As soon as I posted my piece about Voice, I realized that I could probably talk for a long, long time on this subject. If for some reason asked to state the underlying purpose of my life, I would include the elusive and driven search for voice in the answer.
One of the lenses that I use to look at humans in the world through is the chakra system as laid out in various books by Anodea Judith. This is not a classically yogic perspective on the chakras, but more of an extended metaphor of being a human in relation to the world. This working system shows how certain energies and behaviours and belief systems and ways of being coalesce around particular ages and stages of development, and also how things go wonky when the particular world we live in doesn’t let us do the work of that chakra thoroughly. It also is an overlay map of the body, so if certain physical issues keep happening, they are a first clue to looking at what is going on at a more subtle level.
If you are reading this, then I presume that you are adult or mostly adult. By the time you become an adult, you have passed through many stages of development, and you are meant to now be able to be a functioning human. I figure that your 20s, or whenever you separate past a critical point from your family (whatever that looked like), is when you actually start to look at the pile of baggage that you have been handed by your growing up until then. And usually by this point you are working on Throat and Brow chakra development, so dealing with questions of voice and self-expression, of life creation and vision. You don’t have to look at this pile of baggage, but if you don’t then you will find yourself in life situations wondering how it was that you got there when clearly your conscious mind doesn’t agree with it.
Your throat chakra is the fifth one. It is in the narrowest part of your body while being the first to expand far beyond the body. It transcends time and space: we can communicate over distance and talk about things that are not happening now; we can create and recreate things and events through words.
The chakras are like building blocks. If what comes below is not sturdy, the wobble when you get to chakras higher up is significant. You will be brought back again and again to address the life issues that are at the source of the wobble.
I have been voiceless at many different times of my life. And by this I mean unable to express what it is that is going on inside me through words said to another human, or even to myself. I could often write them, in private, but not say them out loud. Occasionally, even recently, I have resorted to writing my man an email instead of speaking whatever-it-was out loud. Then I can organize my thoughts and take time over what it is that I want to say, and he can read it slowly and more than once if he needs to.
The most voiceless period of life manifested mostly with my families – my family of origin and my little two-child family that I had made with my husband. We were all living in the same house. We still are, but it’s got a different flavour now. My parents are downstairs and my little family is upstairs. Eventually there was a door between the levels, but it’s a very open stairwell, so most things involving loud voices occupy the entire house. At least we don’t share a kitchen.
The era that I am talking about, at its very worst, stretched from about my age 33 to age 36 (see my blog Grief in the Body for more context). I’m 40 now. At that time I was fighting viciously with both of my parents, and left every argument shaking, gutted and unheard because I was unable to say what was really going on for me, because I actually didn’t know what it was. I was prickly and unapproachable and taking everything as a personal attack. My communication with my man was abysmal when it came to things that mattered to me. We could talk about kids and the dog and the house – who pooped last and what we were going to eat next, how sleep was or was not going, that sort of thing – but if I wanted to try to express to him how I was drowning in overwhelm every single minute of every day and I couldn’t stand it and I wanted out of having these realities be my life, there was no chance of getting even one word out. It was like he was standing on the other end of a huge bridge and I couldn’t even see where his feet were – was he standing on the same ground as me? To say one thing I felt like I would have to say all of the things, and I couldn’t do that, so I said nothing. I tried to make it through each day with two tiny humans who needed everything from me, but I lost it a lot. I shouted at my kids, sometimes I shrieked, sometimes I grabbed them too hard or too suddenly and scared them.
I didn’t know it then, but this was depression. I thought I had some idea of what depression looks like, you kind of get an image from what we call it, don’t you? Depression must be feeling low and blue and sad and empty. But I wasn’t feeling that, so when a couple of people tentatively asked me if I was depressed, I answered no. I was feeling heartbroken existential panic and at any point in my day there was this yawning pit of overwhelm and exhaustion and despair waiting to swallow me up. This is my depression. My body uses what it can to push me forward – rage, exercise, hard physical work (the rock by our house was denuded of ivy during this period, I even got to use power tools!) – even though I’m overwhelmed and don’t know it and don’t know what I’m actually feeling.
It stinks, and it robs me of my voice, and I see now that it has been with me for a long, long time in varying degrees of intensity.
I look back on that time and realize that it would have been a harmless thing to have asked for help from a doctor or a counsellor or some other kind of “official” person. But I was too afraid, even if I’m not really sure what I was afraid of. Maybe mostly afraid of finding out that my beliefs about my inherent flaws were actually true. My wobble at the level of the first and second, and even third and fourth chakras was immense and my voice was able only to express anger freely – not overwhelm and heartbreak and emotional devastation.
So I didn’t ask for help. I struggled on through it mostly on my own. And it was fucking hard, and, I guess it must be said, totally typically me. I used to say self-deprecatingly of my cycling that I pedal ferociously harder uphill (really, I do). When life is awful I look to the places in me that need fixing. I’ve learned to ease up on this shit a bit in the last few years. It was the devastating reality of treating my children in ways that horrified me, and the fact that I was unable to will these behaviours out of myself, that drove me to dig and dig and dig into my unconscious and dark places. I got all mopey recently and complained to a friend that I could probably have cleaned up my life and my behaviour in a much easier way that would have spared my children a shitload of drama, and she pointed out astutely that, yes, I could have, but that I didn’t, and now I know intimately where I have been and the path that I took to get here.
And the thing is, my friends, that there are a million blatant and subtle ways that people, your family, you yourself, and life, have to thwart your ability to be in your body, to believe unquestioningly in your right to be here on earth with all that you need to thrive, to know your own feelings, to know your boundaries, to exercise your will, to let your heart break and heal, to speak your truth, to let your deep dreams grow real, to play with your life, and to know that you won’t be here forever, but damnit you’re here now, and that every bit of this sometimes shitty life is gloriously yours.
I marvel that people go about their lives carrying the intensity of pain that they do and still manage to look relatively together. And I get really, really angry at the level of awful treatment of each other that we consider normal. It makes me mad enough to jump up and down that we KNOW that abuse of all kinds travels down through family generations but that we haven’t yet found a way to stop it from doing so by supporting the ones who are abusing currently. It makes me nuts that we propose and enact laws that actively punish people who use drugs – those of us who self-medicate because the level of trauma is high enough that doing “normal” life is no longer possible – rather than finding effective ways to help them. With just a small degree of added trauma in our lives, any of us could be one of those people. Any of us.
How do you ask for help when nothing in your life up to this point has made you believe that you will receive it, and not some further pain? How do you push your voice into a world that has never made space for you to speak? How do you override the strong belief system that says that you are irredeemably broken to declare your place in the world?
If we have had a relatively normal, “well-adjusted” upbringing, and have reached adulthood looking pretty much together, we don’t really allow ourselves to look deeply at the unworkable script that we are living our life from. That thing of accepting a pretty high level of awful treatment from others as normal means that we accept a high level of internal abusive self-concept and self-dialogue too. We mostly do the best that we can with the degree of hampering that we are used to. We might consider that the dude on the street with crack sores is doing so very much worse than we are, so we struggle on feeling vaguely distressed but knowing that at least it’s not as bad as it gets. This is insane.
If I ran the zoo there would be a lot more tea and listening to each other without needing to speak again straight away. We could lay down the pretence of looking together and the need to be right or to know better than.
I guess I’m saying that your life doesn’t have to be a daily struggle with things falling down around your ears in order for you to wonder what you are carrying as an internal script. Perhaps that script could do with a little editing so that more ease and joy flow into your days. Perhaps you need some help digesting the life that came before this moment so that you know what ground you are standing on. This is all ok.
And if you are, or were, the person on the street with the crack sores, or with however an analogous degree of emotional damage showed up in your life, then you might have a longer road to go to find clarity and a strong voice and joy of any kind. I’m glad you’re still here. I’m glad you’re struggling on and looking for your ground. You have the right to be here in a healthy body with your whole voice speaking your story into listening ears. And if you don’t believe that, then it might be time to find someone who can help you believe it, as a step towards wholeness.