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I was a bully

A veterinary professional’s journey to wellness and self-awareness.

I was a bully
Inset, Melissa Supernor as a girl and today.

When I was 8 years old, I was bullied so bad that I wondered, “Why me? Why do I deserve this abuse?”

A few years later, I was beaten to the point that I remained on the ground as another girl repeatedly kicked my chest and abdomen. Honestly, I thought that day was my last.

Like most targets of bullies, I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. I tried to deal with it on my own. However, I could not hide the injuries that day; they were too obvious.

That was the day my mind went into overdrive. My heart was broken from not being liked and respected. My body needed to protect itself.

So, I became a bully instead, not because it appealed to me but because I needed to protect myself from those I feared. I believed I needed to be feared in order to not get my butt kicked. I vowed not to be the victim as an adult.

My Life as a Bully

To those who say, “Once a bully, always a bully,” I say the expression is not always true. I enjoyed school, played sports, took part in extracurricular activities, had fun with my friends, all while hiding that I was miserable. Sometimes I felt unworthy of living or even being part of the universe.

What I did as a bully was not about kids being kids or a little teasing here and there. It was about horrible treatment of someone undeserving of the abuse. I made my target’s life miserable. Again, I wanted to be feared so bullying would not happen to me again.

I started bullying my target, a girl, in sixth grade. Teasing turned into kicking and then tripping. One day I put my target in a sink, turned on the water and locked her in the restroom. Another time I locked her in a closet and turned off the lights.

On this day, as I ran through the halls with my “friends” — the kids I once feared had become my friends in harm — I passed the main office. The vice principal saw us and knew I had done something wrong. She found us in a bathroom, grabbed me and gave me an ultimatum: Come clean or go down a path of disaster.

She explained that she had received another demerit note from one of my teachers. With that piece of paper, I could be suspended. Was I ready for time off from school?

She told me that if I could go straight for six months, change my ways and be the person she knew I could be, she would erase the demerits and I would no longer be on the path to being a delinquent.

A Meandering Evolution

Avoiding a suspension, I slowly began to change my ways. Middle school was where my first understanding of self-awareness came from. I had to love myself and realize that all actions have consequences, good and bad. It was my defining moment. Not only did someone I admire give me a chance, but I had begun to understand that the target of my bullying felt like I had years earlier.

Still, I wasn’t done. I bullied my target into our high school years. It was during this time that I reflected on the lessons I had learned about being a victim and a bully.

So, you ask, did I make it? Absolutely! I worked on becoming the student and person whom the vice principal said I could be and was deep down inside.

I made amends with my target. I was able to apologize to her and continue my journey to wellness and self-awareness. It has been, indeed, a long journey.

Abuse Revisited

Interestingly, even as a professional, I have been on the receiving end of bullying. One veterinarian screamed in my face and almost hit me. A technician attacked me in the hallway and drove my face into the floor, squeezing my neck so hard that ligaments were ruptured and I ended up in the emergency room.

When someone I looked up to told me endlessly that I was no good, that I was a lousy tech, that my skills were horrible — continuously for weeks and months — I started to believe it. I started to believe that I was a fake and unworthy of being in the profession, one I loved and wanted since I was 5 years old.

One day very recently, I realized that I was living a lie. I was a fake. I was a shell of the person I wanted to be. Even though other people told me I was great and an awesome person, the negative self-talk was louder than the sweet, loving, supportive words from others. I did not believe them.

As I was out walking one day, I looked to the sky and pleaded, “Please let me understand how to help myself!” The return message was that I had to come clean.

Although my self-esteem and self-worth had hit an almost life-ending low, I luckily had a friend who was my main support and who helped me recognize how I had lost “me.” Bullying, I realized, is abuse first and foremost, and the more you are hit with it, the more it destroys you.

I knew I had to fix me, but how? Lots of questions surfaced. What did I do to deserve the abuse? Would I ever return to “me” again? Would I ever be the person I always wanted to be? Was I deserving of being a good veterinary technician? I was so concerned that I would never find happiness and joy that I worked on finding a career outside of the veterinary profession.

I also understood that the negativity happening in my life was payback for my time as a bully, for whatever injury I had caused to my target. That moment, even as small as it looked, was the turning point in my journey toward self-awareness. I could begin to let go of the negative self-talk and bring on the positivity.

Taking time to reflect, forgiving myself for being a bully and forgiving those who bullied me were necessary steps in my ability to start believing in me again. Until I did all that, I knew I would be stuck and continue to live in the past.

I decided from that day on to work on me by emphasizing positivity and gratitude. Helping others and sharing my story is part of this journey. The veterinary profession is finally examining this critical issue.

We all have paths to take. Each day, we should look at the positives and put away the negatives. Learning to love myself again was the best part of my journey.

I hope my story helps others realize that the journey may not be easy, but it’s well worth it.

Melissa J. Supernor is founder and president of Educational Advocate for the Veterinary Team (EdAVT).

Bullying is common

The Workplace Bullying Institute conducted a 2014 national survey on adult bullying. The survey found that:

  • 27 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work.
  • 21 percent have personally witnessed it happening to someone else.
  • 72 percent are aware that workplace bullying happens.

Where to find help