Losing My Voice

Raison D’être

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” Brene Brown 

I cannot recall the exact moment it happened for me….this losing of my voice.

What I can recall though are the moments that it had made its appearance before slipping quietly back into the safety of its witness protection program.

From time to time , In fits of anger or bubbled up courage, I would allow my voice to surface and speak out.

While in my head my words had the eloquence and power of Martin Luther King, in real life they would fumble out of my mouth and end up looking more like the awkward fight scene in Napoleon Dynamite.

Napolean Dynamite fight

The fumbling would inevitably trigger an avalanche of shame in me and so I would work hard to keep my words quiet….I would retreat safely into silence or craft my words in a manner that made everyone around me feel at ease.

I purposefully quieted my voice to allow space for others to speak more loudly….and in this I shrank.

Some how everyone else’s well being was more important than  my own.

Basically, everyone else’s comfort held a higher esteem than my own dignity.

This was my sad little truth.

The problem is that when I allowed my own dignity to be diminished, it dug a deeper hole into the pit of fear, loneliness and rejection blocking any chance of real relationship.

When shame binds you….fear will define you.

Growing up in a home rife with emotionally unbalanced people meant living in a home with floors made of egg shells. What anyone said or did could pull the trigger of violence and no one , BUT NO ONE , was safe.

So I learned from a young age that being invisible was not just safe, but a super power.

My father layed the ground work.

You see, my dad was a deeply insecure and broken man whose defence came through his fists. One of my first and only memories of him with my mother was when he knocked her off her chair as she fed me. I was in my high chair opening my mouth to receive the food on the end of the spoon and as she reached the spoon towards me his fist connected with her skull and she fell to the floor. I was barely a year old and had not yet learned to speak, BUT had begun the lesson that what I said would either keep me safe or tip the scales.

Again, at five years old, after years of being bounced between parents and grand parents, I went to live with my father, his new wife and her son who was my age.

My father put me on a pedestal and praised me at every turn which you would think would have a positive affect and build my self worth.However, there was  dark side of this as my father  also beat his step son into submission with clenched teeth and closed fists. This sometimes happened at the dinner table but mostly happened behind closed doors. The screams of that boy child invaded every corner of my imagination and I would sit frozen in fear as a shame storm ravaged my tender soul.

The message was loud and clear….NO ONE WAS SAFE…so shrink away unseen.

His hands never had to land on me for me to be hurt. My flesh was not damaged by him, but my heart and soul were torn to shreds making fertile ground for shame to reign supreme.

This was the beginning of the shaping of my character. I knew at 5 years old that my words held power and what I said or didn’t say was going to protect me and everyone around me.

Invisibility may have been my super power but I had to somehow find a way to exist in the world before me. Shrinking away was not always a possibility and so hustling for my self worth became an art in which I excelled. When the only mirror to who you are is via severely damaged and darkened souls you experience yourself as deeply flawed and unworthy of real love and belonging. So in this, you work to be what you think others need in order to be ok. When this is the only view of yourself, you accept it as truth and you go about the lonely business of avoiding real connection and in this, shame quietly wins.

Fast forward almost 49 years old ( I am on the fast train to 50) and I am just realizing the importance of not only finding my voice….but actually using it.

The first step has been in admitting that it was lost. It existed somewhere, but was unrecognizable. I have really had to get out the big girl shovel and dig through piles of shame to find it.

When I finally found it all beaten down and cowering in the corner, I was not so sure I wanted it to come out.

It had a lot to say and it was scary.

I was afraid of its power.

What if it was unruly and carelessly opened doors that I was not ready to open?

What if it told stories that I did not want told?

And then that magic moment happened. I looked into the eyes of my oldest daughter who saw that I was not speaking up for myself. She defended me in a situation that she should not have had to. She spoke the words that should have come out of me but my voice was too tired and beaten down.

I saw it right there in her eyes …the “why mom?”

How do I tell her that it is because I am afraid or because I am trying to protect her?  That my silence is my superpower…That I am still believing in the lie that it will save us in the end.

There it sat.

The truth is that I was holding on to a lie and my kids deserved better. They deserve a mother that speaks up….a mother that loves herself enough to know that her voice matters.

I want for them to feel whole and go out into the world equipped to experience love and belonging and trust.

I had to recognize that I am a leader and my little followers will go where ever I lead them. That is a powerful thought and I knew I had to step out at all cost.

But how?

In wanting  something better for those I loved my search began. I stepped out in faith and began by praying.

I prayed for the courage to move into this place of vulnerability.

I prayed for walls to come down.

I prayed for clarity and direction.

I prayed for wisdom of those who have walked before me.

If you are reading this I ask you to continue to pray for me as this will probably always be my battle.

I prayed and I listened.

I read and I talked it out.

I sought healing in counselling and I surrounded myself with people on the same path….and then as my eyes began to open so did my heart.

A friend invited me to sign up for the Brene Brown Courage works course. Her work as a shame researcher has more than held my interest and she has helped shed light on my inner workings. Through this course my eyes have been opened to these facts;

  • I crave wholeheartedness
  • I am bound by shame and this keeps me from using my voice and living wholeheartedly
  • Empathy heals shame
  • Self compassion helps me to move through releasing shame I put on myself
  • In order to have courage to live out side of fear and shame and practice using my voice I must allow myself to be vulnerable
  • Vulnerability will lead to wholeheartedness

 

Not sure why it takes having kids to want this for myself but it is a real wake up call to understand that I could not expect my kids to experience wholeness when I modelled something different.

 

I searched scripture to see how Jesus views me  and how he views all women. God, in the flesh, came at a time when women were valued as less than cattle and he spoke to women in that time and told them (paraphrase)”Sisters, take your high place!” and in the same way he spoke these words to me.

He has reminded that my image….my narrative….my value, is not to be decided by the broken people who have defined this aspect of me for so long. God has given me the power to step out of this. He has shown me through Jesus that I am valued beyond measure and has put loving friends on my path who speak healing truth…. a balm to my injured soul…

” You are a new creation in Christ”

A new creation means I no longer have to hold on to the garbage of my past. Time to declutter and renew my thinking. I can let go of what was so that I have space for what I want to be.

 

I am going to need a lot of space because my heart feels crowded.

It needs a workspace.

A sacred place.

A place to stretch out and listen….listen for God’s voice and in that find my own voice.

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The Point of Grace

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”    Marie Curie

 

The Point of Grace

If you were given the chance to re- design your life story what would it look like? Would you be rich, poor, famous, tall, short, heroic, tragic, comfortable or an epic adventurer? Where would you live? Who would your parents be? How would the world receive you?

This is one of the very questions that has lead me to believe in God. You see, only He could have woven beauty in the mess of my upbringing. Because, in all honesty, If you or I would have been in charge of designing my life story, neither of us would have ever conceived the craziness , nastiness, or the absurdness of it all. It has actually been so bizarre at times that even I question if it was real or imagined.  The stories of hurt, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and even criminality are at times so extreme and haunting that it is stranger than fiction.

In light of all of it the story’s ending should have been  predictable. As a writer, even I would put a character that has gone through so much trauma directly into a padded room where she can rock back and forth in the fetal position and YET that is not my ending.

It is not even my middle.

Somehow through physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse I am able to put one foot in front of the other and walk through life in an upright fashion. I am not with out scars mind you….but I am blessedly endowed with a resilience that can only be explained (in my mind) as grace.

What do I mean by grace?

Well…grace has meant many things to me and all the meanings are real and true to me.

In our culture we can see grace in a manner of something or someone who displays elegance. Grace Kelly, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn are some famous women who come to mind as pictures of this type of grace. This is not the kind of grace that would describe me or my life but it is a lovely variety of grace none-the -less.

There is also the grace that shows up as a prayer of thanksgiving usually around the dinner table.  Coming from the Latin Gratia  or gratitude and in a most humble fashion makes grace a verb.

In my instance grace has not been elegant or something anyone would naturally associate with gratitude. OH, on the contrary, The grace I am referring to has come at points in my life as a blessing (usually in disguise) and serves as a catalyst for change or opportunity.

For example….at 16 years old I had to escape the clutches of my physically abusive 20 something boy friend by army crawling through the neighbourhood hiding under vehicles desperately trying to be unseen. He had locked me in his bedroom of his mobile home (Cliche I know) and threatened to beat me if I made a sound. I somehow got loose and made a run for the door. He heard the screen door slam behind me and the scene quickly turned into predator chasing prey.

I remember the terror that ran through my veins as his corvette passed up and down the streets looking for me. It had been raining and the ground was muddy and wet soaking me to the bone. As the sound of his car grew distant I made a break for it and headed out of his trailer park avoiding the main road putting myself into a 6 foot deep irrigation ditch to get to the highway. The ditch was about 3 feet deep with water and the muddy bank kept giving way as I scrambled to climb up to the road. My hand finally reached a clump of weeds that somehow held my body weight and allowed me to pull myself up to the edge of the highway. My heart was beating out of my chest and I must have looked insane hitch hiking covered in mud. With the sound of the corvette still charging through the distance, I hopped into the first car that stopped.

This was a point of grace.

As I sat sobbing and vulnerable in this man’s car, he was kind enough to drive me 35 minutes to the house of my foster family. It was late and they rarely kept track of my coming and going so it was easy to slip in and out unnoticed. When I arrived home I went straight to my bedroom to undress and climb into bed. What I was not expecting was what happened next.

As I turned on the light I saw it right there on my bedroom mirror. Written in black eyeliner …

” YOU ARE A DEAD  LITTLE SLUT”

I stood frozen in that spot looking past my own reflection at the marked threat. The air hung heavy with traces of his smell still there. It could only have been a matter of seconds between him leaving and me arriving.

This one last intrusion scared me enough to break change. 

He had somehow, brazenly snuck into my foster home looking for me and in his spiteful way left me the message that would open the door to me telling someone….finally….about the abuse.

Again, no one…especially me….would ever think to bless someone with this kind of grace. However, this one intense point of grace…a crack that let enough light in…. gave me the courage to speak up. Some where, some how I was not letting him have control over me ANYMORE. and so I told my foster sister who then told her mother who then told someone who told him directly that we were all on to him. It was a small town so I still ran into him but, I had the strength to not be pulled back into his sick little world. You see….the moment I shined a light on the dirty little secret the shame of it lost its grip. Without shames hold on me I gained strength and grace seeped in.

That strength to me is grace.

This is the type of grace I am now understanding as being cut from the cloth of faith and in my instance identifies as the unmerited favour of God who bestowed a blessing upon me to bring me into relationship with Him so that I could see my worth. Yes, I had to go through an abusive relationship to eventually fully grasp grace.The dark CAN give shape to the light.

A life of faith building rarely looks neat and tidy and this is how I know it is of God, because if I wrote my story I would have chosen something that glorified me. I would have been rich, good looking, perfect family, neat and tidy life. My mother would not have been a prostitute addicted to heroin. My father would not have been the violent drunk that sometimes lived in the park all bloodied and sad begging for change from my friends as they waited for the bus. Christmases would have been spent around our big tree with smiles and love instead of at the penitentiary where we could visit both parents and a couple of other relatives too.

Yep….if I had been the author of my story it would have been a bit different.

Instead , God made me a mountain climber and gives me the strength to take each step from valley to peak and back again gaining a deeper perspective with each climb. Sometimes it feels like I am ill equipped, like climbing everest in flip flops, but that is just my fearful human perspective. When I take my eyes off my lack and instead focus on His greatness, I am able to climb to the top.

And when I practice the other kind of grace….as in gratitude….I can be thankful for the trials that have made me unique and for how God is using every messy little detail to write a bigger story

Besides….no one said grace had to be boring and apparently I am here to prove that.  😉

 

Grace and peace to you my friends!