With a sense of trepidation and fear, my heart beating rapidly, I pressed my ear to the door to check if the coast was clear. Cautiously turning the doorknob, I peeped out from the corner of my eye. Surmising that no one was around, I made a mad dash to bathroom, the nearest point of refuge, only a few feet away. Safely reaching my first destination, I allowed myself to breathe again, relieved that I had escaped my bedroom-turned-prison cell unscathed.
Knowing that there was only one way to end the silent treatment I had endured for almost three days now and my tears all spent, I decided to forge ahead on my dreaded mission, aware that only groveling before my 'warden' would grant me a reprieve and release me from confinement. While resuming the role of an unloved and mistreated 'Cinderella' in my family wasn't exactly the life I longed for, it far exceeded remaining in lockup without permission to see or speak to anyone.
If all of this sounds a little fantastical, know that this was no fairytale. My warden was none other than my mother, who had designed a system of oppressive, nonsensical 'rules' for me, who gave me looks which frightened me into silence, and who controlled many of my waking hours. Unfortunately I was not Cinderella but a confused little girl who didn't understand why she was being picked on (even young children have an instinctive sense of right/wrong and fair/unfair) and why her own mother hated her and reveled in her daughter's misery.
I'll never forget the one and only birthday party I had as a child (a party shared with my younger sibling), during which I suddenly found myself on silent treatment. My mother's glaring eyes burned a hole in my heart as she played hostess to my friends, while her ice-cold gaze sent shivers down my back, letting me know where things really stood. I was forbidden to laugh out loud with the family at the table, made fun of when I cried, and mocked in public. For years I had to ask for permission to go to the bathroom and was not allowed out of bed some mornings, even though I was wide awake and everyone else was out and about. And when my siblings were outside playing, I was inside finishing a lengthy list of chores.
I remember putting on a brave face to the world while I cried so hard in private that I thought I was going blind. I remember my dog as the one living creature I could share my deepest despair without fear of rejection. Unable to make sense of what was going on around me drove me to near insanity; not understanding what I had done wrong yet knowing that I was despised crushed my spirit. The fact that I wasn't listened to and had no choice in most matters was unbearable.
Since my attempts at protestation had long fallen on deaf ears, I learned to suffer in silence and assumed the role imposed upon me to perfection. To outsiders, I was the sole, happy-go-lucky daughter in my family, a top student with many friends. In reality, I was lonely in my misery yet bound by a pact of silence – partly because I didn't know any better and partly because I sensed that confiding in someone would only make matters worse. So I accepted my fate and found a way to function, never knowing when the next blow would come and when I would once again be banished from my mother's kingdom, future unknown.
Decades later, after years of treatment for a series of anxiety disorders which began during my teens, I now understand that I was the victim of a disturbed parent who emotionally abused me instead of giving me the love and attention children pine for and need for healthy development. I also understand that I had blocked out a series of painful, traumatic experiences, only to be triggered later in life by random events which 'freaked me out,' even though no one around me seemed fazed at all. With the help of an experienced, devoted therapist and tools such as ego state therapy, I slowly began to piece together, process, and integrate my present-day experiences with my troubled past, allowing me to finally begin the corrective work of healing.
When asked today what kept me going all those years, how I managed to survive the unspeakable, and why I didn't end up taking my life even though I had planned my escape from this world many times over, I answer as follows:
As I lay crying on my bed all those years ago, praying to God that He take me away from the nightmare of my existence, a faint flicker stirred from within the depths of my being – the hint of a small, almost infinitesimal part of myself that wasn't ready yet to call it quits. In spite of my self-loathing, some part of me knew that something wasn't right, that I was meant for more than this, that I was not living my destiny, and that my true self had never been given the chance to blossom and grow.
Somewhere, in the very pit of my being, was the spark of a neshama, the whisper of a soul desperate to be heard, to be loved, to be given wings, to take flight and to soar like it was intended to.
While there is no end to the debt of gratitude I owe to the friends, family, and health professionals who have been my stability on this rocky journey, I believe it was perhaps this miniscule, barely distinguishable flicker of a soul which ultimately saved my life and gave me a reason to carry on. Today, as I continue to search for meaning and my place in this world, I thank God each morning for the soul He returns to me when I awake.
Life is still far from perfect, with challenges arising on a regular basis. However with each passing moment, as I continue to heal old wounds, forge healthy relationships, and discover the 'real' me, the whisper of my soul gets louder and louder, and I know I am on the road to liberation.