A couple of months ago I attended a writing circle facilitated by friend and colleague Laura Gates-Lupton. The prompt for our time together was ‘lost and found’ which resulted in a deep inquiry for me around Voice and Visibility.
As I’m in the process of sharing my voice in a much bigger way through my soon-to-be-published little book (the draft has found its way to beta-readers as of yesterday!), sharing this piece of writing here with you feels timely.
It is a bit more raw, less constrained, and definitely more free-form than my usual writing here. I’m sharing it as it came through, without editing.
Voice and Visibility
An inquiry around voice… voice that has been lost and is beginning to be found. The wobblyness of it; the breaking out into hives when speaking of anything a bit more ‘true’ (for me). The scratchy closing of vocal cords. The whispers, the silence. The regret.
Also the, at times, silent celebration of moments when I didn’t speak up (despite the goading of myself to speak up) and later knew that silence had in fact served in that moment… That that moment actually hadn’t held the needed safety for my voice to be heard. Will there come a time when there is enough safety established within and around me so that I can speak what is true for me regardless?
Also, the regret of not speaking up in moments when I did have power/privilege that might have made a difference for one person.
For instance, my senior year of high school, in Spanish class, when the teacher who was also the football and wrestling coach, a big beef of a man said something unkind and mocking to a scrawny, generally disliked, younger boy, a sophomore perhaps.
I wanted to say something, I wanted to stand for this one while the others in the class laughed. Instead, I sat there, silent, Frozen. A few years later, I heard that he had died in a car crash – him against an 18-wheeler. There was speculation that it wasn’t an accident. Would my voice have made a difference? Did my silence contribute to what was likely many instances leading to that incident?
Then, that phase of my life (which has been most of my life) where I ‘listened.’
I have been praised over and over for my ability to listen. For how heard, seen, held, and acknowledged people feel when they speak to me.
And yet, how much has ‘listening’ been a way of not having to speak myself? If I’m asking questions, your truth can come pouring through and out. I can receive that, even if it differs from mine. I can listen; I can accept; I can hear your truth. But can I voice mine? For so many years, the answer was ‘no’.
For many years, I told myself that I trusted myself to be able to listen to others (even others who held very different ‘truths’ than myself) without judging them or thinking them bad for believing/seeing different than me.
I told myself that I could hold strong to myself, to my own beliefs, in the face of differing beliefs.
I told myself that others might not be able to do that as well so it was better that, if I believed differently, I didn’t speak up.
I didn’t share my perspective… because I didn’t want to threaten them. I didn’t want to cause them to question what they thought.
The truth? I was afraid to speak. I was afraid that ‘my’ beliefs would be questioned or threatened. That I would come across as weak or stupid or misled or misinformed. I was afraid that if I shared what was true from my life experience up to that point that it would be mocked (that I would be mocked). And, above all else, my intelligence, my ‘rightness’, my truth must not be questioned… which it couldn’t be if I didn’t share it.
Therefore, I listened. And didn’t speak.
Fast forward many years… I’m beginning to find my voice.
I’m beginning to speak more openly about how I experience the world as alive, about how we can be relationship with the earth, the waters, the trees, our ancestors. It is scary but also, I feel all these unseen ones at my back, supporting me, lending me courage.
I invite some women to be in ritual with the Waters with me – for cleansing, for healing, for purification, and to deepen into relationship with the waters within and without.
Following the ritual, which was filled with beauty, joy, aliveness, connection, healing, a friend who attended the ritual committed suicide. She had been wanting to leave this world for some time and then, just like that, she did.
The day it happened she called me. I was in the middle of an extremely busy day on top of a being pulled underwater by a migraine and I didn’t make the time to call her back.
The next day I heard the news. Could my voice have made a difference? Could my listening + my voice have given her strength or brought her solace? Perhaps she simply wanted to say goodbye… I’ll never know. Because my voice, in that moment, was again, silent.
Now, I still fumble speaking my truth, standing in what is real for me.
And yet, if I don’t, if I don’t speak what is real for me in this moment, there is little hope of growth or deeper healing around what is yet unknown within me.
Growth and healing happens in relationship, through the sharing of ourselves with another; through the missteps and the course-corrections and the making of amends.
Through the sharing of a thought or belief and allowing it be heard and perhaps questioned… if I am anchored in what I believe, being questioned (or even mocked/shamed) is not to be feared. If I am centered in who I am, I am able to take in other perspectives and to allow my own perspectives to shift and change and perhaps even dramatically transform if/as needed.
And still, when ‘on stage’ either with a single person or before a group, I feel eyes on me and I want to hide, to disappear deep inside myself, to become so small that you can’t see me, that it is as if I’m not really there.
And yet, I keep (Spirit keeps) requesting me to be seen in who I am and in what I believe.
And so I do, one shaky, wobbly word at a time… testing the waters of this friend, of this audience, creating as much internal safety as is possible, learning over and over how to resettle my body and Spirit when a vulnerability hangover approaches…
…facing the crushing migraines that often follow when the amount that I’ve exposed myself is a bit more than what I’ve done in the past.
Knowing that I am held, that I am loved, that I am (in my deepest hearts of hearts) a very human person filled with light and shadow, good and bad who is learning to lean into love and integrity and authenticity as much as I’m able.
Trusting that when I mess up, I’ll have the grace and humility to make amends, to course-correct. Trusting my voice. Allowing my voice to be heard.
ps. the path from invisible healer to visible, powerful witch is the one we walk in the Witchy Healer Wisdom School; I’m right there walking this path too. I’d love to welcome you into this witchy healer haven!