I thought she was speaking metaphorically.
It was divorce we were discussing, after all, and as anyone who has ever been through one will tell you, even the simple ones are complicated. Every single one of the power struggles in the marriage, the same ones that likely played a role in the decision to part ways, are only exacerbated during the split. The power and brutal veracity of words intensifies right alongside anger or bitterness or fear or relief or resignation. Once the decision to divorce has been made, however, we seem to manage (primarily because there is no other option) to find strength we did not know we had, to have courage to move forward, get out of our own head and, most importantly, to find our voice and use it to assert what is and is not tolerable.
My new friend, I’ll call her “Helen”*, and I were chatting when she told me, with an audible sigh, that her recent divorce had been a messy, ugly one during which she had “lost her voice.” When she said it, her sunny manner dimmed ever so slightly and I assumed she meant that she felt so beaten down and spent that she had lost her mojo, her drive, her energy to advocate for herself. That was not what she was saying at all. In fact, she was quite deftly tuned into what was and was no longer acceptable in her marriage. No, that wasn’t it. She had, in fact, lost her ability to speak. Her larynx was so tightly squeezed from the stress that it crippled her voice and threatened her spirit. She was reduced to carrying around a pad and pen if she wanted to communicate with anyone, anywhere. Yes, this is a thing.
It took a beat, but once I understood what she meant, I felt tears threaten to pour from my eyes and such a profound sadness; not only for her struggle but for the metaphor which was as absurdly symbolic as anything I can think of. Her divorce was complicated, bitter and devastating. The world she had been living in, despite the fact that it was, for her, toxic, was what she knew, what she understood, what her life had been. And then.
I know plenty of divorced couples. Many of the break-ups were of no surprise while others were shocking. There were as many long, drawn out, savings-draining divorces as there were wow-that-was-quick ones. There were claims (some proven, some not) of infidelity, thievery and, not surprisingly, irreparably broken trust. Some break-ups were simply the result of a mutual decision that the partners had grown apart. However, no matter the grounds of the split, I’ve noticed, just in my own little world, that most come out the other end with their voice louder, clearer and stronger than ever.
Perhaps the house and nicer-than-you-need cars are gone, and it’s more than likely that the budget has shrunk considerably, but gone, too, are the stresses of being partnered with the wrong person. The kids have had to adjust to two homes and have undoubtedly been exposed to the traits and behaviors in each of their parents that didn’t work for the other one. And yes, they are tasked with negotiating a world different from what they knew. But I am quite certain that most of those kids, who lived in that house, know the 411. Many remain mute, storing their voice for later dissection or interpretation. Others make it patently clear how they feel every step of the way. Either way, we take for granted that their voice is there for them when they need it.
As someone who holds all my stress in my neck and back (Truth: I sometimes pine for the days when I held it in my belly. Sure, I was in near constant pain and became fearful of eating, but damn if I wasn’t thin) I, along with just about every woman I know, married, single, divorced or widowed, appreciate how debilitating stress can be. I understand the power that our minds have over our bodies. I ache for the woman who finds her body betraying her, having forgotten that she is not flying solo; there is always someone to hold her hand, be her strength when she is weak and, when necessary, be her voice when hers is stifled.
I am happy to report that “Helen” is on the other side and is not only better, but thriving. All of her voices have been reinstated and her sparkly spirit enters the room before she does. Stay strong, ladies. And may you never lose your voice.