Showing Up

Becoming Okay with “I Don’t Know”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Showing Up

Anger Triggers: My Uncle Robert

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the final straw for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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