“I lost my reputation. I was publicly identified as someone I didn’t recognize. And I lost my sense of self.”
Those are the words of Monica Lewinsky spoken last October at a Forbes conference. She was speaking out for the first time on cyber bullying.
I know something about this and these could be my words, too. Je suis Monica.
I wouldn’t blame you if that made you giggle. Lord knows I had many laughs at Monica Lewinsky’s expense and I feel rather ashamed about that now. She was a 22-year-old woman who made a mistake almost all of us have made at least once – getting involved with the wrong person. The difference is that most of us are not shamed and humiliated about our mistakes on a global stage.
I paid a heavy price for some wrong choices, too.
Several years ago, I went through a private breakup that became very public for reasons that I’m certain that I will never completely understand. It’s a long story, as they usually are, and the particulars aren’t really important now but the plot is very simple. Someone made up some awful things about me, got a few other folks to believe them and set off a wildfire that scorched every inch of my life – my family, my friends, my work, and my soul.
It was the worst time of my life and that includes a seven month period when I watched both of my parents take their last breath. In short, it almost killed me.
I learned how quickly perception can become reality, particularly on Facebook. And I learned that trying to stop it – the sheer force of a cyber beat down – is like trying to mop up a tsunami with a dish towel.
I would tremble when I logged on to Facebook – fearful for what I might see. I was the butt of running jokes online, jokes made by people I had considered friends – people I had hosted for dinner in my home. I was called everything from crazy to cunt. Yes, that word. I can remember seeing it attached to my name and feeling the color drain out of my face while my heart pounded like a bass drum.
Lewinsky says that we are living in a world where “humiliation has become a commodity.” I guess that makes the Internet the Dow Jones.
You’re probably wondering why I just didn’t abandon Facebook, the source of so much of my torment. There are two very disparate reasons. One, I felt like I needed to protect myself – to know what was going on as best I could so that there would be no surprises. You see, I learned early on during my ordeal that what you don’t know can indeed hurt you. The other reason will strike you as ironic – I desperately needed the connection to people and community not caught up in the storm.
There were surprising connections, too, from folks that I had never considered close friends. David was foremost among those. He lives in another city but always seemed to know when I was starving for an ounce of compassion. He would send a brief in-box message that was perhaps most beautiful simply because in that moment of utter aloneness , I knew that someone was thinking about me.
I began to write some very personal essays during this time. I was lost but was finding my voice again through my writing. I had a column in my local newspaper and strangers began emailing me to tell me how they connected with my stories. They felt heard through my writing and that was such a balm for my own healing.
Hemingway famously wrote that “the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” This has been true for me. I did get stronger and over time, the din of the bullying eventually ceased. It wasn’t dramatic, more like the end of a candle when the melting wax eventually extinguishes the flame. It put itself out.
The memory of it can still startle me at times. As Lewinsky said in a New York Times feature a few weeks ago, “It lives as an echo in your life. But over time the echo becomes softer and softer.”
I’m in a very good place these days. I have a wonderful wife who loves and celebrates me every day, an abundance of good and genuine friends, and work that inspires me. Maybe that’s why I can finally write about what happened to me.
I believe in resurrection and I believe in myself.
Lewinsky ended her recent TED talk by saying, “You can insist on a different ending to your story.”
I’m grateful I could write mine.
10 thoughts on “Rewriting some wrongs”
I love you Addison….
And what a blessing that is in my life, Gale.
That was beautifully spoken dear friend…. Thank you for sharing.
You were one of those special folks who sent me sunshine when I needed it most. Thank YOU!
Helluva post, HH. Beautifully written. Love that phrase “like trying to mop up a tsunami with a dish towel.”
A damn tough read, though. I remember that time. But you know, I believe that when you bare your most vulnerable feelings of who you are, people will embrace your honesty and your candor and look into their selves about things, instances or experiences they have never thought about before. I do believe that will happen here.
Thanks for that, Addison.
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Thanks so much for the kind words, Jeri. It was the right time to write this and I feel like a cinder block has been lifted off of my neck.
Grace, my friend. As Anne Lamott says – it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
I’m grateful, too, Addison. And glad we’ve become friends. I really like being with people who have been through hard stuff, learned lessons and become unafraid of the broken places.
Oh, Robin, you (and Mike) were so important to my healing. What a blessing your friendship is to me.
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You know, it boggles my mind to think that anyone could ever call you such horrible names or make you feel so bad. You are truly one of the most lovely, genuine people I know, and the fact that you not only survived that period, but stood strong in the face of it and refused to let it define you, further proves what an amazing person you are. Living well is the best revenge, and you, my dear, are doing just that!
Sweet Jen – Sometimes even I can’t fathom that I went through all of that, either. Your words are so affirming to me. And you made me smile, too – my mantra for the past few years has been “Loving well is the best revenge.”
Thank you, my friend.