Thursday, 29 September 2011

Learning to Keep the Silence

I remember clearly my first attempt at breaking the silence. My parents, siblings, and I had gone to "town," for what reason I can't recall. We lived in an especially rural area, so almost anything we had to do required one of these trips. We were at the gas station preparing to make the trip home. I can't recall the exact time, but it was getting to be rather late at night and we had not yet eaten dinner. At least one of us younger kids had requested a stop for food, but we'd been told that wasn't possible. As was our custom, we also asked for snacks from inside the gas station, but were again turned down. It was winter and my father's work was dependent on decent weather, so winters were always difficult for our family financially.

Although we had not stopped for dinner, we had all waited in the car while mom and dad went in to the liquor store. While we had not been able to purchase any snacks, my mom did instruct my dad to get her a pack of cigarettes when he went inside to pay for the gas.

The stops at the liquor store were a regular occurrence, as regular as the smoking habit, but neither was ever discussed. Ditto the excessive drinking of the liquor and the yelling and violence that would sometimes follow, or the parental disappearances when liquor was consumed outside the house. None of these things were ever to be mentioned. I felt the importance of this, despite the fact that no one had ever said it aloud, but I did not understand or know the reason.

On this particular night, however, I was just frustrated, hungry, and grouchy enough to open my mouth: "Oh, so we can't afford to get something to eat, but we can afford wine and cigarettes!?" The moment I said it, I knew I would regret it, but it was too late. It was out.

Much to my surprise, all that followed was silence.

I expected to be yelled at or told how ungrateful I was. Something. For a moment, I was relieved by the quiet. Maybe I wasn't in trouble. Maybe my actually speaking up was going to change something. A few days passed, however, and the silence continued. My mother would not talk to me. When I came near she only looked at me, face filled with deep anger, but she did not speak a word. Eventually, enough time passed that the incident was forgotten and my relationship with my mother returned to what, for us, was normal, but I had learned a valuable lesson: never speak out. Never discuss the family's problems. Keep your mouth shut.

Many, many years later I broke the silence again, but this time the outcome was different. Once again, I haven't managed to change anyone else, but I have started my own journey toward healing. The conspiracy of silence has been broken. I'm finally speaking my truth, finding the empathy I desperately needed for so long, and mustering up the strength necessary to break the cycle of which I was a part.

This virtual space is designed for those among us who have been kept silent. It is for all of us bearing a heavy burden alone. It's for anyone whose truth has been stolen from them. Here, we can reclaim that truth, speak it, and be heard. If you would like to add your voice to The Honesty Conspiracy, you can email ideas and submissions to honestyconspiracy {at} We are committed to respecting privacy and maintaining anonymity so that all who wish to be heard can do so safely and without fear of judgment. 

Photo from Imagine24 on Flickr.


  1. I wasn't going to comment on this but I came back to it twice and I have to share my experience.

    I had a similar childhood - money was always tight but nearly every weeknight and every weekend was spent at the bar, and the 2-packs a day habit was fed regularly. I hated the cigarette smoke - I hated going to school smelling like it. One day when my mom was complaining about money problems I asked her if it would be easier for her to give up smoking, or to give up me, her youngest daughter. She said in all seriousness, she could give up me easier.

    That has stayed with me for nearly 30 years. I wish she had kept silent when I asked her that.

  2. Welcome Jenn. Thanks for your comment.

    Ouch. That hurts. There are times when parents need to be honest with their kids about feelings... and there are many times when they should bite their lips and put love first rather than the immediate feeling which is bubbling up. Sometimes silence is best. There are times I wish my parents had held their own counsel. Will be blogging about that in due course.

  3. This resonates with me for very different reasons at the moment. The silence - perhaps it's a generational thing, or perhaps it's just universal. But my parents don't speak of certain things - emotion, money, life-problems. And it hurts more now I have my own kids. I feel the loss of a matriarch or patriarch to whom I can confide, relate, use as a soundboard. Recently I've been more and more open and honest with them about our lives - sunshine and monsoons - but all I get in return is silence.

    At what point in their lives did they stop talking I wonder? Is this inevitable for us all?

  4. I'm so sorry this had to be your reality. I too broke the silence once, and learned that it was a bad idea (I called the police when my father's regular screaming and breaking things escalated into the first time I witnessed him hit my mother). He despised me for it, and even my mom soon began to pretend it never happened - as she continues to do with most of our childhood.

    I've come to believe I will never get 'satisfaction' from them in trying to work out - or even talk about and honestly admit - all these things that happened. But I can make sure my own children never feel like they have to deny reality with me, or that they can't come to me about anything.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope the healing continues for you.

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