Sure, I was bullied. The worst of it was more than the bullying itself. The worst part of bullying are the remnants of what was said or done. The aftermath was the killer for me. I had to live with the shame, the guilt and the regret that I was unable to protect myself. The worst are the conversations we have in our head after the event takes place. This is what makes matters worse because next, we relive the insults and keep them fresh like a picked scab that never heals.
And dig it, I know that no one wants to talk about this. I see this all the time. Nobody wants to hear about this, which is why bullying goes on. But “Ah, they’re just kids being kids,” right?
Wrong. This is only their training grounds because I have met more bullies in Corporate America than on the playground or in the locker room at school.
People don’t like to talk about this. Either this is because they were never bullied themselves or they never bullied someone else. Or, maybe they did and talking about this only proves to make them uncomfortable. No one likes to be uncomfortable anymore, right? So let’s get rid of books. Let’s get rid of history. Let’s act like nothing ever happened so we can unlearn facts and risk history repeating itself.
I would like to share something with you about an experience I had in one of the high schools I presented at. This was my second 90 minute presentation of the day. I was booked for three but to be honest, I had no idea how emotional and how draining this was about to be. This is my proudest event. None other are as special to me.
First, I should explain that I do not sit down whenever I present. I do not stop moving. For the most part, I request the room be set up with the chairs in a circle. I walk in the inside of this circle the entire time. I literally engage with each and every student, teacher, faulty member or whomever else might be in the classroom.
I was past the first part of my session when the subject of bullying came up. In fairness, I set the room up in a circle so I can see who the students are.
I want to see their reactions. I want to see the look on their faces. This helps me to gain a sense of the personalities in the room and the direction I need to take when I speak. Who is listening? Who might be struggling? I looked to see who might bully and who might be bullied.
I asked if anyone in the room was being bullied. I knew who it was before he raised his hand. I knew that for this young man, this kid, this person in a shell, I knew that for him to raise his hand would be the bravest thing that he could do. And sheepishly, I saw him raise his hand.
Slowly retrieving his right hand from under his desk and arriving up from his side, I could see the way his fingers cupped slightly. I saw how his thumb somewhat indented beneath his four fingers. He was looking downwards, averting his eyes somewhat shamefully and humiliated. Slowly, the boy’s arm climbed up to raise his hand to a full extent. I approached him.
I leaned down and whispered in his ear, “No one has the right to dictate or determine the way we live. Understand me?”
I told him, “If this doesn’t stop then you call me, Uncle Benny, and we’ll take care of this together!”
I did not speak loudly. I am sure this was loud enough that anyone who listened closely could hear me. But the intention was to deliver this message in his ear. I placed my hand around the back of his neck, pulling him in closely as if to honor him like a big brother would honor his little brother.
I could feel his body begin to shake. At first I thought he was quivering with a nervous chuckle but then the whaling began. The student began crying uncontrollably. I stood him up and one of the teachers and another detective escorted the young boy to a safe place.
The exposure for him was what concerned me the most. This is when I opened up. This is why I explained to the others in the classroom, “That kid is the bravest man alive,” I said.
“That took more courage than I ever had in my life!”
For the record, I do not look like a small scared man (even if I feel this way inside). I am a sizable person. I have an intense way of speaking and I would not appear as a person who was bullied or sensitive to bullying. But looks are deceiving. And I learn this every day.
I went on with my presentation. The room was spinning because I focused on the emotional buttons of everyone in the class. This was my main objective.
The operation was called, “Not Even Once,” which is mainly to discuss the reason to stay away from drugs. But reasons are not enough. Everyone knows what happens with drugs yet the drug culture is still killing people in higher numbers year after year.
Rather than talk about drugs, I talked about the way we think and feel. I talked about the way we see the world. I talked about insecurities. I exposed my humbling truths and talked about the reasons why I chose drugs but I never discussed the drugs themselves.
I do not commercialize drug use. I do not glorify my story to sound cool or impress kids in one way or another. My aim is to normalize the concepts of our thoughts and feelings. I want to expose my weakest self to show that this is okay. It’s okay to show who you are.
I lived such a punishing life that I expose my truth. I was bullied, which is perhaps linked to my first suicide attempt at the age of 8.
Know what else, I bullied people too. I was part of this senseless loop because I was hurting. I was afraid. I was angry at everyone and everything. I was hateful because dammit all, why was I born this way?
Why couldn’t I be someone or anyone else? Why couldn’t I be talented? Why couldn’t I be an athlete or part of a cool band or something like that? Why did I feel so uncomfortable in my skin?
Why did I look the way I looked or feel the way I felt? And dammit man! Why do people kick a person when they’re down? Why is the world a hurtful place?
Where does this come from and when did this all begin?
In my youth, my choices to act out were responses to the truths of my emotions. I had no outlet. I had no help. No one could understand me. Nobody knew what it was like to be in my skin, to think the way I thought or feel the way I felt. Is this it? Is this life?
Is this how it’s going to be from here on out, because if so, I wanted no part of it.
This was my pathway to addiction; but more, this is why I was self-destructing… one dose at a time.
A short while later, the young man came back into the room.
(Note to the reader: I had to pause while writing this because I can still see the young man’s face. I can see his face as clear as I did then. I can see the redness in his cheeks on his pale skin. All too real to me.)
I walked my new friend over to his seat and, again, I did this like a big brother would to his little brother. I stood protective as ever and comforting to the best of my ability.
I can say that this might not have gone as well as it did had the class not bought into my presentation.
There was a student in the back of the room. He was sitting near all of his friends who were undoubtedly popular and probably teammates on the high school’s football team.
They were crying too. . .
I asked one student, “You look like you’re probably the biggest kid in school.”
“I am the biggest kid in school,” he replied.
“Are you a man of your word?”
“I am,” he answered.
“If I asked you for a favor would you do it for me?”
The student pointed at me reassuringly.
“If YOU asked me for a favor I would do it.”
I pointed over to me new friend.
“Nobody picks on him anymore!”
“Done,” he said.
All of his friends raised their hands and agreed.
“No one will pick on him anymore” they said.
Another one from the side explained, “I’m not as big as these guys but I promise you that I won’t let anyone pick on him ever again.”
I looked at my new young friend. I walked over to him and let him know that these are his new friends. “They are going to put an arm around you,” I said.
“Stick with them.”
Before concluding, I mentioned that I never had the chance to have a real high school experience. I told them that I never went to a prom so it would mean a lot to me if they sent me a picture of them when they went to their prom. “It would mean a lot.”
Six months passed and I returned to the school for another presentation. As I walked in the door and passed an art class, a young man came running out and jumped on me with a hug. It was my young friend. He grabbed me by the hand and pulled me in the room to show me his artwork. He was so happy and proud. His teacher was slightly alarmed at the sight of me, a heavily tattooed man with a somewhat shaved head and being dragged into a high school classroom with one of her students.
No one picked on him anymore. They all kept their word to me.
At the year’s end, I received a few messages from students. They sent me their prom pictures. The one most memorable was from the biggest kid in school. He attached a note that read nothing else but this: Thank you.
It’s me who thanks you.
Before I close, I am reminded about the unfairness in the world. I understand there is hatred. I understand there are bullies and I understand there are people who look to push people down so they can stand on their necks and be above them.
There are good people though. I know there are. I’ve met them and I depend on them.
Maybe sometimes, we need to see something. Maybe we need a catalyst to wake us up so that we learn. Bullying can happen to anyone. Everyone is susceptible but no matter what, bullying is unacceptable.