so many ways. He will be your baby. You will fall in love with him at first sight and even now, 30 years later, he still holds such a tender space in your heart even as all the things you dislike about yourself drive you crazy in him. 

I know you’re already worrying about your weight. What was it this morning? 60-something pounds? Amy, I wish this number wasn’t already so significant for you, but our mom, who struggles with her own body insecurities, can’t seem but help to pass them along to you.

I want you to know right now, in the middle of everything happening now and what’s to come – like your first major crush whom you’ve possibly met by now but whom you will befriend in the coming school year – you are so perfect just the way you are. Your bangs and straight hair with the flipped up ends are so sweet. Your mouth full of transformation and emptying of baby teeth is so adorable. I love your imagination, energy, singing voice, smile, tenacity, and sense of humor. I still smile when I think of the Barbie soap operas we came up with inspired by the soap operas June and Lib loved to watch. 

I’m so sorry you’re being forced to behave as if everything is fine and no one understands that your acting out is your inability to live so inauthentically. I’m so sorry no one understands you are processing so much dysfunction between your parents and at Lib’s house and that your sensitive heart can’t help but absorb the anger, shame, and pain all around you. I’m so sorry you are characterized as the bad child because you cannot sit still and be quiet and passive like Adam. That you’re told that your stubbornness, needs for affection and attention you can’t get met, and your emotions are all “too much,” and Mama and Daddy don’t “know how to handle you.” 

This year, you have a schoolteacher named Ms. Taylor who will tell you and your parents how much she loves having you as a student in her second grade class. She will tell you how sweet and smart you are. Listen to her. Don’t listen to your dad asking you why can’t you be that well-behaved child she speaks of at home. You are that child; he just does not have the energy nor focus to see it. Ms. Taylor will plant and grow those seeds in you that develop your love for reading, writing, spelling, and grammar that you carry with you for the rest of your life. 

Please know that I see you even when Adam gets all of the attention at home, and I understand why you lash out at him even though he does not deserve to be bullied just as you didn’t. I want to spend time with you even as it seemed our parents did not want you around and always waited until you were away for the weekend with June to go out as a family with Adam. 

Mama doesn’t know how to “handle” you but that is not your fault. This is about her upbringing and insecurities. Daddy only demands perfection and quiet from you because it was beaten into him by his abusive father. You are not broken. You are not wrong. You deserve so much love that I know you don’t ever really feel, at least not from your parents. You belong even if you feel left out from your parents and Adam. You are a sweet, innocent, stubborn, fiery little second grader who is growing her own little world inside of her imagination and becoming the author of the story of her life. You are good enough. Your body is perfect the way it is, even your little pudgy belly and round cheeks. 

Thank you for plucking those story ideas out of your dreams and getting them on paper as fast as you can because you taught me that I am a writer. Your excitement for becoming a big sister again and your natural maternal instincts will help you not only raise your upcoming baby brother but the one who will follow him as well as help you nurture and care for friends and, mostly importantly, yourself. 

I love you so much just as you are, sweet girl. Happy 7th birthday. 

October 2000:

Dear 18-year-old Amy (because I couldn’t find a picture of 17-year-old Amy and had to skip ahead a year):

I still remember when this picture was taken in the student center at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. You’re a freshman in college now, living 182 miles away from home and about 45 miles from the beaches of Dauphin Island where you’re going to spend way too much time (but love the hell out of it). 

On this birthday, June drove by herself to take you out to TGI Friday’s both for your birthday and to comfort you because you didn’t make it as a Diamond Girl, basically a cheerleader for the USA Jaguars’ baseball team (because you weren’t a sorority girl or thin like the other girls who auditioned). Pretty sure June also took you to Sam’s Club and got you a pallet of Cherry Coke because she loves you and wants you to have whatever she can possibly buy you. Cherish this.

You’re physically free from all of the bullshit at home – your divorced parents who can’t seem to understand you are their daughter and not their mediator, your mom who chose her second husband over you and your brothers and who treats you like shit because you’re fat (and that’s the worst thing you can be to her) and likely because you’re now the mother she can’t be to Ben and your youngest brother Caleb, all of the fighting between Lib, Brophy, and Robert – but emotionally it’s like you never left. 

You’re numb, I know. After so many years of absorbing so much anger and shame, numb is your survival method. Well, that and your sense of humor and food. Your weight is less than it has been since it piled onto your body in high school, but it still isn’t enough for your parents to tell you that you’re worth loving and beautiful and that they are proud of you. Nothing is enough for that. Not your advanced diploma or good job after high school or getting into college or making the Dean’s List your first semester. The only person who calls and checks on you is June, who loves you but who gets annoyed because you don’t have enough going on to talk about daily. 

You have an awesome roommate named Kelly who is going to introduce you to a tall, broad-shouldered, blonde-haired junior with a nice smile and blue eyes whom she says is exactly your type. He will be. You will think “this is the guy I’m going to marry” as soon as you see him. You won’t talk to him until January 2001, but you’ll cross paths a few times. 

You will so badly want this tall former linebacker, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christian man with a sense of humor like yours to like you back, but he won’t. Not the same way you like him. And it’s not because of anything about you, despite what your mom later tells you. Unlike what your mom says, you are not ugly or smelly, you don’t need to be thin to be loved or happy, and there is nothing wrong with your body. I know you want to dance and be more outgoing, but fear of being made fun like you have been your whole life plagues you. That’s okay. We will get there. I mean, we will actually get there, like, we will dance in front of 100+ people at a belly dance student show, and no, we won’t feel or look stupid. We will feel so proud and amazed. 

This year, you will start online journaling for the first time, mostly to write about that boy mentioned above and your struggles to lose weight, but soon it will progress to recording what is now the good, bad, and ugly of your family history. A record to back up their gaslighting that keeps you from buying their bullshit about you. The greatest gift of this blogging will be how much your self-awareness skyrockets. Yes, sometimes this makes us overanalytical, but overall, it makes us much more compassionate and empathetic. Over time, that numbness that plagues you will fade as you begin to validate your emotions and learn about your sensitive nature and what a gift it really is. 

You are so starved for attention and affection, but you will find friendships that give you some of both. You will give so much of both to Ben and Caleb that they will develop into men who are comfortable being both emotionally available and deeply affectionate. And that boy who breaks your heart so deeply is an unanswered prayer you will be grateful for in the future (though, eyeroll, I know you will think, I’m so sick of hearing this), trust me. 

You are doing so much better than you think. You are so beautiful, smart, funny, and kind. You can run circles around those skinny girls who think they’re in better shape than you because you’re heavier than them. You write like you think, and today, I’ve been told I write like I’m writing to a dear friend. This is all thanks to you. The fanfiction you’re in the middle of writing now is real writing and developing dialogue skills as well as your songwriting skills, an original in the type of fanfiction you’re writing. (Oh and guess what? You’re going to meet Nick Carter. Eeeeek, I know, right?! You won’t marry him though, sorry.) 

Keep writing those songs that come to you in the middle of the night like the stories did when we were seven years old. Keep singing in the shower and at your desk (even though you might want to keep it down at 2a). Enjoy your friendship with the boy who will love you but not the way you love him, but also don’t allow him to mistreat you because you are so much better than that (and he really, really, really doesn’t deserve you, I promise). 

Enough with this heavy shit though – happy 18th birthday, Amy! You’re legally an adult now though you’ve felt like one for the past four years! Go to the beach. Take in the quiet of the Gulf of Mexico at sunrise before you drive back to your dorm with the windows down to breathe in the salty air and pass out and miss your first of many classes over the next four years. Go dancing with your roommate and her friends. Enjoy dinner with June. Enjoy the first steps of your freedom. You are so ready for this.

And again, I love you dearly, sweet girl, just as you are. 

October 2009:

Happy 27th birthday, Amy. Wow, what a birthday. You are currently in Mobile with Mama, who invited you to come down with her for a nursing continuing education conference she signed up to attend. I know, things with her are so tumultuous right now, as they’ve been pretty much your whole life. Ugh, I also know that she is the middle of her affair with her married boyfriend and you’re trying so hard to convince to break up with him until he finally divorces his wife of 25+ years. (She won’t.)

Let’s not think about that right now. You are DAYS AWAY from quitting the state government job you’ve had since you graduated high school nine years ago, and in just about three weeks, you’re moving to Atlanta. Wow, so much going on. I really want to commend you for taking on a summer part-time job to make extra money as well as selling as much as you possibly could so that you have money saved up to help you in your first few weeks in Atlanta. I’m so grateful for Sia and Zach for taking you in and letting you live in their townhouse in your first few weeks as well because we really would not have done this without that. 

I know there are people in our family coming out of the woodworks at the news of you moving who are telling you how bad the economy is, how high unemployment is (because you obviously don’t know this working in the unemployment compensation division of the Department of Labor where these numbers originate), how you’re stupid for leaving a steady, stable government job, and blah blah blah, but their comments are about them, and these are people who haven’t seen or talked to you in over a decade so they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about or who the hell they’re telling all of this to. Disregard them.

Moving to Atlanta is going to change your whole life. Amy, you are on the cusp of finally, finally, finally being on your own and living a life that is yours and yours alone. I am so excited for you just thinking about it all. Yes, it will be so freaking hard, but you are going to start healing. All of your scars and wounds will become like the broken jars in the Chinese proverb that are put back together with gold which only makes them stronger. You are being filled in with gold, Amy, with strength, determination, courage, wisdom, and beauty. It hurts, it might always hurt, but it is what makes you real and makes me love you so much. And goddamn, you’re hilarious. That definitely won’t change. 

Happy 27th birthday, Amy. Happy first birthday to the rest of your beautiful life that is beginning now as you stare out at downtown Mobile and wonder if you’re doing the right thing. You are. You so are. This is the most right thing you have done your whole life, even now. Thank you for being so brave. I admire the hell out of you. 

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October 2009:

Happy 37th birthday, Amy. God, this has been a rough year. I know how tired you feel. Your lifelong faith in God has been severed completely, and now there’s a void along with a bit of anger at how Christianity has been used to belittle, demean, and shame you in every area of your life from your gender/femininity, sexuality, emotions, physical shape, marriage, finances, writing, speech, outgoing and strong-willed personality, and more.

There is also fear that you will be rejected and abandoned by those you love who aren’t on your deconversion journey, including John, or that their fear for your eternal soul will lead them to intentionally or not-intentionally gaslight and shame you in the hopes of “bringing you back to Jesus.” It is so hard to write these days because you don’t have it in you to deal with the feedback of others. Not about your lack of religious faith, four months now of unemployment, 50-pound weight gain, or really anything else. And really, does it even matter when Trump is going to get us all killed anyway? Oops, can’t talk about that either.

Everything feels so hard and dark right now, I know. You and John have had some horrible fights this year, and it feels like you will forever fight about the same things – sex, communication, how you’re in touch with your emotions and he’s not so yours seem overwhelming, and money. You both said “fuck you” to each other this year when you said years ago that would be a sign that something is deeply wrong and vowed to work through whatever led to that moment before things got that bad.

Nope, he said it, you said it back, he told you to leave, you did, and he didn’t come running after you or blow up your phone with texts or calls. He later apologized for not checking on you, for saying those words and telling you to leave, but that apology did nothing to change how deeply hurt and alone you felt and still often feel in this marriage. All it brought up and back was how much you felt like you and your feelings didn’t matter growing up and you heard your own mind gaslighting you and telling you that somehow this is all your fault and, oh, because you’re so much fatter now, he probably doesn’t love or want you or to be married to you anymore and now you’re screwed because you have no money of your own anymore. It feels so far away from the way your relationship started eight years ago, when he was so excited about you and couldn’t stop telling and showing you how happy he was to have you in his life, like maybe all of that never really happened or was all a ruse or maybe you just fucked it all up because you’re not that woman anymore, whoever he thought she was.

Take a deep breath, Amy. I will pause and breathe with you because that is some really hard, painful, heavy shit.

Let me remind you of what I wrote to 7-year-old Amy: you are not broken, there is nothing wrong with you, there is nothing about you that deems you unworthy of love, your words/feelings/everything about you matter even if no one else seems to acknowledge this, especially the ones you love most.

Right now, this year, has been a really shitty one. Let me validate something for you: You have experienced a shit-ton of trauma, you have PTSD, you have survived some really fucked up shit, and none of it was your fault. How others treat you is a reflection of them, not you. You are not responsible for their behavior or words towards you. You did not and do not deserve to be abused or mistreated.

You are so strong, Amy. Stronger than I think you will ever realize when you’re so lost in all of those critical thoughts from voices in your past who could, from their own pain, tell you they loved you but somehow also how wrong and inadequate you are in one breath and without apology. You are so brave to keep pushing through all of this trauma and pain, for picking each piece of your shattered heart, acknowledging its existence and searing pain, crying with and for it, and putting it all back together again. With so many broken pieces, this is a very lengthy, possibly lifelong process, but you are here for it, and that means so much for the future Amys, however many there will be.

I know that with the loss of faith in God, everything feels so meaningless right now. Nihilism feels comforting in a way. So this is it? I’m just a product of evolution, collection of atoms, pieces of the universe, and a speck on the plane of this universe and time? Great! So everything is temporary and nothing really matters and someday I will be oblivious to it all as I was before I was born. This has done wonders for my anxiety.

But seriously…that also seems so dark and hopeless too. 

Your life does have meaning even if there’s nothing else but this (and I’m not totally discounting spirituality here, just religion).

Amy, you’re a product of evolution, such a rare miracle! Do you know how many eggs and sperm that have ever existed in the bodies of all the humans who have ever walked this earth? Do you know how much had to come together (no pun intended) at just the right time and in the right way for you to be conceived, carried to term and delivered? How amazing it is that you’re alive today in your fragile body in a grueling, lethal environment? How many lives you’ve touched and made better just by being yourself? You are made of the same materials of this vast, infinite, magnificent, astounding, beautiful universe! You, and everyone else, are just as incredible to look at as the moon, stars, and planets in the sky. 

Yes, everything is temporary, but you matter. Your life matters. Your thoughts, feelings, voice, and words matter. Everything about you matters and is a miracle. Same with everyone else, even though their behavior doesn’t alway lend to feeling as such about them.

You are so smart and so well-read. You absorb knowledge like you absorb emotions, and you are thoughtful when discussing what you’ve learned. You’re still so funny, especially with all of the songs you make up about the dogs or to make fun of those dumb prescription drug commercials. John’s right, you’ve really missed your calling here. You’re introverted and need alone time to re-energize, but man, you come ALIVE when there are people to talk to. You are so good at encouraging others and making them smile and laugh, and this is going to come in handy in your new job. You really are charming, thick southern accent and all. It feels weird to say all of this about myself, but damn it, it is about time, and if no one else will, it is up to me to make you shine. 

Your body will change for the rest of your life in size, shape, height, width, wrinkles, lumps, bumps, colors, and more, but it is always working hard with and for you to keep you alive because it loves you unconditionally. I know the weight gain is hard for you and you miss your smaller belly, leaner arms and thighs, and seeing the dimples in your cheeks that have been covered over with your plumper face. I know everything and everyone around you screams that your body is wrong and you need to make it smaller ASAP. I know you’re hearing that inner critical voice tell you that there’s no way John could love or be attracted to you at this size, and this is putting you into survival and defense mode as you await his eventual criticism and rejection of you. (That voice is so wrong, I promise you.)

I know you feel so left behind now as another job failed to work out for you and you’re on what feels like year 50 of trying to pay off your debt and you can’t afford to travel or buy clothes and you feel so much guilt and shame because you’re not currently working and all of the financial burden is on John and you remember how that felt when it was on you and…. it all really fucking sucks, I know.

Some good news though: You’re about to move out of that almost literal sewage dump of an apartment in the middle of nowhere Marietta that you’ve hated for the past two years, you’re about to go to the beach (though that feels undeserved because John has to pay for it on top of all the moving stuff), and soon, you will have a new job, one that you really enjoy even though you will wish it paid more. And Amy!! You have stood up for yourself so hard in these past two “failed” jobs because after the office job before you moved to Chicago, you said no more to asshole bosses and jobs that don’t fulfill you, and you stood your ground and made the best decision for yourself: no more shitty, toxic office jobs with mean, narcissistic bosses. You saved enough money to help you pay your car payment and minimum credit card payments for these four months of unemployment too! And paid off half of your credit card debt before quitting!

I just had a thought: Do you remember your final summer semester at South Alabama when June promised you that if you put in the hard work, went to all of your classes, and made good grades, she’d take you to the beach? Do you remember how even though you put in more effort than the last several semesters combined, you still failed one class by merely not going to it enough and your grades, minus your nutrition class, were still shitty, but she took you anyway because she knew you needed the trip because she knew how fucking depressed you were and how you were hanging on by a tiny shred of a thread? 

That’s love and grace, Amy, and I am here to tell you that even though you feel like a loser, burden, and failure because you keep comparing yourself to everyone else and falling short, and you’re certain that you’re repeating all the mistakes you swore you never would growing up and that everything gone wrong is all your fault…you are loved, you’re not falling short, you’re tough as shit, you’re brave, and you deserve a fucking trip to the beach, no matter what else is going on right now.

What you don’t always see – and I totally understand why – is that no matter how much you feel like pain and sadness have filled your body, mind, and heart to the brim, and then some, you always have room for joy. Your smile always lights up any room you’re in. Your laughter is contagious and melodic, as cheesy as that sounds. You always find something to laugh at and something to admire. You rarely forget to look up at night, and you always notice something beautiful in your daily path, from the colors of the sky at sunset to your dogs’ sweet faces to how good and at home it feels when John puts his arms around you and holds you close whether it’s in bed as he’s falling asleep or you’re cooking dinner in the kitchen and how beautiful his eyes, smile, voice, and laughter are. (Remember how I said earlier that you dodged a bullet with that guy in college? John is everything that guy could never be and more even when there are struggles like you’re going through now. Also, he’s way better looking than that guy.)

Nothing is perfect, yet everything is. I know I am rambling on now, but I also know I tend to talk to you less in this way during these more introspective times; instead, echoing the vitriol, anger, and shame that still sits deeply within me though it has been over a decade since I unwillingly soaked it all up like a bone-dry sponge dropped in a basin of dirty water and filthy dishes. 

I’m only three months from this birthday, so I am still in the trenches with you, but I can feel things improving little by little. This is yet another mountain to climb and I am trudging along, knowing I can’t stop because continuing to move forward is the only way I will get home.

I love you so much for the girl you were and the woman you are now. We are one and the same. You matter, you are perfect just the way you are, and all that matters is how you think and feel about you. You are my most important relationship, and I will continue doing all I can to make it the best one. Here’s to many more birthdays and many more versions of us to come.

Love, 

Amy

 

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 & Self-Sabotage

For the past month, I have been keeping a food/mood log to write down what I eat, my hunger levels before and after I eat, and my mood when I eat. For the first couple of weeks, this was really helpful. I was more in tune with my body, understood why I wanted certain foods at certain times, and felt like my body and I were finally beginning to work together.

But then something went haywire.

I don’t know if was my stomach being so upset and angry following up to my period or what, but I find myself ignoring my body again and going against it. And my moods are all over the place. I will start off the day in a really great, excited mood and then hit the bottom of the barrel by the end of the day, angry and sullen.

I refuse to allow myself to feel good for a long period of time or to celebrate any progress or to acknowledge and appreciate where I am.

I just fucking hate everything, including myself, when I get into these moods.

And I want to binge eat. I want to eat pizza and ice cream even if I am stuffed to the gills and my body aches afterwards like it does today. It’s like in the middle of it, my body is demanding for me to listen to it, “we’ve come so far, Amy!”, and I am like, “Fuck you, I don’t want to hear it.” And then I eat too much and I physically hurt and then I feel awful the rest of the night.

What the hell is wrong with me?

Why can’t I allow myself some self-validation, self-acknowledgment, and self-compassion? Why am I holding that impossible and ever-moving measurement stick to MYSELF? Why am I treating myself the way I was treated my whole life, a way that shattered me into millions of pieces over and over again? Why do I refuse to see the good in my life, to see where I am loved?

I really don’t know but I am so over it all today. My whole body aches from trying to smother all of this anger and sadness with food last night and from not being able to sleep well from the pain. And like I mentioned before, anytime my stomach aches, I start cramping around all of the endometriosis in my pelvis so that’s happening too.

I have had it beaten into my brain so long that my body is not okay, that I am not okay, that I can’t seem to think anything else. I just keep expecting to be treated and leered at and made fun of like I always was growing up even though that never happens anymore. Nothing I could’ve done then or could do now would give me the acceptance and validation from those people who constantly belittled me about my body that I still so desperately want. I mean, if I wasn’t fat, it’d be something else. Even now, it isn’t so much about being fat than me not thinking along the same lines as them politically and religiously.

I think everyone sees me and my body the way those people did and it casts a big, black shadow on all of my relationships, including the one with myself.

I still want to punish my body for things that were never supposed to be seen as wrong, like its size and shape and how it works or doesn’t work.

Maybe I still don’t believe I deserve healing or to have a healthy relationship with anyone, including myself.

I haven’t gone to the gym in about 2 or 3 weeks and every day, I’m like, okay, go today, and then I go home instead. I want to start running again, but just go home instead. I have a bike now and the weather is nice, so it’s like, go ride your bike, but then I make my stomach hurt and I sit inside instead.

I wish I could stop being like this. I don’t even want to post this blog post. I don’t know how to take care of myself when I feel like this – so agitated and angry. I feel like I can’t communicate with my body or anyone else. I am so stuck in my head that it exhausts me and I can’t travel any further through my body.

How do I get out of this whirlwind of self-loathing and self-pity and how do I stop sabotaging myself? How do I allow myself to believe I am worth all of the effort I make to have a better relationship with my body, food, friends, family, John? How do I focus on validating and acknowledging myself without worrying so much about getting the same from others? How do I focus on my needs and feeling like they’re worth to be spoken aloud?

I am in a lot of pain today, probably more so emotional than physical though the physical pain is there too.

What do I do on days like this?

How do I take care of myself when I want nothing to do with myself?

I am so tired of feeling this way.

 

Beautiful You

Day 12 – Beautiful You – Realize That Your Dissatisfaction is Not About Your Body

Stories

The past several days have been really rough for me. I let my depression and anxiety and the negative thoughts that come with them destroy my peace of mind. I shut myself off from friends and John. I woke up crying yesterday and then really broke down when John pulled me out of bed and asked me what was wrong.

While thoroughly soaking the shoulder of John’s nice shirt with my tears (and snot, sorry), he told me about an article he read on a study of learned helplessness in dogs (it is so sad, I can’t even write it out here, but look it up if you’re curious) and how the only way the researchers could get them to get up and eat and move instead of cower in fear of being shocked over and over again was to grab them up by their back legs and pull them up.

When he finished telling me about the article, he said, “I’m not sure how this applies to you, but it came to mind.”

I replied, “Are you saying someone needs to grab me up by my legs and make me move?”

He responded (paraphrased because I can’t remember his exact words), “I think you feel like you can’t go anywhere or do anything because you don’t have a job yet or extra money so you wind up doing nothing and feel like shit.”

This is true. This is the story I’ve told myself over and over again. I don’t deserve to do anything. I can’t afford to do anything. I need to be applying for jobs 24/7.

This past week, I think I got dressed and left the house twice. My sleep schedule got all screwed up. John said when he left for work at 2p, I was in my PJs in my usual spot on the couch and when he got home at 4a, I was in the same PJs and in the same spot, and to him, that screams that I’ve given up even though he says he knows better. I don’t think he’s totally wrong though. In a lot of ways, I have given up lately.

This past week, I let the negative, critical, demeaning stories I tell myself break me and leave me sobbing in my husband’s arms for 30 minutes. (Progress though: I used to never be able to cry in front of anyone else, and John has grown in leaps and bounds at showing empathy instead of immediately trying to fix the situation.)

The crying helped though. Right before John pulled me out of bed, I was lying there picturing a town filling with water, flooding with no way for the water to escape. And as soon as I started crying, I saw the dam break and the waters flow out. Sometimes, no answers can be found, no relief can be felt until the tears come. This is something I wish I knew and honored growing up, but with my family, I understand why it took so long for me to know and honor.


From Beautiful You, by Rosie Molinary, the Day 12 prompt which plays into a lot of what I’ve been feeling most of my life:

TODAY: In your “Beautiful You” journal, consider that your dissatisfaction is not about your body. When you accept that thought, what comes to mind? What is your dissatisfaction really about? What is trying to tell you? What part of your life could you address to foster more overall contentment?

All right, let’s do this.

When you accept that thought, what comes to mind?

That I’ve made my body my excuse and scapegoat for most of my life and punished it for something it never did.


What is your dissatisfaction really about?

Fear. I often blame my weight and body for why I can’t do the things I love, like sing or dance in front of others. I blame it for an unsatisfying sex life. I blame it for not allowing me to be stylish and beautiful even though there are plenty of adorable clothes in my size. I blame it for not being able to do the physical activities I love without struggle, like hiking and running, even though I can definitely be athletic and fat because I was for the first 20 years of my life. I blame it for why I didn’t get to have fun in high school and have boyfriends and etc. and kept myself at home instead.

My dissatisfaction is in my fear of being seen, making mistakes, looking stupid, being a beginner and what others think of me. What’s crazy is, John told me yesterday that NOT doing what I want to do, and not my weight gain, is what causes him to be less attracted to me at times. No one wants to be around someone who lives like a bump on a log. I definitely don’t like me when I am being a bump on a log and can totally understand being unattractive to others for being this way.


What is it trying to tell you?

That it is not my body I often dislike, it is me. Because I know I am better than the person I allow the bullshit lies in my head make out to be. I know I am smart and capable. It’s telling me hiding myself with the idea that my life will finally be perfect and everyone will love me when I’m thin or out of debt or whatever is really what is wasting my life. It is telling me this is all I’ve got – this body and this life – and I can’t keep waiting for something that will never come.


What part of your life could you address to foster more overall contentment?

Like John told me yesterday, I GET to go outside. I have nothing keeping me from walking out the door and going wherever I want. I might not be able to afford the dance classes I want to take right now, but there’s YouTube and just putting on music and dancing in my living room. I want to work on realizing that there is so much I can do without a job or money and in my body as it is and to actually do it. Sitting in my dark apartment all day and night with no concept of time sure as shit isn’t cutting it for me and only adds to my greatest fear of wasting my life and not living it to the fullest.

You can read all of my other posts from Rosie Molinary’s Beautiful You here.