In 2014, I turned forty. Around my fortieth birthday I took stock of my life and thought I was doing pretty good for myself: I had a decent job, a nice little apartment, a nice car (I loved my Saturn Ion), and a cat. I had no social life of course, and I was just playing at being a writer and not giving it near enough of my time and effort. But I was being nice and warm and cuddly to the world and therefore I thought I was doing the right thing. But to my surprise, and what I didn’t know at the time was this: telling myself that I was doing pretty good with my life gave me a sliver of self-confidence that would begin to crack the silence around my mind, my heart, and my soul.
In the summer of 2014, I went to a training class at work to learn how to handle dental insurance. Now if you’ve ever had dental insurance you know how convoluted and downright awful it can be. In the past I would never have voiced any of this out loud but one day in class I did and got a result I did not expect at all.
We were going over some dental policy that gave new meaning to the term ‘convoluted’. It was like someday tried to cover all the bases but just for a few people. And I muttered loud enough for everyone in the classroom to hear, “Who in the world came up with this?” I was sitting at the very front of the class by the wall so I had to turn in my seat to look at the rest of my classmates, all of whom were the dumbest ninnies I ever worked with (let me put it this way, if someone yelled ‘boo!’ in that classroom they would have shot out of their seats like rockets). They looked at me with wide-eyed horror like I’d broken the great seal on the tomb of an evil ancient Egyptian priest and hell was about to break loose.
But my instructor fielded my comment perfectly when she said the following: “Well, a group of executives got together one night at Twin Peaks (a restaurant-bar near our office where the female servers didn’t wear a lot of clothes) and had a few too many drinks.” I burst out laughing and went, “Say no more.” And after that every time I saw some convoluted piece of shit on the projection screen I’d look at her, roll my eyes, and together we would go, “Twin Peaks.” (Yes, it became a running joke between us that no one else got in on). She was one of the best instructors I ever had and not just because she could get a running gag going, but because she treated me and everyone else with genuine respect and dignity.
As I look back at that time, I also realize that some of that newfound self-confidence came from my very first instructor on that job, someone who would later become my supervisor-manager.
In my first class on that job in 2013, I deliberately kept a very low-profile. I stayed quiet and only asked questions when I needed to, or when I felt the rest of the class wasn’t clear on something but didn’t know to phrase a question to clarify that. After a couple of weeks, my instructor had a talk with me complimenting me on my participation and encouragement of my classmates. My instructor admitted she was worried that with all my experience I’d try to flex my ego so to speak and I then told her why I kept a low-profile.
Years before, I had two training classes at two different jobs that were absolute Hell. One had an instructor who raked me over the coals and wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise when she basically told me to keep my mouth shut and say nothing in class (this was a place I had worked at before and I had only been away from for a year and nothing much had changed). I will admit with this one I may have showed a bit too much enthusiasm but the way she handled me was wrong and I went along with her power-trip/insecure bullshit and shut myself down from that point forward. My classmates later asked me why I wasn’t very vocal or too helpful and I told them the instructor basically asked me to keep to myself. And I asked them in return not to say anything to her and just leave me be, which they did (I didn’t want them to get in trouble because back then I didn’t think I was worth defending or really supporting at all).
The other training class incident was at the first call-center gig I got after my dad died. We were in class one day reading along and I raised my hand because I had a question about something. As soon as the instructor called on me and I started talking, all of my classmates began talking at top volume and drowned me out. But the instructor, being the worst bitch-instructor I ever had, threatened to throw ALL of us out of the classroom including myself. There was NO demand from her to them to apologize to me and she didn’t make one damn effort to defend me in any way, and she never apologized to me for how she handled this situation. And I was paralyzed with extreme humiliation and fear and said nothing at the time (I fought like hell that day not to fall apart and break down into a shaking, crying mess).
When I told my instructor in 2013 the story in the previous paragraph she was horrified. And then she made a promise that she would never, ever allow that in her classroom (and that was a promise she kept). After that, she and I developed a really solid working relationship and when she became my supervisor she went to bat for me when my gallbladder acted up and I was out of work for a week (this place had one of the most chickenshit attendance policies ever and I was terrified I’d have to beg and plead for my job). My supervisor excused all my absences saying I’d followed procedures for calling out and she also called me every day I was out to check on me, too. She was one of the best I ever worked with and if she ever got in touch with me and needed a favor, she’s got one coming from me.
So when two people who I respected greatly for their honesty, their integrity, and their genuine kindness and empathy believed in me , I think that’s when I really began to believe in myself. I didn’t realize that at the time nor did I have the words for it. But that little spark of belief became a laser inside me that began to cut through the silence I’d encased myself in. And that crack would lead to the first break in my silence almost one year later, which I’ll tell you the story of next week.