The Voice Box

No-Talk Rule – This foundational dysfunctional family rule demands children never tell the truth to outsiders and never speak up to their abusers. 

(always be kind to yourself as you read, as some content may feel triggering)


Blurry shapes floated in and out as I lay on the operating table trying to wake up. The smell of antiseptic burned my nose and the bright white lights of a sterile operating room pierced my eyelids. Beep…beep. I was surrounded by machines and unintelligible conversation. The raw pounding in my throat made it impossible to swallow. Flexing my fingers, I placed my hands on my neck and found it wrapped by a heavy bandage. A mask-covered nurse bent over my face and brushed my hair from my forehead.

“It’s all over. It’s all over now.” 

I wanted to beg for water, but for some strange reason, I could not make a sound. The nurse turned away. I reached out a hand, but not a single person in the crowded operating room responded. Glancing at the little square window in the exit doors, my father’s face glared back. The surgeon stepped to the side of my bed as he continued wiping his hands on a towel.

“We cut out your voice box. You’ll never speak again.”

I opened my mouth in a wide scream.  Nothing. . . except terror.

In a flash, I awoke from the nightmare and sat up in my own bed. Heart pounding, I looked around to make sure it had only been a dream. My husband rolled over in his sleep. I got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. My shaking hands could barely hold the glass under the spigot. As I sat on the living room couch hours later, my heart still skipped a beat. It was impossible to collect my thoughts. What the hell kind of dream was that?

Like an unremembered spell, the no-talk rule still casts a shadow over my life. On the surface, the rule demanded I never tell the truth, especially to outsiders. At another level, the rule dictated I never admit to anyone, even myself, that our family was anything less than perfect. At the deepest level, the no-talk rule meant that I must worship at the feet of my narcissistic father and agree with my abusive mother. It’s wasn’t enough to play the game. I did not exist. My parents literally cut out my voice box. In all the years of suffering, I never once spoke up. I never lashed out. I never expressed a single objection. I took what they dished out without saying a word.

So powerful was their grip over me, I moved all the way across the country to find my voice. As I sit writing this blog, it is still difficult to break the code of silence, but I am doing it. And I’m publishing my story on the internet.

The way out took a long time. I slowly found my voice in the stories of other survivors and in the encouragement of my husband and trustworthy friends. I am unwinding the complicated knots of abuse and my voice is growing louder as I become more familiar with it. The funny thing is, no matter how much I suppressed my voice, it is still there.

The effects of psychological torture, as well as physical and sexual abuse, are powerful forces, but there is one truth no abuser can escape. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops.” That quote comes from the Gospel of Luke, the twelfth chapter. Powerless victims are the abuser’s greatest weapon. Bringing our stories and memories into the light is ours.


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