I wanted to kill myself. Writing those words in such a public forum feels painful, and yet to deny the truth would be to deny who I am today, and the journey I’ve taken to get here.
When my parents moved us from the inner city to small town Georgia back when I was 15, I felt like I’d lost everything. I could no longer see the best friends I’d had since I was 6 years old. I could no longer ride my bike to the movie theatre, or the arcade, or to my friends’ houses… because I had no friends. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do, nobody to do it with, and no way of getting out.
To say I did not fit in at my new school would be an understatement. We’d registered late, and as a result I wound up stuck in a weight training with the Rockdale County High School football team. Due to skipping a grade and having a late June birthday, I was 2 years younger than most of my classmates. I was smaller, weaker and (at least in their eyes) I dressed funny, copying the styles of the New Wave bands I loved circa 1983. I was smart, sensitive and scared, like a lamb thrown to the lions, and they devoured me.
For the first 6 months, I got beat up pretty much every single day. Random fists would punch me in the face as I walked down the crowded hallway. A jerk named Danny and his two oafish henchman would harass me constantly, push weights down onto my chest or throat when the coach stepped out for a smoke, or accost me in the halls and punch me in the stomach, with two of them holding me still so I couldn’t get away. I spoke to the principal about it, but RCHS was a football school and ultimately it only made things worse.
Things weren’t much better at home: When I told my father about it, he said I needed to learn to stand up for myself, as if one 5’8″ kid could actually stand up to 3 or more massive football players. He became even harder on me than usual (which was saying something), almost as if to punish me for my weakness. I felt worthless and utterly alone, and one day actually found myself pulling his pistol out of the closet and starting to load it as I sobbed. Fortunately, a friend called at that exact moment.
As I got older, I got bigger and stronger, until I was intimidating enough that nobody would mess with me. But on the inside I was just as scared and scarred as ever from being told I wasn’t good enough and couldn’t do anything right. Years of verbal and physical abuse eventually take their toll, and you learn to internalize your feelings, so that the voice of hyper-criticism and loathing becomes your own. I became depressed and suicidal, and in my late teens I began cutting myself. Though I’ve long since conquered my personal demons, I bear the physical scars to this day.
Now, my daughter is less than 3 years away from being a teenager, and already I see familiar issues popping up among her circle of friends. A few months ago, one of her friends was bullied for being overweight, then my daughter was picked on for standing up for her. As the girls develop physically, they’re becoming more judgmental and clique-ish, and my hackles of paternal protection are already starting to go up. Fortunately we were able to address the issue with school administration quickly to squash the discord, but millions of kids in this country do not have parents or administrators on their side.
I recently learned about a great non-profit organization called To Write Love On Her Arms, which works to help people struggling with depression, self-injury, addiction and thoughts of suicide while also investing directly into treatment and recovery. The organization was founded in Florida by Jamie Tworkowski in March 2006, after he and some buddies helped rally around a friend named Renee Yohe, who struggled with depression and addiction and had attempted suicide. Unable to get Yohe checked into a treatment facility right away, Tworkowski and friends decided to “become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life.”
The organization began selling T-shirts to help pay for Yohe’s treatment, their MySpace page began to blow up, popular bands like Anberlin and Switchfoot started showing their support, and TWLOHA got hundreds of thousands of messages from young people struggling with the same issues. In 2009, the organization partnered with the Kristin Brooks Hope Center to create IMAlive, the first ever online crisis counseling center over instant messenger, which is staffed by people 100% trained and certified in crisis intervention.
I can only imagine how great it would’ve been for my teenage self to have an outlet like TWLOHA available, and I’m so glad to know that my daughter’s generation has a huge community of people who truly understand how difficult growing up to be. Please consider donating to TWLOHA, buying t-shirts from their online store, or joining their promotional street team through their website so that kids like Jonah Mowry will never have to feel alone again. –Bret Love
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