she probably doesn’t swear like you do

August 6, 2016

we carry around stories, versions of ourselves. we tell the stories so many times that the stories become ‘truths’.

here’s one of mine.

when i was 12, we moved to a fancier part of town. i entered a fancy school full of middle-class adolescents. it was clear that i wasn’t ‘one of them’ in ways that haunt me still. we lived in co-op housing on the edge of the fancy neighbourhood. we couldn’t afford a car. we didn’t go on vacation to the next city let alone to florida. our vacations were trips to the public beach, where (literally) I would buy 2 hot chocolates to share between me and my 3 sisters. sometimes the cashier at the beach take-out stand would be nice, and she’d fill up the 4 cups more than half full. the money for the hot chocolate came from parents’ coat pockets. they didn’t know.

this story stays with me, as an adult, is the core of this. the part where I’m surrounded by fancy people and i’m there with my ill fitting clothes and my unstraightened hair. there’s often some kind of popularity contest in my mind that i continue to ‘lose’ because i’m poor. from when i was 12, and the Nike runners i was so proud of, that i finally got and wore to school (one year later than they were in fashion), they were (literally) pointed out by someone who said ‘why are you wearing those now?’

i’m not 12 any more, but i still have many hints of this. i tried to explain it to my husband today in the park. i got teary and he looked at me like i had a grapefruit for a head.

“I woke up in the middle of night,” i said, “feeling jealous that SHE gets so much attention.” (doesn’t matter who she is, doesn’t matter what happened, the root issue is the same…)

mr. b: she’s not doing what you’re doing. [she’s a writer. you’re doing the penpalling thing.]

me: i know that.

mr. b: maybe it’s not only because she’s rich that she gets this kind of attention. I mean, she probably also doesn’t swear as much as you do.
[as if there’s a popularity contest, and i’m losing because of swearing …is there? … am i?]


i have a writer friend from grad school. she also gets lots of accolades and accomplishments and praise. (Mr. B: but she’s not doing what you’re doing. and she probably doesn’t swear). i have some catering clients, i introduced them to each other, now they socialize but don’t invite me (i’m the hired help, i’m not really someone to invite out. they arrange their trips to go here and there, and i’m not invited. it is because i didn’t come from families like theirs? is it because i don’t drink? is it because i swear?).


is any of this even true? probably not. well, the part where i was 12 and felt small is true. but the rest, i’ve carried around for a long time. what is probably MORE true than this story, is that I still look at ALL events through the lens of ‘i’m from co-op housing whereas THEY get opportunities because they’re rich. She has an agent because she KNOWS PEOPLE’ and I find that i don’t measure up.

i’m not as good a writer as other people. (but they’re not doing what i’m doing.) i’m not as good a writer as SHE is, that girl from grad school. (i don’t want to write like that anyway.)

what I want, maybe, is a club where you don’t have to be rich or well-bred to join 🙂 i want a club where you’re actually judged for who you are and what you do, not for your unintelligible vocabulary, your travels, or your street address. Because when i have to face stuff like that, i’m back to being a 12 year old, taking public transit to the beach with enough money in my pocket to buy 2 cups of hot chocolate, divided into 4.

wonder who’d i’d be if this wasn’t true.


and you? what’s in your backpack? something you carry around that WAS (maybe) true THEN, but probably isn’t true now, though that doesn’t stop you from trotting it out as a measure of how you’re not good enough.


this painting can be personalized. maybe you’d like it to say Free or Grace or s’elever or Sortie … this is the last of the green-beachy ones. ** (


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • Wow it’s truly amazing how similar in essence all these stories are. I was moved across the ocean after a divorce at age 8 got on airplanes alone, learned a new language- wore a Miss Piggy ( who I adored) one day and was teased ; it led to years of eating disorders and over drinking.
    Belle – you are so incredibly helpful- thank you.

  • My backpack consists of a farm girl who lived out in the middle of nowhere and had NOTHING. 1 pair of knickers and always got fines at school in gym class because I never had a pair of white socks (part of the uniform, which I never had either). To this end, I was given detention, and then punished by my parents at home for getting detention..didn’t they realise it was their neglect to begin with? The worst was the nickname “piranha breath” because I didn’t own a toothbrush. Thank God for social services and my grandparents for stepping in. Although too little, too late. Ahh.. the marks humans leave are too often scars.. I went the opposite way as I got older- more bold and brash and everyone thought I was so brave and super duper positive. I’m a fantastic actor, by the way. I was given three choices for my career life. Army, Police, or social services. Social services it was- I went and took kids out of their shitty homes and away from where I came from. My career was a type of revenge-I was that same little girl underneath in an adult body. I didn’t deserve anything or anyone, happiness and belonging was not in my trail of thoughts. Fast forward:
    Now, after burnout and sobriety, I have a new career path. ( I’m not the the child catcher from chitty chitty bang bang anymore). I work with people who are dying. I give empathy, compassion, attention and most importantly, I just listen. And I’m fucking good at it. My people die in peace. So, I actually thank my backpack in a way. It finally gave me something back for all the years and countries I lugged it around in.
    I couldn’t give a shit about any other club- I’m in Belle’s Club now.

  • I overheard my uncle when I was little telling my sister that she was the pretty one. Well that of course must mean that I am the ugly one. That was just the beginning of my insecurities about my looks. I had been born with a facial deformity and have been through a lot to fix it and I’m still ugly. That is all I see when I look in the mirror. What would my life be if I looked like her. Life is so much easier for the pretty people.

  • My rock/label says, “she’s too shy. she probably won’t speak anyway, so it’s not even worth to listen”. There are some other things in that backpack, too. like having two kinds of fillings on my bread at once (as I had seen it from another kid’s lunch paket) – but that’s not how “we” could have afforded it. or the birkenstock sandals, that are pretty fashionable now, but they were the ugliest thing for the girl with the huge duck feet anyway … or the one lousy gummy bear that my sports teacher gave me, because my track and field results were so bad, they weren’t even on the list …
    isn’t the worst part the being alone with this? even now! I mean, who could you tell about crying over gummy bears today?

  • Totally relate to this teenage experience, attending a school where I wasn’t one of the “in” crowd. SO discouraging for me at the time. I got lucky, because a friend asked me to come to her church youth group which had kids from all over our city in it. We all took each other at face value. That changed everything for me. I got a circle of amazing friends! We all cherished each other and had a great time together. My 50th high school reunion is this year and I couldn’t be less interested. I still carry that story with me. Although there might be a few gals there I would enjoy seeing, the thought of rejection by the majority is enough to keep me away.

    • You should go to your reunion. I was not part of the ‘in crowd’ in high school. I thought I would just talk to a few friends, but lo and behold, everyone grew up! And we all acted like adults! None of the clique stuff mattered anymore.

  • 75 days and still having a hard time with past mistakes can’t seem to let them go does help to read your emails says:

    75 days and still having a hard time with past mistakes can’t seem to let them go does help to read your emails

  • Gosh I didn’t realise so many others had the feeling too. I have always felt I didn’t quite fit in, was ultimately alone, because I was an only child from a home of constantly fighting parents, whilst all my friends in secondary school seemed to have happy families with married parents and lived in the same neighbourhood. I could never have anyone round to my flat because I knew my parents would kick off and more often than not the police would be called; when my dad left for good I kept it a secret for three years. And thirty years later I find myself secretly drinking alone every night. Belle if it makes any difference at all, I can tell you now you are the most talented, inspiring, pretty incredible woman who is helping to give me, and so many others, the biggest gift of getting sober and maybe at last being able to be the real me – without the old backpack. You are one of life’s very special people. And 80’s Nike trainers are SO back in now by the way – you should dig them out and be proud.

  • I had the “never quite fit in” from school, but I REALLY felt it when we moved to a Master Community (swim/tennis/golf) and everyone had a home that looked like it would be featured in Southern Living. Or their kids always wore the “right” clothes, made the sports teams, were in the best classes…… blah blah blah. That’s when this wine witch started letting me know I wasn’t good enough but hitting the mommy happy hours would make it all ok.

  • You’re a wonderfully effective coach, with empathy in spades, and 20:20 vision for what really matters. My rock said ‘bit thick, but tries hard, shame really’. Only I put it down some time ago and started learning 3 languages … Turns out I’m bright enough to know good counsel when I hear it. 😘

  • As a child , I was the “swot” the “head always in a book” … translated into boring, like that off white colour of paint, insipid, non descript. Quiet too.
    As an adult I’ve always had mental health issues so I’ve been seen as the “one to treat carefully “ to be felt sorry for , not to expect anything from , unsuccessful, unable to cope. Sort of nice person, but in a weak way. Pathetic, weak, uninteresting.
    Since doing my counselling training I have learnt a lot about myself and also had many clients that suffer in different ways. I guess that’s helped me realise that most people have struggles; mostly it’s not talked about, until there’s a crisis. We are all pretty much as vulnerable as each other money or no money; affluent, influential or not, popular or not.
    And since being sober I’ve found plenty more people who at least talk about real things and how life is far from perfect for any of us. I guess that’s one of the gifts I’ve had in sobriety… recognising that I’m far from the only one who is sensitive, (very ) imperfect, with variable moods; but that actually it’s ok , I’m ok , that’s good enough…. x

  • Our stories and experiences make us who we are. We are fighters, parents, friends, children, siblings, hard workers and unique individuals who have common experiences and feelings, though unique details. Being vulnerable is courageous. We find community when we share. I admire each and every one of you; you inspire me with your courage.

  • Yes, I think we all have these “scripts” from growing up. I’m the weird, slightly dorky, skinny kid with mediocre social skills. I grew up an only child and always felt awkward around my peers. (You can add a facial scar and 8th grade back brace to the picture too.) As an adult this translates as “Of course they like him better than me. They probably only tolerate me in order to spend time with him.”

    We’ll never know who we would have become without these negative experiences, but I for one appreciate the depth of your kindness, generosity, empathy, humility, courage, and determination. Is it possible that the struggles you endured contributed to the development of these personality traits? 🙂

  • Hmmm – this is all taking me back to my middle school days when I was the Catholic school girl princess -dorky, overweight and different – who transferred to the public school. I found that drinking and smoking was cool and allowed me entry to the “cool kids” club. It’s just occurring to me now, 45 years later, that this was when it all began. I had an alcohol problem from my first sip (gulp) of Annie Green Springs or Boone’s Farm (not sure which). Despite getting so sick that night, I kept at it until 12 weeks ago. Thank you Belle and everyone else for getting me thinking about this.

  • Yes. That feeling of never belonging, always being the outsider, never getting the approval that we desire. For me I was always the cleverest at school so was never one of the gang. Then never did anything with it so my father disapproved. Then the music career I chose failed, no approval to be found there. And now I’m single and childless, what kind of a member of society am I?!

    Why are we constantly on this search for external validation, the more out of reach the better? (Well wine loves you, Wolfie sneaks in.)

    I have never felt like I belonged to a group before, but Belle you have done an extraordinary thing in bringing us all together like this. We all have our pom poms out for you.

    Yay for Belle! 🙂 x

  • I’m always the fattest person in any room I enter, usually even compared to the men. This is how my drinking started – liquid courage to even leave the house, let alone socialize. Its been very difficult to live with the voices telling me ‘you’re huge, you’re ugly, you should stay home and hide’ while sober. The alcohol always shut those voices down for me. The biggest adjustment to sober life is finding other ways to get the courage enabling me to leave my house and forget all the things I hate about myself. Hoping to get there someday.

  • I can relate. I had a child when I was 15 by a 25 year old man and was encouraged to get married to the loser. I did….surprisingly, it didn’t work out. I basically had to leave him and my son for my sanity while he had sex with anyone that would have him. Didn’t get any emotional support from my parents…they had already raised their kids. So I was an 18 year old without a high school degree from a middle class family who left my baby with him. He promptly got remarried and had her take care of him while denying me visitation. I got my GED and forged ahead and got a good job and remarried a good man who helped me get back the visitation etc.but I’ve ALWAYS felt “less than” because of this! It was 40 years ago and it still bothers me from time to time…it’s ridiculous! But boy did I drink a lot of beers and wine over that!!!!! it really helped…haha….by the way, my son and I have an ok….relationship now and the dad is out of the picture…..karma?

  • I can totally relate to this. I’ve been on repeat in my head about how things were for me in middle school. How I was knocked down and bullied by others because of who I was and the success I had. As I’m working through my recovery and digging deep on what’s holding me back I keep going back to those feelings from middle school – 20 years later and they are still directing my life.

    It’s so frustrating, but I know if I keep pushing forward with kindness and grace to myself and others I will get to the other side.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Those bloody bags of rocks . Own them. Say they’re yours. Yes they have your name on them, then take them out of the rucksack. Xxx

  • Well, hmmm…. She doesn’t swear like you do….ok. I’m adopted. I was 3 days old. I’ve always felt like a toy poodle for my parents. Who put it in the small town news paper ( they were proud– not really. Only one of them– my Dad) and everyone knew I wasn’t “real” I was the unwanted orphan kid. My mom used to tell me that she knew my “real” mom and she didn’t want me. But sometimes– when the mail would come– they’d pretend it was my mom coming to take me back. Until I’d dissolve in tears ( I was 8–12) and then it was a big joke. They were so shocked when I acted out– said bad words, smoked and drank—at 12–40+.
    I have spent my life feeling not good enough, not wanted or like some puppy. Or my life is an Oprah show…so interesting, she’s ADOPTED! How cute!
    Please… I hate it. I feel like Cinderella. I’m ashamed no one. Not even my 20 year old bio mom wanted me. I was just the first girl that came along. Because they didn’t want a boy. I get it. It sucks the life out of you. And with drinking…guess what….for a minute it’s not so embarrassing to be unwanted. And I swear a fucking lot.

  • Oh yeah, Belle, I think a lot of us get this one. I popped out a chubby baby and stayed that way as a toddler, kid, adolescent, and teen. When they gave out animal nicknames at camp, while the other girls were “bunny” and “pony” and “puppy,” I was “owl.” Ouch, Even though I lost weight at 20 and have kept a fit body ever since, my bag of rocks still contains stones of extra weight. 😉 My body may be healthy and look pretty darn good, but all I see sometimes is “fat.”

  • Belle, you should have grown up where I did. You would have fit right in. Where I grew up no one was well bred. No one was rich. I had a pair of cool Nikes as a teenager…they were second hand. My friends and I were all poor. My husband grew up in public housing and I don’t think he ever gives it a second thought.

    Now days we all have more money. Even our parents a richer now. They remember the days they couldn’t afford a loaf of bread or a coffee, now they are wealthy…ish.

    I look at my kids childhood, so different from my own. They have more, but we were happy kids. Life was simpler then.

    To grow up surrounded by the ‘haves’ when your a ‘have not’ would be hard. It doesn’t define you…it’s not who you are.

  • I grew up in poverty. My parents rented houses till they got behind in the rent and moved.
    I attended 5 different schools and was always the girl with the bad clothes, taped up glasses, and curly out of control hair.
    I was also the girl who couldn’t have friends over.
    My parents would go to the bar and come home fighting. Sometimes the cops were called. Sometimes I called them when things got scary.
    I never really made friends.
    As an adult, I’ve had a few close friends. Not to close though.
    I always have a vague feeling of not quite fitting in. I got a degree( first one in the family to go to college) a job as a social worker, a nice house, 2 great kids but still felt ” not good enough.” I still carry that around.
    I’m getting better at feeling ” good enough.” Quitting drinking is helping with that.
    Maybe I spent most of my adult life drinking to feel good about myself( drinking gave me a feeling of fitting in).
    I still carry it around though but the backpack is getting lighter.

  • Wow. Fantastic post. I moved around a lot when I was young, so I was always the new girl. The one who wore the wrong clothes, had a weird accent, and sat with anyone who would have her at lunch. Just when I would make some headway, we’d move again. So I now make myself an outsider by having superficial relationships that I drop immediately without a second thought. Thank your for making me review this old baggage. Time for a change. ; )

  • I can also relate to this story as I was in public housing when I was younger and I actually still am now as an adult with my children and I have carried that stigma with me my whole life and I am fearing that my 13 year old daughter feels the same way I did. I am trying each day sober to slowly not care what people think about me and to live my best truth and to be grateful for what I have because I know first hand things could be worse I am who I am and I don’t need to compare my life to anyone else’s life.

  • I was a Navy brat and we were always moving so I was constantly “the new girl”. Never fit in, always wore the wrong clothes and I didn’t try to make friends because, what was the point, we were just going to move and I’d have to leave them behind. Yep, I still carry that shit around.

  • Count me in for this club! My parents grew up poor, on little farms during the Depression, and didn’t go to college. They did better for my sister and me. We never lacked for anything important, but still, we were working class, and I so very desperately wanted to have a dad who was a doctor or a lawyer, a mom who arranged flowers in garden clubs and didn’t have a countrified Mississippi accent, a two-story house with enough bathrooms for everyone, a canopy bed, a pony…I sometimes think I’ve spent my whole life creating the life I “should have had.”

  • Hey, you got everyone hot chocolate ! You know as well as anyone that what you’re carrying around is part of you – it helped make you and you’re doing more good than anyone who ever got to socialise with people who don’t think to invite the person who introduced them. Looks from here like you’re non hierarchical non judgemental and you walk in other people’s shoes – and that’s so much better a way to be. Thanks Belle x

  • I know exactly how you feel. I had the same exact experience in catholic school. Everyone was from a wealthy family. We weren’t even close. My dad is a disabled veteran. I was so embarrassed by this, I lied about him and what he did for a living. Girls made fun of my shoes also. Thank God we all had to wear uniforms! Except on picture day. Four “clicky” girls were dressed head to toe in ESPIRIT on picture day. I didn’t know how to pronounce it and they made fun of me relentlessly. I still want to fit in and feel inadequate around anyone who makes more money than I do. Anyway, thanks for sharing. It makes things feel so much better when other people had similar experiences.

  • The mind is a tricky thing. It’s always subjective. Maybe your siblings have other memories/feelings about the same event. But I totally understand; I have the same as you, but I swear as well 🙂 . As long as we make things like education, wealth, travels etc. for ourself so important, so long they will be things on which we think we will be judged. It’s our own ego who does it, not other people. We don’t know what other people think. People are too complex to understand and everybody has his own trauma’s. So let it go. (have to tell myself that every single day).

  • I’m from a relatively wealthy family (doesn’t take much in South Carolina!) and I always felt judged by my own father for not being cool enough, and then by my moms family for being spoiled. Everybody’s got the damned bag of rocks. One thing I figured out just this week is that the bag of rocks is annoying and completely useless. And not only that, but people actually LIKE YOU and don’t like your bag of rocks, and if you put down the bag of rocks, can see better that people like to talk to you:) I’m taking off my Insecurity Badge this week too!

  • I have a whole bunch of these going back 40 or more years, but how about one from the other day? where a person higher up in the organization than I am, basically snubbed me at a gathering, actually a going away party for me. Disconcerting because I had the notion from a many previous interactions that we were sort of “friends”. I guess you can’t take any of it too seriously and who knows, maybe he is going through something at the moment. Yes, we are always too poor,too tall or too fat or curly when curly is not “in”. We are not in the top 2% of our profession and blah blah blah. I used to go to a church where they said ” God is not looking for ability, He is looking for availability”.
    That is the astounding thing about you, Belle. You are so “ordinary” and yet you are doing a Great Work in the world. And what did Mother Teresa say about doing small things with great love?

  • I am the youngest of four girls and my dad, a firm believer in competition, encouraged that between us . My older sister was an incredible artist, my second sister was excellent downhill ski racer my third sister was an excellent tennis player. I didn’t know where the hell I fit in ??? So I got really good at just rejecting everything. I excelled at negativity. I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t good enough. And with that mindset, I found plenty of evidence to prove it true. Some was probably valid. Some not. I think I have been trying to shake this mindset my whole life. It’s been a hell of a lot of work. Who am I if this isn’t true?????

  • I feel like you’ve created a club here that is pretty similar to what you’ve described, and even if it doesn’t feel the same to you, it’s the most important club that I could possibly belong to. And you don’t care if I’m rich or pretty or clever, I still get to be in it.

  • Wow. Can I relate to this. My son went to a private school when he was little – for special needs kids (he’s autistic). The tuition was a major struggle. Most parents were wealthy. I grew up poor also. I felt so intimidated by those parents (and most of them were lovely). I felt inadequate and stupid and not worthy. Just like when I was twelve….