“I can’t do this. I can’t go. I can’t move. “
Welcome to the thoughts that went through my head as I prepared to attend my 20th high school reunion. Here I was this mentor, coach, and women’s empowerment leader, and I can’t even clear my own head to just work through my fear.
Though my intense bullying experience had taken place in 7th and 8th grade, many of the same people were those I went to high school with. In my case, I was more bullied by boys for some reason, and specifically in a painful way from one person in particular, we’ll call him “Charlie.” The feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of seeing this person was overwhelming. I’d told the story over and over of what happened to me to literally thousands of young people I’d spoken to in speaking engagements in the past 15 years to show them the power of words.
We all know the ills of bullying. It’s just a myth that we can stop it by…telling people to stop it. Our stories are the evidence of it’s impact and must be told. The reality is that millions of people carry their bullying experiences beyond their youth. It’s a powerful force. It breathes a life of it’s own as the affects of the pain infiltrate your thoughts, your emotions, and your view of yourself and the world. When you are bullied….you are bullied for good.
What transpired over the next few hours was nothing short of cathartic and beautiful. This is the story part. It’s precious to me, and although it is a bit lengthy it is for every person who has ever been traumatized by the words of another. Whether it was last week or 20 years ago, I know the feeling can be almost the same.
A few months ago I reconnected in person with Maria. She was a person who I always remember was kind and good to me during those years. Maria is one of the strongest people I know with a heart as big as the sun, and ability to tell it like it is that I admire so much. I shared with her a lot of my bullying experiences in the past few months, and many of the memories began to be at the forefront of my mind. Had I not began talking through some of this with Maria I may not have even gone to the reunion. I am grateful for this incredible woman’s presence on the planet and in my life.
One of the first people I chatted with was Jen. For many years in some of my talks to young people on the power of kindness, I shared how Jen did something for me in high school I never forgot. Just four days before junior year, my mother passed away. I will never forget Jen walking up to me in the hallway that first week of school. She expressed her condolences and handed me a card that many of my classmates had signed. I decided to share this memory with Jen, how much it meant to me all those years ago, and that I spoke of that moment often. Her eyes filled with tears and she thanked me with such genuine appreciation for telling her. In that moment I knew that this night was not about anything more than healing, celebration, and compassion.
I continued to interact with people and share nothing by good thoughts, happy memories, and sharing about the past 20 years of life. After all of that worrying, the person I feared seeing was not there. Instead there were just words of kind hearts “I always remembered you as a sweet person.” “I hear you are a very important person now.” (At this one I laughed. It was amusing to me to be considered important, but I’ll take it!)
THE MOMENT OF CHANGE
As the night wore on, something began to happen. As the kindness was exchanged with others I felt the anger, pain, and sadness from my experience with Charlie completely lift. For the first time in my life I felt compassion for him. I had almost wished he was there so I could express that. For someone at any age to impart pain on another, there is a source of pain within that person as well. Removed from my own experience, I could see Charlie’s humanity, even in his absence. I left the reunion feeling a sense of freedom and happiness I am still grasping.
A SYMBOL OF FREEDOM
The next day I was to spend the day with a group of women that have been a source of inspiration for me for many years. I woke up Sunday morning completely different. This lens through which I’d looked at life and love with was completely clear. I wanted to capture the moment in a bottle and savor it, bringing it close to my heart at all times. I wanted symbolize my freedom by finding a simple ring to wear on my finger, something I could see every day.
After sharing my story with her, I enlisted my good friend Emily’s mom, Lisa as my shopping consultant. Lisa kept my intention in mind and our journey to find the perfect piece landed me at the shops at Bryant Park. We stumbled upon a beautiful sterling silver ring that immediately caught my eye and communicated two things: OPENNESS and CLARITY. I picked it up and went over to the young women working only to find out it was the jewelry designer herself, Jessica DeCarlo. She was also wearing the ring in gold. I shared my story with her and explained to her why I was buying it and what it meant to me. It’s open design communicated the space inside my heart and mind that had now been cleared. “You made my day!” she exclaimed. We hugged and I thanked her for providing this moment for me with her talent.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
I can’t stop bullying. I don’t honestly think we ever can. We can’t stop bulling until a regular conversation about the power of words, kindness, and communication is weaved into our education system, our parenting, our media, EVERYWHERE. Emotional literacy is the only solution. If I can understand my emotions and make sense of them, I won’t use them to hurt you. If I don’t have a consistent forum for that, I am left to my own devices to figure it out along the way. If you think that emotional literacy isn’t as important as math or history, that is just very sad. These things are important, but teaching personhood is equally important.
In this case, I feel I was bullied for a greater purpose than just to feel pain. I wrote this quote the morning after the reunion: Life will break the strongest people to create then as leaders for necessary healing revolutions. Your transformed pain is a gift the world is waiting for. Keep going.” (woo! shout out to channeling Jen Groover!)
Does this mean my life is perfect now? NO. Does it mean I won’t ever hurt again? NO. It means I have new eyes with which to see myself, life and love that I can choose anytime if I want.
I can’t change what someone said to you. I can’t even tell you to let it go. This isn’t a Disney song, this is life. Your pain will remain frozen in time until you are ready to heal. You will let that pain go at the exact moment that you do. No one can tell you when you should or that you’ll be better off. It must happen organically.
This was not an isolated moment of healing. The pre-cursor to it has been over a year of my life full of ups and downs, of triumph and struggle. I would like to thank the following people for clearing the space for this healing to happen. Each person is so super critical and deserves mentioning:
To my fab 4 of women whose friendship has spanned over 22 years: I love you, you are my sisters always: Daisy, Monica, Leeann, & Michelle.
To Amanda Steinberg, whose space is always that of sweeping transformative good. Thank you for the joy you’ve brought to my life in recent weeks. I love you!
To Jen Groover: Though I’ve known you for what seems like 5 minutes, some people just know they are connected by something deeper. Your presence inspired the quote I wrote. Thank you for bringing the conversations of kindness and emotional intelligence into everyday consciousness just by waking up in the morning.
To my favorite earth angel and conduit of peace, Dina Manzo, whose kindness and goodness shown towards me always moves me to be a better version of myself. Through Dina I was introduced to the following three women who I also want to thank:
To Melanie Notkin, whose book Otherhood healed and transformed my life forever. I believe this healing was necessary in order for me to fully grasp everything I shared above. I was given the greatest gift to read Otherhood with Melanie as my guide and I am grateful.
To Terri Cole, an extraordinary coach and meditation master, thank you for your leadership and belief in me. I listened to Terri’s soothing meditation right before the reunion to calm my heart.
To Lara Riggio: I am convinced that the #MagicNow challenge set the stage for this healing moment. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world.
To Maria, Jen and the entire class of 1994: THANK YOU. This gift will forever be in my heart. In particular for a wonderful evening thank you Nina, Lisa, Arleen, Celinda, Carole, Paul, Ian, Tom, Deirdre, KC, Vadim, Sammy, Cari, Mary, Vinny, the Daves, Andrea, Lauren, Jamie, Kim, Tara, and Barbara. All of your smiles and warmth touched my heart! Vikings for life!
To Jessica Decarlo: Thank you for designing my symbol of freedom! I will cherish it and remember you forever. Keep following your dream and living your passion!
To my newfound San Diego soul sister Giselle: I am SO grateful that our paths crossed and for all of the listening you’ve provided in the past few weeks. You are an amazing woman!
To Melissa Farley and Rachel DeAlto, both incredible coaches with hearts of gold. Your guidance in my life the past few months as accelerated the arrival of this moment!
To my Fall Get Smart Intern Team who inspires me every day to live with courage and hope: Mia, Shradha, Nicole, Johanna, Devyn, Rasha, Ashley, Caitlin, Diandra, and Charlotte. I know you came into my heart at the exact right time!
To two men who have shown me kindness, one for over 16 years, and one more recently Kevin Dowd and Dr. Joseph Galasso, Your patience and presence in my life has shown me the goodness of men and I love you both.
To my CYFM ladies: Carla, Jessica, Emily, Sara, Michelle, Mary Beth, Kerri, and my shopping consultant extraordinaire: Lisa. I feel so blessed to have spent the day after the reunion with you and to have known some of you for over 20 years. I know that was no mistake. Thank you for your faith and friendship!
To the ongoing support of my entire family, you all know who you are and I love you with all of my heart.
Lastly to Charlie: Thank you. This pain is not in vain, and I will use it for good. I wish you nothing but peace wherever you are. There was a time in both of our lives we were innocent defenseless children with everything possible for us. I choose to see you now as a blessing. Be well.
To every person who read this all the way through – you rock. Think of a person or two right now that this article might benefit and share it with them. Let someone know they are not alone and that healing is possible. I am not special. I am human just like you. What’s possible for me is possible for you and the people you love. Believe.