You know that “it’s coming” feeling you get at the bottom of your throat right before you vomit? Or that feeling of slow motion
electricity that runs the entire length of your body as you fall in that time between the initial trip and hitting the ground? If you mix those two feelings together you will get an idea of how I existed in my twelfth and thirteenth year of life. 1988 was the year when my life took a turn for the fucking awful.
My childhood was awesome. I had confidence and tons of self-esteem. So it came as a pretty big shock to me when I fell into such a dark place so fast. And I had no idea how I got there. I felt so alone. I know that certain things played into my inability to stand up for myself but I really do not know why I was chosen. And I know I wasn't anywhere near the only one. But it sure felt like I was.
My eighth grade year was the worst year of my life. Even worse than going through a divorce and being told that I had cancer in my body. Because I was a child and I didn't have the tools to help myself. And no one who saw what was happening stood up for me. There were plenty of adults who saw.
Every second of seven straight hours a day, five days a week, I was fearful, cheeks hot, heart beating fast, sweating and constantly alert. I was aware of everyone near me while factoring in those that could be rounding the corner any minute. I memorized who took bathroom breaks between classes so that I wouldn’t be trapped in a room with them. I strategically timed my entrance into the lunch line to avoid sandwiching myself between any of them. And I tried to fade into the walls so that no one could see me. My weekends were spent mapping and designing routes and ways to not be seen. Worrying about what the next week would mean. And pretending to my family that my life was awesome. I became tired. And I became desperate for it to stop. Suicide was part of my daily thoughts that year. I've only told a few people that.
No one ever laid a hand on me. They didn’t have to. They had broken me with words, rumor, innuendo, ridicule and public humiliation. Those scars do not leave you. They are always present. Always reminding you. I would have welcomed a punch to the nose. It would have been easier.
I was lucky because it stopped. My freshman year brought relief. I was pulled out alive by the drama guild, the choir and the fact that my big brother was with me at the high school. I was so lucky.
But for so many kids it doesn’t stop and for some, the pull to make it stop by stopping living is great. The feeling of knowing that you can end it is powerful and even enticing. And I know that sounds absolutely bat shit crazy. But it’s true. That’s how it felt.
So now I’m a mother and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t already nervous for Mr. Pants and Ms. Plum to go to middle school. It sends a cold shot through my veins thinking about it. Because I had a mother who loved me as endlessly as I love my babies and she didn’t know. Not until it was over. No one that loved me knew.
So what do we do?
Edmund Burke said, All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.The movement to end domestic violence, bullying and child abuse has championed this idea to reach out to those standing by. Reaching those who see and are saddened but feel helpless to stop it. The most effective way to combat the bullying epidemic in our schools is to enlist the help of the bystander. And that’s you. Give them the tools and the words to stand up for those who are victimized in their schools. We all have the opportunity to do this very thing. By teaching our children how to help each other. And we do that by showing them. By doing. I’ve written before about how important this is. Because the bottom line is that people who bully and abuse others are being granted permission by our silence. They are given permission every time we close ourselves off and worry only about our own. Every time we say, it’s not my kid, it’s not my problem.
It IS our kids. It IS our problem. Your child lives in the same world as my child. They ride the same buses and go to the same hospitals. They swim in the same lakes and eat in the same restaurants. They will become each others co-workers and bosses. They will build each other's houses and fight their neighbor's fires. Your child could become my child's doctor. And on and on and on.The lessons they learn now will define them as adults. Let's teach them to not be silent. To stand up. To protect each other.
Please take a few minutes to watch the trailer below for the new movie Bully. And then take your kids to see it. It's rated R because there is strong language but please don't let that discourage you from seeing it with your middle or high schooler. Bullying is not a PG-13 issue. I promise you that your kids are hearing this language at school. It cannot be washed down or made to be kid friendly. Because it isn't. And sadly, we cannot keep our kids in a bubble and pretend it isn't happening anymore. So I ask you to please, be the difference. Teach your kids to be the difference. Show them how to stand up for another child. Because when one child stands up, it empowers another to do the same. I've said it before and will say it again, that's how we change the world. One kid at a time. We can.