The Subtle Slave: Playing the Victim is Not the Same as Being a Victim

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I have very low tolerance for people who play the victim. By playing the victim, I mean those who like to blame others for their misfortunes and refuse to take responsibility for their own poor choices. For example, I once dated a guy  who would play his victim card anytime he needed an excuse to justify his blatant stupidity. He showed up to work hungover: “It’s because my dad left when I was just a kid and I never had a good role model.” Or you could just not drink to excess on a weeknight…or ever. He received an eviction notice because he hadn’t paid his rent in months: “If my dad wouldn’t have abandoned me I’d have someone to help me.” Or you could not blow all of your money on beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets…and pay your bills instead. He had excessive ear wax buildup: “My f*ing dad never taught me to clean my ears.” Or you could ask yourself what are these fancy cotton-tipped swabs for?  Seriously, dude, own your sh*t.  The only thing he could partially justify placing on his deadbeat dad is where he peaked on the intelligence spectrum…education and environment can only do so much to combat the effects of inferior genetics.  Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last.

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And so I am having a heck of a hard time writing this blog series.  The whole subject matter of having been in an abusive relationship makes me queasy.  I don’t like portraying myself as a victim.  I don’t like making a grand show of placing blame on the Narcissist for the ultimate demise of our marriage. After all, there are two sides to every story. I’m sure he could give you an earful of what I nightmare I was to be married to. In fact, I could give you that same earful, because, unlike my ex-boyfriend with the earwax issue, I own my sh*t.

Nevertheless, each time I sit down to write, I have to fight off my inner voice telling me to quit whining and move on and instead remind myself that telling my story serves a greater purpose, it is a means to reach out to others who need to experience healing in their lives. As I’ve said in both of my previous installments, my goal in writing the Subtle Slave series is to be a voice for those who are or have endured the abuse of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  To do so, I have to perpetually encourage myself to step out of my comfort zone in order to do what needs to be done, even if it means that I am viewed as the very thing I despise – someone playing their victim card.

In this instance, putting myself in the limelight is a necessary evil in order to achieve a greater purpose. I’m not telling my story so that others might look at me with pity and say “You poor thing, you suffered through a lot.”  Firstly, that’s complete B.S.  While it’s true that my marriage was essentially a steaming pile of cow feces from the word Go, and that I felt miserable and trapped much of the time…I did not allow myself to suffer.  Suffering is a state of mind.  If I suffered, then I had let him get the best of me. So, except for short intervals when I was exceptionally exhausted from the fight or was otherwise hyper-emotional, I would talk myself through the pain.  I would frequently give myself pep talks: “You are strong, Kristin, don’t let him break you.”, “You are smart, Kristin, don’t buy into the lies he’s feeding you.”, and “You are brave, Kristin, you can stand up against him and protect yourself and your children.”  I wasn’t looking for others to run to my rescue. I would not allow myself to be a victim.

And yet I was.  No matter how much I convinced myself to be strong or smart or brave, my pep talks did nothing to stop his rapid-fire psychological warfare.  He was as equally determined to pierce me as I was to be impenetrable.  I could keep myself from playing the victim, yet I couldn’t prevent myself from being victimized.  Not until I got out.

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Unlike normal, healthy relationships where allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the other person helps to create an environment of acceptance and increased intimacy, opening oneself up to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder only serves to provide them with a storehouse of ammo that they can later use against you. It’s a double-edged sword: by withholding you cheat yourself out of the possibility of having an authentic loving relationship, but by lowering your guard you only invite more abuse.

Intellectually, I know that most humans don’t operate the way that persons with NPD do, so I am gradually learning to deprogram myself of the safety mechanisms I had put in place for my own sake of self-preservation.  I am retraining myself to trust others.  But I’ve got to tell you, it’s scary as hell. Anyone who’s suffered through an abusive relationship with a spouse, parent, boyfriend/girlfriend, sibling, etc. knows that once you’ve been damaged, it’s hard to smooth out the dents…and even if you manage to do so, you’ll never again be in show condition.

It’s been over two years since my divorce and I often still find myself in warrior mode, guard up, ready for battle. Deprogramming takes work and vigilance not to fall back into the old patterns of thought and behavior. If you are a victim, former or present, it is imperative to surround yourself with people who 1) believe your story, 2) allow you to tell it, and 3) allow themselves to be vulnerable with you as well.  Guarded people don’t help break down the barriers of guarded people. Nowadays my personal pep talks are something along the lines of: “It’s okay to trust, Kristin, your friends aren’t conspiring to hurt you.”, “It’s okay to be vulnerable, Kristin, your friends aren’t looking to prey on your weaknesses.”, “It’s okay to love, Kristin, your friends are capable of loving you back.”

I want to extend my deepest gratitude to those who have encouraged me to tell my story, as it inspires me to press onward with my mission.  And now that I have openly confessed my fear of being viewed as a buck-passer and an attention-seeker, I can move beyond yet another of my internal roadblocks. Now I can finally start to get down to the nitty-gritty of what it’s like to live with a person with NPD and share techniques that I have learned along the way to combat their abusive tactics.  So stay tuned, folks, because sh*t’s about to get real.

Love to all,

Kristin

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P.S. If you are struggling to overcome your own victim identity, here are a few resources that may help…

Positivity Blog – How to Break Out of a Victim Mentality

Psychology Today – Emotional Abuse (Overcoming Victim Identity)

7-Mindsets: 7 Powerful Ways to Overcome the Victim Mindset

 

The Subtle Slave: IT.WAS.ABUSE.

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Thanks to my beautiful and courageous friend, Britt Hauck, who’s poem about her experience with an abusive spouse inspired me to write my own…

IT. WAS. ABUSE. 

Just because I was naïve. Just because I said yes at the altar. Does not mean it was his right. Does not mean it was not abuse.

Just because you don’t understand it. Just because you didn’t witness it with your own two eyes. Does not mean I made it all up. Does not mean it was not abuse.

Just because he claims to know Jesus. Just because “but he seems like such a nice guy.” Does not mean he wasn’t capable. Does not mean it was not abuse.

Just because he would say that he loved me. Just because he didn’t hit me often enough. Does not mean the threat wasn’t as real, the damage wasn’t as painful. Does not mean it was not abuse. 

Just because I stood up for myself. Just because I refused to go down without a fight. Does not mean I brought it on myself. Does not mean it was not abuse. 

 Just because every time I tried to tell you how bad it really was you told me I just needed to suck it up and try harder. Just because you didn’t believe my allegations. Does not mean it was all in my head. Does not mean it was not abuse. 

Just because in my desperation I made some poor choices. Just because I tried to find alternative means to escape. Does not mean that I didn’t give that relationship my all. Does not mean it was not abuse.

Just because I never could bring myself to leave. Just because, in the end, he was the one to leave me. Does not mean I wasn’t trapped. Does not mean it was not abuse.

Just because I have a resilient spirit. Just because I have found joy and peace in my life at long last. Does not mean I wasn’t abused.  IT.  WAS.  ABUSE. 

Although my poem was written with one specific person in mind (and if you are reading this, rest assured you are not that person), I know that many of our closest friends – friends that knew us both equally well – may have known our relationship was rocky, but had no inkling of what truly went on within the walls of our home. But how could they possibly know when, at the time, I didn’t fully understand it myself?

For most of my marriage, I couldn’t identify what was at the root of the constant turmoil. I knew our relationship wasn’t normal or healthy, but I was hesitant to label it as abusive. At the time, to the best of my knowledge, abuse came in four distinct flavors: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.  What I was experiencing didn’t fit nicely into any of these categories.

He did lay hands on me in anger on three occasions over the 14+ years we were together. But because the aggression was infrequent, there was no reason for me to claim a pattern of physical abuse. Additionally, I was so entangled in his manipulation tactics that I actually thought I was to blame for the attacks. I had argued with him, somehow antagonized him, which in turn provoked him to hurt me. I was ashamed, not abused.

There were never any incidents of forced intimacy, so I certainly couldn’t profess to be sexually abused.  Although, I could write for days on the ways he would use my sexual performance as a means to threaten or otherwise try to control me.  That, my friends, is a whole different twisted ball of wax, but not abuse.

Thankfully, I had entered into our relationship with a solid sense of self-confidence and an unshakable assurance of my immense value in the eyes of God. Otherwise, the constant criticisms and belittling that began on our honeymoon and only grew in intensity over the duration of our marriage may have crushed me.  But because his barbs never had their intended effect – he would shoot, but they would ricochet right off my protective armor of truth – I had no right to claim that the attacks were emotional abuse.

Of course, neglect was definitely not a fit as he would never leave me the hell alone.  No matter how much I would beg him to give me some space, he would follow me around the house goading me until I snapped. When I would scream or slam doors he would tell me that I was out of control, that he was just trying to have a conversation, why couldn’t I talk things out like a rational person?  He tried his best to micromanage every facet of my life from my ability to work outside the home to every dollar I would spend, from my private interests to my personal faith in God. Of course, I bucked against this too.  I was not a Stepford wife with a golden remote control, I was a real human with the ability to think for herself. Still, there was never a time when he didn’t have me pinned tightly under his thumb. No, he certainly was not neglectful.

And so, it wasn’t until I was free from my marriage and the stronghold he had on my daily life, that I began to grasp the level of psychological abuse I had endured. Notice all of the wrong-thinking mentioned in the examples above.  The man hit me multiple times…that’s abusive.  He manipulated me sexually…that’s abusive.  He made a sport of trying to crush my spirit…that’s abusive.  He was relentlessly overbearing…that’s abusive.  But I was coerced into viewing it differently at the time.

All those years I had been brainwashed to believe that I was crazy, that my mind wasn’t functioning properly, and that I was mentally unstable (“You’re the one on ‘crazy pills’,” he would say). I was made to think that I was the toxic one in our relationship, that I was the one who was never satisfied. I was told over and over again that because I was not actively taking to heart the wisdom he was trying to instill in me through his countless lectures, that I was sabotaging our marriage. And by lectures, I mean lengthy diatribes where I was required to sit quietly and make proper eye-contact as he scolded me about my many shortcomings. These lectures were typically followed by his action plan for me to fix my inadequacies (note: He was never wrong, so it was always up to me to make the changes.)

Worse yet, he tried to convince me that God was displeased with me because I wasn’t being a dutiful and obedient wife. It is true that I would not blindly follow my husband’s orders: not out of obstinance (I truly desired to be respectful to his wishes) but because he regularly did and said things that blatantly contradicted Biblical teaching. He would claim I was a traitor because I questioned some of his decisions and his decision-making processes. I was villified because I didn’t stand united with him as he “disciplined” our children in excessively cruel ways.  He often told me that he had been gifted with Godly wisdom, so it wasn’t necessary for his dictates to align with the Bible because both were directly from God.

Turns out, I wasn’t the crazy one after all.

Since our divorce, my health has notably improved and I have been able to ween completely off of two presciption medications I had been on for years: one an anti-depressant and the other a medication to control irregular heart palpitations.  Not surprisingly, by eliminating the main stressor in my life, my physiological symptoms were also eliminated.  My children have also thrived since the divorce.  Both their attitudes and school performances have improved.  They are no longer afraid to be imperfect because, for the first times in thier lives, they are able to experience grace in their own home. Under my roof they are allowed to follow their natural bent, not conform to their father’s every imposed choice for their lives. Where there used to be fear, there is now freedom.  Where there used to be trepidation, there is now joy.  The kids and I are finally able to go about our lives without having to constantly walk on eggshells around the Narcissist.  In many ways, it’s like we have been born again.

Hallelujah!

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P.S.  If someone you know tries to confide in you that they are being abused, don’t write them off as being overly-dramatic. Just because it may be incomprehensible to you, does not mean it’s not happening. Listen. Love. Support.

For more information on how to deal with someone with Narcissitic Personality Disorder, check out the following resources:

Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist: A Healing Guide to Transformation and Empowerment

Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to De-Value and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself

Narcissistic Abuse: A to Z Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Open Letter to Zappos.com

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The following is a letter I sent to Zappos.com customer service this evening…

Hello fun people at Zappos,

I wanted to let you know that for the first time in all the many years I’ve been a customer, I truly felt your company has let me down.

Today I intended to shop for women’s swim separates on your site because I knew you’d have a large selection to choose from. Lo and behold, I was correct. When I hit the button to browse through women’s swim bottoms up popped 1,091 items. Hooray! But my excitement was short-lived, because when I applied the ‘Plus Size’ filter to my search, all of a sudden those 1,091 items dwindled down to 10. That’s correct. You have exactly TEN items I can choose from for my size 18 derrière.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself, my Zappos friends… I am a beautifully well-proportioned woman. Although, technically, my BMI would land me somewhere in the ridiculously exaggerated catagory of ‘obese’, my size does not define my attractiveness. At age 43, I am extremely comfortable and confident with my body just the way it is and I enjoy prancing around in my bathing suit far more nowadays than I ever did nearly 30 years ago when I was a size 10 and had a socially-induced negative self image. Sadly, the powers that be at Zappos.com don’t think my shapely size-18 body deserves to be clothed as nicely as someone who wears a size 0-12.

Whether the above statement is representative of your company values or not, the proof is in the product selection. Don’t get me wrong, Zappos, I wasn’t expecting you to grant me an equal 1,091 plus-size options, this isn’t Bernie Sander’s America. But I did presume that at least 10% of your merchandise might be suitable for the nearly 40% of American women who are currently labeled as obese (according to healthstats.org) …not less than 1% of your total products.  Any savvy businessman could see that you are severely limiting your sales by not providing for a larger segment of the population (pun very much intended).

This incident makes me sad. Sad that I’ll have to take my business elsewhere – for lack of options, not for lack of interest. And sad that a company that I had grown to trust, whose praises I had sung to others, has shown me that they don’t care much for me…or for anyone who isn’t what the media deems to be the ideal size.

With sincere disappointment,

Kristin Williams (AKA 204lbs of Loveliness)

The Subtle Slave: Life with a Spouse with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

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For the past year I have had this grand idea that I would blog about my experience being married to a person with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)  The problem is that every time I sit down to write about the topic I hit a wall.  It’s not writer’s block, per se, as I have a truckload of information and episodes just waiting to make their way to the page.  If anything, my problem is the opposite.  I want the blog series to be thorough, covering all of the bases of what it’s like to feel trapped in this kind of relationship.  I want to be a light in the fog to those who aren’t familiar with the disorder and a beacon of hope to the men and women who have or are currently being abused by someone with NPD. But with so much important material to cover, I am at a loss where to begin. The task seems both monumental and without end.

Worse yet, even if I were to find an organized way to relay all of the material to you, I don’t know that you’d believe me.  Not because you think me a liar, but because the kind of inhumane behavior I would be exposing does not compute within the context of the average human experience.  It would be like trying to describe an alien abduction to someone who doesn’t believe aliens exist. You will find it extremely difficult to accept that a seemingly innocuous human being could be so disturbingly duplicitous and still function successfully within society.  And I wouldn’t blame you. Your doubt would be rational.  But NPD is anything but rational.  And that is why I couldn’t wrap my brain around it either…until I experienced it firsthand.

Part of the baffling conundrum is that persons with NPD are chameleon-like in nature. They have an uncanny ability to adapt to their surroundings, putting on whatever persona will best win the favor of their current audience.  Not unlike sociopaths, persons with NPD are typically highly intelligent individuals.  Although they lack the ability to empathize or identify with other persons, they are gifted in their ability to fit in with the crowd and mimic appropriate actions and responses.  They can give academy award winning performances for “normal” and “decent” behavior that could fool even the toughest critic.  But it is all an act.  A ruse.  A long-con.

That’s why I fell for it.  That’s how he was able to manipulate me into dating then marrying him. He targeted me because I exhibited the characteristics that persons with NPD look for: I was popular and well-liked (ie: I was an excellent showpiece for his collection), I was bright and had connections (ie: I was an important tool for his personal advancement), I was easy-going (ie: I would bend to his will and be excessively tolerant of his bullsh*t), I was selfless (ie: I would give and give and give of myself long after he sucked me dry), and I had high moral integrity (ie: I would choose to honor my commitment to him even to my own detriment.)

He put on quite a show of courting me.  He said all the things he knew would win my heart, though they were just lies on top of lies on top of more lies. In hindsight, there were certain things about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time, things that seemed “off”.  But, because my brain wasn’t able to reconcile the delicately complex contradictory behaviors I was witnessing (and because outwardly he appeared to have all of the qualities I wanted in a husband) I foolishly elected to assume I was misreading the red flags.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I chose to believe that he was everything he claimed to be. 

Thus began my life as the subtle slave.

In the coming months, I will try my best to present my story with the least amount of bias I can muster (although, c’mon, how exactly does one remain perfectly neutral in their own story?)  I will share with you what I discovered from my personal research, what I  experienced firsthand, and what lessons I learned the hard way. I will list resources and I will try to answer any questions you pose.  And I promise that I’ll do my best to help expose this subtle yet soul-crushing form of abuse without playing the victim.  Because, honestly, the last thing I want is to be pitied.  What I truly want is to educate and empower others. 

Here’s to the painful process of enlightenment!  – Kristin

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P.S.  If you are the victim of an NPD abuser, know this: though you may be kept in isolation, you are not alone.  Though you may lose every battle, you can survive the war.  You have the strength to escape their snare and the power to rebuild your life.  God and I have faith in you!

For more information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, see the following resources:

Mayo Clinic: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

NPD.org – Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder

PBD Central – The Hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

 

 

 

 

The Golden Lemonade Rule

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I keep spare change in a small compartment in my car. It is reserved for the express purpose of tipping the baristas at the drive-thru coffeehouse and for buying lemonade. Without exception, when I spot a child-run lemonade stand (or whenever a kid has drawn up a poster advertising items for sale) I stop and I buy. I don’t always want lemonade.  In truth, I rarely do. Often my new purchase is later pitched into the trash.  It doesn’t matter. My desire for the product plays no part in my decision to stop and purchase it.  For I am obliged to a higher calling, The Golden Lemonade Rule.

The Golden Lemonade Rule is this: Do unto the child at that lemonade stand as you would have had every car that passed you by while you were the child with high hopes and over-watered kool-aid do unto you.  In other words, stop and buy the damn lemonade.  And do it with a smile and a word of praise to the young entrepreneurs.  It’s an exercise in empathy. One that takes such little effort on our part but makes such a huge impact in the life of that child.

Last week some neighborhood children hosted a bake sale to benefit our city’s homeless. They had labored over their wares and their set up. Their pride for the endeavor shone in their twinkling eyes. I stopped, of course, to purchase a treat for myself and a few extras to share with my children. In the short time I was at their table selecting from all the goodies they had laid out, a few other cars drove by. Each time the children would see a car approaching they would flag their signs and break into a little ditty they had written and rehearsed for the occasion. It was precious to watch. What wasn’t precious to observe was when the drivers of these other cars would wave at the children but drive on by, or worse, pretend not to notice them at all. I would watch their sweet faces fall with each passing car. All that enthusiasm dashed by someone who, with minimal effort, could have made those children quite literally jump for joy.

Maybe you’ve been the driver of one of those cars.  Maybe you’ve waved at those kids but felt no compulsion to stop at their sale.  It wasn’t your intention to dash their spirits, you just had other things on your mind.  That’s reasonable. But I’d like to challenge you to step outside of yourself for a moment, for this is where the exercise in empathy comes into play. Empathy is nothing more than trying to view a given situation from another party’s perspective.  In this instance I would ask you to take a brief moment to think back to when you were a child. Think about when you hosted a lemonade stand or a bake sale or went door to door to solicit for school or sports fundraisers or any number of childhood endeavors where you relied on the generosity of adults. Think about how disheartening it was to be told “No” time and again, and likewise, how overjoyed you were when someone made a purchase or a pledge.  

But what if empathy just doesn’t come naturally to you? Maybe you never hosted a lemonade stand or the like. Maybe you were never in a position to rely on the generosity of adults. Maybe you never were a child at all; maybe you were born a high-strung forty-year-old with a mortgage, a dead-end job, and no soul…although that’s highly unlikely.  Or maybe, just maybe, somewhere between birth and present day you lost that childhood wonder, that lust for life that keeps us young at heart. No matter if you’re an old curmudgeon or just oblivious, there is virtually no excuse for not adhering to The Golden Lemonade Rule.

You don’t have proper change?  Give the kid a twenty and blow their little mind!  A few bucks on an unplanned expense isn’t going to be the tipping point that lands you in the poor house.  You’re running late to work?  The additional 60 seconds that it takes to hand over your change and grab a cup of lemonade isn’t going to lose you your job. You’re rushing someone to the hospital because they’ve severed a limb or are actively birthing a baby?  Okay, you get a free pass. But hit the lemonade stand on the way home!

For the price of a couple quarters and only a few of the 86,4oo seconds out of your day, you can prolong a child’s innocence and allow them to believe in the goodness of humanity for a little while longer. And, as it is with The Golden Rule, The Golden Lemonade Rule does not solely benefit the receiver, but the giver also gains in equal measure. For each time we exercise our heart, it grows stronger.  And as our heart grows stronger, our perception of the world is illuminated. 

So the next time you see a child standing by the roadside, waving and smiling, the ice in their lemonade pitcher long ago melted from hours sitting out in the warm summer sunshine, Stop.  Buy.  Make the world a better place.  The kind of place you yourself would like to live in.  The kind of place where life doesn’t just hand kids lemons, but it buys them lemonade.

Open Letter to an Aspiring B*tch

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Dear 10-year old girl that I was assigned to chaperone while accompanying my son’s fourth-grade class on today’s field trip,

I could tell immediately that you thought you were hot stuff by the way you talked down to your classmates and disrespected the accompanying adults.  But I didn’t realize how rotten you were until the day progressed.

You started out with subtle insults, like telling the other kids in our group that the things at the museum they were interested in learning about were stupid. I cringed but said nothing. Instead, I just affirmed that I too found those items interesting and I led the group to that area. You didn’t care much for that.

Later you went a step further and told one of the boys in our group that you didn’t think he was capable of operating an interactive device – although all the other kids in the group had already done so successfully – and told him he shouldn’t even bother to attempt it. You even tried to push him out of the way and make him feel incompetent by showing him how easy it was for you. I asked you to wait your turn and I encouraged the boy to keep trying. I told him that I had faith in him. You huffed off, not waiting around to witness the boy go on to accomplish the task like a champ.

Later, when you were sitting next to me, I whispered a gentle reminder in your ear, “You should encourage your friends,” I said. Instead of taking that piece of wisdom to heart, you shot back, “Technically, he’s not my friend.” To which I replied, “It is important to be kind to everyone.”  You just rolled your eyes.

A little while later you were standing with a group of girls from your class. One had brought a Polaroid camera on the field trip. You all were passing the camera around to take group selfies. Two other girls leaned into the frame with you. When the camera spit out the undeveloped photo, you snatched it before anyone else had a chance. Once the photo came into view one of the other girls asked if she could keep the print, you shoved it at her, saying; “Fine! You guys look ugly in it anyway.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t close enough to say something to you at the time, but I saw the hurt looks on the other girls’ faces and I hurt for them.  I wished I could have spoken into their hearts and told them that they are beautiful, that it was your behavior that was ugly.

Apparently you still hadn’t yet met your daily quota of belittling others. Only a few minutes later, one of the girls in our group called out to some other kids passing not far away; she waved and smiled with youthful exuberance, kindly greeting her fellow classmates.  You took that opportunity to say to her, in front of myself and all of the other kids in our group, “You know, those kids don’t like you.”
That was the last straw. With all the couth I could muster, I said to you; “Don’t you ever say that to someone.”  You didn’t appreciate my input and replied, “Well it’s true.”  To which I said with steely eyes; “There is never a reason to say something so hurtful to someone else. Ever! That is a form of bullying. You are being a bully and it needs to stop.”

You and all the other kids in our group went quiet and stared at me with slack jaws. Except for my son.  He just chuckled and said, “Well, now you got a taste of what my mom is like.” His smile broke the tension. He wasn’t embarrassed that his mom had just put you in your place. He was just stating a fact. You see, that is what I’m like. I don’t put up with bullsh*t or cruel behavior: not from my own children, not from other adults, and not even from a young girl I just met a couple hours before. In fact, I was proud of my son for recognizing this character trait of mine and confidently bringing it to the attention of his peers; it was affirmation that I model the behavior I am training my kids to emulate.

You didn’t say another word to me for the remainder of the field trip. You didn’t say another word to anyone, for that matter. Maybe you were letting my words soak in. Most likely you were just sulking. Either way, the nastiness stopped, and for that I was grateful.

Young lady, I’m not sure what your home life is like, what you’ve been through, what’s made you into the aspiring b*tch that you are, but I want you to know that it’s not too late for you. You still have time to change the trajectory of your life, to adopt a new perspective and a new set of behaviors. You don’t have to follow that all-too-easy path to becoming a full-fledged Mean Girl.

I want you to know that if you need someone to encourage and embolden you toward empathy, I’m here for you. If you need someone safe to talk to about your fears and insecurities, I’m here. If you need a shoulder to cry on because someone has been hurtful to you, I’m just a heartbeat away.

You see, every nasty word that came out of your mouth today made my heart break for you. Every despicable act of snobbishness, I recognized for what it truly was. People don’t behave that poorly unless something inside of them is broken. I’m here and I’m willing to help you glue those broken pieces back together.  I believe there is a tender-hearted girl inside you that desperately wants to come out but you’re too afraid of being vulnerable. I understand.  I’ve been there too. I’m willing to take the time to listen to you and to help you learn to be confident and assertive without purposely hurting others. Because guess what, you little sh*t, I love you despite yourself.

With hope for who you can become,

Kristin

Bye Bye Boobies

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A few weeks ago I underwent breast reduction surgery. It’s been a long time coming…like since I hit puberty.  Here’s my story.

[Above is me cradling a friend’s baby in “The Bosom of Happiness”. Below is the banner of bras I strung across my living room in celebration of my upcoming liberation.  A few close friends enjoyed their first and last look at the miracles of modern engineering that upheld my monumental breasts for far too many years.]

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The day I realized that I was doomed to life of large-chestedness is etched into my memory like an epitaph on my gravestone.  I was but a mere fifteen years old when my friend Melanie and I went for a professional bra fitting at the department store.  At fifteen, our bodies were just blossoming and we were excited to finally have grown beyond combed-cotton training bras and ready to indulge in the luxurious frilly undergarments that made us feel like grown women.

The lady that worked in the Intimate Apparel department led us back into fitting rooms.  As modest young ladies, Melanie and I giggled awkwardly when the woman wrapped her measuring tape first around the top of our ribcages then across the fullest area of our teenage breasts.  “You’re a 32B,” she told Melanie. “And you, young lady,” she said, motioning to my burgeoning bosom, “are a 34DD.”

The rest of that experience is somewhat of a blur. What I remember most was that I failed miserably at holding back my tears when the lady returned to the fitting room with dozens of flirtatious bras of every color and design imaginable for Melanie while I was given the choice between a no-frills quadruple-hooked monstrosity that all-too-closely resembled the eye-sore that dangled from my grandma’s shower curtain rod in both plain white or the more playful beige. I imagined the horror on my future boyfriend’s faces as they went to feel me up and found my chest locked down tighter than a prison yard…and encircled by more wire. I bawled the whole way home.

Of course, it turned out that the boys didn’t seem to care in the slightest what hideous contraption encased my chest as long as they were allowed to get their sweaty hands on it.  During my dating years, my ample bosom was one of my greatest assets, as it helped to balance out my equally ample thighs.  As it was, I offered little in the way of enticing a “leg man” but for the “breast man” I was a virtual treasure trove.

[The collage below shows my high school sweetheart and I at my senior prom.  As you can see by the photo on the right, I DID wear a dress to the event. Yet the school yearbook editor approved the photo cropping on the left so that I might become the unwitting subject of many a teenage boy’s “special alone time.”]

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Like every one of us, God designed me perfectly unique. I was born with a congenital heart defect, a deformity of my tricuspid valve.  While I wasn’t a candidate for surgery, neither was I a candidate for baby birthing, as a pregnancy would likely have ended with the fetus and I in the morgue.  I never begrudged this fate, partially because I couldn’t imagine my already-monstrous utters swollen larger still and engorged with milk.  The mere thought made my neck and back throb.  And so it was that I had my tubes tied off and my husband and I headed to the adoption agency.  We were blessed with the gift of a beautiful baby boy, and three years later, we were thrilled to add another sweet boy into our fold. As a mother, my overabundance of supple flesh made for an ideal cradle to rock my babies to sleep. All babies, for that matter. As an homage to my God-given gift, my circle of friends began referring to my mountainous mammaries as “the bosom of happiness,” where all creatures great and small find comfort.

[My youngest son, Aaron, a born cuddler, nuzzling into the bosom of happiness.  When I informed him a few weeks prior to my surgery that my breasts would be getting smaller, with a look of grave mourning, he said to me; “But Mom, that’s my favorite part of you!”

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As my womanhood advanced and my weight increased, so did my boobs.  This is expected, of course. However, what was not expected was that when I lost the weight, my breasts didn’t deflate.  Years of weight fluctuation saw my DDs gradually advance through the alphabet until last fall I had no choice but to upgrade to an H cup.  While the bosom of happiness may have provided comfort to countless others, it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for its bearer.  Deep grooves formed in my shoulders, my posture was compromised, and I was limited in the activities I could partake in.  It was one thing to avoid high-impact aerobics for fear of knocking myself unconscious, it was entirely another not be able to do something as simple as swing a golf club because the massive obstacles in my way made it impossible to assume the correct grip.

[My besties Michele (left) and Kim (right) bet me that each of my breasts was equivalent to the size of a human head.  Doubtful, I took them up on that bet.  They proved me wrong. Look at them happily residing inside my G cup with room to spare.]

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[The selfie below was taken just a few months prior to my surgery.  Typically, I take my selfies from an elevated point of view to minimize my double chin.  Perspective changes everything…as is apparent by the photo below.  Yikes!]

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After years of counting down the minutes until I could remove my bra at the end of the day – yet feeling little relief once it was off because the pendulous swinging of my breasts while walking around the house sans scaffolding was equally uncomfortable – I set up a consultation with a plastic surgeon.  My biggest concern with going through with the surgery was that I would no longer look proportional.  I’m a big girl, and as I mentioned before, I have meaty thighs.  My giant breasts balanced me out.  I was afraid that pairing them down would cause me to appear bottom-heavy. Ultimately, my suffering trumped my fear of malformation and six weeks later I went under the knife.  A few hours after that I was down 4 lbs and 5 cup sizes – reverted to the DD I was nearly 30 years prior.

[Without my pre-surgery breasts to give me that hourglass look, I was fearful I might end up resembling Grimace.]Grimace Collage

A perk of breast reduction surgery is that a breast lift is part of the package.  So, not only are my chestibules now fun-size, but they stand at full attention all on their own. The best part, of course, is that my shoulders haven’t hurt for a second since the day of my surgery – a massive weight has truly been lifted from them.  I still have several more weeks of healing before I’ll be cleared to resume strenuous activity, but in the meanwhile I am already enjoying the benefits of my more aerodynamic form.  My t-shirts fit without straining the seams. I can sleep on my stomach without my esophagus being crushed. I can sleep on my back without my breasts spilling into my armpits. I can see my own feet. I can hug my friends and family without the gesture feeling pornographic. And,  I can soak in the bathtub without my boob-buoys rising to the surface to freeze in the chilly air. Better yet, to the best of my knowledge I don’t appear Grimace-like and my son Aaron still loves to cuddle with me.  I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Like every woman I’ve talked to who’s had breast reduction surgery, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.  And while I am thankful to God that I am created in His image, fearfully and wonderfully made, I am also thankful to Blue Cross Blue Shield for approving my surgery as medically necessary and to Dr. Stacy Peterson for chopping those suckers off.

So bye-bye, Boobies, we had a good run (or rather, a good brisk walk, as running was never an option with you), but it was time we parted ways.  I can’t say you’ll be missed. In fact, in a few more weeks when the doc clears me to resume normal activity, I plan to jump for joy…because I finally can!

[My pup Lucy playing nursemaid while my newly-carved chest heals.  Yes, they still look big…because they are, by normal human standards.  But they fit me nicely.]

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