All’s Silent in the Penalty Box

“Why are you so petrified of silence? Here, can you handle this:

…Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines, or when you think you’re gonna die – or did you long for the next distraction?”

When my head hit the pillow last night, Alanis promptly materialized and insisted that I noodle around with those questions. That space up there, that silence – I don’t like it, not one bit. “Petrified” isn’t the word I would choose to describe the extreme discomfort of sitting with my introspection though. It’s not that mulling things over scares me. Rather, it’s that I have a lifelong neurosis when it comes to conflict. My default response to any semblance of discord is to frantically struggle to resolve the friction at any cost.

Photo by Paul licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo by Paul licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

One of my tribe members recently asked if I’d ever considered being a mediator. Brilliant observation. I can mediate like nobody’s business. When asked for advice, my thinking usually toggles between the struggle that my friend is facing and the possible motives and reasoning of the perceived “adversary”. I think it’s often the case that a little clarity can be gained by seeking an outside perspective.

In my experience, that frame of mind can be really helpful when seeking to resolve disagreements. I have a few trusted friends that are always willing to help me sort out my thoughts in this way. The give and take of a relationship like that is invaluable. However, I’ve realized something of late concerning the banter that goes on in my own head: I’ve spent my life mediating myself right out of a voice.

  • I’ve stayed in unhealthy relationships, because being empathetic toward another’s difficult upbringing and life experience meant excusing their controlling and manipulative behavior.
  • I’ve put on a front in the interest of not offending people, to the degree that it wasn’t necessary for anyone to pull my strings – I effectively squelched myself.
  • I’ve swallowed my hurt feelings because to talk about them would hurt those who were hurting me.

Perfect recipe for an identity crisis, right there. I never really got around to figuring out who I was at my core because my existence was wrapped up in keeping the peace. I’m a tad slow on the uptake, buuuuut… it turns out that the peace never really gets kept. Because when you factor in the number of people one interacts with, and the variety of points of view out there on every conceivable topic, it’s a mathematical impossibility. And because it also turns out that not everyone is invested in self-examination and giving others the benefit of the doubt. Note to self: Stop being shocked that we aren’t all at the same place in our becoming.

I’ve historically had a love/hate relationship with people who appear confident and opinionated. I have been fascinated by those who are able to boldly articulate their viewpoint without giving it a second thought. I’ve been astonished to witness participants of rousing conversations just walk away as though they were unaffected by (oh, the horror!) lack of agreement with every soul in the general vicinity. Intriguing as this variety of human was to me, I couldn’t handle being in close proximity to one of them for any length of time.

Again, s-l-o-w-w-w on the uptake, but it’s become clear that the problem was within me. When you are clueless concerning what defines you, it’s difficult to boldly express your lunch order, let alone deep thoughts about your place in the universe. And being around people who already have this piece figured out is just plain uncomfortable.

Thankfully, (after a mere 49ish years) things are starting to converge. The totality of my life experiences has resulted in a sort of perfect storm. If I were the designated namer-of-storms, I’d have to go with “She Who Does Not Give a Fuck”. Although my voice has been buried deep inside me for a very long time, I’ve finally located it. And, (shocker) the more I use it the stronger it gets.

That brings me back to what prompted this rumination: that damn silence. Now that I’ve found my voice and am daring to use it, I often find myself in the penalty box. Switching up my identity from “keeper of the peace” to “she who knows who she is and isn’t afraid to state it” is proving to be a bit of a ruckus-causer. The silence comes in when, following my necessary setting of boundaries, I’m left alone with my thoughts for varying periods of time as folks adjust to my new normal.

I get squirmy at the mere mention of it. Me alone with my thoughts can be exhausting. But along with becoming unafraid to speak my truth, I’m learning to just sit in that accompanying uncomfortable space. I’m adjusting.

Thing is, it’s not so quiet anymore…I’m always surrounded by the sound of those miserable pretenses falling all around me :)