By Indira Grace
“Words don’t matter,” he said, calmly, as if he were telling me about the weather.
My soon-to-be ex-husband and I were discussing our failed relationship, yet again. I had no idea why; every time we talked about it, nothing ever got resolved. But here we were, doing it, again.
Words don’t matter, he said. Who is this man? How can someone that I shared my life with believe that? Words are how I inspire. Writing stories and poetry; giving speeches to inspire and to convey love. Words matter in my world. But he said it…words don’t matter. It just kept ringing in my ears. I was stunned.
I tried to reason with him.
I tried to explain that words have the power to make us feel deeply. Listen to The Beatles sing Yesterday or Joni Mitchell sing A Case of You. Words have the power to heal. Read poems by Rupi Kaur or my friend Angela. Words have the power to hurt and harm. Read a break-up letter or a speech given by someone who wants to invoke hatred. Words have the power to change our lives, to inspire. Read I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Trying to get him to change his mind, I said, “But you told me that you were sorry for everything you said and did. Did those words matter?”
Of course they mattered, he explained. He meant them. And then he went silent.
My ears began to ring. I became nauseated and I began to shake. Suddenly, flashbacks from the sexual abuse I had sustained at the hands of my father, my godfather, my stepbrother, my stepfather, even the neighbor across the street…they all came flooding back to me. I could see me begging them to stop, telling them that I didn’t want to or that it hurt. And no one listened. It wasn’t that words don’t matter; it was that my words didn’t matter.
Ultimately, I realized that I didn’t matter.
My semi-well put together life crumbled in a matter of seconds. I realized that I had put myself in a situation that resembled the abuse I sustained as a child. I held my stomach and wondered what in the hell was going on in my life.
I began to question everything I thought I knew about him and our relationship, every relationship I was ever in, and the relationships that are still to come. I questioned myself. I really thought I knew myself better. How will I ever let go of the fear of doing this to myself again? What if someone else that I love thinks that my words, or worse yet, that I don’t matter? What if I don’t see this or don’t understand it until my whole heart is in it again?
What if I miss the red flags?
A rush of emotions swept through me. I became angry. When did any of this become okay? Who decided that “stop” or “no” could be ignored? My anger became rage and rage became fear. Fear turned to sadness and sadness to depression. Then it all cycled back through again. A million things went through my mind. I blamed him, them, and me. I tried to shut down but I came back to reality.
I felt so misunderstood, so unwanted, so impotent. The 15 years of therapy for the abuse I sustained as a child felt like it had just left the building. I sat, alone, staring at the wall, wondering what to do next.
Within hours, I began to lose my voice—literally. My voice became strained and I sounded like I was whispering. A deep depression hit me. I realized that just like so many relationships before, starting with my father, I was not seen for who I was—a human being with hopes and dreams, ideas and gifts to offer this world, but, rather for who he, or they, needed me to be. They needed me to be silent, they needed me to be agreeable, they needed me to be to help them feel loved, to make them feel powerful, to make them feel potent—at the expense of me.
During meditation later that evening, the flashbacks of abuse, came stronger and more vivid. Terror visited me for a while. For three days and nights, I slept on the sofa (a common habit for those who have been sexually assaulted and something I haven’t done in years), had nightmares, cried and isolated myself. It is only now, some seven days later, that I can even put together the words that expresses what happened.
I am recovering now.
I am aware that I am not living in terror, as I did when I first went through the pain of my abuse. I am working, planning for an event this weekend and able to concentrate. When I go into meditation, I begin to weep in the silence. Anxiety has made her way back to me for the time being. The pain of the abuse is spilling out of me, again. I look forward to peace, but until then, I will sit with my pain, and let her leave on her own. She needs to understand that she does matter.
Through it all, it is imperative for me, as I walk my talk, as I stay in my authenticity, to move forward with compassion. Compassion for myself, as I navigate another layer of abuse melting away, compassion for my abusers, compassion for those who are still being abused in the world, and compassion for those who are still abusing; still not hearing what others are saying and still not seeing them as people who matter.
My actual job is to use words to inspire people, to bring them peace, to comfort them. Words are quite powerful, and nothing is going to change that truth for me. And for that truth, I am grateful.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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