Do you know the most powerful word in the English language?
Do you know how to use this word?
The word is: No.
No. No. No. It feels so good to say it, I want to say it some more! No! No! No!
Yes, this will be one of my weirdly personal posts so please read this if you want a kick in the pants to stand up for yourself, to say "No!" when you need to, and to feel good about it no matter what. And if you'd prefer not to read it, click here to check out designs from the project.
I've known the word "No" for a very long time. Kids learn that one pretty quick and James already knows that "No" does not mean "Yes" when it comes to candy, naps, or playing in the street.
But here's the problem - I did not know how to SAY no.
It's not something I, or many kids from my generation were really taught. We're taught to share and be nice, and girls in particular are taught to look pretty and not get dirty. I needed to be "ladylike." I needed to be "NICE."
Saying "No" even if it was something as small as sharing a toy - that was NOT NICE.
Not nice. That's what people will think of you if you say that word. Do you want people to think you're not nice, or worse....MEAN?
What will people think?
What will people think?
What will people think?
If I could destroy one question in the English language, that would be it. I'm so SICK and tired of worrying about what other people think!
Guess what!? You're going to think whatever you WANT to think, and I can't do ANYTHING about your thoughts!
What will people think if you wear that shirt? What will people think if you make that quilt? What will people think if you stop talking to your mom? What will people think if you cut off your sisters? What will people think when they know you're so mean?
This is what has been sounding off in my head all year. What will people think?
Last year, I found the word "No" sitting on the shelf somewhere back in the recesses of my mind and I pulled it out, dusted it off, and used it for the first time in a few years.
I said it to my mother: No, you cannot hurt me anymore.
I said it to my sister: No, you cannot abuse me anymore.
I said it to my other sister: No, you cannot disrespect me anymore.
This was not the first time I've used this word. In college, I had a terrible "friend" who enjoyed tearing me down to make herself feel better. I put it off for many months, trying to be nice, but finally one day I yelled "NO!" on the top of my lungs and ended that so-called friendship for good.
Saying "No" puts you in control like nothing else in the world. It's a simple word, and even whispered, it has the amazing power to change things instantaneously.
Saying it last year, I finally felt in control of my life and my happiness which could no longer be destroyed by the negative people in my former family and their constant desire to belittle me.
But soon I began to wonder "What will people think?"
And like a poisonous seed, this thought has wormed its way through my mind, accusing me, judging me, condemning me.
What will people think about a girl like you? A girl so mean to cut off her own mother? A girl so vile as to stop talking to her sisters? A girl with the capacity to sever ties with half her family?
WHAT A MEAN, EVIL GIRL!
That is what people will think. This is why we don't say "no," why women so very rarely use the most powerful word in the English language.
We're afraid of what everyone else will think of us when we say it. We're afraid that if that word slips out from between our lips, no one will like us. We will be ostracized, outcast, abandoned.
Saying no is a bad, bad thing.
Or is it?
Saying "No" is sometimes the ONLY thing we can do. It is the only recourse, the only action that makes sense in an impossible situation.
When it came time for me to make my decision about one sister, I'd spent the entire evening on the phone with her, trying to apologize for a fight we'd had more than 2 years before, trying to make an old wrong right again, but all she wanted to do was hurt me.
Had I said "yes" to this, I would still be on my knees begging for a forgiveness she was utterly unwilling to give. I said "No" instead and walked away from the situation, and from her abuse and manipulation, forever.
Does it really make me bad or evil to say no to pain and abuse?
A full year later, a year of peace and silence from that toxic member of my family, I find myself lacking in no way from an absence of her company. If anything, I am stronger, happier, and smarter for having severed that connection before it got any worse.
When it came to saying "No" to my mother, it was after years, and years, and years of trying to deal with her alcoholism, of trying to manage her jealousy, her pettiness, her rage so she would feel good.
I said "No" only when I finally realized that she wanted me to be nothing: to be small, insignificant, poor, broken, and lost in order for our relationship to flourish.
Does it make me bad or evil to say no to to this abusive expectation?
Even though she was my mother, even though every book in every religion says to honor and respect her, when it comes to a choice between preserving myself or preserving our relationship - it was our relationship that had to go.
When it came to my last sister, my "No" started as a whisper spoken when I was 6 or 7 years old and she was 10 or 11 and already verbally and physically abusive. For so many years, I couldn't see her as anything other than a big, mean monster always ready to tear me down.
Then I finally woke up one day and realized - I'm 27 years old and I don't have to take this any longer! I don't have to deal with this! I really CAN say "No!" to her!
Am I really terrible for finally waking up and seeing the truth?
I stand by my decision and I will defend it. I have said "No" to these women and to many others in my life. I have turned my back on a handful of "best friends" who were really just lighter versions of my sisters and I have NOT suffered for these decisions!
I think there is a lie perpetuated by women that to say "No" and to be mean is the ultimate sin of un-ladylike behavior. To say "No" is to mark yourself out from the pack. What a freak!
If that is the case, if being named mean, evil, or freak is the price I have to pay to protect myself, I will pay it daily, and I will pay it gladly.
Because NOTHING is worth having these people back in my life.
For an entire year I have not missed them. I have not wanted them. I have not needed them. And I do not see this changing anytime soon.
I've heard from many people when it comes to my About Me page and these occasional personal posts - most of it very helpful and beneficial from those with similar past experiences of abusive families who know the treacherous tight rope it is to walk away from.
But there are always those people who share advice that I just really don't want to hear.
That advice is to keep a door open and a light burning for these people in my family.
To maintain a hope that maybe one day they will change and we will be able to get along wonderfully and dance in the yard with fluffy kittens and bunny rabbits.
To which I reply with the simplest, yet most powerful answer: No.
No thank you.
No, that path is not for me.
No, I have walked this road too far and known these people too long to know that they will never change.
No, I will not question my decision to slam the door in their face and lock it with every latch at my disposal. That is a door that I have closed and will not open again. I do not want them back.
I'm done worrying about what other people think. Here's what I think (which is far more important): This is the best thing for me and my family. This is MY life and it's about time I started living it.
Now let's all go quilt,