Stand Out or Shrink Back

Which do you have a tendency to do?

When you look at this photo would you believe me if I said mine is the latter. It’s a journey. A long-ish one at that.

I think it stems from a feeling of inferiority, derived from being overweight as a young woman. Going out with friends around the bars and clubs of Manchester was my weekend highlight. My two best friends were very slim and could wear all the latest fashions with ease. Invariably they also got the most attention from boys. I however struggled to find things off the peg. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack, trying to find clothes that would fit me, let alone look good. There was no ‘plus size’ range or ‘body positive movement’ in the late 80’s.

I cringe when I see old photos of me. Talk about looking older than my years. Standing next to my friends, I looked awkward and frumpy. Even in my extended friendship group my size stood out like a sore thumb.

Fast forward 30 years. I’m sat in a weekly meeting of a program at church called CR – Celebrate Recovery.

We do something called ‘open share’. It’s a simple idea. Prompted by questions in the workbook, we take it in turns to answer. You can pass if you’d rather not share. We talk individually and the group listens. Just listens. The group guidelines are clear. No jumping in, affirming, reaching out, rescuing or offering advice/top tips/book recommendations. You can’t even offer someone a tissue. It sounds quite cold and harsh but it’s just the opposite. It’s actually really empowering. You are heard. For some it’s the first time in our life we feel heard. To share openly without judgement or pity is quite a rare thing.

We have time to see the questions before the meeting to ponder our answers and make notes. What would sometimes happen for me is I’d start sharing what I’d written and as I spoke something else would come to mind. My brain had already registered this as a safe and confidential space and because the recovery program is based on teachings from Jesus I guess the Holy Spirit was at work in me.

The question in the book was:

“Who have you been jealous of in your life?”

(Talk about blunt and challenging!)

I shared about being envious of my friends in my late teens. About feeling like the odd one out – the ugly sister sandwiched between two beautiful Cinderellas. How on photos I felt like I looked like their mother. That it was a kind of cruel paradox. On the one hand these were my friends and I loved them. Going out was what I lived for. But every time I was with them I had these feelings of being ‘less than’, even though I was ‘more than’ …….if you get what I mean.

I shared a memory from one particular night out. We’d had a few drinks and were walking down Deansgate, Manchester City centre to the next place. It was a pleasant evening and the night was young. I became aware of a group of lads walking behind us, presumably with a similar aim in mind. They were chatting and laughing and generally being a bit leery. One of them said loudly

“Hey boys, why is it in any group of girls there’s always one who’s a right fat cow?”

I knew he was referring to me. I heard it loud and clear. I’m sure my friends heard it loud and clear. And yet none of us said a word!

They all instantly cheered, agreeing with this observation. These boys continued to walk behind us for some time. With each step I felt more and more grotesque and ashamed and unattractive and unwanted.

I stood out – for all the wrong reasons.

As I relayed this story tears trickled down my face. I felt tense in my throat. Bigger tears were followed by uncomfortable, deep, messy emotion.

We often hear the expression ‘time heals all wounds’. Unfortunately this is not true. Wounds that are left untended fester and time only extends the pain.

That Saturday night incident and what I made it mean affected my core belief system. It reinforced a faulty messaging from something that happened in the past, and future hurts would now be able to group themselves in this part of my internal filing cabinet, creating a destructive compound effect.

In true style, the space was held. I rambled on, excavating that memory. It wasn’t easy or pretty or concise but it had to be brought out in the open.  As I dried my face, wiped a very snotty nose and composed myself to return to listening mode I received a message from above.

“Back then you didn’t know me. You didn’t have the right foundation. You were insecure. You believed a lie. No wonder it affected you!  But Allison……..I’m going to NEED you to get used to standing out. For you have been chosen. You are special, you are my masterpiece and you are loved. You are going to find yourself in places where you WILL feel different to others.  It will be purposeful but do not be afraid, for I am with you. I have set you apart for a special assignment and only you can deliver it.”

Deep hurt had been skilfully worked on at the hands of my higher power. I felt an unexpected brand-new perspective.

Whenever I recall that memory now, I still hear a noise from some guy but it’s faint. Instead I hear the much more audible, powerful, compassionate voice of a loving God. This kind of rewiring helps me walk in the direction signposted bold and brave.

I can’t promise a similar experience. But I do know this. God knows our deepest hurts. Mine and yours. He was there through every one of them. And He wants you to walk your own road towards healing and serenity with Him.

 

This leg of the journey involved:

  • Audacious Church & the CR team
  • RG/LP/JH/PME/JL/P/J – My awesome Step Study Group
  • Unknown male trying to be the big guy (no pun intended) amongst his mates
  • Photo credit – Aga Mortlock
  • Shoot location –  Whitworth Locke (a place not far from Deansgate, Manchester)
  • Hair – Kelly McElroy