This is a long time coming. I have thought about writing this for as long as I have thought about having a blog. I have tried writing it in stories, lyrics and poems. All have fallen short somehow and I have similar expectations for this, but I need it. I need to find a way to reach myself and let myself know it is okay.
When I was a kid, I was confident. I was funny. I was naive. I was sensitive. I believed that people were kind and forgiving and that the world was safe…not such terrible things and perhaps a starting point for every child. I wasn't perfect, obviously. I was mean sometimes, I talked too much. I was snarky and loud. To those that know me, this may sound familiar. I'm still that person. Turns out you can't much help being who you are and that is just how it should be. You should be you. As Alan H. Stevens said at KalamazooX, "you don't need anyone's permission to be you". As a kid I inherently seemed to know this, but as I grew older I began desperately needing someone's permission to just be me, so much so that I lost sight of who I was because I so desperately just wanted to be liked. No, to be loved.
It all changed because I was bullied. I was beaten, called names, and ostracised by my peers and others. I was even made to think that my suffering was not worthy of help because others suffered worse than me. I don't know when it started but I have distinct and painful memories that are as strong now as they have ever been. Like when painting at nursery school and being very publicly derided by a supervisor for painting the wrong part. I am sure I messed up and I was probably not being at all graceful about it, but I was three or four, I had things to learn. And then there was the time at primary school when, after a particularly vicious break where even my friend had been participating in the name calling, he approached me and said something like, "I'm sorry, but I have to join in or they'll start on me. You understand, right?" I dutifully agreed, grateful to have a friend at all and feeling my friend's dilemma. And then there was high school, the church choir and my first job at the local pub where I was gay, smelly or the reason my sister wouldn't date someone1; I was bullied in many ways by many people for a long time, so many incidents that I could write more than just a single blog about them. Still, I do not want you to think that I am removing myself from any responsibility here. There are things I could have done to not be such an easy target (oh how I hated that phrase, "don't be such an easy target!"). I was a fat kid with a smart mouth; quick witted, cutting, but too damn slow to run away. I was certainly not street smart enough to realise the correlation and keep my mouth shut. Yet just because I perhaps did some things that enticed bullying, because I liked being the centre of attention, does not mean I am responsible for the actions of others.
I doubt my experience is unique. Many kids are bullied. Like me, they may not look for help for fear of being passed off with advice like "avoid them", "don't be an easy target", and "fight back", or because of threatened retribution by their abusers. Seeking help can be incredibly daunting, but reaching out will help and it will get better (there are links below where you can find numbers to call or email addresses)2. Eventually, we get to leave behind the petty-mindedness and surround ourselves with those who value us for who we are.
For me, that started at university. I had been there for two years and had made some good friends, but I was still lacking confidence or a sense of who I was when I decided to take a year out to get some work experience. There, I met some new people and got a chance to “reset” who I was. By the time I got back to university, I found the confidence to join a band, get on stage and sing. It was amazing and before long I had my first proper girlfriend where I didn't flinch at every moment of physical contact. I wasn't fixed, but I felt more myself than I ever had before.
You are worthy of being loved. You are worthy of being you. You are not responsible for the actions of others.
Repeat that to yourself as often as you can. I still need to repeat it to myself because even though I know it to be true, I still struggle with accepting it. I still feel responsible. I had a smart mouth. I talked back. I used words where others used fists (and still do). I was fat. I challenged. I made myself an “easy target” and I struggle to let that go. I am a victim and yet I blame myself for how I was treated more than I blame those who abused me. It makes no sense, but that's their legacy and the only way I can get past it is to face it and forgive them, and you must find a way to do the same.
For most of my life, I did not understand forgiveness. I was too angry. Too angry at myself and the world to realise what it really meant. “How can I forgive them? Look what they did to me. Look what they've done to me!” I was so wrapped up in being a victim, fighting to get my confidence back and fighting to be loved that I couldn't focus on anything else. It was making me bitter, arrogant and nasty. It was making me hate myself. It was making me a bully. In struggling to deal with my own experiences, I let it infect me to the point where I bullied others because I felt worthless and unloved. How could I forgive anyone that had made me feel this way or do these things? But I had forgiveness all wrong. Just a few years ago I learned forgiveness is not about accepting what happened as being justified or okay, forgiveness is about letting go. As I sat with my wife watching Madea Goes To Jail3, forgiveness finally made sense to me:
Forgiveness is not for the other person. It's for you.
The longer you hold on to it, the longer you hold onto the pain and the past and the hurt, the longer you hold yourself back from being free.
Forgiveness is hard. I don't know if I am there yet, but I finally understand where I need to be. I refuse to justify my actions because of something someone did when I was kid, when they were hurting, trying to gain control of their own lives. These painful memories will always be a part of me — they are anecdotes when I want to relate, they are lessons when I want to help, and they are inspiration when I want to write, but it is time to stop letting them be shackles that hold me back.
I cried eight or nine times while writing this. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said it was because I was bullied, but I suspect the real reason is that I am empathetic. It is just a part of who I am. I am also a funny bastard. A funny bastard with one imaginary kid, two cats (one with opposable thumbs and a smoker's voice) and an amazing wife who sees me as I always was.
If you are struggling with abuse of any kind, reach out. There are people who know what you're going through, there are people who love you and there are people who can help you.
National Bullying Hotline (UK): http://nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/
It Gets Better: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/