Fat Town.

It should go without saying that I love to travel. An open freeway beckons to me like a lonely lover. I have literally traveled – by car – from one coast to the other, and loved each and every minute of it. This is my idea of paradise:

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And I plan to do it again and again and again, until the wanderlust is exhausted at last.

I don’t anticipate this happening anytime too soon, especially since my Muse loves to travel every bit as much as I do. You put me on the open road with some good music on the playlist, and my creativity just unlocks. It’s unchained. Unstoppable. Other people see mountains and cactus and oceans and forests from their windows. I see stories. I see the history of the Native American going west, and the backdrop for the civil war going east. I see monsters and aliens and heroes and survivors as I pass through place to place, summoning the spirits of those long gone, as legend, history and imagination blend into one.

I’ve even been known to meander through cemeteries, the older the better. I love reading names and dates and wondering exactly what their lives were like. I long to know what comprised the dash between their birth date and the day they died.

If there’s a story there, I want to know what it is. The more forgotten, the better.

I guess you could say I’m a seeker.

My mother must have been too because we never stayed in one place for very long. By the time I was eighteen I had moved over twenty times, across two states and a smattering of towns. I learned at a young age that if you get stuck where you are unhappy, you simply move.

Dan was the same way, so I became even more of a nomad once I met him.

During my many travels, I’ve gone through tiny little slips of towns that barely have anyone living there, yet live there they do. They seem satisfied with that tiny little parcel of land, and breathe life into what might otherwise be a ghost town without them. I often wonder if maybe the people who settled that town were heading somewhere else, and just decided that particular speck of land was good enough, and no one that followed ever thought to question. Kind of like the scene in Pleasantville, where wild child Jennifer, as played Reese Witherspoon, asked her class what was beyond the borders of Pleasantville, and everyone seemed so puzzled by the question.

Why would anyone go beyond Pleasantville? It’s just so darned… pleasant.

Clearly these small town folk across our nation feel the same way. A small number of people stay there in those little one-streetlight towns, where the only jobs seem to be at the fast food restaurants or gas stations where people passing through need to stop to refuel before they head on out again.

Seemingly, they never feel stuck enough to move, as if they are perfectly comfortable there. I can’t fathom such things, personally. Not when there’s so much to see and do and experience.

Why stay in one place?

And yet… here I am, for the fourth decade straight, living right square in the middle of the same place I’ve always lived: Fat Town.

I first rolled into Fat Town way back in the 70s and figured, hey. It’s comfortable here. I know who I am here. Nobody bothers me much. The expectations are low for all the residents here. People outside our borders look us up and down, decide what we can give, and what they want to take, and more often than not pass us by.

It is that “passing us by” thing that is a big, big appeal for Fat Town, especially for someone like me.

Though it seems illogical to everyone else who damns fat as the quick pathway to an early demise, Fat Town is safe.

That hidden speck of town is off the beaten path by design. Fat works many times like a fortress, to keep people at arm’s length when it might prove too dangerous to let them any closer. So we burrow a little deeper away from folks, setting up our environment to keep us as comfy (and padded) as possible. We have all our favorite luxuries and all our chosen enablers, who help us keep what is often a hard life more comfortable.

You might be asking how Fat Town could be comfortable, given the residents are often reviled and hated, heaped with public shame and abuse as though they deserve it, simply because they weigh more than folks think they should.

Doesn’t this make us a target for negative attention?

Not as much as Thin Town might think, especially if you’re a woman. Everyone outside of Fat Town is perfectly content ignoring those of us who live in it, which is quite comforting for some of us who learned a long time ago if you’re targeted for how appealing you look, really bad things can happen.

Lately I’ve been thinking how my life would change if the barrier I put in between me and everyone else was gone. I’ve tried to use some visualizing techniques, since I’ve never been able to imagine myself “thin”. My brain simply won’t go there, and I think I’ve pinpointed the problem: stark terror. When I think about hugging someone I care about, someone who could hurt me because of how much I care, without that extra padding between us to absorb the blow, I feel like I could hyperventilate. Likewise, I start to feel uncomfortably vulnerable when I think about being in a crowd of strangers without my Fat Suit on to keep me oddly invisible to those who might cause me harm.

It just seems easier, and safer, to keep everyone, good or bad, at the border of Fat Town.

That terror is important to understand. I moved here initially because I was terrified of men, and men generally don’t favor girls who live in Fat Town. I probably didn’t do it consciously to start, but it has been a more or less conscious choice for about three decades now.

I was a pretty child, or so they tell me.

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Even when I was a baby, men would line up outside the church nursery just to hold me. It was one of my mother’s favorite stories.

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I was the star of my life up until I was four, when I was snatched from my front yard by a stranger who would forever alter how I looked at men. By no real surprise, I guess, this made damned sure I’d alter how men would look at me thereafter.

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Then…

2.2.2017

Now.

Suffice it to say, I found Food Town before I eventually moved to Fat Town. I was a four-year-old harboring a dark and dirty secret I felt I couldn’t share. I needed comfort for that. The only person who knew about that need and subsequently could meet it was me, at the time a four-year-old child. I decided to self-comfort with the only thing a child knows how to do. An extra cookie. Another piece of candy. A bowl of ice cream – anything to make the boo boo sting just a little less. Even today, if I’m feeling bad I reach for more. More of what? More of anything. Whatever you have that makes me feel good, load me up. Make it count. I wanna feel it. It’s instinctual. Primal. It all goes back to that four-year-old who had to self-comfort and had no clue how to do it. I had to use the limited tools I had at the time. And just like the baby doll I had way back then, I would feed this aching four-year-old when she cried.

Since she cried in private, because no one could know why she cried, likewise she ate in private, because no one could know why she ate – and she sure as shit wasn’t going to tell anyone.

I’ve written about this in a few of my books, taking a heroine who has been stained by sexual shame and how she self-comforts with binge eating as a result. Though I’ve written some very explicit intimate scenes, these were the ones that make me feel most exposed. At one point, I literally threw my laptop across the bed after I finished writing one. You know that dream of being naked in a crowd? That. Times, like, a gazillion.

The safest part of living in Fat Town is that most people will chalk it up to my laziness alone. I simply have no willpower. They don’t know the real reason, which for a lot of us would be the worst thing ever.

By the time I was ten, I was a secure resident in Fat Town. And of course there were kids who said what they were going to say, but I usually let it go in one ear and out the other. It probably helped to be bigger than the bullies, another silver lining of Fat Town. How do you frighten off a bear? Pretend to be bigger than the bear.

I simply chose not to pretend.

Being picked last for games didn’t matter much to me because I didn’t care to play those games anyway. That kind of physical activity didn’t allow for creativity, at least the kind I liked to indulge. I would play alongside my favorite TV shows quicker than I’d play kickball. I might have danced, the ultimate form of physical creative expression, but there were a lot of hang-ups there. In a strict religious upbringing, anything that even hints at sexual expression is forbidden, even more so if you’ve been chewed up like a  piece of gum and you can’t let the world know how tainted and corrupted you are and risked being loved or thought of any less.

Since being pretty was no longer my objective, I aspired to be the smartest person in class. I easily reigned over the playground with a ton of friends who would love the imaginative games we’d play.

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Then, like now, I was fun, I was just way more outgoing. I liked to have a good time. I attracted friends who loved to laugh, to play, to *live.* And why wouldn’t I believe I was awesome? I had all these great qualities and I knew with all certainty the only man I let close to me after 1974 would never, ever hurt me. My daddy gave me that confidence. He treated me like one in a billion, and that’s what I felt like.

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Then he hurt me in the most awful way possible. He left.

I was eleven when my dad died, and I felt like I had lost the only person in the world who treasured me for who I was. This was more than love. It was more than the value I got from others. I actually felt like a prize, like I, myself, was this precious gift to be exalted above all others.  Suddenly, like a splash of cold water in my face (more like a tsunami,) I realized that not everyone would love me as unconditionally, or treasure me as wholly.

In fact, I realized a little late (especially given my long residency at Fat Town) that not many people wanted to love me at all. Forget being treasured, I found myself fighting for basic human value. Being pudgy was cute when I was a kid, but the older I got, the more work I had to put into in order to earn that courtesy from other folks. I needed to change for most of them to even pay attention to me, much less value me or – God forbid – love me.

But the bad habits were already in place, second nature to me by that point.

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Through the 1980s I tried many times to leave Fat Town, if only to chase after everyone else in Pubertyville where all the boys I liked seemed to live, only to get hurt by someone’s unthinking actions. I’d poke my head out only to get bonked by some karmic anvil, then race right back to where I was comfortable (safe), bolting the doors and locking them tight so I couldn’t get hurt like that ever again.

I don’t know that it was conscious at this point either. I’d get hurt, I’d eat. I’d eat more. I’d eat a lot. I’d eat as much as it took to numb the pain, and as the pain grew more intense, that amount multiplied. It only exacerbated the problem and became this endless self-defeating cycle.

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What Fat Town looked like in 1982, when I was twelve…

 

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Fat Town circa 1985, when I was fifteen.

People who live outside of Fat Town see how illogical this is and tell us, time and again, that in order for things to change we must change some things. But change hurts and that’s how we deal with pain. Food is not only a comforter, it’s instant gratification. The further you get into Fat Town, the more appealing that is. I can eat that chocolate cake and get a boost of endorphins *right now*. I’m happier, *right now.* It’ll take weeks, months, even years to see the kind of change I need to truly escape Fat Town, to make me as “happy” as the world around me tells me I’ll be. You know, later. Eventually.

They want me to give up happiness now and pull the lever on a slot machine for a possible happier happy in the near future, in a future I really can’t even envision for myself. And for what? So I can live longer? So I can attract people who show me daily they don’t give a shit about me? Those aren’t necessarily the high stakes you think that they are.

By the time I was thirteen, I just kind of figured out my life was going to hurt. If things were going well, I could count on something big and bad happening to keep me from getting too full of myself, like God making sure I paid for such a healthy sense of esteem when I was little. I was raised to believe humility was a virtue, particularly for women, so there was a problem with someone feeling a little *too* special. The pounds packed on. Acne hit at thirteen like a machine gun. My teeth started to twist, and my mother certainly didn’t have money for orthodontics. It wasn’t like I was ever going to be some raving beauty.

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I couldn’t figure out why I, who had been denied so much in my young life, should give up the one thing that gave me true, unquestionable pleasure. Simply put: getting fatter didn’t matter. I had set up my place in Fat Town, where things were safely predictable, even if lonely.

I’d been behind the eight-ball for nearly ten years at that point, and nothing around me indicated it was going to get any better, at least for the long haul. Putting a diet on top of it often felt like insult to injury, considering the thin girls I knew weren’t any happier. They were every bit as scared, lonely and insecure as I was, they were just better at hiding it.

Only I carried around the physical manifestation of such things.

Despite my fluffier exterior, I still attracted people. I was still creative, smart and fun, plus I cared about people. A more devoted friend you couldn’t find. I knew if people loved me despite my permanent address in Fat Town, they deserved the best of me. And that’s what they always got. Still, to this day, that is what they get, maybe even more so.

And I got lucky with some great people. There was my bestie Jeff, who was the opposite of me in every physical way…

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Yet he loved me every bit as unconditionally as my Daddy did. Maybe even more so. He treasures me, and he has showed that to me every single day of our 37-year friendship. This is remarkable to me because he has seen it all, good, bad and ugly. Of anyone in my life, he knows me best. He knows all the dark secrets, all the bad choices, all the temptations I did and didn’t take. Even still, to this day, I confess my darkest desires, my most impossible dreams, and I know he won’t judge me or love me any less.

He was even the first person I told about what happened to me when I was four, when his unconditional love saved me from making the worst, most permanent “instant” fix of my life.

Other people got in too. I made all kinds of friends from all walks of life. Though some will sell you the sad sack fat girl meme, I still got hit on. I still GET hit on, and in fact got hit on this very week when I went to a club to see a friend play. No matter my zip code, I’m still me, so I still attract folks, even living squarely in the middle of Fat Town at my new address at the cross streets of Old Street and Obesity Boulevard.

They’re just fewer, and I’m kind of okay with that because along with good folks, there were also those who got a little too close who were not so good. Back-stabbing friends, people who would use me to get to other people, or girls who would use me to make themselves look better to guys by comparison. Not the least of which were a whole number of men who were not so noble. As I got older, and started filling out into a fuller figure, this mostly meant older men. In Pubertyville, everyone was every bit as insecure as I was, and they couldn’t risk having a girl like me on their arm for the whole world to see.

Older men didn’t care about that stuff, because usually I was never on their arm in public either. They made their visits to Fat Town in private, where they could savor womanly curves wrapped in youthful innocence and I was starving enough for attention that I’d let them.

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That’s the paradox of Fat Town. It can keep you safe from some, but if you’re used to hurting yourself, it makes it that much easier to accept when others hurt you as well. And I felt like I had control over it, because I didn’t get unwanted sexual attention like other poor girls did. I didn’t have to learn how to tell a guy to fuck off, that I wasn’t interested.

I simply took their interest away, and took my chances with those that remained.

I never wanted just anyone to want me, that shit was far too dangerous. But I still wanted to be the star to someone I loved, just like I used to be, without all the risk. Hence why I would always, always, always return to Fat Town, where the expectations are lower, fewer people gather, and no matter what happens I can self-medicate with my drug of choice (food) – to hell with the consequences. So what if fewer people loved me? Love hurt. So what if life was shortened? Life hurt.

Food comforted. It made the hurt hurt less.

Despite the alcohol I started drinking when I was fourteen, or the sex I started having around the same time, food became my vice of choice. Not only was it quick and easy and often cheap, it was socially acceptable across the board. The universal wisdom of the ages? Fix it with food. Have a bad day? Have some chocolate. Feeling a bit out of energy? Have a soda for a pick-me-up. It was socially ingrained into me that food was a fix-all, which was even validated by a doctor when I was eight years old. After I passed out at lunch one day in the third grade, the doctor diagnosed me with low blood sugar and recommended a candy bar and a soda if I got too lightheaded. My own mother wouldn’t let me have soda, but a doctor said it was okay?

Well, okay!

Food became my luxury of choice. We couldn’t afford skates, but I could get a dollar candy bar at the store and feel pretty darned good while I ate it, and after the sugar rush kicked in.

The greater the pain, the greater the fear, the greater the indulgence. If one is good, two must be better. When you feel like less, simply have more. This made sense to the four-year-old who was still comforting me.

All these years later, feeding a problem is still part of our cultural message, which makes changing these habits a battle I usually fight all alone.

And like any four-year-old, I’d rather have a Snickers bar than kale.

Growing up is hard.

Even more challenging, in and out of Fat Town are the feeders. It is our nature to comfort with food. It is our nature to celebrate with food. It is our nature to seek food. The poorest person on the planet will feel like a king as long as he has something to eat. It is our basic human luxury. So, when we care for others, food is where we start, from the time they put a newborn baby in our arms. Even those who criticize you for your Fat Town zip code will be the first to invite you to lunch, take you to dinner, buy you something delicious and tell you to indulge in a decadent dessert, just this once, because you deserve it.

The people we love deserve to be spoiled, right?

Spoiled. What an appropriate word.

Even my husband, whom I love and I know loves me, will pop off with, “It’s not like we do it every day.”

Confession: I do it every day. I think about, obsess over and rejoice in food every day. I indulge in one more bite every. single. day.

Unlike an alcoholic, who is encouraged to change their behavior by divorcing themselves from everything in their life that led to the problem, a food addict has to learn to manage their disorder when they are inundated with triggers every hour of every day. Whenever we eat, we have to make conscious choices about the food we place into our mouths. Back in 2003, when I first decided to get serious, it was like I was playing Russian Roulette every time I took a bite. Every. Single. Bite. Matters. And we have to question where that line is between healthy nourishment and unhealthy emotional eating.

That’s why everyone always jokes that they’ll start their diet on Monday. You can’t escape it. It’s all around you. Every day. Name me a major holiday that doesn’t revolve in some way around food. Name me a celebration that doesn’t have food at the heart of it. There’s always something looming in the future that makes “giving it up” inconvenient. Even at our offices, our coworkers show their love for us by buying donuts or the bosses spring for a pizza party.

At my office, there’s a constant supply of M&Ms because our CEO has decided to use the fun little candy as a way to teach our new business model.

Hell, even I keep a candy dish on my desk to give my coworkers who pass my desk a little something to perk up their day.

It’s cheap and it makes people feel good. What more could you ask?

So you make it work in Fat Town, which, even if you’re doing anything to ultimately move away from it, is your address for the next several months or years while you make these changes. And truth be told, it’s not so bad to live in Fat Town. Yeah, we have problems. We get shamed on the regular. We have to go to special stores to buy clothes. Sometimes we find ourselves suffering health consequences from our extra weight, and very little empathy riding shotgun since, after all, we’ve done this to ourselves. But I know who my friends are. I know that men who interact with me want no more than I’m willing to give. I have a built-in asshole detector the minute I meet someone new where I can tell whether or not they’re a decent human just by how they look at me. I’ve got decades of experience now reading people, and I know when they see the fat, and when they see me.

Sure, we don’t get promoted as often, overlooked as “lazy” because that’s the common stereotype. Sure, we don’t a dozen likes on our Instagram selfies by men, who reserve their kindnesses and their compliments for the women they want to bone.

I, personally, consider that a plus.

Sure, there are people who won’t read my romance novels because they think I’m talking right out of my ass, because what woman from Fat Town knows about real romance anyway?

I’ve been managing those things for years, and most of the time I come to the conclusion that my fat has actually *saved* me from the folks who couldn’t be bothered to care about me in the first place. I’ve made it more challenging to love me because I need people to get through the obstacle course to prove that they’re worthy, that they won’t hurt me, that they can be trusted with the treasure that is me.

I’ve locked it away in the ultimate safe. And only those really special people, who are brave enough to risk the stain of loving someone from Fat Town, have cracked the code and proven themselves worthy.

I guess I really AM Mjölnir.

So you see the confusion. You see my dilemma. Just like that small town girl who is intimated by the lights, noise and dangers of the big city that may call to her, I’m petrified to permanently say goodbye to Fat Town. Hence why this is where I’ve always returned.

It’s a battle, for sure. But one thing about me… true no matter where my address… I am a conqueror.

It’s time for me to hug that little four-year-old and tell her everything is going to be okay. She’s going to be all right. I’m going to keep her safe in ways I never knew how to do before, because I’m a lot stronger than I used to be. I’ve been through many battles, I wear many scars, but I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And that means I am stronger than what has happened to me. I don’t need to pretend I’m bigger than the bear. I AM the bear. So we can venture outside the fortress, we can live the life we are terrified to live, because no matter what, we’re going to be okay.

It’s time to move on now. It’s time to travel somewhere new. It’s time to get “unstuck.”

I’ve never said this before, and maybe the Universe needs to hear it: I can handle it now. No matter who I meet. No matter what I face. I’m ready.

Today I can only make a step, but I’m taking it. One step away from Fat Town and towards Gingerville.

Let’s go.

Day One: I am not okay.

It dawned on me this morning that much of my life I’ve spent pretending things are okay when they weren’t okay. It probably started when I was four, when I had a pretty big secret to hide. I go over that quite a bit, so I won’t rehash it here, but suffice it to say, I started pretending at a very early age that things were okay and I was normal.

And you simply cannot be normal if you’re not okay. That’s the narrative we all perpetuate, right? It’s not a hero’s journey unless there’s a happily ever after. That’s the only thing that can make not being okay, well, okay.

Needless to say, I got used to hiding behind my shell very early in my life. To me, this represented strength. Never let ’em see you sweat. You’ll never see me cry. If I get knocked down, I’ll get back up on my own, thank you VERY much. I don’t want help. I don’t want pity. No before and during pictures for me, buddy. You’ll only see my successes, because THAT, my friend, is how I validate my existence.

Yet, things have rarely ever been okay for me. I can think of maybe one six-month span in my 47 years that felt “right”, without that much of a struggle. Everything else? I’m in the deep end of the pool, fighting not to go under.

Most of that has been because of financial instability, which I’m sure I don’t have to tell you is the pits. You don’t get a lot of peace when you’re beating off wolves at the door, and I’ve never really been ahead of the wolves – except for 2014, which I finally got a little bit of a foothold.

That wouldn’t last, which made all the other crap even crappier. Struggling relationships, a brutally low self-esteem and, well, life, would remind me yet again that I wasn’t meant for the easy life, no matter how hard I worked for it. Something somewhere had to go awry to remind me, again and again, I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t normal.

But you never saw me sweat. You never saw me cry. You saw what everyone around me has always seen. I come back swinging, because fighting is easier. I get mad, because I never want to show how vulnerable I feel deep down. I’ll pull myself up by the bootstraps, broken and bloody, and keep on keepin’ on, because that’s what I do. I’ll show up for work. I’ll take care of my family. I’ll meet and crush deadlines. I’ll wow people who’ll never know how fucking hard it was to leave the house, or to smile when I really wanted to cry. They’ll never know my first impulse has always been to hide. They’ll never know how seriously I’ve contemplated giving up entirely, cuz GODDAMN it’s exhausting running a race when the finish line keeps moving.

I’m not okay. Okay?

In fact, I have to wonder if I’ve ever been okay. All my life I’ve had this nagging thought that this isn’t the life I’m supposed to be living. It doesn’t fit. Like a shoe a size too small. I can get by, of course, but I’m not fully comfortable. I know down deep in my soul it could be better. *I* could be better.

Getting from here to there, however, has been a magic trick I haven’t yet mastered.

I follow self-help gurus. I listen to all my smart friends. I pray. I meditate. I can spew positive affirmations like a demented parrot. And generally I put good advice into motion. I do the work. I’ve never been afraid or unwilling to do the work.

Yet here I am, spitting distance from Year 5-0, and I feel like it’ll *never* be okay because the span of not-okay-ness has lasted for so long.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Happiness isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff. If your life is so dissatisfying, change it for fuck’s sake.

This ain’t my first meltdown. I’ve had some humdingers. I got through those, I’ll get through this. I’m just tired of pretending things are okay when they’re not. I’m tired of keeping up my “image”, whatever the hell that means, when the whole reason I was able to step into the lane of what my life SHOULD look like was by ripping open scars and bleeding for the world to see.

I’m not the only one who feels like this. I’m not the only one who sells 40 hours of their life away, on the treadmill of life with obligations and ruts galore, who eats a freaking cheesecake by themselves every now and again, or drinks wine by the gallon, or spends way more money than they make just to indulge in a little retail therapy so they can finally capture some kind of bliss. Everyone wants to feel okay even when things aren’t okay.

I’m not alone. Somewhere out there is someone just as unhappy as I am, aching for someone brave enough to change the narrative so that they can feel okay even if they’re not okay.

So I think it’s time to rip open some scars. I think it’s time that I admit things aren’t great. I’m unhappy. I’m nowhere near “normal.” That doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up on it. It just means I’m not there yet and I recognize that.

And hopefully…. hopefully… I’ll find that secret hidden door that will lead me back to the life I know I’m supposed to be living.

I’m going to be blogging more often. Not a lot, because right now I’m working a full-time “regular” job as well as writing on nights and weekends. Though my dream abandoned me like a newborn on a firehouse stoop, I haven’t given up on it. There have been some significant strides forward as a matter of fact, in ways I didn’t see coming. I was recently hired to write a screenplay based on a real story, and it was the first “real” money I’ve made in my screenwriting career. No $10 option, we’re talking a five-figure paycheck.

The wolves took most of it, which was depressing beyond belief. I vault back and forth between, “Glad I had it or else we’d have been SO SCREWED” to “Really? This is all I get to enjoy from the biggest ‘win’ of my movie career?” No paying down bills or buying all those things we’ve been putting off, no breathing room – just paying down a handful of predatory loans that had been eating up almost all of every paycheck, essentially making sure I work for free despite being paid well above minimum wage.

The day after I got hired to write the script my car got towed, sinking me a couple thousand more dollars into debt before I could even get the first check. This has been my life the last couple of years. (And it SUUUUUUUCCCKKKSSS.)

Worse, it doesn’t matter how hard I work trying to correct it, I keep getting sent back to poverty jail – do not pass Go, do not collect $200. I work my ASS off, both the 9-5 and my writing career, and I’m still fighting for every single dime. I need to make more. I work hard enough to earn more. Yet, life. Hard choices. Sacrifices. Endless, endless compromises. Yet no matter what I do or don’t do, the wolves breathe down my neck.

And I’m not okay.

Recently my son Jeremiah got engaged. It was the one thing I could wrangle out of my windfall and I made damned sure I made it happen. We went to Vegas. We had a good time. We didn’t go crazy. We were modest spenders. But we got to “live” a little bit. We got to “be normal” for a few days. I know how to make Vegas happen on a shoestring, I’ve done it enough in my life – including my very own wedding there in 2001.

Because of this we’ve decided to go back on the year anniversary of their engagement for their wedding. I found a great deal. Totally workable. Totally doable. I can make the dreams come true for BOTH my kids, both Jer and Brit, his fiance. (I’ll never get tired of saying that.)

But I want to make some changes, obviously. Not just with the money, which has to happen in order to fund the nuptials, but I also want to gain some mobility. I’m tired of being limited by what my larger body can (and can’t) do. I may never be a supermodel. I wouldn’t even want that job. I just want to be able to walk and stand and, y’know, live. I’m okay with getting older, but I really resist the idea of getting old. I want to be the kind of mother and grandmother who can jump right in there with her kids and grandkids, who will ride the rollercoasters and do the ziplines and stay out all night, matching them moment for moment.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

I can’t do that at my size. My body has been working against me for more than a decade now, and I’m tired of the aches and the pains that sideline me. I’m alive for a reason, I want to live, and this ain’t livin’. This is getting by, while putting on a brave face that I’m okay with all the new limitations being this age and this size has put on me. I can’t sleep at night because of the discomfort. All the activity I try to include in my life leaves me feeling more tired and older and less mobile. I get sick way too often. I hit walls and barely have any stamina left to scale them.

I’m not okay.

I’m not asking for help here, by the way. I’m not waiting for a hero to fix it. *I* am that hero. *I* can change it. Despite starting and stopping the weight loss thing quite a bit, the successes I’ve stacked up in my life are impressive, especially since it’s never really been “okay.” From the time I taught myself how to ride a bike when I was nine, I’ve beaten every limitation between me and what I wanted. I went from straight F’s to straight A’s in six weeks, just to earn an album. I wrote a book when I was 14, just because I wanted to prove I could. I wanted to live in Southern California since “Three’s Company,” and here I am. I’m barely holding it together some days, but I’m here. I wanted to be a published writer and I made that happen, too. I took a blank screen and created almost thirty published novels, which people have bought and people have loved despite being overlooked by an industry that didn’t think I had anything to say.

I wanted to write movies and I was just paid a nice little check to do that very thing, impressing those “in the biz” with my skill to bring a shared vision to life.

In fact, as I see it, the only thing holding me back from true success is, well, staying hidden. If people can see what I can do, they’re blown away. I don’t impress people by being “normal.” I impress people by being extraordinary. The fact that I can pull ANY of this off when NOTHING else seems to go right is freaking amazing.

This next year is a work in progress, not just in my career, not just in my personal relationships, but in my overall health and well-being. I’ve decided to show this journey, mistakes, missteps and mishaps and all. I’m going to be vulnerable, because there’s nothing wrong with being imperfect. It’s perfectly human. In fact, we’re way more imperfect than we could ever be normal.

Normal is the illusion that everything is okay. And it’s not okay.

But that’s okay.

This is Day One. I’m only aiming up from here.

 

 

 

 

Let It Go

Anyone who knows me knows that I love animated movies and am a complete Disney/Pixar fangirl. I’ll watch these movies with no child present, except for the one that still lives inside of me. When these stories are done well, they will have a message for every person that watches, not just the wee ones that may have been the intended audience.

In fact, some (like Up and Shrek 4) have storylines better suited to the midlife adults forced to watch scores of animated movies thanks to their growing families.

That being said, I wasn’t in any real hurry to watch Frozen. I heard it was great, but there was nothing in the trailer that made me want to rush to the theater to see it (Olaf notwithstanding.)

I’d catch it when it came to Netflix, that was fine by me.

Then I read that some grandmother in Utah, as well as conservative commentators and religious wingnuts, took issue with the movie and its award-winning song “Let It Go” as some kind of gay propaganda that was a “satanic push to turn kids gay.”

And just like that, “Frozen” shot to the top of my “Must See” list.

You may not know this, but I’ve been trying to turn gay for decades. I’ve done all the right things: I’ve become friends with gay people, I’ve gone to gay clubs and gay-friendly churches, I’ve marched in Pride Parades around a TON of gay people, still… no luck. I grew up on the Golden Girls, I’ve listened to Lady Gaga, loved Ellen DeGeneres and recently binge-watched all five seasons of “Queer as Folk” back to back in a sleep-deprived stupor.

But darned if I’m not still completely and totally straight.

(In fact, watching hours upon hours of hot, naked guys only served to make me straighter.)

What’s more, I told my kids about gay people from the time they were small and even THEY didn’t grow up gay no matter how many gay people they knew personally, or how many events they attended.

It’s like we were born this way or something.

So whenever any well-meaning religious person tells me that this may be the thing that does it, I’m right there with bells on. Let’s make this thing happen, y’all.

Sadly, “Frozen” did not turn me gay, even with watching it a second time with my gay best friend. And the song, “Let It Go,” did not make me want to throw down my heterosexuality like a bad habit, to turn my back on being a good (read: straight) girl and live my life without any religious rules.

Frankly, I’d given those up many years ago. Generally they suck and have little to do with truly spiritual rules, such as love, mercy and grace.

However, the song “Let it Go” DID resonate with me, quite deeply as a matter of fact. I could see the correlation with “coming out of the closet,” but that comes from a place of empathy. You may not know this, but we all have our closets in which we hide.

You don’t have to be gay to hide your true self for the comfort/acceptance of others. Some of us lived our whole lives that way. We were trained at an early age to make ourselves more “marketable,” to overcompensate for our flaws, so that we can be accepted and loved.

This is particularly true for women, whose appeal largely depends on the social acceptance of those around her. Turn on any TV, pick up any magazine and you’ll see how women are targeted to diminish our flaws and hide our imperfections so that we can become more socially acceptable.

Needless to say, I’ve got a steep, uphill climb to reach that elusive standard of female perfection. It’s always been easier, and safer, just to hide.

If you put my pros and my cons down on paper, they mostly walk hand in hand, the yin and the yang to every personality quirk. I’m smart with quick wit, but that came with a heaping helping of social anxiety disorder. No matter how smart/funny I am, I often appear stupid/awkward because I simply do not know what to say. I’m guarded, so I appear shy and fearful. I am deeply passionate, which is much too intense for some people, who misread my intensity as a threat. I am driven and focused, which often comes across as obsessive. I’m intuitive, but impulsive. I truly want to make people happy, but too much of that turns me into a bitter people pleaser. I’m strong but I’m scared, determined to win the fight with the world, but often too vulnerable to take a stand with my own trusted, vetted inner circle.

I started an email to a friend today, to explain the way I’ve always edited myself for his approval, but ended up deleting all four attempts and never sending anything at all. It was just too scary to get that real.

I’ve done a lot of hiding in my life because I couldn’t risk letting the real world know the real me.

And really, isn’t that all the extra weight really is? It’s a closet. I’ve locked myself in my own lonely room, where I hide my powerful nature and live a half-life separated from the people who could love me fully, just because I can’t accept what makes me different.

Which is everything, by the way. There are plenty of contrasting ingredients in the Ginger Voight cocktail, and it is definitely not to everyone’s taste. Instead of finding the rare souls who could appreciate every nuance, I’ve spent decades watering myself down just to make myself palatable to the masses, the majority of whom couldn’t be bothered to give a shit either way.

In the year of Muchness, I’ve got to let that stuff go.

When Elsa was on that mountain, shaking free the shackles that had her bound, I was right there with her. To own who you truly are, who you were meant to be, even when that scares others or shakes them out of their comfort zones, is an empowering thing. To burst forth and declare that you are OK with who you are is where transformation finally begins, where you go from being merely acceptable to *significant.*

That was what we were ALL born to be, in our very own, unique ways.

This transformation is destined to happen, whether you want it to or not. If you have contained yourself for the benefit of others, it will rage in you just like the storm Elsa sang about. It hurts to be bound by the limited expectations of others. The confusion, the self-doubt, the loathing… all of those things will wrestle with that beautiful spirit that dares to rise within you and be seen and heard, despite the consequences.

The more you push that beach ball under water, the bigger splash it is going to make when it finally bursts free. It may not look like what others want it to look like, or sound like what others want it to sound like, but it is your song to sing; no one can do it but you.

And so you must.

So I must.

Here’s the kicker, and why it is so scary: we will lose people when we dare to live our honest lives as our truest selves. The people who got comfortable with us in our ill-fitting closets will want to stuff us back in there, to live under their expectations in return for their favor. But like Marianne Williamson said, there is nothing enlightened about dousing our inner light for the comfort of the insecure.

We need to be who we were meant to be, daringly and without apology. We need to own that transformational power and accept our responsibility to the universe itself to be wholly, perfectly ourselves. That is what we were meant for, what we were born for. All those fears of what we’ll lose and all those worries of who will or won’t accept us?

That has never been our problem.

Let’s let it go.

Victims, Survivors or What’s Behind Door #3

Recently I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea of victims vs. survivors. I even started a blog about it because of my strong personal feelings on the subject.

Many of you who have been around the blog a while know what kind of circumstances I’ve survived with varying degrees of success, level 10 being healed and happy and level 1 being blissfully ignorant with my head buried in the sand.

Granted there have been more 1s than 10s, but one thing I reject, wholeheartedly, is the idea of being a victim. A victim is someone that things happen to, which is a very powerless place to be. Someone else did something to me, without my consent, without my permission, and yet somehow *I’m* changed for the worse, made lesser than or damaged? I don’t think so. Things have happened to me, some even dared to define me, but I am not a victim. I’m a proud survivor who has weathered the storm, even if I don’t have a spare inch of flesh left from the brutal whipping it gave me.

And that’s really what it kinda feels when you say, “I survived.” You beat nothing, you won nothing, you simply lived through something that have otherwise killed you. It doesn’t matter how tore up I am on the other side of the crisis… I survived something I didn’t want to go through, or shouldn’t have had to go through, so that indicates some kind of strength.

Or so they tell me. It sure doesn’t feel like strength at the time.

I’ve had people tell me they didn’t know how I got through most of the stuff I’ve gone through. My standard response is, “What choice did I have?” I got up day after day and I went on day after day.

Everyone kind of does that, really. Aside from offing yourself, you’re forced each day to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what title you claim.

But these were my two choices I was presented with, you see. When you are a sexual abuse survivor, especially, the power to claim one’s own status is an important part of the healing process. We can’t change what was done to us, only how we identify ourselves afterwards. When I say I’m a survivor, I’m reclaiming what someone tried to steal from me. It’s one of those bad things that dared to redefine me, but I have always had the power to decide exactly who that might be, so his attempt to destroy me failed.

That’s the power behind the word “survivor,” but it occurs to me that we’re still selling ourselves short. Every day we refuse to allow those things in our past to destroy us, we’re conquering our past and rewriting our future.

We’re not just lucky to make it through the crisis, we’re kicking dirt on it and marching onward.

Personally I think it deserves a bigger word. A better word. A stronger word. The only thing the word “survivor” really does is shift the power back to us. What we do with that power… now THAT is what truly defines us.

That’s what it boils down to, really. We get to choose who we want to be and who we’re going to be.

My problem is that I’ve limited down to two choices with some sad little either/or option, ignoring the obvious all along.

What if being a *survivor* is only a notch above being a victim? What if my life is still at the mercy of my circumstances, and all I can really say I did was hold on tight until the storm finally passed?

If the best we can say at the end of the race is that we lived through it, that really isn’t that empowering of a position. We’re battered, bloody and broken, but we survived.

We didn’t win. We didn’t thrive. We didn’t succeed. We simply made it through.

And yeah, that’s admirable in its own way. Even if you come in dead last in a marathon, at least you finished. The little battles are just as much a victory as the big ones.

I just think we need another identifier. And I’m pretty sure that Matthew McConaughey unwittingly provided one for us.

I can hear you scoff, but bear with me.

When Matthew McConaughey accepted his Oscar for Best Actor last Sunday, he spoke about the three things that he needed daily:

1.) Someone to look up to
2.) Something to look forward to
3.) Someone to chase

It was #3 where a little nugget of actual wisdom lurked, but not necessarily in the way he presented it.

He said that when he was 15, he was asked who his hero was. He finally answered, “Me in ten years.” Ten years later that person asked him if he had become his hero yet and he said, “No, you don’t get it. My hero is me in another ten years.” His future self is the one he’s been chasing, and always will chase, because that person is ten years more evolved than he is right at this moment.

This may seem like an egotistical thing to say, virtually having the balls to thank himself when he won his award, but I’ve given the idea some thought and it really does have actual merit.

The us we’ll be in ten years should be the person we chase. That person will be older and wiser, and hopefully further along in their personal ambitions, making their – and by default ‘our’ – dreams come true.

But I disagree that Future Us is the hero.

Every decision we make now will make that person everything they’re going to be. Your diet today impacts your health tomorrow. Your budgeting today affects your prosperity tomorrow. Your training and growth today affects your career tomorrow. Every thing you do reverberates into the future. That makes us, right now, Future Us’s heroes. We’re the ones putting out the fires and chasing the dreams and putting in the work and the effort, in hopes that we’ll craft ourselves into the people we want to be, regardless of our circumstances.

For example, it was Past Matthew’s decision to take the part that won him the Oscar. It is Present Matthew’s choices in what he will do with this experience in the roles he takes and the projects he gets behind. Future Matthew is nothing more than a silhouette that he is shading in one day at a time and one decision at a time.

Take a second right now and think about what you want for your life in ten years. You may want a better job, a nicer home, a family, advancement in your career, good health or all of the above.

What you do right now, today, will craft that existence for you.

You have that power.

I have that power.

And nothing that has happened to us so far, no matter how awful and tragic it may have been, takes that power away.

We don’t have to choose simply between “victims” or “survivors” anymore.

We get to be *heroes.*

How fucking cool is that??

Imagine what you could do with your life if you would embrace being the hero of it. What would you do? How would you act? What would you change?

That person looking back at us ten years down the line needs us to make our choices accordingly. What we do today, what we tell ourselves today, whether we act out of fear or courage today, will shade that empty silhouette into a person of our own choosing, no matter who that is, no matter what we do. We define him or her with our choices of how we react to the obstacles in our path.

Sometimes those obstacles suck. I, myself, have been staring at a faint light at the end of a tunnel since August of last year. Sometimes it’s been salvation, other times it’s been a locomotive ready to flatten me every single time I struggled to my feet. It seems the closer it gets, the more I feel like I have an Indy boulder behind me, scorpions, snakes and spiders in front of me and ninja assassins swooping in from both sides of the tunnel walls that are closing in.

So far I’ve survived, but barely.

But it stands to reason, considering that’s been my objective. I’ve been taught to withstand the bad times so I might survive to see the good times, and by no surprise that’s what I’ve been doing.

Such low expectations… no wonder I’ve struggled so much.

I need to remind myself that this is my movie and this is my story. Future Ginger is depending on me to buck up and keep fighting for everything she’s going to be. If I am going to be her hero, I better start acting like one.

The first thing I need to do is send a big thank you to Past Ginger for pointing me in this direction. She wasn’t perfect, God knows, but she invariably laid the groundwork for who I’d be today. And I am not ashamed to admit that I like that person. She’s all right.

In fact, she’s more than all right. She’s much stronger and smarter than she’s ever been, and she has the power (and persistence) to create the world of her choosing.

(Just imagine what she can do in 10 years!)

We are heroes on our own personal journey and that’s pretty cool.

So what are you going to do with that newfound power today?

2013: The year of rebirth.

“2013 has your name written all over it, Scorpio. Thirteen is the number of the Death archetype in the tarot card attributed to your sign. It’s about the death of the outworn aspects of yourself and your life, while the sunrise of rebirth is always waiting on the horizon. Transformation, metamorphosis, passion and sexuality are all heavily pronounced this year for you. Saturn, the great taskmaster, has taken up long-term residency in your stars until 2015 to give you and your life a complete makeover. Add to this the fact that your ruler, Pluto, is in what is known as a ‘mutual reception’ with Saturn (mutual influence by means of swapping signs) and the force for rebuilding your life from its very foundation is doubled. This is a year for uncovering your greatest resourcefulness, and relinquishing any skeletons from your psychic closet. Death and rebirth become daily themes as you shed layers upon layers of the former you.”

This is my horoscope for the year. Normally I take such things with a grain of salt, but this particular prediction sounds really good to me. This is mostly because I have completely control over making it happen, which was already a big goal for the new year anyway. There is no more sitting idly by and allowing yet another year to pass without seizing every opportunity to make my dreams realities. I have to boldly claim my right to do so.

It occurs to me that I kinda hafta bury the old Ginger in order for that to happen.

Death has always scared me. I mean, I know it scares most people… which is why we all walk around in complete denial that it will ever happen to us. We make plans, we talk about the future, we dream; all with the hope we’ll have time to make it all happen.

Ten years ago I realized that time is not guaranteed to us. My first husband, Dan, died at age 43 of a massive heart attack. It was such a shock to lose such a strong person so quickly and so young. I personally thought he was invincible. He had lived through so much that the ongoing joke was he’d stub his toe and drop over dead.

I just never expected it to happen at age 43. There was still so much he had left to do. He had kids he had to see into adulthood (and grandkids beyond.) He had never made some of his life goals a reality, though he did slay some pretty big demons in preparation of such.

It just shocked the mortality right into me that we are not guaranteed a long life, or the realization of our dreams just because we have them. It’s put me on a bit of a deadline since then. I made a bunch of promises to myself what I wanted to do by the time I was 43 so that – if fate should strike a similar blow to me – I would not die unfulfilled.

That year after his death I made a pretty impressive transformation. I lost over 70 pounds, despite some really big pit falls. But then I got complacent again. I got distracted again. The corpse of who I was still hung on my back, weighing me down, and I fell into the same old bad habits and allowed the years to linger. It took my having some serious health issues that removed the status quo of working at a menial job for me to finally make some serious inroads in my career.

There’s nothing like having no plan B to keep you motivated and innovative. In ways I couldn’t expect back in 2003, I managed to find a way to write full time and still bring in a paycheck WITH the writing.

It’s interesting how that happens. If you simply change your perspective, you can turn the negatives into positives. You can find those little hidden pathways in the giant maze of disappointment and discouragement to lead you right back to where you go in ways you never could have foreseen. Miracles lay in wait all around us, all we have to do is pay attention to the opportunities, rather than the problems.

Watching how that has happened in the past few years especially has been pretty cool. Last year was the coolest of all as my writing finally started to build a small but significant audience.

But 43 still loomed. In the back of my mind it was going to be a benchmark year. If I could live through it, I could bypass the curse that had befallen Dan. And I’d never be able to rest easy until November 21, 2013, when I hit the magical age of 44 alive and kicking.

It took reading that horoscope to realize I’ve been looking at death the wrong way. I have been fighting death (and loss) tooth and nail since 1980, when I lost my dad. I don’t like things being over. I cling to things far beyond their usefulness because nothing is sadder to me than finality. And nothing is more final than death.

Yet the only way I can truly give way into this new life is to die to the old one. That girl may be really and truly gone, but a new, stronger, braver woman is born in her place. I can burn those old fears and traumas to the ground and explode from the ashes as a beautiful, new phoenix.

I never have to be over as long as I can be renewed.

I just have to be willing to lay to rest all that I used to be to become what I want to be. To hear, from any source, that this year can be one of transformation to do that – was life-affirming. Instead of worrying about how things will end, I need to focus on how things will start. I need to take that picture of who I want to be and make her happen. No excuses, we’ve already done the emotional work to figure out why I do what I do. I need to make better choices, and that’s all on me now. No more beating myself up for not being someone else, when who I am is pretty darn cool.

Where I am is pretty darn cool. Where I’m headed, cooler still.

When my family headed into 2012, we were in for a rocky year. We flew into it on a wing and a prayer, and the first few months were tough. There were some devastating lows and too many losses to count. Looking back I see the problem. The old life was shaking free, but we were still trying to navigate the future on past failures. It took some pretty big changes, in attitude and behavior, to set us on the right course. I learned how to set boundaries and accept others for who they were (and who they could never be.) As a result, I lost some so-called friends, but the friendships I kept grew stronger and closer in ways I never thought possible.

We were in flux with finances, but once we got real about money and what we needed to do with it, Steven got promoted and I saw my first significant success as a published writer.

If 2012 was a cocoon year, then 2013 can be nothing more than the transformation. Old habits are dead… old expectations are dead… there is nothing to do but emerge a beautiful butterfly ready to stretch her wings.

It’s really hard to do that with a bum back and that same old dead corpse around my neck in the shape of 100 extra pounds.

For me, this year will shed who I was in many ways. And it’s more than time to lay that part of my life to rest. Instead of dreading death, I’m embracing rebirth.

There’s no more wishing, waiting, hoping or fearing. I’m going to make 2013 my year.

This phoenix is ready to rise.

The Bottomless Pit

If there’s one thing I know about it’s shitty self-esteem. I’ve had one for decades and I know that sucker is a parasite that leeched onto me just like an alien from a James Cameron movie from the time I was about 11 years old.

Until then I got my identity from my Dad, who thought I could do no wrong. When he died the most positive voice in my head as silenced, replaced instead by the voices of other family members who thought I was too arrogant and spoiled and needed to be taken down a peg or two.

That means since childhood I lost my ability to trust my own identity. I spent decades trying to find the One who, like my dad, gave me back what I lost.

I was doing it all backwards. I was, am and always have been enough to be The One for myself. In doing so I’d find others who would see me for who I was and validate that positive self-image.

Or as Stuart Smalley would say, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone-it! People LIKE me.”

The trick was (is) learning to trust myself so that I could ultimately trust others. Instead… I found myself floundering from one abusive relationship to the next because deep down I felt that was what I deserved. No one made me a victim, I *chose* to believe I was one.

And perception is a very powerful thing.

Lemme give you an example of the insidious nature of low self-esteem.

It starts out as a little nugget of self-doubt.This could be in anything from the clothes you wear to the things you do or even the friends you make. You’re too afraid to trust in your own ability or in other people, so you begin to feed this nagging question with more and more validation. You start to search for the evidence that supports the doubt, rather than the stuff that would boost your confidence that you are perfectly competent and can make these choices for yourself.

For example:

Say you just bought a new outfit. You love it at the store, it makes you feel sexy/pretty/confident. Then you get home and you try it on before you have to go out into the world… y’know… where all those other people are – those people who have historically been less kind than a dressing room mirror.

So you begin to question whether or not the outfit looks good. You no longer trust that initial reaction BECAUSE it made you feel good. Instead you stare at the mirror from all angles with the same, unanswerable question. “Does this look good on me?”

It’s actually a very simple question. You either like it or don’t. But low self-esteem means you’ll talk yourself out of liking it because you feel you’re not supposed to feel confident/sexy/pretty.

Suddenly what gave you all that confidence is now sucking you dry. You no longer trust yourself to make this decision. You go find someone else and ask them, “Does this look good on me?”

You’re not asking so they’ll say, “Yes, I love it!” because even if they say that you’ll still doubt it, and have to go ask someone else. You’re looking for the validation that you look like crap… because that’s the nagging thought you can’t get rid of. And here’s the funny part: it doesn’t matter WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE.

This isn’t about the clothes or how you look in them. What you’re REALLY worried about is that you will be judged for having the confidence to be sexy. Because you think you don’t have that right you will allow the opinions of others – specifically the ones who don’t give a crap about you – to decide who you are.

The same is true with relationships. A person with shitty self-esteem is a bottomless pit when it comes to love. Someone who doesn’t think they’re worthy of you will constantly and forever be picking at you to find the crack in the veneer. They don’t love themselves so they really don’t understand how you can. And of course if you do love them you’ll spend the time trying to convince them why, but it doesn’t matter. This is a bottomless pit, remember. Everything you throw down into it to build them up disappears into a murky black hole never to be seen again. That’s why you have to tell them over and over again, “You’re worthy. You’re beautiful. You’re amazing. You’re loved.”

But until they decide that for themselves, they’re not going to listen to you. They’re going to listen to the people around them who validate the worst thoughts they have about themselves because that’s what they want to believe.

Ultimately you face the fact there’s nothing you can do to convince them they’re worthwhile. And if you have a healthy self-esteem you know you simply can’t go on wasting your precious energy on someone hellbent to doubt it, so inevitably you’ll leave. This just validates their worst thoughts even more.

It’s not that they can’t be loved, it’s that they can’t love. They can’t trust that someone would care about them because they obviously do not care about themselves. They align themselves with frenemies who would use them and treat them like crap because they feel like they’re not worth a more mature and equal friendship with those they admire. This makes them doubtful, distrustful, needy and desperate… which repels other people who could have genuinely liked them. To love/befriend someone like this is a full-time commitment to futility, one that anyone WITH self-esteem will avoid like the emotional plague that it is.

Low self-esteem therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The only one who can fix it is the one who has it.

I know this because that has been my revelation this past year. All the mistakes I made stem directly back to my crappy self-esteem. I didn’t think I was worth certain relationships or certain successes, so I surrounded myself with those who would – in ways both subtle and quite glaring – would reinforce that I needed to be kept at arm’s length. That I wasn’t good enough. That there as something wrong with me.

I’ve come to learn the only thing wrong with me is thinking I wasn’t worth a better class of friends. I’m worth more than the posers and the users who would scope out those weaknesses and play them like a finely tuned violin just to get me to do what they wanted.

That’s the thing about shitty self-esteem. Like attracts like. The people you attract usually have shittier self-esteem, and need you beneath them in some way in order to feel better about themselves. And just like you’ll never be convinced you’re good enough, they’ll never be convinced you think you’re low enough. So they’ll whisper those passive-aggressive, backward compliments in your ear to remind you of your place, especially if you start acting out on any newfound confidence.

You want to know who your friends are start acting like you are worth a damn. Those who need you doubtful and insecure will be the first to try and cut you back down to size. If they’re not doing it to your face, they’ll do it behind your back… often to other equally doubtful and insecure people they know they can control by pretending to be so supportive and so sweet.

In the end you realize the Kool-Aid was poisoned and you only have yourself to blame for choosing this kind of person instead of the ones who believed in you so much they didn’t feel the need to throw meaningless words down your bottomless pit.

They were simply waiting for you to figure out you were worth a damn all on your own… because that’s the only way you’d ever fill yourself up.

So when you talk to yourself, get rid of all those doubtful questions and insecurities. Don’t wait around for permission to be yourself and act on your beliefs. Shitty self-esteem is a choice and you can always make better choices. You’ll lose some “friends” when you make these changes but trust me when I say the people who matter won’t mind… and the people who mind DON’T MATTER.

Like attracts like. If you’re attracting the wrong people, then make changes to yourself reinforcing that YOU ARE WORTH IT. But it’s up to you to make it so.

Make it so.

An Aha Moment

Though I usually frown upon any “reality” show that highlights massive/rapid weight loss, I got sucked into the Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition tonight despite my misgivings. I got immediately invested in the 20-year-old girl who weighed 323 pounds (been there) who was living with a family seemingly blind to and contributing to her deadly food addiction (been there too.)

The really interesting part of the show was not just watching her body transformation, but her spirit transformation. This wasn’t about the pounds, not really. This was about her fight to take charge of her own destiny and make healthy choices for herself despite what those closest to her thought about it. In some respects that meant she had to separate away from her dysfunctional family in order for it to become more functional for her.

I mean… hello? That she could figure this out at 20-21 and I’m still struggling with it at 42 is a sad statement indeed.

I was so upset by the whole scenario that it made ME want to eat. I finally relented with a 32-ounce cup of ice water and a half cup grapes and cherries, but honest-to-God I wanted to plow into the leftover pasta salad I had prepared earlier for dinner.

Though I didn’t walk today I felt super in control of my eating UNTIL I actually watched this show. (Ironic, no?)

It tapped into some very powerful emotions I have been fighting my way through these last few weeks. Oh hell… for the past year. It’s I’ve been a step or two in front of my depression on a good day, much less going through some of the (unnecessary) drama I’ve experienced in the last few months.

Though I named this year the Year of No Excuses, it seems God (fate, destiny, chance, what-have-you) had other ideas. Instead this has been a year of letting go. I’ve moved away from situations where I felt mired and imprisoned by my circumstances, sometimes by choice and sometimes not by choice.

In the end it’s become a year where I have discovered this power to put myself first, much the way this young woman had to. I’ve had to move away from the dysfunction of other people and circumstances to more fully step into my own power, even if that extraction is extremely painful as a result.

I’ve had to stand up for myself and stop just sitting back silently when I’ve been insulted or discarded. I’ve had to confront certain situations to ensure that I’m standing up for myself, even when I was shaking in my shoes to just say “no” when I knew what I was being asked to do wasn’t right or fair.

For a people-pleaser like me this has not been an easy task. In fact I’ve battled a LOT with the idea I cannot always meet the expectations of others, nor am I supposed to. I’ve felt selfish, disloyal and downright mean in some cases because I stand firm in the face of emotional manipulators doubling down on all my triggers. People who are not used to my not falling into place like a dutiful soldier don’t know what to make of the fact I’m doing what I want to do even if it doesn’t make them happy.

There are a few people I feel the unyielding need to make happy, but that is a VERY short list. If I’m not married to you or have given birth to you or maybe have known you for more than three decades, odds are you’re not on the list.

Sadly even those I’m related to by blood don’t even make the cut. Not anymore.
That’s not me being mean. That’s me setting boundaries for the first time ever. Because experience, especially very recent experience, has taught me you can do everything in your power to do what someone else wants you to do but ultimately if they don’t give a crap about your happiness it’s like pissing right into the wind.

That means for many I’ll be making you happy at the expense of my own happiness (or those around me) and it’d be the rare person worth that kind of gamble. More likely I’ll be miserable towing the line to make you happy and I’ll be eating my weight to make up for the void you leave, giving you further ammunition to deride me because of my excess weight (or worse, think I’m worthy of the mistreatment because of it.)

In the end I have to take care of me. I’m done trying to make life easier for people who make life choices I would not make (and even advised against,) and lie to and manipulate others around them to justify it. It’s a drain of my energy to enable them.

It’s time to prune the dead leaves so I can ultimately be healthier. I’m putting on my own mask rather than suffocating to death fighting you to wear your own. The only people I owe anything to are my husband and my kids and my proven friends. Everyone else will just have to manage on their own… and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

I’m especially tired of bending over backward for people only to learn that they’ll never see me in any other category than the limited, negative one they set for me, whether I know it or not. I always thought if I invested enough time and energy I could always win over those who would think the worst of me, but it finally dawned on me some people are going to see you the way they want no matter what you do. And worse yet, when you go to such extremes to prove yourself worthy you only prove to them you are every negative thing they already think you are.

I had that epiphany once in dealing with my sister. It finally occurred to me no matter what I did to prove to her I wasn’t what she had always thought me to be, she’d never see me as anyone other than someone to scorn. Her mind was set and every action would only fit into what she had already decided for me.

Life is way too short to prove myself to people who don’t care to know the real me, even if we’re related.

When you look at me there’s no way to know that every extra pound you see represents a battle I’ve had to deal with in my life. This isn’t fat, these are scars. That is the undeniable proof that I’ve suffered through something and used food to comfort and suppress, obviously to excess – which should give you some hint as to the nature of the battle.

If you’ve been around you know my history. It ain’t pretty. So neither, naturally, are the results of how I chose to deal with them.

The Aha moment came when Ashley, the gal losing weight, said that with every pound she lost she was letting all the stuff she’d been through go.

Of course.

Each pound represents something that happened to me, often things that made me hate myself or feel insecure or unworthy… or any number of negative things that keep me in a self-loathing spiral which literally fed on itself.

If I want to be healthy… if I want to be a survivor and not a victim… then I have to get rid of each bad experience I now wear on my body.

I’ve been strong enough to get through it, and strong enough to carry it often for decades, so I know I’m strong enough to surrender it. It’s time to let it go.

Each pound can be a victory, whether it’s one or one hundred. I’m no longer defined by what I’ve survived – I’m defined by what I have conquered.

The first lesson is to conquer the need to meet anyone’s expectations but my own. I know what I need to do for me and for my own peace of mind. You can agree or not, but it will carry no weight in my progress forward.

I’m done waiting for permission to feel what I feel and do what I do. If I’m the one who must deal with the consequences, I am the one who gets to make the choices.

The approval of anyone else is neither required nor desired.

So I’m letting it go. And hopefully in the process I can finally, once and for all, be cured of the lethal disease to please.

A Lifetime Love Affair

In the last six weeks I’ve begun a new fitness routine where I walk at least 4 – 5 days a week, 5 – 7 miles a stretch per day. I did this because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I wanted to be stronger, to make my body bend to my will instead of the other way around. I’m tired of feeling browbeaten and scared of truly living life because of the limitations that come from being my size. The only way to beat this insecurity is to do the things that will build confidence. For me, this is tackling my body issues from the inside out.

Instead of starting with food, which is my normal routine, I began with the part of the healthy journey that intimidates me the most: physical activity. Obviously I’ve never been a big fan of exercise, but I need to get over that if I want a stronger back that doesn’t go out on me every time I turn around in bed or take a deep breath. (Which mine was.)

I had to start slow and do something that I knew wouldn’t hurt me. Walking is the best exercise for anyone because it requires no extra expense, no expert training and no equipment. You can walk anywhere, which rids you of any and all excuses. Though I never get bored, walking a treadmill is a chore I dread – so instead I find interesting places to walk. I go to the beach, or beautiful parks, or large malls. Inside or outside, good weather or not – I have places where I can get off my butt and go walk. I bought season passes to big amusement parks so we can make being upright and walking around part of our fun family time rather than sitting on the sofa watching TV, going out to eat or going to the movies.

We’re in California now. There’s too much to see and do to be confined in a house. And my family is thinner than I am so in order to keep up with them I gotta get in better shape. If I want to share the experience of hiking up hills with my boys like I did with their father, I gotta shed some of the extra weight and build my endurance.

My whole life is now revolving around this full time job of getting healthier inside and out. In the past six weeks of this new lifestyle I’ve seen dramatic changes which give me a new sense of pride in myself.

I like that. This is so much better for me than starting a journey because I demonized the fat. I’ve made it a matter of choice. I’ve turned it into a plan, a strategy even, to build something rather than just get to some standard goal weight.

If I truly want to live the life I moved to California to live, then I have to be physically strong. There’s no getting around that. In order to be physically strong, I have to exercise. I’m lucky in the sense that I do not have any real health problems except for a bad back, so I am able to do what needs to be done to make that healthier. It takes time and patience and endurance – but that’s not a chore if you’re doing those things for someone you truly love.

After 42 years of taking care of others I love, I finally decided to turn that love inward.

I’m not going to beat myself up anymore for being where I am now. That’s self-defeating. I made these choices that got me where I am. If I don’t like it, I have the power to change it by making different choices. Hating myself is how I ended up this way and why it’s never been able to change. So I have to fall in love with the one person who, beyond any other relationship, will be with me from birth until death.

Instead of looking at my body with disgust, I am filled with respect how strong it is to survive the damage that has been done to it. It craves the change, which is why I feel so spiritually and emotionally centered after a 7 mile walk. My feet complain, my calves try to bitch and moan, but inside I feel *right* – and it allows me to make all my emotional and spiritual decisions more positive and proactive.

I’m able to spread the happy. And there’s nothing I love more.

Where there is insecurity I am building boldness. I’m turning every ounce of frustration into determination. And where there is self-loathing I am putting forgiveness and love like I would give any random person off the street.

I’m not a bad person because I’m fat. I’m not ugly, lazy, stupid or weak. I’m not waiting on some magic number on a scale to consider myself lovable or worthwhile – I’m all those things RIGHT NOW.

What I am doing is refining myself. That’s a lifelong goal for anyone, to constantly improve. It’s the reason we exist at all, IMO. It doesn’t mean you’re horrible, just that you could be better – and that applies to EVERYONE. No one is done improving themselves until they cross over the finish line on their death bed. There is always one more lesson to learn, one more way to evolve.

So, like anything else in my life, I’m focused on progress. I’m fixing what can be fixed to make things a better version of me. I exercise not to get down to a size 0 (that ain’t gonna happen.) I exercise so that I can be physically stronger and do those things I never thought I could do, whether that’s a size 20 or size 10. (I will run a mile. That CAN and will happen.)

In doing so I am building confidence that says I don’t need the approval of anyone else to love me or honor who I am and what I can do. My body will change but that’s no longer the turning point. Emotionally it has to happen NOW so that I want to do those things that make me healthier and stronger. There’s no lofty goal size or weight. My body will figure out eventually where it wants to be. I’m perfectly content with getting down to a size 12 or 14 and leveling off there where I don’t have to be worried about the medical complications of obesity. But I’m not starving myself to look like everyone else so the world around me can finally give me their seal of approval.

Their seal of approval doesn’t mean SQUAT. Just as easily as someone can accept me they can reject me, it has nothing to do with my value.

I’m not meant to be like everyone else. And that’s okay. As long as I’m healthy and can do the things I want to do for the next 42 years of my life (and beyond) that’s enough for me.

My goals are much too big for me to die off in another 15 years because my body buckled under the strain.

So I’m going to treat my on body like anyone else I truly love. I’m going to support it, encourage it and reward it for its steadfast devotion in taking care of me all these years.

It no longer has to wait and earn my validation simply because the world around me thinks I need to do so. I didn’t do that to my kids, my friends or the people I truly loved so I’m no longer going to do that to myself.

Body, you are beautiful NOW. We’re not going to strive for perfection, we’re going to strive for excellence.

Body, you are sexy NOW. Sexiness is an attitude and girl you got plenty of that.

Body, you are loved NOW. I’m shunning the idea that loving you is conceit or egotism. You deserve to be loved. YOU’RE AWESOME. Look at what all you’ve done and been through and you’re still standing. You’re more than a warrior, you’re a champion.

So that means it is now my job – my honor – to make you stronger so we’re together for a long, long time. You haven’t let me down and I refuse to let you down.

We’re in this together, baby. Now let’s go walk.

Challenges + Perspective = Resolve

Yesterday after embarking on what promised to be a day chock full of errands doing all the stuff I have only eight days left to accomplish, the starter in my car decided to give up the ghost. This takes a sizable chunk out of our savings to head westward under the category of, “Those things you can never really plan for.” Given the state of mind I’ve been in this last month or so freaking out about the changes (and looking for any iota of a problem to back out of my plans) you’d think that I would have handled it a lot worse than I did.

Fortunately I had a stiff dose of perspective watching the Gabby Giffords special the other night.

I’ve got the money to fix the car, it just means we have to tighten our belts a little bit and not do some of the things I wanted to do. It’s not fighting my way back from a brain injury learning how to walk and talk again. This is, as Gabby so eloquently stated, “Life.” Being mad about it is a waste of precious energy.

So I didn’t get mad. I didn’t throw a Texas-sized hissy fit. I just leaned on the incredible support system of my family to figure out how to make things work because it’s too late to turn back now even if I wanted to. We are in forward motion and we’re going to stay that way. We all feel that we need to take this chance and we’re in it 100% together – that’s a gift and a blessing that I’d be an ungrateful idiot to ignore. Therefore Imma do the only thing I can do in the situation… let it go.

I’ve heard it said that you do what is in the realm of your control… that’s your job. Everything else you can’t control is God’s responsibility. So I think I’m going to get out of his way and let him do his job.

(And by the way prayer totally works. That and knowing an honest mechanic.)

We are still in good shape considering the unexpected expense. The first time I went to LA I went on a wing and a prayer, with Daniel by my side, a couple hundred bucks in my pocket and nothing in the world to call ours but the car we were driving. I had assumed having family out there would give us a leg up, but I quickly learned a very painful lesson about some of the people we call “family.” I was told in no uncertain terms I was on my own. To help me was a crutch she wasn’t willing to support, so she let me be the state of California’s problem.

(And ironically the government took better care of me… go figure.)

Fortunately that’s not the state of my family today. I have people who believe in my ability to succeed rather than just assuming I will fail (or am too lazy to try.) They don’t see giving me a hand up as a hand out; they WANT to help because I (who not even related by blood) *matter.*

What a revelation.

And this may come across as bitter but the truth is I am glad that I had that experience way back then. It did teach me to depend on no one else by myself. When it comes to my survival I learned at 19 no one is as invested in that as I am. It sucked but it made me stronger. It also helps give me perspective that I’m in a LOT better shape now than I was then. If I could make it even when I was homeless, jobless and living out my car, having a few hundred dollars less in my pocket now isn’t going to break me.

Even though I’m in the “famine” part of the feast and famine dynamic of freelance writing, I still have money coming in and work to be done. Is it ideal? No. Is it as much as I was counting on (and previously enjoyed?) No. But that keeps me hungry enough to work even harder toward success in my desired field. Failure is not an option. I need to stop thinking of MYSELF in terms that certain members in my aforementioned “family” used to. Instead of believing that I’m just an unlucky, impulsive ne’er do well who lives to leech off of others, I choose to believe what the people invested in my success tell me – that I CAN do this and that I DO deserve to succeed.

Most importantly I’m NOT in this alone, as evidenced by the fact the way my immediate family (Steven and the kids) rallied to meet this new challenge so it doesn’t have to set us back.

For that reason I know California is the place we need to be, to further surround ourselves with those people who prop us up and encourage us to be all that they believe we can be.

So these are not problems. These are lessons in the making to show me what I am capable of so that I can grow into something better and stronger. I’m not that same 19-year-old flying on a wing and a prayer. I’ve hit rock bottom and crawled my way back up again and in doing so I learned the most important lesson of all. I may not be able to change, predict or control what happens to me – but I certainly can control how I respond to it. This is “life.” As that clock endlessly ticks away every moment, my time is way too precious to spend any of it moping about some unraveled expectations.

I was promised nothing and as such am entitled to nothing. Every good thing is a blessing, not a right… and should be treasured rather than taken for granted simply because I don’t have these other things. When it’s all said and done I have a lot of things I can be grateful for, not the least of which the ability to be happy during the journey no matter the ultimate destination.

What I know for sure is this: Happiness is not some elusive bird who lights upon your shoulder through a random luck of the draw when everything is going according to plan. It’s a choice you make every new day you are blessed to open your eyes. With every new breath you can face the world with renewed conviction that it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. Today is going to be better because I choose faith over fear and determination over worry. I find no comfort in being a cynic. I’d rather live each day happy and wrong than bitter and right.

I can’t control where I’ll end up in the next year, five years, ten years or beyond. What I can control is my peace of mind while I get there – wherever “there” happens to be. I know in the end I have everything I need to be withstand these bumps in the road which are so tiny in comparison to the challenges of others.

It’s time to pull up my big girl pants and square my jaw to face life head-on. Each crack in the road is just one more reason to stretch my legs as I jump over them.

In the immortal words of Don Henley and Glenn Frey… “we’re scared, but we ain’t shakin’…Kinda bent, but we ain’t breakin'”

I know we’re gonna make it in the Long Run.

Feel the Fear and…. well, you know.

As the move to California races toward us all at a breakneck pace, I find myself experiencing overwhelming panic attacks at the prospect. What once seemed so exciting is now scary as hell. Of course, there have been certain mitigating factors. The way I had it planned there was a safety net and certain mental harnesses that made jumping off the proverbial cliff a lot less terrifying.

I could take a plunge into the unknown still tied to what was familiar and safe.

But life happens when you’re busy making plans. When I told the universe I was unstoppable, it chose to test my determined war cry with a bunch of cosmic sucker punches.

Essentially I started to feel like I was on an episode of Wipeout and facing the dreaded Smack Wall.

As I lay on the ground and watched the birdies circle above my head in true cartoon fashion, I began to question if these walls were being erected to keep me from staying the course, or if this was just God’s funny way of seeing how much I wanted to succeed by putting my desires to the test.

Frankly, I still don’t know which is which.

I get spun back and forth between the idea that anyone can live the life of their dreams if they just determine it to be so:

And the idea that any road that is broken serves to steer you where you really need to go. As much as we weigh the pros and cons and stare into our internal crystal balls to figure out which choice is the RIGHT one, we’ll never, ever know for sure.

The book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway challenges that no decision is the “wrong” one because there are lessons to be learned from either scenario. During Oprah’s Life Class series she and author Iyanla Vanzant approached this sort of psychological fork in the road. Someone who wanted to know how to summon the courage to take risks to succeed got this advice: Just take the risk. What’s the worse that can happen? You go back to where you are now and you already know you can handle that.

That was SUCH a brick for me.

So what if I go to Los Angeles and can’t break into filmmaking? I just come back to Texas and keep writing books. I’d rather go and fail than never go and always wonder.

This makes the choice fairly obvious.

And each punch that knocks me down is just one to make me stronger and tougher… one that makes me come up with more determination than I had before. I’m used to fighting for everything I get, and God knows I can take a punch. They knock the wind out of me, but in the end they piss me off and fuel my fire. I’m no victim to my life. I loathe being vulnerable as much as I loathe being underestimated.

If you knock me down I’m coming up MAD… and stronger for it.

Conflict/crisis triggers this warrior spirit in a very significant way, mostly because that’s the coping mechanism I developed growing up in constant chaos. Where there wasn’t any, I created it.

The trick is summoning this same spirit when things are going well. The sad fact is I haven’t been approaching this as a warrior. I’ve been approaching this as an experiment. I made this decision to test the waters based on a few concrete certainties that minimized the risk.

If I had A…. then I could do B.

I could step off into the deep end and not drown, because I wouldn’t have to paddle like crazy to keep afloat.

(Frankly that’s a pattern in my life I’d rather like to leave behind. It’s tiresome and I’m not as young as I used to be.)

So guess what the Universe decides to do in all her ironic glory?

She decides to make moving to CA the dance right off a cliff into the unknown, and my life here in Texas – while dissatisfying – the “safer” choice.

All those safety nets I thought I had? They now have holes in them the size of Rhode Island.

Those harnesses I thought would carry me safely to the front of the line?

Gone in the blink of eye as the wisps of smoke they were. (Even more disheartening to learn they were just mirages in the desert anyway.)

So I’m on my own… in a manner of speaking. We won’t be homeless and in the streets, but I’m going to have to show the universe how much I really want it by taking decisive action rather than use any supposed “shortcuts” that would ultimately keep my ego intact.

Now it’s time to decide what it is I really want, as well as what I can reasonably do to make these things happen.

The good news is I have more control than I realize. The first, best decision I can make is to release those expectations that have run their course.

In a few ways I didn’t predict, I’m going to have to start from scratch. Fortunately for me this is nothing new. I’m used to people scattering when the rubber meets the road and letting me down when I have come to depend on them. This just teaches me to make better choices in those people whom I choose to invest. I have really big dreams. And I only want the best people around me when I make them come true.

Truth be told, whether I move there or stay here these changes need to be made regardless. I haven’t been happy for a really long time. I’ve felt used and tossed aside and neglected and overlooked and manipulated and lied to. Now we cn add “fooled” to that, which is the worst offense of all.

But I guess I should’ve seen it coming. These patterns are not new, and God knows I’ve been grazed by the shrapnel these past many years. I could blame it on circumstances but it doesn’t change one very fundamental truth: I shouldn’t have to make someone respect me. I shouldn’t have to fight for attention or opportunity. If I’m going to be valued, truly valued, the way I deserve to be, these are things that should be a given for anyone who claims to care about me.

What’s more, I shouldn’t have to lower these reasonable expectations just because I’m supposed to feel “grateful” for meager crumbs that keep me towing the line. By relenting on these expectations I’ve given into that part of my brain trained to believe I don’t deserve better.

As long as I give in to that, I’ll never get better.

Above all that’s what I truly want with my whole heart… to be better.

Since I am moving to California to make things better then I have to make some tough decisions. I have to step out onto the tightrope whether there is a safety net or not, and throw off those harnesses that may only serve to strangle me and drag me back down to where I am now.

If I wanted things to stay the same, I’d just stay here.

And above all I know that’s what I DON’T want. It’s time for a change, succeed or fail.

And you wanna know something?

I don’t think it’s going to fail.

That may be the scariest thing of all. When you’re used to mediocrity success can be a frightening thing. It really is a step into the unknown, and I can never be fully prepared what to expect.

But I’m going to feel the fear and do it anyway.