The Worst Day of My Life – Rhonda Britten

The Worst Day of My Life – Rhonda Britten

Rhonda says “It took me 20 years to get thru that day” as she opens up about the event that changed her life forever when she was 14 years old.   She talks about how it changed her view of God, herself and the world around her, sending her on a path or self-destruction she barely survived until finally dealing with the pain and anger, eventually healing and finding her life’s purpose.

Follow Rhonda on twitter @RhondaBritten

Check out her websites for the course she mentioned www.fearlessliving.org/risk

www.LifeCoachCertificationProgram.com

and her books https://fearlessliving.org/books/

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp online counseling.  To get a free week go to www.BetterHelp.com/mental

This episode is sponsored by Audible and their new audio program Where Should We Begin?  To check it out go to www.Audible.com/esther (Audible & Amazon Prime members listen for free)

This episode is sponsored by ZipRecruiter.  To post jobs for free go to www.ZipRecruiter.com/first

To become a recurring monthly donor to the podcast (and get free things from Paul like Paul’s video Tribute to Herbert go to www.Patreon.com/mentalpod and sign up for as little as $1/month.

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Episode notes:

Follow Rhonda on twitter @RhondaBritten

Check out her websites for the course she mentioned www.fearlessliving.org/risk

www.LifeCoachCertificationProgram.com

and her books https://fearlessliving.org/books/

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp online counseling.  To get a free week go to www.BetterHelp.com/mental

This episode is sponsored by Audible and their new audio program Where Should We Begin?  To check it out go to www.Audible.com/esther (Audible & Amazon Prime members listen for free)

This episode is sponsored by ZipRecruiter.  To post jobs for free go to www.ZipRecruiter.com/first

To become a recurring monthly donor to the podcast (and get free things from Paul like Paul's video Tribute to Herbert go to www.Patreon.com/mentalpod and sign up for as little as $1/month.

Episode Transcript:

Transcription services donated by Accurate Secretarial LLC. You can find them at www.AccurateSecretarial.com.

 

Welcome to Episode 331 with my guest Rhonda Britten. I'm Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, a place for honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions, past traumas and sexual dysfunction to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. I'm not a therapist. It's not a doctor's office. It's more like a waiting room that doesn't suck.

The Web site for this show is Mentalpod.com. Go there, check it out. Fill out a survey. Maybe we'll read your survey on the air. You can also browse the forum. You can buy stuff, like T-shirts and coffee mugs. Actually, we're looking for a new T-shirt vendor for right now, but you can buy coffee mugs. You can support the show with a one-time donation or recurring monthly donation, all kinds of stuff. So, yeah, go check that out. Mentalpod is also the Twitter handle that you can follow me at.

So, got back from the Europe trip two days ago and, or was it three days ago? I don't know. I forget. But it went great. The people that I met up with were so friendly, showed me around town. We recorded their stories. Took me to great place to eat. I got to go up to Liverpool, do the Beatles tour. That was like a religious experience for me. It was so cool, and it was on a beautiful sunny day. I just managed to have the greatest stretch of sunny days.

In England it was sunny almost every day. Hyde Park was in full bloom. It was, it was just, it was so good. And, like I said, Liverpool was, I dreamed about seeing Liverpool since I was a little kid. When I was six and seven years old, the first two albums that I got as gifts were from my cousin, and he gave me Meet the Beatles and Revolver, and I played the shit out of those two albums and became a Beatles fan ever since then. So, it was just, in my imagination, I had always, you know, I've heard so many Beatles stories, and, you know, reading about them, hearing people talk in interviews about them, and to see all of these places in person on a beautiful sunny spring day was just incredible.

I had a moment [chuckles] in London, I love to smoke the occasional cigar, and you can't get Cuban cigars in the United States, and Cuban cigars are, for the most part, the best cigars that you can get, so when I go outside of the States, I usually try to buy a Cuban cigar or two. And I was in London, trying to find a place to buy a cigar, and I found myself in kind of a hoity-toity section of London, and I thought, well, you know, I'm just getting one so I'll go in there and I'm sure it'll be more expensive than it would be someplace else.

And so it's like this cigar lounge for, you know, London businessmen, and [chuckles] I sat down, I just invited myself into this circle of guys that were sitting and talking and having cigars. They were super friendly. And one of the guys, well, let me preface this by saying, one of the things that I love to do when I'm in a country is to have a stereotypical experience.

And I sat down in this circle of guys and we're smoking cigars, and one of the guys, I'm not exaggerating, is wearing a three-piece suit, a derby and a jeweled cane [chuckles]. And I was just like, yes, yes. I went to an English tea room with one of the guests that I recorded, a really, really sweet kid, he came down from Manchester when I was in Liverpool, and he's 19, blue collar, into heavy metal, and I said to him, you know, one of the things I want to do while I'm in England is I want to go to a fancy tea parlor and have tea. And he's like, what?

And so, he and I went into this place, and we walk into this tea parlor and a lady is like listening to '20s music on a Victrola and doing some weird kind of '20s dance. And we just both looked at each other and just started laughing, and we went in there and we sat and had fancy English tea and just laughed the whole time because we felt so out of place.

But his name is J.T. and his episode will be coming up at some point in the next couple of months, a really, really touching episode. [Chuckles] If you are traveling to the EU, here's a little something that you should know. If your passport is within three months of expiring, they won't let you in. I found that when I was trying to fly from England to Germany. So, I had to [chuckles] pay for an extra hotel, an extra flight and go to the embassy and get an emergency passport.

And it, I was really pissed off and disappointed at first because that was time that I could have spent in Berlin, recording more people, but when I went to the U.S. embassy and saw the line of people applying for visas to come work in the United States, I, I just had this moment of gratitude that I get to live there.

You know, put aside all of the problems I have with American politics and foreign policy and how we treat health care and all of that other stuff, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity where I live here, and that kind of, that really helped ease that feeling like, oh, I fucked up, you know, why didn't I, you know, why didn't I look into this more, I’m so stupid. Germany was really, really cool. I went out to dinner with two guys who I recorded. One is from Sweden and the other is an Aussie who lives there, and we just had, I said to them, I want to go eat like the most stereotypical German food that you can eat. I want to have that experience. And we did. I had schnitzel. It was so cool, and they were super-nice guys.

I wish I'd had more time in Berlin. And then I went to Baden-Baden, which is the south of Germany, and I didn't have plans to record anybody there. And I had this moment, Baden-Baden is, it's like a, this really old mineral spa that the Romans used to go there, and they're supposed to be really healing waters. And it was amazing.

Well, for one, you're in Europe and it's just, people are so casual about their bodies there. So, I was there on a day when it's mixed and it's men and women just walking around naked in these mineral baths, and it, I, when I walked out of that spa, I felt like I had had five massages. It just, it was so relaxing.

And then I went to this, I don't know if you'd call it downtown Baden-Baden, because it's just this tiny little village that has been almost frozen, like it's the late 1800s, except that the hotels have all the modern conveniences and stuff like that, but just cobblestone streets, friendly people. You're on the edge of the Black Forest so you can see mountains and trees. And it's, once again, a beautiful spring day and the sky is blue and you can just smell that fresh air and the church bells ringing and kids are, you know, running from, coming out of school.

And I'm sitting at this café and I'm drinking coffee, and it was just, it was an amazing cup of coffee and it's a beautiful day and the birds are chirping, and this guy had rolled a piano out onto this cobblestone street and started playing the most beautiful, heartfelt piano I'd ever heard in my life. This guy must have been a concert pianist in his spare time.

He was Russian. I forget what his name was. But he was playing song after song after song with a feel that I had never, it almost looked like his hands were under water, the way that they were moving. They were so fluid, and he played with such feeling and touch that I started crying. And I'm not one usually to cry, listening to somebody play piano, and I started to wonder, what is it that's moving me so much in this moment?

And I realized, I feel like the universe is hugging me right now. All of these components have come together, and I'm having this amazing experience, by myself, and yeah, there might have also been some loneliness in there, but going through the divorce that I've been going through lately and feeling all of that pain and sadness and then having this moment where I just felt so alive and connected, it was, it was beautiful. It was a little embarrassing [chuckles] because this one German guy was, just kept looking at me, like why is that man crying, but I didn't really care because it felt so, it felt so good.

I went to Amsterdam after that, and I got to record a woman that I wasn't able to record in Berlin, so she made the train ride there and she grew up in East Germany. We've actually read stuff from her before on the podcast. She calls herself Anne from Berlin, and it was just a beautiful recording. And I can't wait to play that one for you guys.

I got to say, Amsterdam is a really cool city, but a little tough to be in at night if you don't drink and you don't get high, so I just really got high on pancakes. I just ate pancakes wherever I could. And the hotel that I stayed in in Amsterdam was so funky-looking. It looked like something out of like a children's book, it was just so, I don't like the word whimsical, but it was whimsical. There's no other way to describe it. It was such a cool-looking hotel. And so that was my last place where I was.

And then, oh, and I got to see the Van Gogh museum, which was really, really cool. And then I took the plane home, and I was ready to go home at that point, because it had been two weeks and I was starting to get lonely. I hadn't been to any of my support group meetings.

And I'm on the plane and my wife texts me that Herbert's not feeling well, and she's like, do you think I should take him to the vet? And she showed me a little video of him, and, you know, his breathing looked a little off but it didn't seem too bad. And I said, you know, I think he can, because it was night there, it was morning in Amsterdam, as I was flying. And then she texted me back about a half hour later and said, I think I'm going to take him to the vet.

And she did, and then she texted me back about a half hour after that and she said, they said that it's pretty serious and they think he has a 50/50 chance of surviving this, because he has an enlarged heart and he's been on meds for like four years for his heart, and they have just always been adjusting them, and he's 12 years old. And so I, I was just waiting for news about how this was going to go, and then she texted me again and said, he didn't make it.

I still can't believe that it happened. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that I will never get to see Herbert again. He had such a distinct personality. He was so unintentionally funny. I suppose there's no dog that is intentionally funny, but, so I had 12 more hours on this flight, sobbing, and trying to hide my face because I didn't, I didn't want people to see me crying.

And I suppose that's probably what most people would have done, but there was a part of me that really wanted to go ask somebody for a hug and just cry on their shoulder, but I couldn't, so I just hid my face, like I was really focused on my work. You know, I like had my hand on the side of my face, and fortunately, most people's lights were kind of dimmed, their shades were drawn. And I'm still crying about it. I still can't believe, I can still remember that feeling when she said, he didn't make it. It hurts. It hurts so much.

And one of the things that I'm grateful for is that we were able to give Herbert a really good life. We got him when he was about eight weeks old, and he had a really good life. And I'm also grateful that I haven't tried to numb myself out with anything, that when I felt like crying, I've sat down and I've cried, and I have wailed. And I feel like I'm getting through this like an adult. I'm not numbing myself with sugar or pornography. And it hurts, and I know it's probably going to still hurt for a while, but I feel like I'm handling it like an adult, like I'm, like I'm growing up, and I'm proud of myself, to be able to do that.

And my ex-wife and I, even though we're legally still married, blah, blah, blah, we've been leaning on each other, and that's been nice because nobody really can understand what it feels like to lose your dog except the other person that lived with you and that dog. And you know, one minute we'll be crying and the next minute we'll be making a joke.

One of the jokes that we make is, our other dog, Ivy, is so self-centered and such a princess, and [chuckles] so we almost immediately started making jokes that Ivy said that Herbert's will stated that he never be mentioned again [chuckles] and that she took it upon herself to put all his stuff on the porch. And it was so nice to be able to laugh in that moment, but it is hard. It is hard.

And for those of you that are monthly donors through Patreon, I put a little video together of my favorite pictures of Herbert and some, just kind of like a little biography of his life, and I hope, if that interests you, it helps give you a little sense of who Herbert was [chuckles]. It feels so weird to talk about this like a dog, but he was our little baby boy. You know, we don't have kids. And we had a thousand different names for him, and it's just, it's just, it's weird. It's weird. And I know a lot of you have lost a pet and you know what it's like. There's no easy way around it, just through it.

So, I'm going to read two surveys before we go to the interview with Rhonda. This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself Teen Angsty, and she writes, in high school I had an extremely abusive relationship with a boyfriend. The stress I experienced from that relationship manifested itself in many ways, including me losing a dangerous amount of weight when I was 17. I looked sick, yet no one in my life noticed or bothered to question the sudden and drastic weight loss.

My mother, whom I've had an extremely volatile relationship with, she has mental illness and she's never taken care of it properly, she was a speed freak and a current addict to prescription pills and has a horrible temper.

Around this time, she was diagnosed with diabetes and began attempting to control her diet. One day, after she had stuck to her sugar-free diet for months, we were driving in the car on the way home from my boyfriend's house, she started laughing and said to me, these are your jeans, isn't it funny? They're too big for me. Can you believe I wear a size smaller than you?

Before I read this other one, I want to also mention one of our sponsors, who I've raved many times about, and who I use, BetterHelp.com. They are an online counseling service that is great. Go to BetterHelp.com/mental. Complete a questionnaire and they'll match you up with a BetterHelp.com counselor, and you can experience a free week of online counseling to see if it works for you. You have to be over 18, and I highly, highly recommend them. Everybody I know that has tried them has had a great experience with them.

And this last Awfulsome Moment was filled out by a guy who calls himself Whelp, and he writes, I had just finished listening to the episode with Dr. Natalie Feinblatt a few days ago about codependent relationships. In it she had mentioned that people who suffer from codependency still suffer from their codependent tendencies even when not in a romantic relationship.

This thought had been rattling around in my head. I knew I had a problem with the codependent relationships when I was in them, but I had not had a romantic relationship in years. So, was it still that case? In what ways was my chronic people-pleasing affecting my life today?

I got my answer when I sat down to watch Netflix on my tiny little tablet instead of on my large flat-screen TV, because I was afraid the good sound system would bother the neighbors, I had never even met them, even as I could hear the sound of their TV coming through my walls.

 

[Show intro]

 

PAUL: I'm here with Rhonda Britten, who was recommended to me by a listener. She said, you have to interview this woman, she has a really compelling story and she is just a resilient person who has walked through a lot of shit and she knows how to tell her story.

And so, my listeners are alm-, ooh, that sounds so possessive.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: The listeners, my listeners, they're rarely wrong because they just have a sense of what is good for the show, so the pressure's on you, Rhonda.

 

RHONDA: I don't feel pressured at all, because I am somebody who bears all, and I believe that our journey is a spiritual one, and I believe my job is to go to the depths and bring it back. So, I let other people know it's okay to go there, and if they're there it's okay and they will get out, and/or if they're too scared to go, I'll go for them.

 

PAUL: Nice, nice.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, it's like my job.

 

PAUL: What do they say, you don't truly know heaven until you've been through hell, something like that.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, yeah. You can't really, I actually agree with that to a certain extent, because you don't know how good life is until life is really not good. And, I mean--

 

PAUL: I couldn't agree more.

 

RHONDA: --really not good [chuckles].

 

PAUL: And you have some really not good in your past.

So, let's start at the beginning, start at your childhood, if that's an okay place to start.

 

RHONDA: Absolutely. So, I think the story that you're referring to is the, what I like to say, the worst day of my life, even though I've had many really bad days since, which we can talk about all the different landmarks throughout my journey that I would call, you know, the, what would you call them, the--

 

PAUL: Signposts?

 

RHONDA: The signposts, the go down in the ditch. You know, I call them my personal hell, that's what I call it [chuckles]. I call it personal hell. And this--

 

PAUL: We can hold off on that, that day for a while, unless you feel like that is--

 

RHONDA: It's your choice.

 

PAUL: Okay. I just, with your story, I just think it'd be interesting to go chronologically and lead up to that, lead up to that day.

 

RHONDA: Yeah. So, you know, I grew up in upper Minnesota and upper Michigan. I grew up around Lake Superior.

 

PAUL: Oh, hey, 'dere.

 

RHONDA: There she go, hey, now, eh. Three hundred and sixty-five inches of snow a year.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: You know, I grew up in a little, tiny--

 

PAUL: Was it the UP?

 

RHONDA: You got it, Yooper, eh?

 

PAUL: Oh, it's so beautiful up there. It is unbelievable--

 

RHONDA: And when I was driving here today, when I was driving here today, the car in front of me had Yooper, too, on it--

 

PAUL: Really?

 

RHONDA: --and I literally kept on trying to wave the driver, like, a Yooper, I'm a Yooper, but she like literally was like, [whistling distractedly] and I'm like, no, no. And every stoplight, I was like, hey, hey, I was like one of those like rabid fans, like trying to get her attention, right?

 

PAUL: Yes.

 

RHONDA: But, yeah, I grew up, my parents grew up in the UP. I'm a Yooper. And then, I was born in Minnesota, upper Minnesota, so, between Duluth and Hancock, Michigan, went back and forth, and we basically lived in, you know, 800-square-foot, 1,100-square-foot house, like all my other neighbors, one bathroom. And my mother was a bank teller and my father worked in computers.

And I always say that if my father was just alive today we would be multimillionaires, but no, he had to die, because he was doing computers before there were computers. He was doing computers when they were a full room, right, like, you know--

 

PAUL: Oh, wow. Did he go back to the punch-card days?

 

RHONDA: Oh, punch card, I used to go to the punch cards, right. I used to go into his, you know, the big computer in the whole room, right, and I would be like going in there and I'd do the punch. I still have punch cards.

 

PAUL: I did, I learned on punch cards.

 

RHONDA: Me, too.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: So, my dad ran computer centers for, in the 1960s.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, so it was really cool. So, but growing up in the Upper Peninsula, you know, on one hand, you're safe and you're protected, right, from the elements of the evil cities, right, of the, you know, nothing bad happens in the U.P., right, until it happens to you.

And that's, you know, what happened to me is something that never happened there before and it almost is un-, you know, if I look back on my life and I think about that day, I know that that day was supposed to happen, but that day, to get through it, it took me 20 years to get through it. And that, and I think that's, I don't think I'm alone there. I think that when we have some trauma in our lives, some traumatic event, you know, everybody's so busy trying to heal it fast, you know, and they say, you know, the experts say it takes 18 months to grieve, right.

My experience is, is that most of us don't grieve for 10, five, 20 years until after a traumatic event. We, it's almost like, I know that I didn't have the capacity to grieve for it. I mean, I thought I gr-, don't get me wrong, I thought I did it, but I, I don't think I had the wherewithal, the foundation, the ability to actually feel all the feelings that were inside me.

 

PAUL: Yeah. It would have killed you to have felt them all at once.

 

RHONDA: Yeah.

 

PAUL: And don't we really have to navigate all of the triggers multiple times to put it to rest?

 

RHONDA: Absolutely.

 

PAUL: Until you've navigated the things that remind you of the thing you don't want to be reminded of, how could you possibly get to that place? And how could you possibly know it's never going to come up again? Maybe it'll be less intense.

But let's go back to your childhood and talk about, give me some moments, some vignettes, snapshots of your childhood that you feel were emblematic of not only the world around you and how you perceived it, but what was going on internally in yourself and your family.

 

RHONDA: Hm. Well, I think I lived in a world where there was two of me, right, and I think that, I don't think I'm alone there. I think I, I mean, I was a straight-A student, class president, you know, ran my church youth group. They didn't have one so I made one.

 

PAUL: Okay [chuckles].

 

RHONDA: And when I was 14, I was going to like be a minister. I was like totally into God. And I'll never forget, when I was 13, you know, again, grew up in upper Michigan, and in upper Michigan they had the revival, a revival come through, right, and we had never seen a revival come through, like a preacher coming on, and he came to the high school gym and he's like, come and be saved, right, and I loved God. I loved God.

And so when he's like, come up and be saved, you know, come to the front of the room and be saved, I immediately jumped up and, you know, ran to the front because I was going to be saved, you know, because I just loved God.

And my mother did not, my mother and I went to this event, and my mother didn't come for a long time, and then all of a sudden, you know, she came finally, maybe, I don't know, 15, 20 minutes later, because they're like, come on, come on, come on, you know. So, I'm up there, you know, probably tearing a little bit, loving my God. My mother comes up and she puts her hand on my shoulder.

Now remember, I was 13 years old. And she puts her hand on my shoulder and she looks up at, you know, she looks down at me like, I did it, I'm here, and I remember being so mad at her, that it took her so long.

I was so mad at her, and actually one of my biggest regrets is that moment, because I wasn't happy to see my mother. It was almost like I brushed her aside, like I was embarrassed, like, oh, I’m so embarrassed that it took you so long to get up here, right, because I was such, you know, like sang in the choir and I ran the youth group and I was going to be a minister, and I just told my mother, I'm going to be a minister, I'm going to give my life to God and I'm going to, and my mother would be like, oh, well, you know, because I used to, I sang all the time and my mother always thought I would marry a minister because I would sing in the choir, right, I would lead the choir, right, because all ministers' wives lead the choir, don't you know?

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: And so I remember her saying to me, oh, my goodness, you know, you won't lead the choir, you're going to be the minister, you're going to be able to keep your name and you're going to, you know, you're going to lead. And I'm like, yes, that's what I'm going to do, right? So, I--

 

PAUL: Do you think, remember where you were.

 

RHONDA: Okay.

 

PAUL: Do you think that what frustrated you about your mom in that moment, that it took her so long to come up, was that there was like a deep-seated need for control in your life that you wanted to, that it was scary to completely let go, like you had an idea of how the spirituality should arrive?

 

RHONDA: I think it was more like I, even though I knew my mother loved me, so I don't doubt my mother's love for me, but my mother didn't protect me. And it was almost like another thing, like really? And again, I don't remember having these thoughts when I was 13. I don't think I was sophisticated or knowledgeable enough to have these thoughts.

But I think, if I look back--

 

PAUL: I don't think anybody who's controlling, unless they've been to therapy or support groups, realizes that. They just think, this is the right way to do it, why can't everybody else get in line.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: And the only reason I'm bringing it up is because when you said you were a straight-A student, that's usually the red flag for the--

 

RHONDA: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I wasn't, I don't think I was controlling in that way because my sister was controlling in that way. My sister was a perfectionist, and my father was a perfectionist.

So, my father would, before he drank a glass of water, he would look at the glass through, you know, up to the light, to see if it was clean, right, that's my father, and I don't remember this, but my, people have told me that, when we were little, my father would have us count the number of toilet sheets we would use, the toilet-paper sheets.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: And we could only use like three toilet sheets, because he was an accountant. He was an accountant. He was a computer guy. So, he would figure out how many pieces you had.

So I was so not controlling compared to the other people around me, right, and my sister Cindy was a perfectionist, like cleaned the house, like, you know, I would try to clean a dish and she'd be like, I have to redo it. And so, basically, my mother would try, God bless her, to get us to do chores or errands or, you know, something, right, and, but my sister Cindy, nothing was good enough. So we, me and my younger sister Linda were like, well, why bother, right?

 

PAUL: Right.

 

RHONDA: Now, it doesn't mean we weren't hard workers, because we were, but we weren't, we were always told, on one hand, you know, I was the smart one in the family and I was the, you know, the spiritual one. I was the, quote, unquote, pretty one in the family growing up. But I wasn't definitely the favored one. I definitely wasn't the favored one.

 

PAUL: And why do you think that was? Because your sister--

 

RHONDA: My little sister Linda, the youngest child--

 

PAUL: The perfectionist, or the other one--

 

RHONDA: --yeah, Cindy was the perfectionist, the older one. My little sister Linda, who was born a year and a half after me, so we're, you know, very close in age, and my father, the world revolved around Linda.

 

PAUL: Why do you think that was?

 

RHONDA: Well, I can tell you stories that people told me why it was. You know, one person said my mother was going to leave my father and he raped her and Linda was a product of rape, and so he always saw Linda as a solution to his marital problems, like she saved the marriage.

We could say that, when I was born, I had a brother between, born between me and my older sister Cindy. There was a brother born, but he died at birth. And so when I was born, I was a girl, much to the chagrin of my very sports-fanatical father.

And I think for me, he put all his, I think for me, he just put all his rage in me. Like he, if he was mad at somebody, it was me. If he hit somebody, it was me. If, you know, whatever, it was me. But on the other hand, he would tell me I'm Miss America, I was going to be Miss America, not because I was special.

He didn't say I was going to be Miss America because I was special. He would look at the stats, back then the Miss America contest, you know, you all sat around and watched it, right? And back in the day, they would have stats, like, oh, she's blond, oh, she's from a small town, oh, she sings, oh, she, you know, and I would fit the stats. Oh, you're from a small town. Oh, you sing. You're a blond. You could be Miss America.

So, it was never personalized. It was never like, you, Rhonda, Miss America. It was always like, well, you fit the stats so you could be Miss America.

 

PAUL: It sounds like your dad had OCD and it even extended to how he would categorize people.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: You know?

 

RHONDA: I actually think you're probably right, right? And so, my little sister, Linda, you know, because I was just a disappointment in his eyes because I wasn't a boy, when he had Linda, it was, it was like the sun and like, [holy-sounding singing]--

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: You know, so when I was growing up, this is what I lived with. Like, we lived on the only street in, this is when we lived in Minnesota, on the only street that, the only block, I should say, on our street that was not paved and it was rocks, okay.

So, the only block on a, you know, two-mile street that was not paved, and so when we had to cross the street, where our friends lived, you know, we'd run across the rocky street, right. My father would carry Linda. Oh, don't--

 

PAUL: What?

 

RHONDA: --don't, you don't have to go over that scary stuff, let Daddy carry you. And he would literally carry her everywhere.

 

PAUL: How old was she?

 

RHONDA: Oh, she was in, let's see, kindergarten, first grade, second grade. Yeah, and it was so fascinating because, to this day, if you really want to see somebody, how they grow, my sister, Linda, the youngest, who was always adored by my father, never knew, never felt unloved a day in her life, is married to a man for the last 30 years who adores her, loves her like, I mean, just like literally worships her like my father did.

And I look at her and I go, wow, like you got that down [chuckles], like you really, like Dad loved you and that's all you knew, so you attract a man who's crazy-nuts for you, does everything for you. Dad did everything for you. Your husband does everything. I mean, she really just continues to live that life that she lived when she was second grade, first grade, fifth grade, right. It's fascinating. But then it all ended and then she became Cinderella, right.

 

PAUL: Oh, because it, yeah, the day--

 

RHONDA: It all, yeah, because of the day, right.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: So my, when the day happened, everything changed. The rules changed.

 

PAUL: But let's still lead up to that because I want to, I want as much information as possible before we get to the day--

 

RHONDA: Yeah, sure.

 

PAUL: --to have it in some type of context, so it's not just sensational.

 

RHONDA: I've known that to be true.

 

PAUL: So, give me some more vignettes. So, those were the things that were said about your sister, why she was so favored.

 

RHONDA: Mm-hmm. My mother's best friend said it this way, after the day, years later. We were talking to one of my mom's best friends, and we did not ask for this information, thank you very much, Mrs. Slotniss[sp?], but she said, well, it was like your dad looked at Cindy and, my older sister, and thought of her as the maid, and that's really what he thought of her, as somebody who cleans and, you know, cooks and helps--

 

PAUL: And she'll do it perfectly.

 

RHONDA: Yeah. And, exactly, and she'll baby-sit and she has to do everything, right. And then Linda was like, [holy-sounding singing], you know, the adored one, and she says, Rhonda, when he would look at you, he would basically be disgusted. So--

 

PAUL: So it, other people could see it.

 

RHONDA: Oh, other people could see it. It's like--

 

PAUL: Could you sense it?

 

RHONDA: Oh, yeah. I never liked my dad. Like, my dad and I, I don't want to say I never liked, well, I don't think, I don't know if I ever liked my dad, to be honest.

 

PAUL: Was there a time when you were trying to get his love and then like a moment or a particular stretch of time where you realized this is futile, I’m going to stop going to the well?

 

RHONDA: I basically sacrificed myself as, I always thought of myself this way, that I'll sacrifice myself. There's no boy, and so I'll be the boy, so I'll play football with him, like I threw the ball with him. We had a pool table in one of the houses, so I played pool with him. You know, so even though I was the last person I think that he wanted to play pool with or throw a football with, I was the only one capable of doing those things, right. So, I would go in the back and play football with, like throw the ball with my dad, right.

And I really, I really felt it was my obligation.

 

PAUL: Would he criticize the way you threw the football, or was he just like, okay, she's throwing the football, this is good?

 

RHONDA: Yeah, I think he, yeah, I mean, just I think he was like, this is good. And I'm a natural athlete, so yeah, he wasn't necessarily critical. At least it was something, I think. But yeah, I mean, I really just thought, I thought of it as my role. So, I didn't feel, I just felt like it was my role, it was my job. That was part of being me. My job was to make sure my dad was okay on some level, you know, not make him mad, not upset him.

And then, you know, I just remember, of course I didn't, again, know it back then, but I think really what I did is I would come home from school, and again, I loved school. I loved church. I loved, you know, and I would come home from school and I would take hours to get home from school. It was one mile from the school to my house and we would walk, and it doesn't matter if you walk it in 20 feet of snow or, it doesn't matter because you walk home. You just walk. It's 17 degrees below zero, you walk, right.

But I would get really bad stomach cramps and stomach pains and knee pains on the way home, and I now think, you know, obviously psychosomatic, I was creating something so I wouldn't have to go home. But I would literally be sitting somewhere on somebody's steps for 15, 20 minutes and then walk a little bit more and then have to stop.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: And this went on for I think a couple years. I think it was between the ages of like 12 and 14, like I just really dreaded going home. And again, I didn't know it, right, but, and I think my mom even took me to the doctor's probably because I was having so much stomach pain, but--

 

PAUL: Was your dad's anger or hatred towards you the most extreme around that time, that the--

 

RHONDA: Yes, because when I was 12, so you mentioned a minute ago about the reference to, was there a moment, right, and I don't know if this was a moment. I don't think I, I think this was how I always felt, but when I was 12, well, I'll go back for a minute.

When I was 10, my parents, my mother came home one day and was crying. And I was the only one home and I was like, Mom, like what's going on? And she was like crying, and I was like, uh, you know, what do I do [chuckles], like what do I do, right, like my mom's crying, I don't know. And I just was like, what's going on, you know, and she finally says, I'm divorcing your father. And my birthday was up like the next month. Like this happened in November. My birthday is in December. And I looked her straight in the eye and said, consider that my birthday present.

 

PAUL: Because you--

 

RHONDA: Oh, I was so happy, because I was like so free, right. Like, I was like, oh, my God, finally, finally I’m going to get rid of this feeling.

Now, again, if you would have met me, you would never, I don't think you would have known this because I was one of those kids, like I did plays, you know, and I sang on the grass and I put on shows and I, you know, colored and I, you know, like I babysat, you know, I did stuff, right. But I'll never forget that moment when I just looked at my mother and said, oh, my God, consider it my birthday present.

And so my mother left my father because she caught him with another woman.

 

PAUL: Hm.

 

RHONDA: And what I know now is my father I think had gone out on my mother their entire marriage, but, again, she didn't catch him or know it, but she literally caught him red-handed. And it was her intuition.

My mother didn't drive, and our next-door neighbor across the street did, and she, my dad wasn't home and she goes, will you drive me down to this string of bars, there's like three or four bars in a row, up in Duluth, Minnesota, where we lived, and, you know, Mrs. Eckholm[sp?] is like, oh, I got to be home in time to make dinner. She's like, I know, but I just need to, there's something I got to find out, I got to find out, I feel like something's going on.

So, they drive down and they can't find his car, and they drive around these couple blocks, you know, over and over. And Mrs. Eckholm is like, I got to get home, I got to make supper for her kids and her husband. And my mother's like, just please, one more time, just please go around.

So, Mrs. Eckholm cuts through the alley to go back around to the front of the bars, and as they cut through the alley, my father was walking out of a house with his girlfriend under his arm.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: And so, my mother, I mean, they were literally eyeball to eyeball to each other, like the car was right there--

 

PAUL: Oh, so he saw her see--

 

RHONDA: Oh, he saw her. Oh, yeah, he saw her see him, and he, she said, oh, yes. So, Mrs. Eckholm and Mrs. Slotniss testified, back in the day you had to testify to get a divorce, so they testified against my father. And my mother divorced my father, and so we moved to Michigan, bye, Dad, bye, oh, yay, right.

 

PAUL: Now just back up a little bit. I want to know what your relationship with your mom was like and how she viewed how you viewed your father.

 

RHONDA: I think I was my mother's, I think, let's put it this way, I think my mother tried to make up for my father. I think she really tried to make up for it. I think that's the best way to put it.

And I think she basically taught me to buck up, you know, this is just the way it is. And there was no, I mean, I always make the joke like if I would have come into the house with a broken arm, my mother would have been like, wash the dishes, and it's like, well, my arm's broken, Mom. Just wash the dishes, you know, because I grew up Finnish, in a Finnish family, and if you watched the 60 Minutes special on Finland, on Finnish people, they don't feel a lot, and they're very pragmatic and you don't, there's not a lot of hugging and kissing and not a lot of holding, like, you know, nh-nuh, no, none of that.

So, I don't think, I think my mother felt--

 

PAUL: And a very high suicide rate among Finnish people, or at least in Finland.

 

RHONDA: Yes. And so, I think my mother just basically felt like she had to make it up to me, is really how I felt.

 

PAUL: And how did she make it up to you? Did she ever intervene when your dad was demeaning you or treating you badly? Because her telling you, [chuckles] when you have a broken arm to do the dishes doesn't sound like your mom doing the opposite of your dad--

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: Well, this is what I make up, the story I make up, right, because she's not here to tell me. But when I was, so when I was 12, so now my parents are divorced. I'm 10 years old, divorced. We moved to Michigan, where my mother is from. My dad stays in Minnesota where we'd been living. And my mother--

 

PAUL: So, you were born in Minnesota, then went to the U.P.

 

RHONDA: Mm-hmm, and where, my parents are from the U.P.

 

PAUL: I gotcha.

 

RHONDA: Right, so my mother goes home, right, goes to the U.P., back to her mom and dad, right. And they're now getting divorced. Whew, yay, whoopee, yay, right?

But my dad follows my mother to the U.P., because my dad is not going to accept this divorce. My dad is not going to do it, nh-nuh, no way, he's not going to be divorced. So, he basically courts my mother like nobody's business, and he basically just starts moving in and starts just hanging out at my house. And my mother was I think too afraid to do anything about it. She didn't know how to keep him out of the house.

And so, when I was 12, I was walking up the stairs from our basement and my father was walking, I was walking up the stairs from our basement and my father was walking down the stairs from our basement, so he was coming from the kitchen--

 

PAUL: Into your basement.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, into our basement, thank you. I knew I was saying that incorrectly. So, my father was walking from the kitchen, down to the basement, and I was walking from the basement up to the kitchen. And, you know, I was 12 years old, right, and he said something, I don't know what he said, and I was like, whatever. You know, I kind of said, like, whatever, you know.

And my father looked at me like he was going to kill me, and I said the word whatever, and it was literally like, whatever, right. And I ran as fast as I could, got on my bed, on my back, put my hands and my legs up to protect myself. So, when I think to myself--

 

PAUL: Had he been physically abusive before then?

 

RHONDA: Well, see, this is the thing. I don't remember it, but my relatives tell me it happened.

 

PAUL: Okay.

 

RHONDA: Like, my uncle told me that I was, like he came over one day to take me to the doctor, take me to the hospital, right, but I don't remember those things. But I do remember this moment, and I think to myself, how did I know how to do that then? Like, how did I know that I'd better run, and how did I know to get on my back, and how did I know to put my arms up and just start screaming, right?

And so as I'm running through the house, to get to my bedroom, to get, you know, hopefully he won't come in, but he does. He jumps right on top of me and he starts strangling me. And my little sister Linda, who he adores, we share a room, and she's on her twin bed going, Daddy, don't kill Rhonda, Daddy, don't kill Rhonda, Daddy, don't kill Rhonda, Daddy, don't kill Rhonda, Daddy, don't kill Rhonda. And he's just strangling me, strangling me, strangling me.

And I absolutely believe, to this day, that she is what kept me alive, because if she hadn't been saying, Daddy, don't kill Rhonda, I absolutely don't think he, I don't think he had the self-control to stop himself, right.

So, so that happened, but there was nothing that happened afterwards, right. Like, my mother didn't take me out of the house. My mother didn't kick my dad out.

 

PAUL: And your mother knew what happened--

 

RHONDA: Oh, I, yeah--

 

PAUL: --she knew that he tried to strangle you.

 

RHONDA: Yeah. I mean, there was, and then nothing happened. So, you know, after the day, you know, one of the things that I had to do to actually get through it, to heal myself, is I had to take my mother off this golden pedestal that I had her on, right, because I think we want to make the victims, right, we want to make them victims, we want to make them innocent, we want to make them, like, oh, you know, oh, it's not, it's not their fault.

And no, it's not my mother's fault. Yet I had to take her off the pedestal and go, she stayed with him for 20 years. She didn't take me out of the house. She didn't kick him out of the house, right. She didn't--

 

PAUL: Call the police.

 

RHONDA: She didn't call the police, right. A little while later, he threatened her and we called the police and the police came, and of course she's like, no, I’m fine, because back then, you know, it's like, oh, no, officer, I'm fine, no, and me and my--

 

PAUL: To this day it's like, it's like this--

 

RHONDA: To this, I know, it's so sad, it's so sad. Like, my mother, like my dad literally takes all the knives, all the kitchen knives out of the cupboard and goes up to my mother and just has her by the throat and has all the knives on her, and I am trying to separate them, and Linda is little and she's really tiny, she's still tiny to this day. She's just really petite. And so my father had me so that I wouldn't run out and get help and I just kept on yelling for Linda, and Linda literally got by my dad and I just said, run, Linda, run, run, you know. And so she got to the neighbor's house, called the police.

Now, I can't imagine my father, how much betrayal that was for my sister to call the police on him, but yes, the police came, and of course my mother's like, no, he's fine. Well, ma'am, we can take him out of the house for the night. No, he's fine, you know.

So, you know, my mother, between, you know, 12 and 14, when all this happened when she took him back and, you know, my grandfather, her father, was like, there's no divorce in our family, you have to take him back, I mean, it was just unacceptable. It was unacceptable. And you know, he's come here, he's trying to make amends, you have to take him back.

And I think my mother, as she's taking him back, is realizing this is a really bad idea, like that I should leave him, this is not good. So she starts divorce proceedings again.

 

PAUL: And you're how old at this point?

 

RHONDA: Fourteen.

 

PAUL: Was your father religious?

 

RHONDA: My father went to church with us, but I would say no, but, you know, he went to church with us, I shouldn't say always, but when we were little he would. And like we had a strict rule in our house. If you were too sick to go to church, you were too sick to go and play. So, there was no skipping church.

Now, my father could skip church, but we couldn't skip church.

 

PAUL: That was the same in my family, yeah.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, yeah.

 

PAUL: I'm trying to understand what it was that was pressuring your mom to take him back, to, and now I understand in the cycle of domestic violence, the abuser has such a hold--

 

RHONDA: Yes.

 

PAUL: --on the other person that, you know, they slowly brainwash them, they whittle away their--

 

RHONDA: No one will love you like I do.

 

PAUL: Exactly. And a lot of people don’t have compassion for the person that doesn't leave. I didn't either until I became educated, and I'm still becoming educated, on how--

 

RHONDA: It takes a lot of courage.

 

PAUL: --how mentally and emotionally difficult it is for them to break that cycle.

 

RHONDA: Yes, that's right.

 

PAUL: That being said, I'm trying to understand whether any of your mom's decisions were based on how she would be viewed by the greater society, the neighbors, etc., how important was looking good to them? Was any of this moral? You know, was any of it based in--

 

RHONDA: Oh, God, yeah. I mean, she took him back because, like I said, her father said, you can't get divorced.

 

PAUL: Okay.

 

RHONDA: And you know, even though they got divorced, you know, they basically, what ended up happening, because I went years later to look for the divorce decree and the marriage decrees and all that, and basically they had the divorce annulled. So, the divorce was annulled, so they didn't get remarried, they just had the divorce kind of reversed, right.

 

PAUL: I see.

 

RHONDA: And, which was fascinating. But, you know, she's home now. Her parents live down the street. All of our relatives are there, and you don't get divorced. And he makes a good living and, you know, I mean, we're middle class, but, you know, he works, he has a job. You know, he wears a tie every day, goes to his computer store. I mean, like, you know, he's got a little bit of college, a semester or two of college. You know, what are you thinking, you know? What are you doing?

So, I think it was just--

 

PAUL: Practical more than--

 

RHONDA: It's practical, and I think it was also he's the father of your children, you know, the whole like--

 

PAUL: And I would imagine, don't be different, don't stick out, you know, don't--

 

RHONDA: Well, back then, and again, still today at times, if you're a divorcee, you didn't have any friends either. So, my mother being divorced, none of my relatives, the wives of my uncles or my aunts would hang out with my mother because she was single, which meant all the other men's wives could get ideas to get divorced. So, all my mother's friends that were married couldn't hang with her anymore, so she basically became--

 

PAUL: Because their husbands forbade them--

 

RHONDA: Yes, yes, yes. Yes, absolutely.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

 

PAUL: And what years are we talking about? Is this the '60s, '70s?

 

RHONDA: We're talking, this was in like '72, right, and so, you know, divorcees were single, you know, loose women, right, and you can't do that because then she's going to influence you.

So, my mother, you know, she worked at a bank and, you know, she was very friendly and she was very good at her job and people loved her. I mean, to this day, if I see people that knew my mother, they'll be like, your mother was so beautiful and your mother was the light, your mother had so much light. Like, they just like love my mother.

So, and I do think my mother had light, and I do think my mother was funny, and I do think my mother was, had this effervescence around her. And I really think my father wanted to control that, wanted to own that, wanted to have that, right--

 

PAUL: Because he couldn't get it on his own.

 

RHONDA: He couldn't do it on his own. I mean, my father could be charming in those weird moments, but he was pretty much socially awkward. He grew up--

 

PAUL: He almost sounds like he was on some type of spectrum, you know what I mean--

 

RHONDA: Maybe.

 

PAUL: --like just from your description.

 

RHONDA: Yeah. I would have no doubt that that's probably true. I mean, my whole father's side is, you know, my uncle, my dad's brother, describes him as, my father when he was little, would play the whole baseball game by himself. He would, you know, throw the pitch, grab the bat, hit it, go the bases, and he would play the announcer for the whole entire game all by himself--

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: --even though he had like five brothers and sisters, right.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: So, I mean, he was a sports fanatic and here he is a computer guy, but I think my dad, my dad, you know, my great-grandfath-, my grandfather was an alcoholic. I mean, he was just, his upbringing was not the healthiest, right, let's just put it that way.

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: I mean, my grandma, my dad's mom, and my dad's sister, Barbara, so their daughter, my grandma and my aunt Barb slept in the same bed because the boys, there was only three bedrooms and there was like six kids, so the girls stayed in one bedroom and the boys and the dad were in the other two bedrooms.

You know, and my grandpa accidentally, didn't mean to, drove over my uncle, my other uncle, when he was little. So, I mean, it was just, you know, so now my uncle, you know, is really, really smart but he doesn't have social skills. He's not capable, awkward, you know, so, I mean, just my dad's upbringing was--

 

PAUL: So your uncle was kind of similar to your dad?

 

RHONDA: A little bit, yeah. I mean, my entire dad's, my dad's, my mother would always say to me, oh, your dad's a genius, because my dad was very, very, very smart. He probably had an IQ of like 155 or 160. He was really, really smart.

And so, he would, but now when I look back on it, and I was always told, you're just like your dad, because I was the smartest one of the girls, right, but I remember when, after that day, that I was, that haunted me, like haunted me that I was told I was like my dad. That just, like it haunted me, because I thought, what am I capable of, and what does that mean?

And, oh, my God, right, like I was, I was actually scared of myself for a good 10, 15 years. I was literally scared of what I was capable of. I was scared of my anger. I was scared of my rage. I was scared of how I felt. I was scared of feelings because I didn't know what I would do with them, because I didn't have any healthy role models on what to do, so I didn't know what I would do.

So, I just, you know, sucked them in, and if you would have met me, again, just I’m fine, you know--

 

PAUL: [Chuckles]

 

RHONDA: I'm fine and dandy. I'm good to go. You know, and that, you would have thought that, and--

 

PAUL: Rhonda is putting on a very big suburban smile right now.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: The listeners can't see it, but yeah, she's doing the--

 

RHONDA: I'm fine, I'm fine--

 

PAUL: --smiling through pain.

 

RHONDA: --yeah, I'm fine, no, Stepford wife, right, like a Stepford, hi, no, I'm fine, I'm good, no, I’m good, no, everything's good, I'm fine, I'm good. You know, and that's how I really lived most of my life, until it was too painful to keep doing that, until I realized I had to do something else, right.

So, I think my mom kind of was a good daughter, did what she thought she had to. I think my dad was absolutely a control freak. And--

 

PAUL: And by the way, when I said he sounds like he was on the spectrum, I don't mean his rage and his violence. I just meant how he found comfort in numbers, and--

 

RHONDA: Yes, yes.

 

PAUL: --it was kind of difficult, had difficulty--

 

RHONDA: Socially awkward, yes.

 

PAUL: --absorbing social cues.

 

RHONDA: Yes, yes. Absolutely. So, yeah, so I think my dad was just, you know, kind of smart but socially awkward, and I think my mom was this light that, you know, everybody should make everybody laugh and, you know, she'd, you know, just be lighthearted and, you know, I don't think I know a person that doesn't love my mother if you say her name. And everybody would be like, your dad, well, that's another story [chuckles].

But when you're a little kid, right, when you grow up with that, you don't know. And I remember I would get, you know, I'd get hurt or mad or whatever I would do as a little kid, you know, second grade, fourth grade, and I would take my blanket and my pillow and a book and like a glass and I would go into the bathroom, and we only had one bathroom, of course, and I would be like, I can live in here forever.

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: Because I've got the water and I brought some cookies here, and I got my blanket and my pillow and I am going to sit here until they beg me to get out. And this is what I remember, Paul. No one ever, ever came, like ever. Like, nobody ever knocked on the door. And every time I would do that, I would have to crawl out, like pretend like, [casual whistling]--

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: I never did that, but I would be in the bathroom just waiting, they're going to need the toilet sometime. I'm just, I'm going to run away in my bathroom [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Oh, oh, that's so painful. That's so painful.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: Any other snapshots leading up to the day?

 

RHONDA: You know, I think that, you know, it's really interesting because, if you would have met me when I was 22, 25, and you asked me about my childhood, I would actually tell you I had the best childhood ever, because we lived in, you know, neighborhoods with 50 kids, 30 kids, and we'd play kickball every night.

And so when I was in like 18, 20, 22 years old, 23 years old, and people would be like, you know, how'd you grow up, I'd be like, oh, my God, I had the best childhood ever.

And I'll never forget, when one of my friends, when I was in my mid 20s or late, you know, mid to late 20s, and he said, oh, well, wow, you've been abused, and I literally looked at him like he was a crazy person because I actually never saw myself that way. I only saw myself as somebody who was a straight-A student and I'm fine and I'm fine, everything's fine. And it didn't even occur to me that there was a problem. I actually thought this was normal, and I actually had 50 kids in my neighborhood, so I was good.

 

PAUL: You know, it's interesting, the tests that we use, because I would have said the same thing in my mid 20s, because college was paid for, always had a roof over my head. We went on vacations. There was no yelling. You know, and I did have fun, because we had a shitload of kids on our block, but when people assess it, they rarely go to the place of, did I feel like I was emotionally supported and educated by my parents, was there stability, did I feel safe, were there boundaries. And those, to me, are the things that--

 

RHONDA: That's like [chuckles], like what? Right--

 

[Simultaneous discussion]

 

PAUL: --that you should judge it by, but not having them, how do you know you didn't have something that you didn't know should be there?

 

RHONDA: That's right. Well, one of my friends, Tammy[sp?], who was one of my best friends when I was growing up, I saw her recently just wherever it was, and she said to me, she was telling, it's funny when people tell you stories about what they remember, right, and she told me how she would come over and sleep at my house, right, we'd have a girls' sleepover.

And she said, we were both afraid of your dad, like you would be like, I'm afraid of my dad, and my friend Tammy would be like, I'm afraid to be at your house [chuckles]. I mean, it's like I had these girlfriends--

 

PAUL: You said, I'm afraid of my dad?

 

RHONDA: Like, yeah, I’m afraid of my dad, I don't know what my dad's going to do, I hope my dad's happy, I hope my dad's, so I don't remember that, but Tammy reminded me of it. And I've had friends tell me, oh, yeah, even though my mother, everyone loved coming over to our house because she was the fun mom, to do sleepovers and things like that. It's like, ah, you we to deal with your dad? Ah, no, I don't think so.

So, like people, Tammy said to me, I was afraid of your dad, like she didn't want to come over. She was in my house, like, eh, should I be scared, what should I be doing, because I would be like, oh, my dad, he's so, I mean, and I would say things, I guess, but I, again, I don't remember that at all.

But I've had several people tell me that, and it's like, oh, I guess I was, I guess I did verbalize it kind of probably casually, right, you know, like, la, da, da, well, I'm just kind of afraid of my dad, you know, like no big deal. I hope you're not afraid. You're in my house tonight, locked in, I hope you're okay.

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: Right?

 

[Laughter]

 

RHONDA: You know, right, we're trying to just make do, right, we're just trying to make do.

 

PAUL: People used to say to me, why is your dad mad at me? And I said, that's just his face.

 

RHONDA: Oh, wow.

 

PAUL: That's just his face.

 

RHONDA: You did that when you were little? You knew that when you were little?

 

PAUL: Oh, yeah. I remember at age six feeling like I understood people better than my dad did.

 

RHONDA: Wow.

 

PAUL: My dad just didn't, he wasn't violent, at all. I don't even ever remember him raising his voice. He would just retreat into himself, but he was an actuary, brilliant mind--

 

RHONDA: Ah, yeah, yeah.

 

PAUL: --socially awkward--

 

RHONDA: Just like my dad.

 

PAUL: --lost in his thoughts, but he would surrender control instead of trying to take it. His control was to just pull away. But go ahead.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, no, no, I mean, my dad, we would have TV dinners, right, but like we would try to have Sunday together, but I don't really remember eating family meals except Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, I don't really, I mean, I know we did, we must have sometime, but I don't really remember that.

I think, you know, people have asked me, well, your dad was an alcoholic, and I go, I've asked my relatives that so many times, was my dad an alcoholic, and half say they never saw him have a drink, and we never had alcohol in the house. Like, I never have seen my parents drink.

But then he was at the bar after work, right, so I think my father basically drank after work with his buddies and then would come home, right, because, again, I didn't, I mean, when I was older, like 12, 13, 14, he had a beer maybe on the porch, but I don't, I mean, I think I've maybe seen my mother maybe have a drink once at a wedding, but I don't even remember that, if she did that. So, I don't know if my dad was an alcoholic. I don't know. I just know alcoholism runs in our family, so I'm one, I raise my hand.

 

PAUL: Sober?

 

RHONDA: Yep, 30 years coming up.

 

PAUL: Wow. Thirteen over here.

 

RHONDA: Wow. Changed my life, one of my big moments.

 

PAUL: Me, too.

 

RHONDA: Quitting drinking is the only reason I'm standing here.

 

PAUL: I couldn't agree more, couldn't agree more, that none of this would be possible without that being the first step.

 

RHONDA: No. It's a major big step. Without me quitting drinking, I could have never, yeah, I would not be here.

 

PAUL: So are you ready, then, to go to the day?

 

RHONDA: Sure, sure. I mean, you know, it's so fascinating because like I said earlier, you know, I think we, well, I'll just talk for myself. I think in order for me to cope with it, in order to deal with it, in order to be okay with it on some level, you know, I think of myself with me and my mom and my dad up in heaven before we, you know, reincarnated, and I think of my dad up there going, oh, let's think about our next lives.

And of course, we're not dads, moms and daughters, right. We're just three angels up there. My dad's like, oh, let's think of, let's come up with something really, really good, and my dad's like thinking and my mom's thinking and my dad's like, oh, wait, wait, wait, I got it, right. And then he proceeds to tell me the plan, and I think it's a fantastic idea because we're in heaven, right, and we don't, right?

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: And he's like, oh, and after this happens, then you are, Rhonda, you're going to help people master emotional fear for the rest of, like you're going to be like this person who helps all these people become fearless. And I'm like, I'm like, wow, I'm an angel in heaven going, wow, that's a pretty good job. I'll do that.

And he goes, yeah, but this thing has to happen first. I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's okay, that's okay, you know, yeah. And my mom's like, okay, then I'll be the mom and, you know, oh, and then this will happen and like, we're like, okay, okay. So like we all agreed, right, we all--

 

PAUL: So, this is what you have in your head to be able to move forward.

 

RHONDA: Yes, yes. Yes, yes. Yeah, one of the things that I use. It's like, okay, so we made this pact, right, and then the day came, right, and then, of course you don't remember the pact, right?

So, I was 14 years old and it was Father's Day, and if you remember, my father had, my mother had now been filed for a second divorce from my father. So my father--

 

PAUL: Divorced, divorce annulled, divorce again.

 

RHONDA: Divorcing again, right. So, now he is at our house sometimes, not at our house sometimes, whatever. Three months before the day happened, my father is working at the computer thing, computer building, computer company, and on a Friday they reached their goal. They always wanted to make like $10,000 in a day, that was their goal back then, 1975. And on one Friday, I think it was in March, they made the goal, and they had champagne and it was a big celebration. And my father never showed up for work again and we never saw him again.

My father, what we know now, is he cashed his life insurance and he left and traveled all over the country, which I'll share a little bit more later. So, now my sister, it's the beginning of June, my sister, Cindy, oldest sister, sees him driving around town, and she's like, Dad's back in town, okay.

My mother, this is not good news for my mother, but we're like, well, it's Father's Day next week, like we have to invite him to Father's Day. So it's Father's Day. So, I haven't seen my father for many months at this point, and so he comes over. And my mother is like, be nice, right, like everybody be nice, and it's like, of course.

And my mother had, back then my mother sewed all my clothes for me, so I had, my mother made me this white cotton dress with a scarf on it. It was white with black polka dots on it.

And if you remember in 1975, it was up to my behind, right, it was like up to my butt. And I couldn't wait to like flirt with all the boys in the restaurant, because we never, we were definitely a middle-class family, like going to brunch or eat was a lot of money. We'd get pizza maybe once in a while, but going out to Sunday brunch at Father's Day was a big, big deal. We didn't have any fast food in our town. We just had like a couple restaurants, and so we were going to go to the fancy Douglas House Buffet, which is, again, a big deal.

And so I got my pretty dress on. My sisters are getting dressed. My mom's getting dressed. I'm in my mother's room with her, helping her get ready, and she's putting on her blue eye shadow and she's putting on her lipstick, her rose-colored lipstick, and then she's got this beehive hairdo. Do you remember the beehive?

 

PAUL: I do.

 

RHONDA: So, so I’m helping my mom, for the people that don't know, my mother used to go to a beautician every Friday and would get her hair washed, combed and curled and put in the shape of a beehive. And in between her Friday appointments, my mother would take a roll of toilet paper and wrap her head.

So, my father slept next to a roll of toilet paper for 20 years, right.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: So, my mom, I'm helping my mom take down her toilet paper, right, and fluff up her hair, and my dad comes in, come on, come on. And so my mom's like trying to hurry us and my sisters are still in the bathroom. And so, I start walking out with my dad and he says he's going to get his coat from the car.

So, he's walking out, getting his coat, he's in the trunk of his car and me and my mom are walking towards the car. It's starting to rain a little bit, so my sisters are still in the house, not coming out. And out of the corner of my eye, I see my dad has not grabbed a coat but he's grabbed a gun. And he cocks it and pulls it out and starts screaming at my mother, you made me do this, you made me do this, and he fires.

And I just start screaming, Dad, what are you doing? Dad, what are you doing, right, like I'm just like, what are you, what are you doing? And my father cocks the gun again and points it at me, and I absolutely believe I'm next. There's not one ounce of my being that doesn't know I’m about to die. He tried to strangle me when I was 12. Gun in his hand right now, pointed at me. Definitely dead.

And my father just literally stared at me and I stared at him, like we just literally locked eyes, and my mother, she'd already had one bullet, one bullet had already entered my mother, looked up and saw the gun in my face and screamed, no, don't. And my father, realizing my mother's still alive, turned that gun and shot her a second time with that bullet.

And that bullet went through my mother's abdomen and out her back and landed in the car horn, and for the next 20 minutes all I heard was [car horn sound], like the horn--

 

PAUL: Oh, my--

 

RHONDA: --just like, [droning car horn sound]. I mean, I couldn't hear a horn for probably 25 years without completely like, ah, you know, like, I was back there in a second.

And my father cocked the gun again, got down on his knees and put the gun to his head and fired. So, I was the sole witness to my father murdering my mother and killing himself, you know, committing suicide within about two minutes.

And I don't know how anybody else would respond, but what I did is I absolutely blamed myself because I was the only one out there. I was the only one that physically could have done something. I didn't grab the gun. I didn't jump in front of my mom. I didn't kick my father. You know, I didn't push the gun away. I didn't grab the gun. I didn't say anything but, stop, Dad, stop, and when he put the gun in my face I was frozen.

And I remember running when that, you know, when everything gets quiet, I ran into my mother's room and I got on my knees and I said, please, God, please, God, please, God, please, God, you know, like I said I was going to be, you know, [whispering] I [inaudible] be a minister, I'll devote my life to you, I devote my life to you, but you got to keep my mom alive because if she dies I can't, I don't promise anything, I don't promise anything.

Because the thought that went through my head also when this was happening, after it happened, was God does not give you, you know, anything that you cannot, you know, live through, right, you cannot, you know, you can persevere through, right.

And I remember thinking to myself, God, your jobs are too big, you have too many tests. This is, is this a test?

 

PAUL: You overestimate us.

 

RHONDA: Yeah [chuckles]. You overestimate us, big time, and I don't think you, like you're crazy. I'm 14 years old. My sister is 13. My sister is 17. Are you crazy? Like, and I literally just was on my knees, just praying, and I just told God, if you keep her alive, I will keep my promise to you, and if you don't, I won't.

And so within, you know, within a very short period of time we knew both of them were dead. My mother died on arrival. My father actually was alive for a little tiny bit. And then, I mean, they obviously died. My mother, again, like I said, my mother bled out, so she died instantly.

And so in that moment what I did is I basically put a line in between me and God. I never hated God for it. I never got mad actually at even God for it. I just couldn't trust him.

So, I put a line in between me and God, and I said, I can't trust you, you know, what, what are you, nuts? So I put him on the other side and just basically, just cut him off. And like I said, didn't hate him, wasn't mad at him, but I couldn't trust him. I couldn't trust him with my life anymore.

So, that was when I was 14, and from that moment on, I, even more so, even the life I was living, even more so I was living a double life. Now, I mean, nobody has a daughter of a murder-suicide, I mean, now I was the daughter of a murderer, and I was told my whole life I was just like my father, right.

So now I have this incredible feeling of like, I am screwed, like I am screwed [chuckles].

 

PAUL: How often in the days, weeks, months do you just keep flashing back to that moment?

 

RHONDA: Now, to this, in this moment--

 

PAUL: No. Give me the first week, the first month, the first year--

 

RHONDA: Oh. Oh, God, oh, I can't even imagine, it was probably all the time. I can't even imagine that it wasn't all the time.

 

PAUL: Was it impossible to focus on anything?

 

RHONDA: No. I think what I did is I compartmentalized, right. I got really good, you know, before I was already good at splitting myself in two, and now I became the queen at it. So, I mean, I still got straight A's in school. You know, I still, I became class president. I became the leader, you know, of the school plays.

I mean, it's a little school, right, 100 people in my class, but, you know, kids also weren't allowed to play with me [chuckles], you know, some kids weren't allowed to hang out with me anymore. They weren't allowed because now--

 

PAUL: What did that feel like?

 

RHONDA: Again, it was like another way that my father f'ed me over, right--

 

PAUL: You can say fuck here.

 

RHONDA: Yeah [chuckles], so another way my father fucked me over, right, like, okay, so not only do you take my mother, who loved me, but now--

 

PAUL: My friends.

 

RHONDA: --now I'm scarred, like I'm screwed, like I'm just screwed, right?

 

PAUL: It's like he couldn't have hurt you any more, you know.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, I mean, and he didn't take me because it was like, what I used to say to myself is, you know, I wasn't worth dying for and I wasn't worth staying alive for. So, you know, if he would have been, you know, if he would have loved me, he would have killed me, too, you know. You know, if he would have, it's almost like keeping me alive was a fuck you.

 

PAUL: Did you get clarity on this when you got sober and did the work in your support group, because it really sounds like you did, you have such clarity looking back on what your self-beliefs were. How did you, or are we jumping too far ahead, but I'm just, I want to share with the listener how--

 

RHONDA: How did I do it [chuckles]?

 

PAUL: That we can get clarity over what feels so fucked and trapped right now--

 

RHONDA: No, you can, totally. No, absolutely. You know, I was a self-help junkie since I was 12. You know, like my favorite book when I was 12 was Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? You know, so, and I would like, you know, devour books on God, right.

So, I think--

 

PAUL: God, Are You There? It's Me, Margaret [sic]. I didn't read that one--

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: The one cliché I can think of--

 

RHONDA: The one thing I didn't read, darn it all. But, you know, I'd like read the Bible and I'd read all these other books on God, you know. So I think what happened for me is, between 14 and 25, my life got really, really, really bad.

From 14 to 17, I like kind of kept it together because I was in like high school. But when I was 17, I went to college in Minneapolis, where no one knew me.

 

PAUL: And by the way, who raised you after that?

 

RHONDA: Oh, the three of us stayed together.

 

PAUL: So your older sister kind of became the mom.

 

RHONDA: Kind of became the mom, and that lasted until we were, for like two years, and then, I don't know how we did this, but my sister, my little sister, Linda, was like living on her own by the time she was 16 and I was living on my own by the time I was like 16 ½, 17 years old. Like, we only lived together for two years after that.

We stayed in that house for, but this is, I'll just give you an example of my relatives, okay. So, my uncle Evald[sp?], my mother's younger brother, who she was closest to, this is a couple years ago now. And mind you, I have never cut off my family.

Like, after my parents died, my mother would send out a hundred Christmas cards. I kept that tradition up for almost 15, 20 years.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

RHONDA: And so I would write all her friends, tell her all what we were doing, just keep it up, keep it up, keep it up, pretend like we're fine, no, I’m fine, everything's fine, I'm fine, right.

But--

 

PAUL: I assume that you [chuckles], that you didn't include one of the newsletters of what happened this last year--

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: You didn't need to include that.

 

RHONDA: Well, back then, they didn't really have that. You had to have mimeographs, right, there was no Xerox, right?

 

PAUL: Yeah. How do you spin that one?

 

RHONDA: Yeah, no, right, exactly. So, just to, my sister, Cindy, my older sister, got pregnant when she was 16, had a baby. So, she was actually married by the time my mother died.

So, now I just want you to imagine. I’m 14. I’m a straight-A student. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I'm a virgin, you know. I'm like perfect, in my mind. And my sister Cindy, who's three and a half, four years older, is pregnant, drank, you know, had to drop out of high school, had to finish with a GED, whatever, and so when my sister Cindy would like tell me what to do, I would look at her and go, really, uh-huh, let's think about this.

 

PAUL: [Chuckles]

 

RHONDA: I would. I was almost cruel, right. Like, I can say it publicly because I've apologized, we've had these conversations, but, you know, I would literally look, she tried to tell me to do anything, I would literally be like, hm, let's see, you got pregnant, you drink, you smoke, hm, I'm not pregnant, virgin, don't drink, don't smoke, I think I'll take my own advice.

So, one of the things for me is, one of the things that kept me trapped for so long is I actually didn't have anyone that I trusted that I could talk to. You know, they did put me in therapy right away, like some, a family paid for my therapy after that happened because I--

 

PAUL: And did it help?

 

RHONDA: I think it helped to the fact that, I mean, I don't remember how suicidal I was, but my sister Cindy says I was really suicidal, so they sent me to this therapist, but the problem is the therapist that they sent me to, his wife was the therapist in our school. Like, you know what I mean?

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: Like it was so, like it's such a little town that everybody knew everybody.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: But I do have still, to this day, what he made me write. So he's, one day in therapy he's like, so tell me good things about you. And I'd be like, there's nothing good about me. He's like, well, what's one good thing about you?

I was like, hm, I try to be nice to people. You know, so he actually, I actually have, he actually wrote it when I was talking, and I actually have the letter that he wrote of all the things, of all the things that I said I was okay at. But it was, everything was like, I try to be nice, I'm an okay basketball player [chuckles], you know, like it was so, like, wha, wha, wha, right?

And then I didn't have therapy again until I was 24, 25 actually. I tried to go in college, when life got really bad, because when I went to Minneapolis and nobody knew me and nobody knew my story, it was like, oh, I can, I can lie, I can, nobody has to know, nobody has to know me.

So I would never tell anybody what happened to my parents, and so they'd be like, oh, your parents, I'd go, oh, they're both passed. And they'd be like, and of course everyone's like, both? And I'd be like, yes. And they'd be like, accident? I'd be like, yes. And in my mind, I'd go, accidentally shot my mother and killed himself, you know--

 

[Laughter]

 

PAUL: That's so fucked up.

 

RHONDA: I know, but I couldn't admit it, right? I couldn't--

 

PAUL: I don't blame you at all--

 

RHONDA: --I mean, it's like, what, are you crazy, like what, the cuckoo girl? Like, I mean, I'd be screwed right there. And then I didn't drink all in high school, but when I went to college, I started drinking.

Well, now imagine somebody who doesn't let her feelings out and is compartmentalizing with alcohol inside and let's just think about the bars I destroyed, the cars I totaled, the three DUIs I got, I mean, the men that I tore apart, the sex I had. You know, I mean, just like drinking unleashed me, right, like unleashed--

 

PAUL: Did it help let the rage out?

 

RHONDA: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

PAUL: Yeah. Because I was just sitting here wondering, what, two questions I want to ask. How did, give me an arc of how rage was expressed from as early as you can remember until the present day. And the other thing I wanted to know was, what were the triggers for you after the event? Obviously car horns.

 

RHONDA: Car horns, ugh.

 

PAUL: But what were some other ones? Or are still to this day?

 

RHONDA: You know, I think the rage, I think for most of my life I raged internally, right, because--

 

PAUL: Self-hatred?

 

RHONDA: --self-hatred, yeah, like I'm, like I should be better, I should have saved my mother, I should have saved my father, what's wrong with me, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, you know. So I really positioned it to myself.

And what I teach people now is, you know, there's two types of people, people who blame others or people who blame themselves. And in actuality, if you blame yourself, you're actually ahead of the game because you can actually have more power over that, right, like if you blame yourself, you can actually do something about it.

If you blame somebody else, you really can stay victimized for a long time because it's not your fault, and then that proceeds to impact all areas of your life. So, I always say, you know, people that come to study with me, right, I go, I always go, okay, one good thing is you blame yourself [chuckles], like, right, but you blame yourself because you're overly responsible, right, you overly want to be responsible. You overly want to take charge. You overly want to be okay.

So, you know, yes, it messes up your mind and it messes up the way you live your life, but in actuality, I'd much rather blame myself than blame somebody else.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: Because at least I can change that, right. So, I think my rage, so I'll give you a quick example of how, poor guys, every man I ever dated, please forgive me.

I would, oh, God [chuckles]. I would tell guys that I was dating, I'd be like, oh, I'd be like, you're my mother, you're my father, you're my sister [chuckles], you're my brother, you're my boyfriend, you're my love, you're my everything, and I actually thought that was a compliment.

 

PAUL: [Chuckles]

 

RHONDA: I actually, I actually thought--

 

PAUL: I can see how somebody in that moment, because you needed to think that that was a good thing.

 

RHONDA: Oh, absolutely. I used to send guys, okay, get this. When I would want to, when I was [chuckles], when I would go on a date with you, this is in my 20s, my early 20s, when I'd go on a date with you, I'd send you a damn thank-you card.

 

PAUL: Oh, my God.

 

RHONDA: Now, mind you, I also knew back then, you know, I was a little hottie, so I could get any guy in the room. Like I could, like I would pick the guy I wanted that night, right, like I was one of those women, right. I would be like, you know, I'd be proud that I was a bitch and I'd be like, ah, you know, I can have any man I want, and I'd go to the bar and I'd pick up any guy I wanted, right.

But then, you know, I would push him away, and then if he came back, I'd make him grovel and then, of course, then I needed him and then, right?

 

PAUL: Were you attracted to guys that would fawn over you or the opposite, the guys that were indifferent or--

 

RHONDA: You know, I was really lucky. I mean, I have to say, that is one way God protected me. Most of the men, and I have been in emotionally abusive relationships, which, later on in my life, but I think for most of my life I had men who really tried to love me.

You know, I mean, I think they saw, they were like, you know, savers, right, they were the saver guys, right, thank God they were saver guys. My husband, my ex-husband, was a saver guy. Like he saw me, I was a wounded bird, I was 29 years old, just got sober a year ago, save her, right? I needed saving on some level, right.

So, yeah, but I didn't, so I had, I think men helped to a certain extent heal me, to a certain extent be like, okay, I'm okay. But of course, then that, of course, later on twists it and it all messes it all up, right, because--

 

PAUL: And if that's not going right, then I'm not worth anything--

 

RHONDA: Yeah, oh, yeah. Yeah, I'm screwed, I'm screwed, right. Right. My whole, I was never single a day in my life. I remember like when I was 20-, I think before I met my husband, my ex-husband. I have to call him my ex-husband because I'm not married anymore. I have to remember that.

It's been, I've been divorced like forever, but I still only have had one husband. So, I got married when I was 30, and so I think when I was like 27, 28, I was like single for three months, and that's the longest I'd ever been single since I was 12. Right, I always had like a little boyfriend.

Like, I thought I was the greatest girlfriend in the world. Oh, my God, I thought I was the greatest girlfriend in the world.

 

PAUL: So, it sounds like you couldn't come out and state your needs. You had to kind of--

 

RHONDA: Oh, God, no. No, no.

 

PAUL: --manipulate and dance around the subject-

 

RHONDA: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I didn't know my needs until, gosh, 25 years ago. I didn't even know what needs were. Be needy, have needs, be needy, what, are you crazy? That's not--

 

PAUL: That's a form of vulnerability and then you're open to criticism, rejection, not getting what you want.

 

RHONDA: Oh, no, it just makes up a whole mess, like a whole mess, right. So, you know, going back to where we kind of started this part of the conversation was, can you get through it? Yes, you can totally get through it. And I think what got me through it--

 

PAUL: And did we talk about the triggers, did we share those?

 

RHONDA: Oh, no, we didn't. Yeah, yeah, thanks--

 

PAUL: Okay, and remember where we were, what got you through it, we'll come back to that.

 

RHONDA: Oh, yeah, yeah, okay. So, triggers, like some of the triggers were definitely car horn, definitely any rejection by a man or anything like that. I think it was so subtle, though.

I mean, you know, I didn't even know that I had post-traumatic stress disorder, right, until I was much older, way past, you know, first of all, it wasn't even named that back then. Back then there wasn't victims of violent crimes, like there was no money for me and my sisters, right. There was just Social Security and my father cashed in all of his insurance policies. We had no money. You know, I babysat and then got a job when I was 14 waitressing. My little sister Linda, 13, babysat. My sister was 17, she was a grocery store clerk. And then we got a little Social Security, and that's how we paid the bills and kept living, right.

So, triggers were I think so subtle for me, it's just I think any form of rejection, you know, any form, well, let's put it this way. I, to this day, not to the heightened that I used to be, but if we're in a restaurant, and this was most of my life, if we're in a restaurant and a couple starts arguing behind us, I will look at you and say, we're moving tables now, because I don't know that guy doesn't have a gun and he's going to pull it out and shoot her and he me in the back.

So, if there is an argument near me, I am highly aware of it, so I have--

 

PAUL: Does your adrenaline begin firing and your heart racing?

 

RHONDA: I've learned to, you know, stay centered inside that, right, like I don't, you know, have to take quick action. I'm just, you know, I just get really super calm and I am highly aware of what's happening and I assess the situation and I go check it out and, and I will move if I have to. If I feel weird energy, I will move.

If I'm in an ele-, you know, the typical if-I'm-in-an-elevator story, right, I will leave. Like, I don't play with that stuff.

 

PAUL: What do you mean, if you're in an elevator?

 

RHONDA: Like, you know how the old story is like, if your intuition says, get out of the elevator, right--

 

PAUL: Oh, okay.

 

RHONDA: --get out of the elevator, right, but we all are trained to be nice, right? Like, be nice, you don't want to make the man feel uncomfortable because you're getting out of the elevator. No. I have learned through the course of my last, you know, 40 years of healing this, is that I follow my intuition 100%. Like if I have a weird feeling, I leave.

If I, if something's going on and I don't feel comfortable, I won't bolt per se, but I will assess the situation and see like, am I safe, am I comfortable. Like, I will go through the steps of physical trauma and then emotional trauma and really check myself out and check the environment to see if I'm okay.

And then it took me years to understand needs. So, you know, a guy pressuring me, a guy not doing what I wanted, a guy, I mean, I think that my hair trigger was like if you and I weren't the same, then I wasn't safe, because if you wanted to do something that I didn't want to do or you wanted me to do something that I didn't want to do, then I wasn't safe, like something bad was going to happen.

So I always had a--

 

PAUL: Because your dad was so different from you.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, right. Yeah, it was like I just had this super antennae, like something bad is going to happen, right. So, I look back on my relationships with men and I broke up with a lot of great men because I didn't feel like they really got me or understood me. But I think to myself, they couldn't have, like there's no possible way, right?

 

PAUL: No human being exists that could--

 

RHONDA: Exactly. But it didn't matter. It's like I wanted to be accepted and loved so desperately for all of me, but of course I didn't show all of me because that was screwed up, right. So, I think that I was just highly attuned to rejection, highly attuned to you don't want to go to the same restaurant I do, and then something bad is going to happen because you don't want to go to the same restaurant I do, you know.

 

PAUL: And how about like, I'm sorry, I cut you off.

 

RHONDA: No, go ahead.

 

PAUL: External, not necessarily interpersonal, interactions as triggers, but how about somebody getting something from the trunk of a car--

 

RHONDA: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure, yeah. I mean, I'm one of those girls that still, to this day, looks under the car when she goes to the parking lot, you know. Like I don't hike by myself. Because this is what I know to be true.

That happened to me. Anything can happen to me. So, I think a lot of people go through life and like, oh, that won't happen to me. I go, uh, [chuckles] yeah, it could happen to me, I could be raped in the park, you know, I could be attacked in the car. Those things could happen to me. That happened to me. My father killed my mother in front of me. Anything can happen to me.

So, I am, you know, I'm awake to it, right. You know, if I go hiking in the Fryman Canyon right off the Royal Canyon[sp?], right, I go with a friend. I don't go by myself. If, you know, so--

 

PAUL: So the question becomes, then, how do we try to protect ourselves but not make ourselves an antisocial hermit--

 

RHONDA: Yeah.

 

PAUL: --and that seems like, for an alcoholic who tends to have black-and-white thinking--

 

RHONDA: Yes.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: --like a really difficult, nuanced area to navigate because somebody trying to stay sober needs human connection.

 

RHONDA: Yes, yes.

 

PAUL: And as you were sharing that, I was thinking, that's why we blame ourselves when we go through something that is so traumatic that we had no control over, because it's--

 

RHONDA: It's the only way we control it [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Yes, it's easier to think I fucked up than this is what the world can be on a given day.

 

RHONDA: Because then you're screwed.

 

PAUL: Right.

 

RHONDA: Right, then you're screwed, right? So, you said something a minute ago and I want to go back to it, but I just lost my train of thought. So--

 

PAUL: Triggers, hiking--

 

RHONDA: Yeah, black-and-white thinking--

 

PAUL: --the nuance, how do you find the nuance--

 

RHONDA: --yeah, the black-and-white thinking. Yeah, I think one of the things that I, this is what I focus on. This is what I've learned to do, and, you know, it didn't happen overnight, but I basically, I mean, I've done a lot of work on myself, and I basically decided that I was going to go for it, like I was going to go for my healing. Like, well, after my third suicide attempt--

 

PAUL: I like how we just brush over that.

 

RHONDA: Yeah.

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: Yeah, I want to come back there, but it comes back to my third suicide attempt, because, you know, when I was 20 years old I tried to kill myself. The first kind of boy broke up with me that he had just proposed marriage, too, and he's now telling me he doesn't love me and he wants to break up, and I actually think that moment when he broke up with me was when I really started mourning my parents.

From 14 to 20, I think I had it under control, right, but when he was like, I want to marry you, I love you so much, you know, and we're like looking for rings and then whatever, a month later he's like, I don't love you anymore and it's public, like we're at a party. He didn't say it publicly, but we were like at a party, and then it's like we're going back to this party.

And that night I blacked out, as usual, and basically destroyed a bar. Followed him, destroyed the bar, went back to my apartment. His roommate drove me back to my apartment, locked me in my apartment. Not a good idea, by the way. And then I proceeded to pack this bag filled with baking soda and cookie crumbs and band-aids and called suicide hotline, called my friends, well, I'm going to kill myself, agh, you know, called him. Back then there was no cell phones and he took--

 

PAUL: But why the baking soda? What's--

 

RHONDA: I don't know. I mean, like literally, I was like just putting shit in a bag, right, like I was just putting shit in a bag. And I called his apartment and he took it off the hook, and so I called and broke through the line and the operator is like, you know, oh, there's nothing on the line, and I am like beside myself. I have no car. I'm locked in my apartment. I am losing my mind, right.

And so I call suicide hotline and I'm like, I'm going to kill myself, you know, and the woman says something, whatever, she's doing the best she can, God bless her, but basically I said, I'm going to kill myself now because you said that, and I hung up the phone. And I proceeded to--

 

PAUL: You said that to her.

 

RHONDA: I said that to her. Then I called my friend Woody and I was like, I'm going to kill myself. And Woody is like, Woody is like, don't kill yourself. And I said, it's too late. Well, I actually hadn't taken any pills yet, okay, so Woody's like, I'm coming over.

And this is why I tried to kill myself the first time, right, because I told Woody I'd done it and I hadn't yet. I couldn't have him come to my house and find out I'm a liar.

 

PAUL: You are such a perfectionist [chuckles].

 

RHONDA: So, I, Paul, find anything in my cupboard, Advil, Pepto-Bismol, Tylenol, whatever, I took anything I could take, proceeded to then pass out, proceeded, he arrived with the police and tore down my door, right, and, you know, the fire police, and brought me to the hospital and had my stomach pumped, right.

So, I do this three times, right, over the course of five years, and--

 

PAUL: You know, but you just literally described you would rather die than be embarrassed--

 

RHONDA: Yes, than be a liar, be a liar. I don't want to be a liar, Paul. Yeah, I don't want to be embarrassed and a liar, right.

 

PAUL: [Chuckles] You would rather die than be embarrassed.

 

RHONDA: That's right. That's right, that's right. That's right. And I think about that now, like, all right, okay, you did try to kill yourself only because you told him you did, even though he'd be way happier if he came to your house to find you alive, right?

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

RHONDA: But I'm like, no way, I'm not going to be a liar, damn, he's coming over, I'd better go get some pills, right?

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: It's true, it's true.

 

PAUL: That is--

 

RHONDA: It's true. And so I do that at 20, and then I do it again at 23, I think, and then I do the last time at 25. And when I did the one at 25, now each time was about a, you know, boy instigated it, you know, i.e., you know, my trigger, and they didn't come and save me.

They literally, my third suicide attempt, my boyfriend, I wasn't living with him but I was at his apartment, and he had left and I was like, fuck you, you know, and I go through his cupboards and I take every pill I can, and I'm like, you'll find me dead, you know.

And he happens to come back into the house because he forgot something and I didn't plan on that. I planned on being dead by the time he got home. And so he sees what I'm doing, he sees what I just did, and he literally takes me over his shoulder, puts me in his car and brings me to the emergency room, but he leaves me there. He doesn't come in. He leaves me in the emergency room.

And my sister flies down, my older sister Cindy flies down, and now up until this point she's, you know, I'm the f'ed-up one, Paul. You know, I'm the one that's drinking, I'm the alcoholic. I'm the one, you know, blacking one. I'm the one having sex. I'm the one, you know, whatever, I'm the one, right.

And mind you, I was an actress at the time, you know, actually getting parts, right, again, two people, two separate people. One person you meet, like awesome, I'm great, but it was that third suicide attempt, my sister is, I get put in a psychiatric ward to evaluate me, because that's what they do after three suicide attempts, and I'm in this little tiny lockdown facility, and it's not even a twin bed. It's like a cot, right, and they have a straitjacket on the cot.

And my sister Cindy comes to see me, and she looks at me in the eyes and I can see in her eyes that she has given up on me, because she was like the person that hadn't given up on me, and she's looking at me like maybe this is just the way it is.

And when I got out of that psychiatric ward and they deemed me sane and I went back to my studio apartment that I lived alone, oh, by the way, not a good idea, I said to myself, nobody's coming to save me, nobody's coming. Nobody's coming.

I have tried workshops. I have read books. I have gone to therapy. I have done all of this shit, and even though I have all these supposed tools and I learned all this crap, I still feel shitty about myself every day of the week, right.

And I said to myself, there has got to be a better way, and so I started making shit up. And about this same time, just a few, I would say maybe, maybe a year later, a year and a half, maybe two years later, is when I got sober.

 

PAUL: What do you mean, started making shit up?

 

RHONDA: I started making up my own exercises to try to figure out how to heal myself, because, you know, I'd read a book and it was awesome, right, like, oh, love yourself, love yourself, and I always, my joke now is, like love yourself, if you don't know how to love yourself, telling me to love myself is not a solution. Quit telling me--

 

PAUL: It's like telling somebody, forgive them.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, screw you.

 

PAUL: No, it's a byproduct of inexperience. It's not the experience.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, yeah. You can't tell me to forgive. Now, forgiveness is needed and necessary and it took me years to forgive my parents, and I did it in stages and blah, blah, blah, and totally we can talk about that, but I had to, forgiving my, that's the 20th anniversary of their death, which we can get to.

But forgiving my father was actually the easiest. Forgiving my mother was the next hardest, and forgiving myself was the last thing--

 

PAUL: That's the hardest one.

 

RHONDA: Yeah.

 

PAUL: That is the hardest one.
RHONDA: So, when I realized that nobody was really coming to save me from that psychiatric ward, like my sister, when I saw her eyes like literally dim, like literally not be like, no, you're fine, you'll be okay, blah, blah, blah, like she, I really felt in that moment that she gave up, I knew that I had to figure something out, because, again, I would read these books and they would make me feel good while I was reading it, but they never told me how to do anything.

And it's why I'm so fanatical now about the how. Like, I could give a shit, do not tell me how to love myself, or don't tell me to love myself. Tell me how to love myself. You know, don't tell me to get sober. Tell me how to get sober. Don't tell me I should be more emotionally evolved or more emotionally intelligent. Tell me how to be a better person, right.

 

PAUL: And wouldn't you agree that most of those endeavors, the first step is to let the fuck go of everything that you think--

 

[Chuckling]

 

RHONDA: Yeah, yeah.
PAUL: --you need to be doing?

 

RHONDA: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I, don't get me, I mean, if you would have known me at that time, I was doing a lot of things, quote, unquote, from the outside right, right? I was very diligent in my acting career back then.

I mean, I was working 40, 60 hours a week on my career, waitressing, you know, and yes, I was drinking every night and getting drunk and blacking out, but, you know, I still was working and doing everything, right? I mean, when my friend told me he thought I had an alcohol problem, I was like, what are you talking about? Like, I mean, I couldn't believe that he was telling me that I was an alcoholic. I mean, I couldn't even fathom that he was telling me this.

Now I obviously know I was and am, but, you know, I just was trying to make do. I mean, I was just trying to make do, right. I think the big three events in my life that really made me go to the next level of evolution or enlightenment or wake up or get my shit together or however you want to describe it, those are all the same things, is, one, getting sober, two, my third suicide attempt, and then--

 

PAUL: And you needed a support group, too, to get sober.

 

RHONDA: Yeah. I did this little experiment on myself for 30 days to prove to everyone that I knew that I was not an alcoholic, and I said to myself, I'm only going to have one drink a day and that will prove to you that I don't have a drinking problem.

 

PAUL: How did that work?

 

RHONDA: Well, I could drink one drink a day. That was not the problem. What the problem became very clearly is when I was going to have that drink, because I had to have maximized effect.

So, if I had it at lunch, I couldn't have it at happy hour. If I had it at happy hour, I couldn't have it at dinner. If I had it at dinner, I couldn't have it after dinner. If I had it after dinner, I couldn't have it before I went to bed, right. So, my entire day for 30 days was obsessed with that one drink, and that's what made me realize I was an alcoholic, and that's when I quit drinking.

So, I've had the good fortune, after the first two years, to really be on the other side of my alcoholism. It doesn't mean that I'm not wary of it because I am. I'm conscious and awake to it. Let's just say like I had, like I had non-alcoholic something a few years ago and like I downed the bottle, and I'm like, oh, look at you, it's non-alcoholic and you're downing the bottle like it's a bottle of wine. That's when you know that you probably still have an alcohol problem if you start drinking again, you know, [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Right.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, drinking is not in my future.

 

PAUL: So, what was it that replaced the emptiness of untreated alcoholism? Was it spirituality? Is it--

 

RHONDA: It was definitely spirituality. I definitely came back to God.

 

PAUL: And give us the nuts and bolts of what that looked like on a day-to-day basis.

 

RHONDA: Well, me and God had to have it out because remember I'd put him on the other side, and so for a long time I couldn't even say the word God. I would say spirit, universe, source, anything but the word God.

 

PAUL: I have trouble saying the word, but go ahead.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, I mean, like, God, God, God, God, like it was like, gah, so whenever I'd hear somebody say God, I'd be like source, energy, universe. And I was going, at the time I was going to Agape, I was going to A Course in Miracles, listening to Marianne Williamson, who I listened to feverishly for two years and listened to, you know, 150 of her tapes every day.

And A Course in Miracles is one of my staples, and, you know, she says the word God, but I didn't, like I was good, like, source, universe, okay. But then when she quit lecturing because A Return to Love came out, I went to Agape, a spiritual center here with Reverend Michael Beckwith, and he's Mr. God this and God that and God this and God that. And it took me, I mean, I was like universe, source, right?

And I wanted to take classes, so I started taking classes, but again, I just kept changing the name, right, like because I, I wanted that, I loved the feeling, like I want that feeling again, but I just didn't want to have the God thing.

So, it was the second year of school, second year I was taking classes in a row, and, it was the second class, not second year, second class, like a four- or five-month class, and I'm coming home from Agape and I always say God is a nag, and God was like nagging me, [whispers] Rhonda, Rhonda, Rhonda, Rhonda, Rhonda, Rhonda--

 

PAUL: You mean there was a thought popping into your head--

 

RHONDA: --like just like, God, God, yeah, yeah, I'm here, I’m here, I'm here. And I'm like, oh, my God, would you just leave me alone?

And so it's pouring rain on the 405, and I pull over on Mulholland, and I park in front of that big giant church up there, I go in the parking lot, and I am having it out with God, and I mean I am having it out, because in every cell of my being, Paul, if I believed in God again, if I said the word God again, my entire family would be dead, because that is the cost for believing again.

Again, somebody, like for years I had, I couldn't drive, I mean, I would drive at night but I would think that somebody was going to kill me. Like I had to, you know, I had nightmares every night, 14 years my father chased me every night in my dreams, right.

So, the thought of saying the word God again literally, cellularly, talking about triggers cellularly, was like somebody is going to die, like literally--

 

PAUL: Because that's what you had said in your mother's bedroom--

 

RHONDA: Yes, yes. Yes.

 

PAUL: --when you begged him to save her life.

 

RHONDA: Yes. So, somebody's going to die if I believe in you again. So, I remember being in that car for, I don't know, hours, crying, screaming at God, please, please, please, leave me alone. And I remember finally getting to the point where I said to God, okay, I am ready to believe in you again, even if it means everybody dies.

And this isn't just an intellectual exercise, Paul. I actually had to be okay if everybody died, because I really, really was afraid that would happen. I mean, I had nightmares every night for 14 years.

So, I remember driving away from that experience and just sobbing and just, you know, again, I had it out with God. And some people would say I had it out with the devil, but I really had it out with God. And--

 

PAUL: Had you dropped the weight of keeping the world safe?

 

RHONDA: Yeah. Yeah, and I, I just got done going through a dark night a few years ago, and one of the things that I, you know, have said is like, I'm not going to stay alive for my family anymore. Like I'm not going to do things to keep my family alive anymore.

I, you know, I'm not responsible for everybody staying alive, because that's really what I felt for most of my life, is that I was personally responsible for keeping you alive, anybody alive [chuckles], anybody in the restaurant alive that I was with. Like it was, it was like I am in charge of making sure you're okay.

 

PAUL: Wow. That's, you know, it's why I get on my soapbox here and say, please go to a support group, please go to therapy, because--

 

RHONDA: Oh, yeah.

 

PAUL: --it is so rare the person that can get to that clarity on their own, you know.

 

RHONDA: You need support. You need, you know, whether it's a therapist, whether it's a support group, whether it's coaching, whether it's, you know, an intense workshop, but you also have to devote yourself. It's not just one time.

I mean, I devoted, you know, one of the things that I did, just real quickly, is, you know, when people go like, how did you do it, Rhonda? I go, okay, well, I'll give you an example of my fortitude during this time, my commitment, is I got on my belly, on the middle of my, you know, living room floor with my cassette player, oh, by the way, for everyone who doesn't know what cassette players are, look it up, and I would get on the floor with my cassette player, with my cassette, put the cassette in, and I would have all my favorite books around me with all my favorite sayings and all my favorite prayers and all the things that I love to read, and I would make a voice recording of my voice with saying, you know, me, me, me, me, me on it, right, I am the blah, blah, blah, I am the da, da, da, da, da, Rhonda, you can blah, blah, blah, right.

And I would make those tapes, and they'd be two hours long. For two years, Paul, all I did for two years, I didn't listen to the radio, I didn't listen to music. I listened to my own voice on those cassette tapes over and over again, whenever I drove, I had one at my house, I would carry it with me everywhere I went, because I literally had to reprogram my brain.

So, you can't take one workshop or read one book and say, oh, it didn't work. No, no. You must say, your life is worth fighting for, you are worth fighting for, and you must decide to be worth fighting for. If you're waiting for some magical moment for you to be worthy of it, it may never come.

So, you actually have to decide that if you are still alive today, because that's the thing, when I tried to kill myself three times, I was like, I’m still alive, like, what the heck? Like, I should be dead, right?

So, I'm still alive, I'd better f-, because it was like I was trying to die. If I’m not dying, I said to myself, I have to figure out how to live because I'm not dying. So if you're not dying, you are living, and you have to decide that you are worth the fight to save yourself. You have to become your greatest advocate.

 

PAUL: You have to be your own best friend. You're right next to you every day anyway.

 

RHONDA: You're in your own head, love yourself [kissing sounds], love yourself more--

 

PAUL: Why wouldn't you [chuckles], and also, another huge thing I believe is getting away from people who diminish your worth.

 

RHONDA: Oh, God, yes.

 

PAUL: Because they just feed your self-defeating beliefs--

 

RHONDA: That's right, that's right.

 

PAUL: --and start letting people who want to love you love you, people who have nothing to gain by loving you especially.

 

RHONDA: Well, I think I look back on my, I look back on my family, like if I look back at all my relatives, all my cousins, my sisters and I are probably the healthiest ones of the bunch, because we got out of there. Even though we had that horrible history, we got out of there, right.

So it's like, yeah, you have to choose yourself, and for many years I didn't change my life because I was worried about my friends, right, worried about my sisters, worried about somebody else, but eventually it came to the point where, if I don't save myself I can't save anybody else. Like, you really do have to put the mask on first.

So, you have to decide, it really is a decision, and I promise you, promise you, promise you, promise you, promise you, promise you, promise you that if you decide to choose you and choose to practice that self-love and practice being fearless and practice doing the things that Paul and I are talking about, it will get better and it'll be better than you ever can imagine, and I know that to be true.

 

PAUL: I know that to be true as well, and it's, yeah, our crystal balls are broken.

 

RHONDA: Yeah, that's right.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: Accept that.

 

RHONDA: That's right, yes--

 

PAUL: Accept that.

 

RHONDA: But it does get better. I know that to be true. It's way better on this side, it's way better over here, that's all I got to say. It's way better over here than how I lived my life for 20 years.

 

PAUL: You have a book that I would like to plug to the listeners, and it's called Fearless Living and it's Life Without Excuses and Love Without Regret, and I think people should get it and they should read it, and they'll hear more about it. And you give workshops and other stuff. They can go to your Web site. What's your Web site?

 

RHONDA: Yeah, you know what, if you want to go to FearlessLiving.org/risk, r-i-s-k, FearlessLiving.org/risk, r-i-s-k, there's a page there, and if you put your name and e-mail in, I'll give you a free course called Stretch Risk or Die, and it's going to help you on your path, just to get the first little start.

 

PAUL: I will put these, all these links--

 

RHONDA: Fabulous.

 

PAUL: --to your book, to that on the Web site.

 

RHONDA: Great.

 

PAUL: Rhonda, thank you so, so much. I appreciate it.

 

RHONDA: Oh, it's such a blessing. Thank you for having me.

 

PAUL: Many, many thanks to Rhonda. That episode will soon be transcribed and posted by Accurate Secretarial. Many thanks to them for donating their time and helping out the show.

Rhonda's book, by the way, I didn't have a chance to look at it until after the interview, and you know how she talked about, she was always looking for stuff that tells you how do you, you know, learn how to love yourself better, stuff like that. Her book is really a workbook with exercises on how to emotionally heal and grow. So, definitely check that out. I'll put links to that on the Web site.

Support for today's show comes from Audible, presenting Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel. This original audio series takes you inside the office of the foremost authority on modern love, Esther Perel. A celebrated psychologist who has helmed a private practice in New York City since 1983, Esther has over three decades of experience navigating the intricacies of love and desire.

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This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself Mount Sinai Coffee, and she writes, I was recently hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideation. One evening I saw sitting in the common area on the unit, oh, I think she meant I was sitting in the common area on the unit. I was tearful due to feeling extremely low and unsafe.

A fellow patient, who was in the throes of mania and who I knew from a previous admission approached me. He looked deeply into my eyes and told me that I needed to stay alive and that he would give both his left and right testicles to do so. It was both unsettling and hilarious and distracted me from my dark thoughts for a little while. In an odd way, it did keep me alive [chuckles]. Thank you for that.

This is an e-mail that I got from a listener named Brie, and you know, I always try to mention the Rape and Incest National Network when I read the survey of somebody who has experienced sexual trauma and doesn't know where to begin to try to get help.

And so Brie wrote in and said, I finally listened to your voice in my ear, picked up my phone and, scared and skeptical, called RAINN, that's Rape and Incest National Network, and by the way, their Web site is RAINN.org.

The voice that answered was kind and understanding and helped me to set up an appointment with a counselor. Still scared and skeptical, I attended my first therapy session. We were discussing codependency and setting boundaries in my meeting on Tuesday, and here you are on Friday with an episode on exactly that.

I enjoyed the episode, but my mind is still begging for more. My husband and I are both middle children, people-pleasers, non-confrontational, etc. And then she asks the question, how do I protect my own boundaries while making my husband feel safe to have some of his own when he is trying to only care about mine? I'm in therapy and he isn't, so I feel like it's on me to start this new way of being, and I’m trying, but it feels like a lot of pressure on me to figure this all out.

I've realized from listening to the show that my codependence originated pretty early in my life, so I feel like it runs deep. I'm brand-spanking new to setting boundaries, and the show made me realize some things I was doing wrong, and then in parentheses, putting the boundary in their hands, not holding my ground when people don't respect my boundaries, etc.

And I wrote her back and said, you don't worry about making your husband feel anything. You let him be in charge of feeling his own feelings and learning how to express them. You can let him know your feelings. This is probably where you'll be triggered into wanting to protect him emotionally. That is where most of the work is done, sitting in that discomfort.

When we grow, the world doesn't automatically grow with us, so connections get stretched and it can get really uncomfortable. That is growth. That doesn't mean it isn't working. The new discomfort when you use a tool means that it is working. You're working new emotional muscles.

One person becoming less codependent will not, quote, fix both people. It might even make things more uncomfortable because you'll be upsetting the balance that two struggling people without tools have settled into by default. And this is where so much of the work is, because you'll be highly aware as you stop trying to fix other people of how often you want to control in an attempt to feel safe or loved, etc.

Codependence is a false way of creating safety because things are being negotiated out of fear instead of independence, mutual respect and trust that the other person will not die if we let them find their own path, painful as it may be to watch.

In codependence, we ignore what we're really feeling and needing because we're afraid it's selfish or needy or we'll be shamed or rejected or we haven't even really found what we like yet, but when we learn independence through boundaries, we're doing it through what we want because it's healthy for us, and we're taking into consideration the other person as well, but not making their emotional fragility, or perceived fragility, the primary factor in the choices we make.

If your husband truly has a codependence problem, he will probably need to seek his own help. He might learn some tools from watching you adopt new ones, like boundaries and expressing feelings unapologetically but with diplomacy and compassion, but those alone won't help him heal any trauma or abandonment stuff. In other words, you can't go to the gym for him.

You know, he can see how doing push-ups helps you and try some of his own, but his body also needs its own trainer to show him the best exercises, end of analogy. So, thank you for that question, Brie, and I love when somebody asks a question that allows me to share any kind of experience that I have had to [chuckles], any kind of insight that I have had to glean from fucking up so badly on my own, you know. Any experience that I share here, trust me, has not come to me naturally. It has come by process of elimination, of doing every wrong thing that I possibly could.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a woman who [chuckles] calls herself I’m Not Codependent, You Are, and she writes, standing outside of a church wondering if I will have the courage to go into my first-ever CoDA meeting, that's Codependents Anonymous, then turning around and going home because I'm afraid of being judged or how I will feel walking past the 12-step-meeting-here sign. It's awfulsome because I know exactly how ridiculous I'm being and because I know that one day I will make it through the door, just not today.

I love that on so many levels, I love that it's a great example of making a baby step, you know, just go to the parking lot the first time. You know, and then maybe just get out of your car the second time. And that's, for me, a lot of times, when something is overwhelming, is just breaking it down into the tiniest baby steps possible makes it doable.

This is also an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself Mental POS, which I assume stands for piece of shit. And she writes, the story of how I acquired my favorite pair of jeans. I was at work and under a tremendous amount of pressure. I found myself locked in the bathroom stall with a disposable scalpel in my hand, unable to catch my breath.

I go through phases where I struggle with self-injury. I had never, ever cut myself at work, but things had just been spiraling out of control, and there I was, in the filthy bathroom losing my mental shit. The damage was too deep and I couldn't stop the bleeding from a cut on my thigh, which resulted in blood pushing through my pant legs. Fuck. I tried covering the red with black marker. That was stupid. I managed to hide the stain with my purse, hanging it in front of me, and slid into a meeting.

Afterwards, I ran out the door, as I had a therapy appointment a half hour later. I stopped at a department store, sick to my stomach thinking I would never find a pair of pants that quickly that fit me properly. I just grabbed the first few styles of my size and checked out. In the car, I wiggled into a new pair of jeans.

These jeans fit me better than any article of clothing I had ever purchased. I told my therapist what happened and why I was a few minutes late. She brushed it off, parentheses, we never talk about my self-injury. I'm not sure, by the way, why that is, but anyway.

I go back new jeans? I go back, oh, I go back to work and my co-workers begin to shower me with compliments over my jeans. Did you lose weight? No. I got new jeans. I met a new, now-ex, boyfriend the next day wearing these jeans. I got a promotion weeks later while wearing these pants. I plan on wearing them to Vegas one day.

I'm not a vain person. Most of the time I want to melt into the ground so no one sees me, but when I have on these pants and pass in front of a mirror, I have to pause and say, damn, and admire how hot my ass looks in them. Whenever I feel like cutting again, I'll go put on my confidence jeans and sometimes that urge goes away. Thank you for sharing that [chuckles].

I love, you know, one of the things I love about doing this show is hearing the variety of ways that people gain insights, heal, become more of the person that they want to be. It just never ceases to amaze me.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey that was filled out by a woman who calls herself Middle Child. She is straight, in her 20s, raised in a stable and safe environment. She writes that she's never been sexually abused, and then she qualifies it, she writes, I've never been sexually abused, but I was exposed to sexual content at a young age.

Once as a nine-year-old my sister, 12 at the time, and I snuck down to our basement after bedtime to watch a movie. We heard our father coming and thinking he was coming down just to turn off the lights, we quickly turned the TV off and hid under the coffee table, since we weren't supposed to be up.

He proceeded to watch about two hours of porn, which we could see in full view from our hiding spot. Luckily, we couldn't see him and had no concept of what he might have been doing at the time. It was very difficult to reconcile what I had seen, having almost no concept of sex, and still seeing my father as a hero dad.

My sister and I agreed never to talk about it again. We've upheld this, and of course my dad has no idea it happened and would never have allowed it intentionally. I often trace the physical rigidity I have towards men and even people in general to that time and that age.

I believe my reaction to this event over time cumulatively led me to shun sexual intimacy and is the reason I didn't lose my virginity until age 24, despite having no moral or religious reason not to and having a couple of boyfriends who may have been driven away by this.

You ever been physically or emotionally abused? Not sure. Again, I feel this happened in an unintentional manner. Both my parents had high-powered careers and had very little time for the kids. Right there, that, to me, I’m not an expert, that's a form of abuse. That's a form of neglect and abandonment.

You know, being able to make, be in a high-powered job as opposed to a job that allows you to live comfortably, that to me is a decision that that parent makes. They are choosing more money over more time with their kids, and that's just my personal belief. A lot of you may disagree with that. But I think it is an epidemic in this country.

We so rarely praise people for working for less, working less hours and less money so they can spend more time with their kids. And anyway, continuing.

Both my parents had high-powered careers and had very little time for kids, and now, the difference would be if your parents were just trying to survive and had to be working that hard, I wouldn't consider that, it would still be a shame that you didn't get to see your parents, but to me there's a difference when someone chooses to work those hours.

When we were a little older, we had a couple of test-run nannies who didn't work out. They may actually have been psychologically abusive to us, now that I think about it, but that's another story. And we were told if we were very good we could be at home alone from about first grade on. That sounds pretty fucked up, by the way.

This led me to become very strict about rules, since we had these stakes of bringing in an untrustworthy non-parent to our household. There was also a level of abandonment mixed with the chaos of spending three to four hours as children with no adults around. I became the enforcer of rules to the family and was constantly told I was uptight or robotic. I was also jealous of kids whose parents were around after school, as they all seemed to have a less stressful environment.

And again, I think the intent of the parent doesn't really matter. It's the feelings that are left with the kid, you know, the lack of things that are left with the kid.

Any positive experiences with the abusers? It feels wrong to call my parents abusers because they were not actively harming us, but it also feels important to admit that their actions affected me negatively and I can't seem to move past certain hang-ups that feel ingrained in my personality. They have provided so much for me and don't know about certain resentments I feel that only seem to build over time.

Your parents should provide for you. And no amount of financial gifts can make up for not taking an emotional interest in your child. End of story.

Darkest thoughts. I think I will never be as successful as my parents or my friends, even though I consider myself smarter and more conscientious. That, to me, is the ultimate success, is that you are more conscientious.

When somebody is on their deathbed and if you ask them, do you think it was more important that you made money or that you were a good person? That person would say, it was more important that I was a good person. Just my opinion.

I feel I've painted, here's something you will never hear somebody say on their deathbed, I wish I'd made more money. Maybe that's happened. I've never heard of it, but I have heard people regret that I didn't spend more time with family, that they didn't worry less, that they didn't have more fun.

I feel I've painted myself into a corner in a career I hate that will still not open the doors others seem to have already breezed through. I often secretly think that everything will turn around when I win the lottery or marry rich. Then my true life will begin. But what I'd actually do then, I have no idea.

I also worry I will never be able to connect to anyone emotionally or physically and will never find love or happiness because of how stiff I can be.

You know, the fact that you listen to this podcast tells me that you have an interest in becoming more, in growing emotionally or healing or doing something that didn't seem to be a priority with your parents, and it makes sense to me that you would feel conflict, because all of the signposts of success that your parents modeled aren't working for you.

So I'd suggest you follow your gut and work on the emotional stuff with a therapist, with support groups, with finding friends that you feel safe around, distancing yourself from people who embody what you don't like or who are toxic or can't have deep conversations. And I think that path will probably start to open up for you.

Darkest secrets. A doctor also once suggested I see a therapist and ask about an antidepressant because she could tell I was very unhappy. I clammed up and felt extreme embarrassment at the suggestion. I promptly switched doctors and never told anyone. Otherwise, I have nothing. I almost always followed the rules and never did anything wrong. This has made me feel boring and worthless and like my life has almost no peaks or valleys.

Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. I sometimes fantasize about sleeping with my first boyfriend, who I never slept with while dating because of my hang-ups. I believe this relationship has been my only true experience of romantic love and I have so many regrets about it even seven to eight years later.

What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? I probably should speak to my parents about my issues but feel this is the last thing I actually want to do, as I will come off as ungrateful and pulling things out of thin air to blame them for my personal problems.

It's probably not a good idea, in my opinion, to go to your parents right now, because they don't sound like the type of people that have a lot of emotional intelligence or flexibility, and they just don't see life through the same prism that you do. And so I think a therapist would be a great person to begin to navigate this. There really should be therapists that specialize in the children of workaholics and rich people, not that all rich people ignore their kids, but that seems to be a pretty big epidemic among the upper class.

What, if anything, do you wish for? To go back in time and unclench a little bit, or a lot. Well, it's never too late.

Have you shared these things with others? The abandonment issues from being left alone, yes. It feels conversational and no one ever sees it as something deep that has impacted my life. Lots of people were latchkey kids and they seem fine.

It's weird how two people can experience a similar thing but it affects one person more. And you also, you know, you said they seem fine. You know, there was a part of me that was really envious of Chris Cornell and, he was good-looking, he had an amazing voice. I've always wished I could sing. He didn't have a fat face like I do [chuckles]. He didn't look like he was aging at all. He had amazing hair. He wrote great songs. He sang with feeling. And he took his life today, or last night. So, we never know what's going on inside somebody.

How do you feel after writing these things down? It feels cathartic but brings back some tensions from childhood and a feeling of helplessness that this all still affects me today.

Anything you'd like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? Try to bring up issues early on so they don't fester. Also, even though you may not have gone through anything terrible, it doesn't mean everything is perfect.

Thank you. I'm really, really glad I, you filled this out and I got to read it on air, because the things that kind of fuck us up come in so many different packages. And it can really, really make getting healthier more difficult if we over-categorize or rank things in terms of how good or bad this was.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by a non-binary person who calls themselves That One Fucker With the Weed Socks, and they're 16. A few days ago I reached a breaking point. I was driving home alone at night when tears started welling up in my eyes. It's been a really rough year and I felt myself finally giving in to the seemingly unwavering episode of depression.

Not really believing it would help me, I made a sudden turn towards my yoga studio. I cried throughout the class and struggled to hold some of the poses, but I made it through the whole hour. I held every pose and took deep breaths and even if I didn't believe it repeated to myself, I am healing, I am healing.

At the end of the class, I laid belly-up to rest and closed my eyes peacefully. When I opened them, I felt refreshed, new, light, rested. I was also the only one in the studio. I gathered my things in a panic, fearing that I might have been forgotten and locked in.

However, when I walked out of the studio, my yoga teacher was waiting for me with a smile on her face. She had kept the studio open 20 minutes late so I could sleep. My heart melted. I couldn't thank her enough, as my insomnia had been hitting pretty hard these days.

This simple act of kindness has fueled me during the past few days. Just when I was ready, I give up, a person, practically a stranger to me, gave me a boost. Help will always come when we need it most and always in the form we least expect. That was great, and so true. Put the crystal ball away.

This is a really fucked-up Vacation Argument. And the reason I started this survey is I've always found something inherently ridiculous about arguments that happen on vacation, and so yeah, I have this survey, and this person, Jamie, filled it out.

And she writes, that time when I was 12 on our one and only ever family vacation to South Carolina, when my father drove us through the, quote, black part of town in hopes that we would maybe see a prostitute, while my stepmother was screaming, and I do mean screaming, in his face to stop the car and turn around. He remained very calm and said, when in Rome. Thankfully I didn't inherit the racism. That is so fucked up. Thank you for sharing that, Jamie.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by Spicy Psycho, and she writes, most parents hate when their children talk back or don't listen. However, some of my happiest and proudest moments of motherhood are exhibited when my little child talks back, stands up to me or flat-out says no and crosses her tiny arms in front of her chest. I have to bite my tongue to keep from smiling at her.

Of course I want her to listen and make the right choices and learn to do the right things and be a good person in the universe, but for me it shows me that she is independent, not scared of me and feels her own feelings and thoughts and knows her existence in the universe is valid.

I love that I am raising her to know and feel these things, especially since I grew up and, from the age of 18 months, resigned to be completely compliant and codependent with my own mother, because catering to her every need was my purpose. It took me 30-some years to feel my own feelings and know that my place, too, is valid. I can't even begin to tell you how much I love that one.

This is also a Shame and Secrets Survey, and this was filled out by Card-Carrying Codependent. And she's straight, in her 30s, raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? Some stuff happened. Yes, I'm sorry, yes, and I never reported it.

An ex-boyfriend refused to stop during sex even though I told him I was hurting and needed it to end. I laid there crying while he finished. It took at least a year for me to call that rape, but since then I've been able to come to some healing through sharing my experience with good friends.

She's been emotionally abused. I grew up in a loving family but with a narcissistic father who was addicted to pornography and a codependent mother. It took a long time to realize that I was seeking out romantic partners who would treat me with the same dismissive neglect as my father and who I could offer the same blind acceptance and endless patience as my mother offered my father.

In romantic relationships, this codependency has followed me and I have a perpetual difficulty having any meaningful boundaries.

Any positive experiences with the abusers? The beginning of the relationships was like a high. It was like I had found that dismissive man and won, I had won his love, and this time I had fixed it and everything would be perfect now. It just never lasts. In my current relationship, we've had this cycle a few times as he relapses in his addiction.

Darkest thoughts. I am so ashamed of this constant battle inside me. I am fully aware that my lack of boundaries in my relationship in the last four years has allowed me to be hurt repeatedly, but I'm still not sure I have the strength to do what needs to be done. I knew my boyfriend struggled with addiction to pornography and sex, but I believed him when he said he would be open with me if he was in danger of relapsing.

Four or five relapses that he had to be caught with, never told me, and at least one infidelity later, also had to be caught, we are having the same argument again. I am trying to set up a therapy appointment for us so that I can't just let it go again, but it's tearing me up physically and emotionally to know that I might be single after I set the boundary, that if he chooses to hide his phone and keep secrets, then that is a choice for us to be over.

I can know it's the right choice, but there's no peace. My codependent brain tortures me, reminding me that he's had trauma. He had a gross, invasive mom. He gets so anxious. I am being unreasonable and impatient and mean to expect him to do all this. I am barely holding it together, and the worst part is, is that I am a therapist. I can advocate for my clients so fucking hard, but I can't seem to do jack shit for myself.

I so get that. I so get that. It is so hard sometimes to take our own advice, because I think, like when we give the advice to another person, we're operating intellectually, but intellectual doesn't work for us when it comes to our emotional issues, at least in the beginning.

Anyway, darkest secrets. A former boyfriend who pursued me doggedly for over a year, I finally fell for him and was so excited to have a relationship with a man who seemed so committed to wanting me. That did not last long, however. He quickly let me know he was dating me along with a few other people. He would tell me about the other women he dated and how interesting they were or fun things that they did together.

I remember telling him how confusing that was for me and his reply, he would be exclusive with me if I was willing to prove my loyalty. The only way I could prove my loyalty was if I let him urinate on me and in my mouth and drank his urine. And still, even after that, he had to stop talking to me, I couldn't let go of him on my own.

Wow. It is amazing the imprints of neglect or abuse in childhood have on people, how deeply we will believe what we want to be true even as there are red flags all over the place. I mean, can you imagine if your client had described that guy to you? And you knew that intellectually, that this was red-flag city, but, you know, as we like to say in one of my support groups, we see red flags and we think it's a parade [chuckles].

Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. I don't have any. I've gone so long without sex with my boyfriend that the sexual part of me has just gone dormant.

What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? I wish I could tell my parents that I've been raped, but I know she would just tell me that if I had remained a virgin until marriage that I wouldn't have put myself in danger.

That is sickening that a parent would tell that to their child. That is, that, to me, is worse than rape, and I know I shouldn't be comparing because I always say don't compare things, but, oh, fuck, that is so fucked up.

What, if anything, do you wish for? I dream of being a mother, but as I age, in an unhealthy relationship, I realize it may never happen. Have you shared these things with others? Yes, I have some wonderful friends that support me.

I wonder about, though, getting around a group of people who have had your experience, I think that might be a really, really, oh, my God, I'm telling this to a therapist. She fucking knows that.

How do you feel after writing these things down? It feels about the same. I know what needs to happen for me to be safe, but the tension is so painful.

Anything you'd like to say to someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? This really sucks but as long as you stay without boundaries it will continue to suck. Thank you for that. My fear that I am a know-it-all really spiked in reading that one.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by Puddle of Stress and Anxiety. And she writes, after a particularly stressful week filled with studying, multiple AP tests and loads of homework, today, Saturday, I didn't want to do a single thing. I'm a junior in high school and this year has been one of the most difficult by far.

It was raining all day, and after dinner I decided that even though I didn't feel like moving I'd just go for a walk. It was still lightly raining and I live by a river and a park. I took a walk through the park and along the river, just admiring all the green and the beautiful sounds and the fresh smell.

Everything was so clean and beautiful. I felt so at peace and happy, even. I don't know how long it's been since I felt that, but it was such a nice feeling. After I got cold, I went home and took a hot shower and listened to one of my favorite bands, the Roo Panes. I still feel very calm and happy, and this was one of the nicest feelings I've had in a while. I love the rain, and I'm so thankful I got to experience this today.

I love that so much because it's doable. I love when people share moments that help them that are doable, you know, that it's not, I got into Harvard Business School and [chuckles], you know, or I, you know, whatever. I love, I just love that.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by a guy who [chuckles] calls himself Doesn't Know If Pee-Pee Means Piss or Penis. Dude, I'm a fan of yours right out of the gate. And his Happy Moment, sitting on the chair, my heart feeling rock-hard from anxiety, while my dog is lounging. Then the mail carrier shows up, opening and closing the mailboxes, prompting my dog to get up and look at me for reassurance.

I get up and stroke him and I finally figure out that dealing with anxiety and after reaching out I can actually try to deal with it lets me reach out to others who are struggling. My dog isn't a stupid jerk. He's feeling what he feels and I get to be with him. When I first got him, he was a bit of a wreck, and although he's still tense, he can actually, you can actually see him trying his best to keep his shit together.

Sometimes he manages. Other times he doesn't. When he's losing his shit and I feel his tiny heart jackhammering away, I am so grateful that I can sit with him and work on his anxiety issues with him when he is ready for it.

That hit me on a lot of levels, because you just described Herbert. He would go crazy, and sometimes I would feel his little heart and it would just, yeah. Herbert was so terrified of strangers, of anybody coming into the house, even people he'd met multiple times. And he'd just bark and bark and bark as he backed up and crouched down and, not like aggressive, like he was going to bite them, but just like warning everybody.

And this one's, I didn't pick this because of the name. This just happened to be here. And of course, it touched me. This is a Happy Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself Herbert Is My God.

God, I miss him so much. I cannot believe that I will never get to see him again. And I think what hurts, too, is I had always anticipated that we would know when it was going to happen, that it wouldn't be a surprise, and I didn't get to experience that last kiss on his head.

She writes, I have to apologize for my writing skills at the moment, as I'm struggling to get all my thoughts together, but I felt like I had to share this. It's currently 4:30 a.m. and I haven't slept all night, and even though I have to work in a few hours, my sleeping patterns are all over the place as I'm currently in a depressive episode that's gotten pretty bad.

I'm trying my best to keep up with my commitments, but a huge part of me feels like it's not worth it, feeling pretty terrible about myself and life in general. I stepped out into my little tiny courtyard to have a cigarette. All of the lights were off in other apartment buildings. Most normal people are asleep at this hour, except for one.

Suddenly I hear the song Copacabana blaring from the apartment with its light on. It made me smile for the first time in about a week because it was so completely unexpected and weird. I'm sure other people in my apartment building didn't find it as amusing as me, given the hour, but it sure made my day a tiny bit brighter. Thank you, random neighbor. Never underestimate the healing powers of Barry Manilow and his work in the '70s.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by a guy who calls himself Probably a Cabbage. And he writes, last weekend I caught a nasty cold that was making the rounds at work. I hadn't been physically sick in a long time, but after an ugly break-up/divorce in early 2016, I'd been totally destabilized for a long time and slow to recover.

My depression and anxiety were as bad as ever. I was isolated and I was eating myself alive with guilt and shame about not getting my life together. I'd been working on stuff for a while, therapy, meds, the works, but things weren't clicking.

When I got sick, I decided I was going to do what I usually do when I get sick, give myself a break. Write the weekend off, eat soup and watch movies, no guilt about not getting enough done, no stress, no shame about canceling plans, just me, my laptop, some Mucinex and about a quart of phlegm per hour.

And, you know, Monday morning, I didn't feel well physically, but mentally, I felt okay. I felt peaceful. I felt stable for the first time in a long time. It took an actual virus to get me to cut myself some slack and accept that I really am recovering and that it's going to be okay. My sinuses and my heart are both still a little raw and runny, but I think the worst is over.

Thank you for that. It is so great when we can give ourselves the compassion that we would give to a close friend, and yet we so rarely do it. And one of the things that I am proud of that I've been able to do is not shame myself when I get depressed and have to take a nap, and I look at it like it's the flu. And that has helped, because I think when we shame ourselves for being depressed, it makes our depression even worse, or our anxiety or whatever, whatever it is.

I hope you enjoyed our episode. I, you know, those of you who have helped out the podcast financially, I wouldn't have been able to go record non-Americans without your help. And, you know, when I described that moment when I was in that courtyard in Baden-Baden and tears were streaming down my face, you know, the other thing I forgot to mention was that I felt so grateful that I was able to go do this trip, to record a wider variety of cultures and experiences. And I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful.

And, man, that, Rhonda's story is just incredible, incredible. And if you're out there and you're feeling stuck and you think that nobody understands, no, people understand. Maybe some of the people you've reached out to so far haven't understood, but there are people that understand and can help you, and who you will help by asking for help. It's a really beautiful chain of help. It's one of the most beautiful things I've experienced in my 106 years on the planet. I can't believe I've never told you guys, I'm actually 106.

Well, I just turned 106, so [chuckles]. Why didn't I end this earlier? There had to have been a better moment to end on than this. I am so glad that I was able to do these riffs with you guys about Herbert and his butthole all these years, and I'm definitely going to miss, it won't be the same now that he's gone, but in a way, his butthole lives on. And he would have wanted [chuckles], he would have wanted us to keep talking about his butthole, now that I think of it. I think it's the only way to truly honor Herbert. Ivy completely disagrees. She thinks that we should bury him and move on. She says that that's really the only way for pure closure [chuckles].

Anyway, don't ever forget, you are not alone in what it is that you're feeling. While your circumstances might be unique, what you're feeling, there are people all around you and it's just a matter of reaching out and asking for help. And I'm glad that I did because then I get to do this show and travel and meet listeners from different countries. And--

 

[Closing music swells]

 

--I have a beautiful life, but my dog is dead. Good night [chuckles].

 

[Closing music]

 

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