Every few years I run into someone who knew me in elementary, junior, or senior high school and one of their first questions usually falls into one of two camps:
- How did you handle all that bullying?
- Why were you such a little ass-hole sometimes?
The answer to the first one is that, well, I didn’t handle it. I developed a huge set of very unhealthy coping skills for it. And anyone who knows about my first senior year at DSHS was witness to the beginning of what became a long, slow decent into hell for me – entirely of my own making. The consequences of not dealing with any of it in a healthy way has had long term ramifications, some of which I am still cleaning up after to this very day.
The answer to the second is very simple – I was angry! Read the previous paragraph again about me developing really unhealthy coping skills. I was angry at just about everyone. You pick the person and you’d have damn good odds that you’d picked someone I was angry at. It might have been over something major like beating the shit out of me or it might have been as stupid as the way “I thought” they looked at me in the hall. And the number one person I was most mad at? The person I hated with such passion that I did my damndest to destroy them? Myself!
But, I survived and I thrived because over the years I’ve come to realize a few very important truths. The first of which is that we were all stupid little kids and most of us, at one time or another, were little ass-holes. Most of us grew up and out grew both. But a few never did.
The other thing I realized is that most of us had shitty things happing to us when we were kids. Some of us had REALLY shitting things happening to us. And a few, sadly, had horrific, tragic things happening to them that no child should have ever had to deal with. A few never survived it. I think most of us would honestly answer that we had no idea what most of our friends and classmates were going through behind closed doors. Or if we did, we didn’t really have a grasp on just how bad it was. I think back on a lot of the kids I grew up with and I wish I had just stopped and asked them if they were okay.
I think it was realizing what others had gone through – seeing the past through that lens – that I think really helped me the most. It was the realization that, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time, I really was not alone.
And the anger? That’s been a bit harder to deal with. I grew up in a household where I was not allowed to be angry. My parents felt that I had no reason to be angry and so the only acceptable thing was for me to feel happy and grateful. Any displays of anger were met with swift (and painful) consequences. So, I bottled all of it up inside. A massive chunk of it is still there. Over 50+ years I’ve gotten very, VERY good and subduing, controlling, and containing it. But there have been a few times in my life when I’ve slipped and let the cork loose. A few people (luckily very few) have gotten a glimpse at the monster I become when I do accidentally let the cork out of the bottle for a second. I’ve never hurt anyone, at least not physically, but many, MANY, inanimate objects have taken the brunt of it.
So, the anger from my past is something I’ve never learned to really deal with and I’ve definitely suffered the emotional and physical consequences of that. Stress eating. Acute chronic anxiety leading to high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Etc.
But what I have managed to do is to learn not to get so upset about things anymore. Especially at myself. I still do when it’s appropriate but I’ve also learned to stop, take a breath, and realize who or what it is that I’m really angry at and what it is that I’m really angry about. Once I can do that, it’s much easier to let it go. But when I’m angry at myself? Yeah, I still gotta work on that…
So, yeah, I’ve come a long way but, make no mistake, I’m not perfect so please have a little patience with me. There are times as an adult when someone will say something to me and even though I know they didn’t mean it in any way, shape, or form the way my brain interpreted it, I’m suddenly back in school trying my hardest to make it from 6th period to the school bus without getting shoved to the ground. And it takes all my strength to remain the adult I think I am and not to respond in some snarky, ass-hole way.