Jun27th

Love Thyself

by 

If there’s one good thing about work, it’s that I now have the most amazing group of friends, and it’s this fact that makes me keep coming back.

 I’ve never really had many girls in my life that I would call friends and I was definitely not one those girls, in my early school years, who had a massive group of friends. I’ve only really had 2 or 3 girls that I’ve been really close to.

 All that has changed in the last 4 years since I started working where I work now. Each of the girls in our ‘group’ has their own unique personality, but if there’s a common thread it is that we have all been social outcasts at some point in our lives. Each girl in our group is an amazing woman in her own right, and when we come together there is a bond that runs stronger than any I have ever felt within a group of girls. Oh, and we all enjoy a good laugh, there is many a funny call to be heard when we go down to lunch.

It makes the working day with all of it’s stress and bitchiness worth it, half an hour to catch up with good friends. As much as I love seeing my friends at lunch, I have to say Thank the Gods it’s Friday!

Xavier and I got home tonight after visiting our friends who’ve just moved into a new home, we were kicking back and relaxing in the garage, and started a drunken conversation about our school days. I don’t know exactly how the conversation got started, like most drunken conversations they often follow a course of drunken tangents.

In the course of the conversation I remembered many things that I’d long since dealt with and had a deep insight into just how far I’ve come by embracing change. 

**Screen takes on a dreamy appearance, cue flashback music**

Two months into my first year of high school one of the girls I’d been friends with since we were seven, and that I considered my best friend, started dating a boy who was 3 years above us.

We all used to go down to the pool in the afternoons after school and it begun  innocent enough, he started off just flirting with her, and then a week later it was ‘proper’ kissing, my friend Jenny had never even pecked a boy before, and now here she was tongue kissing a boy who was much older than us. He looked more like a man than a boy.

 Then he started to play inside her swimmers. I was mortified – I knew where this was leading due to the open relationship I had with my parents, who’d explained to me how things can all of a sudden spiral out of control. Do things with the wrong boy, and you could end up labelled a slut for life.

Being Jenny’s friend I was very concerned that this was the path she was inadvertently travelling, after all, we’d only just turned 12 and there she was dating a 16 year old. Sadly I felt I couldn’t talk to my parents about it all, because I wasn’t supposed to be going to the pool to meet boys. I wasn’t the one who was doing more than meeting them, but that’s beside the point.

I decided I needed to talk to my other friends about this situation,  so on the walk home from school I was discussing the issue with Norah and Darius.

After I’d spilled about what was happening with Jenny, I told them how I was scared that if she wasn’t careful she could end up being a slut and that I knew she was better than that. Darius was concerned too, but said we should stay out of it, if that’s what she decides to do, we should just let her do it. Norah said nothing, she seemed like she was barely interested in the conversation.

The next day during our lunch break, all hell broke loose upon me.

Jenny came up to me with her older sister and a group of her year 10 friends. Just as I said ‘Hi’ Jenny slapped me across the face in front of everyone having lunch in the quad, at least 200 people were staring at me as my face turned beetroot red in shock. Jenny screamed at me “How dare you call me a slut!” then she marched away indignantly with her year 10 posse following in her wake.

My first instinct was to laugh, so I did, like a crazy woman, as I went to my next class. If I laughed it might seem like what had just happened wasn’t such a big deal to me. But inwardly I just didn’t know what to do or what to think, how had she gotten that idea – that I’d called her a slut? She was my best friend and, sure, I was worried she might turn into a slut but I certainly hadn’t called her one.

 The next day at school, the rumours started.

There were horrible and embarassing untruths being said about me, and they spread like wild fire throughout the school. Friends became informants to Jenny and the year 10 posse, as any little piece of spreadable dirt would ensure their own short burst of popularity.

 Every single person that I’d gone through primary school with, had known and grown up with for years, people I considered friends, turned their backs on me one by one as the days turned into weeks and the pressure to fit in by humiliating me became too much to bear.

 With one exception, Darius.

Darius and I had been friends since our first day of kindergarten, we were both 4, and I had a bright yellow school bag that had slides so you could change the name of the day, with a smiling Sun and clouds that could be changed to show different weather. I loved that school bag so much that I couldn’t wait to get to school and show it off on my first day of kindy.

Darius was highly impressed when he saw it on my back, and asked if he could play with it too. Everyday of kindergarten thereafter, I would wait for Darius to get to school so that we could change the day and the weather together. Thus began a long and enduring friendship that still exists today.

I don’t know if Darius believed the vile things being said about me, but he never said anything about what was going on, the subject was taboo for us.

Every other day I would lose another friend to Jenny’s growing army. Always someone who’d hung out with me during primary school to giving false testaments of what I was like and what I did. Each rumour got more and more ridiculous, but that didn’t stop it from being broadcast around the school in record time. As I would walk through the corridors to my classes, older kids would be hanging out of their classrooms yelling stuff at me, pointing, laughing and snickering with their friends. It was brutal.

Then, about 3 months later, when I was sure it couldn’t get any worse.

Things got worse.

It turns out teenage girls on the warpath are vindictive, cruel and unrelenting.

I had heard that Jenny had already lost her virginity, I was too scared to comment on it of course, but I did think when I heard about it “don’t say I didn’t warn you”.

 I was sitting next to Darius, eating lunch, when all of a sudden Jenny’s year 10 posse was surrounding me. They’d pushed Darius out of the way, and made sure that I had no room to stand up, as they stood towering above me.

“You’ve been calling little Jenny a slut again haven’t you.” It was a statement and not a question. I was doing martial arts at the time, and was feeling a little cocky (stupid mistake) when I quipped back “I haven’t said it out loud, so what, are you a mind reader now?”

 A rasping chorus of “you little bitch” rolled through the year 10 posse. Then Jenny’s older sister, Cheryl, got in my face and said “You’re going to be so sorry you little smart ass, I’m gonna make your life hell”. A little scared now, I muttered “What, like you’re not already?” surely they could see that I’d already had enough. “What was that? You stupid bitch, you haven’t seen anything yet!” Cheryl squawked as she turned her back and strutted away.

The next day at lunch, the year 10 posse employed the same tactics again, surrounding me. This time I knew I was in trouble, as someone roughly grabbed my shoulder. I turned quickly to see Cheryl’s feisty friend, Margo, as she brought her face to within an inch of mine and said “Now, we’re going to teach you that you sluts like you need to learn to keep their MOUTHS SHUT!”

I was really starting to get the shits, and said angrily (stupidly), “Why, what are you going to do?” it came out sounding more like a dare than I’d planned.  Margo brought her fist up and started lightly jabbing me in the chin, jerking my head slightly with each impact. I wanted to just punch her so bad! She saw the angry look of defiance in my eyes, and spat into my face “You wanna hit me back? Come on! After school, I’ll smash your fucking little head in!”

 I wanted to so bad, but I also knew that if I threw a punch or initiated a fight, I would have my belt confiscated and would not be allowed to return to martial arts, the shame of that would have been too much to bear, in front of my family, to be degraded by our sensei.

The fury and frustration were doing such fierce battle in my body, that I started to cry, for lack of any other outlet. Margo mistook this to mean I was scared. Satisfied that she was holding the upper hand, she was just about to make another threat when the bell rang. “Saved by the bell” she scowled at me as though I had rung the bell myself.

This continued every lunch for the next 5 months of the school year, even when I tried to hide in the toilets, they would find me by looking over the top of every cubicle until hit gold and found me cowering in the corner.

I dreaded going to school each and every day.

I would get home at night and cry while I practised my martial arts, wishing with every punch and every kick that it could be one of those girls.

I started binge eating and then throwing up every remnant of food in my stomach, never satisfied until I could taste bile. After purging I would head back to the kitchen, and pull out a knife that I would drag across my wrist knowing that my brain would deny me the ability to plunge the knife through the tender skin of my wrist. I would just leave scratch marks, loathing myself even more for not having what I considered to be the guts required to go all the way.

I couldn’t see any way out, I’d lost all of my confidence. My self respect became a deep sense of self loathing.

I know my parents could see my suffering, we’ve always been close, and so they noticed when I retreated inside of myself.

One Friday afternoon, Mum sat me down for a talk on the proviso that she wouldn’t tell Dad what we were about to talk about, because Dads have a tendency to get angry and irrational when someone does wrong by their little girl.

Mum told me that she’d been having too many sleepless nights worrying about what was going on for me that she’d been watching me go from happy go lucky to withdrawn and sad. The thought of my Mum worrying so much about me made me realise that there was someone in the World who still loved me for who I was. My indifferent “home mask” crumbled as tears rolled down my cheeks, so grateful that my Mum cared enough to bunker us down in the kitchen for a girl chat. I told her about what was going on at school, about Jenny and the year 10 posse, about the whole sorry year that had been my first taste of high school.

At the end of my teary ramblings Mum offered me a small nip of port, made me raise the glass, and before I could take a sip I had to say “Fuck them bitches!” It was the first time I had ever said “fuck” in front of my Mum, so I said it quietly. She said “That’s not good enough, say it again, this time with meaning!”, “Fuck them BITCHES!” and I burst out laughing. “See, doesn’t that feel better?” It did actually. Thanks Mum.

On the first day back at school after holidays during which my family and I had moved to a suburb on the other side of the school, I was walking down the corridor to my Geography classroom, when someone grabbed my shoulder , as I spun, ready to defend if need be, a girl’s face was looking back at me.

“Is your name Akasha?” I was expecting her to laugh in my face, as I was accustomed to, I’d grown quite a defensive shell. “Yeah, what’s it to you?” I asked in a tone that was very nearly a sneer.

Her face went red. “Oh, I just found out you’ve moved in a couple of houses up from me, I wanted to see if you’d like to walk home with me today?” I wasn’t sure if she was joking, trying to trap me into looking like a fool if I got excited, but she seemed genuine.

At this stage I’d lost any chance of reclaiming my dignity anyway. So I let my guard drop, “I’d really like that. What’s your name?”

“I’m Nicola. Let’s meet out the front of the hall after school?”

“Cool, I’ll see you there”. As I waved to Nicola, and resumed my walk to Geography, I knew things were about to change for me, I now carried a small seed of hope.

Nicola turned out to be a true friend.

She helped my confidence so much, she actually yelled at me when I confided about the bingeing and purging, and she made me pinky swear that I would never do it again if I wanted her to be my friend.

 “I can’t be friends with someone who hates themselves” she righteously declared. Looking back, I realise now that Nicola came at a pivotal moment in my life.

 She couldn’t save me from the Year 10 posse, but she saved me from myself.

When year 7 finished, I started thinking that going to a new school may be better than returning to the old one.  I had always been brought up with the mantra “If you’re unhappy, you need a change”, whether the change be in a life choice, location, perspective or just your hair. In retrospect, this is one of the best pieces of advice my parents ever gave me. It was ingrained not to fear change, no matter how big of a change it was. 

So when my parents moved house for the second time that year, and we were living a block from my Grandma’s house, I was thinking that maybe I should change to the school that was down the road. My mind was made in January, when Mum and I were at Granny’s and she mentioned all the kids that walk past her place from the school down the road.

I was very into watching for signs and symbolism in life from the time I was eight. I took it as a sign, as Grandma knew I would.

Our family calls Grandma “the Oracle”, because I swear she knows what you’re thinking. It’s like she has a direct line to the words that go unsaid in your heart. She often knows what you’re going to do before you’ve even made the decision to do it. When you ask Gran how she knew, she always humbly says, “I just know “.

So it was in Grandma’s loungeroom that I realised I really did want to change schools. It was definitely time for me to take life by the balls and squeeze some joy into it. During the next lull in conversation, I looked Mum in the eye and declared “I want to change schools”.

“Really?” Mum asked in a hopeful voice.  Grandma gave me a knowing look, “Good for you Asha”.

Convincing my Dad that this was what I needed was another matter altogether. To him I was going to the ‘the other side’. The high school I’d been going to was the one my Dad went to, and he was proud to have me going to the same school, the new high school I wanted to go to was Mum’s old high school. Therefore in Dad’s eyes, I was changing loyalties. In the middle of Dad’s rant, Mum drew the location card.

You see, now that we’d moved, we were much closer to the school I wanted to change to, we were at least 5km’s away from the school I’d been going to. This appeased Dad, as it meant I wasn’t changing sides, I was just being smart as he chose to see it.

So it was, on the first day of school for the year, I transferred to a new school. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I hid behind my hair for most of my classes on the first day, whilst I got the gist of the school hierarchy. That afternoon when I got home, Mum and Dad had a talk with me that was to change the course of my life.

Mum started into the conversation with “You see Akasha, we’re worried that you’re taking everything too seriously. You need to not take school so seriously, yes your studies are important, but you need to regard the playground politics like you would the stock market. It’s all about how you advertise, you want people to buy your stock.”

“Nobody knows who you were, nobody knows anything about you. You can leave all the shit behind you. You’re at a new school, with new people and now you have an opportunity to change the way people see you.” Dad chimed in

The truth of those words rang like a bell through my body. I asked myself the question: If I was to reinvent myself, who would I like to be?

The answer: A stronger, happier, smarter version of me. I would no longer change myself in order for people to accept me, it obviously hadn’t worked in the last school.

That night as I lay in bed, I decided that in order to be this new stronger, happier and smarter version of myself, I had to be confident in who I Am. I knew I wasn’t going to grow that confidence over night, but I also knew that I could do it. I could learn to love myself. I would just fake it until I made it happen.

It’s amazing to think about the shift that happened within me as I came to these realisations. When I realised that perhaps part of the reason I had been so badly bullied was because of my own attitude toward myself, feeling that I was always inadequate compared to the people I viewed as my friends. When I understood that it was stupid of me to expect people to love and accept me when I didn’t love and accept myself.

In surviving the things I did in year 7, I learned so much about myself that I probably never would have learned in any other way. I learned the importance of discretion, I learned when it was a good time to speak up, and when it was better just to keep your mouth shut. I learned that you can only be humiliated if you allow others to make you feel that you are somehow less than them.

In retrospect the biggest lesson that I learned was the strength of my own character.

In learning these things about myself, I was able to more confidently show who I really am to those people that truly did love me for who I am, my family.

I had now come to understand that you really can choose your friends, and it’s important to choose them wisely. Because at the end of the day, you do end up becoming like those that you surround yourself with.

The other thing that I realised was the fact that the Universe will always provide you with the tools to survive any situation that you may find yourself in. The people that did stand by me made all the difference to my survival.

Having Darius stay by my side gave me a point of normality. Admittedly there was not much we were able to talk about given the fact that all of the school gossip was about me. So there were none of the normal “did you hear about….?” we mostly just talked about schoolwork and teachers. Which, in a way, suited us fine as most people viewed us as ‘squares’ before the fallout of year 7 anyway.

Having Nicola come into my life at just the right time proves that we are never truly alone, the Universe is there watching, listening and learning from our experience. And just when it all seems too hard, just when your fire is about to flicker and die, the universe will provide a spark, a shining beacon of hope that can be described as nothing less than Divine Intervention.

Today, I can honestly say I don’t know if I would still be here if it weren’t for Darius, Nicola and my parents. In sharing this story, I would like to once again convey my gratitude to them for being there.

Thank you for giving me Love when I didn’t Love myself.

You can probably figure by now that changing schools was definitely the best thing I could have done, in putting the new skills that I’d learned into practice, I made friends without even trying. As Mum said, the value of my stocks had increased exponentially.

In the process, my whole being underwent a great transformation because of the lessons I had learned through experience. I could begin to appreciate that I was worthy of my own love and respect. I understood that I could survive humiliation, loneliness and ostracism, and still come out smiling at the world, a better and stronger person for the experience.

The Universe is always testing us and it’s up to each of us what we choose to learn from our experiences.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post!

With Love, Light and Blessings,

Akasha

 

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