“This is an interesting question because we are just now finding out who we are. As a child, the Steel Town Girl is a vulnerable, confused, silly girl at heart, who just wants to be a kid, and longs to be loved and seen by her family. But, because of dysfunctional family dynamics and abuse, she doesn’t get to have a childhood. She’s a wounded child by night, and an extra, super, do-gooder by day. Many Steel Town Girls are just now, in midlife, waking up to what they really are without all the conditioning of “never good enough,” “who do you think you are?” and confronting the fear caused by being told, “You’d shut your mouth if you knew what was good for you.” Some of us have empty nests now, and others are years into retirement, wondering where our loves and lives have gone? And for as much compassion, time, and energy we’ve given to raise up others, we are left alone to pick up the pieces of our fragmented selves. We’ve given up our lives and our identities to our families who somehow have taken us for granted and look at us as if we are somewhat unhinged. So, we turn to stare at a face we no longer recognize and realize in the end, after all this, we are alone. We pull the capes we wear from under us and sit down at our computers to sew together the pieces of our lives that make us who we are. We read our stories and we can’t believe we are just now realizing that we’ve had empathy for everyone but ourselves. We’ve forgiven everyone but ourselves. And we’ve kept everyone’s secrets for far too long. We’ve stayed strong for so long and the magnitude of staying silent for one more second is crushing us. We’re learning to stand up for ourselves once and for all. And as we do, we weep for the little girls we realize we left, lost, without a voice for their pain. So, we do the work even when we don’t want to, and when we’re done, we show up with our stories in hand and say, “Of course, I look unhinged. This is what my life has been like, I hope you understand why I didn’t tell you this before.” We are the women trying to find the strength to love ourselves through the difficult chapters of our lives all while taking the risk of being judged and ridiculed for feeling anything about it at all.”
We’re girls who go on to break the chains of abuse. —Pow! 💥
Girls who Adult Hard because their kids are worth it! —Boom!💥
Girls who Smash Stereotypes! —(Take that!) 💥
Destroy diagnoses! —(Splat!) 💥
Extinguish excuses! —(Zoink!) 💥
And Let go of Labels! —(Pop!) 💥
We needed a hero, so we became one! — Boop! —We’re girls that muscle through and get shit done! And now, we are here to green-light ourselves because no one’s gonna do it for us! We make our own girl-hero figurines because we are just crazy enough to do it. —And, we NOW… have some things to say about our experiences here on planet Earth!
If you’d like to know more about Steel Town Girl as a child, you can buy my memoir in paperback or Kindle on Amazon.
If you’d like to know more about Steel Town Girl as a woman, stay tuned here on my blog.
I didn’t feel ashamed for what happened to me. Throughout my life when I tried to talk about it, I would be shut down and dismissed.
No one wanted to hear it.
No one cared.
After working through my own traumas, alone, I’m convinced that it’s not the abused that feel ashamed, it’s those who can’t listen who do.
It’s great to have someone to listen. But, I did the digging for gems in my own garbage and healed myself. I finally told at age 46. At almost 52, I’m freer and happier for not waiting for someone to listen.
•We don’t carry hate. That’s too heavy a burden and we just don’t have that kind of time, energy, or heart. — We have things to accomplish in our lives.
•We turned our trauma into good and our dark into light.
•We learned that boundaries are good self-care.
•We don’t blame others for how our lives turned out.
•We have the ability for self- reflection and self-improvement.
•We can apologize, change, learn and grow.
•We don’t wallow in our pain.
•We don’t need their validation to feel whole.
•We have the guts to face our pain and our responsibilities.
•We don’t have to live like that anymore.
•We don’t live in labels.
•We don’t let diagnoses drive.
•We learned to look at fear and anxiety right square in the face and keep going anyway. (Maybe fear and anxiety are afraid of us? Ever think of that?) 💪🏻
•We see them for what they are.
•We control our own lives.
•We know now we can’t change them. — (How exhausting it is when we think we can.)
•They can no longer hurt us.
•We expect nothing from no one.
•For books to help us learn.
•For therapists who lend an ear.
•And for those who share their stories so we feel less alone.
I’m thankful to the readers and supporters of Steel Town Girl, the followers here who are also digging deep with me —who are writing their own memoirs or processing their own pain — and those who know how to hold space for those of us who are healing from enormous pain and trauma for ourselves and our families, even if they themselves have never dealt with any of the same issues we have.
Because my husband and I are both the scapegoated black sheep in our families of origin, we put our heads together and came up with a list of things NOT to do to keep the peace at home for the holidays.
For parents of adult children:
•Keep your opinions to yourself.
•Give advice only when asked.
•Don’t play favorites.
•You don’t know everything so don’t act like you do.
•They’re adults, treat them like that.
•No “just joking” comments or back-handed compliments.
•No comparisons, just acceptance.
•No pressuring or guilting.
•No pitting children/adult children against the other(s). That means, no talking about children that are not present.
•No gossiping about other family members.
•Don’t force people to get together and get along with one another for the sake of the holiday. Divide time or split days to accommodate different families and personalities.
•No blaming others for your problems.
•No discussing financial issues or inappropriate talk and/or behavior with your children.
•Don’t allow alcohol into the family holiday as this is a huge gateway to problems.
For adult children of narcissistic, toxic, or emotionally immature parents/siblings:
Remember, you are in control. If you start to feel uncomfortable at anytime, it’s time to restate your boundaries calmly and clearly. If your boundaries are ignored and things escalate after that, then you politely excuse yourself and leave. Keep your emotions in check, your volume down, and try not to take what your family says or does personally.
We know it feels personal, but it’s not about you. Their behavior is about them.
The rickety old bridge was the stuff nightmares were made of. The two-lane bridge with a pedestrian sidewalk to one side was a huge silver steel contraption marred with rust streaks and black skid marks down its insides. It was the Steubenville Bridge and you had to cross it to get from Ohio to the northern panhandle of West Virginia. It was an industrial town whose main source of industry was steel and was where I mainly grew up as a kid.
If you got caught at the red light at the end of the bridge, there was a sign that said, “Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.” I can’t tell you how many times in my life I looked at that sign as we sat and waited for the light to turn green and wondered, “What the hell makes this place so wonderful?”
The see-through metal slats that formed the bottom of the bridge pulled your tires back and forth making a humming noise as you drove. You had to steer with both hands, and the slight back-and-forth motion from the pulling of the tires made it look like the overly dramatic steering you see in movies.
My mom told me that once when she was a young girl, my grandma Edith, who was four foot nine, misjudged her car and scraped the side of her big gray Oldsmobile down the entire length of the bridge, metal screeching and sparks flying the whole way on the passenger side where my mom sat.
If you look out the window and over the side, you see the murky brown water below. If you are unlucky enough to get stopped by the light that sends you out onto Route 2, you sit feeling the bridge swaying back and forth. I swear the timing of the light was just long enough to let you conjure up the notion that at any moment you’d go over the edge, hit the cold, brown water like a rock, never to be heard from again.
I’d cross this bridge so many times with my parents and later alone as I learned to drive myself, and each time I still had the same reaction to it. Trepidation. Wonderment.
When I was little and asked about the movement of the bridge my dad would say not to worry, that bridges needed to sway to stay strong. He pointed out, that if it were rigid, the bridge would collapse under the pressure of the water and cars.
If you turned left off the bridge, coming from Ohio, you headed toward Weirton. If you turned right off the bridge and followed Route 2, you snaked along the Ohio River that divides Ohio from West Virginia.
First up, the city of Follansbee. You’ll know you’re there when you see the coke plants off to your right. The tall smokestacks billow large white clouds into the air that make the area smell like rotten eggs and covers everything in a thin dusting of gray powder. They have a Dairy Owl, a baseball field, gas station, a middle school, and three traffic lights.
When the street becomes a four-lane highway again, you’re on your way to the city of Wellsburg. And although I moved a lot, it’s the city in which I grew up the most until my mid-teens. At the time, there was Kroger’s grocery store, a drugstore called Super X that sat in the same plaza, the tail end of Rabbit Hill, a gas station, the West Virginia State Highway Patrol, and the dirt patch where the carnival was held each summer and the start of Washington Pike to your left. When I was twelve, we finally got a Pizza Hut and the town about shit itself with excitement. But, if you go past Washington Pike, there on the right, you’ll see DiCarlo’s Pizza, home of the hot pizza with cold toppings you can buy by the slice for just a few cents. It’s still the same pizza joint it was in the ’70s and they still use the same old payphone attached to the wall to take incoming orders for pizza. It’s the best damn pizza you will ever eat.
If you take this book with you the next time you visit, you’ll see that with the exception of a few dollar stores, and a Dairy Queen now, my description of the city and the surrounding areas haven’t changed much and is why the place is referred to as, “the town that time forgot.”
I learned to drive up and down Washington Pike and Rabbit Hill like all kids did. We didn’t have Driver’s Ed in school; our parents had to teach us. And because my dad was my dad, he was giving me the keys to the Nova at age fourteen to drive out to pay his bill at the water department located in the little white building that still exists at the end of Manner Ridge Road today.
If you learned to navigate the roads without going over a hill, you easily passed your driver’s test given by the West Virginia State Highway Patrol in downtown Wellsburg. At age sixteen, a state trooper, or a “Mountie,” as my Dad called them, sat in the passenger seat of your car in their intimidating gray uniform, and large black-brimmed hat, while you parallel parked next to where they held the carnival every August. How any of us passed with that kind of intimidation is beyond me now, but we did.
I practiced for weeks leading up to my test. Practice made perfect, my dad said. I got so good at parallel parking that I could do it in less than thirty seconds from start to finish. I know because my dad timed me. And because I was already so used to using the car, I remember at least once during my test, the Mountie reaching for the dash, telling me that I could take my time and reminding me that there were no deductions for going slowly.
I can remember when they handed me my new license. It was still warm from the laminating machine. There it was, a shiny plastic card that meant I had graduated from maneuvering a fifteen-pound ten-speed to handling a three-thousand-pound car around West Virginia’s mountainous terrain. I opened my blue Velcro wallet that had a rainbow cloud design on the front so many times to admire it, that I nearly wore the Velcro right off.
I was sixteen in the summer of 1983, and I drove my dad’s ’79 silver Nova. The burgundy red plastic interior got scorching hot in the summer and would burn the faux weaved pattern of the seats into the back of your legs if you wore shorts. Sometimes, we’d pad the seats with our wet towels from the swimming pool and wear just our bathing suits while driving around town. Our hair would blow wildly around our faces in the fresh mountain air that was occasionally laced with the strong scent of fresh lilacs, honeysuckle and wild onions that grew off roadsides.
We were all dolled up, smoking, laughing and singing to the radio, not a care in the world on our way to the Fort Steuben Mall that day.
It was my friend Annie who spotted the police car behind us. She tapped me on my shoulder to look in the rearview mirror. I turned down the radio and pulled to the side of the road in front of Follansbee Middle School and we both mashed out our cigarettes in the ashtray. My heart was in my throat as I reached for my purse, doing everything my dad taught me to do in case I was ever pulled over.
The gray uniform and big hat appeared at my window.
“Where ya goin in such a hurry?” he said as he bent over to talk to me in the window.
“Um, nowhere special, just to the mall,” I said as I handed over my license and registration.
“I clocked you going 52 miles an hour in a 35, young lady,” he said.
He scanned the documents and looked back at me.
“Um, I’m really sorry, officer… I didn’t realize —”
“You sit tight and I’ll be back in a minute,” he interrupted.
I could see him in my rearview mirror talk on his police radio.
We didn’t move a muscle or say a word.
After a few minutes, he reappeared at my window.
“You Harland Jessup’s daughter?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, I am. Why?” I asked.
“Uh… no reason… uh… you go on and git outta here, but beeeee careful. You’re a new driver and you both know what happens to a lot to new drivers around here if they’re not careful, don’t ya?”
We’d hear the adults talking about how some new driver got seriously injured or even killed in a car accident on those dangerous roads that these damn kids just weren’t experienced with enough yet.
“Yes, sir, thank you, sir,” I said excitedly.
I waited for him to pull out from behind me and drive away. Then I did the same. I was careful to use my turn signal and keep a close eye on the speedometer. Annie and I didn’t say a word to each other for what seemed like forever.
And then she spoke.
“Oh my God, I felt so bad for you back there, but you handled yourself like a champ!” she said as she slapped at my shoulder.
“Thanks,” I said as I laughed, “but I was sooooo scared!”
“You sure didn’t show it! I would have cried, I just know I would have!” she said. “And,” she added, “he didn’t even give you a ticket!” “Yeah, I know! I guess it pays to grow up the daughter of one of the most hated, feared men in town,” I said. “If I can handle living with my dad, I can handle a god-damned West Virginia State Trooper.”
We quickly fished our mangled cigarettes from the ashtray, straightened and re-lit them. I turned up the radio and we sang to the top of our lungs “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel as we approached the Steubenville Bridge. And with a racing heart and sweaty palms, I drove us across the bridge that nightmares were made of, and made our way to the mall.
Like nothing ever happened.
*If you are interested to read more, and would like to support an Indie author, you can buy a paperback copy of my memoir Steel Town Girl here.
I read an article by Dr. Perry of MakeItUltra Psychology about How to Have Boundaries with a Toxic Person, and although I agree with his tips when it comes to healing from the trauma pathological narcissists leave in their wake, I don’t necessarily agree they should be incorporated immediately with anyone that we deem “negative,” which is basically anyone speaking out about the bad behaviors of others lately. Reading the comments under that post proved interesting.
One reader said, “I refuse to interact with negative people! As an empath, they literally make me sick!” — Ugh! People like this make me sick. And good luck living in your bubble.
Then, there was the person that said they “ignored them and went mute.” — Yeah. That’s called “gray rock” and is a survival tactic used by those healing from abuse when they have to interact with their abusers and ‘no contact’ is not an option for their healing. Used outside of this context, these people appear to be self-absorbed and rude, aka: as an asshole. Great look by the way.
And, my favorite comment — was the manager — who chimed in saying that the employees she managed were toxic because they complained to her, therefore, drawing her into the negativity and draining her. — Uh, that’s called your job, so people are going to naturally come to you with problems, you know… because you’re the manager… yikes, really?
I just finished listening to Dr. Christiane Northrup’s new book on Audible, called Dodging Energy Vampires, and although I know energy drainers are copious; I’ve dealt with my fair share of them, and we do indeed have to check them at the door after a while — I see an emerging trend happening where people are becoming far too superior to anyone in need of talking things through. And the trend I see is it’s typically the abusers who’ve done the wrong and then want to prohibit the victim from talking about it thereby calling them “toxic” when the conversation points to them taking accountability for their actions. They are flipping the script and calling this “having boundaries.” No, you’re a bully that abuses and then gaslights your victim. Let’s not get it twisted. —
Boundaries are for victims to protect themselves from more harm. Not for abusers to be able to abuse more.
There are two people in a relationship: When one person in that relationship is no longer allowed to have a reaction to shitty behavior, and nothing you do, say, think or feel, after being abused is allowed in the name of the other person “having boundaries” — you are in fact dealing with a narcissistic bully. When that person tells you whatever the hell it is they want to tell you, no matter how hurtful, and then pulls the, “you’re negative,” “it’s not about you,” or “it’s not personal” card, when you want to talk about it, what they are really saying is that they want free reign to abuse you, yet fog their intentions by calling them boundaries.
The subtitle of Dodging Energy Vampires is, “Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power.” Evading relationships? O.k? But at what point? Apparently, the second one deems someone is negative is the answer. If my son calls and asks me how I’m doing, and I say I have a headache, according to him, that is negative and I’m always sick. So, that has become a reason for not coming home for eight Christmases. Li.ter.al. The message is: I have to be fun, and easy to be with at every second, never mention anything about myself, and when he asks me anything, lie. No thanks. Don’t come home then.
And, really… what relationship doesn’t drain us after a while? Solution: I’ll just evade you. Nice. Restoring our health and power is not about being armored up sitting high upon a throne in our untouchable superiority. Evading and shutting people down is a rigid, angry behavior and is abuse in an of itself when done to someone you’ve just abused. This behavior of cutting people off at the knees and evading others in pain is a what Jeff Brown calls trauma-bypassing and is a learned patriarchal behavior.
“Be Here Now”! We can’t. We have too much trauma in the way. “The Power of Now”! Sounds good, but first, we have to deal with the “Power of Then.” Worst things, first. It’s easy enough to talk about being in the “now.” But what we are we even talking about? Now through the mind? Through the heart? Through the body? What does it even mean to be fully present? Most of the people teaching nowness are head-tripping, meditation addicted spiritual bypassers. What do they really know about presence? The truth is that we are all trauma survivors, and that includes every spiritual teacher I have ever known. Almost every one of them has confused self-avoidance with enlightenment, blaming the mind for all that ails them while conveniently sidestepping their wounded hearts. Bottom line- we can’t be in the present, because our emotional and physical body are tied up in trauma knots. Some, many, perhaps all threads of our consciousness are still back there, locked into the originating wounds. If we want to truly BE HERE NOW, we have to be there, then. We have to untie the knots and heal the core wounds. Then, and only “then”, will we know the true power of NOW.” — Jeff Brown
I’m all for boundaries against toxic people, but before labeling someone toxic, don’t forget people are human and looking for connection. Part of being a friend is listening and holding space for people. We’ve forgotten this. Giving people the benefit of the doubt first, with some compassion and empathy may work wonders on someone feeling heard. If someone is toxic, maybe we haven’t heard them out? If that’s your take on someone immediately, maybe you’re projecting? We live in a very literal society anymore. It would be nice if people had some sort of tolerance level before cutting people off at the knees, lest they become the toxic person themselves.
I’m not saying that we must become a welcome mat for people to wipe their feet on, or that we should tolerate people chewing our ears while we should be working, or that we need to be tolerating bad behavior year after year and calling that a relationship… let’s not be so literal and disclaimer-y to the nth degree, k? But, let’s use some common sense. We pretty much know in our heart of hearts the difference between someone venting, and someone toxic, am I right? When someone wants to mend a relationship by talking about the past so it doesn’t repeat itself, and that of someone toxic. I certainly understand the difference. Venting is a once in a while thing, and toxic is all the time. Discussion about pain is altogether different and should be a back and forth, honest dialogue between two people who reciprocate listening, asking questions, while having respect for one another.
Life is hard. Be kind. Come back later and let someone know you care before you decide someone should be written off as “toxic.” Think of that word, “toxic.” It means waste, very bad, unpleasant, harmful. Not something I’m willing to do on a whim. And, I’m not saying that we have to keep taking it and taking it to prove our love to people either. This is a balance thing. You can be soft and kind and still have boundaries like a mofo.
Thankfully, when I was dying on the vine, I was able to put myself into counseling when I didn’t have a shoulder to lean on or an ear to talk to about my pain. It made all the difference in the world to help me stay another day. Think! Some people may not have that resource. And why are they trusting YOU with their story!?
We want world peace, but we don’t want to talk. We want to break generational curses and patterns but we want to evade doing the work. That’s not how any of this even works.
Be an ear. A shoulder. Have a heart. Have boundaries, but don’t forget your own humanness for toxicity. Don’t be so quick to write people off. Take breaks, but go visit your heart and check in with what you really know. It knows the truth. Anything else is toxic.