A distance maker called bullying

It takes no strength to be a bully. That said, to call those who bully, villains or bad people, misses the mark entirely. Hold people accountable, certainly. But accountability does not mean compassion has no role.  When possible, it does. Very much so. 

Bullying itself is a distance maker as far as I’m concerned. A way of keeping people backed off. Distance makers, as I’ve been bold enough to name them, consist of some behavior, attribute, environmental reality, that keeps people at a distance. Distance makers come in many forms. A former colleague of mine who dealt with a weight challenge told me that some folks put on weight as a way of keeping people away. 

It was pondering that observation that led me to recognize the presence of distance makers and the sizable repertoire of distance makers alive and well in the human family. In short, distance makers, healthy or not in form, are meant to protect us, keep us safe.

Distance makers are everywhere. Yelling, nastiness, sarcasm, name calling, threats, all forms of violence. I can attest to the fact some perfumes and colognes are distance makers. The first time I smelled musk I thought the end of the world had come.

I had a spectacular dance teacher at the Joffrey School of Ballet named Perry Brunson. He taught, Men’s Class. In all my time as a dancer I never met anyone who could teach Men’s Class as brilliantly as Mr. Brunson. On top of that, he was a nice man. A nice man who, before each class, dipped himself into a vat of English Leather, a cologne capable of repulsing anyone who got within a yard of the man.  That said, Mr. Brunson was no bully. He was, in truth, a lovely man, and a teacher I remember with gratitude and great fondness.

Back to bullying. Bullying does not take strength, in my view. I’ve heard some theorize that some bullies are, underneath, cowards. I don’t agree. To call a bully a coward is to inflict judgement, and judgement, when applied in the arena of understanding human beings, distorts reality. 

It may very well be true that many bullies live with fear, a primary antecedent to the bullying in some cases, I would think. But to engage in bullying behavior, while managing fear, is anything but an act of cowardice. In truth, it takes strength to manage both at the same time. And, of course, when you bully, you run the very real risk of someone striking back. Such moments can result in some tough emotional quagmires that can often be worked through, with therapy. 

I’ll tell you now, the therapist who guided me through the end of my first marriage, getting shot, the suicide of my mother and my daughter’s suicide attempt is a New York-based certified social worker.

Bullying is a distance maker. As long as it is present, no human-to-human connection can be a healthy one.

Addiction and Accountability

It is no more accurate or fair to villainize an addict or alcoholic for their symptoms than it is to villainize someone with the flu, multiple sclerosis, or brain injury for their symptoms. To do so is wrong, often heartless, and as absurd as deciding someone is a failure in life because they have a fever.

What the person with the addiction has to fully digest is this; they are accountable. Just like anyone else with an illness or medical condition, they are responsible for taking the steps necessary to get well. The kindest, though not at all the easiest thing for loved ones to do, is hold the addict or alcoholic accountable.

Lindsay Lohan’s situation, now being chewed on by the ratings-mean-more-to-us-than-human-life members of the media, is a case in point.  Danny Bonaduce, who, as a child starred in “The Partridge Family,” reportedly said the fear that comes with a stint in jail might be a healthy thing for Ms. Lohan – true – but added that “rehab does not help” – not true. Ms. Lohan’s father, who apparently has done anything but pay any real attention to his in-danger-of-dying daughter is romping around the talk show circuit. The point is, we all have people in our life who are so tangled in their own dysfunction that their influence on us, if we accept it, is anything but helpful. Surrounding dysfunctions of people and circumstance aside, the addict is the one responsible for getting well.

As an alcoholic I hit my “bottom” in 2001. I was arrested, fired from a job, and destroyed a five-year relationship. That the circumstances surrounding the arrest were linked to a set-up was what my mind chose to focus on. They set me up, the bastards. Case got thrown out of court didn’t it? All conveniently true. Had it not been true I would have lied and said it was true anyway.  Truth was something I aligned myself with only when it worked for me, or so I thought.

Anyway, in my first months in a 12-step program I was talking with a NYC Firefighter who had something along the lines of 20 years sobriety under his belt. I spun my tale of they-set-me-up woe to him. He listened patiently until I’d finished. “Okay,” he said. “I’m going to believe you. But here’s the real question, it’s a yes or no answer. Was there anything about Peter Kahrmann that contributed to these things happening in the first place? Yes or no?” I knew the answer and said it. “Yes.” Had I not been drinking, had I not been active, none of what befell me would have happened.

And so when Lindsay Lohan or anyone else facing addiction bemoans the circumstances they find themselves in, Ms. Lohan recently referring to her jail sentence as “inhuman and degrading treatment,” what they need to get, really get, is the simple but difficult to digest fact that had they not been using, they wouldn’t be in the pain they are in. Had Ms. Lohan stayed sober, she would not be going to jail.

The real inhuman and degrading treatment is inflicted by the addiction. The addiction, not the legal system or the drug rehab system, is the enemy.