When Words Hurt
The premise of this blog is to share the beauty of words, however; we often need to be able to compare the opposite in order to appreciate truly the beauty. Words are not always beautiful. They can cut deeper than a surgeon's scalpel; destroy someone's life faster than a natural disaster; and leave them with scars that last longer than time itself. Verbal abuse is the worse form of abuse because while the pain runs deep, it is invisible.
As an abuse survivor, it has taken me many years to realize that the words that were yelled, thrown, hurled my way did not have anything to do with me. I was not those words. It was a long and often painful journey to this discovery. Gratefully, it is one that I can now share without fear, hoping that others will benefit from my discoveries.
One of my earliest and most painful memories was being told that I was never going to be "pretty" because of a scar I have on my shoulder and my broken nose. The scar was the result of scalding water that splashed out of a pot and landed on my shoulder. The broken nose came (the first time) via a cast iron toy truck, my baby brother hit me with in his exuberance to play with me.
I settled for never being pretty. It was easier than trying to prove I was. I never primped like my friends. I seldom wore makeup. Most of my clothes until I was grown and working full-time I either made myself or bought second-hand. My feeling was, "To know me is to love me." If my looks mattered that much to people, then they didn't need to be around.
However, for all that conviction, I still felt ugly, constantly wishing I could somehow disappear from everyone's view. As a teenager, this wasn't a great place to be!
Add to the cruel, unconscious comments about my looks, the fact that I was nearsighted and had a learning disorder that never was diagnosed and you have a recipe for disaster.
I hid my inability to see by asking to sit at the front of the class because I was one of the shortest kids in my grade. Around my tenth birthday, however, I couldn't hide it any longer. Sister Superior sent me to the eye doctors where I was fitted for my first of many pairs of glasses.
As with all hardships, there are also benefits...gifts that are unexpected. Stepping out of the doctor's office on a beautiful autumn day, I realized I could see, for the first time in years, each individual leaf on the trees. It was like seeing the world for the first time.
While the adults in my life tried to assure me that I looked very studious and intelligent in my new glasses, my peers were typically cruel. I learned to not listen, or at least appear not to listen. I guess my lack of response to the taunts made it no fun. After a few times, the kids left me alone.
My learning disability was another thing, though. The easiest way to describe what would happen when I was young was that information would go in on a three lane highway, but when I was asked to give it back, it came out on a dirt road. It wasn't that I didn't know the work; it was that I couldn't unscramble all the information on the spot to answer in a logical way. If I was allowed time to think and process, I got it correct every time. Needless to say, standardize test were a horror.
In elementary school, I struggled, especially with oral reading. I knew my flash cards, but a page of text looked like gobbly-gook! A memory that still haunts me from time to time was my second grade teacher yelling at me in front of the class, telling me I was a lazy, lazy girl because I couldn't read my Dick and Jane book aloud without making mistakes. It took me years to get over the fear of making mistakes when I read aloud.
Interestingly, I have chosen positions in life that celebrate words. I am a writer, a teacher and a potential minister. How did this happen?
The best I can explain is that it is all about choices. I could choose to feel sorry for myself, or I could find ways to deal. I became really good at coping. But, coping can become a curse when it becomes a way not to face our dragons.
As the oldest child of alcoholic parents and the only girl, I became the "peacemaker." Little did I know that my ability to cope was simply enabling the alcoholism. When I finally realized that my baby brother was in danger, I stood up to my parents. It was the first time I ever felt empowered. The end result, after several years, was two sober parents.
I spent most of my adult life not feeling as if I would ever be "enough." This feeling was fueled by constant correction of my speech patterns (I had a heavy Boston accent.) and frequent comments about my weight, ability to hold conversations, keep house, cook, raise children, etc.
Looking back, I realize that I had become so inundated with negativity, that I no longer knew I was a positive force in this world. Fortunately, I had several dear friends who kept holding up the mirror of Life for me to gaze in and see just who I was.
After half a century of Life, I can now look at myself without disgust. I AM enough. I AM intelligent. I AM a good mother. I AM a good person.
Words still hurt me from time to time...a careless comment, a supposed "joke" can come from anyone at any time. The difference is that I now have the tools to deal with them. I no longer absorb them into my being (well, most of the time), but let them bounce of my protective shell. When that doesn't work, I have a strong support system of love ones who remind me of who I really am.
In spite of it all, words are still a joy to me. I diligently strive to use them to uplift and heal, myself as well as others. I pray that all the world will realize how imperative it is that we chose our words wisely, with utmost compassion and reflection.