I saw a letter to the editor in the Christian Science Monitor regarding bullying. The short paragraph simply said that bullies need mental health services, too. Immediately, I was thinking YES, someone gets it. But they stopped there. They didn’t say why. So many people don’t understand that bullies are often victims themselves. And even though a bully would never admit that their actions are a cry for help, they most certainly are. And if you don’t believe that, at least accept that bullying is a sign that something is wrong. I want to delve into this topic further by talking about myself, when I was in sixth grade, when I was a bully.
First, let me tell you about the kind of bully I was. Like many bullies, I was simply looking for a fight. Some days, I would fight anyone. Other days I had targets. I targeted one girl in particular a lot. Why her? Well, the year before she ended our friendship in an effort to get in good with the cool kids. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I hadn’t really gotten over it.
I was also really concerned with social justice. Sounds strange I know, but I did stand up for other kids. I think part of that was because I did really care about the underdog, and part of it was because I really wanted to fight. One time, in the lunch room, this one boy who was a real pain in the ass came over to where my friends and I were sitting and started eating my friend’s French fries. So I got up, grabbed this boy by the throat, dragged him over to the wall, pushed him against the wall, and I told him to stop eating my friend’s food.
On another occasion, a friend of mine, John, was goofing around after class. He bumped into me in the hallway. Even though John was my friend, I was immediately angry, and I grabbed him by the back of his neck. He punched me, and I punched back. At one point we both rolled down half a flight of stairs while punching each other. Once we got to the landing, we both had had enough, brushed ourselves off, and went on our way to class.
I tell these stories to illustrate two points. One, I was incredibly violent. Two, anything could set me off. So why was I so angry and violent? To state the obvious: I was one fucked up adolescent. I had a lot of problems at home that I didn’t realize at the time really affected how I interacted with others, and school was the one place where I felt like I had control.
My first big problem that I was facing at the time was neglect from my parents. My parents are both alcoholics, and the needs of my brother and I were second to drinking. I remember that my brother and I never participated in after school activities or went to friends’ houses or birthday parties if it involved one of our parents driving us there. There were constantly parties at our house, though, and it was not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night to a fight.
Alcohol took precedence over food. Very often we ate PB&Js for dinner or macaroni with hamburger, but dad always had a case in the fridge. On top of that, my dad was unpredictable. One day he was happy and everything was fine. The next day, you couldn’t do anything right. So, my brother and I stayed out of the house as much as possible, coming home only to eat and get ready for bed. Alcoholism often leads to emotional abandonment. Adolescence is confusing enough as it is, but I had added problems of abuse, neglect, rejection, and parents who simply weren’t there for me.
On top of that, this was the time when I really started examining religion. I knew at that time that I was an atheist, but I had a hard time accepting it mostly because I was the only person that I knew who was an atheist. What were other atheists like? Where were they? I remember one time asking about atheist holidays in December. The person I asked thought I was being some kind of smart ass. They didn’t realize that I sincerely wanted to know about this group of people. Did they have celebrations? What were they like? For me, it wasn’t about leaving religion because I never really felt like I was a part of religion. For me, it was yet another way in which I was utterly and completely alone.
I have only given you a sample of the kinds of abuse I suffered as a child. I have no desire to catalog it all here. But it all led to another big problem: I couldn’t sleep. In fact, I was terrified at bedtime. Even when I was a small child, I felt a tremendous amount of fear at bedtime. Sleeping, to me, was an incredibly vulnerable state. I was constantly afraid that I would somehow be found and hurt in my sleep. So when I was a young child, I figured out a way to feel safe. I hid completely under my covers. The blankets would come up all the way over my head, and I left a small breathing hole by my nose. On top of that, I had to cover up with a comforter, not a sheet. There were some big problems with this. First, I often woke up suffocating because I had shifted and closed my breathing hole. Second, I had to sleep like this even in the summer. So over the summers, I hardly slept at all. I was so sleep deprived in the sixth grade that I had visual and auditory hallucinations on a regular basis.
In many ways, I was the stereotypical bully. I think we forget that many bullies are victims too. When I hear about bullies and shootings, the first thing I think about are the victims. But after the initial shock of the news goes away, I think about the bully or the shooter. I wonder how many years did they need help and nobody gave it to them. I think about how society and their parents failed them.
I remember one time, my dad and my uncle had gotten into a big fight. It woke us up. They were punching holes in the walls and screaming. They woke up the neighbors, too. My brother and I ran out of the house to a neighbor’s house and waited for the police to come. At no point were we questioned. At no point was child protective services brought in. The neighbors had no problem sending us back home after the police had left. Why do we choose to ignore other people’s problems? What’s more, why do we then complain when that person snaps?
I consider myself lucky that I didn’t snap. Aside from depression, I had no underlying mental health issues. Eventually, I was able to recognize the fact that I was angry and neglected. I was able to recognize that these things needed to change. After that, I was able to surround myself with a supportive group of friends which helped to change my behavior.
Child bullies tease and hit; adult bullies stalk and pick up guns. Where do you want to invest your time and money? Do you want to invest in people before they become a bully or a shooter? Or are you going to keep dealing with the aftermath of abuse and neglect after someone finally snaps?
Posted previously on Secularite.com