This past weekend brought up several emotions for me. I attended the Marc Mero presentation Sunday,  Jan. 6, at West Sioux High School. I was touched by the sheer honesty in his presentation. His message was genuine and on point.

He talked about his life and the different setbacks he faced growing up. It got me thinking about my life and what setbacks I have faced.

My parents were divorced early in my life. I still remember standing in the front porch as my dad drove away. I don’t remember what my feelings were; I was very young and somewhat sheltered by much of the pain — my mom and sister took that on for me and always tried to make me feel things were OK.

I remember going to my dad’s on occasion. He, much like my mom, was seldom home — they were usually working. I had my sister who thought I was anything but cool. You see, she is five years older than me. I can say she always stuck up for me though. ALWAYS!

I looked up to my sister. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the amount of pain she went through just to try to shelter me from different things that went on in our home and in school as we were growing up.

There was a time alcohol was ruining my family. I remember, I think in fifth grade, I would beg my mom to go to my grandparent’s house or to my friends' place — anywhere but home. I was only trying to escape all the turmoil and drama happening.

Going to middle school was a scary, yet exciting time in my life. While I had already started puberty, my body continued to change and I was terrified of what others would think of me. I remember putting up walls. I sheltered my group of friends and I bossed them like my “group” was the best group to be in. Then if kids weren’t cool enough to fit in, I made sure everyone knew it.

I was a bully for most of my middle school years. There were things going on in my life that made me feel like I needed to be a bully. I was learning not to trust anyone, that people will hurt you and I kept trying to be the boss because no one can ever hurt the boss or make them feel less than … right?

I spent many hours of my school day in Mrs. Nancy Baker-Pences office. She was the guidance counselor. Back when I was in school, we had something called “warm fuzzies.” Several times I would shrug that concept off because no one could make me feel warm and fuzzy — I could never let anyone see my struggles or pain, I was stronger than that. I would act as if I ran the school! Today, several people I have apologized to or even brought up that I was such a bully in middle school, have denied they thought that of me. But, I know the things I did in those years; they were not right.

I would call girls, who were just like me and trying to fit into a new school, some of the worst names you could imagine. I would pick one girl and isolate them from our group of friends — sometimes a new friend each week. It was like I thrived on the attention of them trying to get back into my group. I never let anyone in too close, so usually my best friends were in the rotation of my bullying.

I was in seventh grade when I was called to the counselor’s office. On the other end of the phone was a concerned parent of one of my closest “friends.” You see this parent was calling to speak to me and beg me to stop bullying her daughter, who was hospitalized for anxiety and problems with feeling worthless and unloved. She was one of my best friends. Her family, I adored. I looked to them and wished I had that life, her life, one I thought was so easy. A richer family who seemed to have it all together, but she was terrified, she was sick because of the hell I was putting her through each day at school­ — you see it was her week to be isolated from the group.

How dare I do that? What gave me the right to decide to make another person’s life a living hell? I will never forget that day, nor will I ever not regret my actions. I am sorry to anyone I bullied. To anyone, I made feel less than.

If you are a bully, it is not too late. You can make the choice to change. Marc Mero says “you show me your friends and I will show you your future” with that, I disagree. I truly believe we all have the choice to do the right thing, despite our friends and the sooner someone realizes that, believes in themselves, and stops depending on friends to fulfill their life — then that person's future will be bright regardless.

In eighth grade, I began not to care as much about what people thought of me. This had a lot to do with a story of when my self-pride got checked. My friends and I were playing after school on the west side of the elementary school in Hawarden. We really were just hanging out, doing nothing really at all. A girl who was older than me and a tough kid came straight up to me, looked me in my eyes and demanded I get on my knees and kiss the sidewalk. If I didn’t, she was going to beat me up. I could not let that happen in front of all these friends I had made respect me and listen to me. I found myself on the cement kissing the ground so I didn’t get my face beat in. At that moment I became kid being bullied. I was the one everyone on the playground was laughing at. Today, I thank that student for making me kiss the ground.

The summer of eighth grade I began dating the man I call my husband today. He was who showed me I didn’t have to have barriers or walls. That it was OK just to be who I was because he genuinely liked me for me. He has never cared what others thought of him, ever. I admire that. But for me, that was never easy.

I made the choice to be a bully. I showed everyone that only my feelings and my popularity should be validated. I was wrong.

Writing this was not easy, but in a way, I feel it’s necessary. To any bully out there, you do have the choice to stop. It will not make you more important or a better person if you make someone else’s life as miserable as you feel your life is.

Let me also make it clear: I am not being boastful about this part of my life. I would take back in a heartbeat if I could. Rather, I want to spread awareness and show people reading this, especially my children, there will be times in your life you feel like you have no other choice but to make the hurt you are feeling end. That is wrong; we always have a choice.

Choose to be the student that sits by the kid sitting alone at the lunch table. Choose to be the kid who stands up for the one being picked on by a group of students. Choose to be you, no matter who likes the way you are. Choose to dream big. Choose to make your parents proud, no matter what your relationship with them is like.

Today, I have an amazing family. My mom is my best friend, my dad is at everything my kids are in and we are so fortunate, Chris and I, to still be together. Our children we are trying to raise right despite the world's challenges. School is tough. No doubt about it life is hard, but the way you react to the situations you are placed in, that is your choice.

I have chosen to live my life for me. Whether you like me or not, I choose to help others, to try and inspire people to do the same and to just be OK with who I am.

What will be your reaction to adverse situations? What will you choose to do in your life and who can you help along the way?

Katie Anderson is a staff writer at Hawarden Independent/Ireton Examiner. She was a bully in middle school and she is not proud of it.