How I Healed from Bullying: Graduation and Beyond

Graduation was bittersweet. Although I was happy to graduate high school, I was sad because I would miss my classmates and teachers from Roseburg High. I felt that it ended too soon.

My first five years post-graduation was full of ups and downs. I struggled with bouts of depression and didn’t know why. I was on the rollercoaster again and desperately wanted to get off but didn’t know how.

I lived, and I worked. I was a mother of two small children but only going through the motions and surviving- existing. It felt as if I was living on autopilot. But then, something amazing happened!

In 1995, I came across a magazine article while on my lunch break at work. The article was about a kid severely bullied at school. Like me, his bullies had tormented him so horrifically that he thought about suicide and eventually transferred to another school. Also, like me, his life changed for the better. He, too, had made a complete turnaround and finally gotten the chance to experience the friends, fun, and excitement that high school was supposed to be.

Reading this article was a turning point for me, and finding it was one of the best things that happened. This piece in the magazine answered so many questions and confirmed that none of the abuse I’d suffered at my classmates’ hands was my fault. The article was also validation that there was never anything wrong with me. It only cemented the truth I’d always known deep down inside- I wasn’t to blame for their abuse.

They were the perpetrators.

They had the issues.

I was being held responsible for problems that were theirs, not mine.

With this confirmation came my empowerment!

During those years, many people, including a few well-meaning family members, had often told me that the bullying I suffered was all in my imagination or wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. Many more had said to me that I brought it all on myself. Deep down, I knew better.

blame accuse pointing finger

In my heart, I had known the truth years before I found this article and held on to it. Maybe this personal knowledge was why I resisted my bullies and fought back, even if it meant getting hurt. And perhaps it was why I suffered so many physical assaults. Nevertheless, I needed confirmation- a second opinion of sorts, and the article was exactly what I needed.

At that moment, everything fit together like a perfect puzzle! I cannot express the relief I felt. It was as if the article had lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders. My heart began to soar!

For the first time, I was able to see the bullying for what it was- abuse!

I began to thirst for even more knowledge of bullying and the human predator/prey dynamic. From then on, I read everything I could get my hands on- magazine articles, essays, books, online articles, everything that pertained to bullying and peer abuse.

There were so many unanswered questions:

“What was it about me that made me a target?”

“How had my bullies been allowed to get away with their brutality?”

“What was it about my bullies that made them so charming and good to everyone else?”

The word Answer on a puzzle piece to symbolize the quest for understanding in answering questions and concerns

“What were the ingredients to their charm and allure?”

“Where had their intense hate, mean-spiritedness, and sadistic natures come from? What had precipitated it?”

“Had they too been abused, or were they just spoiled, coddled narcissists infected with schadenfreude?”

So many questions haunted me and increased my curiosity. So, I continued digging for information, like a police detective eager to solve a case.

During the late nineties, I came across Tim Field’s BullyOnline.org and hungrily read every one of his articles. The website was massive, and it took a while to read. I went through it with a fine-toothed comb. If I had questions, I emailed Tim, and he would always reply in a timely and courteous manner.

Sadly, Mr. Field is no longer with us. He passed away from cancer years ago.

It’s been 25 years since I found the article that changed my life, and I cannot tell you how many sources of information I’ve poured through. I can’t measure the truckloads of knowledge attained and how much just the knowing has empowered me.

Between experience and two and a half decades of reading, research, and study, I’ve gained insights that have empowered me even more. That article back in 1995 set me on a path to greater knowledge and a passion for helping other bullying targets through writing and advocacy.

I’ve found what I love to do, and it is so rewarding!

I thank God for placing that article in front of me that day at work. Otherwise, I might still be wandering in the dark and trying to find my way.

That magazine article truly changed my outlook on the bullying I suffered. I no longer see it as something that ruined my life. No.

I see the bullying as an event that gave me a fiery passion for speaking out about my own experiences and sharing the knowledge I’ve gained to help people who endure bullying today. It showed me my life’s work and, through that, gave me eventual confidence and happiness.

I do not need to hate my bullies, nor to take revenge. Turning abuse around to the benefit of others is how I turn victimization into power! And that, my friends, is the best revenge a person can ever take!

If you’re a target of bullying, know this:

What’s happening to you is wrong and it isn’t your fault. You never asked to be brutalized, you do matter, and you are enough!

How I Healed from Bullying: Recovery

PTSD

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Amber, a friend and fellow blogger who inspired me to write this post.

The healing certainly didn’t happen overnight. My trial by fire ended during my senior year when I finally managed to escape my Oakley High School bullies through a school transfer. My new school, Roseberg High, felt like a paradise! Everyone there accepted me as I was, and I made so many new friends. I felt safe again and was finally able to relax and be myself.

I felt as if my life was finally beginning, and I could finally put Oakley High School behind me and move on. But it didn’t come without a few hang-ups. The last several months at Roseburg were the best of all four years of high school, but I didn’t realize that I was still carrying a lot of leftover baggage from the severe abuse I suffered at the old school.

Although I was in a much safer learning environment, there were afternoons during my first month at Roseburg when I’d have a long cry after I got home from school. Being four months pregnant at the time, I mistook the tears for the raging hormones of pregnancy. And though I loved my new school and all the people there, I regretted that I couldn’t have transferred schools earlier than I had. I was grieving the loss of so many years- years that I could never get back.

Child abuse with the eye of a young boy or girl with a single tear crying due to the fear of violence or depression caused by hunger and poverty and being afraid of bullying at school.

My then-husband worked a twelve-hour graveyard shift, and I spent most nights at home alone. In the afternoons, he would be asleep when I’d come in from school. So, I had plenty of time to grieve.

During those times, I also suffered flashbacks of the bullying, and they would come automatically and without warning- flashbacks of being shoved to the floor, brutally beaten, cursed out, and yelled at. At night I’d have nightmares.

In these nightmares, I’d be swimming in a lake and enjoying the water. Suddenly I’d stop and look around to see that my classmates from Oakley High were in the water as well, and they surrounded me. One of them would push my head underwater, and I’d fight like crazy to come back up for air. But as soon as I’d get my head above water and gasp for breath, they’d shove me back under again. Once more, I’d have to hold my breath and fight with my arms flailing in the water, trying to come up and get away from them.

Finally, I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and had no other choice but to give up the fight to live. Just as I inhaled and felt the searing burn of water fill my lungs, I’d wake up with a jolt. I also had another dream that one of my old bullies hunted me down and shot me. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, so frightened I couldn’t move a muscle. I’d only lay there, trembling in the darkness.

During my first month out, I also dealt with a lot of sadness and anger that didn’t show. Roseburg High was my happy place, and while I was there during the day, I didn’t have those emotions, nor did I have the flashbacks. The sadness, anger, flashbacks, and dreams only happened when I was home alone or sleeping, and I wanted so badly to forget about Oakley and live in the present.

During that month, I also felt a degree of shame- shame that I now realize wasn’t mine to bear. In my mind, I’d ask myself,

“What’s wrong with me? I’m out of that hellhole now! I should be happy about that! And I am, but why do I keep having these episodes of crying and feeling angry any time I’m alone?”

When I felt angry, I wasn’t as mad at my former classmates but myself for allowing them to tear me down and bring me so low.

I felt like a battered wife who’d just left her abusive husband!

I was fortunate, though. It didn’t take long for the raw emotions, the flashbacks, and the nightmares to go away, and I begin to focus on making great memories with my Roseburg friends and classmates. During that month, I had allowed myself to feel and to cry. I talked to a few of my most trusted family and friends.

I realized that I wasn’t wrong to have those emotions as they were signs that something was terribly wrong in my previous environment. I also began to understand that I wasn’t what was wrong. I’m thankful that I didn’t bury those emotions like so many survivors of bullying do. I’ve since concluded that what I experienced was the release of feelings that had, for a long time, been suppressed.

They were emotions that I wasn’t allowed to have in the old environment and was afraid to feel and show because I knew they’d punish me for it with more bullying. The only alternative had been to keep those feelings buried deep. And although my parents were well-meaning, there were times that neither of them could accept the emotions I felt.

Only after I got out of there did they begin to pour forth.

After a month of riding that roller coaster, I can tell you that everything finally subsided, and I felt like a new person! I didn’t get any therapy, although I should have. I was young, newly married, and expecting my first child, and everything was changing so fast I could barely keep up. So, I worked through it on my own.

Beautiful cloudscape over the sea, sunrise shot

And with the help of a new and nourishing environment, a few trusted people in my life, and new friends, I was able to get through the horrible after-effects of bullying and peer abuse. I began to set goals to learn about computers and make Honor Roll at my new school. As my grades skyrocketed and I achieved those goals, so did my confidence!

Sadly, most survivors of bullying aren’t as lucky as I was. Many take years to even get through the grief.

(Continued in Part 2)

You Regain Your Power When You Change Your Mindset

I may have been a target, but I was never a victim. I thought I was during the entire time I was bullied and for a while after it was over. Understand that a victim mentality, when taken to extremes, serves no purpose. It only breeds laziness and entitlement. You feel that the world owes you something. It doesn’t.

I had the same attitude and it got me nowhere!

Also, if you hold on to it and let it define you, you’ll only attract more bullies and abusers in your life. We are what we think, and the universe will provide more of the stuff that matches our thoughts.

That is why it’s so important that you shed this mentality of defeat. Only then will you re-empower yourself and win true peace and happiness!

Will We Ever Stop Bullying?

Everywhere you look, you see slogans like, “Stop Bullying,” “Eradicate Bullying,” “No Bullying,” and other slogans. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing with great intentions behind it.

We’d love to think that we could someday. Again, the above slogans are well-meaning and come from a good place, so I’m certainly not against such slogans.

However, the question remains. “Will we ever stop bullying completely?”

The reality is, no. We will never be able to completely annihilate bullying. Why? You may ask? It’s because bullying is an unfortunate and ugly part of human nature. Understand that we live in a fallen world and, in a fallen world, bullying will always exist.

This is not to say that bullying is okay, because it isn’t. In no way is this an excuse, but humans can be horrible predators. Yes. We should hold bullies accountable for their rotten behavior. But we should also teach targets of the mindsets of bullies and how they operate.

We should teach targets on how to reframe the attacks and psychological warfare that bullies launch against them.

For example, when a bully puts down and tries to define the target, we should teach the target not to think thoughts like:

“I must have done something wrong or to make him (the bully) angry”

or

“There must be something wrong with me.”

Instead, we should teach targets to think these kinds of thoughts when they’re attacked: 

“The bully is doing something wrong,”

“There’s something wrong with the bully, not me,”

“The bully is the one with the problem.”

“The bully is the one acting like a fool and I don’t want him around me.”

Here’s another Example:

If you’re a target of bullying and a bully calls you a wimp, you should counter the bully’s attack by saying:

“No! You’re the wimp! Otherwise, you wouldn’t feel the need to be so loud, obnoxious, and rude!”

Always counter the bully’s attack, then call out his/her behavior.

This is how you reframe the bullies’ attacks and save your self-esteem. We must teach targets to see through bullies’ facades and acts of toughness, then counter them and call them out. We should also teach targets to stand up for themselves in case the bullies become violent. Only then will targets reclaim their power and cease to be targeted.

Excerpts to the upcoming book, “A Mile in Charlotte’s Shoes” – Bullying, Social Politics, and the Power Dynamic. (Part 2)

Part 2

…Middle school and high school were periods of time during which- right, wrong, good, bad, ugly or indifferent everything, according to everyone in that awkward age group, was shameful and the definition of what was good or bad (or cool) became blurred and not so clear anymore.

It was a time when you were too weird, too straight-laced, too smart, or not smart enough. You were either an evil monster or a goodie-two-shoes, too stoic or too sensitive! Your nose was too crooked, too long, or too short. Your skin was either too clear, too blotchy, too pale, or not pale enough. Your hair was either too long, short, straight, or curly. You were either too skinny or too fat. Your clothes were either overly flashy or much too drab.

Charlotte would often think, “Lord! Can everyone just make up their minds, for crying out loud?” It was all so confusing!

There were things about Charlotte her peers could not wait to nitpick, things which were either beyond her control, chosen at random or completely fabricated. And she wondered why all this trivial crap even mattered.

The world had suddenly become one big and twisted soap opera. And it was obvious whom the biggest stars of this proverbial daytime drama were.

They were the best actors- the best liars and fakers!

Charlotte noticed that anytime she heard a member of the in-crowd tell a bad joke, the rest of the class would only laugh that fake laugh people always used whenever the corny joke was told by someone whose ass they wanted to kiss.

What those suck-ups never realized was that they only degraded themselves by replacing their true laugh with one that was counterfeit. Charlotte could only imagine how furious the so-called cool kids would be if they only knew the rest of the class were only patronizing them.

It was all akin to playing a card game with an opponent and ‘letting them win’- just another form of deception.

All that kindness and consideration shown to the so-called top dogs was only for purposes of vanity and due to their high positions in the school social hierarchy. The rest of the student body most certainly did not like them for them and most of those who were not in the in-crowd were wise enough to see it.

All this drove Charlotte nuts! At times, she would wonder, “How in the blue blazes am I the one who was always in the wrong?”

It was a system that was one big freak show and one Charlotte had no desire to be a part of. Sadly, this attitude would be to her detriment. She learned the hard way that if you want to get along in this thing- this maze called Life, you had to play along!

The thought of it was enough to make her shudder. No way did Charlotte want to be patronized or pacified! She detested liars and fakes and preferred to be told the truth. This kind of fakery was an insult to the recipient!

These were Charlotte’s thoughts:

“If you want a reaction out of me, then you damn well better deserve it!”

When she would hear some moron tell a corny joke, Charlotte would only roll her eyes instead of laughing and as a result, everyone else would take her silence and lack of interest as a direct insult and escalate the harassment.

Charlotte had nothing to say to any of them. Every day, she would pass them in the halls and look right through them instead of at them. Naturally, this was an even bigger insult because it seemed they expected her to bow-down and lick their boots like most of the other kids did.

And many of her classmates did believe they were better than Charlotte and that she owed them complete homage and submission to their will and every whim.

They saw themselves as an authority over her- higher than her and how dare she not acknowledge their superiority! Kids who were considered on the lower end endured those proverbial gut punches every single day!

With every misstep she took, Charlotte would feel the flaming hot coals of ridicule scorch the soles of her feet!

But as painful as it was, she would much rather have resisted her bullies rather than acknowledged them, much less make any effort to appease them or worse, seek their approval. Charlotte was way past crawling up behind anyone and she already knew where it would get her.

In the past, it had always seemed that the harder Charlotte tried not to be a target- the more effort she put into being “normal”, the worse she would fail. She was either being fake or being arrogant and uppity, and only certain kids could be uppity and get away with it.

At Beulah High School, you either knew your place or you were put in it. If you were on the lower ranks, daring to show any confidence or backbone could be dangerous. Because if you weren’t good enough, those in the upper echelons of the social order expected, even demanded that you kept your head down.

The bottom of the stack was like a raging torrent and the harder Charlotte struggled to reach the surface and get her head above water, the stronger the current, and the deeper it seemed to suck her down.

Therefore, Charlotte had long given up on trying to be like any of them because it was too much work and she had no time for it. She’d be damned if she was going to lie to herself just to win their approval! Forget that noise! She was through with false impressions! She just could not bring herself to do it.

Why? Because all of it was only wasted time, effort, and energy. If you were on the bottom floor, the reality was that the harder you tried to make friends, the harder and further people pushed you away. You were too desperate, too clingy, or too oblivious to how negatively you came across to people and the worst part was that there was no way to fix any of it without knowing what was broken.

And they would never tell her what it was because they didn’t know either. All they knew was that they hated her and couldn’t wait to pick her apart piece by piece.

Excerpt to the upcoming book, “A Mile in Charlotte’s Shoes” – Bullying, Social Politics, and the Power Dynamic.

To tell her exactly what was wrong would be like giving top secrets to the enemy! For Charlotte to correct the flaws and rise above the bullying and ridicule would possibly mean to rise above all of them and even worse, surpass them on the social totem pole. No way would they chance that ever happening! Her bullies had climbed to the top of the social ladder and the higher they climbed the more she saw of their behinds.

And once they are at the top, they would always find a way to kick Charlotte off that ladder, then meticulously pull it up behind them, leaving her trapped on the bottom and it was where they intend for her to stay.

It had been said that “you need money to make money.”. The same also went with friends. At Beulah High School, the unwritten rule was that a kid needed to already have friends, and lots of them, to make more friends. Unfortunately, Charlotte had not realized that nugget of truth back when it would have been most useful.

It seemed that the trick to crawling off the trash heap was to prove, or at the very least, give the illusion that you had never been on it, to begin with. And that was next to impossible given her notorious (however unwarranted) reputation, and sadly, Charlotte had worn this scarlet letter for so long that it had become ironclad.

Her peers, especially her bullies, needed her to stay on the bottom and would go out of their way to keep her on it. The pecking order needed whipping boys (or girls)- easy victories for those at the top to collect.

False compliments, fake sympathy, and fraudulent generosity that others showed the bullies and those highest in the pecking order? All of it was for show and Charlotte knew it. She saw all the chicanery and buffoonery for what it really was! Others knew it and hated her for it.

At Beulah High School, life was all about appearances and who the best and most convincing liars and fakers were. Nothing more.

It was not about what was being done, good or bad, it is about who was doing it and where they were in the social order. Anyone from the in-crowd could get wasted at a kegger and either puke everywhere, or pee their pants and it will only be seen as a funny story of a group of crazy kids from high school. But let Charlotte do the same and she would quickly be branded as a schmuck for the rest of her school career.

Cruel was always cool if someone else was on the receiving end of it. The hidden message was, Better you than me. The widely held attitude was that a person was always at their best and most alluring anytime they were delivering the worst insults to the bottom rats and everyone else either wanted to be seen with, have sex with, or be that person.

It was enchanting because everyone wanted to be the one person who was seemingly never in anyone else’s crosshairs and to have that cruel, unfair advantage on their side and working perfectly for them.

It seemed that everyone thought of these types as bad-asses and hell-raisers. Their consistent rule-breaking and torturing of the kids who haven’t matured as quickly, only got them rewarded with popularity, sex, fun- everything a young punk could ever want.

Seeing everyone get rewarded for such idiocy only made Charlotte crazy if she let it.

Another unwritten rule was that if a kid did not partake in, or at the very least, put on convincing airs that they were partaking in sex, drugs, rock, and roll, or anything that was considered cool, they would be branded a loser! A wuss! A bore!

And if you were labeled those things, you were plain S.O.L.

Many bullies and higher-ups only pretended to be drunk at parties. Most of those fakers would only take one sip from a bottle- just one! And suddenly, magically, they were plastered and silly, screaming with exaggerated laughter and stumbling all over the place.

Could they have been any more transparent?

But there was a bright side that Charlotte was too young to realize. The things about her that her classmates ridiculed and put her down for were the same characteristics that people would one day love about her.

Charlotte knew that her classmates were a bunch of coddled, punk kids who did not know human strength even if it came up and bit them. And it was only because they themselves did not have an ounce of it.

You couldn’t recognize something you never had or saw examples of.

Charlotte knew that most of the bullies came from families who were a bunch of materialistic, plastic, and fake put-ons themselves. They were not truly happy, otherwise, they would not work so hard at putting on airs.

The reason why they hated her so much was that, although they would never admit it, Charlotte was everything they only wished they could be- authentic and not afraid to be herself. And she knew that soon, there would come a day when she would have true friends, who adored her simply for being Charlotte.

(Continued in part 2…)