Just like King George VI in “The King’s Speech,” I have a voice. And like George VI, it took me many years, and many false starts, to find it.
Finding one’s voice, in the face of almost insurmountable odds, is the key to healing for an incest survivor. We are told to be silent. We are threatened with more abuse, with violence, sometimes with death. (Or maybe death feels like the survivor’s friend; someone she can always turn to when things get overwhelming, unbearable.) We are told that if we talk, nobody will believe us. We are told we will be responsible for breaking our families apart. We are told we are to blame; that our behaviors sparked the perpetrators’.
I was told by my father to stop crying, or he would give me something to cry about. I knew what that meant. It shut me up. I, who never backed down, who never cowered, who never gave in, was silenced. I, the rebel, backed down, cowered, gave in. I so hated myself for it. For years. Decades. Even when I didn’t know why I hated myself, I was filled with enmity. The enemy. My father filled me with fear, and gave me, as a lasting present, self-loathing.
We are ugly. We are bad. We deserve all the negative things that life offers us. When good things happen, we turn them into bad. Ferron, my favorite songwriter, speaks to this in “Cactus:”
When I was young I was in service to my pain. On sunny days you’d find me walking miles to look for rain. And as many times I swapped it all just to hop a moving train. Looking back, it was a most expensive way to get around.
(Listen to the rest of “Cactus.” Listen to all of Ferron, if you haven’t. If you have, listen again. She’s worth it. She speaks our lives, in my very humble opinion.)
We aren’t ugly. We aren’t bad. We never were. We didn’t deserve the pain that our perpetrators, whoever they were, meted out. Their acts were bad acts, performed for who knows what reason. I suspect many of them don’t know. I’m virtually certain that my father never knew why he did what he did. I know in my heart that it overwhelmed him, caused him unbearable guilt, and that he laid his guilt at my door in order to go on with his life. Until it ate him alive, until the cancer that was in his soul overtook his body.
We have our voices, even if we don’t always know we do. We need George VI’s teacher, our own Lionels, to help us find our path to speaking out. Maybe our therapists, our significant others, our children, our friends’ children. Maybe, like King George, we need to feel our rage, our outrage, in order to free up our voices. Maybe we need to write, or draw, or paint, or sing. Maybe we need to start with a whisper, or a whimper, and build it into a scream. A crescendo worthy of Beethoven at his most powerful.
Whatever your path, find your voice. It’s beautiful. It’s pure. It’s innocent. It’s your most powerful tool against the silence and the silencing. Let the toxicity out.
Find your voice.
Let yourself speak. I’ll be listening. I promise.