I lost my voice when I was a child. I’ve told the story too many times, and now it’s time to tell the rest of the story. How I regained my voice, the one I came into the world with. My authentic voice.

A few nights ago, I attended an on-line seminar about stories and myths and how we can begin to believe they are so true that they color every aspect of our being. But they are just stories.

In an exercise, the facilitator had us remember our scars. Physical scars. Emotional scars. Any kind of scar on any part of our body. She had us hold our hand on our chosen scar and ask the scar what it had to say to us. I chose the scar from when my horse kicked me with both hind legs right in my stomach. She was spooked, untamed. I was 15. I have told this story so many times, trying to figure out its many complexities. But I had never addressed the scar directly. Never asked it for a message. What message do you have for me? I asked the scar.

Do you have to be kicked in the gut to speak up?

The answer came so fast, and was so insightful, that I was speechless.

The truth kicked me in the gut. Too many times, I remained quiet when I should have spoken up. They came to me one by one, the times I didn’t listen to my deepest feelings, didn’t ask questions, didn’t speak up, and yes, got kicked in the gut one way or another. It was a pattern that played out in many arenas.

The next morning, I wrote for some time about this message from my scar. I wrote with more clarity about my horse story. Getting kicked in the gut is painful. Over the years I had concentrated on the parts other people played in the story. What became clearer this time was the part I played. The honest look at how I rarely spoke up, rarely admitted my fears, rarely asked important questions. What the message was saying to me was: If you speak up sooner, more honestly, more authentically, perhaps you won’t take a kick to the gut. Being authentic allows feelings to be spoken: fears of looking ignorant, being incapable, not knowing. or not living up to a standard someone else has defined.

I’m learning a truth about story telling. What we focus on becomes our truth even if it’s not helpful. In my old story, there was always someone else to blame. But blaming is like giving away control. I always had a choice, and that choice was to speak up. Hey! I’m not capable of training an unbroken horse. Hey, I’m scared. And any number of other heys in other situations that didn’t involve horses but did involve kicks in the gut.

It’s time to let the old story go. That’s another thing my scar told me.

Do you have to be kicked in the gut to speak up?

Why, no. I don’t. I can choose to speak up.

The stories we tell – to ourselves and to others – have so much influence on how we choose to live our lives. It’s like when I take a photo-hike. I put my zoom lens on my camera because I love to shoot landscapes. But there have been times I forgot to check the lens and had my close-up lens rather than the zoom. Which lens I carry determines what I see. When I have the zoom, I look at the big picture, the landscapes, the mountains, the tall trees, the waterfall. When I have the close-up, I look for details: buds, bugs, leafs, patterns, shadows, ripples in the water.

So it is with stories. Which lens I look through is what I focus on, what I notice, and what I reinforce.

This morning I asked a new question. Not how did I get kicked in the stomach and how many times and what were the circumstances. This time I asked who and what and where and how have I developed my authentic voice? I changed the focus. I chose to reinforce the positive experiences rather than repeat all those times I coulda, shoulda but didn’t speak up, ask, admit, whatever.

Focus.

I can choose to notice and appreciate all the people and events that helped me and continue to help me develop a stronger voice. An authentic voice. Not based on fear but on honesty and questions and not knowing, and not being afraid to not know.

Maybe I could even create a mantra to help me. The power of a mantra is you repeat it over and over and it becomes stronger. It becomes true. I had been repeating the kick-in-the-stomach mantra for a while. I’m choosing to change the lens.

I have and use my authentic voice.
I have and use my authentic voice for the good of me and for everyone I touch
.

Yes. That could be so.

I began a chronological listing of people and events that gave me confidence in my voice. I started with my fifth-grade teacher who was just about the best teacher in the whole wide world. I went on to high school, college, first job, second job, on and on. The first thing I noticed was a string of very capable, articulate women. Thank you to each one of you. My mentors. My friends. My teachers. My encouragers. You gave me a model and showed me possibilities.

I listed characteristics people have attributed to me – but only the ones that built me up. Because, again, I can choose to focus on these, make them stronger, repeat them and find ways to LIVE THEM FULLY.

Inquisitive, curious, creative, determined, compassionate, caring, happy, joyful.

What if I repeated these words every morning? What if I chose to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and not mess with Mr. In-between?  (NOTE: one day I’m going to write an entire essay built only on song lyrics.) What if I totally cut out the self-critical traits and recognized these other ones? Nurtured them. Watered them. Allowed them to grow. Bit by bit they would take up more space and there would be less room for negativity. I have easily and openly owned my negative traits. Why not the positive? Yes. Why not!

There were four books that came easily to mind:

  • The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck
  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  • A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

There are dozens of others, but these had specific messages I needed at the time I read them and still speak to me today.

I was surprised at how easily all these positive experiences and people came to me. Then I realized I had to include “the negatives” because they also helped me develop my voice. I started with my fourth-grade teacher who was disillusioned, short-tempered, and scary. I went on to events in high school. (Who doesn’t have events in high school?) On to a couple of bosses, job situations, family events.

I had already identified the big kick-in-the-gut events, but now I knew they were probably crucial. I needed so much assurance, so much encouragement, more than anyone knew since I wore such a self-confident disguise. These kick-in-the-gut experiences brought me to my knees and made me come face to face with who I was at the deepest level: my feelings, my thoughts, my truths. My disguise could no longer fool me. At first, I could say things only to myself, but that was a big step. It took practice and baby steps to be able to say things out loud to others.

  • NO, I will not put up with this anymore.
  • NO, I will not be silent about that.
  • NO, I don’t care what you think of me. I’m through going along to get along.

Certain stories were so unconsciously accepted that it took a kick in the gut to make me aware.

It can still be scary to say what I mean, to ask tough questions, to own my feelings, to be persistent in the face of confrontation, to not rush to smooth things over because it’s uncomfortable for someone. AND to do these things in a way that honors the same in someone else.

Looking back, I realize that it was all important. The encouragements and the kicks. Every interaction. Every event. Every choice I made to keep my mouth shut or to speak up. It all contributed to who I am today.

Do you have to be kicked in the gut to speak up?

Not anymore, thank you very much.

I have and use my authentic voice for the good of me and everyone I touch.