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  • Lauren Dufault

This time, I won't hate myself for being myself.

Updated: May 3

When I was 13 I was on a swim team called GRRR. It was considered one of the best teams in the town. Every day I found myself standing on the pool deck with some of the fastest swimmers around. I was on the cool team. I was on the team that when we walked on the pool deck, people knew who we were. Our colors were purple and black and made me feel like I was super cool too.


But alas, I was not.


Underneath the cool exterior of the team was a hierarchy that I was on the bottom of.


I was the team reject.


I was the girl everyone made fun of. Whether it was to my face or behind my back, the stares were always there. I was the target of the hate each of them felt towards themselves. I was laughed at, called names, left out of parties.

Its funny how some memories are made and stick to your psyche like a tongue to an ice pole. They're sharp, cold, and make you cry. One day, I distinctly remember getting my brand new water bottle thrown against the wall. As I watched it smash into pieces, I remember walking away, sitting on the bench and sobbing. No one came over to check if I was okay.


People avoided me. There was a small group that used to bully me, and a big group that would just watch it all happen.


I think that hurt the worst. I was on their team, but no one was on mine.


Was it all in my mind? No. To this day, Im sure every single one of those people look back and remember that they said and did those things to me. How do I know? 15 years later, I managed to find myself sitting at lunch, eating tacos with one of those people that stood and watched it all happen.


And although I appreciate her honestly at the time, no amount of apology and carnitas tacos could sooth the self loathing I had been sitting on for years.


Look, I wish I could tell you that "I had no idea why" I got bullied. I know exactly why. I didn't work hard. I spent so much time trying to figure out how to "be cool" and avoid getting bullied from Jon, Steve, Luke, Ben, the Woods brothers (and other names I cant quite remember) that I wasn't focusing on the actual "swimming" part.


I was in social survival mode, and getting distracted from the work.


And that made them hate me even more.


Until one day when they found a whole new reason.


It was a regular swim practice, and like any regular practice I had taken my time getting into the pool for warm ups. I was going last in my lane, getting lapped (and slapped around- literally.) and calculating each set in my head. I had system (a pretty smooth one if you ask my 13 year old self) I would look at a set, and determine if it was too hard, took too long, or didn't have enough Freestyle in it for my liking. If it was any of those with a certain combination, I would say I had to use the bathroom and sit in the shower for however long it would take for the set to be over.


(I was a fucking genius, right?)


I was god damn proud of myself for how slick I was. I avoided work like my most recent ex boyfriend avoids all forms of emotion. Everyday my mom would drop me off at practice and tell me to work hard. And every day my dad would pick me up and ask me if I worked hard. And if I did, I was rewarded with French Fries.

[Okay, can I interrupt myself real quick. I don't think you understand. Those French Fries were fucking amazing. A shoutout to Nazareth College Dining hall staff in the early 2000's. THEY WERE WORTH THE LIE]


But as every love story reaches the pinnacle of conflict, so did my plan. Of course my coach was watching and of course he knew exactly what I was doing, along with the rest of the team.


How do you ignore a pimple sitting right on the front of your nose? You can't.


So on this particular day my coach chose to make his move. After he explained what I thought was the main set of the day, (you know, the one I was going to skip) he waited until I left and gave them the real set. One which was much harder.


Underwaters on repeat with no ending until I got back.


That means my team mates were going from one end of the pool, to the other, underwater, with 3ish seconds rest each time. No fins. No help. and no stopping until I returned.


Tick Tock Tick Tock


...25 minutes later, I walked back onto the deck; acting like I had gotten away with another murder.


Cue Phase 2 of my coaches plan.


The second I stepped onto the pool deck he charged at me, screaming the whole way. And while the whole team watched, he reamed me out like he was a 4 Star General in the Marine Corps. For how long? I could not tell you. What he said I could not quote, but it sure was scary. I think it was things along the lines of, "You're letting yourself down.", "You're letting the team down." and "Why are you even here?"


With the escape of the details in that moment, one will always be seared into my brain.


The look on my teammates faces. Out of anyones gaze I caught, Jeff Woods face is the one I will never forget. I not only saw the hate, but I could feel it. Every bone in my body filled with lead. At that moment, I hated myself right along next to my teammates.


After spending a few hours crying and screaming with my parents about what happened, I had a decision to make.

My dad asked me, "What are you gonna do? What is the only way to make them stop?"


"To beat them." I replied.


I feel like I had this thing ignite in me. It came from the dark depths of my soul and it make me numb with anger every time I thought of all the shit I had been through.


How. Dare. They. I spent the rest of my swim career with my mind on one thing: winning. I cut ties with the idea that I was going to be accepted by these people, I began manipulating relationships so that I had none at all.


If I didn't let anyone in, no one would hurt me.


Wake up.

Practice.

School.

Practice.

Homework.

Bed.


Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed.

Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed.

Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed.

Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed.

Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed. Wake up. Practice. School. Practice. Homework. Bed.


For 5 years.


I missed parties, I missed hang outs, I missed holidays, I missed weird nights where you sit with your friends and smoke pot for the first time.


But I went to Jr. Nationals.


And then I went to college on a swim scholarship. (Guess what color I was drawn to for a school? Purple.)


Life changed in college. Shit got weird. I couldn't keep up with the constant peer pressure. I had never subjected myself to it before. I started drinking, smoking, and even began making awkward (and extremely unhealthy!) dating decisions. I was living my teenage years in college. I then had to confront the fact that I was surrounded by people who were much more mature in relationships. Not just romantic, but also friendships. They knew how to act with each other. I watched complete strangers trust each other with their grandmas after sharing a drink at a crowded bar (ummm, your choice I guess?). I did not understand how to create healthy boundaries for people because that day on the pool deck, all those years ago- I told myself that no one would want to be my friend anyways.


Let me just press fast forward on my twenties and pause on where I am today.

I am a 31 year old woman that was dragged back to that place in my life.


[Shoutout to all cyber bullies out there- ya'll are some real fucking cowards. By the way what grown man types out their own cease and desist letter and doesn't proof read? Its spelled *colleagues ]


As much as those walls I built as a child have helped guard me for all of those years, they have begun to trap me. I have continuously, subconsciously been giving people permission to treat me like shit, because thats how I have always protected myself.


The difference between now and then, is that I am ready to take my walls down. I am done hiding from people. I am done letting people think they can screw with me, or shut me up, or even make me feel like I am less than them purely because I am not like them, or because I don't like them.


It is time to get back to work, and stop living my life through everyone else's prism of how they see me. They dont know me. But I know me. I've been here the whole time. Its time for me to take down the walls.


This time, I won't hate myself for being myself.







































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