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.

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.

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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

 

Beautiful You, Showing Up

No Longer 14

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“How to heal the inner child” is a topic I’ve been coming across a lot lately. I mentioned The Holistic Psychologist’s Inner Child Meditation a few posts back and how hard it was for me to visualize being back at June, Lib, and Brophy’s (maternal grandmother and great-grandparents) house, adult me holding the hand of the child version of me, and telling her she is loved, wanted, and safe.

I read something else recently that said something along the lines of, “When something happens to you and you react to it, how old do you feel in that moment?” I’ve also read that often we stop emotionally/mentally growing at the age where we first experienced trauma or when we were abruptly expected to become an adult.

Yesterday, I searched all of my files and even read old LiveJournal entries, desperately trying to find a poem I wrote as a teenager, then rewrote for a poetry writing class in college called “The 14-Year-Old Mom to My 39-Year-Old Mother.” (It might not have been called exactly that, but it’s what my memory says it was entitled.)

In this poem, I wrote about how, at 14, I was suddenly expected to stop being a teenager and start being a mother because my mother couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t just suddenly feel responsible for my brothers, especially Ben and Caleb who were respectively 7 and 5 at the time, but also for my mother. She and I would get into these horrendous, often physical, fights and she would tear me to shreds and burn me to the ground, and then an hour or so later, she’d crawl into bed with me, hold me, and cry, saying she was a horrible mother over and over again. She didn’t have anyone to talk to. She didn’t have anyone to lean on. She had no friends she could confide in. My dad was no longer there for her to blame for everything.

So I was suddenly supposed to be every one of those things for her. At 14 years old.

John and I were up late talking Monday night, and I asked him what he was like in high school. Did he have hobbies? Did he read comic books? What did he dress like? What did he do for fun?

He said he couldn’t really remember but said he figured he’s not that much different now than at 15 or 16, that most people’s identities are forged in their teen years and they don’t really change.

I feel like, as much as I joke around, I am so serious deep down as a person because I felt forced to be serious as a teenager. I still feel like such a child. I joked to John that I’m always looking for the “adultier adult.”

I felt so hopelessly imprisoned growing up.

My teen years were spent under a crushing weight of condemnation, abandonment, judgment, shaming, belittlement, violence, dysfunction, and abuse. I was never good enough. Always too fat. Not pretty enough. A disappointment. Afraid to make mistakes. Always so fucking angry, as I absorbed all of the emotions around me, not knowing that labels like “empath” or “highly sensitive person” existed, or that both labels described me. I was basically a sponge at the bottom of a toxic waste runoff pond. And I too often spewed out what was poured into me.

I felt so unloved and unlovable. Like a burden. Too emotional. Too much. I was so wounded and sought comfort in things and people who couldn’t really give me the attention, affirmation, and affection that I needed, no matter how much they loved me because they were so wounded and seeking the same.

When I think about my life as a teenager, it was always with thoughts of how to escape. I read everything I could get my hands on, about like I do now. Lost myself in fiction, music, and movies. I had some fun, typical American teenage girl times too, obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, going to concerts and high school football games when my dad finally let me my senior year of high school. All I thought about was how much I wanted to leave, but I also felt so compelled to stay because of Ben and Caleb.

I did not know what to do with my freedom when I got to Mobile and I was three hours away from home. My freedom didn’t feel free because I was so worried about everyone at home and felt guilty that I wasn’t there, especially for Ben and Caleb.

I also did not know what to do without the constant, daily trauma going on around me. I did not how to loosen up. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I didn’t know what to do with the quiet.

When John and I talked about all of that, I told him how the only reason I would go back to my teen years is if it meant I got to do what other teenagers did – have boyfriends, go to prom and other dances, make out in the backseat, hang out with friends at the mall, just be carefree. Adam and, even more so, Ben got to do that. Ben is the sibling most like me, in both looks and personality, but I see so much of who I feel like I will never be in all that I’ve watched him do, both horribly stupid and incredibly amazing. Maybe having me to do all of the worrying for him growing up gave him the freedom not to worry so much and just live his life.

The stories I’ve told myself since age 14 are stories where I’m a victim and a martyr, all laced in fear and pleas for someone to finally tell me I am enough just as I am. I’ve regaled myself with tales of who I will be once I’m thin, get married, get out of debt, move to some new town, feeling so much hope and excitement for that perfect person I will be if I just put my head down and keep pushing myself, and I’ve beaten myself up when none of those things make me happy or my life what I want it to be. Someday I will be loved, worth loving has turned into that mirage of an oasis in the desert in this quest. The finish line that keeps getting moved further away.

I don’t feel capable of the hard conversations, the really vulnerable and deep talks that lay me wide open for all kinds of destruction and pain.

I still feel very ashamed about sex, my sexuality, and my body as a sexual being. When things get awkward and uncomfortable, I either shut down or make jokes or get angry and accusing. My brain has me convinced that everyone my age has got sex figured out while I’m the one still fumbling in the dark and awkward as fuck because they got started long before I did. There are so many times where I wish I’d had sex way sooner and with more people but I didn’t because of growing up in a purity culture and being shamed for being sexually curious from an early age.

Now in my mid-30s, I’m floundering, not knowing what to do next, job-wise while almost everyone else I know is settled into a steady career like I was in my mid-20s. I’m currently procrastinating in trying to find another job because I’m so afraid of winding up in another toxic and boring office job because I don’t trust myself not to settle for whoever wants to hire me.

Last week, when I saw someone mentioning healing the “inner teenager” instead of just the inner child, I thought, This is where I’m at, this is how old I feel emotionally and mentally, this is how old my feelings of maturity and responsibility are.

This is the age range in me that needs healing, grace, and accountability. This is where I need to tell myself it is okay to be exactly who and where I am. Where I remind myself there is no real timeline in life, birth and death are the only real certainties, and no one of any age has it all figured out, that “it all” looks completely different for everyone. Where I start asking myself those questions like, “What would you do if you could do anything?” and I answer from me and not from my expectations of the perceptions of those around me. This is the version of me that needs to be told, “You are safe, you are loved, you are wanted, you are not too much.”

I knew 10 years ago that there was more to my life than spending it in Alabama, caught up in my family’s drama and trauma, taking care of everyone else but myself, and I made the decision to move to Georgia, still the best decision I’ve made thus far. And while I’ve distanced myself from it all physically, I am still distancing myself from it emotionally. Learning that I what I experienced was actually trauma. That I do have some PTSD from being in family dysfunction I couldn’t escape from, with people who couldn’t address the reality of that dysfunction and trauma and just accepted it as normal. Understanding that I am an adult, I’m not 14, and I am allowed to be myself, exactly however that means. That my feelings and voice matter. That I have the power and privilege and responsibility of my present and future, and even more so, I don’t have to figure out my entire life right now, and, goddamnit, I am allowed to make some fucking mistakes. 

know these things, but I still feel caught up in all of those old fears of judgment, condemnation, shame, abandonment, and rejection. There is shit I no longer have to put up with, but I still hold onto it anyway.

But…

I’m allowed to have boundaries now, and I am learning what they are, how to establish them, and how to maintain them. I no longer have to stay in any situations or dysfunction that hurt me. I am always, from here on out, free to let go, walk away, and move on to better, healthier habits, mindsets, situations, and relationships. 

All of this actually really just hit me while writing this post.

I want 14-year-old Amy to know I love her, I’m proud of her, and I am the strong, empathetic, kind, hilarious, thoughtful, and self-aware person I am now because of her. That she doesn’t have to worry about what will happen to everyone around her if she’s not there to pick up the pieces constantly. That everything has turned out pretty well. She can relax and play.

And I think she’d tell me, You don’t have to be sad or angry for me anymore. You don’t have to feel bad for me. You don’t need to be my mother or anyone else’s anymore either. You can let go and have a life of your own. 

And by the way, 36-year-old me, YOU can now relax and play.