Recovering My Voice
The following excerpt from ‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver is apropos of the estrangement I have been experiencing for over six years. I am on a ‘journey,’ one where I struggle to find my voice again as I continue to work on silencing the internal negative voices that have shaped me and wounded me.
…It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Recently, after several months of feeling more relaxed and accepting of this situation, I suddenly began to cry. There was no immediate precipitating event, but when I was done crying, I became aware of an undercurrent of anger, mostly at myself.
As a result of years of dealing with my daughter-in-law, I lost my voice. In a normal relationship, there is a healthy, open exchange of ideas. Of course, there are always times when it’s wise to be diplomatic. In my work, I stood in front of classes, teaching, sharing and exchanging perspectives with students. I had never been in the habit of clobbering anyone over the head with my opinions, especially my daughter-in-law. However, because she found fault with me no matter how I comported myself, I eventually stopped speaking my truth and chose to be relatively neutral and, I thought, non-threatening. Ultimately, I allowed her to silence me.
My son, his wife and kids are getting on with their lives. They travel, visit the other grandparents and have full lives. I’m not privy to the inner workings of their family dynamics, but from all appearances, they are living the good life. I’m very thankful that everyone is healthy and doing well.
And me? I continue to work on releasing the trauma of losing my son and grandchildren. I have had therapy and body work. I’ve cried, I’ve screamed while punching pillows. I’ve beseeched the heavens for help and guidance. But, it seems that there is more work to do to heal the wounds and let them go.
In past communications with me, my son and daughter-in-law didn’t mince words or convey tact or kindness. On the other hand, I was so careful with my words that at times I compromised my integrity. Because I had been hurt and forsaken, I became afraid to speak up for myself. I became estranged from myself, disconnected.
I am angry, mostly at myself, because I used my self-esteem and integrity as bargaining chips to win their approval. I was terrified of losing what had become a heartbreaking game. In the end, I lost and all those fears came to pass anyway.
I keep going back to this conviction: We’re only as good as how effectively we can let go, surrender and release. By fearing disapproval, fearing losing relationships or fearing abandonment we only lose ourselves. The more I altered my behaviors to stay in the family and gain acceptance from my son and daughter-in-law, the more my own personal approval ratings plummeted. I understand now that their opinion of me doesn’t matter, only my self-respect does.
Fears and inhibitions are just bad habits and habits can be broken and replaced with life affirming ones. I will find my voice and my happiness. Maybe I’ll recite a mantra, say affirmations, pray. I’ll find a way to speak my truth again.
There are times when it’s difficult to rise above it all, but by being committed to evolving and staying in the present, it becomes possible. One moment, one thought, one breath at a time.