Tough is the New Black

toughgirl1Growing up with a violent mother with mental illness made me tough. Her goal was to break me, bend me to her will so I’d “grow up right.” She didn’t realize that she had to act like she loved me too. In order to protect myself, I stood my ground emotionally. No matter what she did or said to me, I vowed never to let her see me cry.

I continued to implement the strategy for most of my life, with varying degrees of success. Using a sense of humor and intelligence as a shield, I built a reputation, a persona, that announced to the world, “Go ahead, fuck with me. I could take it. You won’t win.”

Most of the time my armor served me well. When, rarely, someone saw a softer side to me, I’d make them swear to keep it a secret. I didn’t want word to get around. My bad-ass-ness was a deterrent to anyone who might even contemplate giving me a hard time and got me through countless disappointments, betrayals, breakups, let-downs, and even cancer.

This year, 2014,  however, has gotten the better of me. Maybe it’s because I was looking forward to a shiny new life that crashed unexpectedly. Maybe I really do have a breaking point and I’ve finally reached it. Maybe, after 62 years, I ran out of the kind of energy it takes to keep up my tough girl persona. I can only speculate, but whatever the reason, right now I feel broken, and scared and fragile.

I can tell you that it’s not going over well. I’ve been called pathetic, desperate, weak, and a victim, both literally and implied. I’ve been lectured, warned and advised about what to do with all these unbearable crippling, feelings. I’ve been told how to compensate for them by doing everything from getting a dog to going scuba diving. “Learn to walk the path alone,” you say. “Enjoy your ‘me time’, find your passion, find yourself.”

I’m sending this post to let you know that I don’t need your advice, and I especially don’t need anyone to teach me to be tough. I have been an expert at it all my life. Ironically, THE most important thing I’m finding during this time, is my vulnerability. I need my friends and acquaintances to validate me. If I’m feeling lost and alone, knock at my door. If I’m feeling scared, acknowledge my fears. Allow me to experience my fragility without judging it.

Right now, I’m feeling knocked down. I’ll get up again. But in the meantime, (and this might sound tough, but) please, can the advice.


Posted in Stuff.


  1. “Using a sense of humor and intelligence as a shield…”

    This is exactly me. I’m lucky to have people in my life who will call me on it when they actually want to know how I am feeling.

    I think that happens to a lot of us who grow up in homes where we have to protect ourselves from our parents, Kelly.

  2. I love you too. No advise…..getting older sucks and takes all you got. But you got it.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Joanne! Miss your face around these parts.

  3. Sorry to hear the troubles, as we all know they suck when they are happening, and it sounds like you’ve had a fair amount of suckie shit happening.

    Sending love your way…

    Thanks Arlene. Hope all is well with you.

  4. I think the reason people don’t know what to do when the tough kid is vulnerable is that it makes them feel that if Denise is vulnerable then I, who ain’t nearly as tough as she, must be really in deep shit. They try to pick you up as a way of keeping themselves up, too.

    I know that down in the dumps is a place we all end up spending some time in. Been there more times than I care to think about and I really hated it when people tried lecturing me out of my grief. I had to own it, just as you are doing.

    May I at least wish your stay there be only as long as it needs to be.

    Loving you in all your stages and wishing I could lighten the load, but I know we all have to carry our own shit.


    I love you much, Irene.

  5. Denise, I totally understand what you wrote here and am awed that you are free to acknowledge your vulnerability –
    No one can know how hard this may have been for you but I know on some level I can . . . Stay true to yourself


    Thank you Kelyi.

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