Embracing Rejection: How Exposure Therapy Ended My Quiet Life

We received a notice that we needed to move our vehicle this morning. Last week I was told I was not allowed to take a photo of someone. You can’t go back there, that’s not allowed. Boundaries pop up in life constantly, causing me to immediately feel shame about the rejection. I would feel embarrassed for having been talked to, or singled out, and my reaction would be to recoil, in order to prevent any future rejection. But, they kept coming. And the more they did, the more I knew I was living my best life.

When we first moved into the bus, we parked wherever there was a free spot; until we got our first knock on the door. Up until that moment, I had always done the right thing, did my best to never offended anyone, and followed the rules with utmost passivity.

That first knock on the door stirred me up for days. I couldn’t get past the shame I felt for having been scolded by security. It was partially a violation of privacy, but mostly just wounded pride of my law abiding ego. “Why didn’t he like me, or think that I am good person?! He had rejected us the way he would have rejected any old car dwelling squatter - but we’re different!”

Rejection. The feeling is similar to being laughed at in gym class for not catching the ball, or wearing something out of the ordinary in public. It happens any time you knowingly step outside of the norm. You are in a vulnerable position, and your worst fear is realized as someone walks over to step on your face.

It is natural to retreat. With such a painful experience, it is no wonder that we have a reaction of avoidance. “I don’t what to be rejected again, so I must change my behavior. I must conform if I am to be loved.” And it is this that robs you of any legitimate chance of happiness in life. The more I am like you, the more I will also be miserable like you. It is for that reason that I have learned to embrace rejection.

Many people don’t like us because of the way that we chose to live. Our abnormal choices are threatening, and that means occasionally we are required to interact with authority figures. I love our lifestyle. It is the single best decision we have made in the past few years. But, my insecurity about rejection almost robbed me of my chance to live in the way that made me truly happy.

When a pedestrian would stop us, a security guard would leave a note, or kids banged on the windows, I would begin to question, “are we wrong? Should we change? Is this worth it?” Each time, we would move to find another place to park for the night, and discuss going back to an apartment. As we did, I would open a window, feel the night air on my face, pour a glass of wine and begin cooking dinner on our camp stove as Cody relaxed on the bed, just feet from the kitchen. This melted the shame to a level that would allow me to drift off to sleep without obsession.

If we went undisturbed for a time, the feeling would bed down, and life would continue as normal. Then, we would receive another notice to move, and the impulse to obey would drown out the desire to live in the way that we were happiest. My training to appease others wishes, to please those who aren’t concerned about my well being, held strong. And I would be left crumpled - knowingly incapable of making both myself and all others happy.

We had entered a state of permanent exposure therapy. Our existence will forever incite rejection from strangers. We do our best to be amicable - quiet, off main roads, out of neighborhoods, clean - but we will not change. The more I create and become who I am to be, the more I will offend, and I refuse to continue to be undetectable for the sake of others. Now, I am free.

Rejection does not harm us, and we do no harm in return. You find the best and the worst in people, and from that you can surround yourself with those who have also learned that the best moments in life aren’t the ones in which you silently followed, but those in which you held yourself out to be destroyed, and survived.

I am a wad of fruit stripe gum. You may step on me, but you can’t stop my bright colors from sticking to your shoe.