I stood at the community dryer removing my clothes and placing them into my basket to take back home. For a moment I had felt sad, lonely maybe, less; I’m not sure. But whatever the emotion it was only for a brief moment. Then it passed. I smiled to myself because it didn’t matter. I had stopped trying to fit in.
When I had first walked into the shared laundry room of our RV Park, two women had been talking loudly to one another and laughing as they shared a story, but as I entered the area they lowered their voices in a conspiratorial tone as they spoke about events around our little community. I knew both of the women from having been around the small community for a few months. We were all friendly with one another, but as they continued to whisper together within my earshot I understood that I wasn’t part of their inner circle, I wasn’t part of the fold, or in the know. I certainly wasn’t close enough to the pack to invite inclusion into their most interesting and shocking, shared gossip. For a moment that made me feel sadly excluded, but then I shook it off, remembering that I wasn’t the woman I used to be. I smiled knowing it was okay to be different.
I didn’t always feel that way. I used to feel like I was on the outside looking in, like I was a beggar at the window of the restaurant, staring hungrily at the steaming plate of food, wishing for a bite, something to [whet] my appetite for acceptance.
I was the young girl who moved around a lot when I was little. And I mean a lot. I remember getting behind in first grade after moving schools three times in one year, and feeling ashamed that I required a special tutor to catch up to the rest of the class. At six I felt like I didn’t fit in.
I remember second grade, another new school, and joining other girls to make fun of someone else on the playground. I knew it wasn’t right, but I still did it. After all, if it was her it wasn’t me. Do you want to know the most peculiar part? I saw her smiling. It was like the negative attention was better for her than being invisible. I got that. Our eyes met by the swing set, she smiled, and we understood each other on a very deep, painful level. Even if just for a moment. Outcasts.
I remember another new school in third grade. It was the second new school that year. I recall telling a little girl on the teeter totter I was epileptic. I thought if she felt sorry for me she might be my friend. The rest of my time in elementary school I was the kid with the weird disease.
I can recall switching school in junior high, hoping with everything I had that it would be different, that I would be liked. I still enjoyed Barbies and frogs, but I realized quickly that wasn’t what the popular girls were into.
Popular girls. I’m not sure why I fought to be a part of their clique. There were nice girls who weren’t in the top echelon of the socially elite, yet I set my sights high. From sixth grade, throughout high school, I was a cheerleader. I didn’t have a grand affection for toe touches and booty dances. I just thought I would find my place inside that way. Have you ever had your bed short-sheeted at cheerleading camp? Even though I always made the squad, I wasn’t part of the squad. I remember calling my mom in tears at a cheerleading sleepover because everyone was ignoring me and being cruel. It wasn’t imaged. It was the real thing. Once you become a social leper, it sticks.
I look back at the bullying and I thank God social media didn’t exist. I already wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. I can’t imagine if my misery had been shared on social networks. I already weighed 90 pounds because sleep was better than food, or because the cafeteria was where my tormentors gathered. I can’t imagine if pictures had been shot across Snapchat with the caption of Anorexic Annie.
The great thing about college is that you get to let go of the cliques and taunting. There’s more on the horizon. You get to find your tribe, the people who are more in line with what you value. Yet… yet my desire to fit in didn’t fade.
At twenty, as a reborn Christian, I felt like I didn’t quite fit in with all the church folks. I had so much to learn, they knew way more about Jesus than I did. They hadn’t done half the awful things I had done, and our families were different. I had watched Smurfs and HeMan! Lol. I still taunt my husband a little about his lack of ’80s cartoon knowledge. But seriously, even amongst people who loved me, I felt like I didn’t fit in. Which led one to ponder, was it me?
I began to learn that my past experiences molded my current perceptions. Once you’ve been rejected, especially at a young age, and especially by someone you love, it slants your thinking. You walk around either fearing love, craving love, sabotaging love, feeling you’re never loved and never will be loved, or all of the above. Parents should consider this before they dip out on their kid, but it goes beyond that. It’s like hurt just piles on hurt, piles on hurt. You end up like me, seeking acceptance, but never quite feeling like you get it.
I don’t think I can pinpoint when it happened, but one day I stopped caring so much what people thought. As I grew older and matured I realized what was important to me. I held those things close and didn’t put as much value in the things that didn’t matter. I discovered who I was according to Jesus, and I realized the opinion of anyone else didn’t matter. I learned to love myself because of how God saw me. Then I didn’t crave love from man to make myself feel better, yet I was also able to accept love from others more easily.
As I kept going in this vein I realized that I was a unique creation of God, that He made me a certain way. So although hurts along the way may have changed my actions and perceptions, I also was who I was because He created me that way. Special. Different. These were no longer bad things, but worthy of celebration. I didn’t need to fit into the box. It was cool to be a square peg in a circle hole world. I didn’t have to fit the mold, and I could break out of the constraints of trying to fit in and be anyone other than me.
But it kept going. I also started to understand that sometimes my vision could be clouded and that the devil could use lies to make me feel like I didn’t fit anywhere. Maybe I wasn’t an introvert by design, but rather by choice. It’s easier to be a loner when people are mean, but it’s also less painful to stay that way and believe everyone is mean. I had missed out a lot over the years. I had missed so many opportunities to be kind and show God’s love to others because I was tired of being hurt.
Through it all, I had gone from rejected to social misfit, and from introvert to [a] major lover of people. That’s what God can do, I suppose. I am grateful I came to a place where I stopped trying to fit in, but I am even more thankful when I came to the point of realizing I also couldn’t sit life out.