Hi, I’m Alayna, and I’m a victim of bullying.

No, I’m not a teenager. I’m an independent, vivacious woman who realises high school was literally half a lifetime ago, and should have more important things to worry about than who says what and why. Also, the perpetrator of these disruptive acts isn’t a person, place, or thing, but a mindset. I’m being bullied by a way of looking at the world that too many people agree with, and for most of my adult life, I’ve suffered because of that.

I didn’t have many experiences as a little kid or an adolescent that involved bullying, either being bullied by someone, or bullying someone else. I was always fairly popular, amiable enough, and the worst things I ever had to worry about were “mean girl” rumours, the kind of nonsense I both helped create, and received. Despite living my life in one very large city or another until the time I was 27 and found myself in the suburbs, the only physical confrontation I’ve ever had with another person is when a drunk girl from my university found me at a bar, accused me of messing with her boyfriend, and punched me square in the face. I hit her with a bottle, and we all got kicked out of the bar, because nobody was going to call the cops on two suburban-looking Caucasian females with a combined body weight and stature that still doesn’t equal the average bouncer.

In fact, I don’t think I’d recognise bullying if it came up and introduced itself, because I guess I’m just the product of a slightly different generation and mindset than the world has today. I’m not very judgmental. I proudly call myself a liberal. I’m a little weird, a little unconventional, and accept everyone else is too. Granted, I might at some point say something behind your back. However, it’s never anything I wouldn’t say to your face. If someone has heard something that’s the type of remark I just wouldn’t ever make to you or in your presence, it’s a good indicator I didn’t say it. I’ve always been a “What you see is what you get” kind of person, and while I have my share of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and things about me that are just nobody’s business, I can also be very open and approachable once we’ve become friends. Sadly, I repeatedly get myself hurt by stuff that is whispered behind my back, people choosing to ostracize me, or other passive-aggressive types of behaviour.

The other day, The Guy I Am Currently Dating mentioned that some of these things I’ve dealt with—and am still dealing with—are a lot like the bullying that goes on in high school. It’s just somehow a more grown-up version. And, while I’m not really the kind of person who would ever say “Life is picking on me and it’s not fair”, I certainly do feel that way sometimes. Part of the reason I share everything with everyone, and approach conflict in a way that seems “aggressive” to some people, and make a big deal about making sure even the most minor thing has no ill-intention is that I’m remarkably thin-skinned. I don’t know how to defend myself against people who hate me, judge me, and refuse to forgive me for transgressions, or prefer to form an opinion of me at face value, or through the rumour mill. Those things all affect me more than they affect the average person, and they always have. I’ve been told I need to grow up, become less sensitive, take things less seriously, grow a thicker skin…so, like everyone, I have some well-defined defense mechanisms against being hurt. These typically include keeping people at arm’s length until I feel I can trust them, snarky remarks that are sometimes disguised as humour but have a grain of truth, and asking people if and why they have a problem with me, rather than just assuming one way or the other. I don’t excel at brushing things off or letting things go.

“Karma Is A Bitch, And Sometimes You Deserve What You Get.”

While this is true, I think there are limits. When I was 26, I went through a very tough experience in my life where all my dirty little secrets were outed and judged, courtesy of people I thought were my friends. While what happened to me is never behaviour I will understand or forgive, I’ve had to acknowledge my role in the situation. I didn’t treat my so-called “friends” any better than they treated me. I was making choices that might potentially cause hurt feelings or destroy the emotional stability of people I didn’t even know, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was largely going through life with an “I can say and do whatever I want” attitude designed not to let anyone get too close, and at the same time, enjoyed being popular and the center of a social circle.

The fallout from all my dirty laundry being aired was huge. People I didn’t really know in other cities heard gossip and stories. Some of them never met me, but hated me. Some of them never met me, but suddenly wanted to. I got kicked out of my apartment, lost almost all of my friends, and had absolutely nothing. When I entered a room, someone was whispering somewhere. I got e-mails that, more than once, made me wonder if life was even worth living. I didn’t really socialise with anyone or consider anyone a friend for three months.

Of course, life goes on, and every time you get knocked down, you rebuild. However, when you say things like that, when you say “Whatever, I’m a survivor. I’m strong.”, it implies that you’re less emotionally affected by life than you really are. I’ve been devastated, and my heart has been fractured so many times, it will probably never be capable of the kind of love and innocence I once believed in.

I had to take responsibility for my own behaviour, and realise I’d invited some of the bad karma and bullying into my life. I did, and I figured it was time to move on. Every time I felt hurt and “bullied”, I rationalised that I probably deserved it, even if not for the reasons others thought.

Statute Of Limitations

The problem is that karma may balance eventually. However, bullying like that doesn’t end. Six years have passed, and just recently, I happened to hear that someone was choosing not to be friends with me because of things they’d heard about me. Coincidentally, at the same time, I learned that someone from my past was now living in the city, socializing with some of the same people I know.

When I was 21, I made some bad life choices. I treated people badly. I treated someone badly even though I loved him immensely, and moving on from a relationship never hurt like that before, or since. I behaved in a selfish and callous way in order to survive and get what I thought I wanted and needed. I hurt people. There were consequences to all of that, including having to learn what the inside of a jail cell looked like, and that I was nowhere near as tough as I thought I was. I was just a scared girl out of her element who made some bad choices, ignoring the negative consequences to herself or anyone else.

I’ll always have to live with that year of my life that ruined everything. I could blame it on the ways in which the world hurt me, the need to survive on my own in a world that just didn’t care about me, on life not being fair…but I don’t. I admit to being young and stupid, and doing selfish, hurtful things. There were consequences. I had to accept those and live with those.

Over a decade later, I am not the same person. Who is? Who hasn’t changed and grown since their 21st birthday? Yet, there are still people who assume I am, that my past mistakes define me always and forever, and that my character is irredeemable.

The choices that I made later in my 20′s, while I regret the fallout from many of them and that I was so self-centred I forgot to feel empathy for others, or to ever really connect with others—I don’t apologise for the unconventional life path I traveled upon. And when all that unconventionality was “outed”, and I was constantly confronted and expected to feel shame, or move out of the city, or never dare to show my face in a social circle anywhere again, it seems my greatest crime was that I didn’t. I was not ashamed enough, I did not dislike myself enough, I had the audacity to keep on going with my life and rebuild.

Guess what, people? I didn’t always dislike myself. Since that period of my life, I struggle to find any semblance of self-esteem and self-acceptance in a world I believe will never understand my present, forgive my past, or want to be a part of my journey in the future. Your “bullying” tore me down more than you’ll ever know. I’m even more cautious and distrustful about letting others into my life. On my worst days, I probably see myself exactly as you see me. I just have too much pride to let you see me cry. It doesn’t mean there are wounds that just won’t heal, because every time I get there, someone shows up to re-open them.

Being “Reserved” Is Not The Same As “Betrayal”

I didn’t choose the life that most people would choose. I chose a way of life that varies between “unconventional” and “hopelessly immoral”, depending who you are. But I never asked for judgment on my life path. It shocks me when, many years later, I hear gossip and cruel words that have to do with things that were always intended to be a part of my private life. It is not my fault that others could not forgive my choices, and felt I was so worthy of judgment that my private life should become public business. In fact, I think those who chose to do that to me should be judged as harshly as they judge me. I would never open someone’s closet, let the skeletons fall out, and then circulate all the gory details for public consumption.

Doing that isn’t a minor thing. It isn’t revenge for being hurt or not liking someone. It isn’t an acceptable way of saying “People like you don’t belong in our world”. Those actions destroy lives. People have committed suicide over similar issues with gossip and scandal and ostracism. In my viewpoint, it’s one of the worst things you could ever do to someone.

Some of the rationale I’ve received is that people felt betrayed by me because I had secrets. Everyone has secrets. Everyone has a private life. The reason we’re so into melodramas like “Desperate Housewives” and reality TV shows is because, behind closed doors, most of us live lives that wouldn’t withstand public scrutiny and the harsh, unreasonable judgment that goes along with it. Ask almost every politician and his/her family.

We live in a world where “freedom of information” means everyone is entitled to know everything about everyone else, and if you’re not going to open up about that time you got arrested, the kinky sex club you went to, the affair you’re having, that time you stole something from someone, or lied to someone to get your way, or manipulated something out of greed or jealousy or ambition, you’re the kind of person who deserves to be judged…and frequently, and harshly. And for the rest of your life.

I am sorry, but there are some things I don’t feel you are entitled to know. Despite this blog, despite my openness as a person, I actually have a very private and vulnerable side few people see. I am, in many ways, more traditional than you might expect. I am, in many ways, more loving and more compassionate than you might expect. If you judged me solely via the stories you’ve heard and the notoriety my less-than-diminuitive personality has brought about, you’d likely be surprised when you got to know me as a real person, one-on-one. It is a pity that because of judgments and stories and rumours, so many people will never have the interest or the opportunity in knowing that person.

There is a point when that relentless judgment, cruelty, and ostracism will break a person, and sometimes, I think the only reason it hasn’t broken me is because I have too much pride. I am too special to be broken that easily, and I’m sorry if the world doesn’t agree. But there’s also a point where the attempts to do so becomes a form of bullying.

When The Guy I Am Currently Dating gets anonymous e-mails alluding to my past, or someone actively tries to destroy my relationships because they judge me not worthy of love, that is bullying. When The Guy I Am Currently Dating’s mother leaves me abusive telephone messages and letters telling me I’m white trash and Casey Anthony and deserve to die, that’s bullying. When some girl I don’t even know calls me fat and arrogant and a liar, that’s bullying. When someone who is supposed to be my friend tells me they’re tired of hearing me whine about being sick to others on FB, because it’s presumptuous of me to think everyone cares, that’s bullying. When the neighbour gets an attitude and goes all ghetto on me about my dog pooping on the sidewalk and refuses to back down until I clean up the entire front yard, even though my dog didn’t do it, that’s bullying. When I can’t hang out with people whose company I enjoy because their group of friends won’t tolerate my presence, that’s bullying…and particularly hurtful when I don’t even know why. But most of all, when people bring up dirt about me from five or ten years ago and share it with people they barely know, people who then refuse to give me the time of day, that’s bullying.

Have I made mistakes in my life? Sure. Did I do stupid and destructive things as a kid? Absolutely. Did I take a life path in my 20′s that was largely self-centred and something other people may not agree with? Definitely. But I’ve paid the consequences for my mistakes, I’ve gotten my own karma, I’ve had to grow up and move on.

My question is, when is it time for everyone else to do the same?

Believe it or not, I’m actually a pretty decent person. I stopped hating the world, got over my self-destructive bullshit, learned to have healthy relationships with other human beings, admitted to my mistakes and took the lumps that were coming to me, and grew as a human being. So, why do I still deserve the gossip and the ostracism and the “I just don’t like you?” and the judgment from people I barely know?

I Am Not Perfect

Nope, I am not perfect. Far from it. I may be the most complex, fucked-up human being on the planet. I may also be one of the most loving, caring, empathetic, life-loving, experience-embracing people you’ll ever meet. I am overly sensitive, overly insecure, and having to be strong in the face of so much meant to tear down anything I might value about myself has taken a decade-long toll on me.

No excuses, though. I still do things I shouldn’t, say things I shouldn’t. I still could do some work on being a more tactful, amiable human being. I still could learn the world doesn’t revolve around me and there are times to keep my damn mouth shut. I still could learn that words don’t just hurt me, so I need to own what comes out of my own mouth.

I have a friend I’ve known for at least 5 years…at least, we’re social friends, and I always considered us as such. We had some good times together. Last time I saw her, I got a vibe that she didn’t much care for my presence. In fact, I felt deliberately ignored, and while most people would let that go, I’m pretty intuitive.

I mentioned it to a mutual friend, who said she’d ask if this friend was mad at me. I declined the offer, because I don’t want to be that confrontational, oversensitive person who thinks the world is always out to get her. However, it’s not paranoia if something’s really going on, and I’m usually right.

So, when I saw this friend in person, I asked her. I give her credit for being a straight-shooter who doesn’t mince words or behave passive-aggressively. So, I asked her if I did something, and if so, what it was. It turns out, I did. I had made snarky comments that weren’t appreciated, and she said it wasn’t worth being mad about, she was just over it.

During the time I’ve known her, she’s always been the type to make her own share of snarky comments, and when one of them happens to be at my expense, I put on an exaggerated sad face and ask why she’s mean to me. I’ve never taken any of it seriously, seen it as drama or passive-aggressive behavior. I thought it was just how we agreed to relate to each other. I kind of started to see it as an inside joke. I mean, when people attend your birthday parties, and you visit their house, and you amicably travel in the same social circle, you know someone isn’t really mean to you…and you assume they know your snarky comments are similarly meant to be drama-free.

As it turns out, that was not the case. She told me she never appreciated it, never thought it was funny, and was over it. I appreciated her candour, and did the right thing. I apologised for my snarky remarks, and for being unaware for literally years that they weren’t coming across the way I thought they were. What I saw as just the odd way we related, she found irritating and emotionally tiring.

I never would have known if I hadn’t bothered to ask her how she was feeling, and what changed between us. I didn’t turn the tables on her, and say, “You say snarky things, too…are they serious, or have they always been a joke?” My behaviour was not enjoyable for her to be around, and when that’s the case, you have to be an adult and own it. So, I apologised. I apologised to her husband for any unintentional rudeness he may have also picked up from me. Apologies were accepted, and life goes on.

Nobody’s perfect, and just because sometimes, you feel bullied by life and treated obnoxiously by your fellow human beings doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to be equally obnoxious, rude, or tiresome. Sometimes, people change and grow, and something that used to be funny just seems immature and a waste of time. Sometimes, how you behave isn’t as cute or endearing as you think that it is.

That’s why I ask people if something’s wrong when I perceive a change in how they’re acting around me. While that can be a little exhausting if you’re an introvert who’s chosen to date me or is a really close friend, and I firmly acknowledge that, for everyone else, it has a 90% success rate. If I sense something is up, it usually is. Where I have a problem is accepting that someone doesn’t want to tell me, or is only willing to tell others behind my back.

When I am wrong, I apologise. I don’t go through other people. I don’t gossip or send someone else to ask if you’re mad or why I don’t get warm and fuzzy feelings. I don’t create a scene. I just want to sit and talk about it, and if I owe someone an apology, they’ll get it.

It is hard for me to understand why more people don’t approach things that way. Instead, I know people who have stopped speaking to me and refuse to acknowledge my existence, and I only ever have hints of “why” through the rumour mill. And, somehow, finding things out that way catches me off-guard, makes me feel shocked and vulnerable, and truly hurts.

Nobody likes to be blindsided, and nobody likes to be judged or a popular punching bag, or topic of discussion. Especially since, when it comes down to it, nobody is perfect.

I try really hard to like who I am, and be content with that person. The last thing I want is people in my Universe who want to make it harder for me to do so. It’s tough to realise your personality and your lifestyle and your past history makes you as objectionable to many as it makes you feel loved by others.

It’s a pill I’ve been trying to swallow for 10 years, and this weekend, I still felt sad and overwhelmed by it. Perhaps human nature is just a force bigger than me, and it is always going to win, or perhaps I just live in the wrong place for me. I wonder, had I been a better person, had I followed the conventional route, made the same choices as most other people, would I be more well-liked? Would I be happier? Would I be more open, and feel less like it’s necessary to guard myself with sarcasm and one-liners, and only talk about certain pieces of my life journey? Would I be the kind of girl that Southern mothers want their sons to end up with, or would they still think me a loud, trashy bitch?

Or would I just have led a more sheltered existence that denied me the ability to look at the world and people in it a little differently than others?

I’ve been dealing with the consequences of hurting others as a stupid 21 year old for a decade. Even when the worst thing I did was choose an unconventional and wild life path, my penance was years of harsh and unforgiving judgment. I don’t consider myself strong, but I know I must be in some way, because I’ve somehow survived and never backed down.

When will I be strong enough that words don’t hurt, that whispers mean nothing, that silent judgment doesn’t affect my life? Am I lacking something everyone else naturally has, or is life just asking a little much from me?

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