The recent media reports about bullying are shining a spotlight on a social problem that is hardly new. Earlier this year, I wrote a poignant blog post, “Baring It All on Bullying.” I’m committed to speaking out and writing about overcoming abusive adversities.
Over the weekend I shot a video for the It Gets Better Project, started by columnist Dan Savage. I wanted to add my face and voice to the movement as an out gay man who experienced bullying multiple times a day at school, on a daily basis, and for years. I am living proof that it really does get better.
Watch my two-minute video here:
There was so much more that I wanted to say in the video, but knew it needed to be brief and hopeful. Let me share with you some additional thoughts and, in turn, please share this post with others who would benefit. I really want to get the word out that it really does get better.
When I was a young boy, the bullying all began when my babysitter sexually abused me and threw me out of my own house in nothing more than my underwear. Neighborhood kids ostracized me because they saw how the babysitter berated me in front of them, continuing her abusive behavior. My younger sister, born with a big mouth, came to my defense. That she loved me enough to defend me was wonderful, but underscored my weaknesses in the eyes of my young peers. I was called every bad name you could ever imagine, and in my innocence, I was convinced they invented names to call me; they hated me so much.
As I said in the video, I felt like the walking dead.
The shame of sexual abuse is huge. When a female sexually abuses a young boy, that sense of shame is heightened. I never could bring myself to tell my parents, and know this is common among young people who are abused and bullied. So I dug into myself and lived a rich fantasy life as a way of escaping the real life I walked through while feeling dead. I had virtually no friends, couldn’t trust anyone outside my family, and didn’t feel free to speak openly to anyone about why my young life had all ready gone to hell. My voice was prematurely – and temporarily – muted.
When kids have parallel experiences, they are desperate and on the edge. At age 7, I was too young to think about killing myself, but often thought about running away. Running away was an idea that tugged at my immature mind for years because it was the first thought I had for dealing with my desperation.
I never did run away, though. Instead, I dug deeper into my inner resources, searching for hope. The truth is that I was always an optimist, even in my darkest hours.
Growing up in a music-filled house was unwittingly my saving grace. To know me even moderately well, you know I’m a huge fan of Stevie Nicks. As the style columnist for Metro Silicon Valley, I even wrote about Stevie as a style icon. She wrote a song called, “Think About It.” Like many of her songs, it’s about love. Several years after the sexual abuse began what was a certain downward spiral, the song’s lyrics reminded me to love myself enough to not give up. It’s like Stevie sang this directly to me like a personal anthem.
Even when you feel like your life is fading
I know that you’ll go on forever You’re that good
Heartbreak of the moment is not endless
Now your fortune is your life’s love
Somewhere from deep within came the determined resolve to find myself instead of losing myself. From the depths of desperation developed the passions I am known for today. I found my life’s loves by becoming secure in who I am [and still want to become], and having a totally committed and loving relationship. And I have a fulfilling and ironic career helping successful people transform their personal brands. I know a thing or two about that.
So for a short, Jewish, left-handed, glasses-wearing gay guy who has been tormented and bullied for all this and more: I am living proof that if you just stick with it, life really does get better as you discover that your fortune comes from depths of your spirit.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.