Friday, April 17, 2009

What Temperature Is Your Silence?

In the home of my childhood, silence was ominous. Silence was an icy blanket of dread that settled over my shoulders and sent chills down my spine. Silence filled me with foreboding. Silence was the harbinger of pain. I feared it with a terror that sent me under the covers of my bed to shake and...wait. I knew what was coming, and as a small child, I was completely helpless to stop it.

My first husband was a man who may have had many faults, but a cold silence used to express displeasure was not one of them - he was a bellower. I had to be in program for quite a while before it dawned on me that I was in the same place as I'd been in my childhood, in those hours spent waiting for him to come home from a bender - frightened and shaking. Fearing his death from drinking and driving. Fearing his arrest. Fearing he'd kill someone else in his drunken stupor. Fearing his arrival home, and all the attendant shrieking abuse.
I'd escaped my childhood home, only to find myself living in another one where fear was my dominant emotion.

I have an alcoholic in my life now who uses silence and freezing me out to demonstrate displeasure. I don't fear this person, but I don't like the behavior.

In 12-step, I have come to understand that silence can take many forms. Silence can be a peaceful harmony, or a rejection, depending upon the temperature. Two people can be together in a peaceful, warm silence.

Dogs can teach us about companionable silence - the comfort of a shared space. If they are small enough, the comfort of a warm body draped across one's lap, trustfully sound asleep.

Or, silence can be used as a powerful tool of manipulation.
I have a sponsee who is very good at icy silences; it can be unsettling for me, to see how much displeasure she can radiate, just sitting there. A cold silence still has the power to remind me of past fears; I can find myself wanting to fill it with words.

It's been a learning experience for both of us - teaching her she cannot manipulate me with her silences, and me, to wait them out, secure in the knowledge that I'm an adult now, and therefore, safe in silence. If I remain calm, work my program, and give her the space and time she needs, we can move through that silence, and come out the other side unscathed.

God gives us the sponsees we need as we move through our own recovery. In sponsorship, the lessons flow both ways. That's the miracle of 12-step.

1 comment:

  1. How true this is. I don't feel that I need to fill the silence with meaningless words. I used to do that in hopes of making the alcoholic notice me or react in some way. And the silence of warm companionship is hard to beat.