Thursday, November 27, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Learning through experiences on the road to recovery

Bullies are around us everywhere it seems.  As I continue progressing on this journey towards recovery, I've become aware that I cannot insulate myself entirely from bullies - especially when (if) I'm out and about.  Yet, as I keep working towards recovery, towards healthier ways of reacting and responding - and even letting go after an incident has happened, I can see progress, real progress, on my journey home.

Let me tell you about a recent incident I experienced riding a city bus.

A few weeks ago, I was on the bus on my way home from a local mall after lunch with a friend, minding my own business, knitting.  I also had a nice cup of tea tucked between my legs which my friend had bought for me.  A warm fuzzy, if you will.

My bags were on the seat beside me and I was basically oblivious to what was going on on the bus. I had become shakey and weak after my lunch with my friend and chosen my route home carefully to avoid using excess energy i.e. spoons.  Knitting helps me keep balanced when I feel stressed mentally and/or physically so basically I was using one of my most basic survival techniques.

I felt a man glaring at me.  Although no words were exchanged, it was very obvious that he was upset that I was sitting there in my own little world with my bags on the seat beside me depriving him of a seat. I reached over to move my bags.  Doing so I knocked over the tea in my lap.  He sat down and I resumed my knitting.  But it wasn't over ... yet.

The next thing I know this man is shoving me against the wall of the bus with his hip.  Not a small nudge, but a forceful, intentional shove.  I glared at him.

Note, that up until this point no words had been said by either of us.  He never asked if I'd move over so he could have the seat.  He simply glared.  He never asked if I could move over further - which I couldn't - he started shoving.

No one else nearby would have noticed anything as it was all nonverbal.

Shades of my former workplace.  No one noticed many provocations in the workplace because they were either nonverbal or occurred at times when no one else was present.

When this man saw my glare, he started making pronouncements such as: "Seats are for sitting."  Which clearly indicated that I was in the wrong.  He also said things like he didn't like part of him hanging over into the aisle.  He said that he liked to sit in that particular seat as it was close to the back door and he could get out easier.  Each  statement said as a pronouncement, a judgement, that I was clearly in the wrong.

For what?  For being in the same bus as himself?  For knitting?  For being a woman?  For sitting in the seat he preferred?

The situation went from bad to worse as we became involved in a loud, verbal confrontation.  Each time, he had the squelch.  The perfect put down.  He was the one in control.  I was the wrong doer.   Each statement was meant to cow me and take control over both the situation and myself.

Problem was though that each time he said something, I battled back.  I didn't cower like I was supposed to.  I didn't acquiesce, get up and give him the entire seat.

At one point he even said that I could have the seat which I pointed out was interesting because I'd been on the bus long before he'd entered.

At that point, he made a big show of turning off his hearing aids.  At that point the confrontation stopped.

Which was probably just as well since it was unwinnable - for both sides.  He wasn't about to admit that maybe, perhaps he was in the wrong and me ... well I'm no longer the meek, mild, co-dependent I used to be who would have given up the seat, stood in the aisle and seethed inwardly.

I felt uncomfortable.  I felt like bolting out the door - which was impossible as it was an express bus.  I felt like bolting to the driver and demanding he stop the bus and let me out - which would have brought attention to me - and might not have worked as there were no bus stops for this route between where we were and where I was getting off.  I opted to stay seated.  To stay quiet.  Seething in my anger.

At the end, we both got off at the same stop - and we both transferred to the same bus.  Ouch!  Talk about uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I felt like a wreck.  I felt like I was a horrible person.  I'd engaged in a loud confrontation on a bus.  I felt that I had done something wrong - because of the verbal confrontation.

You see, in the workplace anytime I got loud, I was automatically in the wrong.  It didn't matter what had preceded any loudness, what provocations had ensured, I was the one in the wrong because I was supposed to be in control of myself at all times and being loud was not being in control of myself.  This scenario occurred in both workplace situations, the being loud part.  In workplace abuse situation #1 being loud was wrong because it made others feel "uncomfortable".  I'm sure the passengers nearest us were definitely uncomfortable by our exchange.  And so I felt that I had done something terrible wrong on that bus, in that scenario.

I felt that I'd failed again.

Until ....

I messaged with a friend over Facebook, one of the people who has come into my life who copes with constant pain due to an autoimmune.  Her perspective that night was different from any other I'd heard.  She felt that I was not in the wrong even though we'd gotten loud.  Noticeably loud.  She was proud of me that I'd not gotten up and given him the entire seat.

Unlike many others I've encountered on this journey post workplace bullying, she didn't try to excuse this man's behaviour.  She didn't try to think it through and rationalize it from what may or may not have been his point of view.  She simply let me talk.  She listened to me.  She sympathized with me.  And she asserted that I was not in the wrong.

After our "conversation", I was able to finally go to sleep.  In the morning, I was able to analyze what had happened the previous day in a different light.  I called the transit company and reported the incident.  I talked to a lovely woman who also saw things in a "different" light from what I was used to as well.  She felt this man's behaviour was not appropriate.  He should have been using his "words" to ask for the seat instead of glaring.  He should have used his "words" to explain that he felt he needed more room on the seat instead of shoving.  She also said that there was nothing wrong with my bags being on the seat beside me - thus taking up both seats.  I was not in the handicapped seating at the front of the bus where people are required to give up their seats for the handicapped or those with strollers.  This man who was elderly had a perfect right to ask someone in that seating to get up for him to sit down.

But he didn't.  He chose me.  A lone woman.  A lone woman who was knitting.  A lone woman who had committed the sin of sitting in "his" seat.

After that phone call, I felt better.

I learned something, actually several things, through this incident.  I learned that being loud is not considered being out of control.  That it is not wrong in and of itself.

I realized that I'd internalized more lies through both workplace scenarios than I'd realized.  One was the lie that being loud was wrong.  The other was that even though I was angry and loud, I was thoroughly in control of myself during the situation.  I didn't behave inappropriately.  In fact, the transit employee felt that I'd handled the situation well.

The other positive thing I did was to get right back on the bus two days later.  I didn't allow myself to let the anxiety grow.  In addition, I realized that I've ridden buses for most of my 65 years on this planet and never had an experience like this one.  It was one experience in a lifetime of experiences.

I also learned something else, something very important.  You see, the encourager/supporter I would normally go to in a situation like this was out of the country with no cell phone or internet access.  Because I liaised with someone else through the net, I discovered that there are other resources.  That I can get through difficult experiences on my own.

In the end, I felt good about myself.  I could see recovery happening.

Yes, something bad did happen.  Something I had no way of foreseeing or controlling.  But in the end, I realized through this one isolated incident how much I've grown and recovered in the journey.

That's what this journey is all about, friends:  recovery.

Until tomorrow....

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