Social Anxiety at a Coffee Shop

Passing through the threshold,
The faces all turn and stare.
Boring holes
Radiating insults
Questioning my entry.

Moving into the crowd,
The squeeze aches the shoulders.
Clamps the jaw
Sweats the chest
Blankness in my brain.

Feeling their better beauty,
The eyes cast superior.
Pointing fingers
Laughing mouths
The lesser don’t belong.

Grounding into the scene,
The sight becomes palpable.
Lowered eyes
Careless nods
Notice does not exist.

Do you ever walk into a space and feel immediately like all eyes are on you, and not necessarily in a good way? Have you built a story in your head that you are somehow inferior to everyone else in the room? They are better looking, better dressed, more confident, cooler – whatever it is, they are doing it better than you are. While not everyone may experience this, I believe there are a great deal of us who do at some point in our lives, even if it’s subtle. Then there are those of us that carry that story everywhere we go.

For me, it started with childhood. I was never taught a sense of belonging; confidence didn’t exist in my home. Instead, I learned the weight of shame and fear on my shoulders. I lived under the roof of my father, the addict, and an unfortunate byproduct of his struggles was that we frequently moved. My early days were met with countless treks across country and into new schools at least twice, sometimes three or more times in a year. None of this lent itself well to my social development and, as a pre-teen, when things are challenging for even a well-adjusted kid, I quickly became a target of teasing and bullying. My shy demeanor, Goodwill clothes and an unusual religion that I had to wear like a badge, made me something to be mocked by other kids. I knew I was different and no matter how much I tried, I was certain that I would never be as good as they were.

Today, I’m in my forties, living in a happy home, smart and relatively successful, enjoying my life and knowing my worth. Yet, the things we carry with us from childhood still manage to amaze me. Even after years of hard work in therapy, the inferiority story that rooted itself deep within my brain, still likes to show up from time to time. Just as it did in the moment I walked into an unfamiliar coffee shop recently. When I’m certain that everyone is staring at me and on the verge of making fun, I simply remind myself that I belong wherever I go. This mantra is grounding. It shifts my story from that hurt child surrounded by cruelty to the strong adult that I am. It gives me power.

We all carry stories, some are on our shoulders and others are locked deep behind walled off spaces. These are stories of hurt, of love, of trauma or triumph. I like to think that for all our glorious differences, we are all basically the same. We all belong everywhere we go.

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