“Struggle Central” Excerpt #1: Shame on Me

It’s Struggle Sunday! Today marks a decidedly special Struggle Sunday edition, because posted below is an official excerpt from my upcoming book, Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian. It’s the first sneak peak of several in the weeks to come!

My first book releases soon! Subscribe to my email newsletter for your own free copy come Publication Day. In the mean time, here’s my messy transitional tale to a new high school 800 miles from home…

TMZ: Struggler

I woke up early the first morning of seventh grade. Consciously rose an hour before breakfast so I could spend one last hour with my dog before being forced onto a bus and thrust into foreign classrooms with foreign teachers and foreign students, separated from Annie all day. We didn’t even “do” anything in that early hour of silence. Simply snuggled on the living room couch while the black atmosphere surrounding us grew gray. With each intensifying particle of light, I already missed her, my gut knotted over our impending separation.

I walked into homeroom and sat amid a scene of faces never before seen. Characters I’d never met with accents never before heard. I felt as if I’d been deliberately plucked out of one story and awkwardly inserted into another. One never meant to be mine. From homeroom to seventh period with an eternal lunch midway, those seven hours encapsulated the stereotypical sob story of an introvert’s first day in a new school far from home.

That afternoon I came home in tears, more alone than ever before. And yet my first steps through the back door taught me something – something powerful, indeed. High-pitched yelps and skidding paws on a hardwood floor taught me I wasn’t alone.

That afternoon and many subsequent afternoons after, Annie was there to catch my tears – lick every last lingering one from my face. Reminded me quite emphatically I wasn’t alone in this impossible new fight. That even if I endured the next several years without a single friend, distant and divided from my parents and God, I’d always have my dog – a best friend – to literally swallow every tear. And her zealous licks to my face would only stop when I’d had enough. Because Annie never had her fill or outpouring of love. Hers was a love of no limits – the way true love truly works.

At some point, my acne either became the defining cause of my shame or a convenient excuse. I could never stand to look myself in the mirror each morning, and throughout the years other kids ridiculed any latest additions to my pimple collection. Mostly other guys. The jocks, the jerks – supposedly “Christian” kids at a Christian school who spoke and pointed and laughed in un-Christian ways. Teachers either never saw such behavior or never seriously interfered.

For years, my daily mission was just to be ignored.

Blogger Paul Angone once wrote his own acne-induced testimonial, and it sums up my own social ramifications throughout high school:

Acceptance is a weird concept when you hope no one looks you in the face. It’s hard to make friends when a good day is making it through unnoticed. Insecurity is a double edge sword: I desperately wanted to be noticed … while staying completely invisible. I can still hear my desperate self now, screaming out to God to remove my teenage leprosy. Year after year after year.

As a new kid in a new school who desperately wanted new friends, I found isolation more easily attainable. A single day spent without garnering any attention whatsoever became established as success – an entire day without cherry-cheeked embarrassment, my goal entering homeroom each and every morning. I’d evade the jocks/jerks in the halls while changing classes. Would avoid talking at the lunch table. Would strive not to speak up or stand out in any way so judgmental eyes wouldn’t catch and comment on my crater-infested face, inducing my already rosy complexion to redden all the more.

But while acne contributed much to my influx of teenage shame, it wasn’t the only contributing factor. I grew incredibly insecure for other reasons – namely, my introversion itself. From seventh grade onward, I was so much quieter than all the other kids. Noticeably quieter. Especially among the boisterous boys in my grade who often asked:

Why are you so quiet?

Why don’t you ever talk?

What’s wrong with you?

Whether for physical or emotional reasons, I spent most school days dodging interactions and conversations of any sort. I couldn’t talk to other kids, and I couldn’t look at them. Couldn’t even look at myself. Could only practice a calculated pattern of avoidance – avoidance at all costs. Simply couldn’t risk the reckoning of their merciless questions. Questions I couldn’t even answer myself.

The other kids were right; there was something wrong with me. Something awfully off-kilter. I just couldn’t begin to explain it. Explain myself. Not to them, not to anyone.

For years, I was utterly ashamed of me, and I fought daily to shield my shame from others. To live and breathe and suffer perpetually in the lonely but protected presence of only myself.

Looking back on my teenage years, this was the worst part: my ingrained assumption that shame was a fight meant to be fought alone. I couldn’t talk to my relationship-marred parents, couldn’t approach distant teachers, and certainly had no picture-perfect friends like Zack or Slater to rally behind.

Shame was my cross to bear. My battle to wage.

My tears to cry in faithless, hopeless, loveless solitude.

For more information on Struggle Central, check out my book page or my video trailer below:

  • This breaks my heart. It reminds me of when I was in high school. I didn’t move anywhere new, but I was plagued with insecurity. I just wanted to disappear most days. Thanks for sharing, Tom. I can’t wait for your book!

    • TMZ

      Thanks for reading, Erin! Totally get insecurity and the burning need to disappear. It’s awful. But just remember…there is always redemption. 🙂

      More excerpts to come these next few weeks. All leading up to Publication Day next month!

  • Rebecka

    I can’t wait to read the rest of your book, Tom!

    • TMZ

      Can’t wait for that either! Alas, we must all wait. Myself included. 🙂

  • This hits close to home (except I had a less un-Christian “Christian” school), let me echo everybody else: can’t wait for your book. I’m looking forward to see what facilitated change.

    • TMZ

      Appreciate your support, Josh. Oh where to begin with “what facilitated change”…I suppose that’s where the book comes in. 🙂

  • I totally remember that feeling, and I also remember the realization that yes, there was something wrong with me. It started a healing process that continues to this day. I look forward to reading more. Good for you for being so open with us.

    • TMZ

      I wish I’d started the healing process sooner, but better late than never! We’re all works in progress, though. Growth, growth, growth. Gotta love it. Looking forward to sharing more soon, Allan!

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