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A Letter I Can’t Send: Edge Of Crazy: Lesson #12

my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.

dad,

i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-

i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.

lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.

we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.

lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.

when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.

i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.

and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.

lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.

you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.

lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.

you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.

remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.

mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.

and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.

lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.

you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.

lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.

the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.

lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.

in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.

can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.

you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.

lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.

you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.

lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.

when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.

lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.

and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.

lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.

it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.

lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.

From Our Fears

Once upon a time, I had a narcissism blog I never published. Mostly because it had a lame name and most of the posts were responses I had written on a message board where I was once a member. When the service was shutting down, I wanted to keep some of the things I had written, so I put them in the draft heap. There they sat.

See, to me blogging isn’t just a medium to get ‘my story’ out. While there’s a certain catharsis to that, it’s more the conversation and feedback I get from you guys, the readers, that I treasure most. There’s nothing more validating and healing than that. It’s where we learn that we’re not alone and the tricks our Narcissists used to make us believe they were so special and unique fall apart. We all have stories to tell, and countless nights I’d stay up way too late reading, commenting, and nodding my head in agreement.

There’s so much I don’t have to explain to you. You already get it.

Years ago, all I knew was that my parents weren’t normal.  My mother was a totalitarian dictator who thought that somehow my life belonged to her.  When she tried to ‘punish’ me for not adhering to her life plan, my husband stepped in and told her off. He gave me a choice…either it was my family or my marriage. In retrospect I don’t blame him.  My mother is an absolute tyrant, enabled by my narcissistic father who fears her. But honestly, at the time I was scared to death. I understood that in going cutting all contact with my parents, it would also be with the rest of my family as well.

My mother would make sure of that.  My husband did what was necessary.

What I couldn’t do myself.

What saved my sanity was a little tiny blurb on the sidebar of a crafting blog. It was a link to information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  I hit it out of curiosity, and spent the whole night, and many nights thereafter, learning and researching.  I finally had a term I could plug into a search engine that explained my mother’s behavior.

After 30 years, I learned it wasn’t my fault.

In our ‘real life’ exchanges, narcissism is like a dirty little secret. To explain it, most people can’t comprehend how a parent can be so predatory. They can comprehend it only on a ‘it-happens-to-other-people-they-don’t-know’ level, but not as it happening to someone in front of them. And certainly not to the kids that lived on the nicest house on the street, or the ones who went to church every Sunday. No, it’s much easier to believe the mother who complains about her ungrateful children who keep her grandchildren from her. It’s so believable after all, because they live in such a nice house and go to church every Sunday. The hypocrisy of it all leaves us silenced.

I don’t know the person who wrote the blog I happened across, but I am forever grateful to her. It was a small voice in a barren land of silence. It led to exchanges with others seeking the same healing we seek. A virtual hug of sorts, where we lean and learn from each other. We don’t share to play the victim card, we share to heal. We feel compelled to write for our own healing, to comprehend our past and somehow move forward from it. We lend our listening ears through our eyes and offer our experience to help others.

Compassion and courage.

It’s the people that have brought us to this place out of the FOG (fear, obligation and guilt), not the countless psychology articles we’ve read. We’re used to feeling alone and afraid. Together, we’re a beacon of sanity. It’s what our narcissists feared the most: people in our lives that can positively influence us. They sought to destroy any of our relationships, but didn’t count on the rallying cry of a rag-tag unit of strangers on the internet. Blogging is powerful because it’s real.

Real people writing truth the only way they know how: in their life’s experiences.

It’s a far cry from the overly produced stage we grew up in.

Living a Lie

I guess this really started when I was first born. I’ve always wanted to feel loved by my father…but he didn’t want me. Because of that I spent my whole life wanting to be loved and wanted by a male figure. Now I’m 22 and I’m in a physically abusive relationship. I’m not sure what I should do.

When I first met my boyfriend 3 years ago he was the sweetest man. He respected me so much. He did everything a genuine gentleman would do to earn my trust.

It wasn’t until 2 years later that I found myself hiding in his bathroom crying while he tried to rip the door off so he could grab me and scream at me. That was just the beginning though. I almost wish it was still that way…

Now here I am. I have a house with him, a life, and I am financially dependent on him.

Our fights usually start with me being upset at him over a stupid issue, to any other couple it would just be a regular argument that ends with the couple coming to a compromise… but not for us…

I will usually threaten to go to my moms house so I can have time to calm down, but he doesn’t like that. If I ever threatened to go to my moms house or just even go into the other room to calm down he will get on top of me and pin me down, usually on the floor or bed. In the process of pinning me down he will grab me and squeeze me until I can’t breathe and no matter how much I ask him to get off of me and I beg and plead while crying he ignores me. I usually end up hyperventilating and crying so hard that I urinate myself and even then he won’t stop. I have had a few circumstances where he has tried to choke me. I have gone through other situations with him where he’s hit my head into a wall or with his fist and given me a concussion.

I feel like I can’t escape. Over the past two years I’ve gained weight and I don’t feel worthy of really anything. I feel like all I ever wanted in this world was to find a good husband and to marry and have beautiful children and be happy and I really thought this guy would be the one who can give that to me. I keep staying with him because I feel like when he tells me that he is sorry he means it and that eventually all of these issues will be in the past it he will never do it again. But I still hate myself because I know if I ever walk down the aisle him I’ll be walking down to my abuser and not a man who truly loves me. I feel like I can’t leave because I love him and I’m extremely dependent on him. I really don’t know what to do.

The Black Sheep Is Actually A Stand Alone Unique Being

I am the Black Sheep, at least on one side of my family.

It’s not easy being the one who everyone seems to judge as being “bad,” when really, it’s that we are simply just not like the others. This is really the reason why you don’t feel accepted as one of them. I know this feeling. I totally get it. I am here to tell you that the most gracious thing that the Mother Goddess could do for you was to make you not be like them.

No one likes to be treated like an outcast, but when you take a step back and look at what sets you apart from everyone else, the stuff that you learn about yourself might not be so bad. You need to realize and accept that what others think of you doesn’t matter until you make it matter. Whatever they think does not have to be the truth of you.

As a kid growing up, I heard lots of ugly things about me. I was just a little kid. It makes me sad to know that there are adults on this planet who think that their word has to be gold. They use their words as a means to manipulate others to think the same way they do, without a thought to how those words will affect another person’s life. In fact, the reason that they are saying what they are is done out of fear, out of their own feelings of inadequacy.

All of us has the responsibility to create our own lives. Do not allow the opinions of others to keep you from making your life all it is supposed to be, and all that you want it to be. No one else has the power or the right to take away your ability to shine. You are who you are for a unique and special purpose. You hold the key to who you are, not someone else.

When people talk shit about you, it means they are guessing. It is easier for those kinds of people to go with what they have heard or what they assume rather than learning the real truth. When this is happening to you, it is hard to go through, and hell yes, it is hard to grow from, but you will grow from it. I Promise.

I come from a very “Born Again” family. As a little kid, I always thought I would go to hell because I was also one of those kids who conversed with the unseen world. I am Hawaiian. I am indigenous. I am a Pisces with my sun in the 8th house. What this all adds up to is that I am very weird, and for some of those very conservative people, I am evil.

I am the eldest of three children. My father, a preacher. My mother, I refer to as being “God’s Secretary.” As a child, I was freaked out when the lights were out and the house was dark and still. I knew that there were entities there with us, so I would talk to them. My parents likely believed that I was just a little kid with a great big imagination. As I got older, the things I was learning from my parents and my church did not agree with who I was. Did that give me the right to go out into the world and say horrid things about people and things that I did not understand? Not at all.

I tell my Spirit Students that through the hurt and the pain caused by the thoughtlessness of others, we become Stand Alone. I will repeat it again and again – you’re not alone …you’re Stand Alone.

The truth is that when we are at the weakest point in our lives, we are actually at our strongest.

Yup …you read that right. Think about it in terms of someone being hurt in a battle or perhaps someone being attacked by an abuser. When people who were attacked and done wrong to, they have walked through a fire of refinement. That is how people come to their own self-conjured amazingness. Though you may not see it, you never strayed from being you, meaning that in all of your you-ness, you managed to be able to remain true to you.

In remaining true to you, you have endured losses of gigantic proportion in terms of being able to trust others with your heart and soul. You have been able to walk with your head held high. Here you are, in all of your shining, fractured glory. It is the fractures which make you so very you.

It is not a bad thing to be what is known as ‘The Black Sheep.’ You are equipped to handle things beautifully, even the ugly, crappy things.

You are the black sheep, not because you are bad, but because you stand out.

You are the black sheep, not because you are weird, but because you are an original thinker.

You are the Black Sheep, because the Goddess and your Ancestors knew that of the entire herd of proverbial sheep you were born into, you stood out among them.

It is one thing to stand out, but you were meant to be Stand Alone, because really, there is no one like you.

Aloha!

Lessons My Bullies Taught Me

Right before Valentine’s Day, my orthopedist decided that I should be hospitalized for tests. I’d been having crippling low-back pain for several weeks and the rest, pain medicine, and muscle relaxants he’d prescribed were not making me feel any better. I spent a week in the hospital undergoing a variety of tests to rule out structural abnormalities, cancer, and any other problems that could be causing the pain. They never found anything. The ultimate diagnosis: acute stress. The year was 1983. I was eleven years old.

This is the story of me and my bullies. All these years later, a whole lifetime, and I’ve already used half a box of tissue preparing to write about it. I was just a little girl, deserving of love and protection, like every other child, but I didn’t know that. I thought I was different: unworthy, flawed, and fundamentally unlikeable. My bullies, and the adults who allowed their behavior to continue, taught me lessons that I’m still unlearning nearly 30 years later.

Full disclosure: I am changing names for obvious reasons. Also, emotional pain and time have worked together to make my memory pretty hazy. This is a true story to the absolute best of my ability.

When I showed up at Madison Middle School in August, 1982, I was scared. And while I think that probably every 6th grader at Madison was scared that day, I was unique in my level of terror. We’ll get back to the reasons for that later, but for now, just know that I was shaking in my summer sandals like there was a salivating tiger on my left and a tsunami wave rolling in on my right.

I went to my classes and listened to the rules. So many rules! Do you remember how it was, how they threatened you and swore that they wouldn’t help you no matter what, because for God’s sake you’re not babies anymore and if you think this is like elementary school then forget about it and do you have any idea what it’s like in the REAL WORLD?!? Well, do you? Rules for the bathroom. Rules for the lockers. Don’t be late. Don’t forget your book. Always have your paper, your pencil. Don’t chew gum, don’t talk, don’t run (but don’t be late!), don’t eat, don’t swear. Do your homework; no, not like that! Put your name here, the date there (write it out), the period number in that place. Use pencil, no always use pen, no never use pen. That’s the wrong paper! Did you write in your book? Put a cover on it!

Here’s what I heard: Shut up, sit down, and if I never have any reason to notice you, or even glance in your direction, then you’ll be just fine. Teachers have no niceness to share; being ignored is the best you can hope for.

I was all alone. The Albuquerque Public Schools have a different system now, whereby all kids from several elementary schools feed to one middle school, and then several middle schools feed one high school. Not so back then. My elementary school fed four middle schools, with just a tiny handful of us going from Zuni to Madison. There were no familiar faces around me; I was surrounded by strangers in every class. My family might as well have moved across the country over the summer.

There were seven class periods per day. My 6th period class was PE. I had kind of looked forward to “changing out” because it seemed grown-up, something that you saw in the movies. Obviously I had a warped sense of what’s glamorous! And thus we arrive at problem number 1, the first thing that my bullies found to target about me: no breasts. I mean none. Nada, zilch. I didn’t know it then (and would have been devastated if I had), but I was still a year away from any action at all in the puberty department. But to be honest, I might as well have been wearing a big ole’, flashing neon sign on my head that said Pick on me! I am your willing victim!

I always had a hard time making friends, had struggled socially from the very beginning. My parents like to tell the story of my first day at pre-school. There was a one-way mirror so parents could observe, and they were stunned by what they say: me, a little girl who would not stop chattering, ever, while at home, sitting quietly and observing the other children. Silent. I was always terrified in social situations, and so excruciatingly sensitive to every perceived slight, even at that young age, that I usually believed that everyone around me hated me.

As I moved through elementary school, every year the kids were a little less tolerant of difference, a little less willing to befriend, or at least leave alone, the shy, awkward girl in the corner. Complicating matters was the fact that I was very intelligent and had a huge vocabulary for a child my age. This was probably due to the fact that my parents were both well-educated and used their own wide knowledge of words when speaking to me. I used my big words and that, coupled with my shyness, earned me a reputation as “stuck up.” It’s laughable, now, that I was accused of being the very thing that I’m most NOT. All I wanted was some friends, some kids to talk to me and play with me at recess.

The most ridiculous piece of this particular part of the story is this: my second grade teacher told my parents that I would have more friends if they could make me stop using so many big words. True story, and a damn sad example of an “educator.”

I always managed to make a few friends, but never more than 2 or 3 at a time, and I was consistently a target of teasing by the girls in my grade. The worst bullying I endured while I was a student at Zuni happened when I was in 3rd grade. Two 5th grade girls started to mess with me on the bus every day on the way home from school. They spit in my hair, over and over, all the way home, to the point that I arrived home with saliva dripping onto my shoulders.

Gross, right? Here’s what’s grosser: the bus driver either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because she never said a word. Neither of my parents called or went to the school to insist that something be done, nor did they ever (not once) drive me home from school to spare me the torment. No other child on a bus jammed full of students ever tried to intervene. Only my little sister, in kindergarten at the time, tried to defend me.

I was in third grade in 1980, so 30 years ago now. I still remember the names of both those girls, can still feel the hot shame that nested behind my face when they taunted me and spat on me.

My elementary school experiences had primed the pump; I was more prepared for my middle school bullies than I was for middle school literature and science.

There were three of them: Kathy, Karen, and Tanya. I don’t know if they knew each other before 6th grade or if they fell together that year, but they joined forces and made me their common enemy. It was a campaign of terror that, while not unique to middle school girls, is certainly most common among them. Virtually all of it happened in the girls’ locker room, though they got away with plenty out in the open, during PE class. Our coach joined in just enough to make it clear that he wouldn’t be a source of support.

The details are lost to me. There was lots of name-calling. I know they snapped my bra strap plenty, after I begged my mom to buy me one so I could keep my non-breasts covered. They pulled my ponytail hard, so that my head snapped back and hurt my neck. Mostly, though, they relied on the name-calling and the taunting, and I almost never answered them. I just took it, because I believed it was mine to take.

By Halloween, I was in agony all day, every day, dreading 6th period. I cried every evening at the dinner table with the misery of it all, and my parents tried to be sympathetic. Eventually, though, they were annoyed, then angry, at my inability to resolve the situation. They encouraged me to fight back, to punch or kick or hurt the girls to make them stop. They sent me to a counselor in hopes that she could convince me to fight back. No luck. I was far, far too afraid of authority to do any such thing.

How afraid of authority was I? In three years of middle school, I was never (not ever, not even once) late to a class. I was in agony from a full-to-bursting bladder at least once a week, but I would not risk being late to class by using my 5 minute passing period to go to the bathroom. At Madison, the lockers are in long halls that are kept locked except before and after school and before and after lunch, so we had to make sure we had everything we needed as there was no running to a locker between classes. One time (ONE TIME) in 3 years of middle school, I forgot one of my books. (Funny how pain makes some memories fuzzy, and leaves some of them so sharp.) It was my English book, the class I had right after PE during 6th grade. I was shaking and sweating through 5th and 6th periods because of forgetting that book.

And my parents and my counselor wanted me to punch someone?

I went to the school counselor for help. She decided a session involving Kathy, Karen, Tanya, and I was in order, so that we could air all of our grievances. Clearly, the school counselor had a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the situation. She saw a conflict among peers, when in fact it was a victim/perpetrator situation. We sat in her office and the three girls told me all the things that disgusted them about me. (I don’t remember most of what was said, but I do recall that one of my facial expressions was a problem for them.) Thus emboldened by quasi-approval from a school authority figure, the girls re-doubled their efforts.

Sometime shortly after the New Year, my mom and I were at the grocery store when I turned to see Kathy standing next to her own mom’s grocery cart. She squinched up her eyes and pulled a disgusted, I-smell-something-nasty face. I yanked my mom’s sleeve and whispered, “That’s one of them, one of the girls from PE!”

We finished our shopping and when we got in the checkout line, my mom went to speak to Kathy’s mom. No big surprise here: the next day I caught hell. Karen and Tanya were furious that I got Kathy in trouble and tripled their harassment, stealing things from my locker and encouraging other kids in our PE class to join them in harassing me.

Eventually, the stress took its toll and I landed in the hospital. The back pain was so bad that I couldn’t sit or bend over. Except sometimes I could. The pain was not constant, and I have never admitted this to anyone, ever. I felt guilty about that for many years, but not anymore. I didn’t know how to communicate my anguish, didn’t know how to get the adults in my life to hear me, and letting them believe that the pain was more than it was was the only way I knew to get any relief. I missed two weeks of school and it was pure bliss, like taking off a 200 pound backpack I’d been staggering under for 6 long months.

Note to parents: if your child is so stressed out that he or she is in the hospital to rule out spinal cancer, something is deeply wrong.

I walked into the girls’ locker room on my first day back to school and Kathy turned to Karen and Tanya and, sneer on her face and disgust thick in her voice, said, “Look who’s back.”

I made it to the end of 6th grade. I faked sick a few times, though I never refused to go to school. My parents did not express any sympathy or take any action on my behalf. Once, my dad said to me, “If this is the way you act at school, it’s no wonder you don’t have any friends.” My mom got angry at the dinner table several times, saying, “Can’t we ever talk about anything other than you and your problems?”

And so, by the time winter became spring, I had learned my lessons, and I had learned them well.

What my bullies taught me:

I don’t matter. My suffering is not important.
I am socially unacceptable, worthy only of rejection.
I’m weak, a loser, destined to be a social bottom-feeder, or worse, absolutely alone.
The best I can hope for, in my relationships with others, is to be left alone.
I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.

What the adults taught me:

I’m unworthy of help.
To identify or talk about a problem is to whine or feel sorry for myself.
When I ask for help, I will not get it.
The way other people behave toward me, no matter how bad, is my fault.
I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.

I was never again bullied the way I was in 6th grade. There were some girls here and there, throughout 7th and 8th grades who taunted me, and I never had many friends, but that sort of systematic torment was over. But any social confidence I may have had (did I ever have any?) was shattered. Throughout the rest of middle-school, I went to the library during lunch rather than risk rejection in the cafeteria. Books, always my favorite escape, became even more important to me. I tried to hide, to blend into the background. I hated myself, hated everything about my life. I had increasingly frequent episodes of depression, but I had learned by then that there was no help, and so I just showed up and went through the motions until I could get back into my books, back into the quiet solitude of my bed.

High school was better. Much, much better, in fact. I never had any social confidence, didn’t make friends easily or feel comfortable with people, but I had some friends. Kathy, Karen, and Tanya all went to the same high school and, amazingly, I never had a class with any one of them. I saw them sometimes, in the commons or on the walk across campus, and the dominant feeling I had when that happened was fear. I hated myself for that fear, hated that I was still so weak, but I couldn’t shake it.

Since I’m eviscerating myself in public here, I’ll tell you the truth: it’s still my dominant feeling. When I am with people, no matter where I go (even online), I expect to be rejected. I assume that you will hate me, that you will seek to avoid me, that you hope I won’t bother you by trying to talk to you. Every expression of acceptance is a surprise to me. I want people to be nice to me, but I never expect it. I expect people to reject me; I hope they will leave me alone. Niceness doesn’t really factor into any of that.

Understand that I’m not laying any of my present emotional landscape at anyone’s feet except my own. They (the bullies and the adults who didn’t stop them) taught the lessons they taught; I chose which lessons to learn, which lessons to carry with me into my adult life. My struggle to let go of all of that is mine and mine alone. There are connections, of course. The lessons I learned helped me choose my first husband, an unkind and critical man who I believed was the only one who would ever want me. But ultimately, that choice was mine; the connections to my bullies are not causes.

I went about living my life. Sixth grade was a painful memory. In my early twenties, I thought about that year a lot and wished for the chance to do it again, to stand up for myself, to bring my adult strength to a child’s situation. But as my own children approached the age I was when I was abused by my classmates, my thinking changed.

I started to recognize that Kathy, Karen, and Tanya were little girls, too. They were so large in my memory, so much more powerful than I was, that they had become something other than children for me. They were just as young as I was, caught up in personal turmoil about which I know nothing. Why did they do what they did? I don’t know, but it seems pretty unlikely that they were bad kids whose parents didn’t care what they did. In fact, I’d guess that Karen and Tanya’s parents would have punished them for such behavior just like Kathy’s mom punished her. I think they were probably very nice girls from their parents’ perspectives. I think they would have been shocked to find out what their daughters were doing at school.

As I came, over several years, to this new perspective, my anger at the adults involved grew. How could they just let me suffer that way? And of course I know how, in a rational, removed sort of way. They didn’t know what to do; they didn’t know the breadth and depth of the problem. They’d been conditioned to believe that, unless there is physical aggression that leaves marks, the problem isn’t significant enough to warrant any real attention.

But past rational, past the adult-me who is raising children and sometimes making big mistakes and who understands that shit happens and you can’t always fix it, there is an eleven year old girl in a blind red rage. I was a little girl. The coach, my parents, the school counselor, they were adults. Their responsibility, first and foremost, before anything else, was to keep me safe. And they failed. They failed big.

In my adult life, I’ve had almost no contact with any of the people with whom I went to school. I didn’t go to any of our reunions, didn’t call or write, didn’t even exchange Christmas cards. Finally (finally!), as I moved deeper into my 30s, the pain of those years started to recede. Sending my eldest to 6th grade was indescribably gut-wrenching, but for the most part, I didn’t think about it much anymore. Although I’ve always been afraid that my children would bully or be bullied (I probably wouldn’t handle that very well.), they’ve been much more confident than I ever was. We still live in Albuquerque; my kids are students in the same school system in which I was educated, but things are different now. They take bullying more seriously.

Last year, I joined Facebook. While I was skipping sleep in that first week, hunting down old boyfriends and making sure my kids weren’t posting their phone numbers for all the world to see, I found all three of them: Kathy, Karen, and Tanya. For weeks, I thought about contacting them, telling them how much they had hurt me. I would see their names show up in comments to mutual friends and it was like a tiny stab. I turned it over in my mind, even starting, then discarding, a few messages.

Ultimately, I decided not to do it. If the first lesson my bullies taught me was “I don’t matter,” how bad would it hurt if the message I got back said, “I have no idea who you are. What the hell are you even talking about?” I knew that would hurt more than I could bear, so I gave up on the idea.

And then.

On March 24, the day before my birthday, a message from Kathy showed up in my Facebook inbox.

Gobsmacked.

I’m at a loss to describe what happened to me in that moment. I was sobbing and shaking before I finished the first sentence. How can a wound that old still be so tender? I can’t answer that, only tell you that it was.

Far from forgetting me, she remembered 6th grade often. These are her some of words:*

My oldest kiddo is ten and we just had his parent/teacher conference this past week. At every conference since he was in kindergarten, his teachers always comment about how accepting he is and how he goes out of his way to be kind and be a good friend to all of his fellow students. And while that is nice to hear about my child, it always makes me think of how I treated you and how for a very long time I have wanted to find a way to get in touch with you to tell you how sorry I am.

Not forgotten. NOT a person who doesn’t matter. Me, worthy of consideration. Me, worthy of the time it took to write a thoughtful, heartfelt apology.

I lay awake all night that night. I thought of nothing but Kathy, and 6th grade, and the other girls, Karen and Tanya, for several days. The letter turned my world inside out, brought me to my knees, and when the storm had passed, a Kathy-shaped piece of pain rose out of me and floated away, and in its place? A new friend. Kathy and I have exchanged more than a dozen messages since that first day and with every message, we’re a little more comfortable, a little less tentative and nervous. I giggle and joke and call it my Facebook miracle, except it’s not really a joke at all.

———-

Recently, bullying stories have been all over the news, stories of girls who ended their lives because of abusive treatment by their peers. For all the anguish I experienced during 6th grade, when I came home from school, the taunting and teasing stopped, completely, until I went back to school. Back then, we didn’t even have cordless phones and answering machines, much less internet and text messages. I can’t imagine I would have survived if Karen, Kathy, and Tanya had had 24/7 access to me.

I’ve long wondered why they did what they did, but even Kathy doesn’t know:

“For many years now, I have questioned why I treated you so horribly when we were in school together. And as much as I’ve thought about it and as much as I’ve tried to figure it out, honestly don’t know why. Maybe peer pressure of trying to fit in, maybe joining in with others so that they wouldn’t pick on me, or maybe I was just a horrible, horrible person. Maybe all of the above. But whatever the reason, it does not change the fact that I was wrong to treat you the way I did. I want you to know how very sorry I am. I know I caused you tremendous pain and suffering because of my actions. I want you to know that my apology is sincere and heartfelt. From the very bottom of my heart, I am so very sorry for the abusive way I treated you when we were in school.”

Parents, talk to your kids about bullying, because any child can be a bully. Any child can get caught in the swirling social morass of middle and high school. I don’t vilify my bullies anymore; we were all little girls. We were children who, lacking adequate supervision and guidance, found ourselves tangled in a situation that got too big for us. Adults should have saved us, and I do mean us, not me. I suffered from years of shame; Kathy suffered from years of guilt. (Perhaps Tanya and Karen have suffered, too, though I don’t know.) Adult intervention could have protected us all.

Know what your kids are doing at school, how they’re treating other children, and find out what their school’s bullying policies are. Find out if they follow those policies, how they are enforced, and what the grievance procedure is. If there isn’t a policy in place, or if the policy is inadequate, work with some other parents and pressure the school to change it.

And if your child is being bullied in school, do not wait, do not hesitate, do not be scared. Just make it stop. Find a way. I can’t tell you how to make it stop because every situation is different, but if you need the courage to confront the school, you email me and I will pep talk you to the moon. As parents, keeping our kids safe is job one. You can do it.

Because honestly? I would have been better off if my parents had done almost anything, up to and including letting me hang out at home and read books all year. Academically, I learned something between nothing and absolutely zero that year. How could I have learned? That’s like locking someone in the tiger pen at the zoo and insisting they write a 2,000 word discourse on surplus transfer and the birth of capitalism.

A Victim Can Be A Survivor

I was the first girl in my family. Six older brothers, one younger sister from my mother’s second marriage.

The man who became my stepfather was an alcoholic. He was abusive. He would beat everyone except my sister. After all “she was his” but we weren’t angry about her being spared. We were thankful. She was safe.

He would think of ways to inflict more pain during our beatings. He would gloat about his “latest idea”. He was so excited when he created a board for our beatings that had circles and lightning bolts cut out of it. Thrilled when he saw that his plan worked. The cut-outs left circular and lightning bolt blisters on us where he had hit us with it. Our butts, our legs, our back. Wherever his newest invention connected with our flesh.

We couldn’t control our stepfather. We couldn’t control his drinking. We couldn’t control his beatings. And by God, you had better cry when he beat you. One of my brothers tried to control the only thing he could. He decided not to give him the satisfaction of seeing the pain he was causing. When he didn’t cry, he was beaten harder. Then harder still. Then harder, until the rest of us were screaming that he was going to kill my brother. He finally gave up in disgust and went to the bar. My brother was home from school for a long time after that beating.

There were days that he felt “fatherly.” He would take me, at three or four years old, to the bar with him to show off his “little girl.” There I would sit, hours on end, surrounded all the other drunks who weren’t home with their families. Even at that age, I knew this wasn’t the right place for me. I didn’t like the way the men looked at me. Asked me to sit on their laps.

I was scared.

When I was seven, my stepfather upped the ante and found a way to scar my soul. He began sexually abusing me. He didn’t start out with other things to gain my trust, or tell me how special I was, or try to make me believe this was because he loved me, like so many other abusers do. No, he did what he wanted with no preamble. He took what he wanted violently. HE was angry with ME afterward. HE was disgusted by ME afterward. He had found a much more efficient way to destroy me than a beating.

This abuse went on for years. I started walking to a little country church every Sunday. It began as a way to get out of the house. It became my only source of hope.

He tortured my brothers and I. He waved guns in his drunken stupors. He humiliated us by bursting into our grade school classrooms drunk and demanding we leave with him. (This was in the 70′s. The school let him take us when he could barely stand. I would hope that wouldn’t happen to children these days.) He would be gone for days or weeks at a time. We would learn not to relax when he was gone, as soon as we did he would return. It was as if he knew we were suddenly feeling safer in our home and he couldn’t have that.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother divorced him. I felt guilty for the internal relief I had over him leaving our lives. After all, the Bible says to honor your mother and father. I struggled with that for such a long time. Now I know that I couldn’t be expected to honoring a man who was so unhonorable. No loving God would ever expect that.

I haven’t seen him in the 30 something years since the divorce. Thank God I haven’t seen him again.

I followed the Family Rules for a very long time. I didn’t tell anyone outside the family. I took on the shame. I took the responsibility. I took the burden. I took the pain.

But eventually I grew up. I married. I told my husband some of what happened after we had been married a little over a year. I regret that, I should have told him sooner. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. Thankfully, he is a wonderful, gentle soul and understood why I didn’t tell him sooner. And he didn’t run from my pain. He didn’t run from my past. He didn’t see me as the damaged goods. He was supportive. He was awesome. We have been married 30 years now.

We had children. A boy and a girl. As my daughter grew, the childhood I tried to forget started pushing itself forward in my mind. First a whisper, then a speaking voice, and eventually screaming YOU CANNOT IGNORE ME! I was a mess. So emotional, so raw, so frightened to face it – to speak the truth.

Eventually, I had to seek counseling. I could not get through a day without the memories forcing themselves front and center, in my dreams at night, in my day with flashbacks. Horrible, painful, frightening memories.

I was blessed. I found a wonderful counselor on my first try. She guided me. She gave me a place to speak. She encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed (most of the first year). She HEARD me. She didn’t judge me. She showed me that the shame and disgust didn’t belong to me. They belonged to HIM. It took a while for me to believe her. That pain, shame and disgust had been mine for so long.

Eventually, the shame and pain was transformed into anger. No, that isn’t quite right…it turned into ANGER! Anger that frightened me with it’s intensity. But finally I was feeling the anger at what he had done to the little girl I once was. Once I found the anger it was a very good thing that I didn’t run into him (he lives in another state). I would have ripped his manhood from his body and shoved it down the throat that used to tell me it was my fault.

I went to therapy for a year and a half. I won’t sugar coat it, it was a very tough year and a half. There was a lot of hard emotional work to be done. But oh, what a gift that therapy was for me.

I KNOW it wasn’t my fault. I KNOW I didn’t deserve what he did. I KNOW it wasn’t the clothes I wore, the way I acted, the choices I made. It was HIM. He is a sick perverted person.

Therapy made me a stronger person. My hard work transformed a victim into a survivor. It helped me become a better mother, a better wife, a better human being. It helped my soul to be set free from my past.

My younger sister? The one that was “really his”? The one he spared the abuse? She grew up to feel horribly guilty for what her birth father did to us. (We are all still thankful she didn’t suffer along with us.) She couldn’t escape the pain of her guilt. She began abusing drugs as a teen. She is forty three now. She has spent the last 27 years in a deep pit of drugs and alcohol trying to escape the past. She lost custody of her son when he was five, due to her addictions. My husband and I adopted him. We couldn’t stand to let him go to strangers and lose everyone he had ever known. We couldn’t stand to lose him in our lives either. We continue to help him battle the demons his past have created. Spared her? I don’t think so.

I am no longer angry. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t want to ever be anywhere near my stepfather. But I don’t want to harm him anymore either. Growth. Now, if I think of him, I feel pity for the twisted, dark, hurtful person he is.  But I don’t feel sorry for him either. He made his choices. If what he did haunts him when he least expects it, that is his consequence. Somewhere deep inside of him he knows what he did, who he is.

I don’t want to give him one more minute of my life. A minute I spend hating him, is one more minute he owns. He took enough. He took too much. He can’t have any more.