The Bathroom Mirror challenges survivors to take another look
Craig Barton might have looked like your typical bully growing up — the thick, broad-shouldered man was already passing six-feet by the time he was 12. But what would unfold instead was a childhood of taunting — and bullies aiming their mark straight at Barton’s height in an effort to prove they could “take out the big guy.”
“Whenever I saw posters or campaigns around bullying, I would look at the pictures and see that I was supposed to be the bully — I was the big guy taunting a poor little nerd — the victim never looked like me,” says Barton, now 49. “I didn’t have a lot of support from my peers, or even adults, because I looked like a man; they expected me to be able to handle it. But I also knew I could never use the one thing I had — my size.”
Barton survived the grade-school nightmare, which started to fade as he entered high school and became “just a tall guy.” But the damage had already made Barton reassess others’ motives, and hold friends at a distance. He stayed on guard at all times, became hypersensitive and suffered panic attacks. Worst of all, he had begun the spiral of negative self-doubt that would almost last a lifetime.
Although Barton lacked the support he needed in the ’70s, news of the recent suicide of Coquitlam’s 15-year-old Amanda Todd has turned national attention to the issue, and the provincial government, teachers unions and Canada Safety Council aimed its focus for last month’s National School Safety Week (Oct. 17-23) to combat bullying.
Yet Barton has taken his own step to help those suffering through or surviving the effects, by penning his new book The Bathroom Mirror: Encouraging thoughts that will help you move on with your life.
Barton’s compilation of essays, short stories, poems and quotes is paired with an inventive use of white space and bold fonts that urge the reader to take another look.
“So much of what we believe about ourselves is not necessarily true, and a negative belief is no more closer to that ‘truth’ than a positive one,” he says. “The tough thing about emotional abuse is that you can’t point to the scar, but you hurt everywhere.”
Through his own lifetime of experience, recovery and healing, the James Bay author has imparted his understanding into the brief 100-page text, with a twist that not everyone understands at first: “love the bully.”
“Sure, it’s not going to feel like the kind of love you have for your mom, but loving someone who some think you should hate takes that person’s power away — and it lets you see them as sad more than scary,” he says. “Bullying is never about the person being harassed — it’s about the bully; it’s some inadequacy they are dealing with. It can help to understand that.”
While the theories aid a survivor’s mindset, Barton is keenly aware of the life-and-death danger bullying now poses. He has become a staff member at TeenHelp.org, an online mentorship buddy program for youth seeking anonymous assistance, and has heard tragic stories from young members. Those stories made Barton realize his book was needed.
“That feeling of being alone is death to a person,” he says. “There are going to be situations where survivors don’t have someone to talk to, but they need to know there are others out there. They have to know they do have power — and there is nothing wrong with them.” M
Purchase Craig Barton’s The Bathroom Mirror at TheBathroomMirror.me or Mattick’s Farm’s Elephant Flowers Gift Shop (#113-5325 Cordova Bay).