I have been perplexed for some time now probably driven by a subconscious need to release torment, hurt and the shackles of programming from the experiences I had in my childhood.
As some of you know my journey has been increasingly rewarding and adventurous over the last ten years. Some of you also know the struggles I have had control, influence and stall me throughout my life. Some of you have been part of my journey and provided rewarding influence/impact along the way.
So, what am I getting to? Recently I have been overwhelmed and inspired by acts of courage in the face of fear by people who mean a great deal to me. Two people that I hold dear to my heart in particular have outwardly expressed themselves in a way that has shared openly their fears and challenges as grown adults that stemmed from their childhood...in both instances through online channels (Facebook and a personal blog) stirring my attention to the need for everyone to start speaking out to create awareness and release or share their burdens.
It's my turn to speak out, release and share!
As some of you know I experienced bullying as a schoolboy. Like many, these experiences shaped how I interacted with people and society as an adult. This by no means is a search for sympathy, empathy or apology. If it allows one person to be brave enough to face core emotional hurt or think about how their actions impact the programming of our youth, then I will be satisfied.
My nickname from the beginning of high school was 'Spotty'...because of my freckles. It worked, it stuck. I was known for my athletic ability and was one of the males that dominated the athletics carnival each year and found myself competing at state levels for school and club even claiming state champion titles at club level. This was my sanctuary I realise now, from the torment I experienced.
For the last four years of my high school life, I was subjected to pack bullying. Every single day of every school term from grade 9 through to grade 12. The bullying started every morning before school and at every opportunity until the school bell rang at the end of the day. Some of you might think that is terrible but let me explain more.
Nearly every school day from under a demountable classroom before the first class started, during morning break and most lunch breaks constant chanting "Spotty's a faggot, Spotty's a faggot" resonated across the school. At times there would be up to 30-40 boys chanting sometimes for 10 minutes non-stop. Most times I would get out of their sight and it would subside until I had to reappear to go to class. It didn't stop there. In classes comments would be made, things thrown at me, lewd comments made about me out of earshot of the teacher, tampering with my belongings, at times faggot, poofter, fag, homo written on my books or locker, continuous taunts, tripping. It went on and on for four years every day. Even while on school camps and undertaking team activities I would receive taunts and chastising comments made to others 'Watch out for Spotty, he'd enjoy that' or 'Spotty is going to love that one' in reference to activities where contact between two males had to be made. It was continuous and relentless.
Over time it increased with girls joining in. Only certain girls but the majority of girls would at times defend me (voluntarily) by giving the bullies a hard time. I was grateful for this as it was very brief moments of relief but usually resulted in the bullies turning on them and me with increased taunts towards me being 'you need girls to defend you now'! As I developed as a young man my voice cracked so another layer of torment came my way. "My name's Spotty and I talk like this" was a common taunt with some of the bullies impersonating me with an exaggerated effeminate lisp. Three or four particular bullies would use this technique constantly. For about three years this continued at every opportunity by those bullies.
At times I found myself seeking refuge by hanging around some of the girls for various reasons. Some of them were genuine friends, some I had sporting links to and others would be the ones at times that would defend me and provide a safe sanctuary momentarily. This got strained as some particular girls occasionally would begin to bully me and harass me for hanging around the girls. Unfortunately, they were bullied at times by the pack bullies as well...one for having glasses. As an adult I realised in these cases the bully was being bullied, so bullying me was an outlet for her/them. Like the boys, these particular girls would have a ball of a time laughing and jeering me with continuous taunts and harassment.
I went to a large country school. It was the only secondary school in the district at the time with around 1300 students. It was the 80's, it was torment. At times I would defend myself or at least try. Obviously to no avail. Up until mid Year 9, I was an A- student. By the time I graduated in year 12, I was a C-average student except for Physical Education in which I excelled. And that was how it was for the last three years of my schooling. My confidence was non-existent, my self-esteem only served me well in athletics, I had no real friends apart from a small group of girls that treated me like a human being, I became reclusive and used to roam the schoolyards at lunch in areas no one else went or hideout in the library. I would listen into conversations in class to hear what the boys were doing at lunch, so I could avoid that area, I wouldn't participate in class in fear of taunts which happened more times than not over the four years. Teachers would speak to my parents on parent/teacher night saying I was non-participative, my grades were dropping, I wouldn't apply myself, etc. No discussion from the teachers about the bullying they witnessed. All of this during my formative years.
Due to the bullying, I had built defenses and protection mechanisms that formed behaviours that didn't fit the social acceptance of most people. These were my coping mechanisms, my protection. While I promised myself daily I would weather the storm and once I walked out of those school gates I would never look back; the constant torment & bullying programmed fear, anger and hatred in me. I was fearful of males, my social skills were limited, I had developed behaviour at home that caused stress for my family, I couldn't make friends or more importantly, I was fearful of interacting with people, my young childhood shyness became debilitating. My behaviour at home got so bad that I was in conflict with my father and didn't talk to him for two years. This put a massive strain on my mother. My athletics coach was also a teacher at the school and on rare occasions was informing my mother of some of the bullying from what he saw. My mother did call the school to request a meeting with the principal but to no avail. My mother was always protective of me, but she became even more protective. Probably not beneficial.
School holidays were a reprieve from the bullying. I would spend all my holiday time at home. Building mini-cities in the sand under the trampoline, roller skating, and mastering tricks on the trampoline. My mother would take me down the river for a swim with the only other outing being athletics training four times a week which I cherished. I had no friends and my programming from the bullying made me fearful of social interaction.
As a result of the bullying, entering my young adult life post-school, I struggled. Most kids from the school went off to university leaving the district for worldly adventures. My grades didn't allow that, so it was to find work as a waiter and in supermarkets where I excelled and held management roles at the age of 19.
My biggest struggle was my inner conflict. I knew I was gay at a very young age, I never flaunted it or acted in a way to confirm that to anyone, as living in a country town in the 80's, I didn't know what it meant to be gay. The bullying got so bad in year 12 that I jumped at the first girl who showed a romantic interest in me. It was late in the year, but I ensured people saw me kissing a girl. That led to an extended relationship and marriage at the age of 24...divorce at 28! I developed a genuine love for this girl but was torn constantly, worried about children being produced, the pain I would eventually cause her, and the fact I stood on my wedding day saying to myself 'Why am I doing this'! Again, my formative years as an independent young adult were fraught with fear and deprivation of being the real me.
From the age of 15 to the age of 33 my life and interactions were controlled by the fears and anger built during my schooling. I was lucky enough to have people come into my life at what was obviously the right time (even though I didn't know it at the time) that in some way instigated catalyst change for me. Looking back those people provided emotional support and guidance. Some were in my life for a season, all for a reason, and some for hopefully a lifetime. In 2002 I met a wise lady who in no time became a mentor but more importantly, a spiritual guide that has aided me in the healing I needed to be able to become the person I was destined to be.
Over the last 9 years, I have undertaken regular core emotional healing that has helped release the deep-seated hurt, anger, and fear that was controlling my life.
Controlling in every sense; unable to make friends for fear of rejection and fear of being hurt; using a defense mechanism of acting like an arrogant pig or using harsh sarcasm to prevent people from getting close to me; overeating and becoming overweight to deal with my unhappiness; talking over people as over compensation for my shyness; a significant sharp and sarcastic sense of humour that left people disliking me (which I didn't care about as my fears prevented me allowing anyone to get close). I hated myself, who I was, how I interacted with people and most of all hated the fact I knew I was missing an enjoyable life. I threw myself into work and excelled but never made friends in the workplace. Well, very few. It was only those people who could see the real me through everything else that persevered and showed compassion that eventually allowed me to build trust in people and start to lower my guard. They know who they are and I love them for that!
I remember working through some inner conflict around my social networking skills in a corporate environment. I held a General Managers position at age 30 in an industrial body, a corporate job sucking up to politicians, and national corporate clients, sitting on national consultative committees, walking the halls of parliament house 6 or 7 times a year, flying around the country but harbouring and avoiding massive social fears and shyness. So much so that I would put my mobile on silent and pretend to be talking on it in the corners of networking functions because my fear had grasped me so much I would tremble at the thought of small talk with strangers. This is just one example. All due to the bullying received at school.
After divorcing and seeking the real me, I went exploring my life. I booked an overseas trip and planned to come home via Sydney! In Sydney, I caught up with my cousin (gay, 18 years older than me and my godfather)...the first person I came out to. He was shocked and relieved as he was so worried he had to entertain his straight cousin and go to straight bars with me. From there I learnt how to party, experience the gay scene, travelled more and make up for my missed teenage and young adult years.
I then got serious about my healing as I saw how wonderful people could be towards others and said to myself...I want that. Eight years later I am only just at the stage where I have the strength to express myself. Like I said it is my time to speak out to create awareness.
During my healing, I have learnt how to remove guilt, hurt, anger, fear, and shame. To do this I had to find forgiveness. I found forgiveness to the majority of the bullies and the healing process pointed out that there was a leader of the pack. No names but he was a police sergeant's son from a small town in the district and overweight (front row of the rugby team overweight). In those days, being a child of a police officer wasn't a good thing. My healing helped me understand another conflict I had. While the pack of bullies grew and shrunk (but was always there) a good number of the bullies were nice to me at times, encouraged me to do well in athletics, cheered for me and at times wanted to include me. Even some of the popular pack would do this. But then at times, they were in the big pack chanting "Spotty's a faggot". Very conflicting!
As a 30-something adult, I realised a lot of them joined the bullying so they weren't bullied. I also healed to forgive the pack leader...I can't assume what his home life was like but being a police sergeant's son, overweight and all...I can see his actions probably were to prevent him from being bullied. My healing allowed this forgiveness. Allowed me to find love and acceptance for myself and to continue to find who I am.
I had also experienced infrequent instances of bullying in primary school but never malicious. As I healed I grew strength...strength to allow me in the last 12-18 months to be able to realise the last time I knew who I was and liked myself was at the age of five. Thirty-three years of being truly unhappy. Two years ago, I would never had the strength to state that. Now I do and it's time to heal more.
One of the friends I mentioned in the second paragraph above recently posted to Facebook about his bullying experiences. His post, driven by an invitation to his school reunion questioned why he would want to see all the people that made life hell for him in his formative years. His courage to express himself has given me the inspiration for this. My 20-year school reunion was last year. While I kept a status of 'maybe' attending on the Facebook invite I was never going. I too had no desire to be with the people who influenced the loss of happiness and influenced a life of struggle. I befriended some people on Facebook in the lead-up to the reunion but 'defriended' them soon after. I only have one school friend as a Facebook friend...my athletics training partner for 5 years who always treated me as I was. I am grateful for the years we ran around an oval training together as teenagers, it was never full of homophobic taunts, it was what it was. True friendship.
Looking back, I know this girl used to keep an eye out and show concern for the impact the taunts had on me. One day her mother came to our house and spoke with my mum to encourage me to go to a Blue Light Disco. I remember hearing her say to my mum I needed to get out and socialise. I am grateful for that gesture still to this day, but I remember being fraught with fear of confronting bullies. This fear remained in my life for another 20 years underpinning my interaction with people in general, the driver behind relationships that were for all the wrong reasons, the emotion that pushed people away, the reason why I put barriers up to prevent friendships, the cause of low self-esteem and low self-confidence, for carrying excess weight and for the complete loneliness I experienced all due to one person...the leader of a bullying pack.
I started core emotional healing about 8 years ago. Luckily a wise and supportive person came into my life who was able to see what qualities I had and what fears were preventing them. From regular core emotional healing, I have been able to release the hurt, anger, fears and sadness of 33 of my 39 years. About 3 years ago I made massive breakthroughs, I was ready to get on with life. Ready to be happy again and started rectifying my outward behaviours that were a hangover for protection from people who could potentially hurt me. I lived the motto "what you project out, you receive back" and since have found so many levels of happiness, forgiveness and love.
Today is "Wear it Purple" day. A day committed to reducing bullying resulting in suicide that happens to young gay people through creating awareness, acceptance and speaking out. It's time for me to speak out. Not for sympathy, retribution and certainly not for my personal gain...but to create an awareness of the suffering hurtful actions can cause. While I never contemplated suicide and vowed to defy the impact my experiences had on me, at the age of 39 I can say I am getting there after 33 years of sadness and 8 years of healing.
If this post has a positive impact on one person to think about or change their actions or the actions of their children that are causing hurt unnecessarily through bullying, then I will be satisfied.
Please show your support by wearing purple or go to http://wearitpurple.org/to see how you can be involved. If it saves the life of just one person that is experiencing the same shit as I did, it will be worth it.
Love to you all (I couldn’t say that three years ago...so hooray for me!)