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Welcome to the R.E.A.L. Education & Outreach Blog. Let's work on what gets in your way.

A Bag of Emotions

Brittney McZeal


I have been a classroom teacher for the past twenty-seven years and witnessed countless young people come through my classroom door hauling heavy bags of emotions.  Sometimes it is not easy to decipher what emotions are being carried but usually the two emotions that stand front and center waving their arms and jumping up and down is anger and resentment.  

Everyone has a story.  You have a story. I have a story.  Some stories are more traumatic than others.  What we hold as our story shapes our perception of the world, the way we listen to others and directly affects our daily relationships. I believe that we all do the best that we can in life with the tools we gather throughout our journey and as we learn new tools we do better with life’s challenges.  Most young people learn to “stuff” their emotions down and develop coping mechanisms, some of which do not serve them in a positive way. Some of the symptoms of “stuffing” emotions can look like withdrawal from family and friends, developing an eating disorder, numbing out with alcohol or drug use, or acting out by bullying, fighting, teasing, and gossiping about others.

Do you remember your high school experience?  Were you stuffing emotions? Hiding out?

For many students going back to school in August is not a pleasant or welcoming experience.  Some others look forward to going back school to get away from their homes filled with chaos and turmoil, hoping to find a safe space to be who they are and to possibly share what’s going on in their lives.

I know that I used high school as my respite thirty plus years ago.  I loved being at school and couldn’t wait to get back in August for volleyball practice and to connect with my friends and teachers.  I had a heavy bag of emotions that I was carrying around.  It was the 1980’s and talking about what was going on in your life wasn’t commonplace.  In fact the tools that I acquired by the time I was in high school that I could access in my emotional coping belt were based on shame.  Not saying anything for fear of judgment from others or for speaking about a family “secret”.

I was living with fear and anxiety on a daily basis but no one knew because another one of my tools was to immerse myself into school and activities and be the best that I could be in all of my endeavors.  This probably showed up as frenetic energy and my peers thought I was always trying to beat out the next girl in sports.  If they only knew what was in my bag.  I am grateful that I channeled my fears into something positive, but I was far from peaceful.

One of my brilliant life coaches along the way said once, “Lead from your wounds”. 

 I embodied that quote and realized that I could be an offer to others going through tough times and possibly heal some of my own wounds.  I designed a class and a program that would address the concerns of young people and help them “lighten their load” so that they may thrive on life’s journey not just settle for mediocrity.  The class is called REAL (Reality Education about Life) and the program is called Reality Check. 

During our Reality Check program, we use an actual bag as a metaphor to show the effects of stuffing emotionsto our students.  We use props like foam bricks to show what goes into the bag on a typical day for a student in middle or high school.  Bricks printed with words like anxiety, fear, depression, perfection, sadness, and anger all attribute to a heavy load to carry around for a young person. We also teach tools for dealing with a heavy bag and how to lighten things up. 


Some of these tools suggest talking with a teacher that the student feels safe with, speaking with a school counselor, journaling feelings and experiences daily, learning to shift their moods through music or art.  The biggest challenge for the student is getting past the fear of judgment and realizing that they are not alone in their struggles.  That each one of us has a story and our own bag of emotions that we carry around, we are not special in that regard. During our Reality Check program our intention is for the students and adult volunteers to realize that their story doesn’t have to define them and that they have choices that are available to lighten their load and help them live peacefully. 

As we embark on another school year, how can you support the young people in your life?  By emptying some of that bag that you or they may be carrying around?  Let us all look at how we can lighten our loads in order to live with more peace and connection.

"He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother"

Brittney McZeal

I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting today and I left there feeling inspired and reflective.  I thought of my brother Lonnie, a recovering alcoholic, who passed away at the age of 35 in 1995. I watched three people receive their sobriety chips for nine months, one year, and two years and thought back to the AA meeting I attended with Lonnie when he received his one year chip.  He was so proud of himself and we were equally proud of him especially after witnessing his near death car accidents, bike accidents, shame around dropping out of school, the arrests, and the overall pain the disease of addiction causes.  

I was very young when I first witnessed the severe repercussions of addiction, and I took addiction personally then.  I thought it was a character flaw in a person, a choice they made to ruin their lives and the lives of their families.  The chaos and confusion, the yelling and screaming I witnessed as a child provoked fear, frustration, and eventually rage.  I didn’t even know I was capable of rage until I grew older.  In my young adult life I became arrogant, righteous, and judgmental about addiction and refused to see it as a disease.  I was a victim of addiction and lived that way for a long time, powerless.   I just stuffed my emotions, left for college and tried to be as successful as possible to make up for what I thought addiction had done to my family and eventually wore myself out.

                   Lonnie Roy 3yrs old 1961

                  Lonnie Roy 3yrs old 1961

As I have grown into adulthood and experienced many learning opportunities, I can see that chemical addiction is at epidemic proportions and it is a disease, just like any disease that needs treatment.  The disease is in my face today, and its gnarly tentacles have surfaced and grasped on to my daily life again through my step-son’s struggle with addiction and still it provokes frustration, anger, and fear in me.  The good news is I have the opportunity to do it differently.  I am not that helpless little girl anymore.   Just the other day, I asked myself, “What am I here to learn about addiction because it is back.”  

I am a firm believer in nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.  I have learned to live with more compassion for myself and others and I think my brother Lonnie is intervening somehow.  I think of him and I feel like I have a chance to do it differently this time.  Instead of taking it personally and becoming a victim, I am facing this disease head on as if it were a cancer diagnosis.

I left the meeting this morning feeling humble and grateful.  I’m grateful that I had a relationship with my brother before he passed away because he was treating his disease daily and had committed himself to a 12-step program. I am grateful that I was able to attend the AA meeting with my stepson and support him fully today and also learn something new for myself. I am also grateful that I am able to work with young people and support them in speaking about their own feelings with our Reality Check program.  I am humble in knowing that we all have our stories, addictions, unhealthy ways of dealing with life and we are all in this together.

We are all a work in progress and deserve compassion rather than judgment.

By:  Kathy Roy

Real Skills by Guest Blogger Stephanie Guidry

Brittney McZeal

The negative press lately regarding the number of students arrested for assault in local schools has brought to light a serious gap in the complete education of our children. I use the term complete because typically schools provide the book smarts and in decades past parents provided the social and emotional skills. As a current classroom teacher I can guarantee to anyone the days of teachers providing knowledge on one specific subject are long gone. It has of late fallen to teachers to also impress upon children social communication skills and emotional understanding of others. Many children entering our classrooms are completely unprepared to interact with others in a peaceful manner. These students are unable to reasonably and rationally end a disagreement with their peers and teachers, as there have been multiple incidents of both student fights and battery of a school teacher arrests. Apart from my classroom, this weekend I was witness to an intense dispute at Tiger Stadium, but unlike our students the men settled their differences in another way.

As I sat amongst thousands of tiger fans, three men in the rows ahead of me began yelling at each other to the point of the red tone of their faces accented the angry purple of their forehead veins. Of course they were on opposing sides of the game. The brawl included two  men from our neighboring state’s team and one home town fan, all of which were at least 200 plus pounds. Although I was not privy to the origin of the argument I have a feeling that the guys on the opposite side standing up the entire time and trash talking probably had something to do with it. The yelling match played out much as you would expect from battling fans, but the actions from the surrounding men was somewhat of a surprise to this teacher who normally sees onlookers at school encouraging a beat down.

The man sitting next to me, Billy was all I knew of him to this point, had been talking throughout the game to nearly all the fans around and would high five everybody; a fun guy. As the men continued to yell he calmly reached his arm down across an entire row of college aged boys and put it on the tiger fan’s shoulder. Leaning on the man with the slightest of pressure he spoke into his ear, “You don’t need this buddy, let it go.” At exactly the same time another tiger fan in the adjacent seat quietly stood up, took his hat off and placed it on his seat. He remained standing without saying a word, like a soldier waiting for battle, hands clasped at his waist. His body was so stiff almost ready to spring should the words turn to blows in front of him. Both he and Billy were well past the thirty year mark amongst a few other much younger guys who simply sat watching the events unfold. As the realization of an entire section of eyes upon them hit home the opposite team’s fans spat out a few additional insults and turned away. Billy clapped and continued his encouragement to stop the argument and the bleacher “soldier” next to them remained standing for at least six to seven additional minutes. These two men each with their own style of mediation prevented what could have ended in one or more being thrown out if the game and or arrested.

A few plays later in the game the other team’s fans both turned to their former nemisis and apologized while all shook hands as real men do. To the onlookers both adult and children it was a life lesson much welcomed. These are the skills today’s children need to see modeled on a regular basis. Billy and the “soldier” possessed the emotional intelligence and know how that the younger men in the adjacent seats either did not or were not willing to display. The younger generation seem to be missing important life lessons. Being fight ready does not make you a stronger man or woman; the real victor is the person that can get their point across to someone of an opposing view with their words and actions with others, not actions against others.

There are still many families that have raised well-mannered children who interact with the politeness that society demands. Even when in arguments these kids may throw around a few insults and threats, but for most that is the extent of it. In contrast, taking it to the next level of physicality comes like second nature for a number of children who perhaps have not been raised in the same manner as their peers. When the first instinct is to strike with fists not to speak, altercations and eventual arrests are common place.

Trying to teach this lesson to students is difficult when many of them have personally told me that if they don’t finish a fight at school their parent will finish it at home. Many parents directing their impressionable offspring to no matter the situation always hit first and hit back, thus skipping over any hope for arbitration or resolving the situation with the assistance from other adults. If the state’s school boards hope to reduce the number of arrests for fighting or assaulting teachers they must begin to teach emotional intelligence and acceptable social behaviors at very early grades. Teach all children the alternatives to escalating an argument and teach parents how to communicate and model this behavior at home. As a society the first line of defiance for peace are people like Billy and the stadium “soldier”who put their own past experiences and skills to work. When law enforcement is called in to mediate aggressive individuals wether on school campuses or football stadiums their only recourse is to make arrests. That does not teach anyone involved how to handle themselves in a positive manner it only serves to reinforce the negative feelings of all involved. We need to teach the skills necessary to solve these everyday problems as often as possible both inside school rooms and living rooms.

It's not just some of us, It’s every one of us

Brittney McZeal

This week, I attended the funeral of a young man whom I had the pleasure of meeting and teaching six years ago.  He was a mere 16 years old when I met him and he acted like he was 30.  He captured my attention. I was amazed by his confidence, maturity, intelligence and humor.  He would make me laugh daily with his quick, clever, wit and adult-like perspectives.  When I heard the news that he had chosen to take his own life I was shocked and saddened.  I immediately thought to myself with the typical question we all ask after such a tragic event, “Why didn’t he reach out to anyone?”  I was physically sick thinking of the pain he must have been in to make the decision that he did, and I thought of all the wonderful qualities he possessed and how others would not get to know him. 

During his funeral service, the Reverend acknowledged how packed the church was and how the young man we were memorializing would have been quite surprised at the attendance.  Tears welled up in my eyes as she spoke, and she continued to say that we were all there because he had touched our lives in some way and we were all connected by him and his passing, if he only knew.

Most young people don’t realize the positive impact they are making on those around them.  Their negative self-talk supersedes any positive reinforcement they may receive from family and friends.  Self-worth isn’t some gene we are born with.  It is a seed in all of us waiting to be cultivated by our experiences and the choices we make to deal with these experiences.  One of the values practiced in R.E.A.L. and the Reality Check program is choosing a life worthy of love and happiness free from fear and insecurity.  We want young people to shine their light and know that they have the tools to get out of tough spots when life happens.

One of my favorite passages, “Our Deepest Fear”, is from the book Return to Love by Marianne Williamson.  This passage is used throughout our program to reinforce self-worth and the contribution that we can make when we use our gifts.   As I think of the young man who is no longer with us, I believe the best way I can honor him is to remember him while I work with young people, especially those who have almost given up.  I want them to be inspired and know that they are “powerful beyond measure”.  Bless those who feel that they have no hope.

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,

Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Who is OK to Bully?

Brittney McZeal

This week, a toughened statewide ban on bullying at schools received final passage with a unanimous Senate vote.  From what I read about this bill, it will hold teachers and administrators more accountable than ever with reporting bullying incidents on campus.  This is hopeful!  What I also read was: “the bill doesn’t spell out that harassment and bullying would not be allowed because of a person’s characteristics including sexual orientation and gender identity.”  This is disappointing! The conservative Louisiana Family Forum, LFF seems to have a problem with these characteristics by thinking that it’s promoting a “gay agenda” in schools.

So…is it ok bully these excluded students?  I guess the bill is written for stereotypical bullying targets on campus such as:  the non-jocks, non-cheerleaders, “nerds”, overweight kids, underweight kids, short kids, tall kids, blue kids, green kids…….etc.  If you dare to bully these kids then you will have consequences, finally!  If you are gay, bisexual, or transgender you are unprotected because according to groups such as Louisiana Family Forum, you are promoting a “gay agenda”.  What is a “gay agenda” anyway?  I know what it is NOT.

It’s not:

1.) The “gays” are taking over the world.

2.) The “gays” are recruiting my kids for a gay army led by Ellen and JC Penney.

3.) The “gays” are annihilating the nuclear family.

4.) The “gays” try to make people as uncomfortable as possible.

I also believe that there is no such thing as a “gay agenda”, although the jokes made about it are quite funny thanks to Conan and Kimmel.  I do believe that the Louisiana Family Forum's opposition to specific types of bullying perpetuates teen suicides with their narrow minds and outlandish views. The message of exclusivity that they are sending does nothing to encourage acceptance or compassion in our schools.

It is time to do the right thing and protect all students.  Let us be aware that the darkest example of bullying here is the agenda to exclude gay students from the protection of this positive piece of legislation.   Focus on the human agenda, that all men are created equal.