“Just say no!” That was the chant we learned in D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). In high school a bored health teacher told a group of us equally bored sophomores that in a relationship no means no. In reality, no means different things. No, means keep convincing your parents until they say yes. It means nagging your friend until they are peer pressured into doing the dumb thing you want them to do with them. We are a society where no means – “convince me” or “it’s not over yet”.
However, there should be no more powerful word than the word no. It should be the end all be all. It should stop a child pleas for a toy, a friends pressure, a bullies taunts and a man’s hands. The reality? It doesn’t. I know from experience. For many years I have lived with the assumption and the belief that my voice has no value. That it is not heard. That because my “no’s” went unheeded time and time again the world remains an unsafe place that will continue to hurt me. The world will never change. It will always be a place of abuse, neglect and terror. A place where no matter what I say – I cannot stop the things that happen to me.
In therapy, we have recently begun to discuss how unless I begin to let myself believe that perhaps the world is safe and I can exist in it without being hurt I can never truly heal. I’m not sure I agree and I’m really not sure I can do this. To let go of my many, many layers of protection, to work through the fear in therapy would require a vulnerability that terrifies me to no end.
While browsing tumblr the other day I came across the quote:
“No” is a complete sentence. – Oprah
I stopped. Scrolled past it and then scrolled up again. And something inside me shifted it. Never in my young adult and adult life had my no’s been treated as complete sentences. They were invitations for manipulation, convincing, cunning, threats and force. Yet here was a woman who is known all over American for being wise saying that the word “no” is a complete sentence. This had never occured to me. Perhaps, I had done what I was supposed to have done. Perhaps my no should have been enough and it was the other people who were wrong. Not me. But them because they listen to my no. They didn’t hear it as a complete sentence even though it was.
So then maybe my work not only lies in not only in seeing this world differently but seeing myself and my past differently. That a no is a no and a no is a complete sentence. It wasn’t me that had it wrong but the other people in my life. And perhaps that should terrify me more. Knowing that I had no control over how someone reacted to something I said even though it was the right thing but for some reason it doesn’t. It makes me sit back and look at my past and think how messed up the people were who hurt me were. How messed up they were that they didn’t know that no was a complete sentence. And how if they haven’t learned that by now they are going to get in trouble in someway in the future.
So, I’m still terrified of giving up the belief that the world is an unsafe place. I’m not ready to do that yet but this does reframe things for me a little bit. It allows me to see that I did try to use my voice. It wasn’t heard but I did try to use it. And I did the right thing. And knowing I did the right thing is a step towards lifting s a large amount of guilt and shame off of my shoulders