Self-Actualization after Trauma Induced Codependency: Recovering from Mental and Emotional Abuse

The journey to rediscover yourself after a series of abusive and manipulative relationships is a rocky one. For years after my personal experiences, I was left with a lingering feeling of not being good enough. I had lost my sense of personal identity. It takes quite a bit of time to retrain your brain to think positively about yourself without approval from other people and develop personal boundaries. But what are the things that lead people to enter into unhealthy relationships?

A lot of the time it has to do with your surroundings as you grew up, and what behaviors and ideas pass as acceptable in the society around you.

Growing up in a small town full of people with sexist attitudes about gender roles can instill a sense of worthlessness in a person if they don’t fulfill a specific role. I have met a lot of women who have grown up in small towns in Indiana who were raised to believe that their worth stemmed from being in a relationship and getting married by a specific time, and if that’s what you grow up being exposed to, that mentality becomes engrained in the back of your mind. Some people don’t even realize that they are training you to think that way about yourself and end up doing or saying things subconsciously that further instill this antiquated mentality into your own subconscious. For example, during the graduation ceremony for my eighth grade class, the speech made about the valedictorian (a male) included talk of how hard he worked and how smart he was whereas the speech made about the salutatorian (me, a female) merely discussed how nice I was. Not being recognized for an academic achievement from a very young age and instead being reduced to a personality trait had a lasting affect on the ways I thought about myself, and it wasn’t until years later that I truly realized how deeply it had impacted my self-esteem.

Another issue that I and many other people have faced is bullying.

This behavior is all too common in both grade school and high school, and it can further impact the self-esteem of the people who face it. While some people may handle being bullied better than others, it can still lead to a feeling of not belonging or being an outsider even when there are friends around. Sometimes the feeling of not fitting in can lead people to seek love and acceptance from the wrong people who end up manipulating them and taking advantage of their need for acceptance and belonging. Enter the narcissists.

My sophomore year of high school was when I unknowingly entered into my first emotionally abusive relationship.

At first, everything seemed new and exciting, but little did I know that I was in for a whirlwind of pain that would start a vicious cycle. The relationship lasted for six months through a move to a new town and into my junior year of high school. After a while, he had begun to use my moving away as an excuse to ignore me and sneak around, but by that point I was too emotionally invested because he had given me his grandmother’s ring. When the relationship finally ended, I was a wreck and began looking for another relationship to fill the hole that had been created which lead to yet another abusive relationship that was back and forth for five years. This one, and a six month interim relationship in one of the off periods, were both emotionally abusive as well as physically abusive.

To keep the stories straight, I will refer to them as B and D, respectively.

Again, the relationship with B started off wonderfully with a lot of love bombing, but then things started to change, and I found myself having to beg for the smallest amounts of affection. He would seemingly get bored and then regain interest with a cyclical nature and I got sick of it for a while and broke it off. A few weeks later D had come into the picture, and I fell for it yet again. Things with D happened fast, there was a proposal, and then things went downhill and according to him, it was all my fault. I had been kicked with steel toed boots, and after deciding to exercise a boundary and leave to go home, I was pinned against the door and he spat in my face. A few days later, I broke up with him. He told me he hated me, and a few hours later, he called me drunk and high on pills after crashing his car and proceeded to yell at me and tell me it was all my fault and my mom ended up going to find him and take him to the hospital.

So what did I do?

Ran straight back to B and got right back into the cycle, because by that point I had developed Stockholm syndrome and couldn’t see my own worth because these people I had trusted to hold my heart had molded me into their own personal punching bag.

By this point I had stopped doing the things I would normally love to do, but I moved yet again to continue my college education at IU, and after a few months B and I moved into an apartment together in Bloomington. Things seemed to actually be getting better, but it was too good to be true. After living together for a little over a year, the arguments started up again and he quit his job leaving me to carry the bills on my own. B never attempted to get another job while he was living with me, and eventually after another heated argument that ended with me getting thrown into a bookshelf and the cops being called, he moved out. I was very lucky that my parents were able to be there when he came to get his things, because I’m not sure what would have happened had they not been there.

Afterwards, I fell into another relationship with someone who had been a good friend for years, and while it wasn’t nearly as bad as the previous two, there were still some mild forms of manipulation there. However, by this time I had started going to therapy and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder stemming from relationship abuse and I slowly began to realize that I was getting attached to people so easily because my needs weren’t being met.

It was at this point I realized that having my needs met needed to begin with me.

I needed to learn to put myself first and start maintaining my personal boundaries in relationships, and so I did. I broke off that relationship because he and I were much better as friends than as partners. I started practicing mindfulness, allocating more time to my school work, got my grades up and began to realize that I could do things on my own regardless of whether or not there was someone there beside me to share my successes. Because that’s the thing: they were mine, and I was proud of myself. It took a long time to work myself out of the learned codependent tendencies and to realize that people’s behaviors and thoughts towards me were more of a reflection of how they felt and thought about themselves than actually about me at all.

So I stopped looking for love and began showing myself the love that I had been looking for in other people.

Sometimes as we’re growing up, we don’t truly realize how harmful certain surroundings and circumstances can be until we’re put in a position where we have to face it head on because things aren’t getting better. It’s good to be introspective and mindful about how things have impacted us so that we can make the changes that are necessary for our own personal growth, because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Once you regain a sense of personal identity outside of other people and recognize your self-worth, you begin to see things in different and more beautiful ways and are able to identify what no longer suits you. Personally, the most beautiful part of coming back into myself is being able to share my story in hopes of helping others who may be struggling with similar issues. There is always a way out of the cycle to move forward.



An Ode to My A.D.D. Brain

I’ve been meaning to write this article for awhile now…but somehow I kept forgetting. This is one example of how my Attention Deficit Disorder manifests in my daily life.

I never knew that I had A.D.D. growing up. I also never really understood what A.D.D. was, though.

One day, I went to a psychiatrist to see if I could get something for crippling anxiety and debilitating depression. I thought I’d leave with a script for a higher dose of Lexapro and maybe some Xanax, but lo and behold, I was hopping on a bus with some Vyvanse coupons and a sense of utter bewilderment. “I always did really well in school,” I thought,“what in the hell did I say in there for this doctor to diagnose me with this?” I immediately assumed the doctor was wrong (because apparently I’m smarter than all doctors), but I remembered some fellow college classmates who would have killed for a Vyvanse prescription. I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about. Maybe I’d end up cleaning my whole apartment or something? “It’s worth a try.”

It took me about a month to finally try out my stimulants, as I’m smarter than all doctors AND pharmacists. The first day I took it though, I couldn’t feel much of a difference. I did get a lot of work done that day, but I didn’t owe it to a pill. “I had a motivated day, that’s all.” After a whole week of taking them as prescribed, I started thinking to myself, “wow, I think this is actually doing something good…does this mean I have A.D.D.?”

I told my psychiatrist after 2 weeks of being on the stimulants that they actually worked. He looked at me like, “no duh” and from then on, my appointments with him have been all about my attention deficit struggles. Okay doc, I buy it.

Even though I always earned “good grades” in school, I still had A.D.D. It just manifested in different parts of my life. Now that I’m out of school, my A.D.D. bitch (let’s call her Addy) shows up loud and proud in many more noticeable ways, even if I’m medicated. Here are some things that I do that make me want to punch Addy in one of her stupid wandering eyes:

1. Needing reminders to remind me to remind myself to do things

…aaaaand they still don’t work most of the time. I’ve tried calendar invites, post it notes, e-mailing myself…I even bought a dang Apple Watch so I could record voice reminders. The thing is, if Addy isn’t in the mood to do it, she is not going to do it. Stubborn bitch.

2. Pissing off all of my friends and family by never texting them back

…okay, not NEVER, but certainly often. I’m sorry; when I open up text messages I always plan on responding to them. The issue is that I could be typing out a response when I think of something I needed to do earlier, so I close out the text message and starting working on that thing. Then when I finish that, I think to myself, “Oh! I need to text her back!” But instead of immediately going to text her, I immediately think of another thing I needed to do. That happens over and over until I go to sleep at night and wake up from an aggressive blue bubble that only says, “???” which of course I ignore, because I’m already thinking about something else.

3. Taking my Vyvanse, checking Facebook for a second, then finding myself 4 hours deep into a “New York Virtual Garage Sale” page wondering what the hell happened

I kid you not, Vyvanse is one helluva drug. It definitely helps you focus, but if you’re not careful, you’ll probably end up focusing on the wrong thing all day. Ask Addy about the time I had an obsessive shopping spree for stickers when I was supposed to get my laundry done. Wait, that’s happened on multiple occasions…

4. Asking my students “Where did I put my phone?” and “Which one of you stole my pen?” every 5 minutes

…it’s always on some random kid’s desk, or even worse, in my pocket. I used to make fun of my French teacher for being scatterbrained and crazy but…now I am her. My 7th graders think I’m nuts because I’m always bouncing back and forth from topic to topic and running around the room. To be fair though, my A.D.D. teachers were always my favorites.

Unfortunately, this extends beyond my classroom. Ask my roommates what my most asked questions are. They’d tell you: “Where the heck is my vape!?” or “Do you know where my phone is?” or “How did I lose my remote again?”

–*–*–*–*–*–

Having A.D.D. can surely wreak havoc on your life. What’s important is knowing how to control Miss Addy in a way that works for you. I’ve noticed that if I ever want to get anything done, I have to write a checklist with even the simplest of tasks included. Seriously, I’ve written “take a shower” on a checklist before so I wouldn’t forget.

I hate on Addy a lot, but I do need to recognize the good things about myself that thanks to her. So this an ode to my A.D.D. brain: thanks for my quirks, my creativity, my flexibility and my eccentricity.

But seriously…has anyone seen my phone?

Restless, IRRITABLE and Discontent

Sobriety is a beautiful experience, but it’s also a unique type of challenge. In early sobriety, there are a few rules you should abide by to stay sober:

Rule #1: Take it one day at a time. Don’t think about the problems of yesterday or let yourself “future trip.” Be present.

Rule #2: Stay away from people, places and things. In other words, distance yourself from friends who get you into trouble, bars you used to frequent, and things that might trigger you to drink or to use.

Rule #3: H.A.L.T. Never let yourself be hungry, angry, lonely or tired. These are some big triggers that drive us to relapse.

At 2 years of sobriety, I still struggle with these 3 simple rules. The most challenging for me at this moment is H.A.L.T. Right now, I’ll simply focus on the “A”, angry.

-*-*-*-*-

I’ve never considered myself to be an angry person, but I’ve always referred to myself as someone who is “easily irritated.” After all of the work that I’ve done over the last 2 years, many of the things that used to really irk me, no longer bother me. However, I’ve compiled a list of the things that still drive me crazy and put me back into that “irritable” state of mind.

1. Being Left on “Read”

No one likes to be ignored. On the other hand, not everyone ignores us on purpose. I’ll be the first one to admit that I ignore my friends and family by accident on a daily basis! The difference between ME accidentally ignoring people and others who (possibly by accident) ignore others that really pisses me off is the use of the read receipts!

For those of you who don’t know what “read receipts” are, they are the little gray reminders that someone is ignoring your text– where it says “read” and the time your text message was opened. If you’ve turned off your “read receipts,” your friends will only see the word “delivered” in small gray writing under the messages they send you.

Maybe you don’t actually know if your “read receipts” are on, and if that’s the case, my anger is not directed toward you. However, I know many people who choose to leave those receipts on. I personally think that those who keep their “read receipts” on are freaking sociopaths. Why would you CHOOSE to drive your friends and family crazy? This is pretty much a subtle, passive-aggressive way of giving someone the middle finger and saying, “what you’ve sent me is unimportant and I want you to clearly understand how annoying you are.”

2. Public Restroom Door-Knockers

Some of you may be wondering, “why does this piss you off, Zoë? They’re just being polite!” Well, I completely disagree. Let me tell you why I believe that knocking on the door of a public restroom is, indeed, NOT polite.

First of all, bathroom doors have LOCKS. Some of them even literally tell you that the bathroom is in use when the door is locked. If there’s no way of knowing if the door is locked, do you know how easily you could find out if it is? Try opening it. Groundbreaking, isn’t it??

Secondly, if you don’t want to do a quick pull on the door (for some stupid reason) and think that knocking is a better way to find out if the restroom is vacant, let me ask you this…what exactly are you expecting to get out of your knock? A frantic “OCCUPADO!” from the person sitting on the toilet you need to use? That, not only is unnecessary to answer your question (because trying the handle would have done it much faster), but it also completely interrupts the peace of the current toilet-sitter. Think back to the last time someone randomly and loudly knocked on the door while you were peeing. How did you react? You probably squealed one the following interjections: “uhhhh..someone’s in here!” or “Just a minute!” or “OcCuPiEd!!” Wasn’t that extremely awkward or uncomfortable? Your private moment of incognito bodily release was very suddenly shattered.

Lastly, if you’re knocking to try to incite panic on your fellow pee-er so they hurry up, then you’re just kind of a dick. In summary, quit disturbing my damn “pee”ce. If you knock, I’m not responding. Sorry not sorry.

3. Mumblers

As a middle school teacher, I have dealt with a fair share of mumbling students. This is frustrating, mostly because it causes students to have to repeat themselves six times in order for little Billy-Bob in the back row to hear their answer to my question. However, I understand that KIDS tend to mumble in class because they don’t feel very confident in what they are sharing in class. I have patience for mumbling kids. Whom I have zero patience for are mumbling adults.

I know several adults who are in a constant mumbling-to-whispering volume and this seriously makes my damn skin crawl. Look, I probably went to far too many rock concerts in my youth and my hearing is slightly weakened because of it, but I’m still able to hear things people say if they’re speaking at an acceptable amount of decibels. When you chew on all of your words, it leaves me (and others) in the uncomfortable situation where we have to ask you to repeat yourself so many times that it gets to the point where we just smile and nod, looking like that seal from “Finding Dory.”

In other words, and let me say it loudly so you can hear me in the back, ENUNCIATE, FOOLS!

-*-*-*-*-

We’re all human. We all do things that piss other humans off. We also all have our own lists of meaningless, little things that other humans do that inexplicably make us want to pull our hair out of our skulls. The point of writing this all down was to get it off my chest, drop the weight of the world, if you will, and to let others know that this annoying sh*t is so insignificant in the grand scheme of life, or more specifically, sobriety. Next time something small makes your eye twitch a little, be annoyed for a second and then let it go.

To get f*cked or to get f*cked over– is that the new question?

We live in a time where you pick your partners by a swipe of the finger. We judge based on looks and most interesting bio. We live in a world where “Netflix and chill” is now considered a date, instead of someone coming to pick you up to do some fun activities and then drop you off at your front door with a kiss (where the hell did the butterflies go)! We live in a world where our real life meet-cutes are, “I met them on Tinder, haha” or “I was so drunk that I just literally fell into them” or “I was twerking at the club and they said I looked hot” (how romantic).

We live in a world where marriage has turned into just a legal form, instead of two souls becoming one. Where loyalty is a word from the past, because cheating is as easy as going online or to the gym or to a bar to find your fuck. Because that’s what it is isn’t it? No one makes love anymore; no one sticks around long enough to know if this could be the one. They stick around for only right now…and people wonder why we get so “crazy” as they put it, or they are pissed because you have trust issues (oh, I’m sorry, am I supposed to ignore the world around me and how fucked it is?).

I live in a world where you are either cheating on someone or you’re getting cheated on. It doesn’t seem to matter how long a relationship has lasted– if someone catches your fancy and you get the urge, people act! No control. No one seems to think, “I’ve been with this person for 8+ years. I have 2 beautiful children with them and I have built so much with them. I can’t throw all of that away!”

I once saw a married man ask a girl, “do you want to go out to my car and fuck?” She replied, “if it was a Mercedes, sure, but it’s a Ford Fusion and your car seats are in the back so, no.” (my jaw hit the floor ladies and gents because this was an actual conversation).

I’ve seen two married people fucking around with one another, not giving a fuck if their spouses found out. On social media, he was the perfect husband: praising his wife and how much he loved her. But then he’d message this other woman saying how he wants to fuck her, asking if she can come over on Saturday because that’s when his wife will be out of town (this makes me truly sick when I see things like this).

I’m genuinely dumbfounded by it all.

I miss the concept of true love with a person, accepting them for good and bad, building a life (with them a start, middle, and end), with no fucking around, with no one cheating or having wandering eyes or leaving just because it got a little hard. But this hardly exists anymore and it is so rare to find someone with the same mindset…

So I guess, “To get fucked or to get fucked over?” really is the question.

-The Ramblings of a Madwoman

The Ramblings of a Madwoman: Panic

Panic.

This world isn’t against you, but it sure feels like it sometimes doesn’t it? It’s like, as soon as one thing goes wrong, everything else starts to fall apart. Little by little, your world feels like it’s crumbling around you.

I wear stress like it is a coat, except I wear it even when I don’t need to. It’s infused into me.  Let’s be real, stress is a bitch. It is mentally and physically draining to have everything piled on top of you. If you’re lucky, stress brings along its super fun friend, panic attacks.

Panic attacks are when your body and your mind have HAD ENOUGH. For me, panic attacks feel like:

the world

is

crashing

down,

like the floor beneath my feet has

disappeared

and I’m free-falling

and I can’t catch myself.

There is nothing to focus on

except all that is wrong,

and my heart feels like it’s coming out of my chest;

my lungs feel like they don’t get enough oxygen

and at any moment,

the little air I am getting is going to stop;

I’ve lost control.

I have hidden in many closets, bathroom stalls (gross), showers…anywhere that I think I can get a minute,

where I can let go,

without someone watching me break down and apart.

My favorite part of my panic attacks is when people tell me, “YOU JUST NEED TO BREATHE” (if you guys could see my face, you’d notice that my eyes just rolled into the back of my head).

Absolute gold, this advice! Why didn’t I think about breathing?

Other than breathing (DUH), the things that seem to help me are:

  1. Being in a area away from prying eyes

2. Trying to think of anything else I can focus on, even if it’s dumb (unicorns??)

3. Writing

4. Listening to music

5. Screaming like a crazy banshee out in a field (don’t judge until you try)

6. Axe-throwing (a Rage Room will be something I try at some point)

You could also try the crazy idea of talking to someone about what has triggered you.

Maybe these ideas won’t work for you, but sometimes just knowing others are going through something similar helps in a way. If I could at least let you know that you are not alone in your mental health struggles, then I did what I set out to do.

The Universe Screams Perception

Perception. Life is all about perception.

You know that weird thing that happens where the universe starts to send you the same message over and over again, but it takes the third, fourth, or millionth time for the message to actually come through? The message finally hits home hard enough, reverberating in your mind, and you finally say to yourself and the universe, “Okay, okay – I get it…

Lately the universe has been screaming out one word to me: Perception.

Where it started:

Late at night, as I’m trying to go to sleep, my brain loves to torture me with embarrassing things I’ve done throughout my life, dangle the tasteless words I’ve spouted at others, and really just hammer in that I’m a terrible, heartless person. After I hear a dizzying bout of my own words, I then take a deep dive into a vicious wave pool of the hurtful things friends and family have said to me (or about me) throughout my life, “Nobody really knows who you are,” “You don’t have much of a personality,” “You’re a two-faced bitch,” “You’re soulless,” all of which effectively drive the point home.

Yet, as I flail about the torrent of self-loathing, I take a minute to refocus – to reel it back in. None of that matters, what matters is where I am now. Not the big picture macro-now, I mean the micro-now. I focus on the task at hand: relaxing and getting some rest. I remind myself that the past is done, those people probably don’t remember these moments anyway. In this precise moment the past doesn’t matter, only the micro-now matters.

Where it went:

Nobody really knows who you are.” This is the late night phrase that has been sticking to me like static-y cellophane throughout even the daylight hours. I’ve just had a hard time shaking it lately. This was something casually said to me in high school by an incredibly close friend. They said it offhand, and I remember being completely jarred by it.

I always felt a tad out of place in high school, all of those kids had grown up together, I randomly showed up freshman year and most people assumed I was older because they didn’t know me. But a little over halfway into my high school career, I had become involved enough to genuinely feel like I was leaving some kind of footprint with my classmates, and like I was becoming a part of this general air of familiarity carried between these hundreds of kids.

Then my friend made that statement and it completely altered the perception I had of myself. My gut reaction to their statement was that they were wrong. But my audible response to them was, “Well, I still don’t really know most people anyway, so that’s fine.”

But it wasn’t fine. That one offhand, careless statement made by a friend… I gave those words so much power that they still have a hold over how I see myself in the eyes of others. Consistently throughout my life, well since sophomore or junior year of high school, I have always assumed people don’t know me. All because a trusted friend, an ally in life, told me so.

Where it’s going:

What has been most difficult lately is trying to understand why that memory decided to resurface so fiercely and persistently. Why has it been the ringing in my ears? Is the universe trying to communicate something to me?

Then today, the universe screamed its violent message at me, using my cousin as a catalyst. My cousin posted a video and somewhere in there she said, “Everyone in the world has a different perception, even if they’re seeing the exact same thing.” What’s comical is that this message from the universe landed like an edible – aka an hour later.

An hour after watching my cousin’s video, I sat up in a stark realization: I let the perception of another impact my own perception of myself. Which is incredibly unfortunate, I can’t help but wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed due to this lack of clarity in myself? So within the time I’ve been writing this article, I’ve been tumbling down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of realizations. Most importantly, I’ve come to understand that I stopped believing that friend’s statement long ago, their words have not been my truth for quite sometime now.

Since moving to New York and starting my career nearly four years ago, I’ve slowly been coming into my own power and understanding the impact that my voice can have. I have come to understand that I am incredibly capable of commanding a room, that I have an infallible confidence if I so call upon it, and that I have the power to decide whether I am noticed or whether I hide. I am in charge of the perception I project – whether it’s yours or mine.

. . .

Facebook Fyre Fests: Potato Head & Seuss

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Facebook Fiends have risen with the latest travesty that is responsible for tearing America apart… I think the title of the article says precisely which radical changes I’m referring to…

But if you’ve been living under a rock, or perhaps aren’t friends on social media with some bored bigots from high school, let’s do a quick recon of these changes:

  • Mr. Potato Head has changed their brand name to just Potato Head. That’s it. Just a simple rebrand, a drop of the Mr. which instantly makes it a bit more inclusive and creates more opportunities for the brand to just do more with itself. You can still buy Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head just fine. But this drop in the “Mr.” has everyone up in arms because, for the love of God what will be the next to change in the world? Why change a good thing? “What’s next?!” the bigots cry, “Will Betty White have to change her last name?!”
  • Then for the Seuss, get your Kleenex for this one, six of his books will stop being published because of ‘racist and insensitive imagery.’ Are you ready for the titles of these books, and these books alone, that are no longer going to be published? Here we go:
    • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” (never heard of it? same)
    • “If I Ran the Zoo” (never heard of it? same)
    • “McElligot’s Pool” (never heard of it? same)
    • “On Beyond Zebra!” (never heard of it? same)
    • “Scrambled Eggs Super!” (never heard of it? same)
    • “The Cat’s Quizzer” (never heard of it? same)

What’s so radical about all of these avid Facebook Fyre Starters, is that they are offended… that other people are offended…

Spin that logic to make it make sense, I won’t wait.

It’s when people get so upset over the changes like the aforementioned, that I find myself so confused as to how there is a complete lack of empathy and even ability to research the facts. Everyone was upset about Mr. Potato Head because they thought they were taking away his gender… but news-breaker, even if that was the case, potatoes don’t typically have genders anyway?? Don’t get so heated, Lisa. And Seuss? We literally don’t need those books; they cater to a dead narrative. Why would you want to read your children books that contain subliminal messages of hate?

Another Facebook Fyre I had seen recently, was uproar over changing the term of “breastfeeding” to “chestfeeding” – which admittedly I found a bit bizarre myself. But instead of coaxing a fire that was already blazing, I hopped onto Google to see why the change was happening, or being proposed – and overall I found that the change is happening because some non-binary people with the ability to reproduce are more comfortable with the term, amongst many other reasons. Okay, so it makes other people more at ease, there’s nothing wrong with that. Language changes all the time, medical terms develop all the time, this is just the latest terminology that could be used. Case closed.

Interesting how a little research, a little education, can be a path towards enlightenment. After all, ignorance is only bliss if the ignorance benefits your narrative 🙂

I think maybe the most hurtful and unnecessary comment that is tossed in these Facebook Fyres is the whole, “If you don’t like how we do things in America, just leave then.” Like… homie, you’re the one that doesn’t like what’s happening in America. The change is happening, evolution of a culture is inevitable. We are evolving, you are resisting… do you know who Charles Darwin is?

We are all entitled to freedom of speech, we all have that right, but maybe think about the big picture before sharing information that is false or hateful. What’s the point? What do you get from that? What is the benefit?

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Sharing false information makes you look stupid, and sharing hateful memes makes you a bigot.

You don’t get to decide what is true, nor do you get to decide how other people feel. That’s not the way this whole, “being a decent human” thing works.

“Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”

Bernard Meltzer

Getting the Weight Off My Chest

I have big boobs, but a little over a year ago I had BIG BOOBS. I was in the 8th grade when I got to the point where without a bra, I was in absolute agony and holding my arms tightly over my chest all day. And they only got larger from there. I wore a size C bra until I was a junior in high school, and it took an entire day to find a store that could measure me appropriately. My life up until a year ago was horrific when it came to anything that was going to be covering my chest: bras, bikini tops, t-shirts, button up shirts. Nothing fit correctly.

I assume at this point you’re asking for just a *crumb* of context, wondering, “How big were you? It couldn’t have been that bad…” and “Dating must have been easy! Guys must have been all over you, right?” Well, it’s these assumptions I’ve come to put in the same dumpster as my titties before I set it on fire.

First of all, let’s explain how big I was versus how big I am now.

I recently discovered a boob-to-pancake batter calculator, so we’re going to do it that way.

From the age of 13 to 25, I was carrying around the equivalent of 86 pancakes on my chest every day. Can you even fathom that many pancakes? I know I can’t. Now imagine, a young teenager, only five foot three inches, stumbling around the halls of junior high, with all of those hormones and angst and cringe… but now she’s carrying 86 pancakes worth of batter in a fanny pack. Not only does that sound horrifically embarrassing, but it’s just down-right cumbersome.

I’m now only carrying around a svelte 86 pancakes, which an adult body can carry better than young teen. It’s still way too many pancakes, but it is infinitely more manageable.

Here’s the chart so you can find out the grotesque amount of pancakes you carry around daily:

You would think that any well-meaning adult would want a young child to carry around an appropriate amount of pancakes, right? Wrong. I can’t tell you how many GROWN ASS WOMEN would tell me, “Oh, people pay good money for what you have!” or, “At least let them catch you a man first” or, “You’re so lucky; I wish I had boobs, but I’m so flat!”

I was literally a child, wearing ill-fitting bras that hurt me and left scars on my torso, or I was spending a whole measly Pizza Hut paycheck on a $66 bra, because at the time, there were no cheap options for people like me. I had to special-order my bikini tops from Britain. I longed to shop in the bra section at Kohl’s, but I had to trek my ass thirty mins away to the FancyPants Mall in Richpeoplestan to go to a freakin’ Nordstrom’s in order to buy something that would only scar me a little bit.

While my friends got to buy phones and video games and eat out after school everyday, I was saving money so I could have a backup bra for when mine wore out because my bra was carrying around 86 sweaty pancakes incased in meat sacks everyday. I wore a sports bra to bed at night because if I didn’t I WOULD SAG. I was 16 and if I didn’t wear a bra 24/7 I would look like a 68-year-old who burned her bra in the 70’s and didn’t care that her nips touched her knees.

But as a 16-year-old I cared quite a bit, if you can imagine. Not to mention, if I went bra-less and had to walk up stairs or move any faster than a walk… my boobs would cause black eyes for everyone in the tristate area.

This also made dress shopping an actual nightmare. I wanted to wear cute dresses that were strapless, or had fun open backs, or literally anything other than a tank top with thick straps, but it was not to be. I wore the same style of dress to everything, and while I still looked cute, I missed out on all the sassy clothes only teens can pull off.

In the picture below, where I’m in the car, notice the rut in my shoulder from the plastic clear strap of the bra I was wearing, which was four cup-sizes too small for me. I adopted the pin-up girl look, because those A-line designs were the only thing that didn’t make me look like a boob with legs. In the rock climbing picture, I’m wearing a bra that fits, but you can still see just how aggressive those things were on my chest. It honestly probably made my rock climber’s shoulder worse than it would have been. The last photo is of one of my many underwire scars from the night before my surgery.

. . .

The worst thing about having big boobs, for me at least, was how difficult they made it for me to do the things I loved to do.

I stopped riding horses and rock climbing. Rock climbing had extra challenges because my torso was three inches farther from the rock face than everyone else’s. Paired with the fact that I’m so short, it was kind of a wonder I was able to climb up to 5.10 when I was climbing regularly.

I didn’t realize how much I loved to be outside and active until after I had four pounds of tissue removed from my chest. Four pounds of pressure on my upper back that I no longer had to deal with– four pounds lighter to move around with more ease, and probably two inches slimmer in my chest. Clothes aren’t a pain in the ass anymore, at least no more so than they are for other women in general.

I get that women who are “flat-chested” want boobs, and that they would look at me and think how perfect my life must be because I have such great boobs. But it’s the same thing as hair; if you have straight hair you want it curly, and vice versa.

I know if I had started out flat that I most certainly would have envied some women and their chesticles, but let me tell you that it stops being fun and flirty at a point and starts being a literal pain in your back.

Before my surgery, I woke up everyday at a four on the pain scale and went to bed at a six. EVERYDAY. From the age of 12, my back ached constantly. I rarely took pain killers because I was so used to the pain that it didn’t seem worth it to get the few hours of reprieve, especially when I knew it would just come back and feel worse once everything wore off. My surgeon was floored that I was just now getting a reduction at 25, seeing as I had been enduring pain like that since I was 12.

To top this whole catastrophe off, I’ll answer the last question: No, my boobs did not get me boyfriends.

They only garnered me the unwanted attention of men, because especially for younger men, the bigger the boob the bigger the slut until proven otherwise. By the time a guy knew me well enough to know that I was just the unfortunate nerd host to these sentient meat sacks of pain, I was no longer a sexual interest, but also not even a romantic one. It seemed that once I was one, I couldn’t be the other to a lot of guys.

I remember one of the football players in high school that was in my journalism class had pulled me aside one day and abruptly apologized for what the football team was saying about me. I hadn’t heard anything, so I asked what he was talking about, to which he nervously looked down quickly and whispered, “You know, about your… boobs.” I had not heard what the football team was saying about me, but I’m guessing that I’m glad I didn’t. I thanked him, and I thank him everyday for being so considerate of someone he barely knew over the people he played and worked with everyday.

I didn’t start dating until I was 22, and I think my boobs had a lot to do with that. Not that my love life is on fire now, but I think that I had integrated my boobs into my personal identity, and I knew what type of attention they drew to me. So I tended to steer clear of romantic and sexual attention, preferring to sit like the heroine of a YA novel – waiting to be swept off my feet by three different men while I saved the world from, I don’t know, zombie rabbits, or something.

My big take away from my year with less boob is this: a singular body part should not define who you are.

It should not be so deeply ingrained in your psyche as “a part of you” that it keeps you from doing the things you love to do. A body part shouldn’t effect your dating life or draw unwanted attention from people simply because it’s there. And you shouldn’t have to listen to people telling you to keep a part of yourself that is causing you harm, simply because others would “love to have that” or “wish they could have that.”

You should be able to remove, or add, the things to your body that you need for your survival, both physically AND mentally, whether that be adding insulin, removing a tumor, or adding boobs. So take that statement where you want to take it, because you deserve to feel like you.

. . .

The Ramblings of a Madwoman: You Are Not Alone

Living when all I want to do is die.

This topic is a little gloomy, I must admit, but living in a time where everyone is depressed or has anxiety, I know most can relate.

I do not have a bad life, actually the opposite. I have a family who loves me and supports me, friends who are there for me always, and a boyfriend who will tell me I am beautiful every single day, and even plans our future. Maybe it is a chemical imbalance (no shame in the medication game), or things in my life have just been piling on me or my emotions are just too damn strong. Who knows why I deal with the things that I do? I just know that I do and I know others do too.

I just want you all to know that I see you and that it’s not all in your head and that I don’t think you are just seeking attention (as the ass-hats out there will tell you).

I live with severe depression and I’m not ashamed of it. If you ask me, I will tell you the truth: I do not want to be on this earth anymore. I think about death the same amount a pubescent boy thinks about boobs or sex, but unlike the horny boy who could find a quiet room to find his release, I shall never find mine. How is one suicidal but not at the same time? Well, it is something I ask myself everyday.

I joke with everyone about my depression because if I didn’t, it would be too damn sad. Most believe it is just a laugh because I am my own personal comedian, but to me it’s real; it is something I live with every single day. Thinking, “if I took this medication with this one, maybe it would work” or “if I let go of the wheel of my car at this speed right into oncoming traffic, will it be enough?” I’ve even thought of sitting out in the garage with my car on, only doped up on tons of drugs so that maybe I wouldn’t change my mind at the last minute.

Don’t worry boys and girls, I am finding a new therapist as we speak.

Also, even though I fantasize so often about my own death, I would never be able to do these things. I have loved ones who I would leave in so much confusion, in so much grief. I’m not so (trigger word alert) “damaged” or “broken” that I don’t think about those I would be leaving behind.

I live my life day by day; some days are better and some days are dark (i.e. doom, doom, doom). Those days are hard but I find it an accomplishment that I make it to my bed at the end of the day. Breathing on these days seems like a chore. Listening to others speak is a hardship. Sometimes the dark days can last a few days…or weeks, even a month, and the longer the darkness lasts, the harder fighting gets for me. As I write this, I am going on a week and everything is weighing on me: work, relationships with friends, family, the one I love, health issues. All of it feels like a pair of weighted balls (giggles like a 12 year old) attached to each of my limbs and I’m in the ocean trying to hold myself up and the longer I hold myself up the heavier the weights get–ohhh and there are sharks in the water (’cause it sounds badass).

But I also know that my depression doesn’t just affect me, it affects everyone around me. People count on me to be there and when I’m not, they are left confused as to why they think they have done something wrong (you haven’t; this one is all me). I know they worry, and it doesn’t help that I’m an open book:

“How are you today”

“Oh you know just wondering if I can pay a personal assassin to take my ass out.”

I will not lie. I will not hold it in, because if I ever get so bad that I don’t think I can fight anymore I need someone to look at me and say, “Girl you are scaring me and we need to get you some help” (don’t I know it, imaginary human in my head).

I never want anyone to think they are alone, and if you are dealing with the same things out there that I do, I SEE YOU. Look for help, be it a professional or a friend or family member. Just open up. In this day and age, it’s not weird or different to be dealing with the things we are dealing with. It might scare those around you that you feel these things but this is life or death we are talking about and people need to see the awkward uncomfortable parts to it. Don’t scare those around you without seeking help. They cannot help someone who doesn’t ask for it. Be open, be honest and be alive. Because even though my dark days are currently upon me, I know this can’t be it for me…or for you.


If you or someone you know is in immediate danger due to depression, contact 911. If you or someone you know is in need of support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454 or text “HELLO” to 741741 the Crisis Text Line.

Weakening the Weakness

I read the articles about FKA twigs’ lawsuit against her former boyfriend, Shia LaBeouf, read her recounting of the ways he abused her and I want to feel something. I want to cry, or get angry, or remember. Instead, I find myself numb. I see myself in her story and my eyes glaze over – I know the story so intimately, even though the details are not the same – and I am forced to skim the pages. I cannot bring myself to read every word. Why would I need to? I lived this.

Not with Shia LaBeouf, obviously, but with my own version: an attractive, charismatic, successful man hellbent on breaking women. A tortured soul – god knows how long I’ve spent, dissecting what neurosis might be to blame for His actions: psychopathy, sociopathy, good-old-fashioned narcissism, a dash of all of that? – who caged me in control and terror for years.

For a long time, I thought that He had chosen me because I was an easy target – someone who lacked confidence and could be controlled. This was a point of contention between me and Cindy, the therapist with whom I was doing Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – a specific type of therapy for people suffering from PTSD. One of my stuck points (a central tool of CPT) was the belief that “I am weak” – that there was something wrong with me that He had sniffed out. He had seen flaws in me, had known I was someone who could be easily preyed on. Layered on top of the oh-so-common “I am not good enough” that seemed to permeate every cell of my being, this weakness made me a lame duck. I was someone with so little confidence or belief in myself that it would take no effort to destroy me. I blamed myself for what He did. 

“What makes you believe that?” Cindy would ask, looking like she sincerely believed that I was good enough. That I was strong. That it actually puzzled her why this was a sticking point for me.

My brain knew the answer: this was what every talking head on Dateline told me, what I’d read in all those books I’d devoured to try to diagnose Him: predators looked for easy targets. Vulnerable women who could be preyed upon with minimal effort. To Cindy, I just shrugged my shoulders, spoke in sweeping generalizations. “I don’t know,” I avoided her eyes. “I just do. That’s what you always hear.” 

I did twelve sessions of this specialized therapy. Clinically, my PTSD resolved, my scores improving dramatically (there is no real “test” for PTSD, Cindy explained. She had me fill out a questionnaire to determine which symptoms I might be experiencing, what was triggering me. My initial score was 53. A score above 33 was considered to be experiencing PTSD. By my last session, my score was under 10). I felt better. However, inside I still carried around this belief: that the abuse I suffered was somehow my fault, because I had not been good enough, hadn’t been enough. That I was weak and I brought it upon myself.

I also grappled with wondering if what had happened to me was even really abuse. He never hit me. So, it shouldn’t count right? I stuffed the coercion – financial and sexual – down and pretended they didn’t exist. Pretended I wasn’t being tracked on my phone, told who to talk to or not talk to, like I had choices.

Did I even have PTSD? Certainly, according to Cindy and her diagnostic tools, yes, I very clearly did. But, as I told her – and my regular therapist – and my best friend, who was a therapist, and had been the one to tell me she thought I needed to do some CPT in the first place: I wasn’t a war veteran. I hadn’t been in combat. I felt like a poser claiming I had PTSD. 

But, I guess you might ask the friend I texted during a panic attack – feeling like I was going crazy and not able to catch my breath. Or the friend who had to break the news to me that He was in a relationship – who told me it was “scary” the kind of control He had over me, how I stayed in the bathroom for hours while He screamed at me – like it was somehow my fault He’d cheated on His girlfriend, lied to both of us – while she sat in my kitchen, listening to it all. Ask the friend who watched me shake while I opened an invitation to a wedding being held near His mountain cabin: declaring I wouldn’t be able to go. Ask my aunt who told me as I walked in the door – “Wow, you’re skinny, a little too skinny!” –because I weighed in under 100lbs for the first time since middle school. Ask them. They might not tell you I had PTSD but they’d tell you something was wrong.

So I did the CPT, and I felt better. Moved forward, mostly.

And then FKA twigs shared what happened to her. A famous, beautiful woman sharing about her experience with psychological and emotional abuse. She didn’t seem weak or vulnerable. In fact, she seemed pretty bad ass. I wondered what the talking heads on Dateline would say about her.

A few weeks after the story broke, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Natch Beaut. The host, Jackie Johnson, started discussing the allegations against Shia LaBeouf – someone she’d joked about having a crush on for years. Jackie shared that she is a survivor of abuse, and she shared her support for other survivors and thanked women like FKA twigs for coming forward to share their stories. I’d been walking my dog, but kept listening when I got home. Now, listening in my kitchen, with my earphones still in, I hunched over my kitchen sink as I heard Jackie say this: “[abusers] get more satisfaction out of dimming the shine of someone extra bright.” As her own voice started to tremble, I broke down crying, sobbing. I had to hold onto the counter to steady myself. I fell to the floor in tears. Even now, as I write this, I have to take off my glasses and squint through the flood of emotion. 

I won’t lie and say hearing that little nugget of wisdom magically made that stuck point of “I am weak” unstuck. It didn’t. I still have moments, some longer than others, when I wonder how I could have let this happen, why I didn’t leave, how I fell for all the bullshit. I see myself as I imagine others must: weak, pathetic, so desperate for love and attention that I will put up with being manipulated and lied, cheated on, used, degraded. I feel humiliated by my choices. I let myself drown in victimhood, shirk the label of “survivor” – I want to both dismiss what has happened to me (“He never hit me! I mustn’t make this a ‘thing’”) and also wallow in it (“this was not right. I deserve to be acknowledged for my pain.”), knowing I can’t have it both ways, knowing holding it will only hurt me more. 

I am glad that men like Shia LaBeouf – those in the spotlight, with power and influence – are being called out, named and I hope they will in some way be held accountable for their actions. I know that there are far too many more – especially those not in the spotlight, with power and influence over their partners – who will never be called out, or named or held accountable. I wish I were brave enough to type the name of the man I am writing about here. But I’m not. Among the veiled threats I learned to decode – the bits of information he fed to me over our time together – was how litigious he is, and I know, even if I did write his name, the consequences he would inflict upon me are greater than any he is likely to suffer. And I’m done dealing with his wrath.

I spoke to my therapist today, told her most of this. How I’d felt weak, even when Cindy told me I wasn’t. Told her I was still holding on, even when I knew I shouldn’t. I talked about FKA twigs and Shia and the Podcast. She nodded. I should start to think about being weak with a bit more flexibility, she said. She explained that I did have a vulnerability – I wanted love and affection not because I was weak – but because I was human. That He – consciously or unconsciously – exploited that, and wanted to dull someone’s shine because He saw it as superior. 

We looked at each other, through the computer screen, and I sighed. I’ve been wallowing in my victimhood for five years, waiting for something. Maybe it was this: understanding I could be vulnerable and also not at fault, all at once.