In this post, the author reviews the imperfections of childhood relationships in search of all his OCD triggers. Along the way, old bullies become friends.
Since this is a post about getting picked on as a kid and I originally wrote it the week of Christmas, it’s only appropriate that I begin with this:
Not to cue the angry metal soundtrack that served me so well in my youth:
Now we can begin…
I used to blame childhood bullies and name-callers for all the things that led to an adulthood with OCD. I was bullied, you ask? You betcha. I was called a lot of names related to being fat. Some kids gave me the occasional beating.
But here’s the thing: I was no better than they were.
For every five kids who picked on me, there were five other kids I picked on to feel better. In high school, there was one kid everyone called Stiffy because of something unfortunate that happened to him in the locker room shower. He had a speech impediment that caused him to talk in a low, tone-deaf drone. He was freakishly thin. He had double the body hair that I have today, and that’s saying something. I’m pretty sure he got a few beatings along the way.
There was the classmate in elementary school who got beat up a lot. I beat him up once because he was the only kid in the schoolyard I could take down.
So in one sense, the childhood vitriol that came my way was poetic justice. The other thing is that you grow up and realize all kids do stupid things, but most of us grow up.
I remember a gang called the Bridge Rats. They were all about my older brother’s age and hung out under the General Edwards Bridge connecting the Point of Pines neighborhood in Revere, Mass. to the neighboring City of Lynn. They smoked pot, sucked kegs of beer dry and bullied the crap out of me and some of my friends. Among their many works of graffiti under that bridge was a corrupted version of the Ten Commandments. Since I was a believer in God even as a kid, I was pretty certain they were all going to burn in Hell, and I wanted to be their bus driver.
In high school, when I wasn’t picking on Stiffy, I got my share of fat jokes thrown my way. And I was never allowed into any of the little groups that form among classmates. I even had trouble fitting in with the headbanger crowd.
Then I lost a bunch of weight in what was, in hindsight, the stirrings of athletic bulimia, where eating binges were followed by days, weeks or months of starving myself, existing on black coffee and Raisin Bran, and working out three hours a day. I grew my hair long. A few people started to actually think I was cool.
The trend continued into the college years, where I kept the hair long, got involved in all the extra-curricular groups and for the first time started making a lot of friends. I drank and smoked pot, the same things I used to think the Bridge rats were going to burn over. I chain smoked. And for most of college, it kept me thin and cool.
Of course, inside the empty hole in my soul was starting to grow, gathering up all that was dark in me to form the mental disorder that would stalk me in adulthood. The addictions were what I used to try filling the hole.
But on the surface, I was doing a decent job of holding up my facade.
Fast-forward to more recent years, when I turned to therapists to help me peel back layer after layer of what ultimately fueled my OCD. There was the family tragedy and childhood illness. There was the loss of dear friends and the constant fear that more loss was right around the corner.
But a funny thing happened in therapy: The memories of schoolyard bullies and Bridge Rats DID NOT come bubbling to the surface. I now know why — because they really weren’t traumas at all. We were all being stupid kids, and since I was guilty of the same behavior, I wasn’t entitled to harbor resentments. If anything, I plunged into a period of self-loathing over the memories of things I HAD DONE to others.
But here’s the great part of it all: Those I’ve since reached out to have been pretty forgiving. We’ve also become friends. As for those Bridge Rats: I’m connected to many of them via Facebook and we often look back at those days and laugh. Most of us are too busy with our spouses, kids and jobs to lament past misdeeds. We learned from them instead. And we grew up.
I lost track of Stiffy after graduation and hope he’s ok. I am at least at peace over the fact that I did befriend him in our senior year and renounced what I had done to him.