Thursday, October 18, 2012

Finding Her Voice: A Student's Journey to Speaking Her Truth

The ocean is like our voices when they are open. Sometimes quiet, sometimes furious, but always flowing.
No one can quiet the voice of the ocean
Finding our truth and speaking it is so important to living our lives in integrity and love. It’s a common issue that many people face in a society that wants us to conform to certain ways of speaking. In this post, my student, Jenn, shares her journey with finding her voice. And if you’d like yet another perspective, you can check out my former student, Susan’s post on the topic as well. BTW, toady's picture is also from Jenn.

Enjoy the blog!

Finding My Voice

For me to find my own voice, I needed to go back to the time and place when I thought I first lost it. For me, that's easy to know; I need to go back to birth.

I never had my own voice. For most of my life, I said and did what I thought everyone else wanted me to say and do. For the first time, I am finding my own voice. My own pure beautiful voice. My voice and my heart are connected. I have the awareness today to know when I am speaking from my heart or when I am speaking from my head or someone else’s ideas. To find my own voice is to take responsibility for my life and clean out all the garbage that is blocking the pathway to my heart. I had to get honest with myself. I needed to unlock painful childhood memories that I tried to run from for years. 

When I tell people I didn’t talk until I was 7 years old, they have a reaction of either disbelief or find it humorous. I can tell you it’s anything but funny. When I was a young girl I was an observer; I watched life. I watched how people interacted at home, in school, and I watched how nature interacted. I was a curious child, and unfortunately I was a very scared child. I still remember listening to the teacher in nursery school call my name over and over until I hesitantly raised my hand slowly almost shamefully. Children used to approach me and poke their finger into my side and ask if I was a stuffed animal, and I would smile then look down. I would sit and color for hours without stopping; I would lose myself in art. I felt safe there. I felt peace there. But when it was time to socialize, I remember feeling a swarm of internal bees fly up my gut into my throat and to swarm and bite my vocal chords. It literally hurt, and I kept silent as a result.

I was scared to express myself. I was scared to talk because I was scared of what I would say. I wasn’t sure how I felt or what I thought to even start to be able to express my needs or wants or even simply my thoughts and definitely not my feelings. I was scared of not being accepted if I showed the world who I really was. I convinced myself that if the world really knew who Jenn was, then no one would ever love me. How could a little girl have so much fear and shame? I came from a childhood that was pretty normal. I never experienced physical harm. I was raised in a middle to upper class family and lived in a great suburban town 20 miles from NYC. I had really no “excuse” for this silent behavior. Then the more I dig, the more I realize that I never felt safe. I was always living in constant fear.

My father was an alcoholic--the kind that slips away into the basement and drinks in secret. He was never loud or harmful, though he was extremely silent. I never really knew him, but I knew we shared one thing, suffering. He suffered from the disease of alcoholism, and I suffered from the disease of silence. The older I became, the more stressful things at home were becoming. My father was drinking more, he sold our lucrative family business, and our family could no longer keep up with the Joneses. My mother and father started to fight a lot, and like I said, I was an observer. So I saw it all. I felt that if I “behaved” I could alter or manipulate the unpleasant stuff going on at home. If I could only take away my mother’s pain, then she would be happy. If I could only be a better daughter then my father wouldn’t drink, I convinced myself. I sincerely believed I was somehow responsible for my family's pain. 

Fortunately, I started going to speech therapy at the age of 7. I feel this was a turning point. It helped a lot! I started to gain confidence with each session despite the growing turmoil at home. I found my role in my family was shifting. I was becoming the peace maker and the entertainer--the child that made sure everyone was happy. Unfortunately, I did this most of the time at my own emotional expense. I remember always being very sensitive. I could feel others pain on a very uncomfortable level. I remember visualizing absorbing others pain through a bright orange straw, drinking it down into my belly so they didn't have to feel the pain. I could "save" them from themselves, I thought. The way I would escape from my own pain was art and nature.

At a young age I had a very special and spiritual connection to nature. I felt sincere, clean, pure love in nature. Mostly I felt safe there away from people. I would run off to the nearest nature trail 1 mile down the road from our house. I first started to express myself to flowers. They always looked like they were smiling. So I would tell them how my day was. I felt peaceful and welcomed when I looked at them. I felt like they listened and didn’t judge me. I would even talk to frogs, squirrels, birds, trees, and--my favorite--the running water in the stream. I personified the woods and made it the family that I wish I had at home.

By the time I was 17 I was still caretaking, but I was a pretty happy teen. I was involved in a lot of sports and had great friends. But something happened that again took my breath away. In the spring of 2002, my father was on his death bed with liver failure. My mother stuck by his side. I really felt it was for us kids. But whatever her intentions, I’m glad she did. The doctor would make house visits. I can remember the room my father was in. It was dark. He slept all day. He was going through detox, and the room had an odor I can't even begin to explain. I just hope to never experience it again.

The doctor sat my mother, brother, and sister down and explained my father may not make it. He strongly suggested we needed to start praying more than we ever had before. I was angry. I hated my dad for drinking. I hated my mom for marrying him. I hated them for having me. But I could never tell this to anyone, not even God. My idea of God was punishing, and I didn’t want him to think I was ungrateful. Then I felt guilty for even having those feelings about my mother and father in the first place. I escaped even more into sports for those awful months. I ran until my body hurt. I would go home late then wake up early just so I didn’t have to be home. My mother told us to tell no one what was going on at home and instead tell friends and teachers that dad was using vacation days to relax.

By the grace of God, my father lived, and the doctor professed him a waking miracle. He changed over those months. That near death experience changed my father for forever. I finally started to have a normal sober healthy father. I started really getting to know him for the first time. Things were getting much better at home and I started to feel peace there for the first time.

A year later, the summer of 2003 my mother had an affair that ripped our family to pieces. That was years ago, and much healing has come from that heart ache. But the hardest thing about her affair is that I found out before anyone else did. I approached her about it, and she told me I had to keep quiet until she was ready to tell them family. And that if I did say a word, I would be betraying my only mother's trust. I kept that dirty secret to myself for 3 whole months the entire summer. It tormented me. I picked up poor eating habits and cigarettes just to deal with it. I allowed again another person to suffocate my voice. I just wish it didn’t have to be my mother.

That summer and about 5 years after, I stayed quiet about the issues at home. I ran off to college, and I suffered from panic attacks that would leave me paralyzed. I ended up in the ER one time because I couldn't breathe. I was involved in an extremely co-dependent relationship. I took off a year from college to comfort my dad because I was scared for him to be alone.

I wanted to feel needed. It was one of the only ways I felt self-worth. I tried to lose myself in other people so I didn't have to take responsibility and deal with myself. I felt safe and needed as long as other people were around me. Unfortunately I didn't have the awareness to understand the harmfulness of this at the time. I would accept any type of attention even emotionally abusive attention. My life was being held together by dirty glue that was barely keeping the seams from splitting. Then in 2009 I lost it and moved to Pittsburgh to start all over. Here is where I found true healing.  

From doing work with Jim and the work I continue to do with myself and my higher power, I am realizing that silence has kept me sick for my most of my life. Today I am taking a different approach. I am being gentle with myself. I feel in a lot of ways I am a still a little girl that just wants a big hug and to be told that she is loved and safe. Today I hug and love that little girl inside of me. I allow for her to speak and tell me what she needs and feels. I quiet my jabber, so I can listen to my own fears and feelings. I am learning that I no longer need to run from myself. I am safe in my heart.

I never knew how to express myself. I played the role of a victim so well I started to believe and identify as a victim in most areas of my life. I played the role of the martyr, the girl that would bend over backwards for you and place herself in ultimate sacrifice. I wasn't being "selfless," I was being extremely selfish. I was trying to manipulate people to keep them under my control. I wanted them to know that they owed me for all the sacrifice I continued to force down their throats even though many never asked for help. I used people to give myself purpose. I kept myself in my own chains. I am finding that today I no longer need to absorb other people’s pain. That is not my responsibility. I can finally let go.

A lot of my own internal garbage has been surfacing that has been giving me the freedom to change my behavior. I am starting to own my life. I thought my "spiritual house" was so clean and tidy until I went into the attic, opened the closets and basement--a great analogy I picked up from Jim.

Today I am finding my own voice in taking responsibility for myself. Each morning I start the day with a meditation where I ask God for the strength and guidance to surrender my desire to control others and life in general. I pray for love. I am setting boundaries with people. It's unpleasant but I am learning how to say "no." Today I feel safe in my own company, and I allow myself to speak. Sometimes I scream when I’m alone because it feels so new and so relieving! I am slowly releasing the years of staying quiet. I am learning how to express in a healthy way to others what is acceptable and unacceptable in my life. I am finding out that neither people, places or things can give me peace, and the tighter I hold onto these illusions, the more resistance I create, which paralyzes my own inner love to sing. I am learning how to be alone in my own company, in my own silence, and in my own noise. I practice looking into the mirror and telling myself “I am safe, I am loved, and I am beautiful.” (I used to avoid all mirrors possible when I was in the thick of my own suffering. I couldn’t stand to look into my own eyes.)

I am trusting my own inner love and truly knowing that all the love and answers I am searching for are within my heart. Nobody has them but me. I know there is a lot of garbage left to clean up that is blocking my path to my heart. This summer I made the commitment to clean out as much as I can, and I will keep that promise. I want to love cleanly, speak cleanly, behave cleanly. One of my absolute favorite phrases from Jim. Mostly, I want to fall in love with myself. Which I feel I am. I am experiencing the miracle of love. I have seen it melt away layers of fear and harmful stories within. I am learning to trust and love myself regardless of my past. I am learning to love my voice. And I no longer feel other people's voices are more important, beautiful, or wiser than my own.
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