There are very few things about which I feel shame. Shame: “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong and foolish behavior”. Note this: the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
However, we are often made to feel shame over the silliest things. Some people are made to feel ashamed because their clothes are “so last season”, or they are unable to have a certain amount of income. Many of us who read and write for Open Ears have had at least one experience with shame over hearing loss. But where is the “wrong and foolish behavior” in having ears that do not function as we believe they should? This ill-placed experience of shame causes us to forget what is truly wrong and foolish behavior, which we should justly feel ashamed of.
How do I know what it’s like to carry a wrong idea of shame? At age 16, I learned what shame really was by becoming a bully.
My transformation began in 2006, right when I became interested in a young man named Parker. I was 15 and waiting to see if, after surgery #7, my right eardrum would finally stay closed. At 6’5, with a Beatle haircut and passions for writing, theatre, and film, Parker was my perfect guy. Even my friends said, “Oh my God, you and Parker are perfect for each other! You should totally ask him out!”
The problem? I had received countless romantic rejections because of frequent ear infections and surgeries. I knew I could be the perfect girlfriend, especially for Parker, if I did not have ear problems. At the time, I thought I could hide it behind AOL and its instant messenger. The solution? “He’ll have talked to me so much that by the time he knows I’m sick, he won’t care because he’ll like me for my mind.”
From the time I got his screen name, and the first five months that followed, it seemed like the plan worked. We talked almost every day, shared our creative writing, and even made jokes at each other’s expense. I planned on asking him out that March, when two unthinkable things happened. My 7th surgery failed, and Parker developed feelings for a girl I called “Barfbag” because “she was so fake that’s what you needed to tolerate her.”
At first, I couldn’t believe that Parker liked her. One moment, he would kiss her in front of all of his friends, and the next, he’d turn to me and say, “You’re the most beautiful girl here.” Why would Parker like Barfbag better? I racked my brain for answers, and tried to understand, until he said to me, “You can’t get to know someone through internet conversations.”
To me, that screamed, “rejection over hearing loss!” I knew Parker was one of the smartest in his class, so I said to myself, “You think because you’re so smart, you can get it past me that you won’t date me because I can’t hear. Just for that, I am going to make you feel the shame people like you have made me feel my whole life!”
I peppered my memories of our conversations with swear words and cruel insults about his character. Each telling got worse, and sometimes occurred in front of him, with encouragement from teenage gossips. As a subsequent surgery failed in a freak accident, my mouth continued spitting fire. Upon hearing my health problems could be permanent, my stories were injected with more hate. I thought I was doing a service by warning people of such a bigoted person, and eradicating one of many evil boys that rejected me because I was “too sick,” and “too retarded.”
However, after spreading the warnings, I would come home from school and hate the person who looked me in the mirror. I’d blanket myself in layers of shame, and cry until I could see my face reflected in tear stains. Originally, I blamed my sickness, and the shame forced upon me by previous romantic rejections. Yet, I could not ignore how much more shame I felt every time I looked into Parker’s face.
No matter how much I justified my “warnings”, I knew that how I was behaving was wrong. I had hit the end of my rope with seemingly endless health problems, and people who were afraid of them. Parker just so happened to come into my life at the wrong place, and the wrong time. He became my target for rage as I descended into permanent disability because he was the closest thing I could find.
The further I go from my surgeries, the more I lose my “shame” for hearing loss and instead, feel wrong and foolish for how I treated Parker. I wrote him an apology letter shortly after my surgeries came to a close. He asked that I never speak of this again, but I cannot keep silent when another individual could repeat my mistake. Unnecessary embarrassment from any difference can be the foundation of bullying: a cause of true shame.
It has been seven years since I bullied Parker, and I still feel ashamed of how I treated him. Not only did I hurt someone because of my pain, I also lost the chance at having a good friend. Romance or not, Parker and I could have had an excellent friendship from shared passions, and I chose to throw it away in rage.
From this story, I hope that anyone who feels shame from hearing loss, or other disabilities, learns to let it go. While I cannot say what you should do to release this “shame”, I can tell you about the destruction that comes if you do not. Hurting someone in retaliation is a real risk. Banish wrongfully placed shame from any part of your mind to avoid repeating my mistake. You never know which Parker you may hurt by not dealing with it.