Towards the end of high school, after the teasing had stopped due to my friend’s intervention, I attended a social event. I forget the reason for the event except that it might have been due to me being introducted into some kind of honor society. During the event, I noticed two things. First of all, I didn’t talk with anyone other than my parents even though I really wanted to. Secondly, I kept backing myself up to the wall. Simply being around that many people talking with each other made me so uncomfortable that I felt like I needed to push myself into the wall to escape. Even though I recognized that I was doing this, I couldn’t stop myself.
It was quite clear what was happening. My years of being bullied might have been over, but they had taken their toll. I had a big fear of socializing. I would get extremely self-conscious whenever I was in public. I guess part of the problem was that I felt like I had to be constantly on the defensive. As if the slightest show of emotion, the slightest display of vulnerability, the slightest opening up would be greeted with mocking, jeering and name calling. Even if I knew intellectually that the person I was talking to wasn’t going to do all that to me, some part of my brain regarded every other human as a threat to be avoided.
As I entered college, I made a conscious decision to change this. I joined a club whose sole purpose was to throw parties. I put myself into social situations. I spoke with new people. I even attempted dating. (I didn’t have any luck, but at least I tried.) All to try to get myself to feeling like I was “normal” in social situations.
Still, recovering from bullying gave me a sense of freedom in a weird way. I found I didn’t really care what people thought of me. While it did have bad points (such as keeping a beard for way too long when everyone told me it made me look old), it had its good moments as well. For example, one day G and I were eating in the cafeteria. Two girls approached us and whispered that they were sorry but they were pledging a sorority and had to serenade us as part of the initiation. Now, I could have been embarrassed and self-conscious. I could have thought that we were being picked on for one reason or another. In fact, G seemed quite embarrassed by the whole situation. I, strangely, found myself enjoying it. I figured that it wouldn’t be every day that I’d be serenaded by a pair of good looking girls (no matter what the motive) and I might as well enjoy it.
A few years ago, my high school reunion invitation arrived. I thought about going. My life was going well. I had a beautiful wife, two wonderful children and a job I loved. I was hoping to see my former tormenters miserable in their lives. When I saw how much my reunion was going to cost, I began to rethink attending. At first, it pained me that I wasn’t going to get the chance to rub my good life into their faces. Then I realized that I didn’t need to prove anything to my former tormenters. My life was good. I I had people who loved and depended on me. Whether or not those bullies saw my good life was completely irrelevant. For too long, the fear of them hung in the shadowy corners of my mind. Once I realized that I didn’t care about them anymore, the phantoms disappeared. I was happy with my life, with my family and most of all with myself. That was good enough for me.
In the end, I think that this will be a lesson that I pass on to NHL (and eventually JSL). It doesn’t matter what people say about you. If people try to put you down or make you feel like you aren’t good enough, tune them out. You needn’t do anything to prove them wrong. In the end, what really matters is what you think of yourself.