Right away that morning I was called to meet with the staff psychologist, Mike.
“How are you this morning, Joel?” Mike said to me. I had met him a few days earlier during the intake process and we had already built a rapport. I decided to make things easier by opening my mouth and speaking.
“I am sure you have already heard about my vow of silence today,” I said.
“Yes, tell me about that,” Mike looked worried that somehow I was not doing this for the right reasons.
“Mike, as you already know I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. During that time I didn't speak unless it was absolutely necessary. I stayed silent for one year,” I began.
“Wow that’s a long time. Why did you do that?” he interjected.
“I felt like I wasn’t being heard. There was no point in speaking anyway. My mother talked all the time. She wouldn't listen; she just talked. So, I stopped talking. I would like to honor that time by being silent for eight hours. Perhaps reconnect with that part of me and heal from it. Earlier this year I had been silent for 24 hours. I felt like it wasn't effective because I wasn't around anyone so I wasn't choosing to be quiet. Today I want to choose not to use my mouth to speak.”
“I understand. I suppose you are doing that for the right reasons. I just don't want you to get caught up in the misery.” Mike then looked at his file folder. “Joel, It says here that you are a Christian.”
“Yes, I know it looks like I may be a buddhist or some other thing because I meditate and take vows of silence. There is no doubt in my mind that God is real. I love Jesus; I just hate his people.They are untrustworthy elitist liars. Is there any reason why we can't learn from the ancient wisdom of others?”
“Ok, it seems you have it all figured out. Let’s talk more tomorrow.”
I took my notepad and pencil from off the table and left the small office to resume my silence. I found it easy at first to actively choose not to speak. I wrote in my notepad to convey my thoughts and desires to others. As each class started throughout the day the others around me were happy to speak for me.
I had hoped that this would help reconnect the fractured part of me that had stayed quiet so long ago. I really did not in my wildest dreams think he would begin to talk again. After lunch the dam broke and the 15 year old boy inside me began to take control. The first thing I felt was unfettered and carefree joy. The boy inside me wanted to run and play, to laugh and joke. I really expected grief and tears. I found it surprising because I thought that I would still be mourning the loss of my father, but instead I felt happiness.
The next surprising thing I learned was that he really loved girls. He wanted to be around them all the time. They smelled good and they made him feel funny. They were somehow different than boys, and he wanted to know more. Especially those girls with the strange lumps on their chests. He really wanted to know more about what those things were.
It made me happy to learn that the boy inside me was normal, that he liked to play and be with girls. He was happy and loved to tell jokes. It made me happy learn that the loss of our father was assimilated and He was loving life inspite of such trauma.
Later that day while coloring a picture of a cartoon character, I realized time was running short on the eight hour silence. I was enjoying spending the day with him and he with me. He was happy that I had finally slowed down long enough to listen to him, to understand that he was still here beside me. We were connecting in ways I find it difficult to describe. It was just a pure and genuine friendship between two that had always been and always will be.
I looked up from my coloring page. It was as if he was standing next to me with his left arm around my shoulder, his face close to mine smiling at the artwork we had created. He slowly turned his head and whispered into my ear, “I love you.” That was the last time I saw or heard from that little boy inside me, happily running and singing “Ha ha, I love you! I love you! ha ha la de da! I love you! I love you! Don't forget me! ha la de da. . . .” down the hallway. The clock struck 5 pm and my eight hours were over.
I wanted to stay silent for longer. I wanted to spend more time with the younger me. I felt like he had more to teach, more to say, and I had more learn. As the others cheered and congratulated me that I had completed my goal, my heart broke just a little as the boy was gone. I never got to tell him that I was sorry that I couldn't rescue him from the monster that raped us. I couldn't hug him and wipe our tears away. He was simply gone. The words, “I love you,” left echoing in my ear.
I wondered then, and I still do, if that silence wrought a true other self or if I had finally lost it and given in to my insanity. It wasn’t like a separate personality that hops in and out, but more like a true other self that I had given voice to in my own silence. When he left I didn’t feel integrated or separate of him. It was like he had come to visit and moved on.
I wonder sometimes if it really is him that acts out when I am in a rage. My wife will call me out and tell me that I am not thinking with my adult brain, that I am acting like a hurt child. I even display child like characteristics in that moment of rage such as yelling, stomping, and jumping up and down--something I don’t do in my everyday life. I don’t know how to reach that boy and tell him that we are okay, that we are healing. I don’t know how to tell him that joy is a okay emotion and living a loving life with my family is good--not a feeling to mistrust. I have struggled with that rage and the triggers that send me to it that come seemingly out of nowhere.
The next day I woke feeling almost normal. “Is this what is feels like to wake up and not be angry?” I thought to myself.
I began to wonder if there were a common theme to some of my journal writings about my triggers. The common words I kept reading over and over was frenetic, out of control, frenzied behavior that were all centered around describing various interactions with my mother. The conclusions were obvious. The anxiety and rage I had been feeling were centered around one person’s behavior. I translated anything similar to her non-stop talking or blatant ignorance toward me into a trigger. It could have been my toddler babbling on incessantly like normal kids are supposed to do, or my wife interrupting me because it was taking me longer to form a thought. Anything that made me feel ignored or not worthy of attention would set me off and it was difficult to recover.
I was learning that my day of silence wasn’t only an opportunity to meet my inner child, but it demonstrated complete control over how others perceive and communicate with me. I was forcing them to listen, to pay attention to me even though I was not using words. I was showing power and worth to others that I could not display as that youth that was repeatedly ignored and made to feel small. I liked the power to make people pay attention to me.
My pain was now centered around my mother and how she treated me as a child. I am still working through my emotions regarding this. Thank God for continued therapy!