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 this 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 the courage she had to ink this powerful mantra on her arm gave me the courage to speak up about something that was weighing me down.
Several years 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 family, it might as well be me so I wouldn’t have to deal with the death of someone I loved 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, a painful biopsy where an icepick-like object drained fluid from my lump, and 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 the news. My fear was palpable — terrified their minds would go to all the painful, 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 and said, “Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s probably a fibroadenoma (benign breast tumor). I’ve had four removed and your grandmother had at least three or four over the course of her life.”
And she was exactly right. Within 24 hours, the doctor’s office called to say the lump in my left breast was, as my mother had predicted, a fibroadenoma.
See what I mean about your silence not saving you?
I 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 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 tattooed woman in my yoga class knows this to be true, but we all forget every once in a while.
If I had swallowed my silence and called my mother when I first detected the lump, 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 destruction you’re drumming up in your mind.
People say the truth hurts, but perhaps it hurts more when you try to run from it.