Uncomfortable Silence is a Teacher Too

Recovery-from much of anything – is often not done in the steady hum of encouragement. It’s frequently done in intimidating quiet. Even with support groups, sponsors, treatment centers, churches and any number of “support structures,” we are still left with our true selves. And, no matter what affirmations we have heard and learned, we alone are left to apply them. There is no uplifting outside cheerleader. There is just our decision.

I know this comes across as negative, especially concerning “the Higher Power” factor.

As a person of faith, I’m not dismissing the role The Most High plays. Rather, I see how the Divine shows up in disguised forms, one of those being the unanswered quiet.

Years ago, I heard a statement which rocked my own recovery:

“When the student is taking the test, the teacher is silent.”

This went in tandem with my therapist’s advice; my recovery progress would not go unchallenged. I had to be prepared for any person’s “change back” attitudes.

“When a person does not accept your ‘no,’ they’re trying to control you.”
(Advice given from a self-defense expert, instructing females on their attackers’ viewpoints)

My “No” response has often not been accepted. Indeed, as I have worked to form and keep healthy boundaries, I have had to directly shut down my people pleaser nature and hold firm in the face of that negativity.

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37

Not surprisingly, “the people” on the other end of my response are usually not pleased. Therefore, they have tried to cajole, insult, threaten or force me to change my response to their preferred “yes.”

And, when I do not do this, this situation becomes even more awkward. It is a “silent teacher/student-taking-test” dynamic going on. That uncomfortable silence can often prompt a temptation for me to give in, but I need to remind myself if I do this, it violates me and sends the message to the other person: “I can be manipulated.”

And I do not wish to return to the harmful place from which I came.

For, in the past, certain family members of mine have attempted to shame me when I did not do things their way. They asserted I was brainwashed, forgetting where I came from.

But, many of these same individuals are currently locked in some abusive or addictive state. I am not saying this to condemn, rather, to illustrate how difficult it is to create health from a diseased state of being. These individuals have known about the dysfunction which is the family reality. And they choose how they respond concerning those facts.

Some have chosen to continue the harmful behaviors. They believe their loyalty to the unhealthy pattern must be prized and protected, even to the detriment of another person’s- or their own- well-being. To do anything beyond that, then, is ruled to be unrealistic, arrogant, and yes, disloyal.

Therefore, because of that unhealthy existing family dynamic, my more unfamiliar, uncomfortable approach to it needs to happen all the more. I cannot control others’ lifestyle choices. However, I do have some control of mine.

And that is also part of the student’s silent test: learning what one is – and is not – responsible for.

Part of my family’s toxic belief system also asserts there are some individuals who are not to be held accountable for their destructive behaviors, while, at the same time, there are other designated family members who are to be overly responsible caregivers and rescuers, making the unhealthy situation “okay” somehow.

Concerning my family member’s responses to my “no/boundary-focused” stance, they often do not expect that. They are convinced I will cave to their whims. And, I’ve heard it said you can tell a lot about who a person is when they get that “no” for an answer.
Personal experience-wise, what I have surmised is that family reaction is often straight-up anger.

Do not befriend a hot-tempered man, and do not associate with one who harbors anger. Lest you learn his ways, and ensnare your soul. Proverbs 22:24-25

That’s not a surprise to me. After all, there are honestly very few people in this world who enjoy being told “no” when they’d rather experience a “yes.” That’s human.

We want what we want when we want it.

But, the problem comes in when an agenda to use coercion, shame or brutal force surfaces as the “logical and reasonable” response. It negates the validity of the person who just answered no. It reiterates that person has no such right TO that word.

But, again…

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37

Unfortunately, my experience with certain individuals has shown me there is no room for their understanding of anyone’s fundamental right to say “no” on any topic whatsoever. There is an impasse and little can be done concerning it.

More importantly, it’s not my responsibility to FIX this. Personal accountability applies to all.

Proverbs 19:19, therefore, has frequently sprung to my mind as it relates to my own navigation within these less-than-ideal family constraints.

A person with great anger bears the penalty; if you rescue him, you’ll have to do it again.

When it comes to giving in to the person expecting/demanding my yes which could be harmful to me in any way, “…you’ll have to do it again.”

And, guess what? Concerning my recovery process, I do not want to do that.

Dealing with someone else’s disappointed anger is yet another “silent teacher/test-taking student” moment. I have no cheerleaders with megaphones, giving me an “Atta girl!”

I need to do that by myself in that quiet, awkward space of the truthful moment. It is not easy; it is not fun. But it is recovery work, nonetheless.

Do I wish things were different? Sure.

But, regardless of how things are now, I still must navigate. Each person is given free will to decide what he/she chooses. And some choose disease.

So, once I know that, their choice must not sway mine. And that is why I find my encouragement here:

And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and built another outside wall and strengthened… and made weapons and shields in great number. 2 Chronicles 32:5

To me, the recovery work principle is, indeed, found within this least likely scripture.

But we are all in process, on a recovery continuum, taking tests and learning how to simply be. We need tools, mechanisms, safe havens and power-fused words, like that of “no.” We need to know our recovery is too important – WE are too important – to sacrifice health for disease in whatever dangerous, quiet moments are presented to us.

Be encouraged, dear student, as you take your next test.