It’s ironic that I posted last week about losing my voice in a metaphorical sense. Or is it merely coincidental? In any event, the fates have conspired to relieve me of my literal voice for the past few days and consequently, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking (particularly since on the very day my voice left me, my computer was struck down by a virus and left me as well. I am typing on the mini keyboard of our netbook and am praying that I don’t accidentally delete this post when I rest to think).
I’ve lost my voice two other times in my life. The first time was in my sophomore year of college, when I drank too many Midori and orange juice cocktails (with lots and lots of vodka) and spent an epic night puking in the second floor bathroom in House G. Four days later, just in time for Thanksgiving, my voice abandoned me. I thought it was cool. I sounded like Demi Moore in “St. Elmo’s Fire.” For someone who usually sounds like Mariel Hemingway in “Manhattan,” who still gets, “Is your mom home” when telemarketers call, this was novel and fun.
The second time wasn’t so great. It was a little more than five years ago, during the time my eating disorder was becoming entrenched. I was coming to terms with the fact that my life was becoming less and less like the life I had dreamed about and imagined for myself. I was losing my dreams and worse, was losing any hope of finding them or other dreams to replace them. I started to question the relationships in my life and felt lonely and alone. But when it came time to talk about this stuff, I couldn’t. The words weren’t coming out the way I wanted them to, and when they did come out, I couldn’t make people understand the way I really felt. One night, I found myself locked in the bathroom, howling and screaming in frustration and despair for my life–my health, my family, my marriage, my (non) career, and my soul. Not surprisingly, the next day, I began to lose my voice and had to cancel my first appointment with the therapist I’d be working with for the next three years (who I left, again ironically, because I didn’t feel that she was really LISTENING to me).
This time, it’s a little different. I didn’t go on a drinking binge to prime myself for a night of partying. I’m still a little reserved and shy around new people, but no longer need to tie one on in order to get past those feelings of inadequacy that always popped up in college. Nor am I dealing with the drama from The Night Of The Bathroom, which was (in retrospect) largely a self-inflicted event. You can’t blame people for not listening to you when you’re not telling them what you think. No, I don’t think this is like that at all.
My mom used to get laryngitis. She didn’t have much of a voice, either. She was sweet and kind but was also angry and frustrated and it’s interesting that when I try to be sweet and kind, just like her, not hurting people’s feeling, not stepping on others’ toes, I wind up being angrier and more frustrated. So I try not to be. I have been practicing using my voice more and more. I don’t have to be unkind to tell people the truth. When the truth is a hard truth, the person I am sharing it with might be hurt or taken aback, but I am learning that it’s better to be honest and risk hurting or alienating someone than hide my true feelings and risk acting out, either against that person or against myself. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s scary, and I still find myself tiptoeing around issues, trying to spin things so they’re difficult to understand (“But I TOLD you this; why didn’t you listen?”), or considering hiding things altogether. The difference is that I know the downside now. I’m not protecting the people I’m hiding the truth from and I’m hurting myself at the same time when I don’t use my voice.
I’m acting like a grownup.
So how did I lose my voice? Honestly, I think it’s just one of those things. I had a sore throat for a few days before and wound up pushing myself just a little too hard on Thursday, teaching three classes back-to-back and schlepping around for about eight hours before my voice cried “Uncle!” and gave out. The last time I lost my voice, the significance of the event was so clear, and the first time I didn’t even know I HAD a voice. I wish I could attach some type of cosmic importance to this event, but I can’t.
Still, it’s been an interesting two days and it’s given me quite a bit to think about. I love the idea of these last two episodes of laryngitis being bookends at the beginning and the end of my bulimia. Things have been so, so good on the eating front lately. What I find most encouraging is that I’m trying to remember my last binge/purge episode, with those horrible feelings of lethargy and depression, and I can’t. I don’t want to forget how bad those times are, but the fact that I can’t pinpoint how many days or weeks I’ve been abstinent seems to indicate that I’m not white-knuckling, counting off minutes until I fall off the wagon into my next binge. It would be wonderful to have these two concommitant episodes of laryngitis be the starting point and the ending point of my eating disorder.
I’ve also learned that I don’t need a physical voice to exercise my internal voice. My family listens to me just as well, if not better, than they do when I speak at normal volume (or yell, which I am ashamed to admit that I do more than a little). I am forced to choose my words more carefully and so I need to say what I mean, not what I think they need to hear. An added bonus is that husband and sons, all loud talkers, are whispering back to me. Not only is our dinner table quieter and more peaceful, we are all laughing at their mirroring. I guess it’s true: you do get back what you put out.
Having something you take for granted snatched away from you is always eye-opening. I’ve written about it before in a gratitude post, with respect to my physical health. My voice means different things to me now than it meant five years ago. As a teacher, I depend upon my voice to connect with my students. I had to give up teaching a class yesterday that I had been looking forward to (not usual for this ambivalent yoga teacher) because there was no way I could connect with a roomful of students for the first time without speaking. As a human being in this world, I depend on my voice to open doors to relationships, to share bits of myself with others. Paring things down to their essence, as I’ve had to do with speaking (and with writing emails and texts on my iPhone, when I’m all thumbs), has taught me that sometimes you don’t need to say as much as you thought you needed to as long as you say what is essential.
It’s quality over quantity. It’s truth over illusion. My physical voice may sometimes lead me astray, but as long as I listen to the voice of my internal compass, I will get back on course.
Thank you for this gift.