I was lucky that each time I switched schools as a kid, I’d show up bronzed and blond, having spent my summer at the beach. Rumors quickly spread that the new girl from California was pretty cool. Never mind that our beach house was in Delaware and I was from Maryland, I let them think what they wished.
Sure, there were a few awkward days navigating cafeteria etiquette before the “cool table” eventually invited me over. I guess I was lucky to be cool enough, whatever that meant.
It wasn’t long though before I’d try too hard in gym, by accident, or start ripping up on the basketball court at recess that the name-calling would begin: “Tomboy,” they’d tease.
I’ll never forget my boyfriend, Andrew, in 8th grade, the note he slipped me. “Girls aren’t supposed to play tackle football like that. I think we should just be friends.”
To say I was bullied would be a stretch, but I definitely know the loneliness of being cast out, even if only for a few days in a stretch.
By the time I got to high school, the teasing stopped. I was considered a star athlete and had far more friends than I could keep up with. Some might imagine, in high school terms, that I was invincible: popular, honor roll athlete, music and theater. Even I confuse it as some of the happiest days of my life. But what I tend to forget was the torture I faced each night. My own tape of guilt, shame, fear, loneliness played on repeat.
My inner critic became my biggest bully, exposing every flaw and failure. And she was persistent, never missed an event. I drank and did drugs just to shut her up, but she was relentless. Right there with me in the morning/afternoon, when I’d wake up. “What are you doing with yourself? Look at you. You’re a mess.”
She was right; I was a mess, which somehow perpetuated more messiness. I’d fall to pieces at my own lack of self motivation to be anything other than messy.
I was nearly 30 when I read the words, “You are not your thoughts.” I’m pretty sure it was Eckhart Tolle who finally got the message across.
Wow. It was that simple.
Byron Katie took it a couple steps further with The Work. “Is it true? How do you feel when you think that (fill in the blank) is true?”
“Who would you be without that thought?”
I would feel accomplished and proud of how far I’ve come and happier and excited for the future and …
“So what part of you insists on holding onto that thought?”
This is my choice?
It’s been my choice all along?
I was beside myself. Not to say the bully went away overnight, but her strength had been diminished. I’d finally seen her for who she really was. Over time, she got quieter and quieter. Now, when she pops up, I smile at the reminder that there’s always some work to be done.
I have a deep soft spot for young men and women who are bullied. Having struggled with my sexuality, my place in the world, my own self sabotage, I feel like I know what is it to be harassed and humiliated and lonely and afraid and angry and hurt. I certainly know what it feels like to have the weight of the unfair world on your shoulders.
I am a big advocate of blasting bullying, which is one of the reasons I love the above vid, cuteness factor being the other. In my talks with students, I’m sure to address both: the blatant bullies as well as the suffocating inner critic.
I’m thrilled that campaigns like It Gets Better are out there today and that big stars are sharing the anti-bullying message in the media.
It does get better, but my hope is that it doesn’t have to take 15 plus years like it did for me.
I leave you with this: Talk to your kids. Really talk to them. Even if they’re cool and popular and all-around awesome looking, what is their inner critic saying? How do they see themselves? Do they understand self compassion, forgiveness, and love? How can we teach that? Let’s try–together.