What is a Quiet Rebel?
This is what we call each other when someone needs to be reminded to keep on fighting. If you ever met me in person, you would not think of me as a rebel. I am quiet, self-possessed, and solitary among most people. Around my friends, some co-workers, and people I trust, my personality comes out to show humor, intelligence, etc. In general, though, I prefer not to stand out and draw attention to myself. I speak up when I have something to say; and listen when I don’t. My opinions are kept inside except around people I trust and here on this blog.
Instead of talking, I let my actions speak for me. Or I find other ways to communicate – a letter, an email, a quiet conversation with the individual in private instead of a knock-down, drag-out altercation in public. Experience has taught everyone in the system that talking is not an effective way for us to advocate for ourselves and get things done. Silence was our best ally growing up. We worked in the background and found ways to act on our beliefs in ways that the abusers couldn’t take away.
They hurt our mind and body. They tried to take away our spirit. To crush us down into nothing with words and violence. Silent treatment and shunning occurred when one of us spoke. So we stopped talking. But they couldn’t take what we wouldn’t give up. And that is how the internal world was created. Here we could say and do anything we pleased without fear of punishment. We could be as smart and stupid and funny and loud and sad as we wanted. And no matter how depressed or hopeless the rest of us felt, at least one alter always fought for life.
On the outside, whoever was in charge displayed the approved behaviors. Inside and in private, the rest of us plotted and dreamed of vengeance, escape, etc. The only times one or all of us acted were when physical fighting was a matter of safety and self-defense. And even then, the consequences of visibly fighting back made this option one rarely chosen. If I fought for myself (we alters fighting for us in one body), I was hurt and shamed worse than the original reason for fighting back. If I fought for someone else, sometimes I did not get punished. Can you say “crapshoot”?
Yet, even knowing this, none of us could ever stop the instinctive (for us) impulse to fight back; to defend and protect ourselves and others.
Passive Resistance as Part of the Rebellion
What stands out in my mind are lessons from Black History Month in elementary school. Reading about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Before Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and the Dali Lama, we learned about passive resistance from Civil Rights leaders in the United States. I always felt connected to Rosa Parks with her quiet resistance and soft-spoken ways. Martin Luther King Jr. dazzled me with his outspoken leadership, but I always felt uncomfortable imagining myself in situations like his. Being recognized and acknowledged is truly appreciated and valued by us. Having to stand in the spotlight and draw attention to ourselves in order to get that recognition is not. But these lessons and conversations with my favorite uncle taught me how to fight back without reprisal.
Resistance of any kind was not allowed in my family – immediate and extended. If you chose to fight back you were punished. When that didn’t work, you were shunned. At birth, you were accorded a specific status within the family based on your gender and parents. With that status came a set of rules and assumptions about your intelligence, character, behavior, and expected level of obedience. I broke the mold – too smart, too arrogant, too beautiful (as a child), too outspoken, too showy, too stubborn, too embarrassing, not obedient enough, not fast enough, not good enough, always causing problems, etc.
So I learned to pretend. On the outside, I was exactly what they wanted. On the inside, I was confused. They monitored everything about my existence; randomly searched my belongings and took anything they disapproved of or wanted for themselves; and consistently put me down to make sure I knew my place – less than nothing.
But they couldn’t stop me from learning and using my brain, not without forcing me out of school.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
By the time college started, I was lost and confused. My foundations had cracks big enough for giants to trip over. Parts were rotted and turned to dust. Self confidence was an illusion that couldn’t be sustained anymore. Most of us had given up the dream of freedom. Some had completely forgotten it existed.
And only in dreams and nightmares did they reappear. And when the first therapist tried to make the voices disappear, everything in me rebelled. When the psychiatrist tried to give me medicine that made everything quiet and my emotions disappear, something inside made me sick. A part of the system wrested control of the body and refused to give back control until the impulse to take the pills went away.
No one noticed except us. And after we weaned ourselves off of the medicine, we confessed to the providers. Better to ask forgiveness than approval in this case. They were unhappy about my/our choice. But could not say no because being off the medicine improved a lot of symptoms. That is when the memories about passive resistance resurfaced.
Our therapist recommended reading books about Buddhism and Eastern philosophy since that is where my faith instinctively reached. Between that and the memories, our quiet rebellion was reborn. Moving out offered the opportunity to expand the secret life. And so it continued until the time to choose between our life and their life for us had to be made.
I truly believe that every human is born with a natural instinct to fight for survival. It is stronger in some than others, but that rebellious need to live exists in all of us. It took us a long time to trust that gut feeling and longer to embrace its wisdom. We, all of us in the Alter Xpressions system, hope you readers can do the same if you have not already.