I believe in the healing power of talking, but I didn’t always believe in this. My senior year of high school, when my father moved out of the house, and my mother drunkenly spun out of control and eventually attempted suicide, the idea of talking about these events was like considering shooting the principal.
Even before my parents’ marriage fell apart, if it ever was together, I rarely spoke. I saw no point. My parents only raised their voices at each other, or communicated through steely glares and door-slams, my mother in particular. She also made it clear that no problem of mine could ever compare with the problems she faced. My father tended not to say much, and didn’t ask what his five children thought either. But that was my education in communication. By all appearances, talking was a frivolous exercise that often led to guilt and pain, so I stuffed my roaring emotions into a tiny pigeon hole in my heart, and quietly forgot about them.
Then, two Christmases ago, and six years after I last spoke with my mother, I fell into what I called a mild depression. Until then, my experience with depression came from watching my mother struggle through her frequent bouts of it. In comparison to those, I thought my malaise really was mild, but it was bad enough to make me seek counseling. I knew that therapy required talking, but I didn’t know what kind of talking was involved.
The kind I mean stemmed from an inner voice I’d never used before, had no experience with, and feared above all else. It was the voice that guarded the door to my long-forgotten pigeon hole of heart-ache, the voice that had no voice. This voice was so deeply buried under my everyday concerns, and so well-masked by my surface fears, that finding it, let alone liberating it, was itself a task. For if I didn’t know where the hurt was, how could I explain my pain to someone else? The thing was, I couldn’t unless I just tried.
Putting words to such scarring memories, and letting someone else hear them, was excruciating. It was like taking the living, beating heart out of my chest and giving it to my counselor to keep warm. Each hateful item stored in my then bursting little pigeon hole I had to take out and present to my audience, always expecting that it would take my pigeon hole and all of its contents and, in disgust, fling it at the nearest wall, leaving me in more scattered pieces than before.
The risk in talking certainly seems great. But the alternative is far darker and more malignant. Letting anguish gather and fester in the heart, and not even in the whole heart, but a small compartment in it, results in the concoction of a venom that leaks into the bloodstream and poisons everything that might otherwise cause joy. I experienced the beginning effects of this venom two years ago, and it may just have saved my life.
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