I had a terrible day. I’ve been having a lot more of those than I’d like to admit lately. I should be working, making money, doing all the things on the “to do” list that have been piling up. But instead, I feel like lying in bed, pulling the blanket over my head, and refusing to believe that this day–or the one before it, or maybe even the one after– ever existed. Times have been rough for me emotionally since August of 2013. That was the month that the Advocate Program I was working for–and the Juvenile Probation Office– removed my clients from my care and virtually sent me packing. I say “virtually” because the Advocate program did not fire me, or even remove my clients on their own accord. In fact, according to them, I was great at my job, great at assessing people’s needs (even to the point, said my boss, that people might become uncomfortable because I knew what they needed before they did) and at solving conflicts and redirecting focus to meet goals. But, the Juvenile Probation Office did not agree. Their reason for not “trusting my judgment” was based on lies. In fact, their decision was mostly political. But…some of it was religious. I have not hidden my atheism from others. But, I haven’t blasted it out with a bullhorn either. Mostly, I let people believe I am exactly like them and believe exactly what they believe by not engaging them in debates or making them feel like I am criticizing their faith or the belief system on which they were reared by their parents or which is basically practiced by their whole town. I’m okay with that. I suppose that sometimes I make people defensive about their faith, but it is all unintentional. In trying to share what I believe, sometimes I say things that put people on edge. I don’t realize I’m doing it until afterwards (usually waaaaay after), but I don’t mean to. I’m just trying to be honest. With myself and with others.

The trouble is, people in this town believe that if you don’t believe in God and you don’t go to church, there is no way you can be a good person. Their general belief is that if you are not “with us” you are “against us,” or that people like me are “pawns” of the devil. That our intention is to lead people from God and pollute young minds with “science” or “realism.” Such was never my intent. In fact, I never mentioned my religious beliefs, or lack of them, and I never approved of any discussion of religion with clients who were not religious, as my colleagues often did. I just didn’t consider our job as advocates an appropriate platform for advancing ANY religious subject. Still, despite my harmless intentions, people’s perceptions of me affected my job. It’s not that I did something wrong. It’s that they were afraid I would.  In order to justify their feelings, they believed everything anyone said that cast me in a negative light…even if that person did not intend it as such. They believed a woman who was diagnosed mentally ill and unhappy about the program’s involvement with her family, who blatantly stated she was no longer going to participate in the program and would have said anything to get out of the court order, regardless of the fact that my record was stellar and that there was no proof of her accusations. This became the basis of every other negative-seeming comment made, and eventually allowed the JPO to cast me in such a negative light, that they assumed I was unable to do my job. They even made things up to confirm their already decided belief about who I am. I can’t lie. What they did broke my heart. More than anything, though, it broke my spirit. 

I worked so hard for the young people in my care. I did everything I could to nurture them and provide them the structure they lacked in their families. Sure, I made mistakes. But who doesn’t? The mistakes I made didn’t warrant so severe an impeachment on my character. This is the first time I’ve written about what happened to me publicly. I don’t want to point fingers or cause bad blood. But it’s been nearly a year now, and I have yet to heal. It would not have been so bad if they had just said there was no room for me, or that they didn’t need me anymore. But that’s not what they did. They humiliated me. They said they couldn’t trust my judgment, which is key for any job I do. They caused me to question myself and worry about my own judgment. What could I have done differently? How could I have gotten a different response? Should I have kept everything about myself secret, even though to do so would feel dishonest and against my own moral compass? Should I hide who I am for the comfort of others? 

Most importantly, I have learned that something I believed with all my heart is a devastating lie: that if you work hard, and do your absolute best, you will be safe. That you can affect the outcome of your life by monitoring and perfecting your behavior. The truth is, your behavior doesn’t matter at all. The only thing that matters is how other people want to perceive  your behavior. If they want to see you as incompetent, they will find all the evidence they can, and see you as incompetent. And if they can’t find evidence, they will twist what they do find to reflect what they want to see. No matter what you actually do, they will see what they want to see, and they will convince others to see the same. 

So, where is the lesson in all this? What is it that Life wanted me to take away from this heartbreaking event? I’m not sure. But perhaps, it was a lesson in humility. Or perhaps it was a lesson in compassion. I have learned to be more compassionate. When I see someone who has been downtrodden, or hear someone putting another person down, I immediately wonder if my view of that person is what I myself have observed, or just what someone else wants me to believe. I am less quick to pass judgment, and quicker at checking the things I say to make sure they are not unduly harsh or cruel or faulty (not backed up by actual evidence). Still, the wounds I suffered have not garnered more compassion for me. People still judge me cruelly or harshly, are quick to see (and spread) the worst aspects of my personality, and in general “expect” more from me than from other people. Today, with all the pressures I face daily to succeed at writing, to train a headstrong puppy (with which I have no previous experience), save enough money to make the move to Florida that I have been promising myself for years now, to keep my relationship happy and fulfilling, to eat healthy, to maintain a clean and attractive home, to help my sister plan for her wedding, and to work the four jobs I have to make enough money to survive, I’m feeling a bit stretched. It’s at times like this when I look at what happened to me last August, and feel hopeless that I can ever make anything better. I had no control over that situation, and I have no control now. I will still continue to do the best I can every day because that’s what I do. No matter what, I have to strive to be the best I can be, come what may. But sometimes, I’d like to yell at other people to GIVE ME SOME SLACK! Instead of the demanding, “why haven’t yous” and the “what’s wrong with yous,” and “when are you gonnas…” maybe once, I’d like just a little tenderness. Just once. And then, again.

~ by ImaginaryCanary on May 20, 2014.

One Response to “Humiliation.”

  1. Yeah, perception can be a bitch. Here’s what I think you can take away from the experience:
    Lowered Expectations of People – Lowering your expectations will leave less room for disappointment and more room for them to surprise you.
    You’re Good At This – I think you’ve found something (else) that you are really good at, and I know you genuinely cared for the kids. Perhaps in a less religious (i.e., cult-like) environment, you will have a better chance.
    Planting Seeds – Although your time was short, hopefully the kids will remember the time you spent with them and take that into consideration as they grow. You were able to be a positive influence among all of their bad influences.

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