Tha-Wap! "Ouch, stop it," I cried out as I started to feel the fear, anger and humiliation begin to wash over me. Another red welt was beginning to swell on my bare leg as I tried to run for cover from my tormentor's onslaught of taunts and assaults, administered this time with the wet tip of a dish towel "rat tailed" and used like a whip against the naked skin of my legs, arms and face.
Would I end up going to the hospital again? Or would he just toy with me a little bit this time, before "allowing" me to beg for my release after his appetite was sufficiently satisfied from the control and violence?
I never knew.
You see I loved my brother. We were kids and we fought like brothers do, however sometimes... Too often, it would be more than just two brothers rough housing. Sometimes he would go too far; he would take out his frustration, anger and other issues out on me. When this happened it ended up being a bad day for me. Typically a day of blood, stitches, fractures, burns, derogation, helplessness and abandonment.
On those days, in those moments he could not be reasoned with. There was no negotiation or de-escalation, especially from a 12 year old boy. There was only torment, humiliation, and pain. It wasn't a matter of IF you were going to get hurt, only HOW MUCH. Sucks or sucks worse.
When days like these happened there was no protection that anyone could provide, short of a 24/7 body guard who was willing to throw down for me. I remember dreaming about building a robot that would protect me from him. No, not just protect me, after a while, I didn't just seek protection, I sought justice... revenge. I wanted my dignity back. I wanted to respect MYSELF again. I wanted my robot bodyguard to kick the living shit out of my brother until he "saw the error of his ways;" until he respected me or at least feared me.
I would act out every detail of how this would happen again and again in my head. It gave me some relief. No, it actually gave me joy, even if only imagined in my mind.
On the other hand, even with the abuse, I, like many younger siblings, looked up to my brother. I wanted to hang out with him, but not when he was cruel. I wanted to be accepted by him; I wanted to play with him; I wanted him to like me; to respect me. And sometimes that did happen, but other times... Let's just say it didn't.
You never knew if you would get Jekyll or Hyde. Not knowing was worse than the beating, but the humiliation, dis-empowerment and feelings of abandonment were worse yet. Having someone to protect you was no substitution for standing up for and being able to protect yourself. And this was the day I came to the point that I'd had enough. Enough of the pain, enough of the hospital visits, enough of the fear, enough of the begging, and enough of the self loathing that I felt after being his "bitch." What happened today would change the direction of the rest of my life.
"I said stop it!"
"Fuck you pussy. What are you going to do? You can't go running to mom and dad, they're gone dick head. They won't be here to save you. And you better not go telling them when they get home either."
I could feel my lip begin to quiver. Tears were welling up. I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear. My robot bodyguard would not save me today. No one was there to help me, I was ALONE to fend for myself. I knew I would be beaten. I just didn't know how bad. The last, most recent episode resulted in a trip to the ER and 9 stitches in my head. Oh but he was sorry... I could tell in his eyes he was, AFTER his emotions subsided or AFTER he got caught and feared his punishment.
The sting of the rat tail was almost unbearable as it struck the right cheek of my face. The pain was intense, but the unbearable part was the self hatred and humiliation, I had no dignity left. But, in that moment something changed in me. I somehow knew I was at a crossroad of sorts. Take one path your life leads here. Take the other and it goes down a much different road to a darker place. I had to choose. It was the most terrifying decisions of my young life. I was facing my worse nightmare.
Many of you may be thinking that nightmare was that of my abusive brother, but that wasn't the real demon I was facing. He was just the agent of something much deeper and more profound. In reality, I was facing myself. I was facing fears, my faith, my doubts, my confidence, my worth.
What am I worth to myself? Was I willing to stand up for myself, for what was right, even though he was still going to beat the piss out of me? It was about personal integrity, not about whether I would simply win or not. Actually, it really didn't have much to do with me "winning,"at all, it had to do with self respect. Was I willing to put it all on the line for myself?
Yes, I was tired of his abuse, but I was even more exhausted from the feelings I had toward myself, both in the moment and after. That was a torment I was no longer willing to endure. I'd be damned if was going to let this happen once again. He might beat me down, but he would not, could not defeat my spirit or sense of self respect.
I had enough.
I saw my opening as the dish towel retracted from that last blow. My years of martial arts training and increased confidence was going to be put to the test in this moment. All of the built up rage from a half a decade of abuse was fueling my counter assault.
I threw out my fist with everything I had.
The look on my brothers face is forever etched in my mind as I struck him square in the face. Surprise, pain, confusion and panic flooded every fiber of his expression as he attempted to collect himself.
I wasn't sure if he was going to shake it off or not. It didn't matter. My next blow had already hit its target.
"WAM!" The sound of my right hook hitting my brothers jaw was ringing in my ears as I watched his 15 year old legs go weak, causing him to stagger and hold on to the cupboard for support to keep himself from falling to the floor.
I saw red as I heard him scream and run toward the back door. Now I was the hunter.
Quick as a lion springing after a gazelle I was out the door after him, chasing him into the yard. He was not going to get away. Not today.
Aided by a massive adrenaline rush, I quickly caught up to him, jumped and tackled him before he made it to the woods next to our house.
Once on the ground I quickly mounted him and much like the scene in "Christmas Story" I began to literally pound his face into the ground yelling as all of the pent up anger erupted from me.
I don't know how many times I hit him in the face, but I can tell you this, I meant every single blow.
As I got off from his crying, heaving, crumpled body, I said, "If you every try hurting me again I will fucking kill you."
I meant it.
He never touched me again.
That, my friends, is a true story. It is my story with my brother and as cliche' as it sounds, that was the day I became a man. That day, that moment, that decision changed the rest of my life.
You may be wondering the same thing I sometimes do. What would have happened if he would have won that fight? We will never know. However I can share with you how it feels to me: It wasn't so much me winning the fight as it was me standing up for myself. That perspective had to be earned by facing the challenge in the manner that I did, for me in that moment. It is not to say that others cannot or will not experience that in a different way. It was about standing up for myself. Of saying no more: I will not live like a victim any longer. I will not GIVE that to you any more. I don't have to take it from you, because you never had it, I do. I always have.
In that moment I had to experience that for myself. It was beyond logic, thinking or telling. It was all about doing, feeling and expressing.
Oh, for the record, I never touched him again either. I was only looking to be left alone, not to become a bully myself. I knew there were other better ways of dealing with conflict, and resorting to physical violence was a last resort. However if you have the conviction to be willing to and capable of physically throwing down when necessary to protect (for the right reason), this makes all of the difference in the world. It is this sentiment that is horribly misunderstood in our society today. As Jack Hoban says, having The Ethic, Tactics and Techniques of being an Ethical Warrior.
It was that warm summer day when I was 12 years old that I reclaimed my life.
Later, on a deep unconscious level I figured that since I didn't like being bullied and victimized, others probably didn't either, so I became passionate about learning and teaching empowerment skills. First in martial arts and later spanning a wide variety of conflict management, empowerment and leadership skills.
Thanks for listening to part of my journey. I tell it in hope to help others begin to understand how this idea of Integrated Empowerment is so important. What is Integrated Empowerment and how can it solve many personal and social problems? Well, I guess you'll just have to read part 2 of this post! =)
See you on the flip-side.
All the best,