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Underneath My Silence

Children are meant to be seen AND heard.

drawing by Nicole Javorsky
"Look closely, see me" drawing by Nicole Javorsky

Dearest Doodle Soupsters,

I'm tired of saying, "It's fine." I'm tired of saying, "No worries." I'm tired of smiling when I don't have the words and don't want to be asked about it.

Because the truth is I am okay. And I feel. I'm okay when I'm grieving. I am okay when I feel sad. I am okay when I'm angry. And when I feel all mixed up and confused. I am a human being. A thinking, feeling, growing, changing human being.

As a child, I was taught that my humanity was a liability. That to show my pain on the outside was to open myself up to misunderstanding, gaslighting, feeling even more alone. That to allow my pain to be seen was akin to embarrassing myself, being shameful.

Every time my body made it clear I was not okay, the message my parents sent was, Just hide it. Just hide like everybody else. Just hide like we did.

Before I was hospitalized for anorexia at 14 years old, I was not okay for years. As a child, I showed many of the signs of being sexually abused: persistent nightmares, bruising, regressive behaviors, changes in eating habits, fear of being alone at night.

I was expressing myself in ways that made sense for my age. And I tried to express myself with my art and writing too. No one heard me.

Silence is its own kind of speech. Nightmares are their own kind of communication. Same for changes in the otherwise ordinary: eating, showering, sleeping.

I didn't feel heard. I didn't feel seen. And when I tried to make myself heard at home, I was met with rage and immaturity. Calling me disrespectful, ungrateful, naive, idealistic — these were all just ways to silence me even further.

I kept trying to communicate what I was feeling, my needs, my confusion, my story, the fact that I was being sexually abused by my teacher. And my trying led to many more wounds.

This was the truth bound up in my silence. It's not that I didn't want support. It's not that I didn't want the abuse to stop. It's not that I didn't want to be heard, comforted, held, loved, supported. It's that trying to access support had been the prologue to some of my most painful memories. Silence became at once protective and its own kind of pain. Its own kind of deprivation.

I remember drawing in the hospital. My pen slipped and I tried to fix the stray mark. I kept drawing around and around. Out of frustration. Out of desperation. Out of fear. And I crumbled up the drawing and threw it in the trash.

I told myself, "Maybe that's just the kind of artist I am. Person I am. I can't do anything right. I mess everything up eventually."

The truth is there's no separation between who I am as a human being and who I am as an artist. My anger and sadness, being honest about how I truly felt, telling my story from my own perspective instead of the talking points of those who benefited from my silence — all of it felt so off-limits. And no wonder. My honesty, even when phrased with kindness and compassion, was met with cruelty.

I think there's an idea out there that you can talk down an abuser. Just find the right words. Just don't give up. The sad reality is that placing one's safety and peace in the hands of someone who displays repeated patterns of abusive behavior is a recipe for more abuse, not healing.

Encouraging a survivor to be the one to make amends is encouraging them to hold themselves responsible for others' actions and to ignore or downplay their own experience.

I can have compassion for my parents and not want a relationship with them. I can choose my own healing and know I'm not responsible for theirs. I can do what's in my power to live my life worth living and acknowledge what's not within my power or control.

It's okay to acknowledge my own powerlessness as a child. Blaming myself was a way to avoid the really heartbreaking truth. I was not protected and I didn't have safety at home. So when I dealt with more trauma, I also had to deal with the failures of my environment. I wasn't supported when I needed it most. Back when I actually wasn't okay.

I'm safe now. I chose healing. I chose to keep living, even though it means living with the consequences of what I've already survived. Consequences I did not cause.

This month, I made the painting below.

painting by Nicole Javorsky

And then I messed it up. Except I didn't mess it up. The painting transformed into this —

my painting "Underneath my silence"

A reflection of how lost I felt. How devastated, betrayed, confused, trapped, powerless, hurt, alienated, isolated, disconnected, unrooted, pained, despairing, and alone I felt.

I titled the painting, "Underneath my silence."

In my truth and with support and my freedom,

Nicole Sylvia Javorsky


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