Between the Shadow and the Soul

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” ~ Carl Jung

My husband Michael is part of Mankind Project. It’s a movement that is working to help men fully embrace themselves and feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly and fully as the people they are. They are combatting the toxicity that has created a society where men are only considered manly if they express themselves with only a handful of the emotions all humans possess. Since I’m not a man, I can only bear witness to what comes of the Mankind Project within my husband and his friends, and what I have seen is a lot of positive changes and growth for both of us.

Michael is a therapist, and while he cannot and will not act as my therapist, there are things that manage to osmose through the professional life/private life barrier. Some of those things are from his education, and some of them are from seminars and what he has learned from the Mankind Project. Michael has created a safe space where I can express my emotions and separate my feelings from my thoughts. I didn’t even differentiate between thoughts and feelings until we had one of our many long talks. Sometimes those talks started as arguments that evolved into us sharing our truths and expressing our true thoughts and feelings. Our relationship keeps getting better and stronger as we become more mentally healthy.

One of the things I have resisted very hard is the idea of the “shadow self.” I’ve denied its existence and tried to justify everything I’ve ever said or done in a way that allowed me to maintain the illusion that there is no darkness within me.

But there is darkness.

Oh, yes, there is darkness.

Michael has shared with me the saying “That which you resist persists.” I take it to mean that the more I deny the existence of my shadow self, the greater the risk of the things I want to keep hidden breaking out. I must accept everything about myself in order to be the person I want to me.

Will I be sharing the details of my shadow work?

No, I will not. The journey of acknowledging and accepting the shadow self is very intimate and personal. My journey is not like anyone else’s, and my work is not like anyone else’s, so sharing the details of that work won’t be useful or helpful to anyone else. However, I may have future blog posts that are inspired by what I discover and the work that I do.

That being said, it’s time to get back to work.


Weighing Heavily On My Mind…and My Body

TW: In this post, I talk about body image, mental health, and some bullying. If I missed anything that could be a trigger, please let me know. Thanks!


The last time I was a “healthy” weight for my height was nearly forty years ago. I was a normal four-year-old child, running, playing, eating, sleeping, learning, doing all of the normal stuff kids do.

Then something really awful happened. I won’t go into the salient details (if you’re a close friend, you know, and if you’re not, you don’t need to know), but after it happened, I started gaining weight. My family also experienced food insecurity, and I developed an eating disorder. Even though I did my best to avoid eating too much, I was encouraged to clean my plate and not waste food. I was also scared that there might not be food later, so I often ate as much as I could. Eventually, I was eating without being aware of how much I had eaten until the food was gone. I couldn’t even remember eating it. I was also very active, though, so I figured the fat would go away as I got older and matured into my adult body.

Unfortunately, kids can be pretty cruel. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 32 years old, so all through public school, I was the weird fat kid who got picked on a lot. I had my small tribe of fellow weirdos, but we weren’t always in class or lunch periods together, so by the time I was in high school, I ended up bringing my lunch and eating it in the bathroom while crying because no one wanted me to sit with them, or they would come by the table where I was sitting and take the extra chairs so they could sit with their friends.

A girl in my grade who was also in the youth group at the church I attended called me “puta” all the time. When she got caught, she claimed she was saying “punta,” and nothing was ever done about it.

But I digress.

By my senior year, I had my eating fairly well under control, and I was in the best shape of my life, even though I was still considered overweight based on my weight and height. It didn’t take into account how much weight I could lift with my legs or how fast I could run at that time when my breasts were strapped down and couldn’t bounce out of my bra.

Still fat.

Still scarred.

My biggest refuge in high school was acting. I could escape myself. Even though I hated it at the time, I was always cast as the villain. I wish I had appreciated it at the time, because the villains have the most fun. But I knew I was cast as the villain because I was larger than most girls and had a deeper voice.

It was also when guys first started telling me that I looked like a man in drag. I didn’t look right. My shoulders were too broad, my walk was wrong, and I couldn’t do makeup or walk in high heels right. Even when I was close to a healthy weight, I was covered in scars in had weight in the wrong places.

Anyway, I wanted to major in theater in college. I was originally going to go to Hannibal-LaGrange College (now University), which was where my dad got his degree. He was the first person in our entire family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I went to meet the theater professor, and though she told my mother I had talent as an actor, I was too fat to perform on her stage. She told me I would need to lose 30 pounds before school started to even be a member of the chorus, much less a lead.

I ended up following a guy I was crushing on to Central Methodist College (now University) instead. I also started out in theater there, but the theater professor creeped me out so badly that I ended up switching majors. Unfortunately, I also let the guys at the school bully me out of using the weight room (I loved lifting back then) and the exercise facilities in general, and I was too shy and lacking in confidence to ask anyone to work out with me, so I ended up giving it up.

I was the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life at that time (292 pounds). I was also engaged to my first husband and at loose ends with my life. I ended up working in a hospital for a little over four years, got divorced, had a really traumatic late miscarriage, lost about 40 pounds, left my job, and moved to Chicago when I fell in love with a guy who lived there.

I had my oldest child in Chicago and lost 30 more pounds during my pregnancy, leaving the hospital weighing 220 pounds. I went back to work the day I was discharged from the hospital. I also started having back pain. They tried to give me an epidural twice when I was giving birth to my Cherry Blossom (not her real name), and both times failed, so they had to give me general anesthesia when they had to do an emergency c-section to save her.

In spite of working two jobs and taking care of my baby, I regained the weight that I had lost and then some. I had postpartum depression and was binge-eating without realizing it. I remember I once made a dozen cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing and ate almost the entire pan without realizing it. I was horrified.

I eventually left CB’s dad and moved back to Missouri. I went through a number of relationships, and we moved quite a bit. I got back down to around 230 pounds and walked quite a bit while CB was in preschool. I also got professionally diagnosed with autism, which was a relief, because it explained so much about who I was and why I was the way I was.

After leaving another bad relationship, I ended up in St. Louis with my daughter. I rented a room from my mother and her fourth husband, and I helped out around the house when I wasn’t caring for Samantha. I still did a lot of walking, and I stayed around 250 pounds.

Eventually, I met my second husband, and we got married. I was about 270 pounds at the time. My husband made it abundantly clear to anyone who dared to say anything about my weight or my looks that he loved me as I am, and he had zero tolerance for any cruelty directed at me. I was able to finally get a full-time job and get back into college to start earning a second degree while my husband earned his Master’s degree.

Then I started getting sick. I was taking my birth control pills religiously, so I thought for sure I couldn’t be pregnant. In spite of adding Tae Kwon Do to my busy schedule, I continued to gain weight and ended up 310 pounds. Eventually, I went to the doctor and found out what was wrong.

I was pregnant again. In spite of taking my birth control pills at the same time every day for years, I was pregnant.

And after the ultrasound, I found out that I was VERY pregnant. I had just earned my camouflage belt in Tae Kwon Do before I found out I was pregnant, and I was not allowed to continue once the pregnancy was confirmed. I still felt like a fierce warrior for getting so far, though.

I also ended up having to leave college because they weren’t able to accommodate my needs as an autistic person. I probably could have continued fighting it, but I was still working full-time, and I decided it wasn’t worth it to fight.

A month after finding out that I was pregnant, our house burned down due to a bad electrical job at the junction where the main electrical line entered the house, taking just about everything we owned and our three beloved cats. All of my artwork, manuscripts, books, and irreplaceable items were gone. All of the things we had been given for the baby were gone. Our home was gone.

Fortunately, our community stepped up, and our Tae Kwon Do family stepped up, and they helped us get into a new rental home and helped us get furniture for the home and clothing and shoes for all of us. The Red Cross gave us a bit of money for food and clothes. AAA was the absolute best, though. We had renter’s insurance through them (and still do), and they helped us get into a hotel and then an extended-stay hotel while we were looking for a new home.

We had just moved into our new rental home when my OB/GYN got concerned about my blood pressure and wanted me to be induced to try and prevent me from developing eclampsia. I was given two trials of pitocin before my water finally broke. They wanted to give me a third trial of pitocin, but it had been 12 hours since my water broke, so I insisted on a c-section. The epidural was successful, but they were really rough with me during the c-section because my baby had migrated to the top of my uterus in the previous 12 hours (she had been sitting head-down on my cervix when I was admitted), so they had to pretty much dig her out.

Eventually, they delivered my Sunflower (also not her real name). She only had a 1 on the APGAR and had to be resuscitated. She was not breathing. Her next APGARs were 3 and 5, and her cries were strong. They let her stay with me instead of putting her in the NICU, and they checked her blood sugar before I fed her every time I tried to feed her. I was 280 pounds when I was discharged, and I was in the hospital for a week while they tried to get my pain and blood pressure under control. Sunflower stayed with me the entire week, except for a few times when I requested respite care.

Sunflower had trouble latching, so I started pumping breast milk for her. Fortunately, someone had donated a gently-used hospital-grade breast pump, and it worked beautifully.

Unfortunately, Sunflower had bad GERD, so she regurgitated a lot of what she ate. I don’t really have any memory of her first year because I was constantly feeding her, cleaning her up, changing my clothes, pumping breast milk, and doing my best to take care of everyone’s needs. I was hooked up to a wound vac and ended up losing my job because I wasn’t covered by FMLA and couldn’t return to work as quickly as they wanted me to.

Fortunately, Michael was able to get a job where he could also fulfill his internship and provisioning needs, so we were able to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, I developed post-partum depression and had to get connected with community mental health to get back on a good emotional track. I was put on a waiting list for a therapist, but I got to meet with my caseworker regularly.

Additionally, I ended up losing my eyesight in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The eyesight in my left eye was already weak, so I ended up being deemed legally blind. Unfortunately, when I went for SSDI, they decided I didn’t have enough work credits to qualify, and when I applied for SSI, they decided my husband made too much money.

And then COVID happened, and the parks were closed, and I didn’t feel safe walking around, both because of COVID and because of people who felt the need to yell at me for being out walking with my children, even though we were all wearing masks.

And my pain got worse. I always had chronic pain from an alphabet soup of abdominal issues, but it got worse. I was scared to go to the doctor, both because of the trauma around SF’s birth and my own knowledge of how unkind medical personnel can be behind closed doors, especially towards people on Medicaid (our state expanded the financial limits, so we qualified for it again, thank goodness). I made the mistake of weighing myself on a scale.

I was 380 pounds.

I ate less, I drank more water, I ran after my kids as much as my pain would allow, but I didn’t get any smaller. I felt angry because my husband could eat whatever he wanted to whenever he wanted to and didn’t gain weight, but I stayed the same.

We ended up getting cable bundled with our internet at a reduced price than what we pay now. I discovered My 600-lb Life, and I felt sad. More than ever, I’m beginning to understand that for some people, especially those of us with chronic pain, it’s easy to gain weight whatever we do. Losing the weight without medical intervention is really, really difficult, especially as one gets older. There is no magic pill or adorable space alien who can make the fat walk away.

My weight is related to both trauma and chronic pain. I still exercise as I can. I’ve upped my water intake. I will be seeing a doctor as soon as possible to be examined and see what options I have to manage my pain and safely lose my excess weight.

I want to be healthy and strong.

I don’t want to be like this anymore. It’s not fun, and it’s not comfortable. I feel shame when I’m where anyone other than family can see me. My husband still loves me just as I am and doesn’t disparage my weight or my scars. He sees me doing my best each day, and so do my kids.

And at the end of the day, that’s all we can do.


There’s No Place Like What Could Have Been

I’m not sure how it happened, but a few months ago, I happened to stumble across an episode of Holmes on Homes on Destination: America. I was immediately hooked by Mike’s desire to help people whose homes were in bad shape. I also enjoyed how he educated his audience as he and his crew worked on the houses that were in disrepair. Eventually, I found Holmes Inspection, Buy it Right, Holmes and Holmes, and Holmes Family Rescue.

In addition to enjoying the punny titles, I enjoyed seeing the banter and underlying love between Mike and his adult children as they continued his mission to help people have safe, inhabitable homes. I even bought a gently used copy of his book, The Holmes Inspection, so I could continue to learn from him even when one of his or his kids’ shows weren’t available to watch. He also has a Twitter account and a website with an educational blog that is updated often. Thanks to Mike Holmes, his family, and his crew, I think I am better prepared for when we resume our hunt for our forever home.

There are a lot of shows out there that show home repairs by professionals, so why do Holmes and his family appeal to me so much in particular?

The truth is simple and sad: When I look at Mike Holmes, I remember the only time my father was happy when I was growing up.

You see, my father was born into poverty and worked a number of blue-collar jobs ranging from butchering animals to working on a factory line. Eventually, Dad went to work for Art Bross, a general contractor who went to the same church we did. My father had no formal construction training before he went to work for Art, but he had a keen mind and had been building things since he was very young. Dad’s strongest skill was carpentry, but he also knew how to safely run water, gas, sewer, and electric lines. Our “house” was a one-bedroom, partially gutted trailer. By the time we moved away, my father had built on a “front porch” that was actually a mudroom, two bedrooms, and a laundry room with a back door that led out to the clotheslines in the back yard. It wasn’t pretty, but it was watertight, warm in the winter, and somewhat tolerable in the summer, considering we didn’t have an air conditioner until Art gave us one.

My dad and his dad didn’t have a super-wonderful relationship. My grandpa had grown up in an abusive household and left home when he was very young, then served in the Marine Corps during World War II after he married my grandmother. I imagine he did the best he could, all things considered, and my dad gave his parents a place to live next door to us on the five acres my dad owned, but it doesn’t excuse the choices he made or how he and my grandma hurt my dad, aunts, and uncle growing up. To my dad, Art was the father he wished he’d had, and Art was happy to take Dad under his wing and teach him professionally as they worked together. Art was a man of integrity and heart, and his kindness helped my dad flourish.

It didn’t last.

Four days before Christmas in 1988, Art suffered a heart attack and died at age 66. Not only was my father suddenly unemployed before Christmas, he was suddenly without the person who had become a second father to him. It was sudden and traumatic. My father was also displaced because Art’s two “real” sons had their grief validated, as it should be, but as “just an employee,” my dad’s grief wasn’t recognized, much less validated.

Had things been different, my dad could have been the US version of Mike Holmes. He might not have been a TV star, but every home he touched would have had whatever work they needed carried out with integrity. Those projects would have built the right way, sturdy as an oak.

Unfortunately, things are what they are, and no amount of wishing will change the past. Fortunately, successful guys like Mike Holmes are around to teach what to look for in homes and contractors, and for that, I am grateful.


The Stories in the Stones

It all started with an email from a fourth cousin on

Destinie wanted my help tracking down where we were related along the Smith branch of the family tree. We both enjoy genealogy and are curious about where and how we are connected.

Little did I know that my fall down the rabbit hole would uncover one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in my maternal family’s murky history.

Growing up, my Grandma Cora would spin all sorts of wild stories about her past and her history. She was supposedly related to Jesse James. Then she had a pure Blackfoot ancestress named Little Bear Boat. She also spun tales about my mother’s biological father. By turns he was Mexican, Native American or all manner of exotic combinations.

The truth was that he was an ordinary married white guy who fathered two children on Grandma Cora and deserted her when she refused to give her second child (my mother) up for adoption. Up until then, she apparently believed that he was going to leave his wife and their many children to be with her. After she gave up on him, she married a mechanic who abused her, my mother, and the children they had together. He died at age 45, to the relief of pretty much everyone who knew him. My grandmother then married a man 14 years her junior 24 days later while her 16-year-old daughter was alone in a St. Louis hospital, giving birth to my half-sister.

Two years later, my mother married her stepfather’s younger brother, who was only two years older than her. Even though he was so young, he had been married previously. They had four children, and I, their youngest, was born seven years after they married.

But I digress.

As I tried to find out where my cousin Destinie (great name, by the way) and I were connected, I started to learn more and more about my own family. Some of the information I uncovered unlocked some of my living relatives’ memories, and the people who were just names on stones became more fleshed-out and real to me.

As I searched FindAGrave to find more information about the relatives who were no longer with us, I ran across so many people who shared my relatives’ names but had stories of their own.

And some of those names were children whose lives were cut off far too short.

And some of those names were aunts, uncles, and cousins I never got to know about because the pain of their loss was buried in time and locked away so that their parents could continue surviving and providing for their living children as best they could.

I will do my best to learn and carry their stories, and I hope that my own children and/or niblings will be interested in carrying those stories when I can no longer do so myself.

So it seems that I have taken my late Aunt Ruth’s position as family Loremaster. Remembering those who have gone on before us didn’t actually carry the title “Loremaster,” but it does now, and I will do my best to keep our family’s stories and memories alive until the day I become a memory myself.