Suicidal tendencies; dancing with the devil that lives inside your mind.

On May 18, 2017 we lost Chris Cornell, the legendary alt-rock singer whose sudden, shocking death left a wide path of mourning in its wake. I saw the tweet almost immediately and I knew it was going to be a tough one for his fans. Since he died so young, and these days 52 is pretty young to shuffle off one’s mortal coil, we waited for the cause. When it finally came, I knew it would be an even tougher blow for people.

Whenever someone commits suicide, it shades the mourning into something akin to anger at the person who died. Let’s face it. Losing someone is hard. You have a lot of powerful emotions and they can be very hard to manage. Nobody wants to feel despondent. Rage at least gives you some illusion of control over the whole thing. Anger puts you back into a position of power when the choices of someone else pull the emotional rug out from under you. You hear words like “selfish,” or “cowardly,” thrown around, mostly because it’s easier. It’s also more socially acceptable. If someone buries a 500-lb person, you’d never go up to the person’s family and say anything negative about the choices that brought him or her to her end. You show sympathy.

Direct suicide, however, comes with a much more visceral reaction, even though – technically speaking – they sort of come from the same place. One’s just a hell of a lot faster.

I never get angry. I know all too well the seductive lure of suicide. I know what it feels like to be so overwhelmed you just want the pain to *end*, right now, no waiting. I’ve thought about the unthinkable more than once.

I’ve thought about it recently.

Part of it stems from the depression and mental health issues I’ve had all my life, I’m sure. At least I hope so. I hope that it’s not normal to contemplate such a horrible thing, even when things aren’t going well. Even if things never seem to go well.

To me, the presence of suicide is the absence of hope, and that is a bleak, bleak place to be.

Whenever I hear of someone who has died this way, my heart immediately breaks for them. I think about their final moments that they had to spend alone, with this monster in their mind, a lying, seductive devil that convinces them there is only one option left.

I have wrestled more than once with this darkness. It’s terrifying.

And every time I hear about someone losing their battle to that monster, it fills me with my own terror. I’ve been where they were. I fear I will be again. And I worry that one day all hope will run out for me and I’ll do the unthinkable, because it is by the hair of my chinny chin chin that I made it through those scary times at all.

So what brings someone to such a desperate end?

Lots of things. We all have different thresholds of what we’re willing to endure to survive. Pain. Trauma. Financial worry. Sickness. Fear. Exhaustion. The option to punch your own ticket sometimes seems preferable than living on under the weight of such overwhelming conditions. Sometimes we as humans feel painted in a corner and it’s just easier to check out than to keep fighting a losing battle one more day.

And sometimes the thoughts are fleeting. Like, “Jesus, I should just fucking down a bottle of pills and get it over with,” but you keep going, one foot after the other, trying to find your way to some sort of break that will help you recharge your batteries. You know you only think these things in a weak moment, when you’re feeling particularly drained, but you don’t *really* mean it. It just gives you some sort of sense of control to say it, which is important when everything in your life is whirling around out of your control.

Other times, the scarier times, you begin to plan. You start to think about how you will do it, and maybe even arrange your life in such a way that it could accommodate such plans. Maybe you start to give away things that matter to you, or write your goodbye letters. Maybe you talk about it more, and people who know you dismiss is as some “cry for attention,” because they just can’t see someone so strong, someone who has so much to live for, doing such a “selfish”, “cowardly” thing.

It is in this period we need your compassion and your help most of all. It is in these moments that we feel selfish and cowardly, and such dismissal reinforces those negative, bleak feelings. If talk of suicide is someone’s “cry for attention” – GIVE IT TO THEM. They’re still in the planning stages at this point, and in that stage their mind is a war zone trying to list all the reasons to stay and all the reasons to leave.

If people heap onto their shame and their own feelings of low self-worth and failure, it can give a lot of ammo to that monster that resides inside their brains, who tells them things *regularly* – like, “You’re such a burden. The people you love would be so much better off without you.” “You’re such a fuck-up. Just end it already.”

People will say it’s selfish for someone to consider suicide, and maybe it is – but these are vulnerable people who are under the influence of the worst kind of liar that hides in the shadowy places in their mind, who convinces them a selfish act would actually be a loving one.

And they’re so out of gas at the moment, they’re ripe to believe it.

The first time I contemplated suicide was when I was thirteen years old. I was only 13, but it was the fourth time I had dealt with the fear of sexual abuse. I was raped at four as most know, but I had two near brushes with nefarious types before I turned twelve, which set off my radar that I was in trouble. One was with a preacher, who sat me down in an empty church to talk about my faith. I remember two things: the blue leisure suit he wore (I think this was probably mid-70s) and the gawdy gold ring he wore on his pinky finger.

He laid his arm on the pew behind me, leaning in close, with that seductive tone in his voice, as he spoke about his concern for my soul.

All sorts of alarms went off and I was glad that I got the heck out of there. I don’t even remember how I escaped, but I assume my parents probably came to get me to take me home.

Thank God. Literally.

The next brush was some stranger in a car, who tried to pick me up as I was heading home from school. He drove slow enough to keep up with me while I was walking, not saying anything at first, and then finally rolling down the window to offer me a ride. I shook my head vigorously and all but ran home.

So when my friend decided to take a guy we had both met to court for raping her, I kinda felt at that point that this was my lot in life, to forever run from these kinds of men who only set out to hurt me. Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to feel that hunted, but it’s fucking terrifying. When I heard that this guy kept a gun in his glove box, in a car I had ridden in, the terror became unbearable.

Imagine the feeling of having zero control over your body, up to losing your very own life. The powerlessness that comes with that is crushing.

And keep in mind that this emotional baggage was something I shouldered all alone. There was so much shame heaped onto my young shoulders, thanks in large part to the way our society views women and how my religion viewed sex in general. I had yet to tell ANYONE what I had gone through. There was no other voice to combat the monster in my head, who used my own religious upbringing against me. I was damaged goods. Corrupted. Unlovable.

What. Was. The. Point?

So I sat at my kitchen table with a knife to my wrist and I thought about the long road ahead of me, one I walked alone, confused and afraid. I was going to have to face this guy in court, and likely be the thing that ensured he’d face legal consequences for fucking around with a fourteen-year-old girl. That’s what they told me anyway. It was more than just “he said/she said,” with my testimony. I could prove that he was lying when he said he had never met us or taken us for a ride one afternoon at lunch at school.

I could prove that I saw him drive off with her in the car that day in question.

That’s a lot of weight for a thirteen-year-old girl to carry all by herself. Finding out he had a gun, and I might be the thing that jeopardized his very freedom, put me in a precarious situation. I felt like I was teetering on the edge of the abyss, with life on one side and men in general on the other side, playing this tug of war with me and my sanity hanging in the balance.

When you feel that powerless, you’ll do anything to seize control of something, of anything, even if it’s ensuring no one would ever be able to hurt you again, even if it means you have to hurt yourself first.

And so I was over it. I sat there at that table, tears running down my face, as I tried to end it before life ended me, without my choice, as was the pattern of my entire life up till that point.

At least this time, for once in my fucking life, I’d have control over my pain and of my fear.

Then the phone rang. It was my best friend Jeff, in a rare long-distance phone call that his mother usually never let him make. This was back in 1983 when there were no cell phones, no Internet, no Facetime or Skype. If I wanted to communicate with my bestie, I had to sit, write a letter, mail it out and wait for about four days to get a response. Long distance phone calls were expensive, and neither one of us had a job. We were at the mercy of what our parents could and would afford. When we lived in the same town, we talked every day on the phone. His was the lone voice that helped me through the dark silence that followed my dad’s death. After I moved away, I held on for deal life thanks to weekly letters that came addressed solely to me, that made me feel special, like someone in the world gave a damn about me.

Turn that feeling up to 11 and you have the joy I felt when I could talk to him in “real time” on the phone, even when he was 300 miles away.

I picked up the phone and was greeted by his cheery voice, so happy that we could chat for real instead of just exchange letters back and forth like we had done for the year or so before then.

I burst into tears, unable to hide the pain anymore. When he asked me what was wrong I finally told him. Likewise he burst into tears, to tell me that he couldn’t imagine life without me, and that he needed me. As a gay teen in Texas in the middle of the 1980s, he was going through so much he couldn’t even tell me at the time. So I had no way of knowing what a lifeline I was to him, even though I totally was.

But the lying monster in my brain had never let me consider that, because it was too busy keeping my focus pointed inward towards the abyss. I was stunned when he said these things to me.

It was enough to put down the knife. Just knowing someone gave a damn, and – the really important part – didn’t stop loving me when I told him my greatest shame, literally saved my life.

I credit this to divine intervention. I don’t share my faith a lot, but this one event convinced me that not only is there a God, but he/she/it cares what happens to me.

Thanks to that phone call, I once again had hope where there was none.

I didn’t seriously contemplate suicide again until sixteen years later, when I faced yet another overwhelming crisis, one that involved my kids.

And this was even after I lost my newborn son to a fatal heart malformation when he was nine days old. When the paramedic came into the bedroom where I waited with Tim (who was a day short of five years) and Jer (who was three), he broke the news to me as gently as one could tell a young mother that her beautiful baby was, simply, gone. I felt the will to breathe leave me and started to sink to my knees. This man grabbed me by both shoulders and held me up, forcing me to look him straight in the eye. He reminded me that I still had two other children who needed their mother to be strong.

It wasn’t hope necessarily, but it was purpose, much like being there for my bestie who needed me back in the 80s – and that was just as powerful a motivation.

Those two children became my reason to live. And I struggled with every decision after that to give them what I thought they needed. Dan finally got diagnosed and treated for his bipolar disorder. I worked hard to support the family as the sole breadwinner, while managing the new complications that came with living with the disorder, and all the treatment options we had to work through to get to ANYTHING that might help.

But the damage for my young sons was already done in all those dark years before we understood what demons drove my first husband. Thanks to Dan’s illness, my two remaining children ended up removed from the home, with never-ending hurdles I had to jump in order to get them back. The harder I fought, the more life pushed back. I was powerless and in pain, once again. Only this time I felt I had lost every single thing left to live for. I started the planning stage in January of 1999. I couldn’t bear facing the anniversary of Brandon’s death without my other two children. I decided to steal a bottle of Dan’s powerful pills, go to my youngest son’s grave and just go into eternal sleep like he did.

Even with a success story, even after I soundly beat the devil before, it’s amazing how long suicide lingered in the back of my brain as some sort of escape hatch if life gets to be too much.

A stranger I met through the internet picked up on my defeatist dialogue and spent an entire night on the phone with me to remind me how many things there were still left to fight for, including my two kids who, even though the state of California may not have agreed, still needed me to fight for them.

He barely knew me from Eve and we’d never meet face to face, but this angel didn’t get off the line until he was sure I was okay.

He restored my hope so that I was able to keep fighting. Within a year I had made the hard choices the courts demanded of me, which included dissolving my first marriage. By 2000 I got my kids back.

Someone refilled my tank. It wouldn’t empty again, for real, until 2015.

There were moments of weakness, though. When my chronic back pain threatened yet ANOTHER job because I just couldn’t make it to work regularly, I remember vividly sitting on the edge of my bed, in the nagging awful pain that had become the norm for me, thinking what was the point? I was a burden to those I loved, who virtually had to take care of me.

As fiercely independent as I was, that was a very hard pill for me to swallow.

The Mind Monster whispered constantly how much better off my family would be without me. I had worked tirelessly for years to ensure the survival of my family, and I couldn’t work anymore. That fucked with my identity.

And the pain I was in was relentless, shading everything in black tones as I struggled just to get through any part of the day I was conscious enough to muddle through.

The rest of the time I was out on heavy narcotic medication – missing out on my marriage and my kids… and my life.

But I was able to talk about it, to avoid the planning stages for the most part. I maintained my hope. I found reasons, no matter how small, to keep going.

Suicide still lingered in the back of my mind though, as the ultimate “break glass in case of emergency” option. If things got a little hairy, I still had access to pills that would help me check completely out, painlessly and efficiently.

It helped me maintain that illusion of control I’ve always wrestled with. If things got too bad, I knew what to do.

In 2015, things got “too bad.” I had a mental collapse of sorts, the worst one I had ever had. Depression and anxiety are no joke. They have leveled me in the past, starting after my dad died and I skipped school for ten days, hiding away in my bathroom day after day, in the warm womb of a bathtub as I struggled to find SOME way to comfort myself and heal, when I felt as bereft as an eleven-year-old girl could possibly feel.

Fast-forward thirty-four years and I found myself unable to handle life again, despite being a 45-year-old. My promising writing career had flat-lined. I went from making more money than I had ever made in my life back to struggling for each and every goddamned penny again. And it was completely out of my control. There was nothing I could do. So I relented and considered Plan B, because being homeless again was NOT an option. After being out of work for four years, I couldn’t find a job to help my family. Our economic situation was dire, struggling each and every month to pay the rent and keep our fragile little house of matchsticks from being blown over by the hungry wolf at the door.

I felt once again powerless, out of control and without hope. I lived my whole life for the dream of being a successful writer, and that success felt like it was over in a minute. The Mind Monster had a fucking field day with that. I truly felt that no matter what glimmer of happiness I could wrestle from the greedy hands of fate wasn’t ever going to be enough to justify all the days, months and years of pain, fear and hopelessness I’d endured.

It just never felt like it was going to stop. The liar that lives in my brain whispered in my ear that I had failed at everything and had a purpose for nothing. I disappeared into my room for about three days solid, even throughout Mother’s Day. I didn’t get out of bed. I cried a lot, almost anytime anyone would talk to me. As a result I didn’t talk to anyone, which was the scariest moment for me. I didn’t talk to my family. I didn’t open up to my husband, who had no clue how to handle my breakdown. I probably could have sent Hal a message and he would have been kind enough to talk me down from the ledge, but that wasn’t what I wanted. Not only had I run out of hope, I wasn’t interested in anyone renewing it. I knew the drill by this point. Yeah, it got better. And then it got bad again. And then it got worse, the price my Mind Monster always told me that I had to pay for any little morsel of happiness.

I wasn’t worth a good life. Clearly. Every good thing that happened would last a minute, and then I got thrown back into the wood chipper to tear up any idea that I was special.

That was why I lost my dad, remember.

It was a tough, tough period. Once again Jeff called me, worried because I hadn’t been online to talk to him every day like I have always done since 1995. It was no longer the 1980s. We could communicate in real time all the time, even with phone calls that became a lot less random the older, and more financially independent, we both got.

But this time I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. How could I face him 34 years after he had saved my life and tell him it had all been for nothing?

(And yes, I know after all those years, raising my kids, loving my husbands, creating my career out of thin air, that it wasn’t “nothing.” But that’s the lie. And it’s running fucking non-stop in those dark bleak moments.)

I got myself out of it that time, but it was a freaking miracle. I was as close to dancing with the devil as I had ever been. I’m reminded with every death by suicide that getting that close and still beating that sonofabitch is not a given.

So I feel nothing but sympathy for the person who falls to their Mind Monster, the one that convinces them of all the lies, that they have nothing to live for, to just end it – even if it is just to make the pain of the moment stop because it’s just too fucking much to bear.

I hate that they went through that alone.

I hate that they succumbed to the lie.

And I hate, most of all, how fucking seductive that lie can be.

That Chris’s death came at the expense of drugs that were supposed to heal him makes the loss even more acute. He was doing all the right things, and yet…

So I don’t know what the answer is. I just know we have to keep talking. And those who love us have to keep listening, *especially* when there’s a cry for help.

And we can’t give up. Because it is in that bleak, black moment of hopelessness where our control will slip and we can do unthinkable damage not only to ourselves, but to the people who love us most – even when we can’t seem to love ourselves.

If you’re thinking about suicide, it is my hope that you reach out and talk to someone. It does get better. Sometimes it even gets great.

And it’ll probably suck again too. Such is life for everyone. No matter what your Mind Monster says, it is not because you are a bad person. It is not because you are worthless. It isn’t because the world would somehow be better off without you. It is because we are all fighting our own type of battle, to varying degrees of success.

But you still matter.

To someone out there, you may be their lifeline helping THEM to hold onto hope. To someone else, you may be the very moon and stars, even if you don’t know it.

Even if your Mind Monster won’t let you see that.

But you still matter.

You really are here for a purpose and a reason. Life is about finding out what both of those mean to you and the people around you.

So if you’re hurting, if you’re feeling powerless and hopeless and vulnerable, if you’re feeling like the only person in the world who can touch the depths of those things, reach out to someone. It’ll be the hardest, bravest, most important decision you will ever make.

And one day, maybe you’ll help someone else who is feeling powerless and alone. You’ll give them strength. You’ll renew their hope.

And what greater purpose is there than that?

****

I wrote the above blog post several weeks ago, but I stopped myself from publishing it. I thought maybe it was too late to say these words. It no longer felt like posting a virtual life jacket that might have stopped just one person from drowning. Instead talking so frankly about the lure of this devil felt like an homage to suicide itself.

“You’re weak,” the devil whispered. “And now everyone will know.”

So I backed away from it. I justified it that the Mind Monster needs no foothold and I wasn’t about to give him one.

It was yet another lie.

This week I was faced with being on the OTHER side of the glass, with someone who was going through their own personal crisis, a single mom whose life was imploding around her with a failed relationship and a crushing economic downturn. “I just want to die,” she sobbed. And I totally fucking believed her. I stopped everything that I was doing to  share my story, weak or not, and to take her into a hug and hold her up when she wanted to fall – just like that paramedic did for me all those years ago.

I knew in that moment THAT was my purpose. It made the pain I’d been through matter, and there’s nothing more empowering than that.

But then, by Thursday, when I heard about another artist losing his battle with the Mind Monster, and I realized that maybe I’m strong and okay now – but remaining that way is not a given.

Remember, I told you I had thought about breaking the glass even recently, during my own devastating economic downturn. What others consider an unthinkable option still sits there in the back of my brain like the ultimate escape hatch.

So I’m posting this. With any hope at all, this will replace the seductive lure of suicide as my “break glass in case of emergency” option. Not just for someone else out there, but for me as well.

Because that’s what we need most to win our own private wars. We need any hope at all.

When you feel hope is just beyond your grasp… keep reaching until someone reaches back. Because they will if you just give them a chance. It is the hardest, most terrifying , most powerful thing you can do to defeat that Mind Monster, even if it is one hairy, scary battle at a time.

That’s how wars are won.

Let’s win this one.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255 – available 24 hours a day

Snap Happy.

Though I got the app very early on, it has taken me quite a while to get on the SnapChat bandwagon. It sat mostly unused on my phone. I’d check it every now and then, to follow entertaining folks much braver than I who would post content (thank you Hal Sparks, Constantine Maroulis and Travis DesLaurier.) But it wasn’t my go-to choice for communication like Facebook and Twitter, where I’ve developed a following over the years who are quite used to my brand of Gingerness.

SnapChat, however, is a more visual medium that, quite frankly, intimidates me. 140 characters: I got. Memes and rants? No problemo. With words, I have absolute confidence and zero fear. I’m a Word Warrior who feels completely safe and protected behind twenty-six letters I get to construct however I think they will work best. If I use pictures to make my point, they are very rarely of me. Words are my weapon of choice and my favorite tools, shaping me endlessly into the version of me I see inside my own head.

Me, face to face however, creates a lot of self-doubt and, by default, an enormous amount of fear. If I’m comfortable with you, and you’ve passed my many mental hurdles to get over the wall to let you see The Real Me, I’m a completely different person than when you first meet me. I’m louder, more outspoken, I’ll crack jokes and step over the line and just be, well… me in all my muchness.

Getting there is the trick. I’m a stubborn onion. Peeling back those layers is no easy task.

Needless to say, putting SnapChats out there to a wide audience wasn’t a skill I was too eager to acquire, especially when several people on my list are people I’d like to impress with the Put Together Me, rather than the Awkward Goofy Real Me. It’s very much like Peter Parker vs. Spider-Man. Will you still like me without my mask?

These are the big questions, folks.

When I decided to embark on the Selfie Journey a bit ago, I decided I’d just tackle my fear and use SnapChat anyway. I’d be as myself as I had the courage of being, which, most of the time, indulges a very silly side that just wants to make folks laugh. SnapChat filters are a great way to do this and I’ve fallen passionately in love with them.

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However, if you’re hyper-critical of your image and super vigilant what others get to see, it’s a continuing test of endurance. I’m that chick from Seinfeld, remember, who is only attractive a fraction of the time. I can take fifteen identical photos and only one will make the grade because of one microscopic difference, which makes me feel more comfortable posting it for the world to see. Some I think, “Wow. I’m actually pretty here,”

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Others… well… I can only make a face and hope for the best.

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And I’ve come to realize it’s not just a me thing. I think it’s a girl thing. I went to a Girls Only party not too long ago where we took group pictures with girls of varying shapes, sizes and ages. How those photos were debated and reshot kinda made me giggle. Women I regarded as way more attractive than me still policed their image with vigor. Where I shrugged and let it go, they were the ones insisting on a do-over.

It reinforced the need for this experiment. I need to be comfortable with all of me because true change kind of involves all of me. And all of me is worth it, no matter what lies I’ve been telling myself my entire life.

That Internal Voice, man. It’s such a liar. And a dream-blocking bitch.

That’s why I’ve kind of combined my new SnapChat life a little with Mel Robbins’ “5 Second Rule.”

Here’s another thing about me. I over-analyze EVERYTHING. And, most times, I let opportunities to go after what I really want to just pass me by.

There’s a simple philosophy of life that says:

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So many times that demonic little voice inside my head will talk me out of all three of those simple directives, particularly the “asking for what I want” part. For some reason, this has been the single hardest lesson in life for me to learn. It’s probably because I’ve had to self-nurture so much throughout my life that I simply don’t trust anyone anywhere to find my wants/needs as important as I do, so I never bother anyone with them.

I don’t ask. I don’t call. I don’t make the first move. Never, ever, ever. If I can do anything, whatever it is, on my own, that’s my sweet spot. Having to ask anyone for anything, ever? Not so much.

This is the one area I’ve finally begun to make headway, thanks in part to my job. I’ve started asking for what I want. Demanding what I need. Taking a stand. Saying the thing, whatever it is, that pops in my head, before that Internal Chatterbox wakes up and hits the pause button.

I decided to use this philosophy, then, with something that intimidates me most: Snapchat. It is all for singular purpose. It’s time I fall in love with me.

I’ve met me. I’m a great gal. I have a lot of cool qualities. I’d want to be friends with someone like me. So why am I so freaking hard on myself?

Oh, right. The image thing.

With every picture I post, I figure people are going to see it, realize I’m the Ugly Chick and bail. It’s a terrifying notion, but I’ve decided to feel the fear and do it anyway. And I usually don’t debate about it. I create the Snap and I post before I lose my nerve.

It’s a mitigated risk at best, considering Snaps are temporary and most of the time, unless you check the feed every day, my small following won’t even see all the Snaps I post. They’re viewed once and gone, like a whisper floating along on a breeze.

Interestingly enough, my Inner Editor has chilled the fuck out as a result. Instead of one of fifteen shots, it’s usually now one of maybe three. I’ll take several and then decide which one I want to post and just go for it.

You’re gonna love me or hate me regardless. Why not have a little fun?

Before this experiment, my sending a goofy Snapchat to someone I want to impress was  UNTHINKABLE. Yet, now I’ve done it. I debated for exactly two seconds and sent it anyway.

It didn’t get reciprocated, but that wasn’t the point. I can’t control how people view/receive me. That’s never been my job, and thank God – because it would be an impossible one. To some folks, I’m the Ugly Chick 100% of the time, and there’s nothing I can do about it. They can like, look, follow or unfollow as they wish.

That cannot and should not stop my fun.

I’ve begun the arduous practice of divorcing my feelings from my image and just letting it go. SnapChat is the perfect place for this, given these filters can often be ridiculous. No one is aiming for hotness with some of these. It’s equal opportunity ugly, and that’s kind of my jam.

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And guess what? It’s been a helluva lot of fun. I’ve started to incorporate things and people and music and sheer creativity, and it’s become more than just a monument to my image.

It can be fun

It can be goofy

It can even be sexy

It’s a part of me, all of me, and that’s not a bad thing.

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That I finally got my bestie on board so we Snap each other ENDLESSLY is just the cherry on top. Although I do worry about posting some of those Snaps, intended for the eyes of someone who loves me and who doesn’t judge, going on my main story for the world to see, most of the time I double-post anyway.

I’m never going to feel like showing myself to the world. It’s an intensely vulnerable feeling, especially for someone who has been so badly victimized in the past.

But I’m getting there. And, ironically, Snapchat is helping me get there, helping me fall in love with all parts of me, whether masked…

 

Or unmasked…

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And, for bonus points, I’m now posting these photos on places like Facebook so they *don’t* go away.

Take that, fear. You’re not the boss of me.

As for the weekly weigh-in, I’m holding steady despite recurring back pain, which even resulted in a lost day of work this week. :/ Next week I should have an update from the doctor, which scares me even more than public selfies.

Stay tuned….

Dear Damaged Girl: Letters, Chapter 1.

A lovely friend of mine posted a blog not too long ago that was basically a letter to her younger self. I thought wow, that’s a neat idea. What would you say to your younger self with all the knowledge and experience you’ve gained from getting through all those past experiences?

My bestie and I were talking earlier in the week about how stunned our thirteen-year-old selves would be if we were to sit down and chat with them now, in how far we’ve come personally and as a society. That the things we thought were so set in stone back then turned out to be swimming around in a gray area we were too young to entertain way back then. For instance, the thirteen-year-old me was rabidly anti-cannabis. I believed the “Just Say No” hype. It wasn’t till my back gave out on me in 2006 and I needed really strong pain pills to deal did I realize where the true threats are, and often dispensed by the men in white coats we have been taught to trust.

But, again, blog for another day.

If I were to tell that thirteen-year-old that I’d one day trade those scary pain pills for a natural plant that worked better and actually healed, she’d be floored. But that’s the magic of insight. It teaches you where you were misled or mistaken, and you can change your mind accordingly.

Sounds like a brilliant exercise, honestly. After yesterday’s blog, I’ve moved up the theme in rotation on the blog because I think it’s an important thing to do right now, considering I’m still working through some PTSD issues from this past week.

So maybe, just maybe, this exercise will reach way deep inside my psyche where these “damaged” girls still reside and help them heal from their mistakes and trauma, because the one who guides them now has benefit of all these years, all these experience.

And hindsight is 20/20, after all.

I predict this may become an ongoing series of blogs, though I plan to write more than one letter today. I know I can’t cover it all.

But I’ll try to fix at least one thing anyway.

Let’s get to it.

Dear four-year-old me:

fouryearoldgin

I know how scared you are about what’s happened to you. I know you’re confused. You don’t understand why this bad, horrible thing happened, and you think it may be your fault that you are now “damaged” in society’s view and in the view of your God. You knew it was a bad idea to go with a stranger without asking your mother. But I want you to know that what followed was NOT your fault. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t deserve it. God wasn’t punishing you. A very sick man simply took an opportunity to harm someone, and now you feel like you are paying the price.

I wish I could tell you that it will get easier, but that would be a lie. The truth is you’ll get stronger, so much stronger, in fact, than what has happened to you. I know that’s hard to believe given how small and powerless you feel right now, and you’re going to spend the next many years trying to hide that, so everyone around you will see a good girl. A perfect girl. You will chase that perfection until your soul aches, going out of your way to make the best grades, be the best Christian, be the best daughter, until you realize that no matter what you do – you can’t erase what has been done to you.

But this landed in your lap for a reason. Not because you deserve to be hurt, or used, or violated. But because you’re strong enough to take this thing and turn it around to help others, and that is your purpose in this world. One day girls will come to you, to share their stories, because they will be inspired by your bravery. And you will champion them and make THEM feel stronger, better, less damaged as a result.

You will do for others what no one will do for you, because you know how important that is.

I know you don’t feel that brave right now, and that’s okay. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to be scared. What that man did to you was wrong. And confusing. And scary. But it’s all on him, honey. You are a sweet, innocent child who did what you did with all the best intentions of a child. He violated your trust because of his own sickness. And though it feels like it now, it had nothing to do with you. It could have been any girl on that street, maybe someone who wasn’t strong enough to handle it – who might have one day used this event to harm themselves in ways they can never take back.

But that’s not you. You’re strong. You’re special. You’re meant for much greater things. And though you feel it right now, you’re not alone.You feel like you can’t tell anyone because the people who love you most won’t love you anymore if they know. That, too, is another lie. They will still love you, and they would do their best to protect you. And one day you will trust enough in someone to tell your story, and he will change your entire life. He’ll save you because he thinks you’re worth saving.

Because you are.

You are not damaged, merely changed. Shame will try to convince you that no one will ever be able to love you the way you are now, but they will. Some will even love you more. One day you will have children who know your story, because you will have long since shed the shame of it and tell it to the world, and they will think you’re one of the strongest people they know.

Feel the pain, because that’s okay. What happened to you really sucked and should never happen to anyone. But you’re going to be okay. You will survive to tell the tale, and tell the tale you will. And you will heal others, because of your strength and the talent that God has given you to re-purpose this evil thing for the good.

That man tried to damage you, but the truth is he cannot damage you, no matter what the world says and no matter how you feel. You are as perfectly you as the day you were born, created by God for a purpose that only you can fulfill.

He tried to extinguish your light, but my darling, darling child – you will burn so much brighter as a result. Some people fear the fire, they run from it, hide from it, do whatever they need to do to protect themselves from it. You, however, were reborn into it. And just like a phoenix, you will rise… beautiful because of your scars – not in spite of them.

***

Dear fifteen-year-old me;

ginpose1985

A long time ago, something bad happened to you that rewired your brain to think you didn’t deserve to say no or draw boundaries, like your body wasn’t yours anymore and you didn’t even really want it to be. You were born a perfect child of God but ultimately damaged by an act of man. Now you see yourself as a half-thing, who will only be beautiful and lovable if someone else finds those things in you.

But the truth is that you will find love many, many times, by many, many good men, and you will still feel this nagging feeling that no one can fully love you because of what happened to you.

Worse, you’re going to think you deserve certain things that happen to you. That God himself smote you in some way and you no longer deserve the happy ending designed for those who are undamaged and perfect. All those books you read reinforce that idea, that you have to be a certain kind of woman to win the heart of a good man.

One day, though, you’re going to write your own books, about girls who look and act more like you, who are deeply flawed and can still find their way to their Happily Ever After, no matter what the world around them has to say about it.

You’ll write those stories because you’ll live those stories, and one day decide the book world is big enough for this radical concept. And you’ll gain a passionate following of women just like you, who were waiting for someone brave enough to tell these stories. Their stories.

Your story.

No one is telling you this right now. They tell you that you have to change who you are to be happy. One day, though, you’re going find that love more than once, and all you’ll ever have to be is you.

Because you are more than enough. The people who can’t see that right now simply aren’t your people. Your people are coming, and they’re going to love you as fiercely as you love them.

Right now, though, you accept a lot of stuff you shouldn’t from people who can tell how vulnerable you are and how lonely you feel. You give yourself away because you think the damage is already done. You accept this crazy idea that if you can’t be loved for real, then an hour of being held or kissed or “loved” will do.

Yet you hate yourself more and more with each indiscretion. You’ll see how little they love you beyond what they can get from you, and you’ll love yourself less as a result.

And with each passing moment you’ll feel more and more damaged, like you deserve the pain they inflict.

You have the right to say no. Though your consent was circumvented so long ago, robbing you of the decision who might earn their way into your body, you never give up this right. So when that man touched you today against your will, that wasn’t him taking something you’ve lost the voice to protect. That was him doing something very wrong because he felt like he could.

There are a lot of guys out there like that, then and now. They look at women as half-lings that are only as valuable as their desirability. And you’re going to figure that out on a subconscious level way before you figure it out as a conscious thought. You’re going to do everything you can to repel guys like that, to keep them away, because you know inside that the next man who touches you without your consent will pay the price for all of them. Inside you burn with this hopeless rage, ready to tear the heads off of these jerks. You’ll fantasize about it in your weakest moments.

And one day you’ll write stories about it, to summon strength that lays dormant within you, so you just won’t feel so damned vulnerable anymore.

I know how much you hate it.

But sweetie, you are so much stronger than you know. You’re going to find your voice and establish your boundaries, and one day people will step out of your path to let you pass. Men will try to intimidate you and you’ll back them down simply with a look. You are formidable. In time, men will call you a force of nature.

And a few will love you enough to brave the storm.

Those are the keepers, and they don’t deserve to pay the price for what that man did to you today.

Where you will need to be brave isn’t to karate-chop some handsy jerk – but to allow those close to you who want to be there. You can’t fear intimacy, because there will be good men who will deserve your best and won’t get it because of fuckos like this one.

Today he grabbed you and you didn’t say anything, mostly because you think you lost that right. It was okay to be scared. It was okay to be shocked. It was okay that you didn’t know what to do. Despite how old you feel, you’re only fifteen.

One day, when you’re much older, you’ll know what to do and it’ll never happen again. And you’ll make a vow that no one will touch you that doesn’t deserve to, and that list will be exceedingly small. Because you matter. You matter big time. As you are no one will ever be again, and one day – way in the future – you’ll figure that out for yourself. Because I know you’ll have to do it your way and in your time, despite those mistakes you could have avoided along the way.

Everything that is happening is leading you somewhere pretty freaking special. And you are strong enough to endure, to get to that finish line… to win.

I know you think you have to be perfect or intact to do that, but let me tell you honey… you already are. You are perfectly Ginger, who is flawed, passionate, intense, vulnerable, strong, fiery, unlovable, lovable, domineering, a pushover, funny, melancholy, angry, stubborn, obsessive, purposeful, smart, stupid, courageous, a coward… every good and bad thing rolled into one… just like every other human on planet earth. You’re just turned up to 11, because you were meant for something greater.

Why?

In that ball of conflicting craziness, you’re kind; you fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, you have the fortitude to stand alone if it means doing the right thing. That’s what makes you special and so, so brave, no matter how weak you feel. Never, ever forget it. All those heroes you admire, who stood up, stood strong, made a difference? You’re one of them. Mostly because of things like this. You know what it means to feel powerless, ashamed, and outcast. And you will spend the rest of your life giving more love to those in need so they don’t feel that way.

You’re everything and nothing rolled into one – and that’s okay. Not everyone will like that. You’re going to scare a lot of folks off. You’re even going to hurt people, not because you want to or mean to, but because that’s the price we often pay to live through the kind of trauma we’ve faced. Hurt people hurt people, and you’re going to do that even with the best of intentions.

Some won’t even be able to forgive you… but you have GOT to learn to forgive yourself.

When you make a mistake, you will do what you need to fix it and move forward, even if the only thing you can ever do is say, “I’m sorry.” You truly mean it, and that’s what counts most. You’ll learn from it, and never repeat it again.

You will make your share of mistakes, but this event was not one of them. You feel forced into silence again because the fact of the matter was that you have been sexually active for a year now, and you feel that you can’t argue that what that man has done to you was bad because you allow older men to touch you all the time.

You’ve internalized all the arguments that they’ve said about victims of sexual assault deserving what they get because you buy this bullshit that you’re only worth what someone else thinks you’re worth.

This is the greatest lie of all. You matter. Your voice matters. Your consent matters. You are the Queen of your own life, and your body is your empire. People must earn their way into your favor. No one can just take it or steal it away, no matter what. No matter who you let touch you, no one else can circumvent your will and touch you without your green light. And you didn’t give it, so what that man did was wrong and you have every right to be upset about it. Your first impulse will be a shameful one, to bury it so no one else knows. It’s something that you’ve been doing for eleven years now, hiding the scars that others have inflicted, because you think they make you ugly and lesser than… that they leave you damaged and unworthy of any good thing.

They absolutely don’t.

One day you will see that you’ve suffered enough, that you didn’t deserve any of that, so punishing yourself beyond that is stupid.

When that day comes, you’ll use it as ammo to fight against a society that has created these shitty rules for girls and women. And, with all your fiery intensity and stubborn persistence, you WILL make a difference, even if it’s only with one girl who feels less alone, less scared, less damaged as a result.

The world needs you, flaws and all, which is why you’re here. You won’t be able to change a lot of the bad stuff that has happened to you, but that was never your job in the first place.

It’s your job to embrace every flaw and every scar and show the world that you can be fucking perfect anyway.

***

Weigh in: 290.4 (-4.2lbs from last week)
Monthly measurements: 48/44/55, size22/24 (down from 49/45/58, size 26/28 from last month)

 

Trigger Warning: When you need to talk about that stuff you can’t talk about.

Today’s blog begins with a forward, because it’s going to look like I’m veering away from what this particular blog normally does and it might come as a little shock to people who expect one thing when they come here, only to get something completely “off topic.”

You’ll see how it comes together eventually, but first, let me get you up to speed:

From about 2004, my online presence has been fairly political. It wasn’t because I had any aspirations to be strictly political and never wanted to paint in such a narrow lane, it’s just that I have always, always, always been very politically conscious, even way before I could vote. It permeates in my writing, whether professional or personal. It’s just who I am, as is being outspoken about it.

This was how I developed my following. This is how I honed a lot of my writing. It is what drives so much of my passion towards stories that change the current narrative. Every time I write about a fat girl finding love, it’s a sociological statement. Needless to say that when you are that driven to make a sociological impact, politics often ride shotgun because this is the framework of our society.

Several of my stories have blurred the lines with politics, because you can’t talk about the current condition without addressing the perimeters that have created it.

As a “public figure” I’ve been warned relentlessly to back away from it, and I did try for a time when I was trying to save the sinking ship of my writing career after careening into the iceberg known as Amazon Unlimited. (Topic for another day.)

What I found, particularly with my readers, who many times are just as passionate about these things as I am, backing away and playing it “safe” was not beneficial. Many of the people who found me and followed me did so because I was fiery, outspoken and saying the things they many times didn’t have the words to say.

I have ALWAYS taken this responsibility very seriously.

The “you’ll make more $$ if you keep your mouth shut” strategy didn’t work for me. As an indie, I can literally tell in real time how what I do impacts my profits. When I was saying nothing, exactly nothing was happening. If I participate in a Twitter hashtag, the sales begin to ring up.

(Literally. I have a report system that rings like a cash register whenever I make money. I can tell IMMEDIATELY if it helps or hurts the bottom line.)

So I know what works for me and what doesn’t, and I’ve finally gotten to a place where I do what I know is right for me, regardless of what other people have to say about it.

(It only took 47 years, but better late than never.)

Still, I have my own set of rules of where I put this information, who sees it and why. Everything I write in a public space is for a purpose, period, and I’m very conscientious about it.

When it comes to my personal FB page, I let loose on whatever topic fires me up. It’s my living room, so to speak, and I get to take the floor amidst my chosen family of friends who have decided that what I say adds to their life experience, hence why they decided to add me in the first place. Whether you unfriend me, hide my statuses or challenge me, that choice is yours. But my FB is my place to share what I think, and what I think has value, and I’m not going to shut up if I feel I need to speak up. I’ve always figured that the people who have befriended me or follow me know this is a part of who I am and make their decisions accordingly, as I do with them.

No doubt there have been some readers who have reached out to befriend me that find me a little off-putting. Like I said before, I know I’m not for everyone. I’m 100-proof, and if you need me watered down, my personal FB is not the place for you. Facebook, the way I see it, is a place for friends. And if you’re my friend, you know this comes with part of the deal, and accepted it because you have accepted me.

I save the more homogenized version of myself for my professional Author Page on Facebook. There, I don’t get as controversial. I talk mostly about the books. I try to engage on less confrontational topics. (And, not for nothing, I don’t post a lot or engage as many people as a result, because it’s damn-near impossible for me to divide myself this way. So that’s irrefutable evidence of how keeping me out of my brand actually affects it.) I have way more followers, which looks successful, but I’m not sure it translates as much into the kinds of sales my reps tell me I could get if I were just more of a soft touch.

What matters more is that even ONE person decided to follow/fan/friend me, whether they buy every book or not. Their support for what I do inspires me to do more of it, and that’s invaluable. And, to quote Kurt Cobain, I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for what I am not.

This makes me a HORRIBLE marketer for myself, I know because I’m not trying to get the whole world to buy a book. But my books aren’t for the whole world, so… what’s a girl to do?

Twitter, though I use it for writing, sort of gets the same treatment as my personal FB page. The fact is, from a marketing perspective, it pays for me to get involved there in the national discussion. One cannot ignore that, particularly in the last year or so, our national discussion has been mostly political. I don’t shy away from that. And the readers I’m trying to court wouldn’t, either. More people see me if I participate, and – if they like what I say – they check out what I do. Eyes on me is not a bad thing for my career, hence why I’ve kind of married the two there even when many, many of my writer friends religiously follow the “no politics or religion” rule.

And yes, they may be more successful than me because of this but like I said before – I’m striving for significance.

oprah

Kind of like when a reader of this blog wanted to recommend a Ginger Voight book to me to find some personal value as a heavy person. THAT is my reputation as a writer now, and I couldn’t be more proud or feel more successful.

Again, it’s a matter of putting me in my brand. Lots of people can write a book. But only I can write the books I write. I’m what’s different, and so I’ve never really felt it productive to whitewash me out of it just because I’m a little harder to take, saying things people don’t want to hear, or addressing issues polite society normally ignores.

That’s not me. Then, now, or ever.

I just dole it out differently, like FB and Twitter above. Likewise Instagram is *mostly* personal and Snapchat is just for pure silliness. My blogs are broken up between political, professional and personal – with this being my most personal blog.

Since I decided to put myself back in my brand by posting this blog on my professional author page on Facebook, I’ve been extraordinarily conscious of the idea that I have to keep on topic in order to protect the audience I’ve created there.

But what do you do when your personal life is affected profoundly by the political?

I’ve created this space to be a No-Bullshit zone, where I can talk about ANYTHING I think affects my progress becoming the Ginger I want to be.

And that’s where we are today.

Honestly I’ve wanted to have this conversation for months but I’ve held off, working up my nerve to write it. Today I am just going to rip off the band-aid. I can only hope that you can stick with me all the way to the end to see why this discussion was necessary, particularly after this week.

Buckle in. Keep your arms and legs inside the car. I promise I’ll get you to the other side and it’ll be fine.

Let’s talk about November.

Last year I started my physical transformation in July and things were going great. I was losing weight, my body was transforming, people I regard highly were starting to see me in a new light because I was finally conquering one of my demons. It was a productive time.

Then October happened. A tape was released of presidential candidate Donald Trump making some shocking comments about women.

I wasn’t so much surprised by this. I’ve been familiar with his work from the 1980s. He’s always been sexist. He’s always been crass. The things he’s said about women, much less the way he’s treated the women in his life, have laid the groundwork that – when it comes to women – DJT has little to no regard for them if they don’t have something he wants.

This tape laid it out in black and white, irrefutable evidence how little he regards women. In a moment of what they tell me is “locker room talk,” this braggart basically admitted to sexual assault as defined by the simple term: one needs consent to touch another person.

See, a lot of people misunderstand the immediate backlash, thinking the word “pussy” was offensive. It wasn’t. I write lady porn, FFS. I curse like a sailor. I play “Cards Against Humanity” in mixed company. What affected me – profoundly – was the four-letter word he used before that. It is the word “grab” that makes me physically recoil.

We’ve spoken here a lot about my sexual assault when I was four. I’ve been open about it. I’ve talked a lot about it. I feel I’ve got keen insight on how it has impacted me my entire life.

But oddly enough, it wasn’t *that* event that Trump’s comment triggered.

It unearthed another memory, one I had done my level best to suppress, but awoke in my brain like it had just happened, and, honestly, I’m still reeling from it.

I was about 15 years old and I was with a friend of mine in an auto repair shop visiting the owner there, who was our mutual friend at the time. There was this old man there in the shop, kind of Santa Claus looking, in his Texas overalls, just sitting on a stool and shooting the shit with everyone. When I walked past him, he grabbed my breasts with both hands.

I was fifteen years old and wore a size 42C bra, and this guy just grabbed him like he had every right to. Like it was a part of the conversation. He didn’t ask. There was no preamble. They were just breasts in his general vicinity and he decided that was enough to grab them.

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” – Donald Trump

how about now

Still to this day I get incredibly antsy when men I WANT to touch my breasts get too grabby. I will automatically shy away and shut that shit down, even if you’re my husband. Ryan Effin Reynolds himself, who holds steady at #1 on my Laminated List, couldn’t even pull that shit off.

This event was why.

And I had all but forgotten it… until October of last year.

After that it became my mission to ensure that a man who could say what Trump said would never make it to the White House. Ever. Just like Clayton Williams sealed his fate with me in 1990, by comparing the weather to rape and saying, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” That ‘off the cuff’ comment virtually ensured my vote for the incomparable Ann Richards back in the day, and I made it my mission for her to win. Likewise in October of last year, I made up my mind DJT could never make it to the highest office in the nation, becoming the most powerful man in the world.

Because… no.

(Incidentally, it was “mansplained” to me in 1990 that what CW said wasn’t that bad, because ALL men talked like that. I didn’t buy it then either. Maybe I just hold men to a higher standard? I don’t know.)

But then… November happened.

The unthinkable happened.

And that was where I started to fall apart. And I know that I risk the dreaded “snowflake” comparison by admitting that, but this wasn’t just about Trump winning an election. This was about something much, much, much deeper and more distressing than that, that had taken root in my spirit a long, long time ago, that had been simmering just below the surface of everything, this past trauma that had never been dug out like the cancer that it was.

His becoming president was merely the trigger bringing it all to the surface.

I spent the whole night of 11/09/2016 sobbing when I realized that I lived in a country where someone could say something like that – and all the other horrid things he said or did – and it wasn’t enough to prevent him from becoming one of the most powerful men in the world.

As each minute passed, I felt more powerless. I felt more vulnerable. And that’s when I did what I have always, always done. I ate. I was crying while I did it, even on November 10, when I was trying to explain to my coworkers why it was hitting me so hard.

I knew when I was binging, too. I wasn’t in denial one bit. I was aware every second with every bite. I would eat past being satiated and keep going, till I was miserable and in pain. I kept going. I kept going and going and going. Just the act of eating made me feel, for the lack of a better word, safe.

My bestie and I were talking about anxiety not too long ago and he said, “Chew something, it gives you the feeling of being safe. It’s primal, going way back to when we lived around campfires. If you were able to eat, you were in a safe space.”

I chew gum now, but back in November/December, I was eating everything that wasn’t nailed down. I’m not the four-year-old I was back then, or even the fifteen-year-old. I knew from experience the only way I could protect myself from DJT and his ilk was to make myself repellent as possible, so gaining weight was a complete win.

And I knew in my head I couldn’t keep going like that, that DJT and his ilk aren’t worth dying over, so I knew I’d stop the insanity eventually – and of course I did. We’re in the fight of a lifetime now, and childhood defenses won’t work anymore. You can deflect confrontation if you look a certain way, but you need to be prepared if that confrontation comes and someone finally calls your bluff.

Now that we live in a country where men far and wide can wear “Grab Em By the Pussy” T-shirts, virtually triggering PTSD in someone like me on the regular, I know I need to be stronger to make my stand.

I don’t stand alone, and that helps.

But it’s still a struggle, particularly this week, when I was tossed into a fight or flight situation full of triggers that affected me HARD.

Honestly I had a pretty stellar week as far as the food goes. I kept off of sodas, drinking more than 100 oz of water per day. I laid off of sugar, only indulging in a little chocolate sauce on some fresh banana as a dessert for a couple of nights. I allowed myself to eat better foods, mostly devoid of dairy except for a few exceptions. As a result I felt better, even with my back. It’s still in shoddy shape but I’m more mobile, and that’s a win.

THEN… Thursday happened.

I work in a hospice, which is Medicare mandated to have a certain number of hours performed by volunteers. One of our volunteers is a special needs individual, who comes to work with us as part of his life skills program. He has Down’s Syndrome, and is a friendly guy loved by almost everyone in the office. We treat him like he is one of our own and he loves it there.

Last year, around election season, I realized that he was vocally pro-Trump, which the gray-haired lady who brings him every week, made it clear she was as well. At the time I thought she was his parent, and I couldn’t for the LIFE of me understand why she’d worship the likes of Trump after what he did with Serge Kovaleski, much less encourage what I thought was her special needs son to do. I knew at that point to stay away from either of them because any conversation there would be unproductive.

This volunteer comes every Thursday and they always start in the lunch room, where he can socialize with everyone, which he loves to do. They were already there when I walked in the other day, so I decided to sit at the other end of the table with my friends and just hide in my phone until they left.

Alas, it was not to be.

While they were having their own conversation, my coworker leaned into me saying, “They shouldn’t allow Trump to tweet.” It’s a sentiment I fully agree with, so I leaned in to share what I was finding on my phone. Our coworker next to her decided to ask what we were talking about, and my coworker said, “Oh, just how much of an idiot Trump is.”

It was the wrong thing to say.

The volunteer said, “I like Trump!” His handler, whom I found out later was not his parent, said, “I like Trump, too. I think he’s doing great things for this beautiful country, bringing it back to what it used to be.”

So she posed the question: “Why don’t you like him?”

At first, I tried to shut the conversation down. I just mumbled, “There are too many reasons to list,” and tried to back out of it. (I want credit for that at least.)

Nevertheless, she persisted.

So finally I said, “Because I am a rape survivor.”

She looked at me, this woman of 50 years plus, and said, “What’s that?”

My coworkers and I blinked at her for a second before I said, “It means I’m a survivor… of sexual assault.”

She immediately disregarded that, and me, “Well that has nothing to do with Trump!”

I tried to explain about the comments he made, and she wasn’t going to listen to that either. She shut it down by saying, “FAKE NEWS.”

THEN she deflected to Clinton and Hillary, and Obama, and all the ills of progressive policy, which she says have ruined this country in the last thirty years. When I pointed out that Republicans have, by and large, been in charge of policy for the last thirty years, she deflected again.

It devolved to the point where I could sense how it was affecting my overall health, noting how it raised my heart rate and caused me to tremble with this impotent tension that had no where to go, and I finally said, “You know what, we can’t have a conversation about this because we just have two differing opinions.”

She said no at first but then kept going, on and on and on, prodding the bear on the chain just like a child teases a dog tied to a tree, ultimately calling me a communist and a socialist because I believe we need to take care of each other, to which I replied, “Gee, I thought wanting to take care of each other is what made me a good Christian.”

Finally I said, “Fine. Sway me. Tell me one good thing he’s done. Just one.”

After she stammered for a minute she decided, “You’re right. We can’t have this conversation.”

That, after hammering me with her opinion for nearly twenty minutes straight, taking up my precious lunch hour to hurl a few personal insults as well.

The whole thing was so distressing to me that I ended up in severe pain from holding back all I WANTED to say to her but didn’t, mostly because our volunteer was right there and I wasn’t going to attack her and – by default – attack him for the beliefs he shares.

The girls took care of me afterwards, we even went for a walk though I was not well, physically or emotionally, after such an upsetting conversation. It wasn’t her necessarily. It was everything else that has been bubbling up for the past however many months. She just unleashed it because, as I later learned, she likes to poke people who work there and has had about three other blow-ups before. Some employees changed their entire lunch schedule JUST to avoid her.

As was her MO, she just wouldn’t let up until I had to confront it, which honestly pisses me off even more because I feel she does it mostly for the LOLZ of doing it. She dropped her grenade and happily skipped away, having wiped her ass on me like she felt I deserved. She devolved to name-calling, I didn’t. I kept it to the issues, she didn’t. But she got the last word in, so she was happy as a pig in shit.

Meanwhile I was left in the debris of my good day, trying to recover from a drive-by of nastiness that I had withdrawn my consent even to participate in, right from the beginning.

Consent is everything, folks.

Later I comforted myself with a diet soda and a sliver of chocolate cake because that’s how that shit works for me. I needed to feel better and that’s the quickest route.

But it just drives it home that when I feel powerless, I do that kind of thing. It’s a defense mechanism I developed when I was very young and it still gets used in a very reactionary way.

This was my stumble this week, and why I had to talk about it.

People might say, “Well, just don’t engage these people. Don’t allow them to have that kind of control.”

I’m working on it. I’m not there yet. Not by a long shot, especially when current events trigger such deep-seated post-traumatic stress that physically bubbles up in me no matter HOW I handle the situation. I only engage because if I ran from it, I would feel even MORE powerless, which isn’t an option.

My buddy Hal is a master of not taking it personally, and I would have PAID MONEY to see him handle that woman and that conversation, because I don’t know how to take my own personal reaction out of it. DJT is a personal affront to me. And this has nothing to do with the fact he’s on the other side of the aisle. This has everything to do with the fact I consider him a vile sexist who contributes NOTHING useful to any conversation he’s in, and felt that way even back when he had a (D) behind his name. My husband was threatened with the pain of divorce if he made me watch that stupid Apprentice show because for the past thirty some odd years something about this guy has triggered me. HARD. He’s a smug, condescending elitist who would have no use for that woman, or particularly her volunteer, if they didn’t worship the ground he walks on. We know this because we have three decades worth of evidence supporting the hypothesis, particularly the way he speaks about the people he thinks are beneath him (which, btw, is everyone.)

That audiotape finally showed me WHY he vexes my spirit. He’s a predator in every since of the word, and someone who has been hunted as prey could see it.

But I can’t convince her of this. I can’t convince anyone of this, which has been the most heartbreaking part. Every day there’s something new that makes me point and say, “THIS! This, this, this. THIS is why,” and it doesn’t seem to make any kind of impact at all. For a while there I actually felt like I was going crazy. I grew up thinking Nazis were bad, Russia should be regarded as a potential threat and no one – EVER – made fun of someone physically disadvantaged without branding themselves an asshole.

Simply put: This is no longer the country or society I thought it was seven months ago.

Which brings me right back to feeling powerless. Every day is a struggle to come to terms with this and not change my core beliefs as a person.

They tell me this is why people voted for him, because they felt that powerlessness for the last eight years. If this is how you felt, then know I empathize. And I empathized beforehand too, because feeling powerless is nothing new to me, or the other people who felt like the last eight years actually made us feel a part of something again, where this was our country too and we had a right to it every bit as much as you did.

Things may be back to “normal” for you, but like the old saying says, “Normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”

How do we fix this where we call ALL feel normal at no one else’s expense?

I honestly have no idea. I think it has something to do with learning that we’re all the same deep down, that a difference of opinion doesn’t make us an enemy, and a win for the least of us is a win for all of us.

Again, blame that on my crazy Christian upbringing, which is why I’ve always championed those who needed an advocate.

Now I just need to figure out how to be an advocate for me in the process. This, I fear, will take a lot more time and self-examination, which is exactly what this particular blog is for.

Stay tuned, I guess…

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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.