The Missing Voice

av3Everyone remembers a layoff. This Michelangelo poster is my last gift from my co-workers at AltaVista when we all got laid off. I remember the layoff happened a week after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The HR people couldn’t catch a flight early enough, hence the week delay in delivering our parting papers.

In hindsight, the layoff was expected and not that traumatic. I quickly got over it and moved on. I sometimes still tell stories about working for the iconic Google predecessor, and lessons learned from its failure like a ‘what not to do’ case study. When I look back, I just remember the good old days and not my last day.

I wish I can say the same for other experiences in my life – that I’m over them and have moved on. Some wounds heal quickly, others take longer to heal. I realize trauma from work and life has many layers of wounding that need deep healing.

The Trauma

One such trauma I carry has to do with my voice. Through direct and indirect messages, I have been told my voice is not wanted, not needed. In my former workplace, I have gotten the message more indirectly. On one hand, my managers would tell me to speak up more in meetings to demonstrate “leadership” and confidence, but when I spoke, I just got ignored, interrupted or talked over. And things I said seemed less valued, whereas if a white/male voice said the exact same thing a few minutes later, they sat up and listened. Through countless meetings, I learned there was nothing to be gained by adding my voice, and so I stopped sharing my thoughts.

Though keeping my voice silent feels unnatural, it’s a coping mechanism I’ve adopted for so many years just to survive in my previous work environment. It’s also unnatural because outside work, I feel compelled to use my voice to speak truth to power in settings of all sizes. But trauma has silenced my voice in that space.

In 2017, the #metoo movement in the U.S. surfaced sexual trauma experienced by women. Even the hashtag itself is a powerful, collective statement. For those who experienced other kinds of racial and gender-based trauma, it also gives space and permission to acknowledge the different ways women of color, who are made in the image of God, are devalued by men.

I have been away from that work environment for a while now. I am currently part of a new team where I am consistently asked to share my opinion and I know my voice is valued and heard. The signs are there for safe footing, though the terrain is unpaved.

The Healer

In the Gospels, we read about Jesus referring to himself as the good doctor. We see him heal those who are sick – desperate, poor, and without any other options for healing and recovery. In Mark’s Gospel, on his way to see Jairus’ daughter, Jesus all of a sudden feels a touch that literally makes him stop in his tracks. He turns around and asks the crowd who touched him. With much fear and trembling, a formerly bleeding woman – now completely healed by Jesus – admits to touching his cloak. Then something about Jesus gives her the courage to use her voice, to tell her whole story. The presence of perfect love takes away her fear.

Author Kathy Kang mentions this story in her book, Raise Your Voice1, and talks about how Jesus’ healing was more than physical. “Jesus calls her ‘daughter,’ thereby restoring her back into community.”

In her book, Trauma and Recovery2, Judith Herman writes, “Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection to others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience… Trauma isolates, the group re-creates a sense of belonging.”

The good doctor knows I need to feel connected, to be a part of something bigger than myself. I believe it’s a shower of grace every time I am welcomed deeply by a group of people. I still feel surprised when someone (especially white men) pauses during a meeting to acknowledge my presence because it doesn’t happen often. Though it still takes effort, I now speak up during meetings. For I no longer believe my voice is not wanted or needed.

Ready to Hit Play

A year ago, I wrote about Hitting Pause. I had just left the company I was a part of for 10 years and needed space to process the experience. “Hitting pause has helped me sort through some things in my box of random emotions. In the process, I have found things I want to keep, things I want to shed.”

I want to shed the trauma and hit Play. I hear the Healer’s voice inviting me. I feel more connected to others and see signs of belonging. Yes, I am ready to hit Play.

 

Appendix

1Khang, K. (2018), Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How To Speak Up, Downers Grove, IL: IV Press

2Herman, J. (1992, 1997), Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, NY: Basic Books

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