“The voice must be heard.”
“The voice must be heard.”
“The voice must be heard.”
“THE VOICE MUST BE HEARD!”
So began the livestream of the Metropolitan Opera’s At-Home Gala, with every singer and musician saying, “The voice must be heard” first individually, then in a great, swelling unison from their homes.
“THE VOICE MUST BE HEARD!”
But yours wasn’t. And mine wasn’t. Abusers’ ear drums may physically vibrate to the sound waves produced by our vocal chords, but they pretend they don’t truly hear us because they don’t want to hear us. To hear our pain might put a cramp in their style of abuse.
So at some point, we simply stopped speaking. Why bother to talk, if you’re ignored? Shamed. Lectured. Yelled at. Punished. Traumatized. What we dared to say never made the slightest difference anyway.
So our voices grew quieter. Why take a deep breath and project if being heard is dangerous? Soon the most frequent response to our speech was, “What!?! I can’t hear ya.”
We were afraid to be heard. We spoke softly. Rushed. Slurred our words together. Stopped enunciating clearly. It was safer.
Maybe you stopped talking altogether.
When my narcissists would destroy my dreams yet again, instead of the futility of expressing my feelings with words and thus soliciting more shame, more brainwashing, more forced pseudomutuality, I whistled instead. They knew I whistled when I was upset. They told me so. They also didn’t care. It was easier for them to listen to me whistling over the dishpan, “I whistle a happy tune” from the The King and I than to face the music for their actions.
Not only did I relinquish my physical voice to their abuse, but I gave up my musical voice as well. For years, music had been the only safe way to express negative emotions in the hell of our perpetually “happy” family. But as I shared in Narcissists: Stealing Your Hobbies, Appropriating Your Interests, I quit playing the violin after he made it hateful. Years before, I’d also quit singing, which I also loved. I allowed the narcissists to win.
My silence was profound. I could feel it in my bones.
But last week, all that changed.
In one of the many tiny golden linings to this terrible virus, the Metropolitan Opera opened its virtual doors, welcoming us all in to enjoy the glory of opera for free. And I fell in love. I didn’t just want to watch opera. I wanted to sing the catchiest arias. There was only one small problem.
Yep, that’s right. My profound silence.
Well, I was okay singing from C4 (middle C) to the D5 note above it. That’s when the trouble started.
When I got to the E5 note, no sound came out. Nothin’. I knew I had the vocal chords for an E5, so why did the D5 come out fine…but E5…nothin’!?! Then it hit me!
I was afraid.
Afraid to be heard.
Afraid of bothering somebody.
Afraid of being shamed, teased, mocked, silenced.
But most of all, I was afraid of existing. If I opened my mouth and put forth the breath to make my E5 ring out, I would be existing…a little too loudly, a little too firmly, a little too “in your face.” When you’ve been one of the Invisible People for decades, daring to plant your feet and let out a powerful E5 that lets everyone in the vicinity know that, “Dammit, I exist. And if I wanna sing, I’m gonna damn well sing. Deal with it,” was terrifying.
So, without thinking about it, I instinctively cut off my own oxygen when the E5 came around. My throat tightened. No air come through. The best I could do was squeak out an almost inaudible E5, very quietly, around tight, painful vocal chords because I was terrified of anyone actually hearing me.
Even as I write this it seems like such a silly, trite thing…but the realizations it inspired were profound!
Another lady experienced a similar problem in a vocal Master Class on YouTube. She was struggling to hit a very high note for one simple reason: she wouldn’t open her mouth wide enough for the mechanics of singing that note to work. Maybe she felt it was unladylike or unattractive to open her mouth. Maybe it was a cultural thing, a shyness thing.
Unfortunately, the instructor of the Master Class wasn’t very sensitive. She got in the singer’s face and brusquely shouted: “Open your mouth. Open your mouth. OPEN YOUR MOUTH!” (The “damn” was implied!)
It wasn’t a physical problem for the singer. It was a psychological hurdle, just like my strangled E5. We can’t sing any further than we can think. We also can’t live any further than we can think.
Perhaps people who grow up in healthy, happy homes take existing foregranted. Hopefully it doesn’t terrify them. Apparently, they’re perfectly comfortable being seen and heard. Existing.
But for abuse survivors, the thought of existing can be terrifying. Standing toe-to-toe with other human beings and looking them (or sometimes our own reflections) in the eye is unbearable. So we slink round the edges of life, hoping no one notices us. Not making eye contact. Not “showing off” our God-given talents and skills. Smiling too much. Speaking softly, if we speak at all.
What would’ve happened if Sir Laurence Olivier had been afraid to bother anyone with his acting?
What would’ve happened if Leontyne Price had been afraid to irritate someone with her singing?
What a poorer world this would be if even dear, funny Florence Foster Jenkins had kept her incredibly bad but very enthusiastic opera singing to herself.
What a poor, sad world this would be if all the great singers, actors, dancers, etc. had been made to feel that they were selfishly taking with their art…when they were really giving.
What I’ve learned from watching opera is that we’re not taking when we speak loudly, sing beautifully, play the piano, act, dance, paint, write, mime, juggle…or express ourselves and own our existence…in a plethora of creative ways. We’re giving.
Our narcissists made us feel like we were taking, taking, taking by existing. They begrudged our existence…maybe even food, water, clothing, medical care. They made us feel embarrassed to be alive. Ashamed of our talents and art. Like second class citizens. Blights upon the Earth. Undeserving of being seen or heard or making eye contact with the better members of the species.
The Hell with that!!!
What I’ve learned from watching opera is that, yes, it takes Joyce DiDonato tremendous courage (and thousands of hours of work) to stand alone on the Met Opera stage, open her mouth and let fly with a gorgeous aria so loud that all 3,732 seats can hear her beautiful voice without amplification. It takes balls of iron to do that.
But in each of those seats are 3,732 enthusiastic people who want to hear her voice. They can’t do what she does. They wish they could, but they can’t. So they pay hundreds of dollars for the best seats at the Met so Joyce and the whole Met family can transport them out of their day-to-day lives for three hours of musical bliss.
And there are people who want to hear your voice too. Or hear you play that long-neglected instrument. Marvel at your photographs of your guinea pig posing in costume with props. Read your articles, your poems, your haiku. Buy your wood carvings. Watch you dance on the beach.
Their faces may not show it. They may lose interest after a few minutes. But you’re doing something they can’t do. You’re giving something of value to their life. Believe me! I once chased a bagpiper for half a mile by following the sound of his pipes. I finally ran him to earth in front of an Irish pub at the Minnesota State Fair. Sure! Some people hate the pipes…but others like me love ’em!
Would you rob the world of what you have to give???
So last week, I went into the “little wilderness” at the back of our property, relaxed my throat, opened my mouth wide, took a deep breath and let out a beautiful, resonant E5. I backed up, took a run at it and ran the scales up-and-down all the way up to an A5…my top note prior to puberty. Woot-woot! I’ve still got it, Baby and it feels pretty darned good!
It takes enormous courage to exist. Don’t keep your creativity to yourself. Be generous! Give of your talents to make others happy!