When the sun’s in your eyes sometimes you’re blinded, so it’d make sense to wait until your sight returns before doing anything. In the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer his mentor says “don’t move until you see it”. He was teaching him to see each match in its entirety before making a move as part of protecting his pieces and seeing his way out; a great metaphor whether or not you know what a rook is. There’s alot we can do to see what’s coming; check the weather, examine history, Google it, establish routines, ask. We’ve also got at least some amount of control over our own protection. I find this is easiest when I’m calm and grounded. In the scene young Josh has to get past performance anxiety, his own fears of disappointing people who matter to him, people he loves, failing, losing. If we’re all caught up in our fears, aggressions, goals, the need to be right, the need to prove someone else wrong; I’ve at least discovered those are the times I screw up.
At therapy school they teach you not to self-disclose anything unless it’s 100% to the benefit of your client; everything else is considered high-jacking the session. To help us remember this I was taught the acronym W.A.I.T, which stands for ‘Why Am I Telling?’. It’s a great mindfulness tool and applies to life in general. Why am I saying what I’m saying? Is it to show off? Make someone jealous? Make someone angry? Hurt somebody? Get what I want? Make someone like me? Make them hate me? I used ask my clients to check their motive and their manner; what are you doing and why are doing it? I told them I’d never ask them to do anything I wasn’t already practicing myself. The last year I let myself smoke I used to invite Jesus out onto my deck to sit with me while I poisoned myself. To my surprise, every time, 4-6 times a day, He never once judged me. Now that I’ve described myself as a hallucinating clinician I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit to hear my expert wisdom.
Before I started writing I asked myself ‘why am I telling’. Why am I potentially willing to risk hurting people I love, exposing truths that are connected to not just me, risking my professional identity, maybe my job (I’m told there’s a half-written blogging policy?), opening myself up to opinions about my life, my writing, my ability to design a cool looking site (One of my friends has her own branding company and informed me this site looks like something the 90’s forgot and my grey background hurts her eyes. I love you M-M.) my identity as a Christian and also that I might drive my husband crazy and ruin our marriage by obsessing about everything that goes into this process. So, given all that what is my motive for writing and speaking my truth?
There’s a condition which is part of P.T.S.D called ‘voiceless terror’. Physiologically it’s an actual paralysis of your vocal cords caused by intense fear; did you ever wake up during a nightmare and you were screaming in the dream but nothing’s coming out when you wake up? That’s it. Except voiceless terror can happen when we’re awake too, and I would stretch to reason that many of us are living in a chronic state of passive voicelessness, rooted in some degree of fear. People tell you not to speak when you’ve been abused by a family member, which then corrodes the soul of the family like a spot of rust on a car in New England, which eventually becomes a crater. There were many things I was told not to say. I remember once our neighbor in this crappy neighborhood moved to a fancy ‘real’ house. I got invited to go play with my friend in her new house and as we were leaving my mom was going off on how great it was. I poked my head out of the backseat window and said “Mom, you always said you’d be happy living in a small cabin in the woods. This place is HUGE!” I think I was 7. And she quickly said, “Oh yes, but this is beautiful. Who wouldn’t want all this?” She laughed nervously, drove away quickly and I never went there again. Then she says, “Why did you say that? I’m so embarrassed! She’s really proud of their new house.” and I said, “..because it’s true.” I got a pretty big lecture for telling the truth. Later in my teens I’d ask her if I could sleep at my boyfriend’s house because a friend had bailed on me and I didn’t feel like hitching all the way back to Oak Bluffs. “Oh geez Elizabeth, why can’t you just lie to me like everyone else in this house? I don’t want to know.” Dear mom, I’m a grown-up now. This is my truth. I love you.
Writing has been a safe way for me to give voice to and validate the things I’ve experienced. When we don’t speak our truth out loud it’s easy to wonder if some things happened; was it real? People may have witnessed our abuse, our joy, our successes, our pain but maybe no one said anything. My writing brings those invisible parts of my life into the light; being seen as a way of becoming whole. Standing in the presence of truth is healing and freeing for me and I hope, for at least one other person. I write out of the belief that the events of our lives are intentional and have at least some useful meaning; I was born in Providence. There’s a purpose and a plan for each of our lives. When I was trying to find my way out of deeply wounded and powerless places I looked for stories that could help direct me. I wanted to believe there was someone else who’d been hurt like me but who’d gone on to live a good life. The only one I found was Oprah and while I think she’s amazing, that bar was a little too high. I wanted to find stories of normal, relatively well-adjusted women who got up and out of poverty and abuse, had a good 9-5, pretty clothes and maybe a flower garden so I could know how they did it and follow in their funky-heeled footsteps. Those stories were hard to find. To the best of my knowledge there’s no direct mention of sexual abuse in the Bible so for a long time I thought something so utterly filthy had happened to me that even God didn’t know about it. I felt stuck for a while. Part of why I tell is for other survivors looking for their way out; to say to them we can be normal-ish, happy, find love, have careers, laugh, take trips, be terrible at cooking and do all the same things other people do. I write as a way of helping.
I knew I was ready when I could speak from a place of love and I expected nothing in return. By that I mean, I trusted that my words weren’t going to be weapons, that I’d forgiven and accepted my past, was excited about my future and wasn’t in a place of using my words to cry out for help, approval, attention, sympathy or saving. Those raw feelings needed to first be shared in therapy and I would place no limits on when to seek professional help; do it as soon as possible. I’m saying, sharing your truths openly has to be done safely. I went to a rape survivor awareness walk once. A very new survivor stood with two support people by a picnic bench preparing to share her story. I was standing by a woman who was in a rush to leave because she was closing a deal on some property. I guess she assumed I had no soul because as the survivor was sharing, the woman looked at me and rolled her eyes. Seeing that contributed to my waiting to speak publically. Maybe I’m overly cautious. I spent years in church youth groups listening to my friends share their Witness (You say all the bad things that happened to you and how God helped you heal, then you play a song while everyone cries and hugs you. It’s actually pretty great.). I never shared in youth group. My mother has taught CCD for over 30 years and our family volunteered to serve and participate in every retreat. I didn’t share in youth group because my stuff wasn’t resolved, I was anorexic at least half the time and I didn’t want to expose my family in a place where we all gained so much strength. I believe there’s a right time to speak truth; when you can see it.
“He wants us to know the whole truth and tell it in love.” Ephesians 4:15