I stood blinking back tears as my body filled with overwhelming shame and humiliation at what just happened, all the while thinking, "Don't cry, Mia – whatever you do, don't you dare cry – don't let them see you cry … you can go to the bathroom and cry but not here not now." People rushed past me on their way to class and I stood, rooted in the same spot, listening to the laughter of those who had just caused my pain and watched them walk away. The hall was nearly empty when I willed myself to move, knowing I was going to be late for class but not caring, I walked into the bathroom and hid - replaying the scene over and over in my head.
I was at my locker, minding my own business, when I heard him, "Mia! Hey, Mia."
My heart sank and I didn't look up; all I could think was "go away, please leave me alone, go away!"
I acted like I didn't hear him as I closed the locker door and hoped I could just walk around him. He had his usual followers behind him and they were all smiling as he blocked my way and continued to talk, "Please, just listen to me – come on, for a second, I want to say sorry …"
I turned around to walk the other way and he tried again, "Please, come on let me make it up to you, let me say sorry, I promise just listen for a second, I wanted to ask you to the dance..."
Here was the jerk that had made my life hell every time he saw me – he called me names, laughed at me, and got his friends to call me fat – and here he was trying to say sorry and ask me to the dance. I stopped and turned around. "Yeah right," I said, "that's not funny, leave me alone."
"I'm serious. I know I've been mean just let me take you to the dance."
He looked so sincere and for some stupid reason I said, "Ok, fine. Yes." As soon as the words left my mouth and I saw his face I knew it was the worst possibly thing I could have said.
He started to laugh and so did his friends as he then said, "Ha! There is no way I would ever go with someone as fat and ugly as you."
I was a sophomore in high school when this happened and I never told another living soul about this experience until three years ago. Even as I told it to someone that first time I thought how unbelievable it was that people could be so cruel. I felt shame and anger again and the craziest part was that the most intense anger was reserved for myself … how could I have been so stupid to say yes? How was I so pathetic to fall for that and leave myself open to being hurt? Why didn't I tell someone? Why am I even talking about it now?
The reason that I shared it then and the reason I am sharing it now are different. I shared it then because it had been buried too long. The pain didn't go away because I ignored it, in fact, it got worse. It got worse because it was just one more incident to add to all the others that had been accumulating through the years to strengthen the case in my head that proved my unworthiness as a human being. It got worse because it cemented itself into my soul and helped fuel the self-loathing that had already been kindling from the abuse that happened when I was eleven.
Talking about it three years ago gave me the chance to confront it and my distorted thinking about the experience. It gave me the chance to trust someone with one of the most painful moments in my life and have them not reject me for being pathetic or weak, which is what I always feared would happen if I told any of the painful stories I held to myself. I pictured myself being laughed at for holding onto that memory from so long ago; or worse, I pictured the person agreeing with the cruel words about my appearance. Sharing it then helped me allow someone in enough to be sad with me, to feel the comfort that comes when someone shares your pain. Many times before I had begun to try and share with someone some of the deeper pains I held, in their trying to share my sadness I mistakenly saw pity and shut down any chance of letting them in.
The journey to the land of self acceptance and dare I say, self love :) , is still one I am on and I have to consciously battle against the self loathing daily. It started with small normal childhood insecurities and was heightened by trauma and the painful bullying that seemed to follow my school years. I can't go back and change any of that now no matter how much I wish I could. What I can do is fight each day to see myself the way I believe God sees me. What I can do is to tell my story, to try and be real about the struggles of life and to work at finding hope. What I can do is see others in their pain and offer to share it with them and hope they see in me someone they can trust to be sad with them not for them.
I had a friend recently say to me, "Why think about the past?! What good does it do to keep talking about it now that it's over? Just move on, move forward, and leave it alone." Now, they have a point. Thinking about the past too much and living in it can be damning. It can stop progress and make the present a living nightmare. I know that it can because it has happened to me for far too long. However, there is a difference between using the past as an excuse and using it as an explanation. I now look at my past and try to let it explain how I got to my present in a way that can allow me to work to change what isn't helpful for me. Self-loathing is definitely something that isn't helpful for me or for anyone else to get caught in.
The other reason I look at the past is tied to the reason I chose to share this experience now. Someone once said something about not remembering the past means we are condemned to repeat it. I think about this differently than I once did. I think part of remembering the past comes in sharing it with the generations that come after you in hopes that it helps them feel less alone in their struggle. I have been reading far too many stories and articles about children and teenagers committing suicide after experiencing years of torment and pain. I hear news stories report on the bullying that is happening as if it is a new event happening in the lives of young people. Cruelty, meanness, and bullying have been going on since basically, forever. It's been happening for so long that it becomes treated as normal, as kids being kids, as part of growing up. It shouldn't be. It doesn't have to be.
I hear stories of bullying and teenage suicide and I am taken back to my own youth and I think of all the times when I faced moments like what I shared above and I did so in isolation. I had loving and great parents, awesome brothers, and people that I could have shared my pain with but I stayed silent, I suffered alone and truly believed that I was the only one who felt this type of pain; that something was wrong with me at my core that allowed people to hurt me, reject me, and point out my deficiencies. So, I share in hopes that my story would help someone – a teenager, a kid, an adult, anyone - see they aren't alone in pain, they aren't alone in humiliation. I share this now, hoping that it can be something that brings the thoughts back to kindness – how it can help, how it can heal, how one person can make a difference.
Be kind. Teach your children to be kind. Help others be kind and learn to stand up for those who face long days of pain or cruelty. Bullying and unkindness don't just stop when we leave high school – it follows us into college, employment, church, families, and even into social media as we see it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Chose to be kind and to stand up for people when unkindness comes, even if it means standing up to a friend. We are all imperfect people and will end up hurting one another from time to time but it doesn't mean we stop striving and trying to be better tomorrow than we were today.
Looking to the past isn't always bad; look back to remember and share so others can know they are not alone, look back for explanation not excuse, and look back to see how far you've come…
You are doing better than you think you are!!!
In looking back I can see how far I have come ... Life isn't perfect and I fight everyday to be happy but the darkness that permeated my heart as a child and continued into adolescence, as you can see here in the first two pictures, isn't as deep a part of me as it was. It can get better and allowing it to get better doesn't mean you forget about who you were or you pretend it didn't happen - you don't honor the person you were, who experienced the dark and terrible times, by staying in them; you honor that person by choosing to live now, the moments you missed then ...