Last year, I touched on a subject that really has nothing (everything) to do with being married to and divorcing a narcissist. Its something I never, ever talk about. I briefly peeled back a curtain to write about this in The Great Divide and my therapist has slowly but surely walked me over the coals in ways I have never wanted to and still am hesitant about.
But the fact of the matter is that aside from being a 41 year old woman, a single mom, a writer, a dreamer, a friend/sister/mother/daughter, someone who is OCD about organization, a morning person, a lover of nature, animals and wine…aside from that, I’m also someone with a severe–no, profound–hearing disability.
It’s intertwined in everything I do. Everything I think, how I behave, the choices I make, who I spend time with, where I sit in a car or restaurant. Its why I take a nap daily. Its why the prospect of having a full time 9-5 job AND raising two kids by myself is exhausting just to think about. The mental aspect of listening when you can’t hear is exhausting. Cripplingly exhausting.
And I’ve been doing it for a labor-intensive 37 years. And on top of the lip-reading and the focus and the mental energy there’s all the bluffing and the faking (which I’m sure fools very few) and the pretending that there is nothing that separates me from you and, my friends?
I’m fucking tired.
Herein, though, lies the paradox. The debate. The Catch-22. Its very, very, very hard for me to simply say, I need help. Or to say I can’t. Or to make excuses for why I don’t currently have a full time job and why I’m also so tired (despite not having a full time job). Its hard to say no to social events because anyone who knows me knows I love a good crowd…but sometimes its just too much.
I don’t want to be the person sitting on the porch at night who asks for the bug-attracting light to be on so I can see faces. I don’t want to be the person who is different, less-than, or cast aside. I spent most of high school and college perfecting the dumb-blonde and the drunken freshman act because it explained away why I didn’t know what was going on even though (surprise) I’m actually rather intelligent.
Its why I clung to my high-school boyfriend, the one my parents hated because he was “bad”. Maybe he was but he was also one of the first people who truly didn’t give a shit about my hearing and saw the person beyond that. Its one thing I look back on and am grateful for. But most of the time, I assumed that people thought less of me; therefore I behaved accordingly. And this line of thinking, if you really meticulously dissect it?
It’s ridiculous. I’d rather be seen as stupid/drunk/aloof/moronic than acknowledge that I have a wildly severe disability? Why, yes.
But the issue goes deeper. It goes deep into the thinking of the “why me” and feeling as though I was never good enough. It kept me from trying at things I might have excelled at, like sports. (Okay, bad example. But still.) It kept me from feeling as though I was truly worthy because in my head it was a liability. And somehow this liability was bigger than every other aspect about me.
And unlike anything else in my life, this was one thing that I could not get better at. I could not study it, I could not practice it, I could not improve it. That was a failure, on my part, and thus…so was I.
So, as mentioned before, I settled. I settled because I didn’t think I deserved more. PC spent a solid decade reinforcing that, going as far as to remind me, often in the later years of marriage, that “no one else would take you on”. He also, post-separation, threatened to “use your hearing against you to get custody” if I did not do what he asked. I cannot even remember anymore what he asked for, but I do remember him saying that. And I also remember believing he could, if he wanted to, use my disability to take my kids from me.
That’s where my head was, during life with PC.
In the process of working through this stuff (I call it “stuff” but really is the whole of everything, the sum of all the parts) my therapist has gotten me to do things I would never have. I joined a few online support groups…not for “hard of hearing”, like old people with gradual loss. But people who literally hear nothing, rely on technology, and still are a great disadvantage.
I also, this weekend, went ocean swimming with my kid. This requires me to take out my hearing aids, something I never, ever, EVER do outside of my home because again, I’m at a serious disadvantage. But after two days of my son saying, come on. Please? Just take them out and my therapist’s words about owning my issues instead of ignoring them I did just that.
I nearly lost my suit (twice) got dragged on the ocean floor (twice) got laughed at by a pregnant woman (once), bled (once) and quite honestly had a blast. I have not swum in the ocean in over a decade even though I love it. Injuries, wardrobe malfunctions, and all.
I know I keep mentioning my therapist (Jesus Christ people, if you don’t love yours as much as I love mine you’re doing it wrong) but she said something very profound to me the other day. Working through and talking about “the stuff”, and she leaned forward with an empathetic face and shook her head at me.
“Charlotte,” she said. “This was not your fault. Its not your fault. Its just a really shitty hand. You didn’t do anything to deserve this…and you deserve everything that everyone does…with or without a hearing loss.”
I thought about that, while I was diving waves with my son. I couldn’t hear him, or anyone, or anything. But we were having a blast and I can read lips and the idea that I have missed things like this because I am embarrassed and humiliated by this world of silence that is not my fault is…well, crazy.
I know she’s right, intellectually. Inside the core of my being, I’m not sure I believe it yet but its like someone turned on the light in the darkness, and reminded me that…this is just a thing. There is so much more out there, and the limits I have are only magnified when I place them on myself.