I Go to 11

Some friends of mine get pretty angry when talking about social justice. Others get uncomfortable when that anger swells and people become less civil. During a conversation recently, I described the problem thusly:

It’s like a guitar amp with a volume control that goes from 1 to 10. You’re best heard at 6. That’s just above mid-level where you’re loud enough to be heard over the crowd but no so loud that people will be uncomfortable and turn away. Sometimes people get really angry and turn their amps up Spinal Tap-style all the way to 11.

Someone asked how I deal with people like that. I shrugged and said, “Sometimes I go to 11.”

People like me who were abused as children and into adulthood commonly suffer from this problem. I know I need to be at 6, but that’s a hard level for me to find. I’ve been unheard at 6. I’ve been unheard at 10. So I explode and go to 11. And often, I’m unheard there. So I shut down and hide away.

I know how painful it is for people I care about when I get that loud. That’s another reason I have trouble finding my 6. I’m afraid of getting too loud and have spent much of my life no higher than 3. Almost nobody hears me there. People sometimes think me quiet and shy, or they think I’m fine when I’m silently hurting.

Even when I go up to 6, I’m often met with shock. People are not accustomed to hearing me at that volume. Muscle memory starts to kick in. With abusers, I’ve always had to go to one extreme or another. I start turning down and become silenced, or I take it up as high as I can and go to 11.

I still struggle to find my 6. I’ve spent so much of my life at 1 or 11. People who can hear me at both levels are my favorites, but they are hard to find. This is why I tend to isolate, and that doesn’t help me with my volume control.

People try to quiet me down when I start getting loud, but that’s the opposite of what I need. I need safe spaces where I can let things out at my full volume. Only then can I find my safe level. I tend to find that safety with others like me, but it’s impossible to know who those people are until I start turning up my amp. That process is often painful for everyone, but we appreciate those who stick around along the way.

This is why I love blogging. I can speak my mind no matter what the topic or what my volume level. As a friend of mine said when I feel unheard, “Screaming into the void is easier than talking to people who you are supposed to be close to.”

I know I need to be at 6, and I think I find that volume much of the time. Sometimes, though, I lose that ability, especially when I know others are suffering in silence. So sometimes I go to 11.

Drew Sheldon is a disabled veteran and a feminist. A survivor of numerous traumas and PTSD sufferer, he advocates passionately for his fellow survivors and all people struggling with mental illness. He writes to unleash some of the pain in his head and in hopes it will help others do the same. He was raised by a single mother whom he dearly misses and lives quietly by a little lake with his beautiful kitty Francesca. Find more from Drew on his site Straight White Man Seeks Knowledge.

Image Credit: “Alarm” captured by Martin Abegglen


I got to 11