The words of others. The singular torment within.
The fear of walking through a door, knowing the pain that awaited on the other side.
The anguish of words that would strike me down harder and faster than any bullet could.
The fear of being freed from the shackles that kept me from the life I longed for outside those windows.
The enduring punishment by my own hands.
I survived the most unkind abuse.
But not all victims are as lucky to walk away. For not all fists have clenched fingers. Not all wounds draw blood. And not all scars can be seen.
When we think of bullying, there is often the image of a small child on the ground with a cruel, larger child standing above him, fists tight and firm, Goliath-like, daring the weaker David to pick up that rock and throw it. We have spent years as a society not only ignoring the effects of bullying on people across all ages and socio-economic spectrums, but actively promoting behavior that gives rise to aggression that can be carried out over the course of a lifetime. We teach the aggressor to go after those who are different. We allow harm to fall upon those who never learned how to stand up for themselves. We look away as the ones who need help the most cry out for someone, anyone, to tell them their lives are worth living. In return, we say they are weak.
We say, “You can’t.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“You’ll never be what you want to be.”
“You will never succeed.”
All my life, in one form or another, whether it was family, friends who were really foes, strangers who looked at my skin and judged my character within seconds, or employers who had no respect for anyone but themselves, I have faced various levels of hate. The neighbor who drove by in a car, pointed a gun at me, called me a nigger, and surprisingly did not pull the trigger, not knowing it was I who called the police on the suspicious person breaking into his house. The authority figure who called me stupid every day and said my role in life is to be a servant and nothing else, not knowing all I wanted to do was work hard and prove my worth to him. The friends who made fun of my weight at every possible opportunity, not knowing the struggle I had in the gym or in the kitchen to transform myself into the ideal image of myself.
I told myself ages ago never to let go of the childlike excitement for things that make me happy. To not let the weight of growing up and having responsibilities change the core of who I am, to change what I love, to change how I live. To not let the scars and wounds of the verbal fists that punched me repeatedly for years make me afraid to look in the mirror. It took a long time to finally be able to face myself. It took even longer to find the thing I had been searching for so long.
I found my paragon.
When I was a child, I would write. Music. Short stories. Poetry. It relaxed me. It gave me comfort in dealing with the daily struggles of a tumultuous life at home. It freed me from dealing with the unkind words thrown at me at school. In my writing, I found joy in discovering other worlds, other universes, other people that could feel the pain I did. But for years, as life grew longer and different judges came in and out of my life, the writing ceased. The other worlds and universes and people faded. There was a moment when I looked in the mirror and no longer wanted to be a part of this world.
But then out of nowhere, I remembered The Cloak.
The Cloak was a character I dreamed up back in junior high. A comic lover then and a comic lover now, The Cloak was a character with a mysterious origin. An origin I never fully defined. I thought maybe he was a version of Optimus Prime come back to life, from a future where he was dead. Or maybe he was a regular guy who, due to circumstances beyond his control, couldn’t share the good he wanted to do in the world with others. Maybe he was a she.
I began writing about The Cloak again. After 15 years, The Cloak flooded my mind with those other worlds and universes that I dreamed of as a kid. As I wrote, I realized The Cloak was not my paragon, but a piece of it. A part of the puzzle that revealed my true treasure: writing. I thought about what makes me happy, what brings out the best in me, and where my energy can best be spent. And putting words together, developing ideas, inspiring others, giving hope to those who may have lost it long ago: that was my paragon. And that is what I would hold on to in the more troubling and trying days.
But I didn’t do it alone. I was fortunate to have a strong support system. Friends and counselors who believed in me. Family who knew the goodness in my heart. And an undying faith in the endless possibilities for the future. They helped me see the beauty that was within me, the kindness in the hearts of others, and told me to no longer hide who I was, to not be ashamed of what looks back at me whenever I look in the mirror. To finally stand up and say that in a world full of beauty and discovery, the assholes, backstabbers, and misanthropes we may encounter do not matter.
To the bullies, to the ones who would go out of their way to hurt others, to the people who find joy in giving others pain: Telling someone they’re stupid repeatedly, no matter how much their record of achievement or academic accomplishments or wealth of quantified knowledge prove otherwise, hurts. Putting others down is not an accomplishment. Stomping your feet on others who are just trying to make it through the world makes you nothing more than a monster. Bullying, in all its forms, at all ages, whether in the workplace or at home, is emotionally abusive and hits people and their families deeply and personally. Stop it.
To the survivors, to the ones who wake up wanting to pick up that knife and end that pain, to the people who cry by the sheer thought of the pain of living another moment: find your paragon. Find that treasure that will keep you looking forward to the next day. It may be writing. It may be that new toy or comic or movie that is coming. It may be a good book. It may be a good run. Find what you enjoy, find what you have fun doing, and love the hell out of it. Your life is wonderful. You are strong. You are beautiful.
You will walk out that door, away from the pain behind you.
You will ignore the meaningless words of others, and show the world the kindness within you.
You will face your fears and be free to live the life you longed for in that bright, beautiful world outside.
You will look yourself in the mirror. And smile.
You will survive.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic abuse, please visit thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233
If you or someone you know has been thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
The images provided in this post is from the Weapon of Choice project.