Updated: May 23, 2020
“If you’re not willing to fight, the silence will kill you.” – Meredith Grey of Grey’s Anatomy, season 12, episode 9
This quote struck me hard. Not just as a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, but as a trauma therapist who sees the true danger in silence. In silence, we fester. In silence, the voices tell us that all of the things that happened were our fault. Maybe if you just said no a little louder. Maybe if you weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe if you just hadn’t been so… weak.
The voices sneak in and they thrive in the darkness and the silence. They feast on us in this vulnerability and they pull us down deeper. I like to explain the emotional damage of trauma as being akin to a physical wound. Say you fall and scrape your knee in your backyard. It’s bloody, it’s covered in dirt and grass and rocks from where you fell. But you ignore it. It’ll get better in time. The body is designed to heal itself, right?
Only a wound that is not cleaned out and treated will not heal. It’ll try. But without the proper care, it simply becomes infected. That’s gross to look at though, so we’re just gonna pull some longer pants on over the knee. Out of sight, out of mind?
But just because it’s covered up and ignored doesn’t mean the infection will clear. And once infection enters into the body it can cause a whole host of other problems. Problems that would have been avoided if instead of turning a blind eye, you took yourself into your bathroom, applied some soap and water, maybe even a little bit of rubbing alcohol and Neosporin, and then a clean bandage. Let’s be honest: the cleaning up process is not always a fun one. It can be painful. But it’s the best way to leave the wound in the past.
When bad things happen to us emotionally, the way we respond to it is often the same. Things that our brain interprets as traumatic – meaning our brains are just not really able to process these terrible things in a way that makes sense to us – cannot just be covered up and ignored. The best way to move past a trauma is to figuratively clean out the wound, which means working through it in a way that allows your brain to process what happened (something it was unable to do the first go round).
But the reason we retreat instead of reaching out for help, is that traumatic things isolate us. Sexual violence, domestic violence, bullying, emotional turmoil; whatever the event may be, it comes with a pervasive, untrue idea that if you had just been better in some way, you would not have been a victim.
And so when they do happen, we blame ourselves. And we become quieter, which allows those voices to grow louder. Until they are so deafening that death seems to be the only way out. When Meredith drops the beautiful quote – “If you’re not willing to fight, the silence will kill you” – it can be taken literally, as her character has suffered a physical trauma that actually silences her, leaving her unable to speak. But it can also be taken as a reminder that when terrible things happen to us, not just physically but emotionally and mentally, that getting better is going to require a lot of hard work. It’s going to suck. You’re going to have to fight harder than you’ve ever fought before. Because if you don’t, those voices will take over, and they will win.