Just Say "NO" period

My life would have been so different if I had just learned that word. But because I did not, my life has been reduced to a game of dodge ball. These are the thoughts weaving across my mind as I lay crouched behind the tomato bin at the local supermarket. “Please don’t need tomatoes!” I am saying over and over like a meditation mantra, all the while scanning the perimeter for an exit. I am ready to abandon my shopping cart and run, but there are no exits that I can see nearby. I am waiting, too scared to make a move or to even look to see if she is coming. And then I hear it.

“Carol! What are you doing?”
The hair on the back of my neck is standing straight up as I fumble to get up and turn around. There is nothing I can do now. I have been caught and I have no explanation for crouching in fetal position behind the tomato bin. Now it is just a matter of minutes before she will rope me in. I am determined not to do something I really don’t want to do, this time.

“Oh hi, Beth. “ I say without enthusiasm “I was just making sure there weren’t any tomatoes under there. I motion with my hand toward the bin. How are you?”
“Oh I am just fine. I want to invite you over for a party this Saturday night.”
“Oh?” I managed to squeak out
“Yes, it’s a jewelry party and the more people that come and buy stuff, the more free jewelry I get. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Oh yeah.” I answer with a hint of sarcasm
“Oh good then you will come! Great! See ya at eight. Gotta run!”
“Uh...” I said stunned. I couldn’t figure out what just happened. I didn’t even get the chance to answer and she was gone. I felt like a calf at the rodeo roped in less than a minute. Even my tongue had been tied. I tried to go over it again in my mind unsure of how it all happened.

Without that word in my life I realized I would never have the freedom I so desired. I had to take drastic measures and so right then I decided to start my own support group. I called them the CSN group for “Cannot Say No.” We banded together quickly and began to see how much we really all had in common. The one word we didn’t know and couldn’t say was “No” and we knew we would eventually all have to overcome it. Otherwise our fate would be determined. We would undoubtedly create the disease and would become PP’s which none of us wanted to become. PP’s were the people pleasers whose whole life was to selflessly give to others and forget about themselves. We all saw them - tired and angry at church and PTO functions. We all knew if we didn’t straighten up soon, we too would walk the PP path.

We each took turns telling our story. Martha was first. “Hi, my name is Martha, and I am thinking of quitting my religion” she stated. “I just can’t keep going on like this!” she cried. Had she had a change of heart we asked? “No” said Martha. Did she feel another religion suited her better? Had the church become to too dogmatic and repressive? “No, no, no!” cried Martha. “It’s the volunteer work. I can’t keep going on like this. I am exhausted.” And we all sat in awe as she went on to explain. Someone at the church had found out she was a CSN, they had found out that Martha could not say no. So every year when they made a list of volunteers they put Martha’s name first. The list was posted in the secretary’s office. “And then came the calls!” she cried. “And then the letters and the questions made directly to her at church”. She had become a slave to the church and there was nothing left for Martha to do. “I have to quit it,” she declared. “It’s the only way.” “Martha!” I exclaimed, “there may be another way…” We put our heads together and agreed in unison-we would have to learn how to say “no” and to once and for all stand up for our right to be free.

“Things are just not the way they used to be.” I explained. The DAN’s are getting more aggressive. The DAN’s were the people who “Don’t Accept No” for an answer. They were not even giving time for answers anymore. We realized we were being overpowered and it was time to fight.

We began our tactical training. We began to learn how to just say “no.” We began with the phrase “I don’t no” because at least most of us could say that truthfully enough. We practiced and practiced it cheering each other on. We role played it and it sounded something like this…

Hi Vivian! I want you to work overtime this week.
I don’t no.
What do you mean, you don’t know?
I don’t no.

It sounded a bit funny but it was a huge step forward from yes. We were all able to go to “I don’t no” by the end of our first six weeks together. But we knew we had to go one giant step further. “I don’t know” only bought you some time before you had to answer “yes” or “no” and not one in the group could even whisper “the word” yet.

We set up a secret night meeting in the woods where no one would see us. We were going to do a group chant around the fire, just to get used to voicing the word. We were all very nervous, unsure of whether we could take this next step or not. Cindy pretended she couldn’t come because she was sick, but we all knew it was because she was scared to death to utter that word that had eluded her all her life.

There we were grown woman searching for our freedom, hoping to become the next generation of nay sayers. We looked forward to the honor. And so around the bon fire we vowed to each other to take our power back. We made the shift from “I don’t know” to just plain vanilla – no.

That night by the warmth of the fire we chanted “no” until our face muscles had memorized the motion. We all knew we had broken through an unspeakable barrier and that we had taken step one on the road to beating the PP disease.

Every week after that we each had to come up with specific scenarios to role play with one another. We had begun phase three, “Honing the NO” until we could answer a DAN without even a hint of an excuse. There are many “no’s” (as you know) but we had to start with Phase two “no”. We call it the “no of excuses.” NOE was the “no” most often used by beginners who felt their “no” could not stand on its own syllable. For them, no had to be followed with a long list of reasons why their “no” was legit.

I remember trying out the Phase Two “no” on a DAN who had invited me to a pool party. I had mustered up the courage for a Phase Three “no” but it didn’t cut the mustard. I had said it with as much authority and as deliberateness as I could “No, I can’t make it.” I said into the phone, quivering. And then it came. The dreaded, “Why not?” Oh she was good, I thought, she was very good. And I lost my nerve and composure and began spitting out answers in a wave of chopped sentences, “because I feel like being alone and because I have no one to watch Jonathan and because I have yard work to do and because I don’t have a bathing suit.” I couldn’t stop it. It had just streamed out and then came the rope so quickly and easily around my neck as she answered each of my excuses, and tread all over them. “You have to come, I insist, just bring Jonathan, I have a bathing suit you can use and just come after you get the lawn work done.” My shoulders slumped. I had been beaten by my own excuses. I had not been able to stand up with enough power. I realized on my way to the pool party that there must be a “no” out there that could pack a bigger punch. I had to find it and I had to find it fast.

At the next meeting Martha told the group about the effectiveness of a tearful, almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown “no.” She had used it at church for the past two weeks and had been quite successful. They had called others to do her usual volunteer work. “I realized” she said, “that someone else will do it even if I can’t. I always thought if I didn’t do it no one would.” So we practiced her no, trying to bring up tears at the very hint of someone trying to infringe upon our lives.

But, what we found out was this “no” is not a no that can be used too often. It can be used here and there but it cannot be the consistent “no” we were all looking for. We found that out at the next meeting when Martha told us her Uncle Mack had passed away and no one believed her story. She had ended up crying her way through the planning of the church tag sale. Thus we labeled this “the Boy Who Cried Wolf No” only to be used in dire emergencies. No, we knew that night what we needed was something more honest and forthright, that could really pack a punch.

That is how we stumbled upon the “No (period).” We began to see that “No” was at its strongest and most powerful when used as a whole sentence. No. That is it. That was the no that would lead us out of a life based on the needs and expectations of others. All we had to do was just say no.

Oh and we did. We learned to celebrate this no. It was our hero no. It was our salvation and we all knew what we had to do. We practiced the no until it could stand alone. Some of us softened it with “No, it just doesn’t work for me.” And that “no” we found could go a long way. We had progressed to the final phase of our training, we had become master “nay sayers” and we all felt the power.

We had changed our destiny and had turned our back to the path of the people pleaser. No longer would we ever crouch down to a tomato bin again, but would hold our head high armed with our best weapon - our stand-alone “No.” From this day forward we could proudly walk through life with our head held high, knowing we had the power to make it our own once again.