Finding Your Roar When You’ve Lost Your Voice
by Jen Lemen
I had never considered the idea of having a roar, but then I became a mother.
Her birth was difficult and traumatic. I had labored long and hard to no avail as the nurses implored me during the pushing stage to “get angry and really give it your all.” I tried to give them the fierceness they described, but the best I could do was go through the motions. Lying there on my back, exhausted, I wanted to believe it was because I was just tired, but the deeper me knew it was more than that. There was no fight in me. Not on this day or any other day. I didn’t know how to show up for what I wanted, even while a surgeon hovered over me with a knife. For most of my twenty-nine years, I had been conditioned to wait for things to happen to me and then adjust. I was schooled from as long as I could remember in having a “good spirit” and doing my best. And by doing your best I mean some approximation of staying in the lines so as to avoid making anyone else unnecessarily upset.
Still, nursing my c-section scar and my confusion, in those first few weeks I noticed something not exactly like a roar–maybe something more akin to a quiet purr–rising up in me. I wanted my husband up in me in this strange new primal way. I wanted my friends to shut up and be quiet when the baby slept at their houses even though we had always filled our evenings with racket and noise for as long as any of us could remember.
Normally, I would be playful about such things, making sure to add a good dose of self-deprecation to any unusual request. But all of the sudden, I couldn’t be calm about it. I wasn’t polite. You want this my eyes commanded as I poured my post-baby body into clothes that felt curvy, sexy, round, real. I’m not fucking having it my actual mouth said as my friends nicely asked me to chill out about the baby, the edge in my tone so definitive, so sincere that total compliance was their only option.
I felt a wash of shame with these things. I wasn’t quite sure that this was a “normal” way to be, as if normal is even a thing. I worried that new mothers weren’t supposed to want sex raw or messy, let alone feel all juiced up or sexy. And I was positive that being exacting or rude to your friends and family for not being on your page with the baby was acceptable in anyone’s book.
Even so, some tiny sound was rising out of me, even as I continued to fold into a particular kind of conformity that was natural and automatic for the way I had been raised. Even though my agitation wasn’t a good fit for the kind of traditional marriage I had chosen, like a raven arriving at a doorstep or a crow flying away before a storm, it felt like a sign.
Something alive and real and pulsing and human had come out of my torn open body, leaving me feeling a sexual emptiness I hadn’t known before. A tiny amazing infant sucked on my actual breasts for hours and days on end and as a result turned fatter and fatter until she was so round and glorious my arms ached from carrying her. Something was happening, leaving me with an itch in my throat and an ache in my thighs that felt like fire.
I might have been going through the motions, being nice, staying in the lines, doing as I should, being a good sport, trying in my own pathetic way to uphold the general idea of agreeability I had been taught as a young girl. But something had been activated on the cellular level.
For the first time since my girl self had turned everything quiet and dead to survive, I wanted to feel something. For the first time since I myself was not protected as a naive teenager, I wanted to protect someone else. For the first time since I drank all the kool-aid on the perils of sex and desire and the body, I wanted to create a safe space around me so that something amazing could get inside of me, quick and hard and raw, more like an animal than any civilized man (or woman) had been with me before. And for the first time since mastering the art of obeying everyone else’s rules and laws, I wanted everyone to shut the fuck up so I could lay down my own law and say exactly how I thought things should be.
I wish I could tell you this was the beginning of a great and glorious emancipation, but it was not. It was more like an induction into my own personal private shame-specializing torture chamber. My purr, my pussy, my growing roar felt more akin to a foreign substance in my body, something to be managed and controlled and manipulated so that I could get back in line and stay there.
But the cat was already out of the bag.
I had a baby girl now. And she needed my roar, or else she’d be suffering the same way I had, without even knowing it. I had to find a way to live with the difficulty and horror of not being easy, not always being nice, not really wanting what everyone else wanted. Of feeling rebellious and ashamed and different and strange for not really liking girl scouts or after school clubs or kisses that were tame and reasonable with not a scratch or a love bite in sight.
I turned in on myself and tried to swallow my tongue.
I gagged myself on spirituality and theories and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which I prayed would explain my difference once and for all.
But it was no use really.
And that’s the most beautiful and amazing thing about a roar.
If you try to tame it with your head, with your mind, with your ideas, you may have some success for a little while. Especially if you decide to live in a cage or with a keeper in a town that loves to watch you do tricks and be tamed over and over again and then finally once and for all.
But let that door crack, let that keeper turn his or her back–find the landscape of your own sensation, your own emotion, your own body–and your true nature will emerge, complete and whole and intact, surprisingly undamaged, though you may be afraid of moving the way you always knew you could.
Learned helplessness is a real thing. But it is also a grave and dangerous thing that can be unlearned. And any return, even for three minutes, to the sound of your breath or the heat in your thighs or the pounding in your chest or the burning in your throat, will help you remember that you forgot something important. And then you can begin to remember once again.
For me, the safest way to do that was through helping others. Helping was an officially sanctioned approved behavior of nice women everywhere. I could listen to the secret stories of women with ferocious roars who had only temporarily lost their way unlike me who had lost mine completely. I looked good, while they looked helped, and I gathered intel about what it meant to be brave or strong or outspoken through their amazing stories.
Listening to those stories and then looking into the face of that baby girl, was like being let out of the yard for a little bit longer everyday, until I didn’t see any need for a cage anymore. And every time my shame would return to condemn me for being different or wanting something different or something more, that girl would ask me an innocent question or share a simple dream about me being stronger than I was or more powerful or more engaged in the world and I would get the message from her old soul to mine, that I had to keep going, that I had to keep wanting what I wanted until I could actually say it. Until I could push something out of me through the most amazing part of me and know that anger was not required but the most stunning form of devotion to everything most alive in me, most holy, most true.
Stories and helping gave me a map to follow as well as a cartography of my own soul. I learned where I lost my purr from the very beginning and where I’d have to go to get it back. Doing good for others was the best cover for my task, but deep inside I knew I was doing it for me. So that I could be free, so that my daughter could feel the strength of a mother who wasn’t afraid to defend someone else and consequently her own self: a woman who wasn’t afraid to roar.
There are a thousand stories in between these lines, as I’m sure you can feel, reading these words. I’m in a place now in my life where telling those stories are of the utmost importance, so that others can catch their own clues to find their own way. And I’m also at a stage where I don’t need the cover of helping anymore, so I’m slowly and systematically letting that go.
As the mother of a baby girl now turning seventeen, I’m okay with not being nice now. I’m okay if you know that I want you to fuck me so hard and so silly that we both can only laugh, we are so connected, things are so incredibly real and raw and good. I’m okay with you disapproving of the sounds I make and the things I don’t believe and the love I want and the wisdom I have.
I make sounds now when I cum, and my heart sings when you make sound too.
I’m not afraid of you being afraid if I defend myself or if I insist on the kind of protection for my soul that at first I could only insist on for others’. And maybe most importantly, I am not ashamed, because I’m learning, finally and thank God not too late, that I am, for all my flaws and failures and disastrous misunderstandings, a thing of real beauty on the earth, who will fade and disappear and be no more, because this is what nature does to us and to everything that is real and unfabricated and true.
So what now, you ask? What of my roar? What of my path? What of my pain? To this I say, don’t worry. A roar can be forgotten, it can be stifled, it can be shamed, but it can not be stopped. It rises of its own accord in the right way, in the right time, through the beating of your own heart, through the sorrows of your own body, through every horrible and shameful and desperate thing in you that screams failure when all you wanted was a seamless, simple success.
It is through your brokenness and your cracked open, torn apart places that you’ll hear your purr again. It is through your passions, through your small and simple loves, like the way the baby holds your finger or the way you crave that dream that never was. Sit there and the roar will find you. It’s your birthright, it’s your destiny. It’s your true animal nature. It is all that is you and ever was.
Jen Lemen is a writer, mentor and co-founder of hopefulworld.org. Jen recently experienced the second Nepal earthquake while meeting with young emerging leaders finding their roar in Kathmandu. You can read about her experience here.