Why Not To Be A Jerk: Notes From A Recovering Bully

Sometimes there’s no other way to slice it than with the truth; I used to be an asshole. I know a lot of inspirational tales about the survivor, but I almost never hear much about how life turns out for the bully. (It makes sense if I think about how many people actually want to own up to their bullshit.) Since I try to live with no shame in my game, I’ll tell you how it goes. I can’t tell you how not to be an asshole, of course. That one is all you. But if you’re reading and nodding along, that’s a good step. I’ll just tell you WHY not to be an asshole instead.

5 Things That A Bully Knows

1. Words are glass. Small, jagged shards that wink as they hang in the light. These moments last only seconds, but these seconds in this light make the shards look as much like the truth as they felt leaving our lips. It is not until we lay sleepless inside of ungodly hours that we taste the blood in our mouths.

2. We have our reasons. Reasons like self-respect and love and justice. We see ourselves as the messenger rather than the villain, for a villain would surely use his fists.

3. Hate is heavy. To rule this way brings discomfort that is felt at all times, like stacking those we dislike atop our shoulders. We do not feel discouraged, because it takes a strong person to carry this weight. We blame them entirely, all the while questioning why everyone is on our back.

4. Bullies have bullies, too. There is the one person we all know, the one who started it. The one who gave us all of our reasons. An objective perspective would tell us that the virus did not begin with them, yet we will maintain the idea that this person doesn’t have reasons; just a blank space where a soul should be. We will imagine that even for a soul that is black like soil, there is, at the very least, hope that good things might still someday sprout.

5. We are just confused. How could we not be? So few of the people we know walk around with the weight of nothing and nobody. This is not malice; it’s survival. Surely if you cease to be the one holding the saw, you become the one laying on the table.

5 Harsh Truths That A Bully Learns

1. Awakening to life’s purpose will more than likely not involve pretty pastels, no third eye, no peace. It will feel as if we are going about life, skin held together by staples while our body attempts to shed this and replenish itself. We will resist, clinging to our rough exterior as if it were worth more than it is. We will not let go until we realize how painful it is to embrace ourselves.

2. Change, the grand, sweeping kind is almost never launched in quiet, thoughtful moments. Change is brought in by heavy gusts that shatter window panes. Change becomes the guest choosing to stay; invited or not. We will adapt and flourish next to it. Or we won’t, and we’ll find ourselves brushing up against it, hearts like sandpaper, vowing that we’ll teach our kids not to be wimps, because life is tougher when you’re a wimp. We’ll find ourselves spitting glass.

3. Everyone has their reasons. Reasons that make us unimportant to them, like them to us. Reasons like pride disguised as self-respect, vengeance disguised as love and loss disguised as justice. We will not see this great wheel of reasons until we and all involved notice that we’re running in circles.

4. Nobody with any kind of character bets on the bully. To be an asshole, to fly off the handle, so far it’s (kinda) worked. However, there are VERY few areas in life in which these strategies are efficient or tolerated. One day, when our sideshow is no longer the freakiest in town, the crowd that coos and strokes our fragile egos will begin to thin until it is us and the dust. We will be remembered, but people will not find it entertaining. We become the empty vessel after the party.

5. Perhaps the most jarring truth is that we matter more than this, that our lives are worth more than we’re doing with them. Our voices are melodious when they are not being used to wound. The energy we squander on hate takes real commitment, and there are innumerable positive outlets we could use to fine tune that rather endearing bit of our character. As we turn this over we will see that almost every black, rotten part of us started growing with the hope of something good. We alone are something good. The road is a unique, authentic journey for all who travel, but the pattern of change has been the same since Moses was an angsty teen. We become who we are when we discover that we can no longer be who we were.

The Net: An Honest Conversation About the Holiday Season and Sadness

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for weeks. I’ve typed countless fragmented sentences wrapped in cheer, but none of them felt right. There was the pretty paper, and beneath it, boxes inside of boxes of nothing. I don’t get down like that, so I’m giving you guys something else; some real shit for the holidays.

I loved Christmas as a kid. Lights? The flickering ones, on the fastest possible setting before mom says I’m going to give someone a seizure. Music? That one song by Tom Petty where he sings about not wanting his relatives to kiss him at Christmas. Silly Tom Petty. Carolers? Stand there and sing to me FOREVER! Annual mass? Fuck yeah! (Kinda.)

The entire month of December was a visual smorgasbord. I can’t actually think of a happier string of days in my life, my only complaint being that more of my family liked ham more than turkey (some bullshit.) Perhaps that’s why this time of year has been the most difficult to handle for some time. Still, every December I wait in anticipation of the magic seeping into my skin so that I can have greens and golds.

I feel the sadness take hold beginning in October, but the days are still long enough to conjure up sweet visions of what joy would look like if it had a face. In November my brain is fighting, but my soul is undeterred. “Next Week. Next Week I’ll feel ready.” December comes and brings with it everything and nothing, and some wouldn’t believe it, but both are heavy.

The holidays are a painful time of year for a lot of us, for a myriad of reasons. It can be particularly lonely when we’re tripping over well wishes and brushing up against festive images of social connectedness. There’s also the expectation that everything should be peaceful and celebrated, gratitude glowing in every corner. I find it especially cruel that the time of year we feel the most numb is also the time of year that we most resemble broken records, saying things like “I’m great, thanks for asking.” and “Wonderful to see you!”

Small talk is called small talk for a reason, and the reason is that there is no room for genuine feelings inside of it. When they ask “what’s new?” I will tell them that there’s nothing too exciting. I will tell them this because there is no room for me to say

“I feel like shit. Well, kinda. I mostly don’t feel anything about anything, but, well, that’s pretty shit. It’s been 6 days since I had a shower, and more since I changed my clothes. I watched an entire season of Mad Men even though I knew that the stable version of myself would hate it, because getting up and choosing something else seemed exhausting. I’ve eaten nothing but Quaker Instant Oatmeal this entire week. There is dog hair all over my life. Sometimes I get a feeling or two and I can go somewhere, but talking to people is like driving with a flat tire. Possible, but not a great experience. I feel like the prisoner behind the glass, reaching, but unable to make contact, and all I have is this phone with which I send reassurance down the line. How can a person love life so much and still not be able to get out of bed?”

Fuck small talk, guys. Insincere conversation blows anyway. If nobody has asked you yet, I’m asking: Are you okay? Really okay? If not, that’s fine. Is there something that could be done to make it better?

Maybe for you, like me, it’s depression. Maybe you have suffered a loss and you’re grieving. Maybe you’re just unsure. Whatever it is, it’s okay to feel it (or not feel it.) Whatever it is, I know that bullshit clichés don’t remove the film that covers you. So what I will say is “Me too, friend.” What I will say is that I’m proud of you. Because it’s hard to feed the demand for happiness and stability when both are in short supply. Because you’re kick-ass and even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, it really is wonderful to have you here.

To anyone who is struggling quietly, you are very brave. Please know that being brave doesn’t also have to mean being alone. You may tell yourself that it’s not anybody else’s problem, that they didn’t sign up for this. Please remember that you are not just the space provided for another to write their name and volunteer their time. You are a jarring and magnificent example of what it means to be human. You walk that beam gracefully between two worlds and you balance so well, but if there were a net, would it be okay to fall?

Because there is a net. Sometimes it looks like mom, or a close friend. Sometimes it looks like a psychiatrist. Sometimes it sounds like collective voices saying “Hi, Karlee!” in a support group. Sometimes it sounds like the suicide hotline. And what it feels like? It feels like fear and sadness and frustration and utter relief. It feels like recovery.

If the net looks appealing for no other reason, consider this: I will never know what the inside of your fire looks like if you don’t stick around to walk through it. To write it, or paint it, or sing it. I’ll never know where the fire burned hottest, and that would be an incredible shame, because your story feeds my story and all of the great tales ever written.

This year I want to give my readers the gift of conversation instead of small talk. There is no better opportunity to call a loved one, to tell them you are thinking of them. To ask them if they are okay. There is no better opportunity to offer a hug or a smile or a meal. There is never a better time than RIGHT NOW to ask for help if you need it.

There is no shame in knowing that there are more ways to dig a grave than in the frozen ground. There is no dishonour in feelings that scare you silent. Most of all, it shows no weakness to give them up for the possibility of feelings like self love and happiness. For the realization that there is more to grass than mowing it.

If ever the wind whistles and threatens to blast you off course, and you’ve forgotten how to maneuver, forgotten to WANT to maneuver, Please don’t also forget that

There is a net.

If you or someone you care about is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

For more information on suicide prevention, click here.