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.

Beautiful You, Showing Up

No Longer 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt so hopelessly imprisoned growing up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 24 – Beautiful You – Describe Yourself

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From the book “Inward” by: Yung Pueblo

Today: In your Beautiful You journal, describe yourself as completely as you can.

I have put off writing this post for a week now because I’ve spent a lot of time wondering who I really am vs. who I think I am supposed to be in my too-high regard for what others think of me and how they perceive me. 

I’ve also spent a bit too much romanticizing some of my past and trying to recover who I’ve been at previous times, forgetting also what I’ve worked through since then.

Who am I now, at nearly 37 years old, married, and once again unemployed? Definitely more than just those things even if I allow just those labels to identify me all too often these days. 

I guess the answer is, who I am right now is fluid and forever transforming. Ugh, that sounds too vague. Even if the walls are constantly being repainted and the furniture changed out, the foundation of who I am is still pretty much the same.

So who I am right now? What is the foundation of me?

Last week, when I got a much-needed pedicure, the woman who did it and I got to talking about children and she asked me if I have any. I said, “No, but at nearly 37, I guess my window is starting to close and I need to decide soon, huh?” She said she would’ve guessed I was years younger and said, “It must be because you are a really happy person, I can see it in your face.” I joked back, “Having such chubby cheeks helps.”

Later, when I texted my mom and told her about it, she said, “I know you’ve had a rough year, but deep down, you are a joyful person. You laugh and smile a lot and that shows in your face and makes you look younger.”

I do find a lot to laugh about. I love to play around with my two dogs, Missy and Chewy. I find funny memes to share with John and my brothers. I think I’m pretty funny personally and laugh at my own jokes even when everyone else thinks my jokes aren’t that funny. My sense of humor varies from silly/goofy to sarcastic to dirty. 

As critically as I talk and think at times, I am also deeply optimistic. I’m currently in the midst of one of many deconstructing/sometimes self-destructive periods in my life, but I am still hopeful. I know it is temporary. I still know how to find something to smile and laugh about.

I love to read and learn and always have. I will read the book before I watch the movie, and though the book is better most of the time, I can think of several movie interpretations that turned out better, like The HelpThe Secret Life of BeesP.S., I Love You, A Time to Kill, and a few others. I read constantly, whether it is books, articles posted on social media, or stuff I google or see on Reddit. 

I’m on a lifelong path of continuous self-growth and self-evolving. I try to keep an open mind about most things and find the middle ground. I’m starting to learn it is okay to question the things I was once so sure about, like the Christian faith I was raised to believe in. 

In this process of continuous self-growth, my acute self-awareness flourishes. When I get angry with how others act or how I feel they’re treating me, I stop and think, Why does this bother me so much? What unhealed and hurting part of me is reacting to this? I am trying to become a more thoughtful and less reactive person.

I love to write. Author Jon Acuff wrote in his book Start that a passion is something you can do without ever being paid for it and something you lose track of time while doing. Writing is both of those for me.

I miss writing fiction. I miss writing songs. While I am getting better at verbally communicating my thoughts and emotions, which is especially important because tone can be hard to read in written communication and I can come across as a huge bitch sometimes, writing still helps me process my thoughts best. 

I’m an outgoing introvert. I can go between talking to people at 90 mph for hours to basically taking a vow of silence for 2 days. Like others in my family, I have rarely met a stranger. Being a southerner, this is especially true when I meet other college football fans because SEC football is its own language and religion. I have a very thick southern accent that refuses to subside despite John not having much of a southern accent. Not even living in Chicago for two years dampened it. Sometimes, I think it is charming; other times, I think it is annoying. Maybe those are the times I take the vow of silence, haha. 

I love to sing in the shower or alone in my car. I love singing along to Disney songs and musicals and often love movie soundtracks better than the movies. I also love to make up and sing silly songs about my dogs, mostly changing the words to songs already recorded. 

I love to dance and am not as shy about doing that in front of others if I’m at club or wedding. I mostly dance in the shower, while I’m getting dressed, baking, and/or waiting on my food to cook in the microwave. My dog Missy seems to love when I hold her and dance too, as she runs up to me whenever I start and waits for me to pick her up. It’s so cute.

I also love to bake, though I don’t do it as much as I used to because my body doesn’t react well to sweets anymore (yay, IBS, gastritis, and insulin resistance). Baking is one of the few things I connect with my dad on, and it is one of the few things that clears my head and helps me relax.

The other thing about me that connects my dad and me is that I’m a huge weather geek. I tell John every day I am ready to move closer to the beach because summer doesn’t feel right without afternoon thunderstorms and they seem to evade us here in Atlanta. I get mad when it storms down the road but not here. Thunder and lightning make me feel so alive.

I’m a night owl, something that I’ve been my whole life and probably always will be. Every time my schedule is interrupted when I’ve quit a job, I wind up sliding into my natural rhythm which puts me at staying up often until 3a or later and sleeping late. I’m most awake in the late afternoon and then again just after midnight. 

I wish I was more gentle, but I tend to be, as my great-grandmother Lib used to say, “a bull in a china shop.” I am strong and have strong enough hands to open my own jar, but often John has to take things from me before I destroy them. I also wish I was more patient, but I get frustrated and flustered easily. John says I have “Hulk hands,” strong and ferocious, so when I accidentally break something, the term is that I “Hulk-handed” it. 

I am sensitive and empathetic, no matter how I came about acquiring these traits. I can’t watch painfully awkward, violent, or sad parts of TV shows or movies. I cry easily. Get my feelings hurt easily. 

I am determined to have a vibrant, fulfilling life, so you can imagine how impatient and anxious I get when I don’t have the extra money to do things like travel. I’m also an all-or-nothing person so it is hard for me to see that even if I can’t fly across the country or world, there’s still plenty to see right where I live that doesn’t cost a lot of money or any, beyond maybe gas in my car.

I think I have this vision deep down of what I want my life to be like, but I can’t quite fully grasp it yet or I just see it in flashes. The flashes I see are things like living near the ocean, riding my bike in the sunshine, and having a small cottage style house with windows all around to let the sunlight in and a big kitchen, and baking for John, me, and friends. Lots of books to read, storms to watch roll in over the ocean, room to dance, songs to sing, conversations to have, and stories to listen to and write. This feels too easy at times or I don’t know how to get there so I ignore it, but I’m slowly learning it is okay to find joy in life, enjoy my life, and to stop rushing through the good to plan and brace for the inevitable pain and loss. To stop thinking I can’t just have good things, I have to earn or deserve them through lots of pain and suffering. That way of living and thinking is draining me though. I’m ready to experience and be enveloped in the good whether I deserve it or not. 

I could probably go on a bit more, but one thing is clear: I have a pretty good grasp of who I am. There are a lot of shifting parts going on inside of me and a lot I am moving through and healing from. I could’ve written about my struggles with my anxiety and depression, but even though these feel so big so often, they are really a mix of wonky brain chemicals, impatience, and the high expectations I hold for my life. I’m restless and antsy and so ready for more, but I also need to not neglect the present so often. It’s all just me trying to find balance, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and healing in my life. 

Even in the darkest depths of my sadness and worry, I’m excited about life and my potential to experience it. That’s a light that I don’t ever see going out because I’ve been through some shit and it’s yet to extinguish. It is a light that is with me for life.

 

Beautiful You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 17 – Beautiful You – Replace What You Heard

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

For being fat.

Being emotional.

Not making perfect grades.

Not making enough money.

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

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

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

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

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

Where do those voices come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Showing Up

There Is Only “Now”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful You, Showing Up

Day 16 – Beautiful You – Realize Everything is Just Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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