On the playground you can get away with things. I froze when he shouted you’re an ugly freak. Recess was a game of chase. I’m smiling because he can’t tag me. He catches up after I catch my breath. I lower my head to meet his eyes, that’s when I see the anger and hear,”You’re an ugly freak. Ugly face.” My smile erased, my legs froze. He laughed seeing he succeeded. Frozen, so I couldn’t run faster than him.
He taught me well. I was so good at being so mean to myself and I couldn’t outrun the bully in my head. I avoided mirrors. I wriggled out of making eye contact. I felt sick from all the anxiety in my stomach. My posture resembled that of a beaten dog, tail tucked, head down.
When I was a little kid I had no hate for myself. I am blessed with such loving parents. They always told me I can be anything I dream of. Everything was possible. I wish everyone had the sweet and loving childhood that I had.
My mind, body and heart were respected in my home. Being little and unknowing I thought that was how people treated each other. Baffled by the outside world of self loathing I followed suit. I looked in the mirror through eyes now imbued with society's fear and anguish. I saw an ugly face. My bully was born.
In 2016 a glorified bully became president. I felt like I was in 4th grade again, shocked and confused by the bullies who need to hurt others to feel big. Tired of feeling debilitated, I was looking for a way to come back to my power. I heard about this kickboxing/karate dojo from a friend, could I do something so cool? Me?
The dojo was a little gem tucked away in industrial Seattle. One wall was mirrored and the other concrete. There were four punching bags hanging from the ceiling like an invitation waiting for a response. I took up as little space as possible trying to avoid all those goddamn mirrors.
I was greeted by the other students whose belts ranged from beginner to advanced. They said they too struggled in the beginning but got better in time. Their words were comforting, their confidence was inspiring. I was a jumble of nerves begging to go back to my cave of solace but I stayed, palms sweating.
The atmosphere of the dojo didn’t exist in the outside world. We bowed when stepping on and off the mat. We bowed to each other before and after practicing. This invited respect for the space, my fellow students, and myself.
Jordan Giarratano, the founder and instructor of the dojo, showed me what self respect looks like. I’ve never met anyone like Jordan. He watched us practice and when a correction was needed, he would say “pause”. .
“That was good just widen your stance like you’re standing on railroad tracks.” Corrections without judgment, without shame. Entirely different from my My P.E. teacher who thought yelling how “bad” we were doing was a good way to motivate us. I used to shut down whenever I was yelled at. I can’t learn anything in this shut down state. Jordan never yelled.
Many words of abuse were thrown at me over the years but none were as brutal as the things I thought about myself. Jordan introduced a new voice into my inner dialogue to help me stand up to my bully.
The Protector enters. The bully didn’t just disappear because I wanted it to. Bullies need love too.
I based my protector on how Jordan works with his inner bully. “Hey buddy.” Jordan described how he met his bully with love and understanding. “I hear you are hurting, You are good. You are worthy, You are enough..”
My protector came in the form of a woman with Jordan’s voice. She is a cross between the protective and supportive qualities both women and men have. She tells me I’m doing good. Three small words shifted my mountains of self loathing.
You're doing good. My protector repeated to stand up to the bully. Abuse was interrupted by love. It’s true that if you say something many times your brain takes it as fact. You can use this to convince yourself of anything.
Every day I tell myself,” you’re doing good.”
Hearing the sharp smack of my fist hitting a pad sparked an assertive fire in my belly. The person holding the pad staggered back from MY punch! I look at my arms that a past coach called noodles, these are some damn strong noodles.
”Never give up on yourself”. My parents would tell me, giving me a lift out of the sinking sand. I needed someone to show me how to stand up for myself. The dojo showed me, unveiling the strength I always had.
My bully still sinks her teeth in, trying to get me to sink with her. “There’s nothing to fear.” I say to the hurting girl as she starts to loosen her bite. “Nothing to fear.”
I shrunk myself because I was tricked into believing lies about women. Boys hurt me and made me feel like I deserved it. Shrinking is easy, expanding is arduous.
I saw the invisible cage around me for the first time and I realized those who hate me for being confident are also yearning to be free. I deeply wish we weren't conditioned to feel intimidated or fearful of expanding into a more confident version of ourselves.
Seeing that same bully in the eyes of so many women called me to help them unlock their protector. Bursting out of the cage to stretch tall and wide. I want to help guide them through the door, together shining a light on the shadow of power that is always within them.