Moving from the head to the heart Pt 2: Reaching out can seem like the scariest of things
An act that lasts but only a second can cause a ripple effect that impacts a life. The freedom to choose, being our only measure of control, is lost once we put something in motion. We cannot determine the impact, no matter how much we try.
The impact of our past experiences often play out in our lives, and these experiences can play behind the scenes. Yet, if we are lucky, we are presented with opportunities to look behind the curtain and if we are able we can engage and in doing so we can be freed.
I had engaged the impact of my childhood bully and had realized that it was effecting me unconsciously. This realization created a desire in me to overcome this weight the only way I knew how, to reach out to my childhood bully after writing him a letter requesting a phone conversation. I remember being terrified to write that request as I felt my body shake from the chemicals that raced through my system almost as though I was reliving the torment I'd endured as a child.
I spoke briefly with my sister after sending the letter. She'd suggested I not get my hopes up because we needed to consider the receiver. I wanted to keep an open mind. I didn't want to be swayed either way - I just wanted to let what would happen happen. Now, I began creating stories in my head about what would happen or not happen. I ended my conversation with my sister, set my computer on the night stand and shut off the light. With my entire body and mind engaged, I would now try to sleep.
"Believe it or not I actually have been trying to build up my courage to reach out to you and make peace. I understand what you are trying to accomplish as I have done the same thing with others."
The next morning, I woke to the ding of a phone. My wife rolled over and told me the busses were canceled. It was a snow day. We both agreed, we were taking the kids to school anyway. As I turned over and grabbed my phone to check the time, I saw a message. It was from my childhood bully.
I remember my heart pounding and my body beginning to shake. As I pressed my thumb against the home button on my iPhone I thought, do I even want to read the response? Still influenced by what my sister had said the night before. I thought, even though I had received a response, I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I didn’t know what to expect. Here is what he wrote:
Thank you for reaching out. Believe it or not I actually have been trying to build up my courage to reach out to you and make peace. I understand what you are trying to accomplish as I have done the same thing with others.
I would be very happy to talk things out with you. Although I don’t remember a lot of my childhood as I’ve been diagnosed with C-PTSD and bipolar disorder from my own childhood trauma. However, I do remember enough that I owe you an apology that words can not describe!!!! I want to explain my behaviour as well, Not as an excuse, but for your understanding.
I do kindly ask if we can hold off for a couple weeks. I reopen my business this week, haven’t worked since Nov. plus dealing with a COVID divorce, etc....My mental health is just not where I want it to be for this type of conversation and you deserve my full attention.
Thank you again for your courage to reach out.
A Flood of Emotion
As I read his response, I began to feel a wave of emotions. My eyes began to well with tears, my breathing began to quicken. Just then, my bedroom door opened and my 8-year-old son jumped on the bed, excited to tell me it is a snow day. I embraced him and began rubbing his back as he snuggled in, but I was not with him. In that moment, I feel displaced with emotion, as I fight to hold the tsunami at bay, feeling a deep internal quake.
Moments later, my wife sat on the edge of the bed. I hand her the phone. As she began to read, my emotions triumph as I am flooded with intense feelings and place my hand over my face in an attempt to contain the uncontainable. I turn away and let out what I can only describe as deep pain leaving my body. My wife quickly escorts my confused son from our room and gives me the space I required to experience what I need to, alone.
"I expected to receive a response from the person I knew, the cruel kid who tormented me for years..."
I can’t fully describe how I felt in that moment because I don’t know. I just remember a powerful release that was years in the making. It was my bully's acknowledgement of our history and him expressing a desire to make amends that impacted me the most when he said, “I owe you an apology that words can not describe!!!!” You see, I expected to receive a response from the person I knew, the cruel kid who tormented me for years and instead, I received a compassionate reply from a person who owned his truth, conceded the pain he’d caused me, and now sought to make amends.
Flipping the Script
Over the course of the next few weeks, I would send messages to a man who I no longer viewed or labelled as a bully. I would check in to see how he was doing, how his business re-opening was going. I found myself sending him messages of support and he responded in kind. What a surreal experience this was for me. What was happening? In one of his messages he expressed to me that he was not the same person I remembered. To me, that was apparent but he also reiterated that he was so very thankful that I had reached out to him as he commended me on my courage. He commended me on MY courage! I informed him that I knew he had changed from the moment I read his initial response and that I looked forward to our talk. I said that, even though the thought still terrified the kid in me.
As I continued to check in with him, I received a response informing me that he was not well. He apologized that he could not accommodate my request to revisit our past at the moment. His message expressed that when he was ready, he wanted to give me the answers I sought and he wanted to give me his undivided attention, which he felt I fully deserved.
"I FULLY forgive you for the impact the young you had on me."
During the time that I had been chatting with him, I had also been doing my own deep work on my past experiences. I had been connecting with my own support network as I worked to move through my emotions. As I did, I came to a surprising realization. I was shifting and, although it began with me reaching out to him, my healing continued despite our inability to connect on the phone. I knew that I still wanted to talk with him but I was beginning to feel that I did not need him to heal. I started to realize that through a sea of emotions, my feelings of anger, confusion, and resentment were evaporating and what remained was compassion. This new realization, which was unconscious at the time, prompted me to write to him again. Here is what I wrote:
You have a lot going on at the moment. I am not intent on pushing our conversation too soon. I reach out to you periodically because that is who I am. I am not looking for any immediate connection other than that. I too am working on things on my end and truth be told, I may not need our conversation but I want it. My attention is on the 10-year-old me at the moment. I also want to let you know despite my desire to talk, I FULLY forgive you for the impact the young you had on me.
Since sending you my request and exploring this deeper - your gracious response and learning that you have become someone I can respect has helped me start to heal and move forward. You are on your journey and I am on mine - our paths simply crossed for a time and the experience was not pleasant for me. However, here we are, many years later, and they have crossed again and, who knows, maybe we can be friends.
I'll be thinking of you as you take the time you require to acquire what you need. I'll be here when you are able. I also have a special favour to ask you once we have talked. For me, it will be a closing of a chapter that I've been reading for far too long.
Take care, Name. I truly wish you the best.
The response I received to my message opened my eyes to the driving force behind the bullying I experienced as a child. The insight I gained was powerful as I realized just how much the ripple of childhood pain could impact many lives.