Letters to Myself

Letters to Myself, #3 – Happy Birthday

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

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

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October 1989:

Dear 7-year-old Amy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2000:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2009:

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

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

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

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

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

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October 2009:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, 

Amy

 

Letters to Myself

Letters to Myself, #1 – Can We Be Friends?

Dear Me:

You know we’re together through it all, right? Like where you go, I go? Who you are, I am? Who you love, I love? You and I, you and I, you and I, we can conquer the world in loooove. Oops, got sidetracked at the thought of Michael Buble singing “You and I.”

Anyway. I know, it often feels like we are twins, two bodies developed from one egg, similar bodies and faces but totally different personalities. One of us is more adventurous, creative, silly, fun, outgoing, affectionate, optimistic, and joyful. The other of us is sullen, critical, brooding, mean, depressed, anxious, distrusting, cynical, and prefers to be left alone in a dark room and never touched. Both are pretty hilarious. I guess they at least have that in common.

And by God are they always at war with each other. The happier of us two says, “Go live life, it’s great, everything is so beautiful, let’s make the most of it, I love everything!” while the other creeps away, walking backwards with two middle fingers in the air, screaming, “Everything is fucked. Nothing is safe. How can you be so naive?!”

Happier us says, “Amy, you are beautiful, loved, and wonderful just as you are. You don’t have to be so afraid of being yourself.” Cynical us says, “You really need to lose some fucking weight, Amy. Why else do you think your body aches so much now? Why bother trying to live a life you’re not fit enough to live. Who could love you, really? Really?”

Ah, Cynical us, I see you’ve invited shame to this party. How cruel when you know our history. 

Look, I get why we don’t trust each other. Happier us is sick of being dragged down by Cynical us. Happier us is sick of cynical us’s shit. Cynical us is tired of comforting Happier us when Happier us gets its feelings hurt. Cynical us thinks it’s the adult and wishes Happier us would grow the fuck up because there’s too much shit going on that we need to be prepared for.

Neither of us trusts that the other is telling the truth about who we are.

Cynical us lost hope years ago when it saw there was none in the context of all the dysfunction of our family. All it wants is to not be like them. Not be like them. Not be like them. So it focuses on things like being smarter with money, moving to a bigger city, trying to have a healthier marriage, thinking, “God, if I could just do [this], everything would be perfect,” not realizing the set up for disappointment and inescapable failure this sets us up for. (By the way, totally okay to fail, just not okay to wallow in that failure or encapsulate that failure with shame.)

However, none of this touches the core of what we are clawing the steel walls to escape from: that deep, dark, aching, fucked up, vicious cycle of shame, hopelessness, and fear.

Happy us has been fighting to be heard since Day 1. Look how we find things to laugh and smile about even when there is so much to be sad and angry about around us. Look how much we love the ocean, clouds, pink sunsets, rainbows after thunderstorms, the view of and from mountaintops.

Think about how our heart swells with joy when we see puppies, babies, people treating us and each other with kindness, songs that lift us from our feet and having us jumping all around, when we play with children and forget how “grown up” we’re supposed to be.

And writing, oh my god, while Cynical us has definitely inspired more words, it has also, probably without meaning to, opened us up to our pain and helped us empathize and view the perspectives of others. We make a really good first-person perspective writing team. Hey! Maybe we should write a book together! Huh? Huh? Whaddya think?

I know it hurts to get excited about something then let down. I know it feels like we are forever waiting for whatever is meant to happen to us. I know it is easy to think we are what we do. And sometimes, we are what we do. But doing is not the entirety of our being or self-worth. We are worthy just by being…alive, happy, sad, cynical, optimistic, however we show up day to day.

And that life that we keep waiting to happen for us? It’s happening right now, guys! It’s been going on THIS ENTIRE TIME. Mind blowing, I know. Of course, we think about that too, but get so impatient. Oh and there’s also the whole thing where we’re going to die one day but we don’t know when and oh my god, what if I don’t get to do all the things I want to do? That loves to keep us awake in the middle of the night, doesn’t it? We can collectively agree we hate it when we can’t control everything even though we know being in control takes the fun out of life, right?

Okay, Cynical us, maybe this is your realm. Maybe knock it off a little bit?

Cynical us, did you know Happier us feels scared too? Joy feels so good that it is frightening. It is fleeting, yes, but what we don’t understand is that one joy moves out so another can move in.

Joy is an ever-rushing current with an infinite number of stops along the way. We hold so tightly to one joy, one memory, and squeeze our eyes shut til we see stars behind our eyelids because we think if we let go, we’ll never feel joy again. Cynical us, I think you see this happening and you love Happier us so much that you step in to protect us, but it’s okay. You can both open your eyes and arms, let that past joy go, and look together for the next moment, which should be here any second.

Happier us, all Cynical us wants is to be loved, safe, and to be seen as good enough. You have both been taught that to be vulnerable is to be weak, that vulnerability is to be avoided at all costs. You have been through so much, and what you don’t realize is that you’ve had each other this whole time. You’ve worked as a team through it all.

The divide is not as large as it seems and guys, it is most definitely NOT your fault. Not your fault, not your fault, not your fault. You did not do this to each other. This divide was dumped on you by people who had their own inner divisions and pain dumped on them. HOWEVER…it is your responsibility to try your hardest not to dump your inner turmoil on anyone else. We are meant to stop this intergenerational trauma, which is why I’m writing all of this in the first place. It is really important we find a way to get along.

Happier us sees being openly joyous as being vulnerable – naive, childish, silly – so it allows Cynical us to step forward with its complaining, sarcasm, bitterness, and resentment. That seems to speak the language of the media and of most of the so-called “adults” around us and acts as a protective shield. The only thing is, that shield doesn’t just protect us from painful emotions, but every emotion. There’s no filter. 

Cynicism, rage, shame, bitterness, and fear have been the water around us for a very long time, and we, with our empathetic, sensitive spongey nature and need for love and acceptance, have soaked it all up until we are so swollen and dripping with it.

Life is hard enough as it is. Division outside of us will destroy us if there remains division within us.

Cynical us, keep protecting us as you do, as what you do keeps us alive. I appreciate that. I know you are doing what you’ve always done, survive in whatever way possible. There is nothing wrong with you, nothing to be ashamed of. (Ha, I sound like Happier us and can feel you side-eyeing the fuck out of me. Sorry. I promise I’m not taking sides here.)

All I am saying here is that you can relax. We don’t live in that dysfunctional family home anymore. There’s no violence, abuse, gaslighting, or negligence going on anymore.

I know you must be sweltering under all of that armor you’ve layered on throughout the years, so take some of it off.

You had to grow up so quickly. You never really got to be a child. I know you resent Happier us sometimes because it is so child-like, bright, sunny, light, and free, but I know how much you want to protect that joy too. I see you. I’m not going to ask you to be who you are not because you are needed and loved just as you are. Like I said, you’ve kept me alive, you’ve gotten me through a lot of shit. I am only asking that you don’t close yourself completely off and that maybe you tell shame to fuck off, we’ve had enough for a lifetime, it’s no longer welcome here.

Happier us, thank you for keeping the child in us alive. Keep looking for the rainbows after storms. Don’t be so afraid to sing out loud when a song comes on that you love or it just gets stuck in your head. You have the most infectious, deep belly laugh and you always find stuff to laugh about. Keep making up goofy songs about your dogs and picking them up and dancing around the house with them. Don’t stop unabashedly loving “The Little Mermaid” or other Disney princess movies. Be the little girl you never got to be.

Bake cookies because you love to bake cookies – quit worrying about sugar being “the devil” and don’t let diet culture take you away from something you love to do. Enjoy your ice cream and don’t let guilt or shame about your body keep you from savoring it.

Wear all the floral prints you want. Buy the skirts and dresses that twirl when you spin in a circle and twirl your heart out.

Who cares if no one else gets as excited when the thunder roars as you do?

Those pretty flowers you notice on your walks are there for you to notice and see beauty in them. And that eternal need to see and hear the ocean? Don’t laugh it off or ignore it. When you need to see the ocean, go see the fucking ocean.

Ride your bike, dance, hike, go for walks or jogs, swim, and forget you ever heard anything about calories burned or weight loss or any of that bullshit that tries to take the joy of just moving your body for the joy of it away from you. There’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying your body and your life, and there’s absolutely nothing you need to be or do to “earn” or “deserve” that joy.

Cynical us tries to shut you down so much, I know, but it is trying to protect you because all it was taught is that there is nothing in this world but fear and shame. When you’re vulnerable, it feels vulnerable too. I’m not saying it is healthy, but it has always done its best with what it knows, as have you. And this is not me shaming or bashing the Cynical us, but showing I understand where it is coming from and I feel so much compassion for it.

So, friends? Can we really try being this? I’m not asking for perfect harmony, that doesn’t exist. It’s okay if we fight, but can we do it more productively? Can we start the work of understanding each other better and empathizing with each other? We are all equal here. We all serve a purpose. We can protect each other without demoralizing one another.

Can we work together to heal all of the hurt, anger, shame, criticism, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, negligence, and abuse we’ve been through together. Can we try to thrive now and not just survive? Be okay with each other as we are? Not argue so destructively and angle to continue the cycle of abuse we experienced at the hands or words of others? Try to love each other even if we don’t always like each other? (And understand it is okay if we don’t always like each other as long as we respect one another?)

Can we have peace? Compassion? Forgive each other? This body we share is exhausted. It is so worn down from this war we’ve been waging throughout our life together. My nerves are raw. My bones ache. My spirit is ragged. Please, I beg, can’t we find a way to get along?

I hope this letter has brought some perspective to this division inside of us. I surrender, white flag and all, and await your response in the hopes you both will come to an agreement on the best way to move forward…together. I really do love you, I hope you know that, just as you are.

Love,

Me

Showing Up

There Is Only “Now”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Showing Up

Self-Care & Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating
Source: @lindatuckercoaching // Instagram

Well, I didn’t go into writing about my need for better self-care with the intention of starting a series, but here we are.

And today, I am writing about my history (albeit a dysfunctional one) with intuitive eating.

“Intuitive Eating” has become quite a buzzword in the health community and on social media in the past several years as fat and body positivity circles have increased the awareness that diets don’t work and eating disorders are being seen in girls as young as 7 or 8 years old. It was a term first coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch back in the 1990s when they wrote the first edition of the book with the same title (note: not an affiliate link). 

Intuitive eating involves trusting our bodies to tell us when we are hungry, how and when to eat, and when we are satisfied. Though the term “intuitive eating” has been hijacked and branded into another restrictive diet on social media, true intuitive eating has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with listening to and trusting our bodies.

The sad and hard truth of body trust is that many of us have been told from a very young age that we cannot trust our bodies, that we need someone else (i.e., parent, partner, doctor, etc.) to tell us what our bodies need. I think this is especially true for cis-women and anyone who has or has had a uterus, ovaries, and a vagina, as we see in the constant political battles over reproductive rights. Our society has told us from the very beginning that our bodies, sexuality, thoughts, behavior, and decisions cannot be trusted and need to be kept under lock and key, the key to that lock belonging to anyone else but us.

The constant monitoring of the female (whether cis or otherwise) form is a means of control in a patriarchal society and financial gain for the beauty and “wellness” industries.

I can remember being as young as 5 or 6 years old and being told I could not have dessert because I was getting fat even when I was maybe 10 pounds overweight as determined by my pediatrician. All I wanted was an ice cream cone or my Easter basket candy or a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie. I watched over the years as my brothers were allowed to eat pretty much whatever they wanted, even when they were chubby, while my meals and body were constantly monitored and scrutinized, and where they were praised for being broad-shouldered and tall, I was made fun of and shamed.

Thus began my dysfunctional relationship with food and my body.

I know as deeply as my mom’s actions and words towards me hurt me, they were coming from her own pain, shame, and the same battles she faced in the same household – my maternal grandmother and great-grandparents and uncles – and her desperate desire to prevent me from experiencing what she experienced. But dysfunction breeds dysfunction if you just repeat the words and actions done to you.

I first learned about intuitive eating in the 1990s and even read the first edition of Evelyn and Elyse’s book back then. I mean, when you’ve been dieting since age 6 and you’re a voracious reader always looking for some way to improve yourself, you come across these things. Back then, it was still heavily steeped in diet talk because they were just learning and developing what intuitive eating meant and no one in healthcare or the media was ready to give any attention to anything that might lead to fewer buyers of all of the diet and “fitness” products.

I stumbled upon it again about 3 or 4 years ago when I first began following people like Jess Baker, Christy Harrison, Kelsey Miller, and other anti-diet bloggers, dietitians, and podcast hosts. At this point, I had kept off 50-60 pounds for about 10-12 years, but still felt like I was on shaky ground. I still tracked my food and exercise in MyFitnessPal nearly daily and was still absolutely terrified that if I ever stopped, I would regain all of the weight I’d lost and then some.

And then my fear came true.

I have felt like such a failure over the past 2 years now. And I am so exhausted from fighting with my body daily and trying to work through the noise in my head that tells me I am killing myself, I’ll get diabetes before long, probably die of a massive heart attack like my maternal grandmother, great-great grandmother, and great-great grandfather did, that John is probably disgusted by me, I’ll never be able to wear cute clothes again, how did I let this happen, all of the hard work I did is gone, etc.

I probably worry about dying every single day here lately, and I know so much of it is because it is so ingrained in me that being “obese” (or even “morbidly obese” by the bullshit BMI standards) means I will get diabetes, have a heart attack, and die by age 40 if not sooner.

I keep making half-assed attempts to log my food in MyFitnessPal again and weigh myself daily and all, but then I just stop because I get so angry at myself for knowing better and still buying into the diet mentality bullshit.

I am so tired of this.

I am tired of not trusting my body and my hunger and fullness levels. Tired of ignoring all of the ways my body talks to me like with my exhaustion and craving for sweets and when I turn to food when what I really need is to be heard and maybe hugged. Tired of feeling afraid to let go completely of my desperate desire to lose weight. Tired of still seeking a body that I am very likely never meant to have because my body is so set in how it wants to work and what it wants to weigh. I am tired of the shame in feeling like I’ve “ruined” or even “destroyed” my body when it actually works pretty fucking well every single day.

Intuitive eating feels like such a foreign concept for me because I don’t think I was ever allowed to eat intuitively, not even as a young child. I was forced to clean my plate, even threatened with a spanking if I didn’t (though finishing my plate has hardly ever been a problem for me).

I was told I could not have the sweets I wanted, so I learned how to sneak them. I got really good at muffling the sound of the cellophane housing an oatmeal creme pie by pressing it against my leg as I shuffled into the bathroom to damn near swallow it whole.

I overate as a big “fuck you” to my parents, grandmother, great-grandparents, and uncles who always had some critical comment about how and what I ate.

When I went to college, it turned into a food free-for-all because no one was there to tell me no. Too bad the shame didn’t stay back in Montgomery too when I moved to Mobile because this food freedom turned into a vicious binge then shame and self-loathing cycle until I was finally as fat as my family had been calling me my entire life.

I still moralize food and congratulate myself on the days I eat “well,” meaning within a certain calorie range or something along those lines. When this happens, I sabotage myself out of anger towards myself for still patting myself on the back for following the dieting mentality that has plagued me my whole life.

But like many of my dysfunctional habits – like being codependent and controlling – binge eating served a purpose in my teens and college years. I didn’t yet know how to process all of the trauma I was experiencing at the time and didn’t yet know that my being an empath and highly sensitive was a good, healthy thing, so I used food as a coping technique.

And now, at 36, I am in some ways thankful for that food but also really fucking confused with how to implement intuitive eating for myself.

Sometimes I have moments of clarity, like realizing I really like to eat egg sandwiches for dinner even when I have the makings for a salad or some kind of meat and veggies dinner. Sometimes self-care is making and eating an egg sandwich because I am too tired to stand at the stove and cook anything that is going to take any longer and I just need something easy and somewhat healthy to feed my body with. Or I understand now that with my thyroid being out of whack again over the past year and the exhaustion it, PCOS, and endometriosis bring, I will crave sugar for some kind of burst of energy. And on the backside of that, being insulin resistant means my body will struggle to process that sugar I am consuming for energy and my hunger levels will go haywire.

But maybe that’s how it works. My brain thinks it’s all just supposed to click into place like the clarity and resolve that always comes in the first few days or weeks of a new diet.

I don’t want to approach intuitive eating with the diet mentality. I want to approach it with my desire to have a healthy relationship with my body. Just as I am still learning to trust John in our marriage because of my fears of repeating the dysfunction I was raised in, I know trusting my body will take time. I’m just not the most patient person, haha.

In my desire to practice better self-care, I have deleted the MyFitnessPal and Happy Scale apps off of my devices. I can’t say I will stop weighing myself completely, but I am weaning myself off of the scale. I have unfollowed all of the keto and weight loss Instagram accounts I’d been following in the hopes of having an “amazing” before and after transformation picture where I’m suddenly lean and talking about how I can finally be me and have the life I’ve held myself back from for so long. (EYE ROLL emoji here.) Instead, I am following intuitive eating, body positive, and health at every size accounts.

Yesterday, I had this thought that I need to feed myself how I wish I’d been fed as a child. Without the rules, shaming, and criticism. Some of my weight gain has been because I decided to stop restricting myself from eating ice cream and found myself eating it for dinner 2 or 3 nights a week. Now, I have it maybe once or twice a month because I’m finally starting to trust that it is never off-limits. I know if I had a little girl, I would want to treat her how I didn’t get treated, so maybe I need to treat myself like that little girl? It sounds very psychobabble, but maybe the key to being kinder to myself and more accepting and trusting of my body is to treat myself like I would treat my daughter.

This post isn’t meant to solve anything but to share that I understand how important feeding my body what it needs regardless of its nutritional or caloric value but also share why that is still so hard for me right now.

Self-care is not a familiar practice for me because I was raised to believe that I’m supposed to put others first, so it would make sense that this also means acknowledging, listening to, respecting, and trusting my own body would be difficult.

This post will also not be the last time I talk about my journey with intuitive eating, and I definitely won’t ever have it all “figured out.”

I started this blog to work through all of the stories I’ve told myself my entire life in order to either end the stories or change the plot. My story about my body is a lifelong one but it can be a better one. My brothers and I talk about how we learned what not to do in all of the dysfunction we grew up in. I have applied that in my marriage and finances and my constant striving to know myself better and help myself heal and become stronger and healthier.

I want to do this with my relationship with my body too. It feels like the final frontier which I guess it is because it is the relationship that will be with me until I take my final breath.

What do intuitive eating mean to you? Have you ever had a troubled relationship with food and your body? How do you handle the constant barrage of messages on how you should eat, exercise, look, and weight? 

Showing Up

Self-Care is Hard

Last week, I signed up LA Fitness and went through the fitness evaluation. I did not sign up for personal training, but I told the guy who evaluated me that I would be coming to the gym and working out on my own.

I haven’t really started doing that yet.

Why?

Because I realized that if I go to the gym every night during the week immediately after work, the only days I will see John are Saturday, Sunday, and Monday because he leaves for work around 6:30p and gets home around 8:30a, after I have left for work.

And I felt guilty. Or felt like if I go, I am abandoning some part of my marriage by choosing to do something for myself over seeing my husband every night before he goes to work.

This is not even close to the only time I go through these thought cycles.

My issues and struggles in our marriage that come up every time we have a fight are that I am resentful because I am putting him first and trying to meet his needs and expect him to do the same, and he doesn’t and really, honestly, can’t. Not because he’s a terrible husband, but because a lot of my frustrations I am putting on myself. I do resent him at times for my perception of him as unavailable and closed off, but I mostly resent myself because I see myself as doing all of the work, getting nothing in return, and I am putting myself and my needs on the altar to be sacrificed for the sake of our marriage.

It has always been way easier for me to put all of my focus on my relationships and trying to make other people feel wanted and needed than to focus on my relationship with myself and my needs and desires. It is ingrained in me and has been from the very beginning.

In college, I saw my first therapist who listened to me tell her about my family history and everything I’d been through – and was still currently going through – and she listened, took notes, then recommended a book for me by Melody Beattie called Codependent No More.

I think I need to read it again now, some 17 years later.

Catching up on Shameless last night, I heard Fiona and Lip talking about the questions for Al-Anon, and one of them was about putting the needs of others before yourself. I went to see if I could find the actual questions online and I found Codependents Anonymous instead.

On their website, there is a list of patterns often seen in codependents, and I can check off quite a bit of them. Here are the ones that I know I do:

 

  1. Denial Patterns:
    • minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel
    • think they can take care of themselves without any help from others
    • mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation
    • express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways
    • label others with their negative traits
  2. Low Self-Esteem Patterns:
    • have difficulty making decisions
    • judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough
    • are embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts
    • value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own
    • do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons
    • seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than
    • have difficulty admitting a mistake
    • need to appear to be right in the eyes of others and may even lie to look good
    • are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want
    • look to others to provide their sense of safety
    • have difficulty getting started, meeting deadlines, and completing projects
    • have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries
  3. Compliance Patterns:
    • are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long
    • compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger
    • put aside their own interests in order to do what others want
    • are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings
    • are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others
    • accept sexual attention when they want love
    • give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change
  4. Control Patterns:
    • have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others
    • demand that their needs be met by others
    • use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally
    • adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes
    • pretend to agree with others to get what they want
  5. Avoidance Patterns:
    • act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them
    • judge harshly what others think, say, or do
    • avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance
    • allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships
    • use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation
    • suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable
    • pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away
    • refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves
    • believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness
    • withhold expressions of appreciation

 

A lot, huh? And unfortunately, John bears the brunt of a lot of this behavior. When we had our fight and I finally said a lot of the things I had felt unable to say, he asked, “Why don’t you talk to me like this to begin with?”

Because I don’t know how to. Because I’ve never felt allowed to. Because I feel like I will be judged or rejected for it. Because I still feel like a burden and too much and like I can’t ask for what I want or express how I feel. I just expect eye rolls, heavy sighs, and projections of shame, resentment, and anger like I always received growing up. “You’re the one with something wrong with you, not me.” That sort of thing.

I don’t speak up soon enough when my feelings are hurt or when there is something I want or need. I want sex but I don’t initiate so the only time we have sex is when John initiates which isn’t as often as I’d like to have sex. My reasoning for not initiating is that I fear rejection and I struggle so much to feel like I deserve sex and pleasure or like I am desirable because I still have such deeply rooted issues with my body shape, size, and weight.

But yet, I push all of that down and continue seeking validation, affirmation, and acceptance from John. I also don’t talk about what I really think or feel with my mom because if any of it goes against how she thinks or feels, a fight ensues and I feel completely powerless and feel like I have to earn my way back into her good graces so I continue to feel loved and accepted by her.

I am someone who desires being known wholly, but who is also afraid of this if it means by doing so, I create conflict with the people who want me to be who they want me to be. To believe in God the way they do. To have the same political opinions. To go against this creates a backlash, and I find myself scrambling and pretending to agree and pretending to believe something I don’t so I’m not once again rejected and abandoned.

During our fight back in January, I told John I too often try to meet his needs and ignore what I want. That year and a half that I lived on my own before I met John was the one brief time in my life where I had only myself to worry about. I could move freely. Go where I wanted. Do what I wanted. Sit in my pajamas all day, all weekend long and not worry about being seen as lazy or unattractive or boring. I ate what I wanted. Went to bed when I wanted. It was quiet, I was alone, and I really grew to love it.

Being married with two small, very needy dogs, life is a lot different. I love both of our dogs (and I loved Louie, who recently passed), but oh my god, they need so much. Sometimes it is sweet, and I like being on the couch with them on each side of me. Other times, it feels like way too much, and I want to go into another room, and I can’t stand the idea of anyone or anything touching me.

So much of this is because I spend so much energy trying to meet others’ needs and keep others happy that I am overwhelmed. I know no one has asked me to do this. John doesn’t want me to be his mother. He knows he has a great one. I have dug into my maternal instinct for so long, I don’t know how to dial it back.

I know I’ve seen myself as a martyr and victim to this, I still do sometimes. I know why I do it. I know it can be manipulative as well as controlling. I also see how I use it to avoid taking care of myself.

Self-care is hard. It has always felt selfish and like I’m not supposed to do it but allow someone else to do it, though that is way too much to put on another person. I’m not saying I shouldn’t allow someone else to be there for me, listen to me, or help me. It’s not black or white, and John shows up in so many ways to do those things. I lose sight of it sometimes because I still carry a dysfunctional view from my dysfunctional family of what it means to be in a relationship with someone and to love and be loved by them.

I told John last night how I felt torn about going to the gym after work and not seeing him. He said, well, you can get up and go early in the morning. I said, yeah, no, I value my sleep and don’t want to go to bed early. He said, well, just go after work then. Simple as that, I guess.

I don’t think he worries about our marriage the way I do, but maybe he also knows I’m worrying so much about it he doesn’t have to. He also doesn’t seek validation or approval from me, which I just realized it this week.

I love John and want to be married to him, of course, but I also want to get back some of what I stopped doing (of my own volition) when he and the dogs moved in. I am not the sole guardian of our marriage nor the sole gatekeeper. I don’t have to do all of the work. I need to understand that I am safe to speak up and I will be heard even if I don’t always get the response I want. I am still figuring this out.

I’m going to go to the gym after work. I need some exercise for my self-care. I also need to learn to differentiate self-care from the diet mentality, but that’s another post of its own that is likely coming. I need to put my oxygen mask on.

I put in a request for that Melody Beattie book so I can read it again.

I know I need to try therapy again as well as see a HAES/IE nutritionist to help me work through my dysfunctional history with food and my body.

I know I need to work on my relationship with myself and stop doing my own projecting on others, especially John.

It feels so uncomfortable and difficult, but I know it is necessary. This is just another level of all of the work and healing I’ve already done. I guess the closer to the center of the pain I get, the harder the layer is to peel off. This feels like the hardest one thus far, but I guess so did all of them as I progressed through them. Healing is the hardest thing we can do in life.

Beautiful You

Day 11 – Beautiful You – Realize That You Are Not Your Body

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

On Day 11 page of Rosie Molinary’s book Beautiful You, she writes about her struggles growing up with what others thought of her and how they defined her. In her twenties, she realized it was how she felt about herself – not how others felt about her – that defined her and helped her accept herself.

I wish I was there at 36, but I think I have made a lot of progress. Growing up, being thin seemed to equal being pretty, attractive, and feminine. With my broad shoulders and big belly, all the jokes were about how masculine I looked and carried myself and I was told I’d never be able or be loved by any “normal” man unless I was thin.

In my twenties, I learned how to dress myself better. My friend Sia taught me how to shop for clothes that flattered my body shape and showed me how to accessorize. I went from the teenage girl who went to class in overalls and a t-shirt, track pants and t-shirts, or jeans and t-shirts and who just wanted to be invisible to a woman who loves floral prints, loves dresses, and loves baring my shoulders which I see as beautiful and strong now. I don’t go out of my way to be visible – still don’t wear makeup or a lot of accessories – but I do try to present myself in a way that shows I care about myself and how I look even if I still struggle to feel beautiful and feminine in my body.

Rosie also talks about how a lot of our dissatisfaction comes from buying into the societal belief that we are our bodies, that all of our value lies in how we look. Like she writes, our bodies are simply vessels that take us through life, that allow us to experience the world. Our bodies change so much throughout our lives and can change significantly in one fell swoop that to put all of our eggs in one basket in regards to our value and self-acceptance is dangerous. How can we live fulfilling lives if we spend so much time trying to maintain a body type many of us were not born with and none of us can maintain throughout our lifetimes?

Like a lot of fat teenagers, I tried to focus more on being seen as funny, smart, and kind, someone people would “make an exception for” and “forgive” for not being all that aesthetically pleasing or able to fit in with a thin body. While it makes me sad how much I did this for the approval and acceptance of others instead of myself, it was a gift in that I developed a real personality and became a woman of great depth, introspection, empathy, and developed one hell of a sense of humor that has helped me survive so much of the trauma I’ve been through. And now those are things I appreciate, approve of, and love about myself even as I still worry too much at times about what others think of how I look.


Today: Embrace the notion that you are not your looks; that your value is greater than how you look. If you are at war with your body because you believe it should look different in order to fit some mainstream beauty standard, life will not be fulfilling. This not to say you shouldn’t care for your body and keep it in good operating order. In fact, you have a responsibility to do this. But if your project in life is to alter your looks, you are neglecting your purpose. In your “Beautiful You” journal, without mentioning your looks at all, explore what you really offer this world.

I am in the midst of a season of searching for a new job, my third in as many years, and the question of what I can offer has come up quite a bit as I write cover letters to convince an employer I am worth interviewing and hiring.

I have a tendency to sell myself short. As I look for jobs, I often find myself thinking, No way can I learn that or do that, like I didn’t teach myself Microsoft Office when I left my job with the State of Alabama where we were still in the Stone Age and using WordPerfect and Windows 95 and everyone else was using Office and at least Windows XP and like I didn’t get an administrative assistant job after a grueling in-basket assessment and four hours of brain draining behavioral “tell me about a time when…” interview questions.

What I offer this world is my open-mindedness and being teachable; my love for learning and the quick ability to do so; my transparency and honesty and self-awareness and willingness to be vulnerable at least on paper; my sense of humor and willingness to be goofy at my own expense but at the entertainment of others; my courage to keep digging at my struggles so openly in the hopes others feel less alone and like someone else understands what they’re going through; and my love for books, food (especially baking for others), singing, dancing, and traveling.

My mom calls me a “groundbreaker” and says no one can get people to open up and talk like I can (I say this is because I keep talking until they can’t take it anymore and start talking so I will shut up). John says I have helped him by calling him out on his shit as well as pushing him outside of his comfort zone. Where I was seen as too emotional growing up, I am now able to help others feel safe in showing their emotions by being unafraid to express mine. My mom now says my closeness to my emotions is a strength that everyone, including her, tried to break when I was growing up because they’d all been taught that to show emotion was weak and were overwhelmed by me having completely normal, healthy reactions to life (most of the time, anyway).

I hope I am seen as someone who wrings the most I can out of life even if I feel stifled by my financial situation, where I live, and sometimes my physical and mental health. I want to be as supportive, encouraging, gracious, and compassionate towards myself as I am towards others and to be as confident in myself and my abilities as I am of others.

I hope I am seen as authentic and genuine. I hope to grow in the courage to be more authentic, genuine, vulnerable, and trustworthy and to love myself as much as I love others. I don’t want to live the highlight reel where everyone thinks I have my shit together and I am perfect. The real life reel is hard, but it’s life, and I want to be relatable and to help people that way.

As the saying goes, “Life happens outside of our comfort zones,” and I am constantly hurtling myself way past my comfort zone so in the end, I at least know I tried everything I possibly could to make the most of my life. My offering to the world is the journey I take and who I become through it in the hopes someone else can learn and feel less alone from it.

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