“We can rebuild her. We have the technology.”

As you may have noticed, I didn’t have a blog entry for last week. And it wasn’t because there wasn’t anything to talk about. I actually had a positive update, having lost nearly three pounds that week AND finally dipping under 290. You would have thought I’d have been shouting from the rooftops.

Instead I was unconscious on pain pills.

See, this is the main issue with my ongoing struggle with back pain. The “cure” often sidelines me every bit as much as the pain. Maybe more so, because it affects my very consciousness.

Those who know me know that I have two jobs: the nine-to-five that pays the bills and the writing career. It kills my soul daily that I have to regulate my dream to ‘hobby hours,’ just to be able to survive. It’s a compromise. It’s not the ideal. And this year, my opportunity to make inroads as a screenwriter has monopolized those few hours I do get to chase my dream, which means I have seriously neglected the part of my career that has made me the most money.

But whatever it takes, right? These are the perimeters in which I’m forced to operate, so I have to navigate these narrow corridors as best I can.

I can’t do that unconscious, which is where western medicine leaves me when my back decides to take a powder. The only thing they can do for me is A.) give me strong medication I’m loath to take and B.) steal all the rest of my precious time away on every new gamble that MAYBE this new thing will work longer than the old thing.

This week I had my first appointment with the physical medicine department. This was supposed to be for an epidural shot for the pain. My thought was, no – I don’t really want a shot in my back but if it gets me upright and stabilized, it’s worth it.

But remember in my last blog, when I said that going to the doctor again for my back meant I knew I was getting back on the merry-go-round with more tests to needle down the “cause” and the “cure”? Well, this appointment was that, even though he actually did a range of motion test and actually listened to me when I talked to him. When I told him what the previous doctor said about weight, he conceded that weight can be an issue but there are just simply folks who are going to suffer from chronic back pain, heavy or thin. He said weight management was something that they often discussed, but really the issue was strengthening the core muscles that surround the back to stabilize it.

His focus was my back, not my weight. It was refreshing. (I can ONLY hope it wasn’t because my husband was there at the appointment with me.)

Honestly I got the impression that the shot was really a small part in the overall cure, and I could pursue it if I wanted but isolating the root cause (which at this point really points to nerve pain since it radiates down through my hip and into my leg) and dealing with it through that strengthening of the core was really the bigger focus of the treatment.

This starts with an MRI to rule out that there isn’t any disc damage now that wasn’t there eleven years ago when I had the last one.

I haven’t scheduled it yet, mostly because I’m a big baby who is extraordinarily claustrophobic. The last time I had one, I nearly flipped out being slid into that silly machine. I will, don’t worry, I just need a little time to wrap my mind around it and gear up to it.

In the meantime he offered yet another pill to help deal this time with the nerve pain. It’s called Nortriptyline and it’s an anti-depressant, which was not good news for me. I hate anti-depressants because I have yet to take one that makes me feel legitimately better. Most either make me go numb or kill my creativity and steal away the parts that make me “me.” I’ve been on Paxil, on Wellbutrin, on Effexor – and none of them have ever made me feel “normal.” Much like the pain pills that steal precious hours away from me by knocking my ass out, they steal so much more from me than they give. Considering my past history with suicide, I want nothing – NOTHING – to do with anything that could exacerbate that risk.

Both Chris Cornell and Robin Williams were being treated for their depression with medication, and still succumbed to the unthinkable. That scares the shit out of me. I’m barely holding on sometimes as it is. I don’t want the very life-saver I’m clutching to turn into pure led and drag me down to the depths as I struggle to keep afloat.

He explained that this wouldn’t work like that because at such a small dose (10mg,) it would work on the nerve pain when taken nightly with the Tramadol I was already taking. I just couldn’t take it during the day because it would make me sleepy (big FUCKING surprise) and he advised NOT to take it with the  muscle relaxer.

So I was like, fine. Whatever. Get me mobile, doc. Then we can worry about the “real” cure – which essentially means I’m going to have to devote my precious time and attention to working on my back. I just need to get past the acute stage of pain first.

The second warning bell went off at the pharmacy, when I experienced a delay getting the prescription filled because the pharmacy needed the doctor himself to clear it, considering there was an issue with taking Tramadol and Nortriptyline together.

But I have to trust the doctor, right? So did the pharmacy, apparently, who filled the order finally. They gave me a box of pills set up with weekly therapy: one pill a night for the first week and if that wasn’t effective, I could increase it to two doses a night for the next week. If that didn’t work, go to three for week three, four to week four or finally five doses on week five – with a maximum dose of 50mg nightly as needed for pain. I was told, however, to take the lowest effective dosage, which was fine with me considering I didn’t really want to take this new pill at all.

But desperate times called for desperate measures.

I did tell my husband, my bestie and my kids, though – if you see me demonstrate ANY questionable behavior, please say something. DO something. Don’t let this new fucking pill gaily trip along my subconscious, turning off every filter that keeps me in what narrow control I currently have.

That first night I took the first pill with my Tramadol and still had a helluva time letting myself fall asleep. The whole thing at the pharmacy really fucked with my head. IS this safe to take together? I mean, yes, a guy in a white coat assured me it was fine, but the one and only time I had a hallucination was on prescribed medicine, under a doctor’s advice. I was taking Tramadol that time too, and my doc prescribed Ambien to help me sleep. You wouldn’t think I’d need it on such heavy pain medication, but after a while, it doesn’t make you sleep anymore, and I had been on it for a good little bit by that point. I made the mistake of taking the two together and whoa, nelly. It was a wild ride. I gave up on the Ambien a week into taking it, which resulted in one of the worst panic attacks of my life.

I hate, hate, hate pills. Hate em. HATE.

But, to my delight and surprise, the pills actually started to work this time around. I felt better. I slept better. I was moving with very little thought, which meant the pain was actually, finally, inhibited.

For two days anyway.

By Day Three, I started experiencing troubling side effects. I was at work that morning and I was getting dizzier by the minute, which made me nauseated. My heart started to race and I knew that a panic attack was setting in, which makes it hard as hell to work when you’re spending 100% of your energy trying to normalize. I made the HUGE mistake of going online to figure out if these were side effects of the new medication. Why was the pharmacy so reticent to fill this prescription?

As anyone in a post Internet world knows, if you already feel bad and you start to self-diagnose with what you find on the web, you’re going to convince yourself that you’re gonna die. This is never a good idea when you’re on the verge of a panic attack. By the time I got to “serotonin syndrome,” I was freaking the fuck out. This condition can occur thanks to certain medication that causes serotonin to accumulate in your brain, kinda like, oh… Nortriptyline AND Tramadol, and symptoms run the gamut from nausea/vomiting to seizures and DEATH.

Panic attack mode: secured.

Unlike the panicky feeling I would get on certain strains/dosages of cannabis, where I was secure in the knowledge that no one had actually ever DIED from it, I no longer had that assurance. Now I had this potentially fatal cocktail coursing through my body and nothing to do but read the signs and pray it on the more benign side of the side effects scale.

Quite a gamble if you ask me, and an expensive one at that. Hence my biggest issue about Big Pharma and cannabis prohibition.

So that night I didn’t take either pill. Fuck all that noise. I’m not going to get killed by the cure. The very day I went to the new doctor I nearly passed out at work because of this toxic mix of man-made chemicals screwing up my body chemistry – and I was still in pain on top of it all.

The new meds helped with the pain, finally, but I’m not sure that it’s worth wondering if every little twinge I get is something significantly worse than any other normal twinge. I’ve never had a seizure, but they don’t look like a whole lot of fun.

So what’s the answer? Well, the doc gave me the answer. It’s not in a pill, or a shot. I have a bad back and it sucks to be me, but them’s just the cards I was dealt. And wouldn’t you know it, everything I want is on the other side of pain and I have to do – big surprise – whatever it takes to get to the other side of it. So I’m going to have to do the exercises, the stretches, the physical therapy to strengthen the core, even when I have to fight through excruciating pain to do it. There is no shortcut, much as I would like there to be.

I do, however, think there is something to my theory that it might involve something in my reproductive system. When my period hit this past week, it was another hellish one. I was passing 3-inch clots and experiencing such horrendous cramps that, with combined with the back pain, put me at a steady “9” on the pain scale, just one hair away from unbearable. I cruise normally around 2 or 3, but with back pain it can go as high as 7 or 8.

If I’m sobbing in my husband’s arms for ten minutes straight, just because I can’t handle one more moment of pain, I’d say that there’s a major fucking problem. I’ve been dealing with this shit for more than a decade. I barely break.

This is breaking me, which is why I reached out for help in the first fucking place.

And the Internet sources agree. “Talk to your doctor,” they said, if a clot is bigger than a quarter.

Yeah, I tried that. She told me I was too fat and this was normal lady stuff. But, you know. Whatever.

I did file a grievance with this particular doctor and asked to get another provider. Now it looks like I have to pay yet ANOTHER co-pay (along with what I paid the doc in physical medicine and probably the MRI too) to go see an OB/GYN just to get my issues addressed.

Getting nickled and dimed while I’m strung along for weeks, and still nothing is getting fixed?

Sounds like western medicine to me.

Fuck the system. That’s all I’m saying.

I can’t be unconscious for weeks and I refuse to live in a constant state of panic. I’ve got shit to do. I’ve got a final rewrite to do on this script, which I haven’t even been able to address because I’ve been in too much pain or medicated into a coma. After that, I need to – absolutely and positively NEED to – write another book. My career is flat-lining and my creative soul is gasping its final, dying breath to express itself.

If I don’t get back to “me” – and soon – there may not be anything left.

It’s not going to be easy, and I know it’s going to hurt like a mother, but I have to fix this the old fashioned way. I’ve got to grit my teeth and do whatever it takes to make my incredible body as strong as it can be. Because it can be. I can make it so.

I can do this. Whatever it takes.

Just… don’t judge me if I cry, okay?

 

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.

snapchat1

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:

simplerules

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.

Image-1

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…

snapchat7

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….

Summertime and the livin’ is FUCK ALL. (An Essay.)

True confession time: I hate the heat. Like, a lot.

I’d much rather be too cold than too hot, any day of the week. First of all, I’m hot-blooded by nature. I never get truly cold unless I’m sick or it’s really freaking cold. I can go sleeveless, barefoot and in capris all the way up to winter, especially living here in California. (But I did it in Texas too.) My future daughter-in-law, on the other hand, takes a leather jacket everywhere she goes, even if it’s 90 degrees out. If we go to a mall or to a theater or a restaurant, they blast the shit out of the A/C, and she freezes like a Popsicle.

Meanwhile I’m trying to find ways to move in so I don’t have to go back outside EVER… because, you know, heat.

meltingperson

It makes me swelter just to look at her huddled up in her jacket, but I get it. Cold is every bit as uncomfortable as the heat, it’s just easier to manage. If you’re too cold, you can layer up to find some relief. If you’re too hot, layering down can get damned near indecent, and illegal… especially if you’re like me and shun long sleeves and layering of ANY sort to start with. I don’t wear cardigans or jackets. I hate long sleeves. I don’t wear hats or scarves. I barely want to wear any shoes that require socks.

When I start to layer down, I ain’t kiddin’ around.

And when you’re a fat person, fuggetaboutit. There are those who recoil to see your flabby flesh in stuff like tank tops and shorts, and they’ll try to guilt and shame into covering it up so it’s easier for other people to pretend you’re invisible. You know, like they’d like you to be.

To them I’d like to say: My physical comfort is every bit as important as your need for perfect visual aesthetics, so I’m gonna wear sleeveless stuff that shows off some skin, mmkay? I guarantee you that you’ll live through the experience with minimal damage, more minimal than me smacking you upside the head with the trench coat you’d rather I wear, but I ain’t gunna.

#SorryNotSorry

Because I am so hot-blooded, I freaking sweat like a whore in church whenever I get at all overheated, which makes me feel hotter and grosser than normal, adding emotional discomfort to the physical discomfort. Whether it’s grocery shopping, when I’m stuck in a crowd, on the beach, walking in the park, or even my ten-minute walks around the industrial complex where I work, I sweat. And I don’t just mean cute little sparkling droplets of dainty feminine perspiration. I mean big honky drops of sweat pouring off of my scalp and down my face to the point people stop me and ask me if I’m okay.

I pass girls on the walking path at the park and they’re wearing full makeup AND perfume, jogging past me in a sweetly scented breeze. Meanwhile I look like I’ve just walked through a car wash.

I melt in the heat. I always have. It’s one of the main reason I’m not that much of a cuddler. We can have sexy fun time, but at the end you need to be on your side of the bed and I’ll be on mine, or else I’ll freaking evaporate.

Needless to say, summer is not a fave exactly for this reason. I grew up in Texas, y’all, where it not only got hot but sticky, humid hot for days, weeks and months at a time. In the recent past I lived during a ridiculous heat wave in Texas where it reached over 100 degrees every single day for more than a month. Forty-six days, to be exact.

It was the kind of heat wave that made you want to drop an air-conditioning unit on top of people who want to deny climate change every time we experience a cold snap in the winter. And God, how I hated every miserable day of it. I moved from Texas that same year.

This was no coincidence.

When I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it was in the middle of August IN Texas. Also not a coincidence.

The only benefit to suffering this kind of heat when I was a kid was that I didn’t have to go to school in summer, because let’s face it. It’s hard as hell to people when you’re hot. Oppressive heat makes one cranky, hence why we define it as “oppressive.” It’s that relentless discomfort where nothing helps it get better, except maybe air conditioning, and if you don’t have that you’re soundly screwed, as is everyone around you. You’ll take your misery out on anyone who crosses your path, and it will likely be met with some crankiness on their end as well, because they’re every bit as miserable as you are.

Why do you think violent crime spikes in the heat?

If you’ve ever lived without air conditioning, and I have – many, many times – you know what it’s like to power through a humid, dark night, soaked in your own sweat, miserable and cranky, restless, angry and at the mercy of something much bigger than you, that’ll let you go when it damn well feels like it. Whether this takes hours, days or months – it’s completely out of your control for the most part.

If you know what it’s like to be completely naked and under a fan, and still feel like a hot, heavy blanket covers you, then you know what I’m talking about. If you have to function? Just the thought of adding clothes and walking outside your door becomes this Herculian effort, where you’d rather avoid doing even the things you love to do, because it feels like some obscene obstacle course. And everything you want is on the other side of it, so there’s nothing you can do about it but endure.

Thanks to a humid, heat wave across Southern California, where A/C in houses and apartments isn’t necessarily the norm thanks to a more temperate normal climate, it dawned on me a few days ago – or, more to the point, a sweaty, sleepless night or so ago –  that this is very much like depression.

I should hope by now most people understand that depression isn’t a choice any more than enduring a hot day is a choice. Instead of something depending on the climate of where you happen to live, this instead depends on the climate of your brain, who you happen to be and how you’re wired on the inside. Most days are okay, but some just cook the life right out of you. These are not ideal circumstances, and you do your best to cope, but it is very much like trudging through mud, wearing a fifty-pound backpack, trying to get to the other side of… , well anything.

I’m sure most of us have had that kind of sucky day where we’ve put some of our more challenging or difficult tasks off till another, more comfortable time, simply because the conditions weren’t ideal. We know ourselves well at this point, and we know that if we have to do Project X while we’re steeped in murky, humid depression, we’ll just melt entirely – no matter how happy and positive you try to be about the situation.

And these difficult tasks wouldn’t normally be so difficult, but conditions outside our control render them just a tad beyond our endurance on some days.

Think of depression like mental humidity with zero air conditioning. You literally feel heavier. You are uncomfortable and out of sorts. The things that normally don’t bother you are suddenly unbearable when added onto the pile of bullshit you’re suddenly carrying around. Each and every feather feels like a ten pound rock when added to the backpack. And, much like a fat person wearing minimal clothing on a hot day, just to find a little relief, the world around you will judge you for how you cope. It’s your choice how to handle things, and believe me – no matter what you choose – you’ve chosen wrong.

And the Liar that lives inside your head will make damned sure you hear each and every criticism, so no matter what you choose to do to get over the hump, you feel weaker and stupider for having chosen it.

“Yeah. Why CAN’T I just move to a cooler climate? Oh right, I don’t have the money to uproot my life or the lives of my family. Because I’m such a loser. Where’s my ten-pound feather??”

catfallingover

Because your mood is already soured, all the negative stuff rises to the top of your attention span. Every ache will be amplified. Every criticism will boom like a megaphone in your ears. You can either trudge on in sadistic slow motion OR you can check out for a day or two, alone, doing all the little cheats and tricks you’ve learned to endure. Just like running for ice cream on a hot day, not all of those cheats and tricks are the healthiest choice… but they get you through. And that is quite often enough.

Either way, it comes down to the same thing… you have to endure it. You have to get to the other side. Spring is behind you but fall is ahead of you. You know you’ll be better… eventually.

You just have to keep moving forward, no matter how slowly.

Meanwhile you pray that a friend will bring you a fan and some ice cream. One who will set as naked with you as you dare to sit with them, and they’ll love you anyway, and you won’t feel so alone as you try to get through another hot and humid night. You can toss off the sheets that feel like lava on your skin, just to get one cool breeze, and no one will criticize you for sleeping bare-assed naked under an open window, because they can empathize how far you’ll go to get a little comfort.

And maybe, just maybe, it will rain, and you’ll learn how to once again dance under the refreshing drops, feeling renewed for another hot day ahead. Because you know that even if this heat wave ends, summer comes every single year without fail. All you can do is waiting patiently for fall and “sweater weather” and chilly nights in front of a roaring fire to make the rest worth it.

You know, the good times.

Until then, you endure… because that’s what hot days are for.

Though I’ve spent the last many months fighting off depression, I see relief ahead. Unfortunately my emotional summer lasted throughout winter and spring, my favorite times of the year, and it sucked. HARD.

Now that I’m enduring another atypical heat wave, living in a place with no air conditioning, at nearly 90 degrees out and almost 50% humidity consistently for days, it just seemed like the ideal time to talk about the glaring similarities. You know, so I could distract myself while I melted.

hottiedottie

And if it’s hot where you are, then maybe you’ll understand it a little better if you currently didn’t. Having discomfort outside your control sucks. Hard.

We’ll make it through but… hot damn. Literally. Is it fall yet?? #bringicecreamSTAT

 

 

Thirty years ago… there was Scott.

Despite what happened to me when I was four, I have always maintained that I lost my virginity when I was fourteen. See, I don’t consider virginity some glass case to keep my virtue that – once broken into – causes irrevocable damage me or my value in some way. I was sexually curious and emotionally lonely, looking to feel some voids that had been ripped into my life with the absence of my dad. What happened to me when I was younger only skewed my thinking even more and I hit the ground running, defining my life by what I chose to do, not what was done to me.

I didn’t have boyfriends, necessarily. That came later. But like I’ve spoken about recently, just being held, voluntarily, was a huge deal for me. Still is, frankly. I’m a bit like a rose bush that needs tending. In my first marriage that didn’t happen. As the years wore on, the intimacy shrank and shrank until we were virtually no more than roommates towards the end.

It is one of the many reasons there is a second marriage.

As big as I am, the vastness inside me is so often times bigger. That was true when I was 14, that was true when I was 29… that was true thirty plus years ago.

It’s what happens when you need to feel loved so badly and you can’t seem to muster that feeling enough for yourself.

About 96% of the men I actually slept with I pursued. There have been a few that have pursued me, but it never worked out well. (We’ll get into that a bit later.) Generally I like to keep tight control over that just to mitigate damage. If someone really, truly pursued me, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it and probably punished them for it. If you needed convincing, well that was more my jam. Challenge accepted. I could easily spot the chinks in your armor and find my way in. When I decided to pursue, that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t wait around. I made shit happen.

Like I said, I have no patience when it comes to what I want. I’m very determined to get my way, especially when my way seems to lead down the much more fun path of self-destruction apparently. I don’t wait around a decade to get what I want. I figure out how to get there and I do.

That shit got me into a ton of trouble when I was younger. While friends were off smoking pot and going to concerts and going to school, I was trying my best to forge the weapon that had been used against me (sex) into something I could control.

It’s not uncommon for children who have survived sexual abuse to explore promiscuity as they get older. Some go the other way and avoid it altogether, but some have such shitty self-esteem that it wires their brain that they’re already “damaged” – what’s the point “saving oneself”?

This was what happened to me, especially having grown up in a super religious household that looked at virginity like some sacred jar to contain oneself. That’s part of the bullshit virginity = value argument which is WAY another blog altogether.

My jar had already been cracked. I had nothing to lose. (Or so I thought.)

But back 30-ish years ago, I was no stranger to sex. I got pregnant when I was 15 thanks to my reckless behavior. Because severe hyperemesis gravidarum rode shotgun, I ended up having to get an abortion because a doctor told my mother that my continuing with the pregnancy could result in harm to me and/or the baby. This doctor was a conservative family man she valued and respected, so she took him at his word. It scared my ultra religious mother to drive me 300 miles and shell out hundreds of dollars to save my life.

Despite what some might tell you, it wasn’t an “easy” way out. We suffered over it emotionally, she paid the price financially and I physically endured it. But difficult circumstances force difficult choices.

I ended writing hyperemesis gravidarum in my Groupie series much later. Since so much of that story was personal, working through things I was going through at the time, it was a no-brainer to include such a personal Easter egg. Many might feel I gave it to a character that I wanted to punish. What they didn’t/couldn’t get is that I did that to help me empathize with her, so I could write that character with all the dimensions she deserved… which was advice that I got from one of the biggest inspirations of the Vanni character. Even if this character was “the bad guy” – I still had to crawl under her skin and understand why she did what she did. So I gave us a commonality to share. It wasn’t revenge. Not in the least.

It was actually liberating.

Needless to say that after that happened to me, I got on birth control afterwards. I didn’t want that to happen again until I was ready for it. I wanted control over SOMETHING.

Then I met this guy named Robert back in the fall of 1986, when I was sixteen. We lived in Amarillo, Texas at the time, which was where my bestie lived. I spent every evening talking to him then just like I spend talking to him now. Except I didn’t use the Internet back then; we were still about a decade away from that revolutionizing how we communicated. Instead, I used the phone. Since we were too broke to afford our own landline, I would sit for hours at the pay phone at the apartment complex where I lived, which was conveniently located by the vending machines. I saw lots of people come for sodas and what not while I chatted away with the bestie. Most I ignored, since I’ve never really been all that crazy to people when not absolutely necessary.

One who could not be ignored was this guy with long brown hair and dark eyes – my kryptonite then and now. In an unusual set of circumstances, I could tell immediately he was into me and it didn’t scare me away like it normally did. Though he didn’t live there, he started hanging out there at his friend’s apartment regularly just so he could get to know me. He bought a LOT of soda, just to have an excuse to talk to me. And he was cute. Sweet. Seemed non-threatening. So I let the barrier down and let him. Within a few weeks we ended up dating and he became my first official “boyfriend.” I met his family. He met my mom. Though he was 24 and I was going on 17, no one really had a problem with it.

He even accompanied me to my first and only Journey concert in December of 1986.

Robert had epilepsy and, because of this, didn’t work. We ended up spending a lot of time together, and a lot of that time was spent in bed. My birth control ran out around November of that year, but Robert assured me that we didn’t have to worry about that stuff, that he had surgery when he was a kid that rendered him sterile. His mother confirmed the story, so I thought I’d save my mother the $$ and just not renew the prescription.

I started to worry about a week end it when he was telling me how he couldn’t wait to see me big and around, and what the names of our children should be.

By no surprise I guess I was pregnant by mid-December.

Again.

Robert swore that he wasn’t the one responsible, even though he was the only person I was sleeping with at the time. He tried to blame the bestie, since my best friend is a guy, but that guy is completely 100% rainbow-flag-waving gay, who has never even THOUGHT of a woman that way. We’ve known each other since we were ten and nothing even remotely sexual ever happened between us (which is why we are so close to this day.)

The support I got from Robert’s family slammed to a close. His mother went so far as to tell me that I wasn’t the first girl who tried to do this, trying to get to his disability check. I was dropped like a bad habit, despite all his promises of love I had been given.

If I hadn’t have had feminist leanings before this event, this would have kicked it into high gear. See, that’s the thing about men – at least the men way back then. They could decide they didn’t want fatherhood and walk away… and many times did. I knew several people whose dads just got tired of the father routine and bailed. One gal I knew went by her mother’s last name as a result. “Women,” she told me, “should get the credit for children.”

(Out of perverse curiosity, I tried to find him on Facebook and I’m pretty sure I did. And guess who has a armful of kids?)

We fight for choice but the truth is, nature really didn’t give us equal choice. And since I didn’t have that option to walk away like he did, I had to make the best choice I could. Even if I had chosen “the easy way out” with another abortion, I already knew how NOT easy that choice was, that it comes with its own set of emotional pain, physical pain and cost. I, as a woman, cannot just decide I don’t want to participate and walk away.

While I had some pretty awful morning sickness, it was nothing like the first time, when I couldn’t even keep water on my stomach for days at a time. So I decided to do things a little differently, since I knew I would already have pain, emotional trauma and financial cost. I was still young and still, clearly, an idiot, so I made the decision to give up the baby for adoption, so at least that baby could have a chance at a good life I didn’t have the resources to provide. Instead of going back to school like I had thought about, I spent those next months nurturing a child I knew would never be mine.

In July of 1987, I gave birth to someone else’s son.

July 8, 1987, specifically.

scott

It remains, to this day, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. There are only two times in my life I felt like my insides were carved out and there was nothing left inside of me, and both instances involved losing my kids. The first was when I had to leave that hospital in 1987 without a baby filling my aching arms. The second would come years later when I was forced to leave what was left of my nine-day-old son in a cemetery grave all by himself.

I still ache from that loss, even all these years later.

Losing Scott, which is the name that I gave him before I sent him to his new family and his new name, hurt for a long, long time, easily until my own children came along later. It was why, once I had them, I would not let anything keep me from my babies. Even now, when they’re grown men, I’d do just about anything to have them near me.

As you can see, I don’t cope with loss well.

People have asked me if I ever tried to contact Scott, particularly now that he’s a man. I always hake my head. If he finds me, that is his choice. I knew his family was going to raise him to be aware that he was adopted, and so far he’s made no contact. I figure that’s the way he wants or needs it and I would never be so selfish to intrude on the life I wanted him to have, the one I couldn’t give him.

I gave him away with a promise I kept:

And a directive I hope he kept:

And that’s all I can do. Because he is someone else’s son, for whom my heart still holds the scar.

Happy birthday, Scott. Wherever you are. Whomever you love. Whatever you do. Know I carry a part of you with me always. ❤

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…

workinprogrewss

The Selfie Experiment: Learning to add myself back into my life.

Not too long ago I read this article on how women in particular shy away from photos, which virtually remove them from the history of their lives and their children’s lives. I’m sure there are many reasons for this. I know as I was growing up, being “vain” was frowned upon and widely discouraged if you were a girl. If you liked your image too much, there was something wrong with you.

In today’s Selfie-obsessed culture, many older folks carry the same kind of belief. Why do you need so many photos of yourself, they might ask. You just want attention, they might say. It’s unhealthy to need that kind of validation from others, they may assert.

Whether you post a photo for yourself or for others, you’re going to get nailed to the wall for it. You’re “narcissistic,” you’re “mental.”

The peanut gallery has plenty to say on the subject of you and what you think about your self-image, and has always, always, always felt the definitive authority on the subject of, well, you.

If you are a bigger girl, in particular, trolls Internet-wide often make posting selfies an exercise in stamina, to see how much body shaming you can withstand if you dare to share a little too much self-love.

There are those “brave” girls who dared to post a glam shot before prom, only to be kicked in the teeth by Internet strangers. There’s only one thing worse than a non-perfect girl posting a selfie, and that’s her audacity to be happy about it. For that they must shamed immediately and put right back in their place… the shadows.

In the end, when we look back over our lives, we see the decades of watching our children grow up with nary a hint that there was a non-perfect mother around to guide them. After we’re gone, it’ll be up to our children to piece together the limited info we leave behind, often already painstakingly edited by us, leaving gaps and holes that our children – who have often been much more merciful to us than we ever could have been – to fight for each memory we left behind to share with their children and grandchildren who follow.

Eventually we’ll be erased entirely, much to the delight of our critics. This is, after all, what we deserve.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently. Being somewhat in the public eye as an author, my image is often meticulously groomed to court a wide audience. There are those folks who won’t read a book by me because I’m *gasp* like the imperfect girls I write about. In fact, I’m worse. I’m heavier. I’m not as attractive. I’m older. There is nothing about my image currently that begs for the attention of a wide crowd. So to protect my image I have to be hidden, out of view, all my selfies policed by those who want me to sell as many books to as many people as possible.

Yeah. About that. I’m kind of over it.

When I started writing I wanted the career of Danielle Steel, who was the top-selling romance writer of the day. I wanted people far and wide to read my work and love it. I tried to write books that I thought might appeal to everyone. It never worked for me. Mainstream wasn’t my lane. They say write what you know, and here’s what I know: I’m not for everyone.

But I know who my audience is: my audience is that group of women who have been told subtly and outright all their lives that they don’t deserve a place in the spotlight. My audience is the group who edits themselves out of their lives because they don’t want to make the people that love them look bad. They’re embarrassed for their kids who show around their family photos, which dare to include a non-perfect mother. They don’t want their husbands to proudly display a photo on his desk at work, lest he be thought less than for having such a non-perfect wife. They’re the ones taking dozens of photos to post on Facebook and Instagram, but it’s always, always, always of their kids, their families, their friends, food or places they get to see, with nary a selfie in sight.

And the reason that is my audience is because that is who I have always been. I’m not a selfie person. For every one I dare to post, there have been a dozen taken and rejected because I didn’t like the way they looked. It’s like I’m that chick on Seinfeld who looked gorgeous in one light and hideous in the other, so I can *only* post the ones where I feel I look attractive enough to be seen, even though they’re all pictures of the same person.

Years back my bestie, who loves me regardless of which light I’m in, asked me to take a selfie at one of Hal’s shows I attended. When I told Hal of this directive, the Selfie King grabbed my phone and spun around so we could take a photo, no fucks given about the angle, the lighting or the Ginger he happened to snap at the time. It was one and done, because there really IS only one Ginger, and he’s always been as OK with that as my bestie has been.

halselfie

The people who truly love you feel that way, even if you don’t. That’s why they tag you on the photos they share on social media. It’s not to embarrass you or make you look bad. They are happy to include you as part of their world.

showselfie

The people who truly like you, respect you, admire you – they don’t care that you’re non-perfect because they figured something out the people who need you to be perfect haven’t: there’s only one kind of perfect any human can accomplish. You’re perfectly you, and that’s the only thing that matters. In the end, we’re all varying degrees of beautiful, part of this glorious, diverse mosaic of individuals that deserve to be recognized for the unique people that we are.

And guess what? The picture simply wouldn’t be the same without you. So you’re fucking perfect as a result.

The truth is editing myself out of my life, including my career, has done nothing but *damage* my image. How can I write books that empower women to feel beautiful and worthy of love if I’m too scared to post a selfie because it means someone I don’t know won’t like me? My own characters would smack me silly for such foolishness. It’s not only okay that I’m non-perfect, it’s okay that I exist just as I am. I have value just as I am. This journey to health and wellness isn’t about finding that value, it’s about *owning* what was already there. If I’m unhealthy it’s because I’ve forgotten that, and won’t take care of myself as a result.

That’s something the shamers don’t get, nor do they even care. Your health is not the point, no matter how much they claim it is.

So I weighed the pros and the cons of becoming more Selfie-proficient as I’ve dipped my toes in the public image pool. Granted, not too many men are going to “like” my photos. The ones who do are generally older, married, friends, family or gay. I am okay with this. As a married woman, I don’t need a lot of guys paying me attention anyway, and I’ve always preferred the safety of guys who actually don’t want to have sex with me.

Women will like my photos more often than not, and since they’re my audience anyway – that’s ideal. Especially if they’re “non-perfect” like me. (Spoiler alert: EVERYone is non-perfect like me, we all just have different ways to hide or display it.)

So I won’t get any attention I don’t want from predatory men, and I’ll hit my target audience for women. Sounds like a couple for the pro column to me.

Some women will recoil every bit as much as a guy when they dare to see my audaciously posted non-perfect selfies, which means I might lose them as a reader. Honestly what I write would never appeal to them anyway, so really… what’s the loss? If you won’t read my book because you think I’m (insert pejorative here,) you really wouldn’t get much out of my books. I don’t swim in the shallows. I navigate deeper water, one that dares to wear the skin of the non-perfect. If you need your writers to be pretty or perfect, or the “fantasy” of living through the characters they write who are, then I’m simply not the writer for you.

I consider this a pro as well. It’s okay that you don’t want to read my books. There are plenty of writers out there who write those kinds of books, you’re going to be okay. There are plenty of readers out there who read my books, so I’ll be okay too. Hat tip and move on.

See, what many don’t seem to understand about me is that I don’t mind a smaller career as long as it is significant. I’m not out to become a millionaire from my books. I’m out to change the message, which is my only real barometer of success. The fact that I’ve sold even one is a miracle according to the industry, and I’ve sold many more than that, remaining solidly in the top 20% of all independently published writers for six years.

That means there’s room for the non-perfect. There’s room for the message. There’s room for me.

I was perfectly content selling enough to live on, and I did that *without* white-washing my image to some lesser non-perfect image a wider audience could find palpable. My first series hit big even though it broke a lot of rules and smacked conventional romance in the face. For those who couldn’t stand the idea of reading about such non-perfect characters, I basically said #byefelicia. This isn’t the book for you, I’ll tell you before you even buy it. I’ll discourage you from spending your money on something we both know you won’t like.  I’m not for everyone. I know this. You need to know this.

And you need to know that I’m perfectly okay with it.

That’s the kind of ovarian fortitude that built my career. When I caved on that, thanks to industry pressure, my burgeoning career flatlined. I don’t think this is a coincidence. You can’t build a career on bold honesty and then hide from the spotlight and expect things to get better.

That’s not how I roll. That’s never how I rolled. And since my instincts have proved the more successful, Ima go back to what I know works for me.

This is why I’ve dared to make this blog public, to explore all my deepest darkest demons on a public stage. THIS is how I built my image. The people who will buy my books, who will love my work, have always, always, always been the group who looked a little deeper, who cared a little more about what a non-perfect like me had to say. They seek me out. They find me… and they stay.

THAT is my audience.

And I’m done lying to them, watering myself down trying to pretend I’m something I’m not. I’m 100% proof. Some can handle it. Some can’t. That’s just the reality of my entire life.

Knowing this, there is really no risk then in throwing myself into the selfie pool, so I’ve not only been posting more selfies on Instagram but I’ve started posting on Snapchat. I get to utilize these social media accounts for my public image every bit as much as every other account I have. It is limited thus far, but I notice the more I post of my image, the more forgiving I am of it. This is just me, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Each selfie I post is a bold declaration that I deserve to be a part of my history, my family and my career.

These are my first steps on the crowded dance floor of life. Yes, I hear you snickering. Yes, I know for some of you this makes me the butt of your joke. For some, it makes me easier to reject because you find me so repellent.

But, since I was never trying to attract you anyway, I can’t care.

My characters, my audience, my family and my friends… and all of those who dare to swim past the shallows…  deserve more of me, not these limited scattered pieces I’ve been encouraged to leave behind by the people who don’t give a shit about me in the first place, who would rather I be erased entirely.

But I ain’t goin’ anywhere.

I’m putting myself back into my life because I deserve to be there.

Screenshot 2017-06-11 13.22.55

Sunday weigh-in: 292 (1.6lbs lost) 58lb muscle (+3lb gain.)

Non-scale victories: Three of four instances where I was going to excuse a binge, I avoided the binge entirely, and maintained walking 20 mins per workday all week despite back pain.

 

 

A lil history, some goal planning, and sweaty-palmed, white-knuckled transparency.

Howdie, folks. Welcome to Day Two.

Except it isn’t Day Two, just like yesterday wasn’t really Day One.

Anyone who has nosed around this blog knows that the whole weight loss journey is one I have run up to and run away from enough times that even *I* roll my eyes when I pledge to start again. It just never feels like it’s going to happen, not for real, and not forever.

The only real success I’ve had transforming my health and my body was in 2003/2004, when my first husband’s sudden death from a massive heart attack scared me straight. I literally felt like I was playing Russian Roulette every single time I took a bite of food. It’s no secret that I was in much worse shape than he was, because I outweighed him probably by about a hundred pounds.

I usually outweigh everyone by about a hundred pounds.

I started that journey at over 330 pounds, which was around the size I was when I got married, which was twenty pounds less than when Steven and I met. By the time Dan died, I was a size-32. I felt enormous.

But, despite the obvious visual cues, I *wasn’t* as bad off as Dan was because his health problems weren’t quite so visible. And despite what people could “see,” those problems ended up killing him at the tender age of 43.

Still, I knew I was on a dangerous path. As the only surviving natural parent to two young boys (then 13 and 11,) I knew I had to get serious. So I did something drastic and terrifying. I decided to blog about it.

This was before the books and before the social media platforms that have cultivated my brand. This was back in the days of AOL, when they had jumped aboard the blogging train, and would feature interesting blogs on their front page to drive traffic to other areas of their site.

See, the thing you have to know about me is that I’m an overachieving teacher’s pet. I knew if I made this journey public, it would drive me to succeed because I would never risk such personal failure on such a public platform. I want to WOW people, remember? I don’t want pity. I want Atta Girls and pats on the back, just like everyone else. So when I committed to it, I committed to it 100%. I knew I had to be fully honest or it wouldn’t work. I had to display facts and figures, publicizing each weigh-in so I was forced to be “real” about half-assing anything.

This was important to me because I have an eating disorder where I binge if things get too intense. It was a coping mechanism I picked up as a child, after the incident when I was four years old. Like I said yesterday, I immediately hid everything so that I could be “normal,” but the trauma was still there. I became my own comforter at four, so the only thing I knew to make myself feel better was to “feed” the hurt. You can see the changes almost immediately. Here’s a photo from the house we lived in when I was abducted:

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Here’s a photo from kindergarten, a year later:

gingerKindergarden

First grade, a year later than that:

ginger1stgrade

And second grade, a year later than that…

ginger2ndgrade

As the years wore on, I had to eat more to feel more comforted. I’d eat at school, then come home and eat whatever my parents had left over from lunch. By the 1980s, when I became a latch-key kid, when I had to prepare my own dinners and feed myself when I was only eleven, I could kill a box of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I’d stop eating because I ran out, not because I ever felt there was “enough.” To be completely honest with you, I don’t recall ever feeling “full.” When people tell me they’re “stuffed” and can’t eat another bite, I don’t get that. I’ve felt like I couldn’t eat another bite, but if there was still food left, I kept going. It was Clean Plate Syndrome to the Nth degree. Mentally I’ve never felt satiated, because what I was eating for was never physical hunger. It was to numb and emotional void. Food brings pleasure, so I needed that pleasure to make the Not Okay okay. (Later I would add sex and spending and gambling and a host of other vices.) Whatever felt good, I needed to have more. It was the only way to even things out against the staggering mountain of CRAP my life tended to be.

Imagine my delight when I realized in 1985 that I could eat Nutri-System, supplemented with nightly nachos that were off the plan (but helped me feel “fuller”), and still lose 36 pounds in three months. If that program hadn’t sent my mother and me into the poor house at $90 a week, I might have actually got down to a “normal” weight.

These have been the patterns of my life. The more chaotic the circumstances, the more I binge to deal with them. This is why diets never work for me long haul, especially since I already told you yesterday, most of my life has been spent in the Not Okay.

In 2003/2004, I *started* my weight loss journey in the Really Not Okay, right after we lost Dan. He died in September, and I finally got around to doing something about me in November of that year. Things were going along mostly well until February, when I got the emotional rug pulled out from under me again, when Steven was seriously tempted outside the marriage.

This was very tough for me to handle at that time because Steven was one of the few men on the planet I truly believed could love/desire me even as heavy as I was. This was the woman he fell in love with:

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That the woman who tempted him wasn’t overweight really threw a major wrench in my progress, making me feel everything before that was a lie. I was sent into an emotional tailspin. The only reason it didn’t derail me completely was mostly because I was doing a public blog, where I had 100% transparency. When he messed up, the whole world knew it – just like they knew it when I messed up.

I didn’t have four-year-old Ginger feeding me. I had dozens of strangers, sisters on the same path, who could hold me up and keep me focused.

But, all things being the Internet, it was not a journey for the faint-hearted. Doing anything publicly invites criticism. When AOL featured my blog on their main page in February of 2004, ironically just before the whole thing blew up with Steven, I got plenty of complaints and criticisms too, and so did AOL. “Why would you feature her weight-loss blog? She looks like she weighs 300 pounds!”

Again, I had to have an “after” photo to validate the “before” photo. I had to be “okay” or else no one would listen to me.

But I wasn’t okay. Hence why I needed the blog.

You don’t need a weight-loss blog if you’re thin, do you? This was a part of the journey, and ultimately it was successful. This was me at the beginning, in November 2003:

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And this was me in September of 2004, wearing the same shirt:

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This was me when I married Steven, at a size 34:

4

And this was me in 2004, ten sizes smaller:

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What do I know about losing weight? About as much as I know about gaining it. And what I know for certain is that the only thing that has ever worked for me long-term was if I stopped hiding from it.

I write Rubenesque romance because I don’t agree with the narrative you have to be thin and beautiful and perfect to deserve love. I’ve never been “thin”, “beautiful” or “perfect,” and I have found love, been married, the whole nine.

Yet I still hide the numbers because there’s a deep shame that I’m not okay. Even within the books, I write “smaller” larger women because I’m easing people into the novel idea you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Sadly it’s necessary, because I’ve had my share of criticism about the heroines I write and the romances I write not being “realistic.” One recent critique was for a size-16 heroine who was top-heavy and the (female) critic pondered if I was even a woman because my heroine’s measurements were YUUUGGGEEE.

In reality, I’m larger than my heroine – so that was really nice to hear. Not. But that’s part of the cognitive dissonance that makes sizes and measurements and actual numbers on the scale scarier and more negative than what they are. It’s all relative, and each body is different.

At my size hiding the numbers is stupid really, because it’s not like I can hide the reality. You look at me, you know that I’m overweight. The medical diagnosis, morbid obesity, is pretty obvious to any layman who passes me on the street. And believe me, they’re not shy about diagnosing it.

Yet I am still ashamed of the number. I still hide it. I still yearn to be okay.

As we established yesterday, I’m not okay. And that’s going to have to be okay.

So in order to make this work, I gotta get real about it. There’s gotta be some transparency because without transparency there’s no accountability. If I want to meet my lofty, lofty goal, there has to be some accountability.

And let’s talk about goals for a second. Like I said before, I’m an overachiever. I always push myself. I’m incredibly ambitious and completely self-driven. Bosses normally love me because I go above and beyond. I need little supervision or really little guidance. At my current 9-5, I have no one who looks over my work at the end of the day to make sure goals are being met. But they’re being met, by God. In fact, the goals I set for myself are just a fingertip out of my reach most days, because of how hard I drive myself to succeed. I plan my day without a second to spare, working all the way up to the minute I clock out. I take the standard they give me and push it into overdrive.

For example, the job I do is in medical records. A primary function of that job is taking a paper record and converting it into a digital file so we can file it into our Electronic Medical Records, or EMR. When I took over that position in July of last year, the company standard was to have those files converted and into the system within a week of obtaining them.

I made sure they went up within 24-48 hours. I figured why wait? It takes about fifteen minutes for me to do a file, so why not get each one into the system as soon as we get it? And it doesn’t matter if we have one or twelve to do in a day, I make damned sure that the minute it gets to my desk, it is on the fast track to get into the EMR so everyone who needs the information has access to it, rather than hounding me to fax this or upload that. I’m on top of my job so that they can be on top of their job, which is both time-efficient for the employees and cost-efficient for the company.

As someone who has run her own business before, as well as helped others start-up businesses, that’s just how my brain is trained to look at processes and procedures. I work smarter, not harder, aiming for excellence rather than accepting the status quo.

So now THAT is the standard in my department. And I’m pretty freaking proud of that, really. I took something and made it better. I impressed people. I changed things.

Mama likes.

I like my goals lofty. It’s why I can write a book as fast as I can, or produce a quality screenplay in weeks rather than years. I don’t sit on ANYTHING. I figure out a way to get it done and I get it the fuck done, because I’m OCD to the NTH and I need shit checked off my list.

But being done isn’t the only objective: I push myself with a deeply rooted drive to be excellent.

The weight loss is really no different, even though my lofty goals have, more often than not, derailed my progress more than anything else.

They will tell you that losing 1-2 pounds a week is the best way to ensure that you have long-term sustainable weight-loss. So of course, me being me, I won’t be happy unless it’s 3-5. And those weeks I don’t make it, because I won’t, because no matter what you do sometimes the scale just does NOT move, for whatever reason, or there are gains even when you do everything right, because that’s the painful irony long-term weight loss, fucking bum me out hard-core. If you watch This is Us, you’ve seen this unfortunate dynamic work with one of the main characters, Kate. It’s almost too painful to watch sometimes. The episode where she does everything right and doesn’t lose, and finds out her binge-eating boyfriend loses more, devastated her. And me. Been there. That shit sucks.

And I know, intellectually, it isn’t a formula. Every body is different, and the road to physical excellence isn’t always X+Y=Z. Some weigh-ins come whenever you didn’t get a full night’s sleep, or you’re on your period, or it’s holiday season and no matter how many extra miles you walk on the treadmill, that chocolate and cookie and turkey and pie will derail your progress. There are dreaded plateaus and, unfortunately for me, emotional ups and downs which put me face to face with my ED.

A mathematical formula leaves no room for life, especially a not-okay life that will  punch you around a bit and knock you off your footing. I still have triggers and a real disorder that I battle, sometimes on the daily. There are days that I will fall short, no matter how high I am.

For that reason alone, I’m aiming higher. If I’m working for outstanding, maybe, just maybe, I’ll land in the exceptional anyway. I never want to idle at average. In anything. Ever.

And it’s become increasingly obvious to me that I need to be here, in front of you all, to get where I need to go, when I want to get there. And my reasons for it are not merely cosmetic anymore. Which raises the stakes even more.

Last July I had my first real weight-related health scare. I had just taken over a new position at my 9-5, and it came with certain growing pains that had me anxious and overwhelmed. When you have an anxiety disorder this can feel like hell, and it did for a long, long while. One morning I had a pretty intense anxiety attack at work. They’re not that uncommon for me, though when you’re having them it pretty much makes your brain go haywire. Instead of dismissing it as the same kinds of attacks I’ve had in the past, where everything is okay, it feels like The End. That wretched voice in my head whispers, “What if this IS a heart attack, and not just your anxiety?”

That particular morning I decided that, since I work in a medical environment and I’m around nurses and medical professionals, I’d just have it looked at. So I went into one of the nurse’s offices and explained my symptoms. She took my blood pressure and it was, for the first time ever, off the charts. I’ve only had minor increases in my blood pressure before, tapping out at maybe 130/80. This time it was 150/90.

Needless to say, it tripped me the fuck out. For once, that anxiety attack I was feeling was a legitimate medical alarm. I left early that day, buying a blood pressure monitoring machine before I even reached the house. From that moment on, I was determined to make some changes.

I got rid of Diet Coke, which is one of my bigger addictions, and, at the suggestion of a friend, started intermittent fasting (which we will talk about later.) I started exercising again. I ditched all processed foods and watched my sodium intake. My blood pressure evened out, usually maxing out around 125/80, but on the whole staying under 120/80, enough where I wasn’t monitoring it every day. Within months, I started shedding weight again. Everyone around me was telling me how great I looked.

I lost about twenty pounds over three months. I went from a size 28 to a size 24. I could buy new clothes in smaller sizes that would actually fit.

Then… November happened. We’ll talk about that later as well, because it really is another blog in and of itself. Suffice it to say, four-year-old Ginger started feeding a very emotionally traumatized forty-seven year old Ginger all the comfort foods that made things feel okay when they weren’t okay. Emotional eating/binging came back hard, undoing all of my progress to that point.

I’ve tried to restart it several times but hiding myself from the Not Okay has meant that I haven’t had one iota of accountability to conquer these particular demons.

Hence, the blog.

So THIS is my new starting point, even though technically speaking, it’s not.

I’m going to include all my social media in this new endeavor, although some to a lesser degree than others. I’ll post progress pics on Instagram. I’ll post workout progress on Snapchat. I’ll post all the nitty gritty about weigh-ins, measurements, food and workouts and the like on my Sparkpeople profile as I add them into the plan, which – again – we’ll talk about later.

And here is where I’ll do the emotional workouts for my journey where I’ll just be real about the numbers and how much it terrifies me to do so.

Gonna feel the fear and do it anyway – which is how I do anything successful in my life. And aim high… because even if I shoot for the moon and miss, I’ll land among the stars.

That being said, my goal is get under 200 lbs for my son’s wedding next March. The last time I was under 200 pounds was in 1989.

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That’s nearly 100lbs in ten months, or 10 pounds a month, making eight pounds a month the baseline (2lbs per week). This  would still put me around 210, which is where I spent the majority of my teen years:

ginger1986cropped

Anything less than eight pounds a month will require reexamination and modification. This is a journey, not a formula. I may try a lot of different things just to keep my body from settling into any routines, which seems to be the death knell for my progress.

And that, really, is what I’m aiming for the most. I may not reach Excellence in ten months, but ten months from now I won’t still be linger in the Not Okay.

It’s time to make things okay.

Starting weight:

May 2017 – 296.8

Starting measurements:

49/45/57, Size 26/28 (depending on where you shop – again, a topic for another blog…)

So that’s it. No shame. No fear. No hiding. Just a starting point.

Let’s do this.

 

#OneYear explained.

If you’ve been following my social media, you might have noticed that I have been tagging things with the #oneyear hashtag. Mostly that tag is for me, but I thought I’d give a brief explanation on how I plan to spend 2015.

2014 was, truly, a year of muchness. Everything was thrown into the mix, including incredible highs and devastating lows. But I saw some of my biggest successes in 2014, which made me realize something about myself that I had forgotten.

My capability to be awesome is completely intact.

I don’t say that to be conceited, by the way. I’m just as surprised about it as anyone else. I’ve been downplaying my own personal power since I was a kid in church, warned repeatedly against the sin of pride and vanity. I grew up thinking humility meant denying all the special qualities that made me me, especially the parts that made me, dare I say, great or powerful.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

No matter how things are going, whether I’m dancing on top of a mountain or pressing my way through the flames, I have any number of amazing qualities to face every challenge and claim every triumph. I don’t think that I ever realized that before, even when I had significant success in my career, in my personal life or realizing my own tremendous, lofty goals.

Since 2013, I broke through the ranks and became one of the coveted 20% who could make a living as a self-published author. This is a big deal considering 80% of my colleagues make $1000 or less annually. For the last two years, I’ve been an established writer making a better living than I ever made in any other job. I have an small but mighty (dare I say Fierce?) fan base, who have done their part spreading their love for my work to more and more folks, which finally got me “discovered” by a powerhouse of a literary manager. I sold my first book to a publisher AND my manager and I are eying other venues to conquer, like TV and film.

With something as simple as a year or two with my nose to the grindstone, I’m on the very precipice of where I want to be.

Except

My health, though improved greatly by the use of medicinal marijuana, has become a concern. I had a couple of troubling incidences last year that reminded me that I’m not invincible. And maybe I could ignore a shortened lifespan from the safety of my thirties or forties, but the real problem, the practical problem, the one that affects me in the here and now, is that I’m not properly conditioned to keep running the longer, bigger marathons I have planned.

So I decided to approach my health the same way I approached my career. I’m devoting 2015 as the Year of Transformation. Though I’ve repeatedly “failed” to conquer this particular mountain in the past, I sort of had an epiphany a few months ago that I have everything within me to make my physical body as much of a success as the surreal reality of living my dream job.

In one year – November 2014 to November 2015 – I’m going to focus on all the things I can do to make myself stronger and healthier. I’m going to condition myself for a life bigger than what I’m currently living, to prepare myself for things I had only dreamed about in the past. I’m not really worried about losing weight, though I will. This is so much more than fitting into a certain size or seeing some phantom number on a scale. Those things I can’t really control. My body is going to be what it’s going to be, and it is entirely possible I’ll never fit into a size 6, or wear a two-piece to the beach even if I wanted to.

This isn’t about that. I finally realized that it can’t be. Because of my issues from what happened to me when I was four, “losing” my shell around me has terrified me for years. Becoming smaller or more attractive to more people makes me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, and that is the one thing that has blocked every attempt to become what I thought I wanted to be. I’ve been too locked up in my own neurosis to let that happen.

It also outsources all of my power to things I can’t control. This isn’t my first rodeo. I can do all the right things and still not lose the weight the way I planned. There is really no practical way I could give myself a goal of X amount of pounds or X amount of inches lost by a certain date. A significant body transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. I can’t be swayed by a weekly weigh-in that somehow justifies my existence because I’m running as far away from the fat girl as I can.

That fat girl is still me. And she’s still the amazing person who has raised two kickass men, who has turned her dream into a career and who has made a difference in ways large and small. I’ve been waiting for more than 40 years for someone to notice that. It finally dawned on me that person has to be me. I need to love her and take care of her… because it’s onwards and upwards from here.

Therefore my focus is about longevity and strength and overall health. The 2016 Me is waiting for me at the finish line, and she’s depending on me to make her as strong and powerful as she can be. Truth is I don’t know what she looks like yet, but it hardly matters if I did. She’s going to be even greater than the 2014 me, who is still pretty damned cool. And I know I have everything within me to walk each and every step to get to her.

This year is about living life to my fullest potential, which I can’t really do if I don’t make my health a top priority. I have too much to do to check out early, or call for a Time Out because I can’t physically handle the increasing challenges at hand.

At age 45, those are more powerful motivators that something as arbitrary as a number on a scale.

So yes. I’m going to be one of those annoying people who updates on exercise and posts pictures of (healthier) foods. It’s a matter of accountability and it’s part of the year-long process which I may or may not turn into a book/memoir someday. Most of these journal entries are personal/private right now, but I reserve the right to publish one from time to time.

This is the “DURING” part of the Before and After journey. It’s the ugly part, the frustrating part, the hard-working part, complete with all the amazing triumphs and crushing failures that come with doing anything really significant. (Kind of like the last two years were for my career.)

I’m locked in, ready to see where this roller coaster takes me, marking the calendar for one year just to see what I can do with it.

I’m excited for what it will bring.

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.