Showing Up

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I felt it placed upon my heart to write this post a few months ago, and it stirred up a lot of anxiety within me. A LOT. Like I started panicking about dying on a daily basis. The ground beneath me – mentally and emotionally – began to quake.

I awoke the beast.

So like I do with most things I dread/fear, I procrastinated. I’ll write this later. I’ve got other stuff to do.

You know, stuff like scroll through Instagram and Reddit over and over again every thirty minutes, bite my nails, find things to bitch at John about then pick fights over it, talk shit about people I don’t like (especially our current president and his administration), look at clothes I want to buy then whine because I don’t have the extra money to buy them, eat junk food, worry about my weight and almost start a new diet out of old habits die hard, and every other thing you do when you don’t want to face your bullshit head on.

In mid-January, this very clear voice that resounded through my whole being, a voice I heard 10 years ago when it told me to move to Atlanta, told me, Something bad is about to happen. It may have added, to you, but I can’t remember exactly. I thought, “Okay, anxiety, yes, of course, something bad will happen to me, that’s life. It’s like sitting outside and saying a gray Camry is going to drive by. It will eventually because those are very popular cars.”

But then, my best friend’s fiance of five years went AWOL for a week before it was determined it was all because he was too chickenshit to break up with her. Devastating for her though because he’d acted as if everything was fine just the day before he walked out the door and disappeared.

And now, we are in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m currently not working (but thankfully getting paid through April 6th), everything non-essential is shut down (well, 95% of it), and people everywhere are hoarding toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes.

I guess now I should probably write about the scarcity mentality because I’m feeling it even more acutely than ever and so is the rest of the world, or at least the greater Atlanta metro area.

Generally, the scarcity mentality is the feeling of never enough. Never having enough, being enough, doing enough, making enough, etc. Never enough.

It is ingrained in the American society for sure. Just watch TV for 30 minutes or scroll through Instagram and suddenly, you’re not thin enough, pretty enough, feminine or masculine enough, curvy enough, muscular enough, your hair isn’t shiny or long enough, you don’t make enough money, you’re not traveling enough, you’re not living enough, you’re not smart enough, blah blah blah. You need this diet, that hair treatment, this job, that dress, this amount of income, that amount of exercise, this bra size, those measurements, etc.

For me, the scarcity mentality thrived in various areas of my life growing up.

Money: I grew up somewhere along the middle-class income line. Not in the extreme poverty my dad was raised in, but also not wealthy by most American standards. Just right in the middle. We had the basics – shelter, food, clothing – and then a few luxuries thanks to my grandmother June – Nintendos and other game systems. We went to either the beach or the Smoky Mountains on vacation. My dad worked as a surgical equipment assembler and my mom worked as a labor and delivery registered nurse. Pretty average American middle-class family, financially.

But the scarcity mentality around money ran deep throughout my family growing up. Everyone had credit card debt (though that was and is pretty much “normal” in this country) at first, but then it grew out of control and soon, several family members, including my mom, had to file for bankruptcy. My dad’s home after he and my mom divorced was nearly foreclosed several times because he could barely make the mortgage payment on his own.

No one knew how to be responsible with their money because, like most families, there seemed to be this need for “just a little more” to feel safe and secure. Plus, they thought things like, If I just have [that car, house, outfit, amount of food, etc.], I will be satisfied. My dad’s upbringing in extreme, extreme poverty led him to blow his money left and right as soon as he started making any. I can remember many Fridays where he just cashed his paycheck and spent it while leaving my mom to pay all of their bills with her paycheck, which was considerably more than his but barely enough to cover everything.

Saving money was really unheard of in my family. I never heard anyone even mention having a savings account. It just seemed expected to have credit card debt, a mortgage, car payment, and owe money to someone for the rest of your life. Both of my parents cashed out their retirements to pay off debt, leaving very little for however many years they have left.

This deep-seated scarcity mindset around money has given me so much fear of debt, which has led me to budget down to the freaking wire whenever I’ve had a job in an attempt to just get out of debt because I don’t want to owe others for the rest of my life. I am probably one of the most frugal people most of my friends know. This has helped me in that I’ve paid off nearly $5K in credit card debt since January 2019 despite being either unemployed or underemployed, but I have stressed myself out to the point of chronic anxiety about money. Where I used to think, When I’m thin, life will be so much easier, I now often catch myself thinking, Omg, I will feel so much better once I’m no longer in debt. In either case, I tend to unconsciously put my life on hold until the goal is met, it isn’t met, and I feel resentful and envious and find myself violently swirling in the comparison cycle. That’s when the “woe is me” mentality kicks in and I feel like I can’t live the life I want because I can’t afford it.

Scarcity, scarcity, scarcity. I can’t be or do enough because I don’t have enough money.

Affection: This is a scarcity I didn’t realize I have until probably a few years into my relationship with John. Touch-starved is another name for it. My family wasn’t very affectionate and made being affectionate sound like a disorder and to want affectionate as being needy or too much.

I initiated a lot of the affection with my grandmother June, my parents, and my brothers. My dad is very solid and strong so it turned into me squeezing him as hard as I can because I can. My mom is very petite and feels so fragile that sometimes I feel like I’m going to break her if I hug her. She wasn’t very into hugs when I was a kid or older. My brother Adam is more like her about hugs, not so much into them, but Ben and Caleb are both very affectionate men. Our mom used to ask them if they wished I had a boyfriend so I’d stop hugging them so much, which made me feel bad, but because I was so affectionate with them, they are open emotionally and love to hug and be hugged unlike most of the men in our family and, really, our society. Including my husband.

Even though I had a friend in college who was very affectionate and loosened me up to being hugged by and hugging other people outside of my family, I still remained touch-starved throughout my twenties. I lived alone the majority of the time. Pretty much just went to work and came home. I saw my family probably once every two or three months after I moved to Georgia.

So when I met John in July 2011 and he was so affectionate with me for the first year of our relationship, it overwhelmed me. I’d never had someone want to touch me so much and not just sexually. He was forever touching my hair and face and holding my hand and hugging me. It was so far on the other end of the spectrum from the near lifetime of barely being touched or hugged that it frightened me in a way. But then it started to die down as the novelty of me wore off for him. Then I grieved that for a long time. I still do sometimes.

And now, with his night shift schedule of the past four years, the affection is less, but he still pulls me to him at night before he falls asleep, he kisses me before he goes to work, and holds my hand when we go to the grocery store and walk from the car to the store. Last night, he was lying on one end of the couch with me on the other and our dog Missy was behind his butt and next to me. When he tried to reach for her, my hand was in the way so he grabbed my hand. I said, “Aww, you’re holding my hand,” and he held onto it for a second, which made me feel warm and loved, then let go to pet Missy. Sometimes I really miss the guy who used to straddle me on the couch to make out with me or rub my hair and tell me how pretty he thinks I am.

At least we have our dogs now. They both love hugs and run to me to be picked up and hugged whenever I get home from work and love when I hold them and dance with them in my arms. That has been really nice and sometimes I want them to stop touching me, haha. So I guess I’m not touch-starved when it comes to dogs, just humans.

I sometimes feel like I never get held or touched enough.

Food: I am southern so the supply of food was never limited for me growing up. Someone, mostly my great-grandmother Lib, was always cooking something. However, my access to food was limited because everyone was so concerned about my weight as a child, especially as a female child. It was always so back and forth. My mom didn’t want me to eat dessert so she hid them and I found and snuck them. With her family, they were offended if I didn’t get seconds at dinner but then said “You’re getting too fat, don’t eat seconds” if I did, and always offered me candy, ice cream, and/or banana pudding for dessert. If I went on a diet, they were offended or ignored me. If I wasn’t, they criticized me. I couldn’t win.

In their act of trying to prevent me from eating sweets out of their fear of me getting fat, I learned to sneak and binge food. In doing this, I forgot how to eat intuitively (if I ever really knew how), could not slow down and enjoy food, and no matter what I ate, it never felt like enough. This food access scarcity created a lot of shame within me around food and my feelings of being out of control around it. Binge eating was an act of rebellion and anger towards my family for being so critical of my body and weight and telling me that I was a failure to them in their eyes and expectations. It became a coping method in my teens, and that was when I actually finally was fat after years of them projecting that fear onto me.

I never felt freedom with food. Never really felt allowed to enjoy food because being fat to my family meant I already “enjoyed” it too much. My body filled out but my insides were hollow and aching. Without affection or affirmation or permission to be wholly myself, I was numb inside. I lashed out at myself. I did not give myself what I was not given because I thought if others couldn’t give it to me, I did not deserve it. I could not give what I did not think I had.

Back then, I did not know then that validation must come from within and that I can’t rely on it from others. That took growing up and getting away from my family to realize. It is something I still remind myself of constantly.

Scarcity leads to insecurity which leads to fear, which leads to the need for control. And for me, with food, it caused me to rebel and often harm my own body in that act of rebellion. Like the whole thing about how holding anger towards others is like holding a hot rock in your hand. You’re the one who gets hurt/burned.

Autonomy: “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” Growing up in the midst of the True Love Waits movement in the 1990s, I heard this constantly. I am not my own. My body is not my own. My thoughts are not my own. My heart is deceitful. I am not trustworthy. My body and heart are not trustworthy. To trust in myself was to be arrogant and believe I knew more than God. To defiantly eat from that Tree of Knowledge so that I could be on level with God. To question was to sin. I am nothing without God. Love does not exist outside of God. Freedom doesn’t exist outside of God. Separation from God equals imprisonment in the chains of sin and self-righteousness. I cannot belong to myself. I cannot trust myself. That intuition is God, not me.

This is the stuff I learned growing up in church and in my family. If you want a lifetime of feeling inadequate, evangelical Christianity is where it’s at. I did not know what grace meant growing up. I did not understand compassion or forgiveness or mercy either until I was older. Love was very conditional in my family and it was taught to me that the same applied with God, and I never measured up.

When there is a scarcity of autonomy, you are primed for toxic, abusive, and dysfunctional relationships and codependency issues. You take everyone else’s word about you over your own. You allow yourself to belong to everyone but yourself, and this is especially true in romantic relationships. You look to everyone else to tell you who you are, your worth, and who you’re meant to be, and trying to look inward for these answers leaves you feeling empty, ashamed, and broken. This is how abuse happens in the church, especially among male pastors and women and children in the church.

Also, self-accountability goes out the window. How can you hold yourself responsible when you’ve been told there is a constant war of good and evil going on inside of your body that is for your eternal soul? Your wins are really god’s wins, but your fuck ups…well, those are between you and the devil. God has nothing to do with that.

I often feel like I lived the first 30 years of my life outside of my body or maybe just inhabiting a small corner of my body or just inside of my head. Everything from the neck down was numb. I constantly prayed for forgiveness for when my body wanted things I was told were wrong to have, like sex or sexual thoughts, feelings, or behaviors outside of marriage. I felt so ashamed for all of my emotions and for being so outspoken with them. For not being quiet and submissive. For being curious and wanting to explore. For wanting to take up space. For wanting to experience joy and pleasure outloud. For not wanting to be told what to do. For just being fucking alive.

I know I seem really cynical about religion now. In a lot of ways, I am. Most of all though, I’m angry because being raised in it taught me that who I am in this body doesn’t really matter, that this life doesn’t matter (“we’re not home yet” is a popular saying in Christian pop culture), that love is a bargaining chip and manipulation tool. I was indoctrinated, taught a bunch of lies. My anger is not directed towards my family, but towards the institution of organized religion, specifically evangelical Christianity. But again, the hot rock in my hand is only burning me and I have to drop it or risk permanent damage.

I don’t believe I am alone in these feelings of scarcity and inadequacy. Like I said, it is a cancer in our society. It makes a few companies, religious institutions, and people a lot of money to keep us on this scarcity mindset train. If you don’t feel like something is missing, you have no reason to buy whatever bullshit society is selling. You are not the targeted audience. I wish we all were no longer the targeted audience because being alive and on a planet like ours is a fucking miracle. Rarest of rare. You could almost say our time is scarce, but that adds to the rush and inadequacies. No, we have an abundance of time and life, exactly enough.

When it comes to my scarcity issues with money, I try to think about all I “get to” have and do, not what I don’t have or can’t do. I get to have a nice apartment, hot water, food, a comfortable bed, electricity, internet, security, and safety. John and I have learned a lot of fun things to do without having a lot of money. Our relationship is what it is not because we’ve bought each other expensive gifts or go on fancy vacations together, but from taking long walks and cooking at home and finding fun, simple ways to entertain ourselves and each other, like YouTube videos, funny memes, card games, or just talking to each other. Even now, being home more often due to the Coronavirus, life isn’t that much different. We read, watch TV, play with the dogs, go for walks, and etc. We still have such an abundance even as health and money seem scarce all around us.

With affection, I am learning to ask for what I want or need. I ask John to give me a hug. I reach for his hand. I hug him from behind like I want him to hug me. I remind myself that hugging my dogs does count as affection and thankfully they love to be hugged and held. When/if John and I have children, I get to give them what I did not get growing up, which I read recently is a product of grace.

Re: food, this is an ongoing thing, but I’ve made so much progress in the past two years. I’m learning that my body is going to be exactly what it wants and needs to be and very little is within my control. It has done so much without much help from me, really. I’ve done a lot to harm it out of feelings of shame and inadequacy, and yet, it has never stopped working to keep me alive and as strong and healthy as it can. Since I have given myself permission to eat what I want and taken away the access scarcity, my way of eating has become more stabilized. I have slowed down. Listened to my cravings and honored instead of criticized them. The only time I feel rushed to eat something is if John is acting out of food scarcity and tries to eat something as quickly as we’ve bought it or I’ve made it, but even then, I have to remind myself, There is plenty more where that came from.

And as far as autonomy goes, I am still learning that the voice inside of me is my own. It is my guide, my intuition, a gift to me for this life, and it is trustworthy. My body is mine. I am accountable to me. My decisions are mine, as are the consequences of them. It is scary to realize my life is up to me in a large part – which is not the same as saying I am in control of everything – but it is also freeing. I am slowly inhabiting more and more of my body, which feels like a warmth or lights being turned on room by room in a large house. I feel more grounded. I value my life more because I realize this is likely all I’m going to have and it is sufficient. My body is trustworthy and always has been. Love is not about control but about freedom, and I have freedom in acknowledging the abundance of my autonomy.

With abundance comes responsibility. I can’t say, “I don’t have enough so I can’t be enough” anymore because this isn’t true and it never was. I have always had exactly enough to be enough, regardless of the circumstances in my life. I, like everyone else who feels this way, was sold a bunch of lies because scarcity is profitable and powerful to those who convince us that it is the truth.

And that’s where I am now. Learning the truth. Accepting my responsibilities. Owning up to my shit and the shit that was handed to me by people who had it handed to them. Learning that grace is giving myself space to find the freedom in acknowledging the abundance all around me and detangle myself from the limits and constraints of the scarcity mindset. Forgiveness is knowing this is not a one-and-done project, but a constant shifting of perception and awareness.

Aside from that clear as day voice I heard back in January that told me something bad is going to happen, my whole being has vibrated lately with the knowledge that everything as we’ve known it is ending or has ended. We can’t go back to life before this pandemic, just as I imagine the people who survived the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic – as well as countless others before and since then – could not. A massive shift/transformation is taking place.

Don’t let the scarcity mindset kick in though. Nothing you need is being taken from you in the long run. This is showing so many areas that need to be demolished and removed. Some of us have the privilege to rest during this time where we have been caught up in the capitalistic rat race our whole lives. This is slowing us down, holding us up to a mirror, and giving us the opportunity to address so many things we haven’t had the extra time or solitude to address.

This is a time for healing.

I am personally being reminded that there isn’t much we can be certain or in control of in life, but that is okay. It is also okay to be afraid right now or a whole slew of other emotions. It is okay to even numb out for now because the news is so overwhelming.

It is also a good reminder that fear and scarcity sell, just as I mentioned above. Don’t buy in when you can help it. Turn off the TV. Stop reading Reddit (note to self). Find something else to talk about, think about, look at, and do. Remember that even in seasons of death and despair, there is still so much life all around and within us.

Scarcity mindset gives you black and white thinking. Thinking from a perspective of abundance opens you up to the in-between. Both are filled with uncertainty and vulnerability, but shifting to a perspective of abundance opens you up to so much possibility and growth.

Don’t allow scarcity mindset to limit your vision of yourself and your life or cause you to throw away your money, time, life, love, talents, and independence.

We are enough and we are loved…just as we are.

Some of us are more privileged than others when it comes to food, money, health, housing, work, and freedom – there are real scarcities in those areas in many, too many, people’s lives. Scarcity mindset though teaches us every person for themselves, there’s not enough for me much less anyone else. Abundance – and I think we will see this happen more often in the near future – teaches many of us to give to others what we are privileged to have so much of because we see there is plenty more where that came from.

A new chapter in my life is starting, and I have a feeling this doesn’t just pertain to my own story. We are all shifting. Breaking up with the old scarcity mindset ways of thinking is so hard to do, but so necessary, and if we’ve ever needed hard evidence of why, it is sweeping across our globe as I write this.

Showing Up

Playing by the Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showing Up

Peace in Place of Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showing Up

I Am My Own

Sexual liberation
Source: @evyan.whitney (Instagram)

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

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

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

Let’s take it to the bullet points here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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