Loretta Duchamps is now a happy wife and mother of two children, but from her confident appearance it’s hard to tell that she grew up mired in fear, loneliness, and despair. Her teen years especially were memories any victim of bullying would want to forget forever. This is how she found healing and regained her self-worth.
“Ugh, Loretta is so ugly.” A hush passed over the room and the whole class fixed their gaze on me. I felt myself sinking to the ground in distress as my face flushed red with embarrassment and humiliation.
That happened one day in biology class when I was 13 or 14 years old. All the students were standing around a table when a girl who regularly made fun of me made that remark.
I am now 30 years old but still remember that incident vividly. Those words might seem small and might have been over in a second, but it replayed in my mind over and over again: “I’m so ugly. I’m useless.” My already-low sense of self-worth had by this time dropped to zero.
That was because I was severely bullied throughout my childhood and adolescence by many different children and teens. It ranged from being called ugly and getting left out to being physically assaulted and having my life threatened.
Though I have overcome this past, I suffered from intense fear and depression for a long time and came to believe that there was nothing I could do and no one I could talk to. Over time, the bullying destroyed my confidence and self-esteem.
Temporary Dark Cloud
I was fortunate that when I was 19, a path to healing opened up for me and restored my faith in life. I am now a happy wife and mother-at-home to two wonderful children, a boy aged 4 and a girl aged 2, living in the U.K. since 2012 and previously trained as an occupational therapist in Belgium.
Recently I’ve been reading many stories of young people having committed suicide as a result of bullying. They include a 10-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl who were constantly bullied and called “ugly.”
I feel so sad about their loss. I understand the mental pain they must have felt, and the deep fear, anxiety, and unbearable suffering day after day. It is very hard to go on when you cannot see the end of the tunnel and feel completely hopeless and alone.
But no matter how much one endures, it could be like a temporary dark cloud that will pass or a turning point leading up to a bright future. As some people say, there will be sunshine after the rain.
From the bottom of my heart, I know that life is precious and purposeful and I am writing my story in the hopes that it could be of help to someone else in a similar plight.
Fear and Loneliness Growing Up
My earlier life was filled with fear and loneliness, during both elementary and high school.
From the age of 6 to 12, almost every day I came home crying after being bullied by one boy at school. He made fun of me and called me names no matter what I said or did. I was afraid of him and did not want my parents to tell the school, but it gradually turned me into a child with very low self-confidence.
It crushed my self-esteem even further one day when I tried to tell the bus assistant on the school bus that this boy had bullied me, and she not only did not help but even laughed it off. And when the boy denied having bullied me, she sided with him and said some hurtful words to me. The driver and the other kids on the bus all heard but none said or did a thing.
Self-Esteem Drops to Zero
I was glad to leave that school to start high school at age 12, but the situation got worse instead of better.
It started while waiting for the school bus one day, when a few girls who I thought were my friends started laughing at me but would not tell me what was wrong. I was left feeling hurt and humiliated.
But it was only the beginning. They later formed cliques and deliberately left me out. Strong feelings of loneliness and insecurity compounded in me over time.
Following the incident in the biology class, my constant thoughts of being an ugly and useless person developed into internalized beliefs. I would turn red whenever I had to speak in class. To protect myself, I used to always sit in the front row with my hair covering the sides of my face. That way, whenever I was called on to speak, no one would be able to see my face.
Cruelty and Callousness
Outside of school, there was another girl who seemed bent on harassing and terrorizing me every time our paths crossed, with a cruelty that I could not understand.
The first time was at a party when I was 13. She yanked my hair with a force so strong that I almost fell over. A group of girls laughed at me and kept calling me names. Later, when that same girl pushed me to the ground, no one helped me. I left the party in tears, terrified of seeing her again.
Sometime later, I was sitting on the bench in a park when the same girl approached me. She said something like “Who do you think you are? You think so highly of yourself.” Again, I ran away badly shaken up.
One day at the local youth club, this same girl again started to threaten me, drawing her hand across her throat as if she meant to kill me. I still remember the fear I felt. I ran home and cried for a long time.
Pondering the Purpose of Life
These are only a few examples of the bullying I experienced during my school years. At the time, I believed there was no one I could turn to for help, so I became a master at hiding those incidents and did not tell anyone, including my family. I pretended to be like a normal girl, despite being traumatized inside.
I remember at age 16 lying in bed crying myself to sleep every night, thinking that I did not want to live such a miserable existence and wondering what the use of life was if I had to suffer so much and then die in the end.
At the same time, my life as it was triggered a myriad of existential questions in my mind: What is the purpose of life? Did I come here to be tormented and that’s all there is? Or do I have a purpose to fulfill that is still waiting for me to discover?
These questions would eventually lead to events that changed my life for the better forever, as they ignited my spiritual spark, a knowing side that was part of me but completely smothered until I was able to reclaim it.
It was through my parents’ quest for the meaning of life that I developed an interest in spirituality. My parents introduced me to meditation, yoga, and ancient teachings like Buddhism and Taoism, which provided me with comfort and a kind of refuge and reassurance that I had never experienced before.
While looking for answers to questions like “why are we here in this world,” my curiosity grew and I immersed myself in my own spiritual search. Eventually, that led me to discover what literally gave me back my life.
I came upon it one day in 2006, when I was 19 years old. I attended a spiritual event with my parents and an elderly lady there gave us a flyer about a practice called Falun Dafa. It’s a traditional Chinese practice that teaches you how to cultivate, or improve, your mind and body by following the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance as a way to attain wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.
The practice teaches a set of four standing exercises, a sitting meditation, and moral teachings set out in its book called “Zhuan Falun.” I learned that more than 100 million people practice Falun Dafa around the world, and all the teachings are always free of charge.
“Zhuan Falun” answered all of the questions I had about life and its meaning. It helped me to understand the wisdom of taking things lightly and always responding with kindness to any situation, even when someone else might be unfair, unkind, or cruel. I learned that honesty, kindness, patience, and self-restraint are among the many virtues that are part of people’s original true selves.
I felt a deep sense of happiness that I never had before. As I started to feel stronger, forgiveness and optimism replaced the anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge that I had because of those many years of bullying in my past.
I also began to regain my self-confidence, so that when someone tried to bully me while I was in university, I was able to handle the situation with dignity. The incident occurred during my occupational therapy internship program, when I was working under the supervision of a mentor at a day center for people living with a mental disability.
One day, this mentor spoke to me in a sarcastic tone of voice: “I have never failed anyone before. I would like to know how it feels to fail someone.” When I responded politely but with self-assurance, she seemed surprised and perhaps angry at my assertiveness, but in the end I passed the training.
Transformation from the Inside Out
I reclaimed my voice and was able to respond with confidence and a full appreciation of my own abilities all due to the personal and spiritual transformation I had undergone from the inside out, thanks to the teachings of Falun Dafa.
I have since completely forgiven those who bullied me and have no hatred toward them. I am also moving steadily forward in my cultivation of the principles of Falun Dafa, truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, and letting go of the feelings of inferiority and fear.
While we can always count on life to present us with trials and tribulations, I believe there is strength and purpose inside each of us that are part of a divine benevolence at work in our lives.
I hope my story can help others who might be experiencing bullying or other challenges in their lives, so that they too can find trust in this higher power and discover a bright direction and future ahead.
Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice of mind and body that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to improve health and moral character and attain spiritual wisdom.
For more information about the practice, visit www.falundafa.org. All books, exercise music, resources, and instructions are available free of charge.