Sample Chapter ❤
I used to believe we could find the one big reason any of us struggles with life and be fixed – good to go forever more. Now I know that idea is a fool’s errand. There is never just one WHY.
When I think about it, I’ve got at least some shit about everything.
I was adopted and I've always known it.
So it was confusing when I was thirteen and met a woman at a family gathering who exclaimed, "She looks just like her!"
Who? I didn't look at all like anyone in my family. Later, a relative filled me in: my birth mother was my uncle's stepdaughter and the person I'd just met was my birth mother's cousin.
I don’t know the whole story. With only fragments of family gossip to work with, what I understand about my biological mother is this: Married before 18, already a mother to one and with a husband in Vietnam, she got pregnant with another man’s child. Faced with losing what little she had, she chose to let me go.
My learning about the family connection meant I could probably find her if I tried. (Spoiler: While I did indeed locate her and seek contact, first at seventeen and again in my early twenties, I was firmly rebuffed and we’ve never met.)
The news also brought waves of anger. How could my uncle and his wife, the entire family, and everyone who knew my adoptive mother, support giving her a tiny baby?
Ahhh, but they didn’t know her like I did. The rest of the world saw what she wanted them to, but two of us -- one of my brothers and me -- knew what she was capable of.
She physically and emotionally abused me my entire life. I had no experience of a warm family home, a safe place to be, or a loving mother’s arms around me.
My parents raised me to know I was adopted. We had a little set of books about it, one for the parents and one for the child. My dad read me the book many times. It said I was so special that I was chosen. It said I was loved and wanted.
My dad made the book feel true for me, but I wonder what my little mind made of that book and what I was experiencing of mom. I didn’t believe at all that she wanted me and certainly never felt loved.
An older sibling tells me I was a momma’s girl as a baby. Maybe she was a loving and attentive mother to a little one she had taken in as her own? There is nothing in my experience to support it.
Did you ever see the movie Mommie Dearest? It tells the story of Christina Crawford and her adoptive mother, actress Joan Crawford. There’s a scene in the movie where Christina is woken and beaten with a wire hanger. Every stitch of clothing in her closet is thrown on the floor for her to take care of.
I had a bizarrely similar experience, minus the wire hanger thankfully. My mother found my underwear drawer looking unorganized – which was against the rules. She dumped every item out of every drawer and the entire closet too. I was to put everything back perfectly as my punishment – and be grounded for the rest of the week.
I was always grounded. Always. Often sent to bed early when neighborhood children were playing with my brother in the yard, I watched so much fun through my bedroom window growing up.
Mom used a leather belt for the smallest infractions, applied to the backs of my legs as often as my buttocks, sometimes leaving terrible welts that would take days to heal. I wore long pants in warm weather to hide them from others.
If it was unusual at thirteen to still be getting "spankings," I did not know it, but the last time my mother physically hurt me involved a shove that sent me tumbling back over furniture. The fall cracked my tailbone, creating an explosion of pain and difficulty sitting down for weeks.
Saying I received an actual injury is only an assumption as she didn’t take me to be seen.
We certainly never talked about it, but somehow that experience changed things. The leather belt remained on top of the fridge but I was never sent to bring it again.
Over the years, I’ve been asked if I believe my abuse was related to being adopted and my answer is no. If I’d been born of her body, my experience is likely to have been the same. One of my brothers can surely attest to it.
What I didn’t know then is that my mother was an alcoholic. I thought she wanted to hurt me, knew I could not please her, and I imagined she hated me. I couldn’t know then that she probably hated herself.
Just like my birth mother, my adoptive mother was married before eighteen. Within a few years, she had three children and felt miserably unhappy. Seven years before I was born, she left her little family to run away with my father. A private investigator found her six months later, pregnant with her fourth child.
It was a scandalous situation for sure in the late 1950s. Her husband divorced her and filed abandonment papers. She fought back, demanding visitation with her children and winning it – though it did not last. Her oldest child ultimately came to live with her but the younger kids stopped visiting after a short while.
Do you wonder, like I do, how a woman legally abandons children and is allowed to adopt another? This is a mystery to me to this day.
My father was also an alcoholic, though he was the classic stumbling drunk with an amiable disposition even when full of beer. At least that’s my memory of it. Dad coming home drunk, late – mom being mad. Dad always with a paper sack-covered quart between his legs, driving down the road with us kids.
My parents divorced when I was nine – a devastating thing for me, as my father’s presence was the only respite from mom’s relentless abuse. He quit drinking after that, his only way to gain visitation with us kids. Knowing what I know about alcoholism today, it’s a miracle, isn’t it? He never drank again, remaining sober until he died when I was nineteen.
My father’s alcoholism and sobriety made the discovery that mom was an alcoholic hard to understand. Dad drank beer openly and his demeanor made it obvious. Mom, it turns out, was a closet drinker. And I never knew.
All those glasses of iced tea she nursed were Long Island Iced Teas. She was drinking all day long. After I moved out at sixteen, I learned from a sibling that she kept small bottles of alcohol in the car, in the lockers at work, in the bedroom closet.
I had no clue, all those times mom was verbally abusing me, beating me, sending me to bed early, grounding me and refusing to allow friends to visit, that she was functionally drunk, completely addicted . . . and keeping us isolated at home served that purpose.
I remember feeling stunned at the time. Over the years, the information offered me a gift of perspective: It wasn’t all about me – it was about her. She was clearly hurting and constantly self-medicating. She was barely managing to love herself; is it any wonder she couldn’t love me?
Hell, maybe she did love me. She died more than ten years ago and I still don’t really know. We never had one real conversation about my childhood, her treatment of me, or her alcoholism.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually matter whether she did. I didn’t feel love from her and I made so much up about myself in that experience:
● I am unwanted.
● I am unloved.
● I am unlovable.
● I am broken.
● I am fundamentally not acceptable.
● I am a pain in the ass.
I blamed mom for making me think all of these things about myself and wished I could have experienced a different life. For so long I thought if I had, had a loving mother, I’d be a different person. And because I had the life I had, I couldn’t be loved and lovable.
These once-accepted beliefs and the Ego-based thoughts are the fears, insecurities, and self-protective mechanisms that try to hold me back.
Essence plows through all of it with love, taking me past my shit about being unloved.
I wasn’t a fat kid. Far from it, I was deliciously normal.
I was five feet, seven inches, and weighed about 135 pounds at thirteen. I had an athletic build with strong legs from an active childhood. If I met a girl today who looked just like me, I’d never think of her as fat.
By my teen years I picked up the idea that I was fat – and not very pretty.
At home I was aware that my mother was constantly dieting. Her ongoing battle with twenty or so extra pounds ruled our kitchen and poured into my life as she criticized my food choices and how I looked in clothing.
At school I compared myself to girls with slender body types and became convinced I was doing something wrong, eating something wrong, not moving enough, needing to do something different to be accepted.
By sixteen I was 150.
By eighteen I was 160.
I started telling myself I couldn’t do certain things.
● I can’t flirt with the guy I like because I’m not pretty enough. I’ll do it when my hair is longer or I can wear more makeup and feel prettier.
● I can’t try out for a dancing role in the school play because I’m not very coordinated. I’m downright clumsy, everyone knows that.
● I can’t wear those shorts because my legs are too fat. I’ll wear cute clothes when I lose weight.
A guy I liked told me I was a "big girl" and he usually dated "smaller chicks.” I internalized the idea that I needed to be skinny to be loved.
The more I focused on the idea that I wasn’t doing something right, the more I obsessed about how I should be doing something different, the more I dieted (and fell off of diets), and the heavier I got.
I was 185 at twenty-three.
230 at twenty-eight.
300 at thirty-five.
369 at fifty.
The internet opened the door of my dreams. On the internet I could be myself, write my words, speak my thoughts, give my advice, make friends, and feel connected – all without anyone ever knowing I’m FAT.
I started my business in 2002, back when we didn’t even put photos online; we used cartoon avatars. When we did start using photos, I would take a hundred pictures until I got one, of my face only, that made me look as slim as possible.
While my business projects grew, I stayed hidden. While some of my friends were traveling to do in-person things, I stayed home behind excuses that I couldn’t possibly go. Truthfully, if someone had made every way possible for me, I would have still said no. I did not want anyone to see me and know that I’m FAT.
My business partner traveled across the country for an event just three hours away from me and I wouldn’t go meet her. I couldn’t bear being seen.
In 2008 I was invited to speak on a panel at a big new media event out in California. It was a great honor, a wonderful opportunity . . . and I said no. The thought of stepping on a stage was humiliating.
The internet was faster than ever and more people were doing video – which I shied away from as long as possible. I did not want to be seen for who I was.
My insecurities screamed inside.
● Nobody wants to see a fat person on stage.
● Nobody will respect me if they know I’m this fat.
● Nobody wants to be on a plane next to a big fat woman like me.
● People think all fat people are lazy and dumb.
These thoughts crippled me and held firmly in place while it seemed the rest of the world moved forward and enjoyed opportunities.
Something finally broke for me in 2009. This was long before I tackled any mindset work. I had just had enough of my chicken behavior and decided it was time to face my fears.
I went to my first in-person event with about 150 people in attendance. It felt safe in some ways because I knew enough people who I felt would love me no matter what. I felt terrifyingly vulnerable around everyone else.
My internal dialogue throughout the event was exhausting.
● He probably thinks I’m an ugly cow.
● That guy won’t want me to sit next to him.
● I can’t go sit down, there isn’t an extra chair on either side to give me space.
● She doesn’t even recognize me. I’m so fat in person she can’t tell it’s me.
● If I eat this snack, will everyone think I’m always stuffing my face?
● Don’t reach for that dessert, you fatty.
● I wonder if she’s sorry she asked me to join her for lunch. Is she embarrassed to be seen with me?
This was my shit – but I was getting past it.
Despite wanting desperately to hide in my hotel room every minute, I forced myself to remain among others, and not just those I knew. I demanded of myself to be social with strangers, to risk the worst rejections, and make the most of the event.
It was a turning point in my life, not just for my business. It was empowering to step past every awful thought to DO something I wanted to do.
Did some people judge me? I have no doubt. Did I hear any ugly whispers? Only in the airport from strangers. Might someone I know have said something like "I didn’t know she was so fat!" behind closed doors? In my imagination, for sure. In reality, I have no idea.
Did I imagine the worst? Yes, constantly.
Did the worst happen? No. I had a wonderful time in spite of the rolling tape of shit in my head.
I returned to that event the following year as an instructor and I continued to speak there for several years afterward and began pursuing other speaking opportunities.
With every new event I attended and every stage I stepped on; my shit has continued to run.
My thoughts love to predict what other people are thinking.
● Wow, she’s REALLY fat.
● Fat people make me uncomfortable. (I’ve heard that one said.)
● I don’t want to sit by her. Please don’t let her come sit by me.
● I can’t put her on stage, she’s enormous!
● Anybody that fat is probably a slob. I don’t want to work with someone with so little self-control.
For as many whispers as I have picked up on and imagined over the years, something overshadows them.
Every time I have spoken in person, a large woman has come to thank me for showing her it is possible. They say things like:
● I’ve never seen a fat woman on a stage before. I’m so inspired!
● Now that I’ve seen you do it, I’m willing to try.
● Seeing someone who looks like me doing something so brave, my excuses are falling away.
These conversations, emails, and private messages are a gift to me and have helped me take the next big step past my own shit.
All of the years I was going to other events, people would ask me when I was hosting my own. I’d always say "No way!" I felt completely intimidated by the idea . . . but I knew why they asked.
Online, I’m a community leader. I create spaces for people to meet, learn, cooperate, and grow. It is only natural I’d want to do the same with in-person events – but my shit was standing in the way.
● Nobody wants to come to an event hosted by a fat woman.
● Speakers won’t want to be associated with my event.
● People will lose respect for me if they spend too much time with me in person. My weight will be in their face all day for three days and they’ll want to run away.
Yeah, these thoughts get ridiculous, but that’s how shit works. It takes every fear to the nth degree – whatever it takes to keep you from stepping out and experiencing all that fear.
In 2013 I started hosting my own in-person multi-speaker events. Because I got past my shit, I’ve now hosted or co-hosted twelve in-person multi-speaker events and thirteen in-person retreats.
Because I didn’t let my shit run me, I’ve had powerful up-close-and-personal impacts. I have hugged hundreds of amazing people, welcomed them into a beautiful safe space, invited them to grow into their best self, and equipped them to build successful businesses.
Side note: Do you know I used to claim not to be a hugger? For years I believed it myself. In truth, it was my shit talking.
● Nobody wants to hug your fat body.
● Your fat probably grosses him out.
● Don’t act like you want a hug, act like you hate hugs.
● Just shake her hand, don’t impose your fat on her.
Of course, we know our fears and insecurities lie – but we struggle to know when something is or isn’t untrue.
As I’ve taken more uncomfortable steps and fallen in love with what I used to run away from, I've been reexamining some of my most inaccurate beliefs about myself.
I’m pretty sure I used to claim I’m not a people person. That’s hilarious!
Shit makes me say things I don’t mean. Or at the very least, it makes me think I believe it as long as it serves the big goal of keeping me far away from pain and rejection.
In school I claimed to not like team sports. My insecurities about not being wanted made me fear being picked last. The truth is I love competition and probably would have been a great asset to any team I joined. I couldn’t see it then.
As a young woman I claimed not to be looking for a commitment from the guys I met. My insecurities about not being lovable made me more comfortable with detached experience. Truthfully, I desperately wanted them to want me to be their girlfriend. My shit kept me from showing it.
I’ve lost track of the number of things I said I didn’t care about in order to keep anyone from feeling sorry for me. Of all the risks I could take – the risk of being pitied was too terrible to face.
At nineteen, I had a one-night experience with a complete stranger. Completely out of character for me, to this day it feels like something that happened to someone else.
It was beautiful, really. Spontaneous. Sexy. It felt amazing to be wanted like that – and when it was all over, I ran like hell. The poor guy had to think I was a figment of his imagination, too.
Except our time together made a baby.
My father had passed away suddenly. I was young, broke, making six bucks an hour at work, living with roommates, and pregnant.
I fooled myself in a lot of ways about what I did and didn’t want, but I knew I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone and couldn’t bear the thought of going on welfare. It seemed to me the worst possible life for a child.
I decided before I was halfway through the pregnancy to plan for adoption, worked with a private agency, chose parents, and waited for baby to come.
Two weeks after he was born, I melted into a puddle of tears and changed my mind. With help from my sister, I called the adoption off, picked up my son, and brought him home to her house.
Four months later, I was sharing a house with my cousin, doing my best to work and be a mom. In spite of my low pay, I didn’t qualify for any assistance. I could get $44 a month in food stamps if I took one afternoon a month off to attend nutrition classes.
I never had enough money. I wrote a bad check to get baby formula and somehow avoided getting prosecuted for it. I couldn’t pay my first babysitter on time so she fired me.
I left Frankie with my cousin after that and one day she showed up at work with him.
I turned around from my desk to see my baby in a dirty onesie, and my face flushed with embarrassment. My co-workers all came running to see him but I wanted to hide him from their sight. Who brings a dirty baby to visit an office? I felt sure everyone would think I was a terrible mother.
I grabbed him and ran into my boss’s office, tears running down my face. I collapsed in a chair and held my son, feeling my heart break. I looked at my boss and said, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
Everything I ever feared before he was born was coming true. I couldn’t afford to take care of him. I couldn’t pay for daycare. I couldn’t pay for food. I had no options to change anything. We were alone and our lives would be one awful struggle after another.
“I wish I hadn’t brought him home. I should have went through with the adoption.”
In that moment I knew what I was going to do – and I did it.
Over the next twenty-four hours, I called the adoption agency, chose new parents, broke everyone’s hearts, and handed my four-and-a-half-month-old baby over to a new family who desperately wanted him and could give him everything.
My sister was devastated by my choice. She held my son that last day, looked at me over his head, and told me that whatever success I built in my life, she’d never be able to forget what I gave up to get it.
Mostly, people were incredibly kind. The conversations about placing him for adoption were awkward and stilted. I felt judgment everywhere; whether it was really there or not didn’t matter.
New shit ran and ran and ran . . .
● Only a heartless monster would give up her baby.
● She must not have loved him.
● What a selfish coward.
● She only cares about herself.
● What’s wrong with her that she could do that?
My sister’s painful words about never being able to celebrate anything good I accomplished rang in my ears when I took a promotion at work and later when I went back to school.
Years later she expressed regret and the words don’t stand between us anymore. I realize she was only speaking what I was thinking. There are times when I wonder whether some of my self-sabotage in life has been related to feelings of guilt about "giving him up."
Some days I think a better version of myself would have kept him, gone on welfare, surrendered to a tough life of living in the system until he went to school full-time, then gone back to school myself and been one of those romantic hard luck stories, getting a degree and a wonderful job after all the years of struggle and suffering.
I love that kind of story. It speaks of passionate motherhood and winning over adversity.
When I dwell on that imaginary storyline, I get mired in shit. Why wasn’t I like that? Why did I give up so easily? Did I not really love my son?
Ugh!!! Thinking about it still pulls all the right strings – but this is when I recognize my shit is at work and GET PAST IT!
I don’t hold myself back from success anymore. I am not shy or reticent about sharing my story and my success with anyone. If I’m ever blessed to meet the grown man that is my first son, I would like him to be proud of the life I’ve built.
If these were my only sources of insecurity and fear, it’d be enough – but of course I have a whole list of shit I’ve let hold me back.
● I’m a high school dropout.
● I’m a college dropout too! Clearly a loser. A big fat quitter.
● I’m bossy. Nobody likes a bossy woman.
● I’m a know-it-all with a million opinions nobody wants to hear.
● I’m divorced and never remarried.
● I’ve been in debt most of my life and don’t know how to manage money.
● Because I’ve mistreated my body, all of my health issues are my own fault. I deserve it.
● I can’t keep up with others, nobody wants to do things with me. I’m a burden.
Given enough time, my shit list can fill pages.
Some shit is big and some shit is small.
Some shit requires a little side step to get past while others call for massive leaps of faith.
Writing this chapter, telling these stories . . . it’s been emotional.
I’ve relived moments in my history, remembered the feelings, reviewed the beliefs, and brought to it the self-love I’ve adopted for myself in recent years.
It’s been beautiful, really. It has put so much of my shit into perspective.
I’m so glad I don’t let it hold me back anymore.
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