Finding My Voice Amidst Bullying
I have been doing a lot of reading and learning about vulnerability, strength, self-reliance, and inner truth. I have seen so many of my peers, and even daring strangers, sharing their personal truths and experiences in ways that truly have a chance to resonate with others. Honestly, I don’t expect to change lives with this but I know almost everyone who reads this will resonate with some part of it. I am also doing this for the little girl inside of me that is screaming to be heard so I can finally own my truth.
What is bullying? I found this on Google and it summed it up nicely: “to seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).” Bullying occurs any time someone wants you to bend to their will, to lose your sense of self, to be small. The world we live in is riddled with this. Every one of you can connect with at least one scenario which pops into your head without even trying.
I grew up in a LARGE family where everyone had strong opinions. Our family functions were large and our personalities even larger. Everyone loved hard which also meant wanting the best for everyone. The problem that ensued was each member of the family had a very strong opinion of what it would be that would be “best”. My grandfather was my idol. I worshipped him. He gave me what I thought to be unconditional love and saw me in ways no one else did. It wasn’t until I was older and he had long passed away that I began to see all the other pieces of the puzzle. He wanted the best for me and to achieve that, he would use intimidation and coercion for me to comply with whatever he wanted. He would make me do homework over and over and over until it was right (which I am now thankful for) but he would spend the whole time doing it making me fear the failure I would become if I couldn’t figure it out. One of my last active memories of him was at a family reunion when he pulled me into a room alone and pulled out his checkbook. As he wrote the check, he went on about how I could never leave the Catholic church and how if I had any sense I would marry a good Catholic boy. He went on about how he expected me to get my PhD because anything else would be pointless, useless, and a failure. He went on about my cousins who he approved or disapproved of, as if warning me not to get on his bad side. This is an interesting side of bullying; the intimidation and coercion. This is pressure put onto someone seemingly vulnerable to submit to the will of the more powerful. This is bullying.
In high school, I tried to always stay under the radar. I did good in school but always gave it my average effort so I wouldn’t get too much praise (my own insecurities of failing once I reached a higher level of achievement) and I wouldn’t get too much punishment (my mother was renown for grounding months at a time). I got a job and made some friends. By luck, they were even the popular kids and it turned out to be the “cool” place to work. After a while, I was invited to outings and parties. I lived in a town obsessed with high school football. It was king. Most of the peers I worked with were actually on the football team. Again, I lucked out and became cool accepted by association. At some point I think I began to realize that I was in over my head. I was a fish out of water and didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. The parties were changing and expectations of me and what I would do were changing. I wanted out. I started telling everyone that I couldn’t hang out anymore. I distanced myself except when we were at work. I tried to set a healthy boundary for myself but it just made it worse.
The rumors started first. Everyone in my school started talking about how I was pregnant (mind you I was very much a virgin) by one of the football players. The snide remarks in the hallways and the whispers and laughter grew more frequent. They completely isolated me at work and blocked all chances for me to advance by creating cruel rumors there as well. Then it escalated. At one of their parties, they all started calling me, one after another. Each was more adamant and vulgar than the last. I quit answering the phone so the voicemails came in one after another. Starting as taunting and laughing at me for being a goodie two shoes, moving into frustration that I had somehow put them down or judged them, and then landing with very real threats of violence, sexual assault, and even death. I was crippled and small. I immediately turned to my closest friends who immediately told me to ignore it and do nothing. They knew that those guys ruled the school and I would make life worse for myself if I did something. But it wasn’t stopping. I had to make it stop. Long, sad, and disappointing story later, all of them were arrested and I was instantly a pariah. All my friends vanished. Even the ones who promised to testify with me in court didn’t show up. The school didn’t stand behind me as they didn’t want me to do anything about it in the first place. The boys were missing a football game that week and that’s what mattered. One day, walking the hall while class was in session, a teacher flew out of her room and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “What is wrong with you?! Why would you do something like that and get them all in trouble?! Was that really necessary?! Just let it go!”. I crumbled. Even my mentors were gone. I had a boyfriend at the time but he started receiving threats too so I had to push him away. The rumors made their way around classmates and staff and eventually landed even within my JROTC unit. I was so proud of that group. I was already an Ensign and in line to get second of command the next year. Until one day I was pulled into the office and told that I didn’t have the right reputation for a position of respect. That was the last piece of my puzzle. Gone.
I learned the mistaken belief then to give in to bullies. Allow them to do what they like and life will be easier. If someone wants something so bad, just give it to them. I told myself to be more average so less people cared about me or what I did. It moved into my relationships and when I reconnected with my boyfriend from high school, it took him living with someone else in secret before I actually decided to walk away. That is bullying. That is what bullying does. It teaches you that you are small and don’t matter. It teaches you that other people are more important than you are and that what they think of you matters more than what you think. It took time, therapy, and accepting the unconditional love of a good man to realize that it didn’t have to be that way.
And now I am living in a world where bullying is happening again. There are several times in the last few years where people have chosen to go on the attack against me; whether with “words of advice” which are really just warnings that I better submit to their way of thinking, backhanded conversations meant to tear me or my relationship with my team apart, or even cyberbullying from people who are unable to communicate their ideas/opinions/feelings clearly and appropriately. I stand here again in a place feeling small and like I am unable to appease people. I am unable to make them see me in a positive light. In turn, I begin to see myself in a negative light as well.
It wasn’t until my dear husband text me today and reminded me of my truth. A truth that is full of kindness and trying and commitment. My truth is that I am a good hearted person who sincerely wants the best for everyone. I want to help people to find their best life. I truly do everything I know to do for others and stand by those decisions. My truth is that I am a good person. Yes, I may be flawed and I am far from perfect but I am never claiming to be. I am a real person. That’s why I wanted Finding Solace; to have a place where people were allowed to be real people. If you want somewhere that meets a certain bar or expectation, I can give you a list of referrals. If you want somewhere that we can sit with you and invest in you and help, that’s us.
I am writing this because, now that I am back in the storm of bullying, it is more important than ever for me to hold my own truth. I just read this quote, “When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.” That’s what I am doing. I am claiming who I am in all its inadequacies, failures, and vulnerabilities and I am standing proud. I am directing my own future and wanting to be able to help others direct theirs. I am going to stand firm against the people wanting to “harm, intimidate, or coerce” me and will come out okay.
Bullying is real. Every day. Even with adults. Don’t let it happen any more. Stand up.