The Voice

Published: Dec 31st, 2018

What if you grew up not trusting your own voice?  Something you had to learn to build and battle to own for most of your life. I could not speak or write perfect English.

So I hide in my flaw; it was easier to.  Instead of speaking out loud, I spoke in whispers or edited myself to a couple of sentences, so I couldn’t betray myself.  Because I restricted myself so much, before I knew it, I had isolated myself.

I know many of you who are deaf can relate to this feeling of being ‘inferior’ or ‘less than’; we get afraid to speak up in case we sound slow or ‘deaf’ to regular or hearing people.  People who seemingly are smarter, better and faster while you are barely keeping up with your own schooling or life.

So we try to keep up; we smile and nod our heads pretending we are just like the others.  We become embarrassed to speak up because we know we stand out – we are deaf but we can speak!  Where do we fit in? With the Deaf or with the hearing? We hear phrases like, ‘deaf people sound like farm animals’ or ‘they sound so weird’.  So we hold back our voice again and again and we began to doubt ourselves, all the while continuing to smile through the pain hoping nobody notices.

Once you decide not to stand for it – to push back, use your voice, demand respect – the attack changes. No longer the ‘it’s not important, don’t worry’, now it’s ‘you’re deaf, you wouldn’t understand.’  Not even the deafness of our voice matters because now, our ‘deafness’ itself stands out louder to them. So we punish ourselves once again for speaking up. This is the status quo. This is normal… It’s not!

For me, it took a disastrous circumstance to overcome that faulty thinking.  I met a man who seemingly understood me and gave me a voice. He listened and found me beautiful, funny, smart and so much more when I didn’t myself.  Temporarily. I felt happy and free. Finally, I was good enough. Only after our marriage I found out he was abusive and an addict.

I felt naïve and stupid, especially for believing that he would change over the years.  The old voices came back, thinking: maybe it’s me; maybe I am not doing a good enough job; maybe if I do this or that better, just maybe he will change.  Maybe he would love me again. Maybe it’s my deafness, this stupid deafness that has ruined things. As hard I tried to do ‘better’ I felt more and more worthless, ugly and small.  This became my new low. The voices in my head once again reminded me that I wasn’t good enough, no matter what. That I was deeply flawed and broken.

Once again, I decided to push back, to fight for my own voice, because nobody else would and I had absolutely nothing more to lose.  As I was knocked down over and over again, I felt my voice begin to rise within me. I began to feel connected to myself again, not detached.  I was forced to use it, I was forced to embrace my emotions in anger, sadness over and over again. I was forced to face myself also. It was like facing all the ugly truth about what I had been telling myself for years prior.  All the lies I had told myself. I began to dive within myself and reach out for that lost voice; the lost me.

It did not happen overnight, it happened when I realized that I needed to love myself, imperfections and all.  I wrote in my journal, I expressed my emotions especially the ones that I had bottled up for years. I cried, laughed and embraced it all.  It no longer became about my husband, it became about me. My husband had forced me to face my flaws, but rather than ignoring them or despairing over them, I embraced each and every one of them. I was learning to be enough alone and to me.  My deafness slowly taught me to look at my own blind spots, where I had been fooling myself. I soon realized that I wasn’t alone in this kind of marriage. Even ‘regular’ people go through the pains of betrayal. We weren’t that much different anymore.

I feel strongly for the ladies out there, especially those who needs reminding of how incredible and strong they are.  Those who suffer in silence, especially the deaf woman who doesn’t feel like she has much of a voice or is too ashamed to use it.

Abuse isn’t always physical.  You may not have any physical bruises, but the bruises are evident in your heart or mind.  It’s scary how easy one form of abuse graduates to another. It hurts my heart to think about all the women silently suffering within their marriage or relationship.  The scars of abuse never do go away, even if time ‘heals’. I find you either make use of them and turn them into something beautiful – like for me, my kids, art, writing – or you can drown under them.  I let myself slowly submerge under the shame, the guilt, until I saw there was nobody coming to help me and I had to save myself. My kids needed me. They are what kept me going yesterday, today and will keep me going in the years to come.  They became my strength even in my many weaknesses and flaws. They have given me the biggest voice.

Anyone who claims power over others is demonstrating weakness.  Even though it may look like a strength on the surface. It is a weakness.  Nobody should hold any power over another person, even in their disadvantages or difficulties.

So I began to write in my journal, which overtime became my source of healing and strength.  It was as if I was both talking and listening to myself for the first time. I also started to exercise, to reclaim the power within myself.  I worked quietly in building myself up despite feeling embarrassed for years. I talked more with my children and made connections with people around me.  Throughout all this, everyone thought my husband was this amazing guy. For years I felt like I was lying to myself and everyone else, contributing to the lie of a happy, perfect marriage.  For years I worried about what people would think of me if they knew: ‘she is married to an addict, there must be something wrong with her, well she is deaf and stupid’. I would avoid people and functions in case they saw me as the deaf woman who was too stupid to leave; whose life was a mess.  I felt alone and lost for a long time. When I could finally speak up, to the man I thought would protect and love me he only gave dried breadcrumbs that did not fill me up. I then realized I could no longer rely on nor make him the man he never was but to take care and give that love back to myself and my children.  I stopped fighting and I stopped caring about what people thought of me and worked on myself. Then it suddenly hit me that the abuse I had received at the hands of another was a result of the abuse I had subjected myself too first. The shame and embarrassment that had I had allowed myself to feel over being deaf had quietened my voice, which allowed someone to come and continue the process. When you love or begin to love yourself, you don’t allow anyone to say or do anything that hurts you or your loved ones.

That’s when and why I made a conscious decision to work on myself.  I learnt to enjoy being alone in my own company. I learnt to love myself bit by bit, AND my deafness.  This experience taught me to enjoy the silence and embrace my introverted nature. I began to appreciate what I had, not what I didn’t have.  I had friends, I finally had a voice of my own.

Editor’s Note: 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, therefore they are at a higher risk of experiencing isolation. Deaf women, compared to hearing women, are twice as likely to suffer from domestic abuse. It is estimated that there are 22 Deaf women at risk of domestic abuse everyday. Men are also victims of domestic abuse.

PLEASE do not suppress your voice – speak out. SignHeath is a fantastic charity who have a service especially for Deaf people experiencing domestic abuse: DeafHope. Follow this link for their page: https://www.signhealth.org.uk/our-projects/deafhope-projects/deafhope-service/

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