• Rachel Warrington

On Voicelessness and a Tummy Ache


I’m awake in the pre-dawn again this morning with body things. I stuck it out in bed for 45 minutes before choosing, again, to get up and keep it company here instead of lying in bed wondering if I was going to fall back asleep. It’s 5:23.

I still wake up some early mornings with what I call “worry tummy” – this discomfort in my middle that matches a mental state of worry. It used to be very bad, maybe a year or more ago. Then it was almost every night and it was more 1:30 to 3:30-ish, which is a much grosser and more debilitating time of night to lie awake for a few hours. I’ve been working with two lovely herbalists and a naturopath and the worry tummy has gotten better bit by bit. Now it’s only one morning out of three or four.

Just this morning I’m starting to wonder if part of it is just an inside push to get up and get writing, since this is the time of day that I’ve done so much of my recent writing. An interesting thought, though I know that’s not the whole story, by any stretch. Though there is a piece here about letting the belly-centred, creative process flow.

This morning in my 45 minutes of lying in bed I was remembering in detail this particular visit to a dentist that I saw a few times when I was less than seven. His office was over on Pear Street near UVic. I didn’t like him at all, and not just because he was a dentist. From my 6-year-old perspective, he was big and hairy and dangerous because I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I had to let him do it and it was going to hurt.

This visit was just a cleaning, I’m pretty sure. And what I remember most vividly is that the assistant filled those awful styrofoam trays with fluoride, stuck them in my mouth, and left the room. It wasn’t a kids’ dental office, so the trays were adult size. She didn’t give me a suction straw or anything. I was soon oozing saliva and panting with these overlarge, disgusting trays nearly gagging me. I didn’t want to move in case I got in trouble, so I started swallowing. I swallowed down, one agonizing swallow at a time, the entire contents of those trays.

When the assistant came back to take them out, I’m pretty sure I remember that she was shocked to find them empty and that she said something to me about it. I’m not sure what she expected me to have done, a small kid with no adult in the room to ask for help in a distressing situation. I was left to spend the afternoon with shiny teeth and a stomachache and the familiar feeling of having done something wrong when I should have known better.

And maybe this is the refrain from my childhood that I was seeking this morning: every single time I felt that there was some way of doing things, some piece of knowledge, that I ought to have known, but didn’t, and that ignorance was at the centre of why I was getting in some kind of trouble or discord or physical distress.

It’s no surprise that my voice got shut down. Better not to speak than to show that I don’t know, right? And better only to speak when I know that what I’m saying is right and then defend that rightness with vehemence and adamantine will and volume.

I’m totally sure that my parents did not set out to create this pattern in me. They would never. But it has come home to me, again and again, that we can’t control how other people interpret what we say or do, and we can’t control the decisions that they make about themselves in relation to those interpretations, and we unwittingly set up shitty patterns for ourselves and others.

These ones of mine are old patterns with some degree of resolution. This is not news to me. What was new this morning is that I was so very aware of my fragile, small-kid body alone in that big-to-me experience, and aware of the echo of the tummy ache that I was having in my 40-year-old body.

The truth is that I still have a really hard time being vulnerable with my family, mostly my parents and my sister, but even my man and my kids to some degree. I’m surrounded by these people every day, and it’s so very, very hard to let them know that I even have soft inside feelings without there being some kind of blow up first. When I get defensive my voice comes out sharp, angry, curt, hurtful and pushing away – holding my automatic line of defence. I don’t have a moment to think before it’s happening. It’s hard to stop it once it has started. It’s only later, in apology, that I manage – sort of – to hold out my soft underbelly. And even then, even then, it’s often only a partial vulnerability. Why, oh why, would I let it all out, all those feelings that I haven’t even let myself fully know?

Out in the world my line of defence was not anger, though it could get there if pushed. No, outside of my family I took, and probably still take, refuge in dignified reserve. Pleasant but not gushy (mostly incapable of gush). A little distant. Queenly. After I learned how to love myself (which is a different long story), I went around trying to see in everyone the loveable soft body underneath the hard shell. I’m not talking about pushing into people’s lives here, either, I mean just looking at people with soft, friendly eyes. This is how I started to be able to really read the stories that people were carrying in their bodies – not the fine details unless they specifically asked me to, but the lines of experience that were right there to see if I looked.

I find that my eyes still narrow with the suspicion of hurt when it comes to my family. Soft, friendly eyes are sometimes available to me, and are there more often now than before. I’d like to have those soft eyes more, and I’d love it if it could happen without involving my family’s particular demon of blame. It gets tiring finding out that whatever happened that I didn’t know better about is my fault anyway. Or automatically taking all the blame on myself and making it my job to figure it out and make it better.

So I raise the dregs of my tea here and hope that soon I will be able to get up in the pre-dawn and write because I want to, not because I’m keeping a yucky tummy company.


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