Episode #80: When did you lose your voice?
I have come to believe that our unadulterated voice is an expression of the divine. But there are a million reasons why you may have lost (pieces of) your voice on your journey to where you are now. In this episode I share when I first lost my voice, what it has been like to reclaim it so far, and the steps I continue to take to heal and reintegrate my voice with my whole being. I also offer some gentle "new scripts" for you to use with your own tender heart and soul as needed. Your voice is worthy of being heard. TW: This episode includes descriptions of physical and emotional abuse.
Welcome to the 80th episode [!!!] of the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders, Entrepreneurs, and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
TW: I want to warn you that this episode does include descriptions of physical and emotional abuse, so if that is not what you need right now please feel free to join me again for the next episode.
2022 marks a number of milestones for me.
My 50th year on this planet.
A decade since my mom left the earthly plane, and with her loss, the beginning of my final descent into Stage 4 burnout and severe mental illness.
2022 marks 4 years in remission from said mental illness.
And dare I say . . . without judgment or celebration because I know the battle that is mental illness . . . it has been 18 months since I took my last antidepressant.
As I enter my 50th year, as I enter this new decade for me, there are stories rising within me that I haven’t yet told. And to be honest, I am not sure where they fit (in a business model). But that hasn’t stopped me from telling a story before.
While I know they are there and some of them are ready to be told, I have also been aware that there is a block within me that is keeping me stuck. In other words, there are things I have to say, but I don’t yet know what they are. And I am pretty sure I am the one holding back.
I have found this to be slightly curious. A little fascinating. Because if you have been hanging around for a while, you might think I have a pretty brave voice . . . the voice I used when I started to share openly about my journey with mental illness long before burnout and triggers and it’s okay to not be okay and sharing about your mental health became part of common conversation . . . at least not nearly as common as it is today.
The voice I use to name the elephant in the room and say things other people won’t say.
The voice I use to gently but firmly challenge the status quo.
I remember when I applied for a job in 2017 . . . a job I was truly interested in . . . the first job I was truly interested in after leaving my job as a CEO . . . this was a job where I thought I could make a difference and I was actually excited about it, but I was advised by very well-meaning loved ones that I should probably scrub my social media feed for references to my illness. I had no doubt that they were correct about the implications of having my story out in the world publicly in the context of being a candidate for that job.
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office trying to sort out what I was going to do. I felt like I was at a very important fork in the road. Would I shove my story back under the rug, out of plain sight, where everyone would be more comfortable . . . and possibly get a well-paying, impactful job at the university helping guide other business leaders? Or would I double down on the risk I had already taken when I began to share my story in the first place.
Brene Brown says “you either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”
Running from my story and hustling for my worthiness almost killed me. Literally.
The throttling that I had done of my own voice–needs, wants, desires, boundaries–made me toxically sick in every way.
In my therapist’s office that day, I decided that I would no longer throttle that voice. Even if it was personally and professionally costly.
Parker Palmer defines integrity as living life divided no more–no longer separated from the truth and wisdom of our soul–and Glennon Doyle talks about matching our outside to our insides.
So much of my healing journey has been about integrating and returning to the body and soul I was on my arrival here (as an infant). And the more I do this work the more convinced I am that we arrive here as a simple, beautiful and perfect expression of the divine . . . that the first phase(s) of our lives take us further and further away from this pure expression . . . and that if we are lucky, we get to spend the rest of our lives finding our way back.
Over the last couple of years I have become more present to the times that I have throttled my own voice; watching with curiosity (and some frustration) as my conditioning played out and kept me scared and small.
There have been times when my sense of truth and justice just would not let me be until I raised my voice even as I know there is infinite noise out there in the world . . . so much so that the idea of being heard (as distinct from all of the other voices) seems out of grasp.
I have wondered at times what I have to offer that isn’t already being offered by someone else. And I remind myself that it isn’t whether my message is something that has never been heard before . . . but whether the listener is in the right place at the right time and that somehow the way I say it or the space I create allows them to take one more positive step on their own journey.
Over the last several months, I have known I was going deeper. Or expanding. Or both. But I wasn’t sure how to tap into what was next.
This conundrum has been a little challenging for my creative process and content development because my formula for content creation goes something like this: allow the message to rise within you or connect the dots from your internal and external experiences. Share it. End scene.
And since I wasn’t sure, I have been focused on nurturing and healing my body . . . which appears to be my school project for the rest of my life.
A few weeks ago, I attended a masterclass called Voice of the Soul with Daje James–you can find Daje at @thestorydoula and she is also the founder of Brave School. Daje works primarily with creatives who are learning to own their own authentic voice.
And now I have all of the answers! Just kidding. If only it were that easy. But I do want to say that the experience Daje created was beautiful and safe and delivered value to each participant based on where they were when they showed up that day.
My body hasn’t yet released the answers to my question about what is next . . . which brings me to the pieces that I did get that day that seem important.
Perhaps they are a gateway I must walk through first. So here we go . . .
I remember when I lost my voice. I cannot mark it on the calendar, but I can tell you that it was between the ages of three and five.
There was a third party caregiver in my home from before I was born until I was fifteen years old.
The story goes that I was a night owl as a baby and she would get me from my crib and hang out with me. Even as an adult . . . and despite what I am about to tell you . . .a hug from her . . . my head on her shoulder . . . sent me into a state of exhale that I didn’t often find anywhere else in my life.
But by the time I turned five I had become her enemy. As I understand it . . . whatever her “buttons” were . . . I pushed all of them.
And it seems this caregiver’s mission from that point forward was to literally . . . beat the will out of me.
The abuse was both physical–in the form of spankings using a variety of objects from kindling wood that she would break on my backside to hair brushes to 2x4s to whatever object was in reach–but also emotional; everything from the silent treatment to being told that I should go live outside with the animals because I was no better.
There was no separation between my worth and my actions. If I did bad I WAS BAD.
Punishment by deprivation was also the norm: no sugar, no tv, going to bed without dinner, being forced to go play golf with my father instead of playing at the beach on vacations, birthday and Christmas presents being given to other friends (with my abuser being certain to point out that they were taken from me because I was bad).
There was no safety net in my life. My parents were neither emotionally nor physically present most of the time.
Because I was her enemy . . . I became my own enemy.
What do you do when you are the enemy? When WHO YOU ARE is the problem? You come to believe that YOU are the one causing the harm to yourself.
And so you splinter. You siphon. You shut down the parts of yourself that seem to be causing the problem. You bury the shards of who you are in an internal abyss of your own creation.
Sometime in 2014, as I was processing some of this trauma with my therapist, I visualized this scene. My abuser coming after me. . . I am 7 or 8 years old . . . she is backing me into a corner . . . intent on destroying my will . . . intent on destroying my essence . . . me then vaporizing into the wall and enclosing her in layers and layers of kevlar . . . boxed in where she couldn’t hurt me anymore . . . and then I visualized myself as a young girl, safe, playing in a field by a river, guarded by a warrior protector who looks a lot like an angel or a Greek goddess.
Within 48 hours of this visualization, my abuser had a massive stroke. She is still on this planet but prisoner in her own body to some degree. On some level I am able to know that I didn’t cause this stroke, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to process through THAT a few times.
It matters that there is a redemption story here in some ways. That she went into treatment for alcoholism when I was 15 year old. That she is the only adult in my life who ever apologized (without blaming anyone or anything else) for the harm she caused me. That she spent my adult life living in recovery.
But that redemption didn’t restore my voice. Not by itself anyway. The pieces of myself that I hid away so long ago didn’t just re-assimilate because the threat had passed. Such is the experience of complex, developmental trauma.
I remember when my psychiatrist said that the ongoing chaos and trauma of my childhood had changed the way my brain was wired.
I have reclaimed and reintegrated my voice in pieces, over time, sometimes without a full understanding of the complete nature of the task in all of its layers and dimension. Not knowing what I was up against might have been a gift in its own right.
And I have experienced time and time again the difference (and the time lapse that often happens) between intellectually understanding something and being able to internalize it within my body and soul.
As I sat in the space that Daje created, I also had the opportunity to rewrite some of the scripts I have been running for most of my life as a result of what happened to me.
I want to share the new scripts with you now, and offer that you take what you need. Imagine YOU saying these gentle and tender words to yourself:
- You are beautiful and worthy and full of light
- You deserve to be cherished, nurtured, protected and held
- I enjoy your company and warmth, I want to be with you and I will protect our relationship
- Your performance bears no relation to my love for you
- I adore you
- Your needs matter
- You are not required to tend to other people’s wounds–the ones you didn’t cause–especially to your own detriment
- I don’t want anything from you but your pureness, joy and light
- I will catch you
- I am here for you always & forever
- There is nothing you can do that will separate you from my love
Here are a few other takeaways from the class that I want to share with you:
- Nurturing your own fire will inevitably make the world warm.
- The further you are from the flame of your own fire, the more you look to others for warmth (and it will never be enough).
- Your soul’s voice longs to be nurtured, cared for, nourished, seen and acknowledged.
- If the voice is a call for connection, then stifling your voice also prevents you from accessing the connection that you are biologically wired to require for survival.
There are a million reasons why you may have lost (pieces of) your voice on your journey to where you are now.
Do you know when you first lost your voice? Not the one that posts pretty pictures or memes or sarcasm or even vitriol on the internet . . . but the voice that is scared and small and shoved down inside the chasms of your heart and soul because you learned at some point that THAT voice wasn’t safe to use.
Or maybe you remember a more recent time when you no longer felt safe to speak your truth?
If you take the time to sit with this question, there may be some hard stuff that comes up. I encourage you to reach for resources as needed to help you process and I will link some resources at the bottom of the transcript for this episode that you can find at boothandrews.com.
Most of all, I encourage you to sit gently and non-judgmentally with whatever comes up with the understanding that you don’t necessarily have to “do” anything about it. Sometimes allowing is enough. This would also be a great time to practice self-compassion. I will link some of Kristin Neff’s resources in the transcript as well.
Over the last few years, I have been learning to allow my breath–not just force it beyond my chest into my belly, which frankly was only moderately effective when I was working very hard at it–but to actually release the grip and tension in my body enough to ALLOW it to do what it is naturally designed to do.
Holding tension was something I was very very very good at. ALLOWING not so much.
I still don’t yet know all the things my voice wants to say. But my hope is that by tending to my own flame, nurturing my body, mind and soul to the best of my ability as I continue to build my understanding of what that actually means, and by ALLOWING my voice to rise, I will take new steps toward owning my story, living a life undivided, and matching my outsides to my insides.
What is one step you could take toward nurturing your own voice today? The one that is unadulterated and an expression of your true essence?
And please hear me when I say that you don’t necessarily have to claim your voice publicly in order to own it. Maybe the only person who needs to hear your true voice is you.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, perhaps tending gently to your body as intentionally as you can is a good place to start.
Practice nourishing, receiving and allowing and let your voice do its thing.
Notice when you hold back and consider whether that holding is due to a current threat or one that has long passed but left its imprint on your body and soul.
And consider practicing speaking with your true voice in safe spaces as they are available to you.
Your voice is worthy of being heard. Is it time to reclaim your voice?
Thank you for listening today.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!
Aundi Kolber - trauma healing from an open-hearted Christian lens
Nate Postlethwait - trauma healing and inner child resources
Kristin Neff - self-compassion resources
Brene Brown - resources on empathy, shame, connection, owning your voice