Friday, October 11, 2013

Moving Past Anger

     It’s October, meaning it’s time to be aware of SO MANY THINGS. Breast cancer, domestic violence, pregnancy loss and infant loss, LGBT history… and the list keeps going! But this month, there’s one issue that affects me personally, and that’s bullying. Yes, you hear about it all the time. Kids and adults alike can be victims, though kids are much more prone to it. I pretty much had a target painted on me with a sign that said, “This kid is vulnerable,” which left me somewhere at the bottom of the food chain in my grade level. Most of what I experienced was verbal or emotional bullying, but a few physical incidents do stand out in my mind.

     I’m in a place, half a decade later, where I want to say I’m over it. I want to say, “I’m done being angry, because it uses up too many of my resources.” I want to stop obsessing needlessly over how one of the kids who physically bullied me later went on to become salutatorian. How she won several awards for her journalism. How she climbed to the top of the social and academic ladder, and yet I was left with a crippling set of disabilities that made me drop out of school. There are moments where I think I’m already there. “I’m better than this,” I tell myself. But then my husband catches me in mid-speech, getting more and more flustered and emotional as I relive the story of my teen years. That happened yesterday, actually. I was defensive. I told him I was over it, when my words, and my tone of voice, clearly expressed that I was still just as much stuck in those events as I was when it finally dawned on me that I was a human being with at least some level of worth and dignity, and that I had been wronged.

     My self-esteem was so low as a teen that I felt I deserved every mean thing the kids did or said to me. It actually took me a couple of years to get angry. But when I did, I suddenly couldn’t talk about school without talking about all the anger it made me feel. My sense of justice feels violated just by the virtue of those kids going on and living fulfilling lives. I keep thinking to myself that the salutatorian of my class instead should have been expelled from the school when she threw rocks at me with a couple other kids (who also should have been expelled). That particular point came up in my conversation with my husband yesterday. He doesn’t think they should have been expelled. I got angry and defensive when he said that… even though some part of me knows that their expulsion wouldn’t have made my life any better, and it would have only made theirs worse. Though truthfully, there’s still that voice in my head that says, “The whole point of expelling them is to make their lives worse, just like they did to me!”

     But would expelling them have made my life better? I probably wouldn’t even notice the effect it would have on my life. If the salutatorian had been expelled, then I wouldn’t really know that there was some outcome where she could have been salutatorian. I probably would have still left the school, considering how bad my Tourette’s, Bipolar, and anxiety symptoms were. I’d still be as angry and unhappy with my school career as I am today. I owe it to myself, not to my bullies, to move past my anger. Because I’m fighting in this endless loop of frustration that starts with a discussion of school, or bullying, or whatever, and suddenly works its way into me crying and yelling at anyone who dares try to tell me that I might be a little too entrenched in what happened. I’m tired of being the victim—the vengeful victim. I’m tired of telling myself that my life would be better if I had ruined theirs, because it wouldn’t. The damage would still be there, and so would the guilt of ruining another person’s school career.

    But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have gotten angry in the first place. Because guess what—this is what humans do when they grieve the loss of something they had, or perceived they had. The 5 Stages of Grief—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance—sometimes happen out of order, too. Sometimes you go through some of the stages, and regress back to previous stages. But you need to go through all the stages at least once, to get to the final stage. So don’t deny yourself the opportunity to go through them, just out of fear of being the angry, vengeful victim like me. No—you owe yourself those stages. You owe yourself your grief. You owe it to yourself so you can eventually get past it, and be at peace with your tragedy. Whatever your tragedy is—whether it’s bullying, chronic illness, losing someone you love, or something else altogether—you can get through it. You can be in denial. You can get angry. You can bargain. You can mourn. You can get defensive. But try to ask what your particular stage of grief is accomplishing for you. If you realize that you’re stuck in a stage of grief, ask yourself what positive things you can do to make the world better for you, and hopefully others. Maybe your experiences are just what another person needs to cope with their own grief. 

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