Random Life Things

Fat Part II

TW: Fatmisia/Fatphobia, ableism, diet culture, dieting, size mentions, eating disorders, weight loss drugs

In the United States of America (Land of the Free and Home of the Brave), you can legally be fired for being fat in 49 states.  In this essay, fat is not used in a derogatory manner.  Fat is just a descriptor, like thin or tall or short or white or black.  Fat people all over the world are taking back the word fat from cruel people who use it to hurl pain at others. Michigan is the only state with laws prohibiting anti-fat discrimination.  There are also six cities where discrimination against people based on their size is illegal: Binghamton, NY, Madison, WI, San Francisco, CA, Santa Cruz, CA, Urbana, IL, and Washington, DC.  Approximately 42% of Americans are considered ob*se, meaning that almost half of our citizens can legally be discriminated against for their weight.  Ob*sity or ob*se are harmful terms used to medicalize and stigmatize fat people.  I will only use them in reference to studies on or research related to ob*sity.  Each of us who lives in America has been steeped in an anti-fat stew for as long as we’ve been alive.  Some people may think it’s right or fair that someone can be fired for being fat.  It’s likely that some people believe (falsely) that fat people got that way because of their own behavior.  Some people may believe that all people above a certain weight are unhealthy, or that body positivity is only good for people up to a certain size.  As far as people’s “health concerns,” Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size cites a plethora of sources that show it is actually anti-fat bias that is correlated with illness, not fatness itself.  So why are Americans so obsessed with being thin and why are Americans so terrible to fat people?

In Sonya Renee Taylor’s revelatory book, The Body Is Not an Apology, she explains that, “it is an act of terrorism against our bodies to perpetuate body shame and to support body-based oppression.  I call this ‘body terrorism.’  Terrorism is defined as ‘the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.’  It takes no more than a brief review of the historic and present-day examples of media manipulation and legislative oppression to acknowledge that we are indeed being coerced into body shame for both economic and political reasons.”

As Virgie Tovar explains in her book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat, Fatmisia affects everyone because people are either being oppressed because they are fat or they are afraid of becoming fat because they know how awfully fat people are treated.  Fat people are treated differently because they don’t function within the norms of the default or ideal body according to society.  We aren’t straight, white, thin, middle class men (or women).  We are punished for being different, even though most people would never choose to be fat because they know about body-based oppression, even if they haven’t experienced it themselves.  While there is a small minority of people who would choose to be fat, one study showed that 16% of women surveyed would give up a year of their life to be thin.  In addition, 10% were willing to trade 2-5 years, 2% were willing to give up to ten years of their life away, and 1% said they would give 21 years or more.  People are willing to die early to be thin, which is so sad but honestly kind of makes sense because of how terribly everyone knows fat people are treated.

I want to take a moment here to address something that many of you will think I am making up: thin privilege.  Having thin privilege doesn’t mean no one has ever been mean to you because of your size or made unwanted comments about your weight, it just means that you aren’t systemically oppressed for being thin.  You can shop at almost any store you want to for clothes.  Airline seats are made with you in mind.  Your doctor is more likely to believe you about symptoms and not attribute any ailment or illness to you needing to lose weight.  You can’t legally be fired in 49 states because of your weight.  Because of sizeism, smaller fat people hold some thin privilege as well.  As briefly mentioned above, fat people have identified a spectrum of fatness.  People lower on that spectrum have still probably experienced oppression, but probably not as much of it as people higher on that spectrum.  As a midfat, I’ve probably experienced more body-based oppression than a smallfat, but relatively a lot less oppression than someone who is an infinifat.

My brother called me chubby from as early as I can remember.  Every time we would argue, and even when we weren’t arguing, he felt the need to call out my weight.  I weighed about the same as other kids my age until I hit puberty.  What my brother was saying wasn’t even true.  I didn’t start wearing clothing in sizes that couldn’t be found at most straight-sized brick and mortar stores until I was in my mid-twenties, but it stung so deeply to know that someone I loved thought I was fat.  Straight-sized people can find clothing in almost any clothing store that will fit them.  At the time, I thought fat was the worst thing a person could be.  Society, the media, and my relatives had made sure of that. 

In addition to being called chubby, my family members, friends, and even strangers have been alarmed by the fact that I don’t eat vegetables.  People love to point out that if I ate more vegetables and less junk, I would lose weight.  Everyone is always telling me I am, “just too picky.”  It is incredibly shaming and my paternal grandmother continues to ask questions like, “when are you going to grow up and eat your vegetables?”  When the DSM-V (The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual for Psychology) came out, there was a term for people who avoided certain complete categories of food- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.  ARFID.  It wasn’t that I was “just too picky,” I’d had an undiagnosed eating disorder for all of my life.  I remember one time in middle school when I decided that I wanted to be a vegetarian for moral reasons.  Since I didn’t actually eat vegetables, at the end of the second or third day of barely eating anything, I fainted.

I can remember my mom starting Weight Watchers when I was about ten.  Since she was dieting and she prepared our meals, the whole family was dieting.  I remember eating homemade Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches- one chocolate graham cracker broken in half with fat free whipped topping frozen in the middle.  They tasted pretty good and I assumed that if the adults in my life were dieting, it must be the right thing to do. 

My brother eventually stopped calling me chubby about 16 years too late when I was in high school after I had a meltdown about it.  My heart was breaking because I thought that if my brother thought I was fat, it must be true.  If I was fat, that meant I had failed as a person.  It meant I was lazy and gluttonous and wasn’t trying hard enough.  Not trying hard enough is not something people could typically accuse me of, as I tend to be an overachiever in all things.  I was especially an overachiever at dieting as a teenager.  My doctor and any number of media sources made it seem simple.  If I consumed less calories than I was burning, I would lose weight.  This was kind of a game to me.  I tried to subsist on as few calories and burn as many calories as I could.  It never worked and I always ended up compensating for the missing calories by binging later. 

Freshmen and sophomore year of college, I learned that I have a hair-trigger gag reflex and could throw up any time I wanted to. This, coupled with my deep hatred of myself, led to about a year and a half of bulimia, during which time I was the skinniest I’ve ever been.  People treated me as though I had achieved something marvelous and spectacular.  Everyone told me how great I looked.  It was wonderful and awful.  I came across some photos from that time recently and even now, with all of the knowledge I have about diet culture and Fatmisia, my first thought was, “wow.  I wish I could look like that now.”  I stopped making myself vomit sometime during sophomore year when I got into a relationship with a guy I really liked.  It was too complicated making sure I had a tooth brush and mouthwash with me after every snack or meal.  I gained the weight back, but I was still what anyone would consider straight-sized and could still purchase clothing at stores that didn’t sell plus sized clothing.  That boyfriend eventually told me I had gained too much weight and was no longer attractive.  When I told him that I had lost it all by making myself throw up, he said it would be ok with him if I started doing that again.  I didn’t resume my bulimia, but I did stay with him and feel like shit about myself for at least another year after that.  At the time, I thought, “even the person I love, who is supposed to love me, is telling me I’m not good enough because of my size.  That must mean I’m truly worthless.”

My brother and that boyfriend are not the reason I’m fat now and they surely aren’t the only people in my world who have ever commented on my weight, but that judgment from my brother about my weight as a child and pre-teen and the revelation from my then boyfriend when I was not fat still sit with me.  It breaks my heart to know how steeped in diet culture I was and how much anti-fat bias I held.  It isn’t that I don’t hold any of that bias now, but I’m much more aware of it and try to challenge it every time it pops into my head.

While I was in graduate school, I decided to go to The Bariatric Clinic in my area.  They happily prescribed a diet and phentermine, a weight loss drug that I had heard about from my cousin.  Phentermine is an appetite suppressant that is also known to cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, delirium, panic, psychosis, and heart failure.  I signed a waiver.  I didn’t care if it killed me, I, like so many others, just wanted to be thin.  I was on phentermine for a few months and lost the weight I wanted to.  I don’t remember why I stopped taking phentermine, but I’m glad that it hasn’t had any apparent long-term effects on my health.

I tried to get back on it after returning home from the Peace Corps in spite of my being straight-sized at the time.  The doctors refused.  Not because of my weight, my BMI even then categorized me as ob*se in spite of me being able to wear straight-sized clothing, but because I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder during my time in the Peace Corps, and a medication that can cause psychosis isn’t ideal for a patient that already experiences psychosis.

After I developed Bipolar Disorder, a variety of different psychiatrists tried a variety of different pharmacological treatments for me.  On one combination of medications, I gained about 40% more of my body weight in two to three months.  When I finally got around to getting a dietician this year, she was appalled.  If a drug is known to cause weight gain and that weight gain occurs as more than a specific percentage of your body weight over a specific period of time, the drug is supposed to be stopped before you gain more weight.  My doctor at the time either didn’t know that or didn’t care.  It resulted in me seeing a photograph of myself in a tank top and shorts and deciding that I didn’t deserve to live. 

I tried joining a gym.  I tried dieting.  Nothing would take away the pounds that the medicine had made me gain.  To me, being fat was such an awful thing that I deserved to die just for living in a fat body.  As a result of seeing that photo, I became suicidal.  That depressive episode turned into a mixed episode that eventually landed me in the hospital, but there was little that could be done about my fatness since I’d already gained the weight and nothing had seemed to bring it back down.  I even started taking Vyvanse, a drug prescribed for moderate to severe binge eating disorder, to try to lose the weight or to at least stop gaining.  It didn’t make me lose any weight really and I was left in a body that I absolutely hated.  I’ve told you all of this so that you have some small understanding of what my experience with diet culture and eating disorders has been like. 

What I really want to talk about is what it’s like to be a fat person with an eating disorder.  Behaviors that are frowned upon for thin people with eating disorders are encouraged for fat people with eating disorders.  If someone weighs over a certain weight, counting calories and restricting and over-exercising may be seen as desirable by health care professionals.  For people under a certain weight, that type of behavior will land you on an inpatient unit for eating disorder treatment.  In addition to dealing with my own internalized Fatmisia, I experienced very blatant Fatmisia while in treatment for my eating disorder.

From September to December of 2020, I was in treatment at a PHP and IOP for my Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and eating disorders (ARFID and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder).  My OSFED was, at the time, presenting as me skipping a lot of meals and restricting the meals I did eat to less than what I would normally eat.  I had read You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar a couple of years prior and had recently read Health At Every Size (HAES) by Lindo Bacon.  I knew that yo-yo dieting and restricting were terrible for my body, but I couldn’t seem to make myself eat three meals and two snacks a day as recommended by the dietician I was seeing as part of treatment.

That dietician, who I adore, decided that for group one day, we would talk about Health at Every Size and the voluminous research referenced in it that proves that diets don’t work and being fat isn’t a personal failure.  She told me ahead of time that we would be doing the group as she knew that I really valued HAES as a resource and way of understanding the world.  I was so excited for my friends in treatment to share in what I already knew- that being fat isn’t a personal choice or failure and that diets fail over 90% of the time.  What I mean by that is that research has shown that of those who diet and lose a substantial amount of weight, 90-92% will gain all of the weight back within 2-5 years.  Many of them will gain back more weight than they originally lost.  In addition, up to 70% of a person’s weight is actually genetic, so being fat has little to do with behavior and isn’t quite as simple as the “calories in- calories out” approach that we’ve been taught our whole lives.  I thought this information would be revelatory to my fellow eating disorder friends.  What I didn’t expect was someone I really liked and respected declaring that everyone over a certain size is unhealthy and, “I get body positivity up to a certain point, but come on.”  I called this out as fatphobia, having not yet learned the word Fatmisia, by saying in my group end check out that “fatphobia is real and pervasive” and was devastated when the response was, “well, I guess I’m just a fatphobic asshole.”  The person who said this is a person who holds a lot of thin privilege but who is oppressed in a lot of other ways.  They had always seemed really progressive, so I was shocked.  I was one of only two fat people in the room and the other fat person appeared to be asleep. 

For the life of me, I couldn’t let this experience go.  I spent weeks’ worth of therapy sessions and dietician sessions talking over and over again about how I just didn’t understand how someone who was so progressive in so many respects could still be hung up in Fatmisia.  My therapist suggested that me, my therapist, my dietician, and the person who had made the fatphobic comments should have a session together where I, the fat person, was to do the emotional labor required to educate the thin fatphobic person on how and why what they had said was harmful.  If it had been any other type of discrimination, the facility would have taken it more seriously, but they didn’t.  Instead, they did the equivalent of asking a Black, Brown, or Asian person to explain to a white person how and why racist remarks were harmful.  I was angry and I explained to my therapist that this would be asking me for a lot of emotional labor that I didn’t want to do and that it wasn’t my responsibility to do.  That therapist told me that if the Black Lives Matter movement was less angry and was mourning in the streets, they would get a lot farther.  I informed her that it isn’t Black people’s responsibility to make the movement more palatable for white people, just as it isn’t my job as a fat person to explain why fatphobia is harmful to a thin person steeped in their own Fatmisia.

I’m still shocked by that therapist’s response.  I’m still shocked that the facility didn’t step in and do anything.  I’m still shocked that the only repercussion was that the group collaboratively came up with new group norms (including anti-discrimination language) that would be overturned immediately as soon as my dietician left for private practice.  The new group norms that the facility director came up with included rules about being authentic and not thinking too much about the effect of your words before you speak.  Someone had used discriminatory language about people like me.  I told my therapist, the dietician, and my case manager.  As far as I know, there were never any consequences for the person who made the comments.  They eventually, weeks later, reached out to me via text to apologize.  I explained that I valued our friendship and that I was open to having a conversation about it, but I still needed some more time as I was still angry and hurt.  Their response was kind and understanding and was much more in line with the person I thought they were than their fatphobic comments.  We never ended up having that in-depth conversation, but I passed along some resources from the Fat Liberation Movement for them to read as well as a copy of You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar.  I have given out probably four or five copies of that book since I read it a couple of years ago.


I wasn’t ready to have a conversation with that person at the time, but if I was brave enough to reach out to them now, I would tell them this, “What you said was damaging and harmful.  Even though I’m not in the weight category you were speaking of, you were speaking of people like me and about a weight I could reach at some point in my life.  You reinforced the belief society has already beaten into my head that I’m not good enough and I never will be because I will never be thin again.  You reinforced so many hurtful messages I have received throughout my life.  You are someone I really respect, like, and trust, so it hurt worse coming from you than it would have coming from someone else.  You reinforced the idea that there’s no way for me to ever be “healthy” because I am fat.  You reinforced the idea that health is something everyone should be able to achieve, even though there’s a significant portion of the population for who that goal isn’t attainable due to chronic illness regardless of size.  I thought you were progressive, and if your feminism doesn’t include fat people and disabled people, it isn’t intersectional and you need to take a good hard look at it.”

I think there are more things I would want to say, but even months later, I am still so upset thinking about the interaction that I can’t make the words come to me and can’t make them make sense.  I’m used to messages like this from my family members.  I’m used to messages like this from society.  I’m not as used to messages like this from friends.  People think they can say stuff like this around me because I’m not that fat.  This week, I publicly made a commitment to call out fatphobia and Fatmisia when I see them.  I posted on my Facebook and my Instagram.  On Facebook, I said, “I’m done keeping quiet on other people’s fatphobic posts. I wouldn’t scroll quietly by if it was racism or ableism or homophobia and I’m not going to for Fatphobia/fatmisia anymore either. If you post something insulting or untruthful or insinuating something insulting or untruthful about fat people, expect some facts to pop up from me in your comment section.  Immigrants can be deported from New Zealand for having a BMI over 35 and you can be fired in 48 states for being fat, but I’m sure some of you still think the fatphobia is all in my head. Here’s my recommended reading list for those of you who need convincing:

The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon
You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar.”

On Instagram, I posted an excerpt from Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body is not an Apology.  It said, “fatphobia remains one of the most underdiscussed and unacknowledged forms of body terrorism.  The allure of thin privilege is frighteningly persuasive; from easy shopping to better job and romantic opportunities, society promotes and rewards thinness and punishes fat.  The pernicious lie of fatness as an individual failure of self-control, lack of discipline, evidence of gluttony and laziness all wrapped in a scientifically unsound narrative of health often leads even the most vocal intersectional social justice activists to promote weight loss and advance fatphobic body terrorism.  Stomping out fatphobia will mean challenging our friends, families’, and coworkers’ indoctrination by questioning stereotypes, sharing what we are learning about fatphobia, and asking others to learn with us.”  My comment below said, “Fatphobia/fatmisia is EVERYWHERE and is widely accepted by most people because they think fat people got that way through their own laziness and bad eating. I’m here to tell you that 70% of weight is related to GENETICS and NOT behavior or food choices. About 90% of people who diet and lose weight gain it all back (and often plus some more!) within 2-5 years. I’m asking you to think about this critically instead of just absorbing what society and medical professionals have told you. @lindobacon wrote Health at Every Size and it is a phenomenal book about what diet culture and fatphobia/fatmisia are doing to people. The excerpts above come from @sonyareneetaylor ‘s The Body Is Not an Apology and this book is a revelation. It talks about all the ways body terrorism affects everyone. It talks about the intersections of fatphobia/fatmisia and class, race, physical ability, mental health, etc etc. it’s only about 130 pages long, can be purchased on Amazon for about $17, and is guaranteed to change the way you look at the world. If you say you are concerned about fat people because of our “health”, read Health At Every Size and stop your concern trolling. Health is not a realistic thing for many chronically ill people to achieve, regardless of their body size. There are many many fat healthy people and many many thin unhealthy people and vice versa. It’s ableist to assume that everyone can and should be healthy because health is unachievable for so so many. Medical professionals contribute to this by refusing to see fat people’s health problems as anything but a symptom of their weight. People have DIED from undiagnosed cancer that their doctor just said was weight related pain. If you care about equity or justice at all, you must try to disrupt and dismantle fatphobia/fatmisia. If you call yourself a feminist, but aren’t doing this work, your feminism is hollow and incomplete.”

I’m sure that I’ll make many more posts and write many more essays about this as it’s a topic near and dear to my heart because it affects me every single day.  For now, I’ll just leave you with the reminder that all bodies are good bodies.  All human beings are inherently worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of what kind of body they live in.

Glossary of helpful terms

ARFID- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.  ARFID is an eating disorder characterized by highly selective eating habits, disturbed feeding patterns or both.

Fat- In this essay, fat is not used in a derogatory manner.  Fat is just a descriptor, like thin or tall or short or white or black.  Fat people all over the world are taking back the word fat from cruel people who use it to hurl pain at others.  I will describe myself as fat because I am fat.  If that makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to seek out resources on Fat Liberation and Fatmisia.

Fatmisia- from Simmons University, “Fatmisia (also called Fatphobia or Sizeism) is prejudice plus power; anyone of any weight or body type can have/exhibit size-based prejudice, but in North America and across the globe, thin people have the institutional power, therefore Fatmisia is a systematized discrimination or antagonism directed against fat bodies/people based on the belief that thinness is superior.”

Fatphobia- the fear and/or hatred of fat bodies

IOP- Intensive Outpatient Program.  This is a level of care that is technically outpatient, but for people who struggle and need the structure of a 3-5 day a week program.  The one I was in most recently was from 8AM- 1:30PM five days a week, then I dropped down to 8AM-1:30PM three days a week before discharge.

Ob*se- this is a harmful term used to medicalize and stigmatize fat people.  I will only use it in reference to studies on or research related to ob*sity.

Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)- a DSM-5 category that, along with unspecified feeding or eating disorder (UFED), replaces the category formerly called eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) in the DSM-IV-TR.  According to Wikipedia, “It captures feeding disorders and eating disorders of clinical severity that do not meet diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED),  avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), pica, or rumination disorder.

PHP- Partial Hospitalization Program.  This is a level of care between inpatient and outpatient for people with mental health, substance abuse, or eating disorder struggles.  They usually consist of several hours of group therapy plus individual therapy.  The one I was in most recently was from 8AM-3:30PM five days a week and I also got to meet with a dietician once a week.

Straight Sized- straight-sized people can find clothing in almost any clothing store that will fit them.  They do not have to shop in the plus size section of stores.  This is generally considered to be a size 16 and below, though some clothing brands do stop production at a size 12.  The national average size for women in America according to research published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education, is, “a Misses size 16-18, which corresponds to a Women’s Plus size 20w.

Definitions about levels of fat vary, but here is a helpful chart based on definitions from thefatlip.com:

Recommended Reading

Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon

The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
https://smile.amazon.com/Body-Not-Apology-Second-Self-Love/dp/1523090995/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+body+is+not+an+apology&qid=1613081552&sr=8-1

You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

The Fat Studies Reader edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay

My Fat Studies Amazon Wish List with books recommended by people in the Fat Studies Community

https://smile.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3MRZQIT0NIPJS?

Random Life Things

Fat

I’m writing a much longer piece about this for whatever my memoir ends up being, but this is something everyone needs to know.

Your “concern” for fat peoples’ health is actually both fat phobic AND ableist. Health is not something that every body at any size is able to achieve. Setting the bar for worthiness at being healthy is setting the bar impossibly high for many thin people, fat people, and other people in between who experience chronic illness. Someone shouldn’t have to be healthy to be worthy of basic human decency. Someone shouldn’t have to be below a certain weight to be worthy of basic human dignity. Your health policing of fat people doesn’t help and MANY studies have shown the harmful effects of anti-fat bias. Many of these studies even point to anti-fat bias as being the cause for health problems, rather than being fat being the cause for health problems. Being fat isn’t the problem- fat phobia is. The problem is a society that is willing to see a person as less than just because of their weight. The problem is covert and overt fat phobia. Next time you think you want to mention something about someone’s appearance to them, ask yourself if it’s something they could change in five minutes. If it isn’t- keep your opinions to yourself.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/fat-is-not-the-problem-fat-stigma-is/

Tragedy

Too Smart for Strangers

TW: Abduction, almost abduction, murder, sexual assault

This is a piece I wrote for what I hope will eventually become my memoir. Some people in my life know about these events, but some do not. January 17th was the anniversary of when Amber Hagerman’s body was found. Amber Hagerman’s abduction and murder were the reason for the creation of the AMBER Alert. This is a really tough one for me to share. Please try to be gentle.

It’s December 26, 2020. The time is 3:32pm. At 3:29PM I was sitting in the living room with my mother, father, and brother, when all of our phones made the emergency alarm sound. I knew, without looking, what was happening. I felt shock and fear and confusion because I KNOW I turned AMBER Alerts off on my phone while I was in residential treatment at The Refuge. Apparently, with one of the recent software updates to the iPhone, that setting changed and had to be switched back. It’s the day after Christmas. I had a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my immediate family, while Amber Hagerman’s family probably spent the holiday missing her and wishing she was with them. Every time I hear or see about an AMBER Alert, my body is flooded with chills. I am filled with grief and sorrow and guilt and shame.

Winnie the Pooh saved my life. I often say this to get a smile out of people, but the reality of the story is much more sinister. I was about four years old when I was almost abducted. We were living in Duncanville, Texas and I was picking dandelions outside in the front yard by myself when a white man pulled up in front of our brick mailbox and stopped his black pickup truck. The passenger side window was down and he said, “do you know how to get to the post office?” I shook my head no. He persisted, “Why don’t you get in the truck and show me how to get there?”

Shortly before this, my parents and I had made a trip to our local Blockbuster, a once prolific business that now has a single video rental store in Oregon. I had chosen a VHS of a film called Too Smart for Strangers with Winnie the Pooh, which explained what strangers are and how to safely avoid them. Because I had watched this movie on our living room tv one afternoon, I knew that the man in the black truck was a stranger and that I shouldn’t go with him. I had seen somewhere else that you don’t want strangers to know where you live, so I sprinted in front of the next door neighbor’s house, through their side yard, and down the alley behind our house. I flung open the gate into our backyard then ran through the back door into the kitchen. I frantically told my mother what had happened. My mother, who had pretty severe depression at the time, did not call the police. I wasn’t allowed to play outside alone anymore.

The story would be scary enough if it ended there, but a few years later, nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted by a man in a black pickup truck in Arlington, Texas less than twenty miles away from our house. She was sexually assaulted, murdered, and left in a creek behind an apartment complex less than five miles away from the abandoned Winn Dixie in Arlington where she was taken. I’ll never know for sure if it was the same man in the same black truck, but I feel somehow responsible for her death. Four year old me wasn’t capable of making the decision to call the police and alert them to the man’s suspicious behavior. Four year old me couldn’t have saved Amber. Maybe the police wouldn’t have done anything about it anyways, but I’ve always wished my parents had called them. I asked them prior to going to residential treatment at The Refuge why they didn’t call the police. They didn’t have any answers for me. I didn’t realize what a huge impact this event had on my life until shortly before I was at The Refuge when I did some EMDR surrounding it with my wonderful therapist, Alli. Up until then, it was just a story I told parts of to be funny or for shock value. With Alli and at The Refuge, I realized that thirty-one-year-old me still harbors a lot of guilt and shame about Amber’s death. I wonder if I or the adults in my life could have done anything to stop it. I wonder what would have happened if I had gotten in the truck with the man. I wonder what would have happened if my parents had called the police. I wonder if Amber would still be alive.

This story came up several times while I was at The Refuge unpacking many of the traumas I’ve experienced in my life. My dear friend, Ashley, who was in many of my trauma process groups, pointed out something important. She said that if a man was abducting children in my area, it’s unlikely that he would have stopped after he got me, and she’s right. It’s unlikely that he would have gotten all of the evil out of his system. It’s possible that I wasn’t the first kid he attempted to do this to and it’s possible that Amber wasn’t the first or the last child he took and killed. There’s no way of knowing for sure if it was even the same man since Amber’s murderer was never identified, but I find it difficult to believe there were two men in the same color and type of vehicle abducting or attempting to abduct children in the same 20 mile area. It’s devastating to me that Amber died, and it’s also true that the resulting Amber Alert has saved over 900 abducted children from meeting a similar fate. I was raised Catholic, so I have a pretty intimate relationship with guilt and shame. Recently, I’ve been trying to let go of the pain I feel every time an Amber Alert is issued. I’ve been trying to honor Amber by living my life and growing up to be someone who helps people. I’m trying to feel less survivor’s guilt and more gratitude for the fact that I knew enough not to get into a truck with a strange man. I feel that it’s important to honor that Amber, too, knew enough not to get into a truck with a strange man. A witness to her abduction said she was kicking and fighting as she was dragged into the truck. It’s painful for me that Amber knew not to get in the truck but was still taken and I managed to get away. It’s painful that our inaction could have been instrumental in the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of a nine year old girl. It’s painful that I lived and she did not. If I could speak to Amber or her family today, I would tell her that I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t call the police. I’m sorry we didn’t warn anyone about what was potentially coming. Mostly, I’m sorry that she had to die a horrific death and I got to live.

For more information about the AMBER Alert, you can visit https://amberalert.ojp.gov/.

For more information about Amber Hagerman, you can visit https://www.aetv.com/real-crime/how-did-amber-alerts-start-amber-hagerman or https://dfw.cbslocal.com/tag/amber-hagerman/

Random Life Things

Happy Birthday, Taylor Swift!

This year, for Taylor Swift’s birthday, she gave US a gift. She released the delightful album #evermore with such masterpieces as long story short, no body, no crime, and Marjorie. Marjorie was written about Taylor’s grandmother and I absolutely love the sentiment behind it. It made me think about and miss my Grandmommie a great deals. So, I decided, what better way to honor her than make a slideshow of her photos set to a song by my favorite artist? My Grandmommie endured a great deal of pain and suffering in her life, not least of which when she was diagnosed with and ultimately succumbed to Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer. To me, she was always the most beautiful woman in the world. To me, she is was a star. She was my very own Debbie Reynolds. These are just a few of the photos I have of her, but I wanted to share this slideshow because I needed a good cry and maybe you do, too.

mental health

Letter to Self

22 October 2020

Dear Catherine,

Of all the letters you have written during treatment, this one may be the most important.  I know that sometimes you feel hopeless, helpless, worthless, and like you will feel that way forever.  I want to remind you that no feeling is final.  I want to remind you that in the moment you are writing this, you feel a sense of hope, peace, and comfort in spite of the fact that there are a lot of really stressful things going on.  I want to remind you of some key elements that will help you remember how to get out of the woods when all you can see is darkness and trees. 

First of all, check the facts.  Is it really true that you don’t deserve to live or is that just your brain being mean to you?  I know you’ve done some unkind things in your life, but you’ve helped people, too.  With your courage and vulnerability, you have helped others know that it’s ok to ask for help and seek treatment when they aren’t doing well.  With your kindness, you’ve shown people that they are worthy of love and belonging.  You also learned from when you messed up.  As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  What would someone else have to do for you to feel that they don’t deserve to live?  Have you done any of those things? My guess is that no, you haven’t.  You don’t believe in the death penalty for other people, so why would you believe in it for yourself?  I know that right now it feels like these feelings will last forever, but that hasn’t historically been true.  Even when it feels like the night will last forever, the sun eventually rises.  It has without fail every time before.  You have no reason to believe it won’t this time.

You have known about self-compassion as a concept for several years now, but you hadn’t really done much work to put it into practice until recently.  You have found that when you acknowledge that you are in a moment of suffering with your hands over your heart, it can actually make you feel better, as silly as that may sound.  You have found that when you practice kindness towards yourself, acknowledge your common humanity, consider the power of hugs and gentle caresses, observe what you are feeling, describe what you are needing, remember that to err is human, and remember that suffering = pain x resistance, you are a much happier and healthier person and you judge yourself far less harshly.  I know sometimes it can feel like you are the exception.  You sometimes feel like it’s ok for everyone else in the world to make mistakes except for you.  That isn’t true.  It is true for everyone in the world including you that it’s ok to make mistakes, especially when you use them to grow and learn, which you do almost every time.

Two of your core values are vulnerability and courage.  When you live from those values and use vulnerability and courage to share your experiences, you feel like you are making a difference in this world, even if it’s just for one other person.  You know that your most read blog posts were written when you weren’t doing well.  They are open, honest, and authentic about your struggles.  When you are courageous enough to be vulnerable about how you are doing, it helps other people, but it also helps you.  You know that when you write posts like that, you get messages of love and support.  So reach out and tell someone how you are honestly doing, even if it’s only one person and you don’t currently have the capacity to write a blog post.  It will be good for you and it will be good for whoever you choose to be courageous and vulnerable with.

Advocacy is another core value of yours.  I know it’s exhausting to have to try to stick up for causes that affect you every single day.  I know it’s exhausting to feel marginalized and lonely and alone.  I also know that you have the power to impact positive change in systems and people around you.  Sometimes it feels like you don’t have the capacity to advocate, and that’s ok, too.  You have to take care of yourself before you can help make change for yourself or anyone else.  Sometimes it will feel like people expect a lot of emotional labor from you.  That’s because they do.  They always will.  As a fat and disabled woman, you’re going to be marginalized and experience oppression.  Don’t forget the myriad of ways you hold privilege, but don’t let that invalidate the oppression you experience.  People are going to expect you to explain and justify that oppression to them and to random people and to the people oppressing you.  You are not obligated to explain to someone who is hurting you how and why they are hurting you.  Someone they aren’t oppressing can do that.  Be willing to take a step back when it feels like it’s too much and allow someone else to do the education surrounding the issues that affect you.  When you have the capacity, by all means, help educate people about causes and issues that impact you.  When you don’t have the capacity, don’t feel guilty about it.  It’s also ok to speak out about things that are hurting you without having to be the person who educates the person or people doing the hurting.

It’s ok to be open to new experiences.  I know new things are scary, but they aren’t always bad.  It’s also ok to go back to old experiences that you know support you.  If you need help, reach out to your therapist, The Refuge, or Willow Place.  If you need that level of care again in the future, it isn’t something to be ashamed of.  You can feel proud knowing that you’re asking for what you need and doing what is best for yourself.  You can feel good about putting yourself first so that you are able to help others later.

I know you are struggling and suffering right now.  If you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t have sought out this letter.  I’m sorry that you don’t feel like you’re at your best right now, and I want to remind you that there is hope.  “Stay afraid, but do it anyway.” Live anyway.  Love anyway.  It won’t feel like this forever and when this feeling passes, you’ll be so grateful that you decided to stick around and actively engage in life.   

I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but I do love you. I love your laugh and your smile and your kindness.  I love the way you’re always thinking about how to help other people.  I love your intelligence and your ferocity and fierceness.  I love the way that you can imagine a better world.  I love your passion.  I love how much you love reading and traveling and sharing things you’ve baked with other people.  I love your sense of humor and your love of baking and the love and care you show River.  River loves you.  Mom and Dad love you.  Jac loves you.  Dani loves you.  Georgianna and Amelia love you.  Tiffany loves you.  Ashley loves you. Beth and Jim love you. Your family and friends love you. There are many people and beings in this world who love you exactly as you are.  They love you so much on your good days, but, my god, how they love you on your bad days.  You never expected that to be true.  You are worthy of their love, even on your worst day.  You are worthy of belonging, even on your worst day.  You are worthy of eating, even on your worst day.  You are worthy of water, even on your worst day.  You are worthy.  You are loved.  You are enough.

Love,              
Catherine  

mental health, Random Life Things, Tragedy

I’m Ashamed of My Love for Harry Potter

On May 11, 2012, I wrote a blog post about how I’ll never be ashamed of my love for Harry Potter. A lot has changed since then. While I’ll always appreciate the sense of friendship and security the books gave me, I can no longer support the author, J.K. Rowling. At first, it was a like on a transphobic tweet that she tossed up to being caused by old fingers. Because she knew how people would react to J.K.R. being transphobic. Then it was the way she treated a trans character in her Robert Galbraith books. Recently, she wrote an entire post on her website that was anti-trans. She has doubled down in her anti-trans rhetoric and even shared a link to an anti-trans website where she purchased the shirt she was wearing in the photo in a tweet. Other people have described her transphobia much more eloquently than I could, as a quick google search would show you.

I do not stand with JKR. I am disgusted by her transphobia, bigotry, and hatred. I am disgusted that when I read and re-read the books, I didn’t notice or care that she used the Goblins as caricatures of Jewish stereotypes. I didn’t notice or care that there were so few POCs represented in the books. I didn’t notice or care about the abundance of mental health and physical ableism. I used to think the Harry Potter series stood for inclusivity, but I was wrong.

This is me making it formally known: I stand with trans people and condemn the actions of J.K. Rowling. I stand with people who hold minority statuses who were not represented in her books or who were represented unfairly and inaccurately. I stand with fat people who her series ridiculed and made to seem like bad people.

As such, the web address for this site has changed. It is no longer AccioAdventure.com. I’m selling that domain name. The new domain is butdoitanyway.com in reference to the Carrie Fisher Quote that has been at the top of my site for quite some time.

Adventure

Harry Potter SIGNED Box set of Books

We’re raffling off a box set of Harry Potter books. The cardboard trunk they are in was signed by #DanielRadcliffe. It was a prize Catherine won from @lumos and the proceeds will benefit her uncle with cancer. Visit https://thatdamswim.betterworld.org/raffles/daniel-radcliffe-signed-harry-po to enter!

mental health, Random Life Things

Dear Misogyny

In treatment at The Refuge, we used a lot of narrative therapy. That means that we wrote a lot of letters to different people, emotions, and concepts. This is a letter I wrote to misogyny after several distressing interactions with men on the campus and throughout my life.

TW: Adult language, mention of sexual assault, rape culture, brief mention of eating disorder behavior

Dear Misogyny,

You hurt me every single day. You hurt everyone every single day. You hurt me when you encourage men to say, “not all men” after a woman shares her trauma story. You hurt me when men somehow think it’s a woman’s responsibility to “cultivate” the “good” men. You hurt me by making me feel like my voice doesn’t matter. You hurt me by promoting rape culture and victim blaming. You hurt me by ensuring I get paid less for equal work. You hurt me by allowing 1 in 6 women to be raped.

You hurt me by denying me access to critical health care. You hurt me by not giving me a seat at the table. You hurt me by giving men disproportionate power over me and by making them into authority figures I feel like I have to please. You hurt me by ensuring we have never had a person who looks like me as President. You hurt me by allowing men to gaslight women. You hurt me by making it feel like I have to expend energy fighting you instead of just being able to live my life.

You hurt me by making men feel entitled to my emotional labor. You hurt me by convincing men that it is somehow the duty of women to prove you exist. You hurt me with minority fatigue. You hurt me by making men feel entitled to say things about or do things I don’t want to my body. You hurt me by making me seem or feel crazy or overdramatic for speaking against you. You hurt men by making them think they can’t show emotion. You hurt men by making them think predatory behavior is just “boys being boys” or “locker room talk.” You hurt women the most, but you hurt men and nonbinary people, too.

You hurt me by making men think it is acceptable to speak over me, invalidate my feelings, or ignore what I have to say. You hurt me by elevating the voice of men over women. You hurt me by convincing men that I’m just some crazy feminist for wanting equity and a voice. You hurt me by convincing people that women are “too emotional” to hold power. I hate you, but many men in my life love you and the power you afford them, even though they deny it. Anyone who isn’t part of the solution is part of the problem. Anyone who isn’t actively fighting for gender equity and equal pay for equal work is a misogynist, though I know they don’t see themselves that way.

Fuck you for making the rape of billions of women throughout history not only possible but largely tolerated or dismissed. Fuck you for making it almost impossible to get a rapist convicted and for making it unlikely that if they are convicted, they will serve the amount of time they should. Fuck you for making women question whether or not they should come forward after a rape because of how damaging it could be to the rapist’s life. What about how damaging it was to the survivor’s life? Why is that an argument I seldom hear?

Fuck you for making men think their voices and experiences matter more. Fuck you for literally letting men get away with rape and murder. Fuck you for teaching young girls that boys being mean to them means the boys like them. Fuck you for tricking women everywhere into tolerating abhorrent behavior from men. Fuck you for making people think “what were you wearing?” and “how drunk were you?” are acceptable questions to ask survivors of sexual trauma. Fuck you for pitting women against each other to distract them from the real enemy- you. I hate you with the fire of a thousand exploding suns.

I hate you with every fiber of my being. I hate that for gender based discrimination to be acknowledged, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to prove gender based discrimination against a man. I hate that men often don’t think something is a problem unless or until it becomes a problem for them or someone they love. I hate that men claim I hate men when, in reality, it is you that I hate. I hate that women can’t express anger or dissatisfaction unless they do som calmly because otherwise they are viewed as hysterical. No one likes a mad woman.

I hate that men cry “misandry” every time someone points you out. I hate that women have to hear that they should smile more. I hate that women are slut shamed for the same behavior men are praised for. I hate how many times I have heard “you need to calm down” from men. I hate that there is a glass ceiling in need of breaking. I hate that women are taught how not to get raped instead of boys and men being taught how not to rape. I hate that you made my ex boyfriend think that me resuming my bulimia was an acceptable solution to the weight I had gained that was unattractive to him. I hate that you made him think it was ok to pressure and guilt me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I hate that when women speak up about their sexual assaults, some men respond, “you can’t rape the willing.”

I hate all of the bullshit sexist jokes about women being bad drivers or about sandwiches or about belonging barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I hate that women have to work twice as hard to get half as far. I hate that everyone cares about how many men Taylor Swift has dated but people don’t judge male celebrities with the same standards. I hate that many men look at Leia Organa and see a sex symbol instead of a badass politician who goes on to run the entire fucking resistance. I hate that women who sleep with men who are in relationships are called homewreckers, which removes all blame and accountability from the men.

I hate that Adele is a multi Grammy Award winning artist but all anyone is talking about lately is her transformation into something more desired by the male gaze. I hate the number of women serving long prison sentences for defending themselves against rapists and abusers. I hate knowing how likely women are to be killed by intimate partner violence. I hate that self-identified “incels” have gone on murderous rampages when women have rejected them because they feel so entitled to women’s time and bodies and that the media tries to pass this toxic masculinity off as a mental health problem. I hate that mass shootings are almost always carried out by white men but get blamed on mental illness when plenty of women with mental illness don’t do the same.

I hate that mentally ill people are statistically far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime and that the media still refuses to acknowledge that there is a toxic masculinity problem. I hate that idiots on the internet say that unnaturally colorful hair on women is a warning sign to stay away. (But also, my hair is purple and I would very much like for misogynists to stay far far away!). I hate the expectation that women stay home and bear children while men get to have careers and lives outside of the home. I hate that when men watch their own children, many of them refer to it as “babysitting.”

I hate that to be heard, women have to use a kind voice. Tone policing is real and it’s horse shit. I hate that women are perceived as weak. I hate that the word “pussy” is used as an insult to mean weak. I hate when men interrupt or talk over women. I hate when people refuse to acknowledge you or their own privilege. I hate when people say that men and women are equal now even though that is decidedly untrue. Injustice just makes me so furious. Manspreading makes me angry. Mansplaining makes me even angrier.

Men take up all the time, space, and energy that they want and women are judged for the same. You make all of this possible. Because of you, men are socialized to believe that their voices matter and women’s do not. They are socialized to believe that their futures matter and women’s do not. They are socialized to believe that they can make comments about women’s bodies and behaviors. Here are some examples from women I know: “You’re too pretty to smoke.” “You should smile more.” “You’d be so beautiful if you lost some weight.” “You’ve got such a pretty face.” “Women shouldn’t smoke.” “Make me a sandwich.” “What were you wearing?” “Were you drunk?” “Slut.” “Whore.” “Homewrecker.”

I hate that both men and women will judge me and think I’m being “too much” and “too emotional” for writing this letter. I hate that you are so pervasive that I have been able to easily summon pages and pages about you. I hate that I have internalized you so much that I judge other women for how they choose to dress or for their behaviors. I hate that, because of you, I sometimes view other women as competition. I hate that many men don’t believe women are systemically oppressed while simultaneously using our oppression to their advantage. I hate that women who stand up for themselves and ask for what they need are “aggressive” or a “bitch” while men are “just being assertive.”

I hate that women who want abortions are demonized but many doctors and insurance plans are birth control averse. I hate that to have my fallopian tubes removed, there was a mandated counseling session and a thirty day waiting period, but it isn’t as difficult to get a vasectomy. I hate that the burden of birth control and child rearing mostly fall on women. I hate that women experience horrendous side effects from birth control but that when male birth control was in clinical trials, it was decided that the “adverse effects” were unreasonable to expect men to handle. I hate that you allow old white policymaking men who have never met me to make decisions about what my body does or doesn’t need.

I hate that the President of this country is a sexual predator and still got elected. I hate that in many states, women have to have their husband’s permission to access permanent birth control. I hate that during the #MeToo Movement, women were accused of going on a “witch hunt” when witch hunts were historically used to murder women who were outspoken or “difficult.” I hate that women characters in media are often portrayed as one-dimensional people to move a man’s story along instead of the complex beings we actually are with agency and our own hopes and desires.

I hate that misogyny creates absolutely unrealistic expectations for how women are supposed to look and act. I hate that I feel like I have to cite a peer reviewed source every time I state a fact that a man doesn’t know or disagrees with. I hate that misogyny has given men the necessary power to use, abuse, touch, and hurt me without there being many or in fact any consequences for their actions. I hate that people will read that last sentence and wonder if I reported as is clearly my responsibility to do instead of it being men’s job to complete the very easy and simple task of just not assaulting me. I just really really really fucking hate misogyny and the fact that most men aren’t invested in dismantling the patriarchy because of the power and privilege it affords them. In conclusion, fuck you forever misogyny.

With Hate,

Catherine

mental health

The Refuge- A Healing Place

I returned home yesterday afternoon from 89 days spent in a residential treatment facility in Florida. I was at The Refuge- A Healing Place in Ocklawaha, FL. While I was there, I participated in two therapist-led groups and a 12 step or similar client-led group each day seven days a week. In addition, I received an hour of individual therapy each week and more on weeks when I needed it. It’s difficult to summarize 89 days worth of treatment, but I’d like to share some take-aways. Text in blocks of color come from the cited sources.

I’m not comfortable going into the details of my trauma at this time, but I have decided that I want to be really open and honest about the fact that I have been diagnosed with PTSD. One thing I learned at The Refuge is that my trauma is real and valid and shouldn’t be minimized. Many things played into my diagnosis of PTSD, but if you need something somewhat easier to digest, please consider my entire experience in the Peace Corps, prior to which I didn’t have symptoms of PTSD. Here is some information from Mayo Clinic about PTSD. I feel like I’ve been inauthentic in the past by using this blog to only talk about my diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder and anxiety and I’m trying to rectify that.

From The Refuge website:

When events occur that make us feel extremely frightened, threatened, or distressed we may end up developing an emotional or psychological wound. Some people may be able to move beyond this experience with the help of friends, family, and an extensive support network. However, many people do not have these resources and end up feeling very alone. This can lead to an increasing inability to cope, function in important various areas of daily living, or maintain regular routines. Often trauma victims feel that no one can understand what they went through and the suffering they experience which can cause them to withdraw from loved ones. Conversely, loved ones may realize that something is wrong with their loved one and want to help but feel confused, rejected, and unsure of what they can do to help.

There is no “normal” way to react to trauma – each person is different. Some people try to repress or forget the event by distracting themselves with other activities. Others may focus on the traumatic event constantly. There may be a drive to remain continuously active to prevent unwanted thoughts from surfacing or an individual may become overwhelmed, paralyzed by intrusive thoughts they can’t get out of their mind. Often individuals who have experienced trauma lose the ability to feel pleasure, leading to a lack of motivation to do much of anything. Some people may feel a sense of emotional numbness while others may experience emotional oversensitivity.

Often those who have survived one or more traumatic events don’t fully realize the impact it is having on their lives. At our PTSD treatment center, we want you to know that you don’t have to deal with trauma alone. We’re here to help you through this troubled time. We see each resident as an individual with unique needs and recognize your desire to belong to a community that understands you. When you become a part of our rehab center’s family, you will begin to replace the negative experiences you have lived through with the positive experiences of re-establishing positive relationships and the joy that life holds. Don’t try to go at it alone. We’re here to help.”

I was in denial about having PTSD for quite a while, but I’ so grateful that I had the opportunity to go to The Refuge and learn more about it. We primarily used narrative therapy, which means I wrote a bunch of letters to people, concepts, and emotions. I wrote a ten page letter to misogyny that I may share an edited version of on here at some point following several unsettling interactions with men on the campus.

In addition to PTSD, I realized with the help of my amazing therapist that I have authority figure issues and specifically people pleasing issues when it comes to authority figures. What I learned is that people only have as much authority as I give them. I am not obligated to do things for people just because they are in a position of authority over me. I can say “no” and it is a complete sentence.

While I knew to some degree that I struggled with Codependency prior to going to The Refuge, I have a lot more codependency issues in my life than I realized. CODA (Codependents Anonymous) lists some of the characteristics of codependents:

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.
  • I have difficulty making decisions.
  • I judge everything I think ,say, or do harshly as never “good enough.”
  • I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
  • I value others’ approval of my thinking, feelings, and behavior over my own.
  • I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.
  • I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
  • I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
  • I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • I attempt to convince others of what they “should” think and how they “truly” feel.
  • I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
  • I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
  • I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
  • I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
  • I have to be “needed” in order to have a relationship with others.

I also attended ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) meetings, and learned just how many of those characteristics I embody:

The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
  10. We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

I hope none of you ever have to seek residential treatment. But if you do, I hope you seek it at The Refuge. I’ll write more about my experience later, but this is getting pretty long, so I’ll leave you with this for now: You are worthy of love and belonging. You have the right to say no. You can say what you mean and mean what you say.

mental health

Carrie Frances Fisher (October 21, 1956- December 27, 2016)

As many of you know, I am in a residential treatment facility in Florida for my mental heath. After discussing my love for Carrie Fisher with my therapist, he gave me an assignment. The assignment was to find some way to show what I love about Carrie Fisher and what that says about what I love about me. I elected to make a collage and do some writing on the subject.

Carrie Fisher was an American actress, comedian, and writer. She was best known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars films. She was also Hollywood Royalty, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. That’s what her Wikipedia entry says, but she was so much more. Carrie Fisher was fierce, fearless, and incredibly open about her struggles with Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse, even though she was in the public eye. She was an advocate for those with mental illnesses and those with substance use disorders. By all accounts, she was funny, warm, generous, kind, and creative. She was an incredibly talented writer and storyteller. She helped the people she loved, but she also helped complete strangers.

Carrie Fisher gave me hope when I felt like I had none. Following my Bipolar I diagnosis, I felt alone and scared. She once said, “at times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with his illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” She also said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I have found each quote to be profoundly helpful in my journey with mental illness.

The memoirs Carrie Fisher wrote about her experiences with mental health and substance abuse are some of my favorite books of all time. She wrote Shockaholic, Wishful Drinking, and The Princess Diarist about her challenges with mental health, her challenges with substance use, and her affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope. Her book, Postcards From the Edge, detailed her relationship with her mother and mental health.  Candid and hilarious, her books paint a realistic portrait of what it’s like to live with Bipolar I. They show that people who make mistakes (myself included) are still whole, capable, competent, worthy people. They detail the immense pain that people like her and me feel and share tools and tactics she used to help her feel better. Her books helped me feel less alone and my hope is that someday I can help other people feel less alone with their mental health struggles, too.

Not only was Carrie Fisher a badass in real life, but she played my favorite fictional character- General Leia Organa. Many people would say that Princess Leia is their favorite, but there’s a special place in my heart for the Leia of the new trilogy. She may have been adopted into royalty, but she earned her title as General through decades of hard work and dedication. She wasn’t a perfect wife, mother, or person, but she stood up for what she believed in and ultimately sacrificed herself. She used the last of her energy to call out to her son, Ben Solo, and saved Rey, the Resistance, and the galaxy in the process. I think I find this so appealing for a variety of reasons, some of which aren’t healthy. I seem to love the idea of giving and giving and giving of myself until there’s no me left to give.

I want to be like Carrie Fisher- open about my struggles, good at writing, and a published author who is known for her humor and generosity. In some ways, we are similar. We share a diagnosis (Bipolar I), but we share more than that. I try to be generous with my time and money. I advocate for myself and others. I love writing about my mental health and my family and friends seem to enjoy reading it. I am kind and loyal. I use humor and care deeply about others. I work hard to fight for causes I believe in and I’ve spent my whole life wanting to help others. We share a love of dogs and I believe we share a deep desire to be liked and accepted by others as shown in the book Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge by Sheila Weller. The biography details Carrie’s drug use and relationships, but it also shows a woman desperate to feel love and belonging, which I can certainly relate to.

Carrie Fisher once said, “Do not let what you think they think of you make you stop and question everything you are.” She also said, “I trust myself. I trust my instincts. I know what I’m gonna’ do, what I can do, what I can’t do. I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to. But if I did, I’d be able to do it.” I hope that I can someday live up to both of these quotes as well as the strength, courage, authenticity, and vulnerability that Carrie Fisher showed. I find it awe inspiring that Carrie Fisher was aware of how important it is for validation to come from within. This is something I personally didn’t realize until spending well over a month in a residential treatment facility and having been told about it by multiple therapists during that time. While my head knew that it logically makes sense that validation from within far surpasses external validation and even though I learned about the internal locus and external locus of control in graduate school, it wasn’t something I could get my heart to believe until very recently.

It’s truly challenging for me to compare myself to such an incredible and amazing woman who remains my idol. When I sat down to write this, I knew it would be difficult. I suspected that everything I came up with would be a stretch that other people disagreed with. What I actually discovered is that I have a lot more in common with my idol than I realized. For some reason, I praise her for being a woman willing to publicly make mistakes and learn and grow, but I shame myself internally for similar mistakes, learning, and growth. If I can see Carrie Fisher as someone worthy of being my idol, maybe it’s possible that I can start to love myself more and hate myself less.