RESIDUAL EFFECTS

I was bullied. I was shamed. I didn’t participate in the #metoo movement when it happened because I wasn’t ready (I’m still not ready, but it keeps coming up & I’ve been encouraged to share in order to heal, but I can only share parts of it…still). It has been 30 yrs & I still feel the effects of it. Psychologically & sociologically, I was messed up. I couldn’t even breathe in big crowds. I had panic attacks. I hyperventilated. I was anxious, jumpy, & moody. I was guarded & scared.
About 15 yrs ago, a friend told me, “You have PTSD, girl.” Another friend, “Were you ever suicidal?” I paused. I broke down as it swallowed me like a giant wave.
When I was 13, suicidal thoughts plagued me, & my aunt showed up to take me away to anywhere else, some place where I could breathe & laugh, a destination that allowed me to have a clean slate. My parents are wonderfully loving & beautiful. They had tried, but they were powerless to change what was & had happened to me (it was 1989, long before #metoo ). There were abuses from adult acquaintances that I would never tell anyone about. People thought I was fair game because I was so broken. Classmates wrote stories about me, read them aloud, taped mean things to my locker, wrote about me on bathroom stalls, & SO. Much. More.
At Ft. Bragg, no one knew me. It was the greatest relief I had ever felt in my life, standing in front of Iron Mike. My uncle had taken me to the statue. My aunt laughed with me, shared with me, helped me feel whole. She was obsessed with art & photography. She taught me about Surrealists. She read a biography of Picasso aloud. She gave me a book by Shel Silverstein. My uncle, a career Army Officer & Green Beret at the time, bolstered me up, directed my confidence to rise up, & encouraged me to write.
The teacher assigned us to write our obituaries. I already knew what that felt like inside, & I shrunk back. My uncle sat in front of his roll-top desk & held out his hand, “What do you have so far?” He read it while I buried my face in my hands, ashamed. He said something like, “Good start. I think you can do better than this. You’re smart. You’re strong.” He went through each word with me & asked me what I really wanted in life, & both my aunt & uncle told me to dream very big. I had never been far from TN.
I did go back home, & when I returned from Ft. Bragg to TN, time shifted my classmates. They changed. I wasn’t bullied or shamed again but I had regular anxiety attacks. I wasn’t the nicest person to people who had been mean to me previously. I didn’t forgive them in my heart, but I didn’t even know who or how to be most of the time.
No one apologized until 20 yrs later. When one person said, “I’m sorry,” she created a moment of redemption for many people. She didn’t even “do” anything to me back then, but she still felt as if she had participated in some way just by witnessing/knowing about some of it.
Over the years, I continued to go to my aunt & uncle (& they took me to Germany, France, accidentally my aunt & I ended up in Austria once) because I felt like I was part of them & their family. My cousins called me “Sis.” They all united to save me—my parents by letting me go, my aunt & uncle by embracing me & teaching me something I wouldn’t have ever gotten anywhere else.
Someone once asked me, “What did you do to make them bully you?” So, I clammed up again. I blamed myself again. Now I know there’s no good reason for that shit. Recently, I’ve thought about it so much. Trail running became the healing action for the residual brokenness I carried: How I continued to struggle long after & how I still do a little when it rises up. Mainly, I’m glad people are speaking up now about their struggles with bullying/shaming & don’t hide it all in silence. Lately, I’ve talked about it more than ever, and after reading so much about bullying and slut-shaming, I want to encourage people to realize that damage happens even when people seem like they’ve “gotten over it,” even after they’ve healed. I share for three reasons: You never know what people have been through, I want to walk through the fear of sharing this, AND I have deep gratitude for the adults who saved me.

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