Friday Feels: Reunited

On working through my issues, talking of personal stories and lessons, and giving you more insight into who I am.  This Friday Feels I talk about what put me in survival mode and how I realized I need break out of surviving and work on thriving. – #fridayfeels #personalessay #survivalmode #personalissues

Time for the second ever Friday Feels post.  I've been contemplating, working through, and trying to sort my thoughts for this post.  It comes way later than intended for those reasons.

It won't happen every week, but when I am feeling so inclined to work though issues or share more personal stories or feelings, it will be on a Friday.  I feel like I'm taking a huge leap because I don't often share these types of feelings with anyone other than my husband Sean.  It may be messy.  It won't always have a tidy ending or any resolution, but I think I'm ready.

So without further ado....

Today, I want to talk about my 20-year high school reunion or, more accurately, the memories and feelings just the idea of going to my reunion has brought up.  It's coming up in September, but I've already been through multiple stages of feelings in regards to it.  I'm finally at a more stable and positive place in this roller coaster, so I feel better about sharing it all.  To know why any of this means anything to me, I need to take you back a little ways.  Get a drink and a snack because it's a lot.

My family and I moved all the time.  My dad would get laid-off from whatever plant he was working at, and we'd have to pack up everything.  I was born in Mississippi, but when I was 2 we moved to Eastern Washington.  At 3, we were in Kansas, at 4 we lived in California, and at 5 we were back in Mississippi.  After kindergarten, we moved to Texas, living in a couple different cities. Halfway through 4th grade, my parents moved us to South Carolina.  We lived in a hotel in Aiken for a couple months, lived in Jackson for the rest of 4th grade, then moved to North Augusta right before 5th grade.

I stayed in North Augusta until the end of 10th grade.

That's a lot of growing up between those ages.  There are lots of emotions and dramas and things that seem vitality important to your whole existence.  These were the friends that meant the world to me. These were the people I knew the longest, that I kinda grew up with.  This stretch of time also includes when my parents started fighting all the time.  I've already touched on this a little on the blog, but during that time it was just constant screaming and yelling in our house.  Items being thrown at one another, death threats, supposed attempted suicides  My mom running down the street in her nightgown.  My dad chasing her through the house and slapping her to the floor.  I was awakened in the middle of the night and forced to watch these things unfold, and then had to console my mother afterward.

I never wanted to go home.  I spent as many hours as I could doing drama and choir activities just so I didn't have to be home.  (Also, I LOVED drama and choir, with the added bonus that there were lots of rehearsals.)  If I wasn't at rehearsal, I was in my room doing homework.  That's it.  The friendships at school were what kept me alive.  They kept me hopeful and positive because I knew if I could just get through the home stuff, I could see my friends and be happy for just a little while.

As far as school itself goes, I was a straight A student but not one who particularly loved school.  I did well in my classes, studied, and did my homework because I wanted to be the best.   Part of me just wanted to know that I excelled, but the other part of me thought my peers, my bullies, but mostly my parents would value me more if they knew how smart I was.  And, of course, there was always the undercurrent of shaming and name-calling from classmates, usually about my weight.  I have always been the largest person in the class.  What they were telling me about my supposed flaws at school just reiterated all the things my own parents, particularly my mother, would say to me at home.  This is another set of events that made my friends so special to me.  They didn't name-call me or hate on me for my size.  I just had fun with them and felt like a part of something.

Last Friday Feels I touched on how I never felt like I belonged anywhere.  That definitely stems from the constant moving around.  When my parents' divorce was finalized, I chose to move in with my dad and stepmom because they were willing to stay in the same town as my school.  I didn't want to leave my friends. I wanted to try to finish school in this town and have as "normal" of a teenage life as I could.  As 10th grade came to a close, my home life with my dad and stepmom had become intolerable. We had already lived in three different houses in this two year period.  My dad and stepmom had married and she became pregnant.  She turned into a completely awful, abusive, hateful person.  My dad did nothing to stop it.  They also fought all the time, cursing and hissing at each other.  My stepmom would yell abusive language and obscenities at my brother and I.  I had to talk my brother out of killing himself multiple times.  I saw my stepmom slap my brother and push him down the stairs.  I cried every night for years.  When it finally got to a point where I was contemplating taking my own life on a regular basis, I knew something had to change.  I didn't actually want to hurt myself or someone else, but I needed a way out.

It was a tough road to making a decision.  I yearned for my friendships and the belonging and support those friends provided me.  I longed to be somewhat normal and stay in one place.  I wanted my life to be more so badly, yet I knew I wouldn't have one at all if I stayed.  Before the end of the school year, I made the decision to move in with my mom and stepdad in an effort to save my own life.  I was able to say goodbye to my friends and moved four hours away to Brunswick, Georgia that summer.  My junior year is a bit of a blur.  I participated in drama at this new school, but I was too late to get into choir or anything else.  The drama teacher wouldn't teach, but would just sit there and gossip with certain kids while others gave her shoulder rubs.  I was in a deep depression and one of the only things that gave me happiness and an escape was treated as the teacher's leisure time.  I was doing well in most of my classes, despite my depression, but the accelerated classes I was taking above my grade were not really working for me. (Those subjects were physics and trigonometry.) After junior year, my stepdad found a job up in Washington State so he could be closer to his family. Again, we moved and I started my senior year in Washington.

After I moved out, my dad barely spoke to me.  He told me I was making a big mistake by living with my mom.  He tried to make me feel guilty about it.  I carried that feeling with me for a really long time but, looking back, he should have stood up for my brother and I when we were being abused; but he didn't.  My mom used this time to tell me all kinds of things about my dad.  I am sure some were true; I'm sure some were not.  The more she poisoned me towards him the more control she had over me, which is what she wanted all along.  Back then, I believed her.  I didn't think my own mother would lie to me or take advantage of me.  Looking back though, this is when she showed her true colors.  This would be how she continued to treat me for decades to come.

My senior year was more fun because I was able to participate in drama classes and performances.  I had enough credits to graduate already (I could have skipped a grade), but I decided it was best for me to have more time.  I took mostly elective courses in creative pursuits like photography, pottery, video production, creative writing, Shakespeare, and drama.  It helped ease my aching heart at times.

A month before graduation and two days before my birthday, my father died suddenly.  At this point in time, my mother had turned extremely verbally and mentally abusive.  My dad died on Mother's Day.  I was home alone that day while my mom was out with my stepdad.  When the phone rang, I just knew what it was about.  My brother called, told me to sit down, and then told me our dad had died.  After the call, I sat at the top of the stairs hugging my knees and sobbing, waiting for my mom and stepdad to get home.  When they arrived hours later, my mom took one look at me, asked "he's dead. isn't he?", and smiled.  "Good riddance to bad rubbish," she had said.  That was 20 years ago. Not once has she ever hugged me or consoled me about it.   In fact, I don't think she ever really brought it up again other than to talk about how much she hated my dad and how much like him I seem to be.

In some ways, life in that house was worse.  Maybe it is better to be completely ignored and abandoned than to face constant ridicule, taunting, and name-calling.  I truly feel like the stress of my dad's death began to accelerate my thyroid condition.  I only got worse after that.  I was so depressed I could barely function.  I was the lowest I had ever been, grieving the loss of my father, constantly having to hear what a worthless, stupid, ugly, pathetic, fat, disgusting piece of trash I was.  Nothing I did or said or attempted was ever good enough.  I was berated for everything while my siblings made bad choices and were hardly dealt with and, in some cases, rewarded.

For years, I kept plugging away, working during the day only to come home to more verbal assaults at night.  Somehow I had ended up in the same toxic environment I had tried so desperately to escape, only now I didn't have the same support system of my friends to help me along.  Don't get me wrong, I still had a few friends that I could talk to, but it wasn't a situation where I could just call them and chat.  They didn't live close, and everything I did and said was somehow monitored anyway.  I daydreamed about the life I wanted, about one day seeing my friends again, about some day being more than my mother ever dreamed I could be.   It was the only thing I had to keep me going.  While the Internet was becoming more prevalent, it still wasn't anything like it is today.  There just wasn't a way to reach out to people like there is now.

Eventually, I moved to Boston, then back home to Washington, then to California, then back to Washington.  No matter how hard I tried, nothing seemed to work out the way I envisioned.  Though I saw these moves as a step in the right direction and a huge effort on my part to gain control of my life and find some positive, my parents only saw these things as failures.  Again, the negativity and verbal abuse only got worse.  Eventually, I was able to get my own apartment, which is when life started to look up a bit.  I met my husband and was able to really distance myself from the negativity and abuse.

Which brings us to the present.

There are a few friends from that first high school that I have talked to regularly, who know my journey and my feelings.  There are more still who keep up with me through Facebook.  Since I left that school after 10th grade, I have always hoped to be able to go to a reunion and see my friends again.  The daydreams never really stopped I guess.  Who would I be then?  What would I say to folks?  Would I be kind to the people who bullied me?  Would they be different people?  It seemed like wishful thinking that I would even be welcome at such an event.

And then I received a notification that the reunion was being planned.  I joined the Facebook group, but had no idea if anyone would remember me, or if I was even allowed to be a part of anything.  I talked to some friends and was welcomed into the festivities.  It is quite a trek to South Carolina from Washington State, but I was happy when I knew I would be able to attend.  I'm really excited to see the people that mean the most to me.  I'm already planning my outfits.  I participate in the group's weekly Facebook Live chats to talk and virtually hang out, and I was just featured in the monthly newsletter for my work here on the blog.  Everyone has been so nice and supportive and kind, even some of the folks that didn't seem to like me in high school.  I've been impressed by everyone's amazing attitudes.

But before I got to that place, I was dealing with some deep emotions.  The first stage of feelings was a rather chaotic sadness.  It was a feeling I couldn't quite place at first.  It was uncontrollable and would snowball at any given moment.  I contemplated who I was at that time - scared, alone, hurting, sad - and how both my home life and people at school caused me to feel that way.  I mentioned how I have been in survival mode for most of my life during the last Friday Feels, and this time in my life was where those feelings really began.  As hard as it is to face these memories and feelings, to think on things I have been trying to forget, I feel like going back will somehow help me deal with these issues.  Just the idea of going back home to this reunion has made me confront things I need to deal with.

Just as there are things I was trying to forget, there are also things I have been holding onto.  There is this whole other life I could have had.  As members of the group look back and share their high school experiences and memories, I have to mourn the loss of this life I was never able to have.  I didn't do "normal" high school things.  I didn't get to just be a teenager.  I never had the opportunity. I was just trying to survive, trying to carry others, trying to raise myself because my mother wanted little to do with me.  I never went to parties or dated or went to prom.  In my free time, it was just me in my room doing my homework or listening to music and wishing I was someone else.

I was talking to a friend about these feelings who said, "I can't imagine being in that kind of environment and then leaving to carry it with me for decades instead of just seeing it through and letting it fade once it's over. It's like a bad horror movie - the credits rolling allows you to see the bad production for what it was and forget you ever wasted the time, whereas turning it off halfway through only leaves you with the last grotesque visual that made you jump."

I really appreciated the horror movie analogy.  It made me realize that the pattern of never getting closure was something that has really bothered me and kept me holding on to things I should have let go of years ago.  I am a highly sensitive and emotional person though, so not having closure is really hard for me to deal with.  Part of me is still stuck in that place in time.  I carried these feelings around because I never actually got away from them. There were events with no closure, but the abuse continued and continued to a point where I was stuck.  I was stuck living out the same scenarios, the same what ifs, the same abuse, the same issues, wondering about the same things over and over because I had nothing else.  And there was so much that I blocked out or tried to forget that also needs to be dealt with.

Beginning to move through the sadness and grieve more for the life I could have had has been helpful for me.  Thinking about why my life took the turn it did helps me to appreciate my strengths and achievements more.  It helps me see myself in a different light.  I fought for me.  I made tough decisions that had to be made in order for me to keep going.  I very much appreciate my life as it is now, but I would have none of it if all of these awful things hadn't happened to me. I know it is cliched, but it's true.  I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't gone through these things.  Being ridiculed by my mother is what motivates me to spread body positivity and love on the blog.  I want to be the opposite of her.

I have to let go of the negative emotions and negative people tied to that place and time in my life.  I think physically going there will be helpful in that process, though I don't want to have major expectations for anything.  I don't want to be let down if things don't go the way they go in my head. I'm sure I'll go back through this stage multiple times until I'm able to fully let go of these feelings.  It is a lot to process and, while I've moved through this stage of feelings for now, I know I still have to tackle it head on.

The next stage was a brief period of self-doubt.  Will people remember me?  Do I look hella old?  Are people going to laugh that I am still fat?  Are they going to think I'm pathetic and dumb? Are they going to tell me to my face? It was a short time of self-consciousness spent contemplating my fine lines and sun spots and under eye circles and pore size before moving on to just being excited. Because none of it matters.  How I look doesn't matter.  How they look doesn't matter.  What I remember most about those people was how they made me feel.  I want to see them and hug them and thank them.  I want to laugh and dance and talk with them.  I want to take so many selfies and photos with them.  I just want to hang out and appreciate who they are now and who I am now, and feel grateful that those two things get to meet.

Have you been to any of your high school reunions?  What was your experience like?

No comments