I remember getting off a plane in Tuscon, AZ, in January 1993 to join my Up with People cast. One of the first persons I met was Tony from Puerto Rico. Trace from Canada, Linda from Washington, Catherine from Australia, and Roger from Switzerland became fast friends through Mic Groups. And so began a year of complete vulnerability and trust as 150-ish of us lived together on two buses as we traveled throughout the United States and Europe. We represented twenty-three different countries and were offered such exciting opportunities to experience life. We were a team of wide-eyed, young adults who were out to change the world. Yes, we fought as families do, but we relied on each other for physical, mental, and spiritual support. And even after our year of travel ended, the trust continued to flourish. Friendships that were formed so quickly and deeply, ones that were based on authenticity and not pretense, those are friendships that cross global distances to remain viable. I take pride in these relationships, and would not hesitate to call on them for help. I was pretty good at trusting people then—
About a decade ago, I formed a friendship with a woman to whom I regularly turned with my joys and insecurities in being a mom of an infant and a toddler, with questions about being newly diagnosed with a mental disorder, and with the painful truth in realizing that the extent of my father’s alcoholism meant that he wasn’t a big part of my boys’ lives. She provided a listening ear and medical explanations and advice, and there were many times I kept moving forward simply because she was behind me pushing me through. She and her husband became part of our family and we celebrated and cried together throughout life events. I trusted her with the people I loved most in the world. That’s why her eventual betrayal scarred me so deeply. Her and her husband’s chosen actions changed my entire family at its core. Her needs and wants trumped both ethics and loyalty, but unfortunately, I’m the one who seems to still carry around the shame of it all. If only I had not befriended her . . .
During the occurrence of this real-life soap opera, I turned to friends I worked with to help me navigate the unbelievable drama. More than anything, they simply listened and validated my feelings and concerns and reminded me that I was not the one causing the turmoil. Most of our time together was filled with laughter and storytelling, and we met both in and out of school so we could include our children in the fun. We handed down clothes and toys to each other, and I often looked to them for help with my children’s activities and programs. I considered each of them a surrogate care-taker of my boys. One time, I disappointed one of them with a flippant response to an issue I had unknowingly caused. I sincerely apologized after I was made aware and attempted to make amends, but she chose not to accept the apology and began her own form of adult bullying: belittling me with silent treatment, leaving rooms or groups when I entered, changing seats if I sat near her, laughing behind my back, questioning me professionally. Because I am aware that such childish behavior is actually her issue and not mine, I could have let it go. But my friends knew it was happening and watched silently. I guess a good manipulator can explain away questionable behavior. Their inaction embarrassed me even more than the bullying. Still, I trusted my friends and their loyalty and expected things to blow over with time. In the end though, they chose her and left me behind. My friendship wasn’t worth the effort of having to deal with what she may or may not do as a result of confrontation. Today I smile and make small talk, and I do think they genuinely care about me and my family. But the trust is gone, and I am ashamed that I let her ridiculous behavior affect my life at all. I’m stronger than that.
Two years after the silent treatment began, I found a new friend at school who reflected my more liberal beliefs in a very conservative part of the Greenville area. Her partner was expecting their third child, and some colleagues and I celebrated with her by giving her a mini-baby shower on the down low. She invited me and my family to their house for pool parties and family gatherings and was very quick to keep up with what was happening in all our lives. She and her family felt safe with us, and I felt like I had someone to turn to again. She helped me through some struggles at home, and she asked advice for some of her own. I attempted to help her work through professional struggles as well. Hindsight shows that I should have known better. When she was hospitalized for attempted suicide and immediately arrested upon release, her partner called me for help. I so desperately wanted to believe the world was out to get her because she was lesbian and not because she was a child molester. I was wrong. She used me and manipulated me into seeing things through her eyes. She sexually assaulted a fourteen-year-old girl. The shame that has formed as a result of this friendship eclipses the others by far. Her abuse will affect one of our students for the rest of her life. I trusted too easily and too blindly and will never be the same.
No longer do I trust until someone gives me a reason not to, instead I insist that people earn my trust. Not too many people do so, for I am well-protected by extremely high expectations. But I do get lonely sometimes.
I read part of a book recently that talks of the paralyzing fear and worthlessness in which shame dwells. The author says that the best way to unshackle yourself from controlling emotions such as shame is to confront them and speak of them out loud, acknowledging that we are all imperfect beings. Shame resilience, as she calls it, puts ego aside and doesn’t worry about others’ judging. That’s really hard! But I’m trying. So, here they are, a few of my stories.
I’m not looking for pity or anger or “fix-it strategies” by writing this. I don’t want to hear anyone say, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way!” I’m working on finding understanding of how I got the way I am. Of embracing the imperfections of my authenticity. Of disassociating friendship and shame. Of working my way back to a fuller, exciting life.
Trusting myself first. As a beloved child of God, I am born of faith, hope, and love – with no room for shame.