An Open Letter to the Friends Who Turned On Me In High School

Dear Friends Who Turned on Me in High School,

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I’m not sure why it happened. And quite frankly, that isn’t the point. The specifics of all the ways you ridiculed and humiliated me during high school — while important to me–  are not important to this story. So I digress.

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What you did then has resonated with me. I’ve become so socially anxious and insecure about my relationships, that I can’t even tell when I’m overreacting to things anymore, because a part of me is still so screwed up from not knowing what are reasonable expectations of friends, acquaintances, and otherwise. Satisfaction from social victories is replaced with intense scrutiny. A lot of that is my fault and I have been willing to own that since this all began. But, for once, I’m not going to blame myself. I’m going to hand some of that off to you.

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The fact is this: A lot of positivity sprung from your evil: I learned a lot about myself, I overcame what were some of the hardest times of my life, etc. etc. I don’t call myself a victim and I never will. But to be perfectly honest, playing the “I’m so strong I overcame this” role is getting really old.

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Yes, I did overcome. I’ve made strides since high school when you made me feel so insecure and humiliated that, despite my obsession with my grades, I skipped school regularly. I’m still haunted by the horrible experiences you put me through, and I think you need to know that.
I am a 21-year-old girl in the honors program at a great university. I am on a dance team, I am in a sorority, I have a handsome, sweet, smart boyfriend who loves me. But despite these strengths and accomplishments, a lot of my social interactions with girls are difficult and uncomfortable because of what happened in high school. Tweets and benign whispering send me into a panicked tailspin, a consequence of your Facebook statuses about me and the rumors you spread.

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Did you consider how your actions would affect my future? I’m not asking rhetorically, I genuinely want to know if that thought ever popped into your heads.

I have spent countless nights trapped in a cycle of overthinking and being angry with myself for letting you dictate my life when we haven’t even spoken in years. It is often difficult and anxiety-provoking for me to make new friends. Like anyone else involved in an emotionally abusive relationship (It took me a long time to realize that —  although we were not romantically involved — it was still emotional abuse.), I must patiently wait to be strong enough to carry the baggage (not including the t-shirt I lent you in 2010 that was never returned) you left me with four years ago.

So while I thank you for the strength and test of will, I want you to know that I am FURIOUS for what you have done. I don’t hate you, because I don’t have the time or energy to do so. I did at one point, but that passed and with it came energy to expend on things that are important to me, and people who I love and care about. The white-hot anger was slowly replaced by red frustration, followed by a blue sadness while I grieved the loss of what we once shared, and now my feelings toward you are a neutral tan. They are the colors of a waiting room wall.

When my mother used to soothe me after a particularly harsh day by promising “living well is the best revenge,” I rolled my eyes and wept harder, because living well seemed completely impossible. Now that I am older (and now that Beyoncé has announced “the best revenge is your paper”) I see the truth in that statement. But I want to stress that I am NOT living well to get revenge, and please don’t ever think that. I don’t make time in my life to plan around you people as I once did. I am living well purely for myself. Each day I focus on making decisions that will eventually get me to the life I want for future me (She’s a trendy therapist with fabulous eyebrows and a dog).

Kids who are bullied eventually grow up into adults, and it is unfair that we struggle with some of the most formative years of our lives speckled with unkindness as a part of our narrative (We related to Taylor Swift in that we never asked to be a part of this narrative), as we get older we are able to transform it and rewrite the narrative. The bullying no longer defines us, and we can learn to navigate it and use it as a stepping-stone to understand ourselves and our world (corny but true, I swear). The bullying has become a part of the your narratives as well, which serves as consolation. And, to The Friends Who Turned On Me In High School, these hateful actions are not just a part of my history, but yours as well. They are something you might be a little bit embarrassed to share with friends or new boyfriends. Your petty, deliberate unkindness is a permanent part of your past. It was not until I realized this that I was able to remove some of the responsibility for my social shortcomings the last few years from my shoulders.

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That being said, I am tired of bullying get pushed under the rug. I am tired of victim-blaming, and people being forced to go to school with people who terrorize them. People who get bullied have to hide their pain behind statements like “It made me a stronger person.” We aren’t allowed to resent the girls who triggered this reaction because it is seen as weak or blaming other people for our problems, a frustrating reality of today’s society. Until recently, I have been too proud to give anyone but myself the responsibility for my social anxiety. My excessive need to be self-sufficient and strong is the reason I blamed myself all these years, the same reason I refused to transfer schools, the same reason I pretended your actions didn’t bother me when in actuality they caused mental anguish that threw me into a depression I am just now beginning to conquer.

At this point, I’ve pushed my memory of this time and the accompanying feelings so far back that when I recently relayed this story to someone, she was shocked that I spoke about it so numbly and formulaically. My staunch lack of emotion when talking about this time in our lives speaks to how many rugs I’ve swept this under.

I’m sorry if I’m rambling, but it’s so hard to cut such a huge piece of my life and thoughts into a letter that is comparatively so brief. Normally, I wouldn’t even bother to try and put it into words. But today, I had one of those days where I couldn’t say anything right, couldn’t process an interaction, and subsequently couldn’t cope, and it’s jeopardizing my friendships. And it just made me think.
Thank you for the strength, but no-thank-you for the mental torment.

-C

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