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Success on the Other Side of Bullying

My name is Sally [not her real name], and I'm an alcoholic. I would like to share my story during Anti-Bullying Month since this is a reminder of where I came from.

My younger brother is a little person, which is the accepted name today. However, when we were kids, he was called many ugly names and was often the butt of jokes. I was a year older, a fierce older sister, and I became his defender. By being his defender, I became a bully.

I would anticipate situations where he would be stared at or mocked, and I would prepare myself to ‘do battle' with whoever looked at him wrong. My behavior became my ‘rep' (as we called our reputations back in those days), and it became ingrained. Even when we were no longer in the same school and I wasn't there in my protector role, I stayed tough and belligerent.

I know now that becoming a bully protected me, too. If I could make myself unapproachable, I didn't have to open up to anyone. Smaller kids feared me, and the ones my age didn't want to be around me.

Being a bully is a lonely business. When I wasn't taking care of my brother, it was all bluster and a front to protect the little child inside me. I needed my own defender, and there wasn't one in our dysfunctional family.

I'm an adult now, and in recovery. When I was young and using drugs or alcohol, I didn't care how lonely I was. I also didn't care how I treated other people; there are probably still amends I need to make for things I did in the past. But because I got sober, a new world opened up for me. I had no career path – in fact, that term was totally alien to me – because my whole focus was on my drugs and booze.  When I got sober and realized I needed to make a living, I turned to something I knew: Overcoming addiction. It took a long time, but I was finally able to return to school and get my degree.

I needed to get intern hours, and – of all the places where I could have interned – I ended up working in a shelter for tough young women. Bullies. When they ‘puffed up' with anger and got in my face, I knew exactly where they were coming from because I'd been there. Many were runaways, raised in abusive homes, and bullying had become their way to cope. I thank my Higher Power all the time that He placed me in a situation where I could not only help myself by earning those needed hours, but I could also help others. I was a human mirror for some of those women; I could share straight from my heart and tell them my story. Bullying and addiction took me down, but I was able to get back up again, and so could they.  

I've learned that there is a strong connection between addiction and bullying. An Ohio State University study a couple of years ago showed that there was a link between involvement in bullying and substance use. Young people involved in bullying were more likely than students not involved in bullying to use substances, with bully-victims reporting the greatest levels of substance use.

I can't undo my past, but I can make my present productive. I am an advocate for people in recovery and also for those who have been bullied. My childhood attempts to help my brother took me on a painful journey, but it turned out to be one that led to a powerful place I never knew existed.

Recovery Matters, October 2014

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