I read science fiction, comic books and poetry. I drew, painted and wrote. I was principled, upbeat and cared about people, animals and nature. I spent many hours exploring the woodlands behind my house in New York. I was also shy, immature and lonely. I liked to fix people and things and make everyone around me happy. I was vocal about defending the underdog – probably because I always felt like the underdog.
Because I rebelled against conformity I got beat-up at the bus stop. Often. Harassed, pushed, ridiculed and put down in school. Daily. As such, by the time I reached high school my coping mechanism was well-defined – hide. A lot. Fly under the radar. Conform. Do nothing to stand out or stand-up.
It didn’t help.
So I wore masks.
I pretended to care about high school football and joined the team. “Joined” is probably the wrong word. I went to practice – sometimes. Even then I loathed hierarchical organizations.
To be free I left my hometown and worked in places where no one knew me and I could be anyone I wanted to be.
I simply ended up wearing different masks.
I learned to live fractured.
I’m 43 now and although I’ve matured, gained perspective and grown the reality is harsh. Often I still live fractured. My wounds have healed but I still carry the scars. The scars are deep and often make it difficult to get to my heart and soul…or to let me show others my heart and soul. That is one of the reason’s I write in such a vulnerable way. My writing is a safe way to be vulnerable.
I really enjoy a good massage. Especially, around my shoulders and calves. It is where I keep stress and my massage therapist talks about muscle memory – the concept that a muscle in the body will perform a task without conscious thought because it has been trained. Every time a person texts without looking at the keyboard they are using a muscle memory. A good masseuse helps the muscles to learn to relax. She helps the body focus on the good memories.
Soldiers, pilots, athletes and dancers all rely on muscle memory. Every time you use your Wii remote so do you.
However, after a traumatic injury the body often reboots and has to learn all over again how to breathe, walk, eat or speak. This takes conscious action to relearn – physical, speech and cognitive therapy. It takes an effort. Sometimes the injury, such as a stroke, is so traumatic the body needs to find a way to work around the scarred area.
Gagging at the smell of tequila because of that one night after drinking you vomited all night is a muscle memory too. You can’t help but gag. That is a muscle memory. It is an unconscious defense mechanism. It is your body’s way of saying, “Tequila is not good for us and we are not going to do that again.” You can probably gag down the Tequila but it will take a conscious effort.
We all have scars from some fall or burn or momentary act of stupidity. Often because of divorce, death, abuse or other loss we have spiritual or emotional scars as well. Sometimes the scars are superficial. Sometimes they are deep. Regardless, the body finds away around the muscle memory. We don’t remarry. We avoid crowds. We don’t spend time alone with a parent.
I don’t go to class reunions. Homecoming football games are out. I don’t hang out at Gatsby’s, the local alumni bar.
Too do so would take a conscious effort.
Twenty-five years later if I try to talk about my school experiences and feelings it brings tears to my eyes. I emotionally shut down. There are very few “good memories” from my school experiences. It is an emotional memory. Which is why I don’t often talk about it. The effort to ignore and control the emotional memories are exhausting.
There are well-meaning people in my life that when I try to explain why I don’t do high school meet-ups or reunions think I am being dramatic or silly. “Everyone has it hard,” they say.
I certainly cannot explain to you what it feels like to be the captain of the football team – that was not my experience – but I can tell you what it feels like for the captain of the football team to intentionally push you down a flight of stairs in front of a girl you are trying to impress.
When I explain that I can relate to teens committing suicide rather than facing another day of school or tragedies like Columbine I usually am met with eye rolls or condescending tones. Others suggest that the problem is these malcontents are simply insecure or too sensitive or weak or can’t take some teasing…or they blame bad parenting.
They say all of this discussion of “bullying” is simply more “feel good political correctness.” “Bullying is not a crime,” but simple “kids being kids,” is the old refrain.
I don’t know if it is a crime or not. What I do know is all to often the behavior of children is simply a reflection of what adults communicate to them is okay. Telling children that is not okay to stalk classmates on Facebook and posting comments to their classmate that they would be better dead is not political correctness. It is called parenting. It is maturity. It is the truth.
As a pragmatists, I understand that the type of social indoctrination and harassment that is necessary to teach people how to conform and work with others has been going on since the dawn of civilization. I understand the psychological, the sociological and the anthropological roots of behaviors that drive bullying and hazing. I understand that for a society to function those deemed as “different” or “weird” have always been punished as an example to others.
After all, Socrates was not executed because he “belonged”. He was executed because he made people uncomfortable. He reflected back to them their hypocrisy.
As an optimist, I understand that just because something has always been doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it better. Things happen. People make mistakes.
As a pragmatic idealist I think it is worth the try.
In the meantime, I’m willing to pay my masseuse a little extra to ensure a happy ending.
To learn more about how bullying impacts people watch Jonah’s video below: