Issue #49 was to follow the new format of 10 questions and their respective answers. I do have those 10 questions, submitted by your emails and texts, and then I saw a documentary entitled, "Bully". The subject matter is of course, what one might expect to see, following youths as they encounter various degrees of bullying throughout their elementary days.
The movie hit a nerve and I had an urging to do more. So, I went to Iopposebullying.org, bought a shirt and wristband, and signed up as a volunteer speaker. The thought of going to a school and speaking to kids about bullying is a powerful, positive thing to do. I wish someone had taken that opportunity when I was bullied all those years ago.
What follows is my bully story, perhaps not worse than others, but harsh to me and I am better for having lived through it and had the perhaps rare privilege of having closure with my bully. I believe beyond the obvious physical abuse, the cornerstone of bullying is the mental torment one goes through, day after day, like a Groundhog Day that occurs seemingly forever.
By the way, how does this pertain to fitness? What better way to reinvent oneself, improve the way one stands and feels, from the inside out, than through exercise and good nutrition? What better way to let out negative energy and become emotionally un-paralyzed, than leaving it all at the gym? What better way to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, than by ducking under a loaded squat rack and being drilled into the ground only to rise up?
Having moved from New York to New Jersey back in 1984, by coincidence, I befriended the most popular kid in our school. He lived but a few houses from me. We hung out just about every day and he introduced me to a world of new possibilities. New friends, new hiking trails, sports and girls! I liked them all but could not grasp the concept, nor get excited over team sports. Number 1, I was not athletic, and could not keep up with the guys, Number 2, although I had trouble catching a football and could not throw it, I had difficulty accepting that if I was truly trying and giving 100 percent while others slacked, that didn't seem to me to be a team effort. My friend loved sports. I loved Transformers and GI Joe. There was a non-agreeing look in his eye.
And then one year at my birthday he brought me a He-Man figure. I thanked him but (as kids are typically honest until taught not to be), I told him I already had that particular figure. I hurt his feelings and apologized, but by then something had transformed in his personality.
The next day as the bus doors opened, my life would never be the same. Perhaps if I knew that, I'd have walked that day. A loud chorus of song centered about my family and me that lasted that whole trip - all 2.5 miles, which felt like 2500, to school that day. Kids that were my friends now would either ignore me, put deodorant in my hair, signs on my back, flip books out of my hand, fart in class in front of girls I liked and get me blamed and on and on, for years. And the mental abuse was far, far worse.
One day a new kid moved 2 doors down. We hung out everyday. And then he asked why we didn't wait at the bus stop at the top of the hill. I couldn't tell him that's where the bully and his henchmen waited. And so the next day he went. And we were never friends again. He was elevated to Henchman # 2 status.
Through it all, there was one kid, who was friends with both the bully and me. I was distrustful and even called him a spy. Instead of flattening me, he seemed to have a sense of understanding, and would never succumb to peer pressure and would stay my friend. To this day, he knows who he is and that I love him and that he is my non-biological brother 4 Life and I know he will arrive impeccably conditioned at his first bodybuilding competition later this year.
I can imagine what this does to the parents, who themselves must feel angry and powerless. Another day, my father had had enough. He yelled for the bully to come over and settle this right now. I cried and tried to enter the house. My father shut the door and stood by as the bully and I did battle. My mother tried to hold back the tears. Outside, you'd never seen so many people gather on a front lawn in all your life.
The bully retained a fighter's stance, that was taught to him, I am sure, by his older varsity brother. The only skills I had we're transforming into a vehicle and rolling out or shooting off my pretend laser rifle. So I river danced around the bully and he decked me in the nose. I bled, I cried, I ran into the house. And though I "stood up" to the bully, it didn't mean a damn thing.
And then one day, the bullying simply phased out. Like a discontinued line at the local Macy's there was no more name calling, songs or the like. During this time I discovered weight training. Oh my goodness - you can actually change your body and get strong and big muscles? I was hooked.
But it wasn't to get revenge or beat down the bully or any other such nonsense. Quite simply, I had fallen in love. To have found a solo activity that brought brilliance and illumination to my life, was always there and nonconditional was better than any Nintendo game or visit to Benihana or cancellation of Hebrew School or snowed in delayed opening of public school. The iron was truth, justice and now my way.
What I did:
In 2011, my friend alerted me that the bully was on Facebook. Thinking not too much about it, he thought maybe I should contact him since it is still on my mind from time to time and I even wrote a script about it for Will Ferrell entitled, “The Eagle Scout.” That night I found myself contacting him and the next thing I knew we were on the phone. The bully nervously asked, "Do you want to kick my ass or something?" Of course not. Although I had envisioned permanent vengeance many times, it was behind me now. Especially with his Facebook profile pic of his then newborn son. I only wished him well and that he would raise his son to be a person of good value, and not a bully.
But I had to know why. Why all the torture? He said he too thinks about it from time to time and was pushed to do so by an unyielding mother who I must have pissed off somehow. When he wanted to stop or his conscience kicked in, he explained that his mom would renew the rage. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to say. And for a moment he became the bully again. And said, "You mean like an apology?" I simply repeated the question. And he said. "For any pain or suffering that I caused you, I am sorry." I thanked him, teared up and hung up knowing that we would never speak again.
The most important thing I learned is to find a passion and invest in it. Devote yourself to your craft and make the most of your life. Sometimes kids are unable to ace up to the bully and I don't think they should have to. I think that is up to principals and other adults. But listen to the bullied and do not confuse them with the bully. Do not think that a forced shaking of the hands will make it all better. Because it won't. And the bully will double his/her efforts.
My message is simple:
I got closure and had the bully beat because today I am thankful for everything I have: honesty, drive, truth and determination. I have the most beautiful, talented and intelligent fiancée. My book is currently in Costco, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Shortly, I am to begin my fifth book, a giant training encyclopedia. I have the most amazing clients, get to wear pajamas (basically) to work and do what I love. And it was through the bullying that I discovered a sense of independence, urgency, self-reliance and to never give up.
Special thanks to The Blood Sugar Wizard, Chris Golightly, for having me as her guest on her fabulous blogtalkradio:
Yours in Fitness,