Finding and owning your voice is a powerful, necessary thing. I wish it came easily.
I don’t like that I continue to struggle with getting started writing, and with keeping at it. That goes for my fiction work, for essays, and for blogging. Obviously I enjoy writing and find it constructive, and there’s plenty of journaling that goes on behind the scenes. There is significant catharsis to be had.
But I’ve been thinking about something that came up in our women’s autism support group early last month. I don’t remember specifically what the conversational context was, but one member spoke about her struggle to find and own her own voice. She mentioned not knowing when or how to speak up and share her thoughts and opinions, and just wanting to feel like her voice matters. I felt that keenly, because don’t we all want that?
This is, more or less, a big part of what I’ve been grappling with for decades—the idea that my voice, perspective, thoughts, and opinions carry any weight. This has shown up in everything I’ve done or attempted or considered, and especially in all those endeavors I’ve rejected or shied away from.
A friend and I like to joke about the saying, “God, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man,” but that is absolutely what has been holding me back. The fear of being wrong and being shamed and harassed as a result, because that’s what we do to women and to “others.” The fear of not being able to make my point as eloquently, concisely, or perfectly as I’d like. The fear of appearing just plain ignorant or vapid. And, of course, the fear that no matter what I say or do, it simply won’t matter because I don’t matter.
I used to think this was something I struggled with because I was flawed. I used to think if I could just find and replace that single burnt-out bulb in my string of twinkle lights, the whole strand would come to life and I would shine and sparkle without apology. I used to think I was diminished or broken because of my history of abuse, because of the alcoholism (in my family and in myself), and/or because of my chronic health issues. I kept looking for something I could fix, or at least something I could better understand so that I could overcome it or work around it, because I need and want to be a part of this world. And when I started learning about autism spectrum disorder and how it’s shown up in me and impacted my life all this time, I thought aha! Finally, this is it.
But no, it’s not.
I mean, yes, it’s part of my marginalization. It’s part of the “otherness” that has been drilled into me and led me to marginalize myself as I internalized the message that women aren’t equal; that abuse survivors are damaged goods (that women are “goods” in the first place); that alcoholics in recovery can’t be trusted or are always on the immediate verge of relapse; that people with disabilities, chronic conditions, and/or neurodiversity are irrelevant or worse, a burden. Like so many others, I’ve taken these messages into myself as “truths” that I can’t seem to eradicate, because even when my brain knows better, those same, formative fears still lurk in the shadows.
It’s not a revelation that I’ve been the one shutting myself up, sometimes not just in metaphor but in literal reality. I’m the one in charge, even though these false lessons learned have resulted in my being my own jailer. And then in acknowledging this, I add self-judgment and shame to my burden. It’s a dark and precarious carnival ride that is completely invisible, and silent, to the outside.
Those fears listed above—and quite a few others—remain, and they’re quite real. Anyone who has experienced stalking, bullying, and violence can attest to that. There is danger in making noise and attracting attention. I have been and continue to be afraid to lift my voice, to crack wise on social media, to share deeply felt opinions and concerns, and even to tell stories in various lengths of fiction. It’s an incredibly shitty existence to lurk in the shadows, occasionally darting into the sunlight only to retreat again, knowing that I’m the one choosing the dimmer places because of this foreign programming I can’t seem to shake.
It’s not so much about finding my voice as claiming it, stepping into it and being comfortable there, day after day. It sounds like a simple thing, but I don’t know how to do it for more than a few minutes at a time.
But I keep trying, to one degree or another. Because I’m a stubborn and resilient cuss, I guess. Even writing these words is deeply uncomfortable. Sharing them in a blog post is a monumental step in the moment. But then this moment will pass, and my effort will probably go largely unnoticed, and I’ll find myself settling in the comfortable shadows again, which is both where I feel safe and where I do not want to be.