If you’re reading this, the chances are that you know effects of bullying and what it feels like to be hurt or disappointed. If that’s you, hopefully, my experience will encourage you to share yours, if you haven’t already. Sharing our stories can both lift us up and lift others up who may be feeling hurt. As for my experiences, particularly bullying, they were pretty bad. But in the end, despite all that I endured, I rose above the darkness and found healing, and today I am still standing.
A few years ago, while working the late shift at a hotel, an intruder attacked me on the job. I suffered spinal trauma and a traumatic brain injury. You’re probably wondering what a horrible incident like that has to do with bullying. Well, I’m glad you asked. After suffering that attack, I blamed myself instead of blaming the person who attacked me. In fact, I told myself that I deserved to be attacked. But why? Now that I’ve emotionally and physically recovered from that attack, I can answer that question, and it stems from my childhood experiences.
During my early school days, I longed for summer break. But with summer break came a lot of negatives because there were people in the neighborhood who bullied and they walked the streets in packs, like wolves. There was no escaping them if I was outside, so there were many days I went home with a bloody nose or dirty and torn clothes from having been wrestled to the ground. One time, a kid shot me in the face using a slingshot and a piece of roofing tile.
I grew up alongside three older brothers. No one bothered us when we were all together because there is strength in numbers. But if I was by myself, it was pretty typical for a group of kids to casually walk up to me and punch me in the face, laugh, and walk away. That’s how things went for years. Eventually, the bullying started to cause a lot of wear and tear on my mind. I started to see bullying as a way to get the other kids to like me. If punching me in the face made them laugh, why avoid it? If the other kids were laughing at me, I assumed they’d like me. I came to believe that being hit in the face meant I was liked.
Bullying wasn’t limited to just my neighborhood, as it happened at my school too. Here’s the thing, when a stranger casually walks up to you and smashes your head against your locker or drags you around the classroom floor like a rag doll, you don’t know what to think. I had no idea how to defend myself in a classroom or a school bathroom. What’s worse is that nobody stood up for me, not even teachers who witnessed the bullying piled upon me.
During the times I faced bullying, I was too young to understand how to cope in a healthy manner. So, I built a safe place inside of my head as a way to block out the pain. Overtime, I found myself spending more time hiding away inside my head, locking my emotions off from the world. For me, this meant keeping everyone at a distance. Sure, I had friends; however, deep down, I assumed they would hurt me too.
Beyond my teenage years and up into my adult years, I remained hidden and emotionally cut-off from the outside world. As a result, I believed that all the people I encountered were going to hurt me or do something really mean to me. Because I expected so many people to hurt me, I abandoned my relationships. However, in an attempt to protect myself from being hurt, I ended up only scarring my heart even more.
Healing is possible.
While there is more to my story than this article will allow, there is good news. My heart did heal over time. That is a long process in itself, but the outcome is well worth the process. Earlier in my story, I shared some details about the night I was attacked. Although the physical damage inflicted was serious, it compared very little to my emotional pain. Not just from the attack, but from a lifetime of compounded emotional trauma that had been weighing me down since I was a little boy. That’s what I needed to recover from.
My road toward emotional recovery began by accepting the fact that internal healing would take time. More so, I accepted that healing isn’t something you put in your Google tasks or your phone app set as a reminder to get done on a certain date. Healing takes time… sometimes years.
Embracing the healing process.
Embracing my healing on my terms helped build my confidence in several areas. At the beginning of my healing process, I resented and felt bitter toward people who seemed happy. My emotional pain grew so deep that I did not want to see another person smile. That attitude buried me further in jealousy and pushed me to avoid contact with the outside world. But this was all part of my healing process. I had to recognize the negative feelings I had toward those happy people and let those feelings go. If I didn’t, my healing process would be halted indefinitely.
I recommend taking an honest look at who’s part of your real-life friend list. Do they support your emotional recovery, or do they make you want to bury yourself deeper on the inside? Having a positive support system of people who understand that you are on a healing journey is important.
Recognizing small victories.
Eventually, as I found acceptance, embraced the healing process, and created a support system, I started to see progress. For a long time, public places caused me anxiety – would someone hurt me? But one day, I went into a coffee shop, bought coffee, and sat down among everyone with my laptop without feeling the overwhelming anxiety I once had. What a victory for me! It’s the small steps, like visiting that crowded coffee shop, in which I learned to celebrate. As a way to love on me for my progress, I went home and binged on Netflix. Recognizing this small victory and celebrating with a small reward progressed me further into my healing process.
It’s okay to falter.
Here’s something to remember. Some steps forward will be easier than others. Some days, I’d attempt to visit a very crowded place only to nervously walk away and return home. I didn’t beat myself up for it, though. Just as an attempt to move forward is progress!
The more I healed on the inside, the more I came to terms with my bullying experiences. Soon, the pain and blame I carried on my shoulders became lighter. I wouldn’t say that I am 100 percent healed today. I happen to believe that while we may recover from one hurtful experience, there might be other experiences in life that will challenge us, and how we heal from each hurt or disappointment will prepare to us heal from the next.
Sometimes you have to dig deep into your past and let go of some things, for the pain in your past may be the key to unlocking your heart today.
Contributed by Nick Norman.