My Bullied History, Part 5 – Recovery

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.

My Bullied History, Part 4 – The Essay

As I said last week, during my first semester of college, I was taking Creative Writing and decided to write about my High School experiences.  The following is the essay in it’s entirety.  This was painful for me to read even though it has been nearly 2 decades since I left High School.  The events in this essay are entirely true (except for some name changes… my name’s not Alan) and really happened to me.  (Including the recurring dream.)  I may have mashed events together a bit for the sake of the story, but I think it gives a really good look into my mind at the time. » Read more

My Bullied History, Part 3 – High School

If I thought Junior High School was bad, I was really unprepared for the level of bullying that came when I went to High School.  It started pretty "tame" (that being a relative term).  One guy would make insinuating comments to me in the locker room before and after gym.  As an overweight teenager, I was frankly more than a little embarrassed about the changes my body was going through.  I had just "discovered" girls in the first few days of High School whereas many of my fellow students made that discovery in Junior High.  With many people dating, walking around holding hands, etc, I was very unsure and frightened when it came to my sexuality.  So this person’s remarks questioning my sexuality struck particularly hard.

Over time, though, it got worse.  There was a group of kids that teased me.  (This initial guy was part of this group.)  They didn’t sit behind me in class spitting spitballs, though.  They followed me from class to class taunting me.  If I altered my route, sped up or otherwise tried to lose them, they kept up with me and taunted me more for trying to lose them.  If I passed one of them in the hall, nothing was said and I was ignored, but should that one be joined by a friend or two of his, they suddenly got very courageous.  I tried to ignore them as much as possible because I quickly learned that anything I said would just lead to more teasing.  (I certainly didn’t fight back physically as I was afraid of getting in trouble.) » Read more

My Bullied History, Part 2 – Junior High School

When I got into Junior High School, I didn’t have many friends. So I was happy when I befriended RH. He seemed pretty nice at first, but soon he began to do things to torment me. He would sit behind me in class and throw spit balls at me or poke me in the back with the sharp end of his pencil. Eventually, I would confront him and he would say that someone told him I said something about him. I would deny it (as it wasn’t true) and he would be my friend again. This process repeated over and over and, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t catch on that the “someone told him something” was a complete lie. I was too naive and desparate to have a friend.

One time, RH ignited a rivalry I had had in elementary school. MH lived up the block from me. Calling him a “bad seed” would be an understatement. He ODed on drugs at a young age as did every member of his family. He would push me down at the bus stops and try to beat me up any opportunity he got. I wouldn’t fight back, but would just take it.

One time, he tried beating me up in the halls of our elementary school and I had had enough. I tossed my books down and started to fight him. I don’t remember if I held my own or if we were stopped before we even started. I do know we were eventually stopped. I don’t think he was able to beat me up when I fought back. After this confrontation, if memory serves, he stopped picking on me. Until RH got involved, that is.

RH, MH and I were in gym class together and the sport we were playing was wrestling. Not the WWE-type but the old fashioned Greco-Roman variety. Two people go into a circle. One person goes on all fours. The second person holds his arm from over his back. Then you begin and each person tries to get the other one pinned. Strength is only one factor that contributes towards victory. Stragedy is also a factor.

RH egged MH on and somehow got MH and I in the wrestling circle together. As usual, I played by the rules, but MH didn’t feel like the rules applied to him. He drove me outside of the circle. Normally, at this point, the rules would dictate stopping attacks until the person got back in the ring. Instead, MH launched himself at me, hit me hard and wound up splitting my lip open. Still, for some reason, I was still naive and believed RH when he later told me that MH had told him I had said something negative about him (RH).

Eventually, I did wise up and cut all ties with RH, except for one. I happened to befriend another friend of his, G. My friendship with G lasted through High School, college and still goes on to this day. He’s the guy who’s wedding I attended in 2008. He’ll also wind up being very important in the next story (next week).

My Bullied History, Part 1 – Elementary School

Recently, a young girl comitted suicide due to being bullied. I’ve struggled long and hard about the best way to approach this topic. It isn’t easy for me to talk about as I was bullied myself for years and still have some emotional scars. I had hopes that NHL would escape what I went through, but the other week, as I dropped him off at school, he told me that some kids were calling him names. B asked and it turned out that they were all calling each other names. It doesn’t excuse it, but at least he’s not being singled out for “special treatment” yet.

If he is singled out and bullied, however, I’m going to need to figure out a course of action. And that’s going to mean drawing upon my experiences as a young bullied kid. This, in turn, is going to mean confronting this history head-on. So think of this week’s blog posts as therapy.

My own bullied history (as far as I can remember) begins in the second grade. The bully hear wasn’t a peer of mine, but the teacher. Yes, you read that right: the teacher. Don’t ask me why she became a teacher because Mrs. D hated kids. She particularly hated little boys and, for some reason, she despised me. She would make fun of me in front of the rest of the class. She would tell me that I’d never succeed in life because I couldn’t color or cut within the lines. She would send home busy work just for me such as writing out my ABC’s. This busy work would get turned in to her only for her to hand it back to me (unmarked) with the exact same assignment for that night. My mother eventually had me hand in the same paper over and over and she never was able to tell.

There was a bathroom in the room and I would go there as frequently as I could just to get away from her. When I got the chicken pox, I was happy to be out of her classroom for awhile. I actually dropped out of school, refusing to go back, because she was so mean to me. My parents let me stay out for a short while but then sent me back. Of course, my parents tried getting me out of her class. The principal wouldn’t allow it, though. He insisted that she was their best teacher and refused to consider any possibility of her being a Teacher-Bully.

I suffered through second grade and could have easily become the kind of kid who hated school and barely got D’s. Instead, in third grade, I ran into Mrs. S. Mrs. S gave me a standardized reading test along with the rest of her class. She remarked how well I did and how she wanted me to try the advanced reading test. When I aced that one too, she put me in the advanced reading group. This led to other advanced classes which led to AP and college level courses down the road. I credit Mrs. S. for pulling me out of the train wreck of the second grade and putting me on the fast track to a great education.

Years later, I returned to my elementary school. I wanted to visit with my old teachers, but mostly I wanted to confront Mrs D with the fact that I was succeeding despite her prediction. Unfortunately, she had retired the previous year and moved away. She had robbed me of the chance to show her she was wrong, but I decided that proving that she was wrong about me by succeeding in school was good enough for me.

Coming up next week, things go from bad to worse…

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