The silent cry.
The open-mouthed, white lipped, frozen cry of a child.
It begins as a breathy, indignant screech, a shocked outcry that is sharp and quick, followed by silence. This is the cry that sends any parent running, heart pounding, to scoop up their hurting child and assess the damage.… we look them over, and hold them tight, waiting for the scream to come, when the tightness in their lungs relaxes just enough to release the pain in an ear-piercing shriek.
My little girl never, ever screamed.
The pain from her injury would be frozen on her face when I gathered her up… she would turn red, then purple, the scream shimmered in her eyes, visceral and bright.
I tried to get her to breathe. To release her scream.
I would press her tightly to my body, squeezing desperately, wanting to wring it from her.
I would curl her up in my lap, and kiss her frozen face a hundred times in a moment, wanting to wash it out of her.
I would hold her face in my two hands, and blow in her face, wanting my own released breath on her skin to emancipate her pain.
I would look right into her eyes where I could see it trapped, and beg.
“Breathe, baby, breathe. You are o.k. Please, breathe. Breathe.”
The scream wouldn’t come, and she would pass out. The loss of consciousness would make her fall momentarily limp, and what should have been the howling scream of a hurt child whooshed out of her in a complacent sigh.
And then she would have a seizure.
Her whole body would stiffen impossibly tight, her hands would ball up into white knuckled fists, and her wrists would curl in on themselves. There was no scream in her eyes… the light in them vanished.
Her eyes were the worst part. For a moment, she was gone.
Doctors all assured us that this just happened to some kids. The seizure was a result of the lack of oxygen, but did not damage her brain. There was nothing we could do.
For six years, we waited for her to scream.
Of course, she was our child that ate danger and speed for breakfast. She ran everywhere at a wild, 60 degree angle. She had the uncanny ability to consistently find a shard of glass, a razor blade, a broken balloon, hiding in the playground mulch. She climbed to the tippy top of anything stationary. We caught her swinging from the chandelier. Literally. She has no fear.
It was a dangerous time for her. When she got hurt, without that release, the exhalation of anguish, there would not be a breath of renewal. She would lose consciousness and fall if we did not find her fast enough.
Today I am left with the terror I felt as a parent, watching her fall down the stairs just before I was able to grab her shirt, or the countless times I managed to catch her mid-tumble before she hit the last step. The crazy leaps off the front porch and down the driveway in one giant lunge to catch her before she face planted into the sidewalk, or off the top of the slide at the park.
She has outgrown it. Finally. She had her last seizure about a year and a half ago.
But every time I watched the light go out of her eyes, it burned an indelible impression in my memory. It left a mark.
I remember begging her to scream. Wanting to hear her wail. The need for release is intrinsic, innate. I think of her frozen face, unable to give in to the hurt, and I see myself. Maybe it was the years of holding my little girl as she suffered the consequences of being unable to exhale. …. for I can see it now in my own face when I look in the mirror, and in the tightened faces of others.
We need to let it go, before we can breathe in again.
My sweet child, stiff in my arms, was a constant lesson in the real consequences of repression… of stifling your voice. Being authentic about who you are…allowing true self-expression… these are real human needs, not fluffy, frivolous dreams. There is always a consequence for repressing and silencing who you are. Holding inside the thunderous release of expression does not make it disappear, and the release of that energy will find a different pathway.
The trouble is, it works. The breath holding, the refusal to release. We do it, and the alternative reactions feel more controlled and private.
So we do it. We hold it back, we keep it inside, try not to be seen. We hide.
She never screamed and wailed hysterically like other children. It was quiet and private and gentle-looking to anyone who was not cradling her, watching her eyes go dead, holding her stiff hands.
But she taught me that sometimes the quiet is much scarier than the scream. And the dangers of refusing to exhale are much more present than in the moments that we allow ourselves to be heard and seen.
We get used to hiding, and holding it in. We think that if we do it quietly, and no one notices our hurts, we are…. Brave? Meek? Faithful? Strong? Gentle? Peaceful?
I don’t think so. Not anymore. Being seen. Being heard. Speaking up. Releasing. Letting Go. Getting real. These are the healing ways we reach for peace. And we find our Self, free.
Sometimes, out of habit, it is hard to recognize the things we are still not exhaling. But the signs are there. They were with my daughter, too. I see them in me… in everyone as we are all reaching for a cleansing breath.
The days when I realize I have been holding my breath, tight and shallow in my throat. The moments I notice the little half-moon impressions in my palms because I have been holding my hands in fists of tension. The curling of my toes in my shoes. The lack of awareness in my lower half, being so wound up in my thoughts that I lose my grounding. And the absence of joy makes my eyes look dull with exhaustion.
When we notice these symptoms, it is time to locate the tension within. Find the hurt, the fear, the unmet need, the truth…
What is it within that you fear being expressed?….
… and exhale.
What a lesson you have just taught me. Powerful and very real. Thank you for sharing this wisdom learned through such difficult experiences. Amazing story!
I cannot imagine the terror you must have endured, nor the impact on your daughter. You have no idea how timely this post is for me. Thank you.
Thanks for the kind words, Maggie. Much appreciated!
A beautiful post and reminder. Thank you. I know far too many people who don’t release their true selves in an effort to look better to the world. All they end up doing is deceiving themselves and others.
Thank you Anne… I think that releasing one’s self and being more open is a practice we can all begin to participate in. We all live in a space where we may slip back into silence and hiding in order to feel safe. And then, we try again.
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