“And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.” ~ Jane Austen
There are quiet spaces inside me.
They are places reserved for feelings too vast to be contained in words. When I find myself in these spaces, it can be difficult to find my way back out.
I’m a writer, communicator and a former therapist. I passionately believe in the power of our individual and collective voices. And yet, there are times when I have no words for what I feel. I have reached this place many times.
Usually, the intense pain of having no words compares only to childbirth—bright white and all-consuming.
I kept my silence during the slow death of my marriage, because I did not know how to reconcile the life I was with the life I thought I should be living. I revisited this place on nights when I was a single parent having night terrors about what would become of my children if anything happened to me. It returned again when a lover I deeply cherished walked away without a word, leaving me with a silence so vast that I could only cry silent tears and wait for my words to come back.
The words always come back, but first there is space.
As ardently as I believe in the power of my own words, I also believe in these silences, these spaces where there are no words to explain how we feel. This type of pain is felt so deeply that we cannot share the burden with another, or find any relief through trying to describe the indescribable. Attempting to put words into the space of this silence is exhausting and fruitless.
When these silences come, I sit with them. I let them fill me. I wait for all of the thoughts and feelings to come and go, and for the words to rise in me. It can take minutes, hours, days, weeks or months. But I allow the space to exist because I need it to be able to feel and process all of my experiences, some of which are reduced by the words I use to describe them.
How can we really describe heartache when what we feel goes far beyond words? When our souls feel gutted? When our hearts won’t stop hurting? And every single breath is a memory that scores another mark across our tender hearts. What good does it do to say that we are brokenhearted or speak of it casually, as if it were ordinary?
Often times, the words we speak are comforting only to the people we say them to; the listener feels as if they have done something good by allowing us to share. We betray our pain and try to pat down other’s discomfort with meaningless words to describe something that is wrenching, terrible, and breathtaking.
Instead, we choose silence for the pain that is too vast to be spoken aloud, and too fresh to see the light. We wrap up the pain and care for it, waiting for enough healing until words can do any good at all.
I thought I was safe from this sort of pain, and then I had a conversation that brought it all to the forefront of my mind. A handful of words caused a shift inside me. Everything moved, and the pain that followed was bright, sharp, and all too familiar. Even now, I’m not certain about what shifted, or if any of it will shift back. I only know that I will always need silence, as a safe place to process the kind of pain that words won’t help.
I’m slowly learning to allow room for these spaces and to embrace them as pauses, where I’m able to catch my breath and consider my feelings. Forgiving myself for needing this space and leaning into it allows me to discern which pains come from brushing against past scar tissue, and which pains are new. Simply being silent while we work through our experiences gives us an opportunity to examine our thoughts before they become words we can’t take back, and it helps us discover which places inside us still need healing.
We can sit inside the space of silence, in the vast vacuum of pain that rises relentlessly in us, and we can allow ourselves to feel, acknowledge, and experience everything. If we’re very still, open, and aware, we can learn from it.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Flickr/Lauren Treece
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock