Speak Until Someone Hears. Then You Can Let It Go
I just learned how to let go. It’s taken a lifetime to get here.
My earliest memory was a haunting nightmare. I’m being chased by a powerful giant. The earth shakes beneath his footsteps, pounding closer and closer. I’m helpless, tiny. There’s no chance of escape.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I only knew that something was terribly wrong. I was wrong. Life was a terrifying battle through endless bullying, denial and shame.
Decades later, I found out I’d been abused as an infant. It explained a lot. Why I was always told “you’re a difficult child.”
Before I could speak, I was told, “You can’t talk about this. Everyone knows you’re a liar.” I don’t think my abuser realized toddlers literally can’t describe what’s going on. The language skills aren’t there yet.
I felt the weight of despair, even as I learned to pull myself up and walk. Sleep did not come easily. It was like falling into a black abyss, into that same repetitive, terrifying dream. Night after night, I tried holding my breath, hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.
“This is all your fault,” he declared.
One year olds are as impressionable as rising dough. I dreaded growing up. Every morning I wondered, why am I still here?
When I finally dared to speak, my voice was so soft, most people couldn’t hear me. But my abuser wasn’t taking any chances. He warned me, “No one will believe a word you say.”
As if someone had flipped a switch, I suffered a substantial hearing loss. One of my oldest brothers noticed. He told our parents, “I think she’s deaf. I called her and called her. She didn’t even look up.” I was four years old.
They dismissed his concerns. “She’s just being difficult.”
I didn’t realize I couldn’t hear. I just thought I was stupid. By the time I started school, the sexual abuse stopped and faded from my memory. Somehow, I knew I was damaged goods; I just didn’t know why. At home, I was bullied and scolded for “that look in your eyes.” My older sister told me, “no one wants you around.”
School was an escape. Sitting in the back, I could watch the teacher and the other students, figure out what was going on and do my best to keep up. I received good marks for conduct. I learned to read, and had excellent penmanship. When the teacher spoke to me, I would smile anxiously, hoping to pass for a normal student. But those nuns were pretty smart. They realized I couldn’t hear and moved me to the front of the class. My anxiety went through the roof; I didn’t want to stand out. At home, being noticed meant you were more likely to be punished.
One of the nuns sternly warned my parents I needed medical attention.
“Your daughter can’t join the orchestra because she can’t keep up. You need to have her hearing checked.” Two years later, my mother finally took me to a specialist. After the operation, the painful sore throat I’d endured for years, was gone. And I could hear.
But the damage had been done. The abuse went much deeper than I realized.
When I was a child, a well-known rock group wrote an opera, based on the fictional story of a young boy who witnessed a violent murder and went into a catatonic state, becoming deaf, dumb and blind. His relatives abused and mocked him, something I could relate to. But, in the story, this young boy, Tommy, became famous for playing pinball. They called him a wizard, he was so good. The story behind The Who’s Tommy resonated to my bones.
Two of my siblings picked up on my status as family scapegoat, and bullied me mercilessly. I learned to run fast. To this day, I can cover ground and disappear in a crowd with lighting speed.
Like many others, I’ve learned to cope with PTSD. My desk faces the door. I never work with my back to a door or window. I never relax where someone might sneak up behind me. My family still regards me as a liar, a scapegoat for anything that goes wrong in their lives, so I stay away as much as possible.
I wanted to be good at something and fell in love with the violin. But a bullying sibling wasn’t about to let me excel at anything. He made it his personal mission to stop me. Whenever I started to play, he demanded to watch, staring at me, up and down. Finally, I gave up.
I sang professionally for years. My family never knew. A few years ago, I picked up the violin again, longing to capture that beautiful tone. Slowly, my fingers remembered what to do. I had terrible flashbacks at first, but I kept practicing, defiant. Now, I pick up the violin and no one stares. No one tries to stop me. I go deep into the music and let it surround me with peace, with beauty.
A simple phrase reminds me to switch off the ugly memories. “You don’t have to do that (react to that) anymore.” For me, that works. Find a sentence that works for you. Something will.
No one can stop me from growing, from playing. As Roger Daltrey sings in Tommy, “I’m free.”