As new evidence comes in that contradicts previous cognitions and beliefs about myself, inherited from abusers and internalized, I struggle to find my voice.
The old, abuse-driven belief?
That my speaking up somehow burdens others. Somehow harms others.
That no one wants to hear my truth, that my truth will hurt them.
This is why I haven’t been writing here.
Of course, there was truth to this, when I learned the belief.
My voice was a huge threat to my father, who sexually abused from the time I was smaller than small nearly until I managed to leave home for college. He did all he could to choke my words off, to undermine me and my trust in myself so that I would never speak and reveal the atrocities being committed on me nightly. I had to choose between predictable, chronic sexual abuse at the hands of my father, an unpredictable life with my paranoid schizophrenic mother, or the completely unknown and threatening foster care system (where the chances of being further abused are high).
My speaking up at that time would have torn my family apart, would have ripped my twin brother and I out of our school district (the only safe constant in our lives), and into the hands of chaos.
Speaking up also would have meant admitting to myself that I was under constant assault.
I finally did tell this truth to my then-boyfriend, during my first semester in college. This truth was met by his rage at my father, and I felt so alone. I had never spoken it out loud, even to myself, before, and the weight of it paralyzed me. I could not function. I failed that first semester, losing scholarships and belief in my abilities. This was five years ago.
I’m back in school full time now, for the first time since then, after years of deep recovery work. My love of learning is my greatest strength, and school is home.
Yet more recently, the words of someone important to me ring in my head every time I raise my hand to speak up in school….words about me being “that” student; the one that everyone hates because she’s smart and is constantly engaged and likes to ask and answer questions all the time. That it’s not good to “lecture” others, as if intellectual humility requires my silence.
This hits on being a smart girl growing up, with messages that it’s not okay to be smarter than boys, or it was okay to be smart, as long as I don’t flaunt it by letting anyone know. This is on top of the silencing of the anger, the betrayal, the invasion that stems from incest.
Every time I raise my hand now, my heart races and I beat myself up…am I saying too much? Am I someone encroaching on the teacher’s territory? Did I talk for too long? Was I on-topic enough? Did I speak too frequently today? Did I say something too stupid? Something too smart?
The line repeats in my head: I shouldn’t speak I shouldn’t speak I shouldn’t speak I shouldn’t speak.
But…the feedback I’m getting from classmates directly contradicts this, and I am forced to reevaluate these cognitions; forced to decide if they serve me or not.
Yesterday, a classmate told me she takes notes whenever I speak up.
Last week, another classmate told me that he could tell I was educated, that I knew what I was talking about, that my contributions benefitted him.
A couple of weeks ago, as I chatted with fellow students before my Psychology of Peace & Conflict class, I mentioned I was interested in transferring to UC Berkeley, and was wondering if I could manage a Cognitive Science (concentration in Society, Culture & Cognition)/Peace & Conflict Studies double major.
The woman I was talking with, a stranger, said I was the right kind of person for Berkeley, that she always appreciated what I had to say in class, that I always said something interesting and relevant, and that I sounded like I should already be making $20/hour just for speaking.
Within the dissonance this creates, I am shown the right path.
I don’t have to live under the shadow of silence anymore.
It is my responsibility to tell the truth.
I choose the truth, I choose my ability to speak up, I choose to contribute what I know, what I have learned, and what I am learning about sexual abuse, trauma, society, healing, peace, courage, shame, beauty….all of it.