During my favorite weekly yoga class, I often find myself elongating my limbs next to a woman with a beautiful and bold tattoo on her forearm that reads, “Your silence will not save you.”
I love that tattoo.
I think about the owner of that tattoo a lot. In particular, I’m curious about what secret, truth or fear she kept bottled up inside for so long that she needed a permanent reminder to never go back there again.
I’m glad she did, though. Because every time I’m next to her, hanging upside down in Downward Dog pose, I’m reminded that I stayed silent for entirely too long about my insecurities and the subsequent titles and trophies I collected like they were trading cards in order to feel better about myself.
I’ve moved beyond suffering through my struggles while staying silent – but make no mistake, old habits die hard and sometimes they show up in sneaky ways. Like they recently did for me.
Several weeks ago, while in NYC for a business trip, I found a lump in my left breast while taking a shower just before a big client meeting. It wasn’t maybe, perhaps or possibly a lump. It was a big-ass lump. Unmistakable.
Of course my thoughts went to dark places, but also a shockingly selfish one — convincing myself that if someone had to die in my immediate family, it might as well be me so I wouldn’t have to deal with the death of someone I love with every bone (and lump) in my body.
Charming, I know.
I immediately questioned whether to tell my husband and parents because the last thing I wanted to do was transfer the freaked-out feelings I was having over to them. Ultimately I decided to tell my husband but wait to tell my parents. Let’s just wait and see, I told myself. No need to bring unnecessary stress and pressure into their lives if everything turns out to be fine.
Insert two weeks of doctors’ appointments — a tense visit to the OBGYN, a stressful mammogram, a nail-biting ultrasound and, finally, an insanely painful biopsy where an icepick-like object not only drained fluid from my lump, but every tear from my body.
Every test said the same thing. It wasn’t a cyst; it was a tumor and all signs pointed to it being benign. Thank God. I was close to being out of the woods, but I wasn’t quite there yet. The biopsy was done on a Wednesday and I’d have the results by Friday.
Just in time to celebrate over the weekend with tequila.
However, by Thursday, I could no longer keep my secret inside. With my left breast throbbing from being poked, prodded and literally stabbed, I swallowed my silence and called my parents to give them an update. My fear was palpable — terrified they would stress, worry and pay a painful visit to all the dark, horrible places I’d visited in my own mind over the past two weeks.
But no such thing happened.
After stammering on about my most-certainly-benign tumor, my mother immediately jumped in to save the day. “Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s probably a fibroadenoma (benign breast tumor). I’ve had four removed and your grandmother had at least 3-4 over the course of her life.”
And she was exactly right. Within 24 hours, the doctor’s office called to say everything was fine and that the marble-like object in my left breast was, as my mother had predicted, a fibroadenoma.
See what I mean about your silence not saving you?
Out of pure fear I had assumed my pending test results would add stress and worry to my parents’ lives, but that’s not what happened. You know why? Because fear is a liar.
Opening up about my own stress and worry didn’t make my parents worry more. It helped me worry less.
In this particular case, my mother was the one person who, unbeknownst to me, could wipe all my worries away with a single sentence about her own experience. It’s not like my mother and I sit around and talk about boobs, breast lumps and biopsies, so I don’t blame her for not mentioning the lumps she had removed decades ago.
Nope, this example of suffering is on me. I stayed silent and therefore denied myself the support I needed.
That’s what silence does — it turns struggling into suffering.
I know this to be true, the tattoed woman in my yoga class knows this to be true, but none of us are immune to forgetting every once in a while.
If I had swallowed my silence and called my mother when I first detected the lump, I would have quickly discovered that between her and my grandmother, they’d had more than a half-dozen lumps removed. And I wouldn’t have worried, cried or freaked out nearly as much.
Now it’s your turn. What are you struggling with right now that you’re suffering in silence about? Say it out loud, tell someone you love. I think you’ll find, as I often have, that what waits on the other side feels a lot like relief and nothing like the disaster zone of destruction you’re drumming up in your mind.
People say the truth hurts, but when it’s your truth it feels awesome.