Confessions of an ex- bully
On many occasions, I have acted with hostile intent toward another. I have never expressed myself through physical aggression, but I have often used violent words against others. I have remained silent when I could have spoken up. I have reinforced belief systems that say certain people are better than others. I actively participated in a culture that valued the stereotypical- that is the beautiful, the wealthy and the powerful. To be cool was my primary purpose. Why did I do this? I wanted to be seen as all of the above. I wanted to be all of the above. I was unable to see my value in life without other people’s approval.
I excluded people from things I wanted to do and became deeply resentful if someone tagged along with my crowd who wasn’t a good representation of what I wanted to be associated with. I would be cold and indifferent, avoiding any intimacy. I would quickly find ways to get rid of them, and condemn them behind their backs. I considered outsiders, trying to get inside, as wannabes. They irritated me and their efforts embarrassed me. Why? Because I was just like them. I too felt like an outsider trying to get in. They reminded me of me- I detested the reflection. My personal effort to “belong” involved extreme dieting, years of bulimia, editing what I said to avoid judgment, editing what I wore to seem “cool”… I didn’t participate in school activities that were considered weird, I forged an identity according to the status quo and let everyone else define me.
I treated many of the people I went to high school with indifference, with a “justified” apathy. It was only years later I heard that my detachment had actually affected someone. A friend informed me that his brother’s girlfriend had attended school with me. She remembers me as a bully. Upon hearing this I felt defensive, but the truth eventually settled in. She was a victim of a culture with persecuted you for being different. I was a perpetrator of this culture. At best I kept silent and didn’t stand up for those who were struggling, at worst I wanted them to struggle. She didn’t tick all the boxes that we demanded you tick to be cool- therefore I treated her as inferior for my entire time in school. No, I didn’t say it to her face or taunt her actively. But I passively made her life hard, and for that, I take full responsibility.
What made me change? I suppose life happened and it served me a lot of humble pie. I struggled with alcoholism, ruined all my friendships and got asked to leave my educational institutions. I hit a dark bottom; emotionally, physically and spiritually. At 19 I decided to try a new way of life, a sober one. As a result, I have made a full commitment to making amends for the harm I have caused others. In the past 4.5 years, I have really examined my part in the various judgments, resentments, and negativity I had fallen prey to. I see the ugliness of a life lived trying to meet standards that are not fair. I see the value of being kind, of trying to treat everyone as equal- of trying to get to know someone who I might initially see as “different”.
Whenever I am disturbed I am responsible for that disturbance, and it is my commitment to live from love, not from fear. When my fear says- run! Judge! Gossip! Love says stay, be curious, speak kindly. Ultimately, what helped me change was this: I realized that my desire to be beautiful, powerful and strong is not the problem. The issue lay in my definition of what it meant to be beautiful, powerful and strong. I saw beauty as a certain weight, a certain external aesthetic quality…having beautiful friends, meeting the standards of those who are living in denial or fear. I saw power in other people’s protection, and strength in the appearance of strength. Whatever the majority called strong, I called strong. I then dressed myself to look the part and threw nasty glances at everyone who failed to do so too. I was mad because it had cost me so much of my integrity to meet the standards of the dominant paradigm.
Today I see beauty in kindness, in compassion, in being original – in not living according to standards that reproduce prejudice, domination, and cruelty. I see power in humility, in striving to be true to myself. In being authentic. For what it’s worth, I have always admired the brave- before I ever knew I could be brave myself. Courage is not a feeling- it’s a choice, an action. I admire those who stand up for other people in the face of adversity. True strength lies in treating others as equals- regardless of race, creed, color, weight, class, sex, it lies in owning your own stuff. In asking yourself what motivates you. Fear or love, fear or love? One life- how do I want to live it?
I was miserable condemning people for not meeting standards that were flawed to start with. What sort of life is a life that demands you look a certain way, have a certain amount of money…the right sort of friends? I couldn’t decide what environment I was born into, what color my skin was, how tall I was back then or how tall I am now! How dare I make someone feel ashamed of any of the above? It says a lot more about me than it does about them!
I was useless at sport, just didn’t have the right coordination skills. The people who loved me anyway, despite my lack of coordination paved the way for me to treat others with the same respect. If only there were more people who could see past the badge of honor we wear for all the wrong reasons in high school, to the stuff that actually counts. I was ashamed of who I was. Thankfully I know better today, and try to live better. I try to be a woman of integrity and I build self-esteem by taking estimable acts. I am no longer ashamed of who I am, but this is contingent on me continuing to behave in a way that is loving, tolerant and open minded. In practicing self-honesty and honesty with others. For me, having the mindset of a bully left me miserable and lonely. I am sure it contributed to my alcohol abuse and undoubtedly left me with a lot of self-loathing.
I lacked consciousness of my behavior on many occasions. Unwittingly I made choices that hurt others I was at school with. Once I got sober and started to value consciousness, (we only have one life- why not be awake for it?), I developed greater empathy, compassion, and consideration. I don’t have to be drunk to be living half blind and asleep, and it is within everyone’s power to try and be present. Trying is all I can ever claim to do! Through trying to be present I have discovered that life is riveting, beautiful, fast and unpredictable. I realized there was a lot more thrill in being unconventional, in standing up for decency and in fighting bigoted tyranny.
The weak ones are the bullies, the hostile and the judgmental. The ones who proclaim strength and trample all over people who are unable to defend themselves. And I was one of them, driven by my need to be a cool kid. Thank God I realized that life is too short to be living from fear, living from a need to protect what would fade anyway. Material things will come and go, looks will fade, power relations will shift- but what remains is our connection to self and others. I believe in being the best version of myself, someone who I am proud to hold hands with every day for my entire life. I am not proud of being a bully, but I am proud of being someone who takes a stand against it.
Written by, Scarlett Moberly