My mother will say I’m airing dirty laundry in public.
The people who share this story with me will say I have no right to tell it.
But something within tells me, now is the time to break the silence.
I’m not very good at fitting in. Never have been. Can safely say, I probably never will be. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s partly because I just don’t care enough to try. Or to put it another way, there are so many other things I care about, that “fitting in” just sort of slips down the priority list. It’s right above “wearing make-up every day”.
But fitting in is different to being accepted. Fitting in is different to being acceptable. Fitting in is different to belonging. (How do I know? I don’t “fit in” in other places, but I definitely belong. Also, I learnt that the hard way.)
We used to have friends that I thought accepted me. They laughed at my jokes, enjoyed my food, sat at my table and told me how comfortable my home was. How relaxed I made them feel. We shared birthdays and Christmasses and random Sunday afternoon barbecues. When they needed someone to walk through some very dark valleys – learning that a child had special needs, abandonment by close friends and many other things – we were there. When I was suddenly taken into hospital with heart problems (turned out to be nothing), these were the people that stepped up so that The Dude could come with me to hospital (it was a very scary night).
But I was always apologising.
Always been made to apologise. Hardly a get together would go by without one of them taking The Dude to one side and telling him to please have a word with me about something or other that I had said. Or worse yet, the faces would get closed and hard and people would take themselves off to the kitchen to get themselves a drink of something or some nibbles. And yet, if I asked, everything was alright. Until I got the text later saying please don’t do this or that.
I learned to watch my tongue. I learned to watch my body language. I learned to shut my mouth and just give them food. But I was a good listener, and I loved these people, and they were The Dude’s friends and I so wanted to belong. I so wanted to be accepted.
I so wanted to be acceptable.
I have lost count of the amount of times that they reduced me to tears. Not that they ever saw that. Because they never stayed around long enough. They got offended, told The Dude, got their apology and then stewed until they decided they wanted some of my cooking. Or The Dude invited them around and they couldn’t think up a reason to say no. (Or maybe, they actually did like coming around. Who knows, I was just finding the whole thing stressful.)
I was recovering from depression, and trying to find the me that I am today, and yet they were telling me that the me that I was becoming was wrong. I’m not even kidding. They told me that they were praying that “God would change me”. (Thanks for the prayers, guys – I have changed in ways that you couldn’t even imagine, and I so couldn’t have done it without you…) That was the same conversation that they accused me of assault. Strangely enough, the last meaningful conversation I had with them. (To date. Who knows what the future holds.)
But why am I telling you this? If that last conversation was in September/October last year, why I am I telling you this now? The truthful answer is that I’m beginning to understand. I’m beginning to learn what actually happened. The truthful answer is that there is no point in telling about what happened afterwards without telling about the before.
If I saw you face to face, this is what I would tell you.
Bullying is not just a schoolyard thing.
When you make somebody apologise and apologise and apologise without actually talking to them about it, you’re not helping. You’re just feeding your ego.
You nearly broke me. But I escaped. I stayed because I wanted The Dude to be happy, but what you did? It hurt him as well me. And you were supposed to be his friend. That is what still makes me angry. Not what you did to me, but what you did to him. And you did it with a smile on your face and then invited him for curry.
Because it was never about me. And it was never about The Dude. It was about you, and what made you look good, and what made you feel good. The things I said that you didn’t like, they were uncomfortable things. But they were also the truth. I’ll put it in perspective: you got an awful lot of help and support from me when things were going wrong. I can’t say the same. I don’t make friends with people because of what I can get out of it. I don’t make people apologise for being who they are. At the very most, if certain behaviours are triggers for anxiety for me, I just ask people to stop, and I tell them why, and I do it face to face.
No one is ever unacceptable. Not even you. Not even Hitler.
And when you make somebody unacceptable, when you make somebody feel like they are unacceptable, you are wrong. Because a person is a person. A person is a life, is dreams, is hope. A person is potential.
And sometimes a person is weak, or stupid, or different. Sometimes a person doesn’t know the secret rules to belong. Sometimes a person just wants to know that to be themselves is to be good enough. To know that they will be loved, whatever comes out of their mouths.
I never meant to offend. Okay, that’s not strictly true. I never mean to offend just for the sake of causing offence. Sometimes I say things that upset people, because people need to be upset. Heck, I’m upsetting myself writing this. But that’s okay, because it reminds me of the lessons I learned from being unacceptable. The unintended consequences, if you will.
It takes a long time for somebody who feels unacceptable to believe that they are acceptable.
Acceptance and belonging are empowering. The reverse is also true.
To tell somebody that you think God should change them, is to deny the very character of God. It is also one of the most demeaning things you can say. Yes, God changes the way people respond to things, but he doesn’t do it by changing who they are, he does it by enlarging their hearts. It’s the same heart, the same person.
Sometimes, to be unacceptable is to be right.
People make you unacceptable for any number of reasons. Most of them are not about who you are personally, but more about what you represent. So far I have figured out that I represented being different, being passionate and wanting the people in my life to be honest and upfront with me. Pretty sure I’m okay with people who think that looking good is more important than relationship not liking me.
Acceptance can be found in the strangest of places.
You can just shut up and walk away. It’ll hurt for a while. You’ll miss them for a long time (that’s always the hardest bit, so I’ll just own it). But one year on, you can look back, write a blog and realise that so much of what you give now is because you have lived through that heartache and come out the other side.