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.
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.
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)