*This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through, I may earn a small commission. Your price will never be affected by my affiliate link. On occasion, I also write sponsored posts, which help to run the blog as well. I thank you for supporting this space, so I can continue to share my journey and our family adventures. For more information, please visit the full disclosure here*
I don’t intend for this to be a sob story and I certainly hope it doesn’t come off as such. See, I grew up in a family that struggled. There were lots of struggles, some bigger than others, some with long lasting effects, some not so much. Today, I understand everyone has their own demons, so to speak, including me.
One of my parents struggled with addiction – alcoholism to be exact. My other parent struggled with the effects of that alcoholic relationship, co-dependency, (likely) depression, and additional issues that occurred prior to my parents meeting. It may be no surprise at this point, but both of my parents also were products of dysfunctional environments/families themselves.
As if all that wasn’t enough, I also grew up around domestic violence. No, not simply family violence (yes, there’s a difference). It wasn’t only about the yelling and the hitting, there were also elements of control and power.
I didn’t grow up in the worst of situations, but there are definitely scars and negative learned behaviors I still contend with today. Some of these things really scare me, especially as I’m now a parent, but others I know so well it’s like they don’t exist. Everything or nothing can trigger any of these behaviors, thought patterns, beliefs, yet I have learned how to spot and address them more quickly than not.
Today, I know and am very honest with myself and others, my parents did the best they knew how. In fact, in many ways, I’m sure my parents did better than they’d originally known how. Everyone does, including me, so long as you work at it.
It took me a good bit of time and work in order to believe this. I never believed my parents were bad people. There was a lot of anger, shame, fear, ineptitude, not being enough, and other negative emotions. I struggled immensely with depression at times. I tried to hide all these feelings, with extremely high expectations of myself and others, an immense amount of self-control, keeping quiet, and going along with others or allowing others to hurt or abuse me.
The work I did that eventually led to me giving my parents grace and compassion, also helped me to learn who I was – my flaws and my strengths. I began to see that my extremely high expectations and keeping quiet were hurting me. I started to get a real sense of understanding and insight into the way I approached people, situations, and conflict.
I used to be quiet, almost meek. I tried to stay hidden. I didn’t want to rock any boat I happened to be on. I didn’t want to be noticed. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I didn’t know how to find what I didn’t know, because I didn’t know what it was. If I wasn’t sure what the answer should be, then I didn’t answer. If I wasn’t sure what the next steps should be, then I wasn’t likely to take a step on my own. I didn’t have a voice – for myself or others.
I craved speaking up and out. I wanted to work with others and give them tools for their lives. Yet, in my training to do that, I didn’t find my own voice. I didn’t see myself as powerful. I didn’t believe I was as helpful to others as I really wanted to be, simply because I didn’t know or believe I even had a voice.
Eventually though, as I said, I worked through a lot of things. I began to recognize how much I was hurting myself by carrying around all that shame, fear, and those not enough feelings. I began to notice that in doing so, I was also choosing to allow others to use and abuse me. I came to terms with the idea that I have power too. That I can choose to do something with my power and I don’t need to yield to someone else’s power just because they want me to.
I also started to really learn and define, for myself, what positive emotions were. I learned there are stages of anger and sadness, but also that there’s joy and pleasure. I learned that I’m full of emotion and that it’s ok to be so full. I learned that all of my emotions have their own power and can be used for good or not. I learned that I can determine what I want to be part of. And, subsequently, I could actually begin to demonstrate to others similar things.
It was in that process, I started to find that yes, I could speak up about something. I could speak up on personal, professional, or social matters. I didn’t have to endure feeling threatened by someone else. I also learned I have the power within me to make my own choices and go my own path.
The sense of freedom from my own chains was unbelievable. It all happened in stages though, this discovering my own power and voice. I wish I could outline the exact steps for others, but I can’t. What I do know is that it takes practice. Tons and tons of practice. From the smallest thing, which is scary enough, to much larger things. It’s all about practice.
I started with simple requests and statements to use my voice. “I like these socks, I’ll buy more of them.” “I’ll call you after.” “I’m going out in the sun.”. Mostly, I started to voice my self-care on seemingly the most basic.
I gradually moved on to bigger requests and statements. “No, that’s not ok with me.” “I would prefer to get some sleep.” “I need to get groceries and then I will spend time with you.” “I don’t really like that place. I’d rather go here.” “I’m going to go to a show, you’re welcome to come.”. Again, more self-care, but with an emphasis on things I’d discovered I liked or trying something new I was interested in.
Later, I made my feelings and thoughts known on complex matters. “You’re welcome to stay here, but I will be locking the door at 11pm because I need to sleep for work.” “I don’t appreciate when you talk to me like that, I won’t respond to disrespect.” “I need some space, so I’ll be staying home. We can talk about this another time.” “This goal is important to me, I’m going to pursue it further.” “I will end the conversation, as I’ve asked you not speak to me like that.”.
I also recognized the patterns within my relationships with others. I took an honest look at my contribution to situations and relationship patterns and worked on those things. Was I attempting to control something which wasn’t mine? Did I want for someone more than they for themselves? Was I attempting to enforce my will upon someone’s life? Did what they were saying or doing in their own life negatively affect mine or was I inserting myself in a situation that wasn’t mine to hold or fix?
The instances in which the answer to these questions was yes, I knew it was my duty to step back. It was my responsibility to care for myself, as I am the only one with which I can direct. And further, I had to ask myself, was it useful for me to participate in any particular relational pattern or not? If I walked away from a situation or held onto a situation in my own mind and body that left me feeling worse, then it likely wasn’t good for me. I could choose to continue doing whatever that thing was or I could choose not to participate. Even in these choices, I could still care for the person.
In other words, I could choose the life I want to live or I could choose to follow someone else’s path. I discovered that it really was possible to love and care for others while not getting involved in their struggles, even if I was invited. I could give someone else grace, state confidence in their ability, and thereby also allow them their own dignity to choose for themselves their life’s path.
Finding my voice was so much about knowing who I am. What do I really like? What do I really want? What are my own thoughts and beliefs? Where would I like to go in life? How do I view myself when I’m alone? What do I bring to the table in relationships? What is my personal value and worth, to myself? How is it that I envision my life moving forward?
I needed to find my pleasures. Find what brings me real joy. Not just what feels good, but actually brings me joy. What are the things, the experiences, the moments that really gave me that child-like sense of wonder, excitement, peace, and joy? Once I found those, I realized that they’re the things that are mine. They’re the things that are mine. Once you discover those, my friend, you also will know the things that are yours.
It doesn’t matter much if someone else likes those things. Find the pleasures that are yours and hold them. Knowing that is one step towards finding your own voice. At least, that was an important step for me. Because, it’s only from this place that I truly know what I like, don’t like, am comfortable with, am not comfortable with, want, don’t want, need, don’t need, and on and on.
It’s from this place of knowing what drives me, what makes me feel good, what comforts me, what strengthens me, what grounds me, that my power is derived and, in essence, also my voice. It’s only from this place that I am actually living and moving forward through life. It’s this place of knowing myself fully that I can be better, maybe not every moment of every day, but certainly every day.
When I struggle with my own children, or, more aptly, when I struggle with myself in relation to my children, I have an opportunity to move forward to be better or I can hold my children back. In my relationship with my husband, the same is true. I can speak up and out in a moving forward fashion or I can sit in silence and be stuck. In my relationships with family, I also have these choices. I can stay still and stuck, as some family members unfortunately are, or I can keep moving and demonstrating the wonders and beauty of life and living. I can be a powerful force, just by being present and alive in my own life. I suppose there really is something to that idea you can “walk the walk and not just talk the talk”.
The Effort was Worth It
Today, as a result of all this work, recognition, and choice, I have a happy and free life. Of course, I have my struggles on occasion, but they’re not nearly as frequent as they once were. My days aren’t all peaches and cream, but even when things are rough, I’m much more apt to “catch” myself falling into an old pattern and look elsewhere. I do a good bit of gratitude recognition, perspective shifting, and choosing to see more than whatever feels heaviest at that moment.
Today, I wake up and fall asleep at night with calm and satisfaction, yes even on the tough days. I can easily spot the beauty in life, by simply looking out or up. I know that if I have a day when I’m not at my best, it’s not the end of the world and doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I also know that to speak my truth opens the door for others to speak theirs, yet if they don’t, it’s not my issue. Instead of entering (or starting) arguments with those I love, I can use my voice to state my piece and let the rest go.
Learning who I really am and the life I truly want to live isn’t only how I discovered my voice, it’s also how I use my voice. As, for me, finding my voice isn’t just about the past, or even the present, but more the future. I can live and lead, while leaving others the opportunity to choose their own path, setting an example for future generations.
<p-style=”text-align: center;”>Did you always know your voice? If not, were there significant events that led to you finding your own voice? Where do you believe confidence stems from?