Sleepovers and Shrapnel

The unavoidable


I lay on my back in the dark, staring at the ceiling with tears silently streaming down my face. Quickly, I wiped a rivulet on the left cheek before it could spill into my ear. Humiliation had become all too familiar a condition for me by the time I was 12. I’d come to accept being belittled and insulted by classmates, acquaintances, and even strangers, but this round was particularly devastating because I lay there in a sleeping bag surrounded by ‘friends.’ Four adolescent girls in a downstairs den all sleeping blissfully, except for me. I couldn’t get the evening’s events out of my mind. It was another sleepover, which for me, meant another opportunity to be designated the lowest rung on the social ladder.


Several hours earlier, the girl hosting the festive occasion had spent the evening alternately ignoring and belittling me, calling me a ‘stupid jerk’, and a ‘fat, immature jerk’ because she didn’t like the way I played charades. She also let the other girls know she didn’t like the way I smelled as she wrinkled her nose and glared at me, commanding me to get away from her. Apparently, I could do nothing right in her eyes. She was liberal in her disdain for me as she’d laugh and giggle with the other girls, withholding eye contact, and ignoring me on the few occasions I was brave enough to make a verbal contribution. I used to wonder why she would reissue me invitations to her house when she clearly had no desire to connect with me. But the answer became clear over time. She needed someone to kick around so she could forget her own unenviable station in life: an awkward, nerdy adolescent who wasn’t exactly at the top of the school social hierarchy. But fat always trumps any other social handicap, which left me at her mercy each time there was a sleepover, or birthday party (where she was fond of snatching toys out of my hands plunking them in the corner of the room with an authoritative slam).


In stark contrast to the hostess’s antagonism towards me was her obsequious fawning over the pretty girl. She fluttered subserviently around pretty girl, making sure she had enough to eat and drink, had comfy pillows, the best seat on the couch. Nothing was too good for her. We were all on the threshold of puberty and had become accustomed to our stations in life. Pretty girl had come to expect the shower of obeisances and I was always ready for collapse-and-submit posturing for when the insults were fired at random.


The other two girls at the slumber party neither participated in the degradation nor defended me, but were visibly uncomfortable with the hostess’s abusive behavior. Especially when she and pretty girl engaged in a round of ‘Let’s see who can make Stacey blush first.’ It was a sadistic ritual I could bank on happening every time I was in their presence, and I dreaded their gleeful announcement of it. To say I was shy and bereft of self-esteem at age 12 was an understatement. I didn’t expect mercy from the school bullies, but when my ‘friends’ undercut my dignity with such deliberate schadenfreude, it was its own kind of pain. As they carried out their ritual, I found myself wondering how they could find such joy in the extraction of shame as I sat on the hot seat, cheeks aflame and fighting back a quivering lip.


Lying silently in the dark, reliving the past few hours, I carefully regulated my breathing. Being caught crying would only invite more ridicule. Playing dead and pretending I wasn’t hurt were the only ways I knew how to survive. Since stepping on the school bus six years prior, absorbing shrapnel had become routine. I’d become numb to it and numb to the fact that deep in my core, there was a quiet cauldron of broiling rage that wanted out. The bullies were bothersome and I hated encountering them, but it was when someone who was supposed to be a friend suddenly turned on me that broke my spirit and my heart. The depth of the betrayal shattered me and reinforced the ever-repeating message from others that I’m defective. Certainly, it was illogical to keep going back for more episodic mistreatment, but in my meager and myopic world, mean girls and occasional dart-throwers were better than having no friends at all.  Hindsight, of course, has proved this incorrect, but 12-year-olds generally operate on bewildered desperation born of wanting to fit in.


Burrowing into a world of silent but agonizing denial is how I got through the early years. The survival skills to circumvent my sense of worthlessness included undue amounts of people-pleasing. I apprenticed in elementary school and perfected the skill into adulthood: I was the empty vessel there to serve the other’s personal needs, whether it was in the role of cowering fat girl remaining mute when insulted or later, as the unpaid therapist when there were boyfriend problems; and then as the more mature unpaid therapist when the ‘friends’ got married and had kids. I use the term ‘unpaid,’ because the time and energy I freely gave in listening intently and offering solutions to their woes was not returned. Somehow, when I needed a shoulder, they were uninterested and dismissive, sending me away with a ‘yeah, well it could be worse,’ wave of the hand, or a cold gaze that unmistakably said ‘…and this is relevant to me becuzzzz?


Why did I put up with it? Simple. It was what I deserved. I knew this after years of reinforcement at school and at home. In early childhood, when the torment at school began reaching a crescendo, I assumed if I confided in my parents they would offer consolation, at least a crumb or two. They informed me I’d brought it on myself with my size and that if I didn’t like it, I should go on a diet and stay on one. Their indifference coupled what I experienced at school (or as I like to call it, Alcatraz for children) was a terrible foundation on which no healthy sense of self-worth could possibly take root.


The thing about self-image, whether it’s good or poor, is, it emanates like a radio frequency and people sense it. They sense confidence and people also sense an absence of it. So I attracted girls at school who weren’t really interested in being my friends, but were interested in playing the empowered alpha so they could, for a few delusional moments, feel like a mob boss.


I don’t wish on anybody the role I took on in childhood.  Years later when I sought therapy to make sense of it all, I berated myself for not fighting back. There’s a deeply embedded shame that goes with being abused. And the shame is doubled when there’s no recourse to fight back. How could I? I was a terrified mess. I had no support at home and no support from anyone. Aunts and uncles, babysitters, grandmothers, doctors…they all railed at me because of my weight. I’ve been in group therapy with fellow sufferers and many reported at least having refuge from an abusive home life in their friendships. I didn’t even have that.


All the years I assumed the root of my worthlessness stemmed from the obvious: unsupportive, overly critical parents combined with the orchestrated attacks by the blonde-haired school bus sadist and his henchmen. It was only within the last year that I began putting the rest of the puzzle pieces together. My unconscious mind, after years of tamping down the truth, began sending up smoke signals. There was deep scaring from the unfriendly fire from friends.  I don’t, to this day, know how I made it out of those years with my sanity. If surviving my childhood isn’t a case for the existence of guardian angels – I don’t know what is.


I’m soliloquizing on my collateral damage first and foremost, to cleanse myself. The time has come to unburden my spirit, which I never acknowledged was so severely broken by friends with less-than-noble intentions. The time has also come to unburden my body – literally. For the past several years, it has been under siege from autoimmune disease. It’s not new information that every disease has an emotional root, and trauma experts are in accord that unresolved trauma embeds in the body, especially the tissues, so it’s no surprise that one of my diagnoses is mixed connective tissue disease. I hope, one day, to be no longer hurting physically. Writing truthfully about the things I’ve been ashamed to admit to myself will surely help in all that.  But my blogs have never been just about me. I write because readers tell me they relate and are comforted by the fact that someone else went through a difficult passage, too.


Reason No. 2 for delving into this topic is, well – look around you –  because the fallout from kids being abused by their peers makes the news with horrifying regularity. I had it comparatively easy 50 years ago with garden-variety verbal and emotional abuse. Kids today are subjected to physical violence as well as emotional abuse at school, much of it recorded on phones and broadcast all over social media. In February, Adriana Kuch, a 14-year-old high school student from New Jersey, killed herself two days after being gang-attacked at her locker and beaten to a pulp while other students stood by and filmed. A teacher who witnessed the attack reportedly went back into her classroom and shut the door.


I can’t imagine it getting much worse than this, but it will if we don’t pay attention and hold ourselves, our children, and our school boards accountable. And support our kids by letting them know they are loved and accepted as they are. And while you’re at it, support an adult you think can benefit from a little random kindness.  It’s by no means, a tall order, and if you think it is, or if you think this topic is frivolous and I should just shut up and move on because it happened so long ago, then you are, by definition, part of the problem.




Peace..At long last



Invisible Wounds – How They Haunt

The old adage, ‘It Gets Better,’ can be true, and it certainly has been true for me. But sometimes it can get better, and then get worse. Such is life: unpredictable, stormy, cruel, then abundantly kind.

I thought I’d weathered just about every storm there was after a difficult childhood, to which I responded with numbing the pain with food and carrying around nearly 200 extra pounds much of my adult life. I faced every demon I could think of in therapy then, through the hand of God, released the weight, and kept it off for more than a decade.

Four years ago, autoimmune disease struck, out of the blue and with no warning. After some deep contemplation I realized the cause. Some of the scars haven’t healed, and some of the wounding ran so deep, it had become imperceptible to me. The clues, however, presented themselves behaviorally. After all the work I’ve done for myself, I had to face the hideous fact that I continue to spend much of my time and energy being a doormat; a people-pleaser tangled in a web of worthlessness.

I’ve swallowed too much, endured too many emotional blows, and have remained inert when I should have swatted back. After all this time and progress, collapse-and-submit is still my default response.

I don’t blame or berate myself for the chronic and unconscious people-pleasing. It’s been a survival skill since day one when I became pretty much everybody’s soft target. Who better than a fat kid to take the arrows of disapproval and scorn? There was no refuge from it: family, friends, and strangers alike all took their shots. And all I wanted to do was be liked. So I became as stringently likeable as I could, all while aching inside.

Fifty years later, my body, it seems, will have no more of it. Auto-Immune Disease complete with several unwanted diagnoses, has set up shop. So consider my most personal writing here (for the foreseeable future) as part of my Operation Remove Shrapnel mission. I can’t go on this way anymore – 58 years is long enough. It’s time to catch my psyche up with my body. Or is that visa versa? I’m not certain of anything anymore except this: I’ve turned a corner in my demeanor and in how I respond to the world around me, and there’s no going back. And anyone who tries to coax me back isn’t really in my corner.

The woman in the video below who scaled the top of the transformation mountain so victoriously seems a stranger to me now. I no longer look or feel the way I did 11 years ago, and I don’t know if I ever will. But what I do know is: I will no longer make myself insignificant so others will be more at ease. I will no longer flash the auto-smile when I’m sad or angry.  I will no longer say yes when I mean no. And I will no longer evaporate into a ‘that didn’t just happen’ trance when you hurt me. I will let you know. I promise you, I will let you know. And if I lose some toxic baggage in the process, so be it. My life is worth it.




Ahh, if only abusive people were upfront and enlightened enough to be truthful. But I’ve never met one who is.

Instead, they sucker punch, I drop to my knees, catch my breath, and stand up as if nothing happened. 

That was the scenario until very recently. Now, as scary as it sometimes feels, I gather myself, breathe deeply, stand tall, then verbally notate the punch and the fact that it’s a foul and inappropriate act.

Whether the action is an insult, invasive question, a dig veiled as a joke, or the all-too-frequent act of unapologetic interrupting, it’s imperative that I draw a line in the sand. If I don’t…who will?

Undeterred by Gas-Lighters

A little thought for the day for gas-lighters: I can’t declare it officially in the past if it’s still in my body.

As Bessel van der Kolk’s book suggests, The Body Keeps The Score. When you know something is off, you know.

Our bodies are hardwired for survival, but even they will get tired of holding trauma, and it will rise to the surface in one way or another (aches and pains, repetitive thought patterns, cloying resentments), begging for release. Some events in my life I actively suppressed, while others I was completely unaware of in terms of how toxic the people and situations were and what my body ended up absorbing.

Once my body and in turn, psyche, brought some of these things into focus, I began to face them. And that wasn’t such great news for those with unhealthy, unkind agendas. I had to learn to set limits.  And not succumb to the gaslighting tactics of ‘just let it go, or ‘ that’s in the past, get over it.’  Guess who gets to decide when we’re through an issue? We do! As owners of our bodies and our life experiences, only we have the authority to make that call. Those who are invested in protecting their denial and self-crafted sterling images can take a seat.

Today I am grateful for the willingness to face the stuff I wasn’t even aware of… Some of the deepest and the most painful, but I’d rather undergo the cleansing process than keep it buried. And I’ve been using every tool in my box: lots of tissues in the morning when I sit in silent allowance, deep and conscious breathing, yoga, sound healing, trauma-focused group classes, journaling, the empathetic ear of a friend who has proven their trustworthiness.


Nothing new under the sun, but when practiced with consistent, gentle focus, gaslighters become powerless and space is made in my body for more and more light. ✨?✨

Unpacking Trauma




Healing requires more than journaling, talking to a therapist, changing up food choices, hopping on a stationary bike, and starting the day with meditation. All of these things have value but they’re not enough if there are unresolved issues of a traumatic nature. Trauma embeds into the body as a self-protective move when there’s too much for the mind to handle. That’s especially true when we’re young and trying to get a foothold on where we fit in in the world. The sing-songy notion that today’s a new day and the past is over isn’t quite true if you’re carrying wounds. Mine reared their heads in the form of auto-immune disease and chronic foot pain two years ago. I never experienced anything like it – even at my highest weight. My gut told me there was an emotional corollary (there always is) and after agreeing to take some quiet, deep dives into my body and simply listen, the shifting that was waiting to occur finally did. We are composite pieces of the past operating in the now and creating our future. And that’s why I’m sharing this with you:



I sat next to my mother in the passenger seat of her car about a month ago, a heavy pit in my stomach. We’d just pulled into our favorite park, but before we exited the car, I needed to tell my mother how hard it was for me to be alive in 1978. I was in eighth grade and my world, which wasn’t rosy to begin with, had reached crescendo levels of unbearability.




  • We moved to a new school district. For a shy kid steeped in low self-esteem because of my weight, I did anything but flourish.


  • Adding to the isolation was being dropped by my best friend from childhood, who had also moved to the same school district but deemed me a social liability in her determination to ascend the ranks of the popular-girl pyramid.


  • My dog was hit by a car and killed in front of my eyes one evening when I took her out for a walk.


  • And underneath the intermittent emotional bombs, my family was in turmoil because my father’s business went belly-up that year. And not because it was the bank’s fault or the lawyers’ fault or the fault of anyone else on his ‘to blame’ list. The business, begun proudly by his father, crashed and burned because of my dad’s grandiose wild spending and financial mismanagement. This left the family destitute and in debt and my father obsessed with vengeance against the bank that foreclosed on him.


Humiliated by losing all but unwilling to acknowledge his part in it, my father buried himself in a series of lawsuits that never went anywhere. He’d call us into his office to proclaim how we’d all be rich one day and the bank would finally get their come-uppance. If it isn’t already apparent, my father was a narcissist. Textbook. No one‘s needs mattered more than his own, even his children’s. If I earned money at a summer babysitting job he demanded I turn it over, reminding me that I ‘cost him a lot of money.’ If I wanted to go to the mall with friends on a Friday night like every other 13-year-old, I was screamed at for asking for $5 so I could buy a soda and a slice of pizza. One night he responded by bitterly tossing three singles across his desk and shaking his head in disgust.


My father’s shenanigans were known about town and he’d nailed down a reputation for being a huckster. Not long after my grandfather’s legacy demolished, a particularly hateful classmate sent me a typewritten anonymous letter with the newspaper clipping of my father‘s arrest for writing a bad check. ‘I see daddy try to buy something but couldn’t hack it financially…Ha-Ha! You loser.’


One day, he announced he was moving to Virginia because someone in Albany was preventing him from obtaining his license to sell life insurance – there was always a shady story and half-baked excuse with him. That was all the rationale he needed to leave for Alexandria. It wasn’t a divorce, just a temporary diversion for him to forget he was married and had familial responsibilities. This left my mother, already emotionally fried from a year of financial tail-spinning, in a state that alternated between seething anger and depression. She would sometimes lock herself in her bedroom for the night and refuse to answer our knocks on the door. As the oldest of four, I was first in line for bearing responsibility for the other three, but also completely inept emotionally to be the rock my younger siblings needed.


Whenever my father’s insane choices made the world around her a vortex of chaos, my mother stepped up her campaign of food scarcity and body shaming, hiding forbidden food from me in attic trunks, or amongst the cardboard bunkers of boxes in the basement. If I was ever caught relieving myself with any of her hidden stash it was Armageddon. We hated each other. We were each other‘s targets for the rage we felt at life not being like it was promised in the movies. By the time 1978 rolled around, our family decided to 86 the painful tradition of the Happy Family Christmas cards. Even my parents, mired in denial as they were, must have known the façade was futile.


I blotted out daily reality with as much food as I could get my thieving little hands-on, and lots of Led Zeppelin on the turntable up in my room. There was no one to talk to about the pain I was in. My sister and I shared a room so it was the bathroom where I was guaranteed privacy and a place to cry. And it was in that powdery blue bathroom surrounded by Dixie cups and half-empty hair mousse bottles that I thought about suicide for the first time. My psyche was macerated from a constant barrage of macro and micro-aggressions. I’d become accustomed to my parents’ disapproval, and being ridiculed at school, but was unprepared for lectures from my grandmother when she came for extended visits. Babysitters had always been told to keep food away from me and they were always quick to remind me how imperative it was that I change for the better.


School was a lonely and humiliating place where I’d brace myself every day to pretend I didn’t hear the names. In an effort to get me to say on my latest diet attempt, my parents explained to me that the name-calling I experienced at school, or at the mall, or while crossing a street – there was no safe place in those days for people not bestowed with thin privilege – was my fault. “No one can help their height or if their ears stick out, but you control your WEIGHT,” my father was fond of telling me, even though he never succeeded once at doing what he told me I should do. There are more anecdotes but this paints enough of a picture. By year’s end I was emotional wreckage personified and believed with every shred of my being that I was worthless and hateable. Call me self-indulgent for sharing these memories but that’s who I am – a catalyst – I show the underbelly because that’s where the evolution is. And I do it to let others know they’re not alone. 1978 was a terrible and bewildering time in my life and I look back in amazement that I got through it. Guardian angels are my only explanation. F%&K that ‘Sticks and Stones’ limerick. Emotional scars are not to be dismissed or underestimated. They are to be tended to with reverence. And if you won’t offer them the honor they deserve, who will?


By the time I was finished telling my mother what I needed to, the tears had started to dry and she had reached over to clutch my hand (something she hadn’t done since I was four). There was an immediate sense of relief and lightness in my body. I knew my gut was solidly correct: that taking an honest look at 1978 was the path forward. I’ve been getting flashbacks from 1978 for months now, and I finally put it together that the embedded trauma from that era has come home to roost, in the form of physical pain and autoimmune disease. And I consider myself very fortunate that it isn’t a more serious, terminal disease. So before it gets to that point, I’m engaging in a looooong overdue airing of my grievances.

No one is more stunned over this setback than I because I thought I’d crossed the finish line when I dropped 180 pounds 11 years ago and kept it off for a decade. And as many of you know, it wasn’t just a weight loss achievement. I did the inner work for years. Through therapy, journaling, self-help books, overeaters anonymous meetings, and even a month-long stay in a food addiction rehab. I believed I’d left no emotional stone unturned, but the thing about 1978 was, the frequency of sorrow, fear, and buried rage proved to be an invisible poison. With no recourse to help myself, and with no emotional support from anyone I knew intimately or peripherally, my unconscious mind performed its due diligence by hiding it from my sight. This is a protective and self-preserving method we’re all equipped in and sometimes it’s simply enough for the horrible stuff to remain buried. But everyone is different, and my subconscious was sending out distress signals:


Episodes from 1978 would be my first thought in the morning, and I’d be back on that darkened road where my dog lay motionless on the pavement, with her eyes wide open as passing cars splashed through puddles of her blood. Or my childhood friend, at a time when I desperately needed to belong, shooting me a ‘don’t come over here’ warning look when I’d be frantically looking for someone to talk to at recess. And my mother summoning me to the refrigerator to berate me for the theft of a piece of cheese (she kept track of the slices) telling me how I had no right to eat anything in between meals. Memories were bubbling to the surface and they weren’t random. The pattern was a trail of crumbs leading to a massive pile of emotional garbage that had been rotting within me.


I partook of the usual remedies of crying, feeling, and journaling but this time, the wounds were demanding verbal expression. Part of my healing from the hell that was 1978 is to not just acknowledge my pain to myself, but also to those who have hurt me. My father is gone and I’ve been doing the mental dialogue of what I would like to say now if here were here as best I can. But my mother is here and I knew I would be doing myself a huge disservice if I swept it under the rug. I laid out my side of the story with compassion, but I was honest. She sat and listened to me, and that’s all I wanted from that encounter with my mother – to be heard.


Difficult conversations are usually avoided. The avoidance may be easier in the moment, but the ensuing price is high. The one with my mother was successful because she listened. But I’ve had difficult conversations with people who cannot hear anything that veers from their script of reality and it usually gets ugly. And I’ve realized that the reaction of the other isn’t the point…it’s having the courage to speak aloud about uncomfortable subjects and advocate on my own behalf. There are more conversations I need to have with others and I’m scared. That’s the truth. Maybe someday it’ll be easy, or perhaps second nature. I’m not there yet. And that’s not going to stop me. Wounds have the right to be aired. And if the past is unmistakably seeking you out, it may be time to enter the discomfort zone and let the healing begin.