A friend posted a link to Shane Koyczan’s To This Day Project video (above) about bullying. I don’t usually click on videos. I should have been doing so many other things. It’s the end of the month. I have deadlines. But, for some reason, I watched this video. I found myself sobbing by the end of it. It stirred something in me and forced me to face a truth about my childhood that I have tried desperately to forget. I’m not in denial but I don’t let it define me. I don’t give the past that much power over my present. I try to forget but it’s there, right beneath the surface, always with me. We all have these things pushed way, way down from our past. We push them down so that we can survive them and move past them.
I’ve never considered myself as being bullied. No one at school ever made me cry or teased me about anything. I wasn’t called freckle face or fatty or ugly or weird. Actually, I had it pretty good at school. Still, I’ve always sympathized strongly with the underdogs of the world. I’ve always felt a compassion and special connection to them. In the past I attributed to the fact that my husband was bullied as a child and I see a little bit of him in every child who is bullied and that makes me protective of them.
Only, I was bullied. I think part of me didn’t want to accept that someone could make me feel small and that their words could hurt more than their fists. I spent my entire childhood being bullied at home, by an alcoholic father. From the time I can remember until I moved out of my parent’s house, I was constantly afraid of the verbal and physical abuse. Afraid the wrong answer would be met with a barrage of insults, or speaking too loudly would earn me a slap or a pull. A perceived wrong glance could invoke his wrath.It wasn’t unusual for the breakfast table to get flipped, so we learned to eat fast or for promises to be broken, so we learned not to trust. We were always at the mercy of his sobriety.
I tried to blend into the surroundings at home and at school. I was small and quiet and I tried to disappear. I was alone. I didn’t want to be seen, not by him. Not by others because then they would see what he was doing to us. It was humiliating. Not wanting to be seen because what if they did and did nothing. Then I would know, there was no help. I spent my childhood learning to be pleasing to others so that I could avoid confrontation. I had “friends” and I was never bullied at school, but no one knew the real me. No one knew what was really going on inside my head or at home. They saw what they wanted to see. They believed what they wanted to believe. I knew better. I felt like a failure and an imposter trying to fit in, lurking around the edges of normalcy because if I got too close someone might notice that I wasn’t normal; not by a long shot.
By the time I was a teenager, I led a double life. The one at school; popular, friendly, with good grades and the one at home, quiet, introverted, hiding in my room constantly thinking of ways to escape my life. I wanted out of my situation at home, no matter the cost. Things were escalating, never getting better. No one knew, or cared. Who could know that while I was discussing calculus on the phone and abruptly had to go it was because I had just been slapped across the face for no reason at all. Who knew that in a drunken rage he’d break my bird’s neck to spite me for not doing the dishes quickly enough. Who knew that at any time he could go off like a time bomb?
So, I went through my childhood with my two lives. In silent desperation, praying for an end to it all. I could never be good enough. His words, the disappointment, even from a drunken father, felt like failure to me as a child. It’s framed my entire life, even if I didn’t want to admit it. The residual effects of his words have hurt me more than the slaps and jabs ever could have.
I can finally accept that I was bullied in the worst possible way. It doesn’t have to happen on a playground. It can happen at your job, amongst your friends and yes, even behind the closed doors of your safe haven, at your own home. I had no safe haven. My bully was the one person who was always supposed to protect me. Words do hurt. He was wrong. I am strong. I am a survivor. Today, I love my dad, the man who has been in recovery for 13 years. But I am who I am now, in spite of who he was then.
He was wrong. I am a graduating member of the class of We Made it. We all are in some way.
What have you had to overcome in your life to become who you are today?
Photo: To This Day Project