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

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Snap Happy.

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

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

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

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

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

These are the big questions, folks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a simple philosophy of life that says:

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, right. The image thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That cannot and should not stop my fun.

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

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

It can be fun

It can be goofy

It can even be sexy

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

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

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

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

 

Or unmasked…

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

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

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

Stay tuned….

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. ❤

Dear Damaged Girl: Letters, Chapter 1.

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

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

But, again, blog for another day.

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

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

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

And hindsight is 20/20, after all.

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

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

Let’s get to it.

Dear four-year-old me:

fouryearoldgin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because you are.

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

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

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

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

***

Dear fifteen-year-old me;

ginpose1985

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

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

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

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

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

Your story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know how much you hate it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They absolutely don’t.

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

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

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

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

***

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

 

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.

 

 

It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.

The other night my son and I were chatting and my new journey to health and wellness came up, including the challenges that I face particularly with the physical activity thanks to my current limitations. Last week I went balls to the wall with the walking only to collapse over the weekend. My “bounce back” time has increased exponentially, and it’s frustrating the shit out of me.

It’s still such a chore to do the work necessary to meet my goals.I mentioned this to my son, who has done athletic training before in high school gymnastics and then kung fu classes as an adult. “I just can’t wait for it to get easier,” I lamented, since it’s still like trudging uphill through molasses.

“It’s like that quote,” he tells me. “‘It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.'”

I knew in that moment that was going to be my blog topic for the week.

Like his father before him, he has a passion for physical activity that bypassed me completely. It was just never a part of my childhood, never modeled to me by those closest to me. My parents weren’t physically active. My dad was much older and disabled, my mom worked full-time to support the family. Like so many Southerners, many of the celebrations we had centered around food. If we traveled, we didn’t go camping or hiking. We went to see relatives, other older, Southern folk who cooked good ol’ comfort food, enough for an army.

There were no physical games to play, and any of the games I played in school were stressful. When you are hard-wired for anxiety, a simple children’s game like Duck Duck  was an ongoing nightmare. These were obligatory, too, which deeply tests my Personal Choice Boundary. After you’ve had your consent taken away, doing things you don’t want to do because you have no choice leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So the Presidential Fitness Tests that began when I was 10 at once became the bane of my existence. Run a mile? Are you crazy? The only running I ever did was to escape mean dogs.

Then, beat me if you can.

Though I grew up in 70s/80s, I didn’t have roller skates or a skateboard. I went to a roller rink exactly once, in 1981 or thereabouts. I enjoyed it because of the music, but I couldn’t get myself coordinated enough to maneuver the silly things. I knew that would come with practice, so I asked for some skates for Christmas.

I got a lamp. Such was my childhood.

There were only three physical activities I enjoyed. I liked jumping rope (before I got boobs anyway,) though I couldn’t Double-Dutch to save my life. I’m just not coordinated at all, which is one of the reasons I don’t dance. It’s like my body and I aren’t exactly friends. I tell it to do one thing, and it gives me something entirely different. I’ve become subconscious to it to the point of paralysis. The only way you’ll find me dancing is if I’m locked in a safe room where no one could ever possibly catch me attempting such foolishness.

I also enjoyed the game Four-Square, mostly because it was a game where my size didn’t compromise me. I could play it and I could win. This was important. After my dad’s encouragement silenced, I felt like I had ended up in Loserville. I had plenty of detractors to laugh at me when I stumbled. It almost felt as if they expected me to, like they were waiting for it so they could pounce all over it with sadistic glee. And it’s tough being a living, breathing punchline. Hence why so many fat people don’t (insert public activity here).

If you haven’t watched the new NBC hit series “This is Us,” it stars an overweight actress whose battle with her body and her self-image is a huge part of the show. Her twin brother is an actor known for his impressive physical appearance, and she, by default as his right-hand gal, ended up going to a major Hollywood party at his insistence, even though conventional wisdom suggests people like us would not fit in at such an event. He needed her there and, thanks to her boyfriend’s insistence that they go, she went. Said boyfriend, Toby, is also a big guy who gives zero fucks what anyone thinks of him, so he hit the dance floor with gusto, ready to get down amidst the most beautiful people in the industry.

Kate was much slower to follow. Why? Her entire perspective shrunk to the whispers, the murmurs, the barely concealed laughter and amusement. All she could see/hear were the detractors, those who couldn’t WAIT till she got on the dance floor so they could snicker over the fat chick “trying” to dance.

You’ve probably seen Hairspray. You know what I’m talking about. The detractors are everywhere.

So naturally Kate hesitated. Why put yourself on display like that? You might as well walk right in front of a firing squad. There’s no fun to be had when you’re the butt of the joke. It took her quite a few drinks to muster the nerve to join fun-loving Toby on the dance floor, because that’s the job of booze – to lower one’s inhibitions and raise one’s DGAF.

I totally get that. I’ve danced publicly exactly three times, and alcohol played a part in each and every one, including my wedding dance.

The third activity I enjoyed was leg wrestling, which we did around fifth or sixth grade. Jeff will have to chime in here since his memory isn’t quite as fractured as mine. It was in elementary school, though, and I remember enjoying it because I was killer at it. My leg strength, to this day, is phenomenal – thanks mostly to carrying all of me around day after day. I was flipping people left and right, like some kind of prize-fighter, which at long last restored the admiration and acceptance I had lost. I only got flipped once myself, by some skinny kid, and I remembered thinking, “What the hell just happened?”

I liked winning. Winning felt good. I was gaining respect in a way I hadn’t ever been able to in a P.E. class before that. When I was eight, I was the slowest runner and the easiest pick for Duck Duck Goose. By the time I was 11 or 12, I was a beast who could take you out.

I liked that. Apparently Ginger + Time = Badassery.

I’ve always had very high standards for myself. I don’t just want to do a good job. I want to dazzle you. And I can’t do that if I’m falling down on my ass because I can’t skate, or making you double over in laughter because I can’t dance.

Humiliation is a hard pass for me. Oddly enough, it was the one thing I passed it down to my two kids. Both can watch a zombie get his skull curb-stomped, but if someone gets embarrassed they have to leave the room.

Neither one of them dance, which – again – is all me. Their dad was known as Disco Dan back in the day.

Me? I’ll be nursing a drink at the bar nodding my head along with the beat, thank you very much.

So I do most of my failure stuff in private, where no one can see. When I was nine, I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. My sister had moved out, leaving behind a purple sparkly bike I had long coveted. And I was tired of being a weirdo. I wanted to do what the other kids could do, the normal kind of stuff that we all share as a collective experience. And I simply couldn’t do that. I didn’t know how to swim, skate, ride a bike, I’d never gone camping, I didn’t have any friends who participated in any group games. I was even too big for the Big Wheel I begged my mom to get me when I was in third grade.

I decided I was going to ride that fucking bike. My mom couldn’t teach me because she didn’t know how. My dad couldn’t teach me, because like I said – he was disabled. My sister wouldn’t teach me because she had her own family at the time, and – frankly – hated me anyway. With no friends there to teach me, I decided I’d just teach my own damned self. I dragged that bike into the alley, which was a pretty secluded place with a flat surface, and I didn’t stop until I learned how to ride it.

And nobody knew about it until I was zipping around the neighborhood like a pro.

This has been my long-standing problem. And I know it’s not unique to me. I know there are plenty of us who just don’t want to suck at anything. But you kind of have to suck at something before you can excel at stuff. Natural talent is a good place to start, but skill gets you where you want to go. That takes training. That takes learning. That takes sucking.

At my son’s wedding, there will be dancing. Well, there will be dancing *available*. How much dancing is actually done will depend entirely on how the bride convinces my non-dancy son to participate, and the kinds of people we end up inviting to the shindig. I would like to look back on the event without thoughts of humiliation OR regret, so that means I have to drag that old bike back out into the alley to, simply put, get over myself.

I’ve been waiting 40-something years for this stuff to get easier, so I’ll enjoy it more, and, by extension, do it more. But it’s never going to get any easier. I’m just going to have to get stronger. The biggest obstacle in my way to do that is to learn how to get past the suckatude. There’s nothing stopping me anymore except me. I can buy my own damned skates now, which I just sorta kinda figured out just now. I got my kids skates when they were young so they could learn how, but I somehow never thought to do the same for me. Interesting epiphany that comes complete with its own action plan.

Guess it’s all on me now.

I have purchased dance videos or looked up instructional videos on YouTube to practice my little heart out until I master the moves, but so far I still embarrass my own damn self when I do it.

Virtually I’ve become that room full of hateful detractors, mocking and laughing at my own attempts to get it right.

And I may never master get it right. I may always look like a spider on a hot plate, to quote BBT’s Bernadette. But there’s a great line in the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” where Meryl plays a socialite who, though she loved to sing, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. At the end, she says of her critics, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t.”

I fucking wept like a baby when she said that. One, she’s Meryl Fucking Streep. But man… that quote hit home.

Kind of like my son’s quote the other night. If it’s never going to get easier, which is what I’ve always kind of been waiting around for, then I’m just going to have to get stronger.

THAT I have complete control over. Just like the bike so long ago.

There is no expiration date on any of this. I took my first hike when I was nineteen years old. This was back when Dan and I were homeless in L.A., and we were looking for something fun to do that didn’t cost anything. Since Dan was a fitness junkie, who barely had a spare ounce of flesh on the man, he decided he wanted to explore Griffith Park. For those unacquainted, Griffith Park is a huge municipal park in L.A. that spans over four thousand acres of land and houses the Los Angeles Zoo, the Observatory and the Hollywood Sign. It has trails for humans and horses that wind through sloping hills for these amazing views of the city. Dan, who came from West Virginia “hillbilly” stock, could run those fucking hills in his sleep, and couldn’t wait to race up that hill when he saw it.

I was a lot, lot slower, with a more “Can we not and just say we did?” attitude.

I had never hiked before, particularly in hilly terrain. Considering I was carrying 210 pounds, it was not the stroll in the park I thought it might be. I paused maybe four times going up that moderate hill, testing Dan’s limited patience. It was on my fourth “break” that this little old man went *jogging* past us. He was gray-haired, easily 60 or better, but he was trucking like a champ up that incline that had stymied me. He was barely out of breath. Humbled and chagrined, I got up off my butt and I didn’t stop again till we got to the top. If he could do it, I had no excuses. I was nineteen, FFS. I was overweight and unconditioned, but I was still in my physical prime.

And man. What a view once we got there.

I’m no longer in my physical prime, but I’m also not as bad off as I have been. I’ve got some challenges, but I’ve made it a habit of overcoming challenges and doing what people didn’t think I could do.

I dazzle folks. That’s my M.O. That means my physical prime very well lies before me not behind me, provided I pull my head out of my ass, get my shit together and learn how to survive the sucking.

So I guess that means I have only one alternative left. It’s time to shut up and dance.

 

 

Learning not to give a shit about what #theysaid

I was reading an article by UpWorthy today, regarding a sad hashtag that had taken root for people to share their body-shaming history with the world. It was called #theysaid, and the hateful things people have said to us, often under the guise of caring or concern, broke my heart, especially when it was said to very young girls. I started going through my history on Facebook, encouraged by another brave friend doing the same, and ended up remembering some of the more shocking and upsetting things that were said to me, stuff I normally keep buried because that’s where truly hurtful stuff belongs.

Suffice it to say if I had a nickel for every time they said what #theysaid, I’d have a shit-ton of nickels; enough to fill a sock and bonk people on the head with it. I walk around a public invitation for their oh-so-helpful advice and critique. Whether it was said with malice or not, they helped wire my own sadistic chatterbox with lots of ammo to virtually beat myself up for thirty some-odd years, and they did so knowingly and gleefully, thinking I somehow deserved it, telling it would help.

It totally fucking didn’t.

If that’s not a reason to blog it out and work it out, I really don’t know what is.

“Did you get held back?” – said to me by my fifth grade classmates, because I had boobs at 11. They never did believe me when I said I wasn’t. #theysaid

ginger11yearsold

“You’d be hot if you’d just lose weight.” Said to me by many folks, but the first time I remember hearing it was from my brother-in-law. I was 12. #theysaid

gin1982

“Don’t you want to lose weight?? Don’t you want to be thin?” Said by my P.E. coach on the first day of co-ed P.E., when we were tasked with running a mile and I couldn’t do it. I was 15. #theysaid

ginpose1985

“Do your nipples point outward or down?” asked a DJ who was trying to figure out before he met me if he wanted to have sex with me. I was 17. #theysaid

gin17

“Nobody is going to want you.” Said by my first husband, back when he was unmedicated, when he thought tough love would help motivate me change. I was 22. #theysaid

gindangarland

“GO ON A DIET!!” – screamed at me by a guy driving past me as I was *riding a bike*. I was 23. #theysaid

ginkids2002

“Your haircut makes you look like a lesbian. Since you’re associated with me and we’re the same size, this makes me look bad.” – said by a former boss. I was 25. #theysaid

danginportrait

“What does she know about losing weight?? She looks like she weighs 300lbs!” – an anonymous comment when my blog was featured on AOL. I was 33. #theysaid

Sepf8UlYZsN9ZpXQdVGxC6yFYu1nNOkn0300

“What do you know about sex? How can anyone find your pussy? It’s probably underneath layers of fat and sweat, like fucking cottage cheese!” Another anonymous male on the Internet, who challenged what I might have to say about birth control in a political forum. I was 36. #theysaid

My doctor, at a first appointment, without any testing: “You’re diabetic.”
Me: “I’m not diabetic.”
Doctor: “Do you get up in the night to pee?”
Me: “Yes. I always have.”
Doctor: “Then you’re diabetic.”

SPOILER ALERT: I wasn’t diabetic.

I was 36. #theysaid

0805

“Have you tried to lose weight?” a smirking doctor asked, when I told him I had tried everything to get rid of my chronic back pain – even though I was flat on my back three times a year because of it. I was 38. #theysaid

headshots2009

“Look I know you women hate to hear the truth, but there is such a thing as a “universal standard of beauty:” and it isn’t you. Men really don’t care about your intelligence, your wit, your charm, your job, etc. All men are genetically programmed to seek the conventionally attractive women… Men don’t want heavy women and we will never hesitate to let you know it.” – an anonymous comment to a blog where I talk about how ineffective fat-shaming is. I was 42. And married. Twice. #theysaid

This was also the same year where a “friend” confided in me what a mutual friend had to say about my size, that this person never wanted to see me hanging around because of my weight, and that I should have gone to the gym instead.

Turns out that friend did NOT say those things. So either she said them because SHE felt those things or she said them because she knew it would hurt me the worst. Either way… #theysaid.

2012Fierce

“Is this writer even a woman?” – said by a book reviewer when I dared to use actual measurements for my Rubenesque heroine, whose HUUUGE bust size was still five inches smaller than what I wore at the time. I was 46. #theysaid

2015

As you can see, scrolling through the pictures, all that “helpful” advice only made the problem worse… as if I really didn’t care to win your favor, to attract you or to make you love me any more.

And guess what?

I don’t.

It’s taken me a few decades but I’ve come to realize that body-shaming doesn’t make you a straight-shooter. It makes you an asshole. And frankly, I’m glad you don’t like me. I get to have a standard too, and shooting you straight, you just don’t measure up, buttercup.

You are one of the main reasons I have had the toughest time dropping the weight, because without this barrier that repels you I MIGHT actually have to deal with you one day, and the thought actually repels me.

When that day comes, and it will not because of you but in SPITE of you, I’ll just have to find clever new ways to repel you.

Until then, while I try to figure that out, kindly fuck off.

And have a nice day. #Isaid

 

Month One Progress. Back on track. (Sorta.)

Well today marks about one month into my new commitment to get under 200lbs by March of next year. The good news is I’ve lost weight. The bad news is it wasn’t at goal.

But progress in the right direction is still progress, or so they tell me. And my nutrition/goal tracker didn’t yell at me when I recalculated my calorie needs to get to 199 by March 26, so it still thinks it can be done.

So there’s that.

My focus this week was reversing some negative habits that were definitely hindering my progress. I used calorie restriction for the first time since i started intermittent fasting. Using SparkPeople, I started to track my food through the first part of the week. Fell off towards the last, simply because I found out something startling: I wasn’t eating as much as I thought I was eating. It was an important thing to learn. When you have an ED, your relationship with food can become horribly skewed. To see it in black and white that I wasn’t pigging out like I thought gives me new data with which to go forward in a much healthier way. When I put my foods into the calculator, even when I ate something “forbidden” like fast food or chocolate, I realized I was getting about 1500 calories per day.  Some days, I even had to work to get it up over 1000 by the end of the fasting period. It turns out that my failure to show results wasn’t necessarily because of the amount, it was the type of food I was eating. I think I’ve pinpointed the culprits down to bread and dairy, which I feel were working against me. If I bought yogurt or cheese to help get me through the week, I didn’t see the progress I wanted.

I’ve been told that dairy is inflammatory, and this would certainly suggest there’s something to that.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t binging before, generally towards the end of the fasting period, probably because my body was still physically hungry. My routine is 16/8, so I don’t eat for sixteen hours a day (from 9pm to 1pm the following day,) allowing me an eight-hour window to get my calorie needs.

Thanks to my body burning more fuel, this obviously increased my regular food intake, and right before bed which current wisdom tells us is no good. Knowing I had to log my food, that curbed a lot of desire to just keep going, like we talked about in the last blog, so some days I just didn’t, stopping at 1100 or 1300 calories. (Hence the drastic weight loss for the week, I’m sure.)

But as for my normal intake without the binges, I’m doing okay even though I’m “indulging” in the foods I like rather than going on any strict “diet.” It showed me that I have more room to play with food intake than I thought I did, particularly at the start of my day. I had been keeping it low to moderate during the day because I have a Southern cook preparing the evening meals, which are always ginormous – or so I thought.

Turns out they were running about 700 calories, even with a dessert thrown in.

This gives me a little more wiggle room, putting me back on track to what I was doing when I started intermittent fasting the first time around, where I saw so much effortless success *without* having to count calories.

Of course, I was also making much smarter decisions about food too, which I’m putting a much more concentrated effort in these days.

Back on track all the way around, I guess.

I also started walking again at work, usually putting it hand in hand with the food intake. When a coworker splurged on donuts on Friday, I allowed myself to have one – AFTER my walk. I’m trying to create real life balance that takes the emphasis off of “bad” or forbidden foods, so that I can participate in the world around me.

But I’ve been trying my best to reorganize my thinking, since physical activity is hand-in-hand with the food intake part of my process. I can’t change my body without the physical conditioning, and building strength is every bit as important as losing weight. I took it easy to start, to ease my knee and my back into things. By the end of the week I was even able to tackle the file room, so score one for building a little stamina.

Due to the lack of exercise throughout the month, I haven’t really seen any body changes. The measurements have more or less stayed the same. I think that’s my goal for the coming week, especially since I have Monday off. Sounds like an excellent opportunity to go for a walk at the park, which does more to transform my body than anything else I do. I can walk almost five miles at a stretch and it feels like nothing. It is my favorite form of exercise hands down, and, happily, the most effective.

It also renews my spirit every single time I go there, and some days I need that more than others. I think as the days get longer, I’ll be doing this after work as well. I meant to do it over the weekend, but real life intervened as it often does and I simply didn’t make it more of a priority, which I realize is a self-defeating decision at best.

Recalculating…

At any rate, I’ve met some minor goals and for that, I’ll give myself a well-deserved attagirl. I don’t hand those out as easily as I should, which is probably directly due to the perception problem I have in relation to body image, food intake and self-esteem.

Sounds like a blog for another day…

In the meantime, here’s where we stand at the end of Month One:

Weigh-In: 293.6 (-4lbs)

Measurements: 49-45-58 (+1″, same size.)

 

 

 

 

 

Fat Town.

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

open-road1

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

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

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

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

I guess you could say I’m a seeker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why stay in one place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then…

2.2.2017

Now.

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

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

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

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

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

I simply chose not to pretend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Fat Town circa 1985, when I was fifteen.

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

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

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

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

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

Only I carried around the physical manifestation of such things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food comforted. It made the hurt hurt less.

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

Well, okay!

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

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

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

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

Growing up is hard.

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

The people we love deserve to be spoiled, right?

Spoiled. What an appropriate word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I, personally, consider that a plus.

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

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

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

I guess I really AM Mjölnir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go.

So they tell me it’s bikini season.

So it’s now June and from what I understand, I need to double my efforts to get that smoking hot bikini bod ready for the beach. In fact, the issue even popped up on Fox News, where Andrea Tantaros had something to say about it.

“At this time of year, anyone with a functioning brain asks themselves that question, ‘Are you beach body ready?’” Tantaros insisted. “In fact, I ask myself that question every single day. And I bet you people who have a problem with this ad going into summer time are not beach body ready.”

Well, you got me there, Andrea. I am not beach body ready, per your bikini standards. I never have been.

I can honestly say that I have never worried whether or not I have a bikini body. That could be because I was raised in a very conservative Southern Baptist household, where such displays would be frowned upon for their inherent lack of modesty. It could be because I’ve never really been that much of a water lover. I didn’t even get the opportunity to learn to swim until I was 14, where a friend of mine promptly left me in the deep end to thrash and panic and almost drown because she thought I was “kidding” when I said I couldn’t swim. That traumatic experience made me phobic of pools and lakes and oceans, or any place where I’d be at the mercy of large amounts of water. I’m one of those weird people who is more afraid of the water than I’ll ever be of wearing a swimsuit in public. I have taken swimming lessons at the YMCA, *wearing* a size-24 bathing suit. The water? Much, MUCH more terrifying. To prove that point, here’s me in the bathing suit on a public beach in Cancun, circa 2005.

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There’s not one damn photo of me in the water.

My reticence to wear a bikini could also be because even though I was raised in the 70s/80s, laying out and getting a tan never worked for me. I’m 100% Irish. I have two shades:

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(If you think I’m speaking in hyperbole, take another look at that beach photo. If you look really close, you can even see my sunburn.)

Of course, much of it could be because I was sexually assaulted as a four-year-old, and as such I’ve never felt the burning need to show off any more nakedness than necessary to a beach full of potentially dangerous strangers. I need more than just a few inches of skimpy fabric covering a few patches of vulnerable flesh.

This body was no accident. Subconscious armor, but armor nonetheless.

Either way, I’ve never really cared to have a bikini bod. It doesn’t even make my backup list of priorities. Not even a little bit. And my brain functions just fine. (Last check, my IQ was in the 130s, and that was testing while I was high.)

What this boils down to, really, is a simple marketing issue. In order for me to fulfill my primary function as a woman (attracting a man,) I need to focus on being as sexually attractive as I can. If I don’t, there’s something inherently wrong with me and I must be shamed as a result.

Believe it or not, I have more value than what I look like three months out of the year. And that value doesn’t go up or down based on what small-minded, superficial people dismiss or discard just because I dare to show up on the sand in regular clothing.

(You can do that, by the way.)

Bikinis can and do show off a sculpted body brought about by hard work and exercise, but those who have a sculpted body usually care about their physique every month of the year, not just during “bikini” season. So the target for this kind of shaming are those who usually do not focus their attention on being as attractive as they can be, and what better time than to single them out and remind them? If you want to pin me down to a religious philosophy, it’s this: help people where you can, and if you can’t help, just don’t hurt. Shaming people helps NOBODY. It only, needlessly, hurts those who may have needed the help most of all. (A kind word goes a long way, s’all I’m saying.)

Shame is a punishment, one that callously disregards a woman’s value based upon nothing more than how she looks. This punishment, by no coincidence, that can be remedied thanks to several multi-billion dollar industries (which fund the media with their advertising dollar, perpetuating the mindset.) These industries have no problem bartering your self-esteem for their bottom line. If you felt perfect as is, they would cease to exist.

Notice I singled out “women.” For men, the newest fad – if you hadn’t heard – is the Dad Bod.

(Note all the proud Daddies showing off their bods, shirtless, out and about in public, without one ounce of shame.)

And if you match their advertisers by comparison, to see what products are being marketed when men are the primary demographic, you’d find the weight loss and “anti-aging” commercials replaced with … yes… ads for beer and pizza. Voila! Instant Dad Bod.

Guess it’s a good thing chicks dig it.

If you’re an innie instead of an outie, the whole Bikini Bod thing is just another excuse to oppress, suggesting that there are different classes of women for no other reason than simple aesthetics. Apparently this is some important work. It’s as if these yahoos think there simply isn’t ENOUGH body-shaming stuff going on every single day (bikini season or no) for those of us who really don’t prioritize making ourselves a walking, talking billboard of sexual attractiveness.

And what better way to keep us prioritized from the things that really matter?

Granted, I like to feel attractive. I like to be in relationships where I can be romanced and wooed and seduced, as an object of desire for someone I likewise desire.

I’ve never worn a bikini in. my. life… and yet, somehow I’ve managed to make that happen, simply by flexing all those other muscles that make me, me.

Shocker, I know. According to the brainiacs at Fox News listed above, I’m a freaking anomaly. Why I’m not on the cover of Vanity Fair is mind-blowing.

Oh wait, no it’s not… turns out that even if you’re a brand new woman, attractiveness is still the #1 priority for making a magazine cover. (If you don’t count tabloids.)

Personally I am OK with the idea that I’m not an object of desire for just anybody. I rather like it. The guys who gravitate to me tend to be a little deeper than those shallow pools who think that I have nothing better to think about or worry about than how I look near buckass naked on a public beach every summer.

More good news for me, according to a recent radio interview, comedian Hal Sparks talked about the missed sexual opportunities for very hot women…

Sorry, ladies, that sounds like a real bummer.

So not only do I get the more enlightened, respectful men, whose concern for the world around them goes way beyond the surface, but I also get more time to teach my lovers a thing or two, from the conscientious lovers who taught me a thing or two.

Per any ugly guy I’ve ever met, fat girls give the best head, which I guess justified their debasing themselves to sleep with them.

Mama’s got skillz, and I don’t waste them on just anybody, particularly those guys who are looking for just a streamlined lady parts’ delivery service.

“So what do you do?”

“I fight injustice where I find it, I bring joy to those who don’t have it, I fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and I try to use my voice to enlighten the masses on new ideas on how we connect to each other and how that impacts our society.”

“But do you look good naked?”

#NEXT

I’ve always found myself drawn to those who are more intellectual, more empathetic, more – oh, I dunno – human… who allow me to be a human too. They make better boyfriends, husbands and lovers all the way down the line. The men who I find desirable care more about the things going on in the world than what someone looks like three months out of the year. Their functioning brain is actually in their head, rather than their pecker.

The way I see it, you get what you advertise for. If you need to starve yourself all spring so that you can drop five or ten critical pounds in order strip down to nothing, putting yourself on display as a sex object in order to attract a guy, you can’t really blame him for treating you like a brainless collection of body parts, one he can replace by a newer, younger, thinner model whenever you cross the inevitable portal into female invisibility.

(You can run from fat. Age catches us all.)

If that’s what I lose out on by NOT working a bikini bod, I don’t really consider that a loss.

And that’s not to hate on bikini-wearers, by the way. If you want to wear one, knock yourself out. No judgment, all love. You do you. Just don’t call me stupid because I don’t find the need to do likewise, because that’s – well – stupid.

People look at me and make a lot of assumptions about me, based on the fact that I don’t have a bikini bod. The first, obviously, is that they think I’m stupid… that without their shaming me for my ignorance, I simply wouldn’t know I needed to fix anything. I’ve lived in this body for 45 years, but, without the kindness *cough* of strangers, I simply wouldn’t know my weight is a critical concern. They somehow think that what they’ve said to me I haven’t heard before, by others, or even myself. Parents, children, siblings, bosses, teachers, doctors, friends, spouses or lovers… no one EVER in my life has EVER pointed out that hey… I may not have that bikini bod and I might want to do something about it.

“Well, Ginger. You obviously didn’t listen to anyone else, so I have to say something.”

Actually, no you don’t. The possibility exists that I don’t consider being overweight the fatal flaw you do. And I don’t really have anything to prove to a total stranger who is in and out of my life within minutes, who has forgotten me long before I have forgotten you.

In 1994, I used to bike to work. A car full of guys screamed, “Go on a diet!” at me while they drove past, laughing heartily at the funny fat broad on the bicycle. I was the joke, you see, and just like the drunk assholes who heckle comedians, they thought their two cents were needed to make the joke even funnier. They probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup today… but I have never forgotten their words. And guess what? I’m still fat. It didn’t help one iota… in fact, I *gained* weight. So fuck off with any “concern” trolling. It’s just an excuse to be cruel.

You may want to shame me for not trying to attract you… but maybe… JUST MAYBE… I consider repelling cruel, superficial jerks a mark in the “win” category.

However, since being sexually attractive is part of my job as a woman, many think I need to be prodded back on track as painfully as possible, even if I’ve heard it before. Year after year. Media outlet after media outlet.

It’s the only way I’ll learn, right?

The second assumption is that I’m lazy. Because *obviously* I don’t do the CLEARLY easy work of fixing my problem, it boils down to a lack of will.

And sure. You could look at it that way… if you want to be stupid or lazy. Just because I can’t step out in a size-2 bikini doesn’t mean that I’m not actively working to make my body fitter, or making conscious choices about my health.

The fact is I know more about weight loss and healthy eating than your average bear. Three decades of trying every diet you can think of will do that to you. I’m conscious about what I eat, even when I eat the bad stuff. I know what impacts the body, in regards to sleep, stress, good foods vs. not so good foods. I can do everything right and still see a weight gain or no loss at all, and I’ve had to figure all that out, divorcing my feelings of self-worth from the “failure” of staying fat. I’m the research queen when it comes to causes I care about. Did you know that some researchers believe it is more dangerous to continually yo-yo diet every year, indulging in winter, then losing weight for summer, than it is to remain a steady constant weight with a proper diet and exercise? Losing weight is always recommended, but constant dieting, especially drastic calorie restrictive diets, ultimately do more harm than good. When I spent the first four months of 2015 exercising and eating right, barely losing 10 pounds, I could pinpoint the culprit as the stress I was living under, which was fucking with my body so much more than simple ignorance or laziness.

You can see, then, how those assumptions would be so offensive.

So no one gets to shame me when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about – which is pretty much EVERYONE making stupid and lazy assumptions about my size just because I’m big/fat/obese – whatever adjective you prefer.

The fact of the matter is that I already HAVE a beach body, because I have a body healthy enough to go to, and enjoy, the beach. It may come as a huge surprise to those in the media, but I’ve been to the beach many times. There’s no bouncer in the parking lot sending you home if you don’t fit into a bikini. People of all shapes and sizes go there and have a good time, and the world keeps on spinnin’ around.

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As for me, I still won’t be wearing a bikini anytime too soon, but that would never be my biggest concern even if I had a body people wanted to see naked on a beach.

(In doing all the emotional, intellectual dirty work to get to the root of my emotional overeating, one thing it keeps coming back to is the fear of being attractive to anyone who might do me harm. If the day ever comes I DO get a bikini bod, believe me, the people who have the most to say about it would never even see it. I’ll wait till I’m 80 and then just do it because I’m an eccentric old lady no one can tell what she can or can’t do.)

Moral of the story: don’t let anyone shame you. If you want to wear a bikini to the beach, wear a bikini to the beach. And if you want to work out, do it to make your body stronger, to be healthier and more able, to live a long life where you can annoy these pinheads as long as possible. Never, ever do it so others will love and accept you.

If they need you to be skinny to do either of those things, then they do neither of those things.