Amy C. Willis
My Week of Involuntary Silence
In September 2019, I wrote a raw and vulnerable piece for She Does the City (SDTC) about the impact my dad’s addiction and death had on my own struggles with addiction and how ultimately, his death served as a subconscious wake-up call, showing me that I needed to create significant change in my life if I didn’t want my journey to end as his did.
While I had previously shared parts of my dad’s story and the impact his death had on me, this piece felt a lot more personal than previous sharings had and after it was published, I felt over-exposed - as though parts of my soul and heart were visible through the reading of this piece.
The day after the piece was live and out in the wild, I received a beautiful, heart-felt message from a woman named Nadia. She read my piece and it resonated deeply with her on many levels. She, too, had lost a family member unexpectedly and also had experiences struggling with addiction. In addition to sharing how my words connected with her, Nadia shared that she was creating a one-day women’s empowerment symposium that would be happening in January 2020 and she wanted to know if I would share my story and experiences about addiction at this event? I would be speaking for 45-60 minutes in front of a crowd of approximately 200 women and was I interested?
If I’m being entirely honest here, after reading her message, I immediately closed the Instagram app (where she had messaged me) and put my phone away for a couple hours. My vulnerability hangover from the publication of the SDTC piece was causing me to feel overwhelmed. I had received a lot of really positive messages from people who had read my work and while I loved that my words touched so many, responding to everyone was emotionally taxing in that moment.
A few hours later, I returned to Nadia’s message. Something in me told me to say yes to her invitation to speak at her event, which was surprising to me because up to this point, I genuinely hated public speaking. For as long as I could remember, the mere thought of speaking in front of people made me wildly nervous and frankly, I avoided it at all costs. I believed that I was not a public speaker. Yes, I had experiences speaking in front of groups of people but I hated all those experiences and if I’m being honest, the discomfort I experienced because of speaking probably came through in how I showed up in those moments.
Based on this, you can understand why it was surprising, even to me, that I felt compelled to say yes.
As part of my coaching training, we had received some training on how using stages, aka speaking in public to crowds, could greatly benefit not only our coaching practices but would lead to having greater impact on more people. It was for this reason - and this reason alone - that I was even remotely interested in speaking (and set a very casual goal of starting to think about looking into speaking in the near-ish future). But again, even while I was going through the training on public speaking, the mere thought of speaking in front of people made my stomach feel anxious.
Just to really hammer that point home: while I was alone, in my home office, completing an online training about public speaking, I conjured enough anxiety to make my stomach uncomfortable at the thought of speaking in front of crowds of people. Side salad: if this isn’t a great example of how powerful our thoughts are and the connectivity of the mind and body, I don’t know what is.
With all this in mind, I boldly said yes to Nadia’s invitation.
I spent the next 3.5 months prepping my ass off for this talk. Not only in terms of what I was going to say (I shared my own story and struggles with addiction as well as the impact my dad’s death had on the trajectory of my life plus some of the tangible tools I used to create change in my life, moving myself out of active addiction and into my power) and creating an engaging visual experience for audience members but also in terms of deepening my knowledge on all things addiction, habit change, mindset work and resilience building and - very importantly - finding and amplifying my voice and learning to use it in a powerful, confident way.
Flash forward to January 12th, 2020, one week before the event. I had been sick the week prior and was so grateful that I was on the mend and that I hadn’t gotten sick the week before my big talk.
And then it happened.
I lost my voice. Fully. Completely. Entirely. It was gone and I was mute. 7 days before the speaking event I had been preparing for since September.
I tried EVERYTHING I could to gently coax my voice back. Check out this post on IG for a full list of homeopathic and woo-woo remedies that I tried.
Nothing worked. Or perhaps I should say that nothing worked terribly quickly.
By the time I posted on IG, I had gotten to the point where the only remaining option for me was to surrender. Yes, I could gargle with salt water, drink only warm beverages, and hoover as much Homeovox as possible but at the end of the day, I had to relinquish whatever false sense of control I had over the situation, accept what was and simply let it be.
As the days of being silent wore on, I noticed that it was starting to impact my mood. I was already quite stressed at the possibility of not having a voice for my speaking engagement. Rescheduling wasn’t an option. Neither was not delivering my talk. People had paid a lot of money to attend this event and I was contractually bound to deliver. And to be perfectly honest, I was counting on the pay cheque that came along with this speaking gig.
Stress and worry aside, in the absence of my voice, I felt like a significant part of myself was missing and I couldn’t do anything to bring her back.
On top of not being able to speak, I had an incredibly isolated week. I had to give away all my classes (I teach indoor cycling), I had to reschedule all coaching calls and cancel all social events because I couldn’t speak and I desperately needed to rest my voice in the hopes that that would speed up its return. I’m very much someone who loves being alone but this forced silence and isolation was a lot, even for me.
In my days of silence and solitude, I came to realize that over the years, I had taken my voice for granted. It was always there, whenever I needed it and I assumed that it always would be so when it disappeared, it felt especially devastating.
Now more than ever, I am extremely grateful for my voice, its strength, its power and how essential it is in allowing me to show up in the world as my most authentic self. In addition to the lesson in surrendering (which was critically important in ending my own suffering around the loss of my voice), the most significant take away from this experience is that I don’t have to lose my voice to appreciate it and that having a voice that I can use daily is an incredible gift that I no longer take for granted. It’s a disservice to myself and my community when I stay small and keep quiet because I’m worried that people won’t care what I have to say or that my words aren’t important (which is the typical fear-based narrative that runs in my head, trying to persuade me to stay silent).
Beyond that, this experience has re-affirmed both the importance of sharing our stories and the knowing I hold within me that all our stories are worthy of being told and our voices are worthy of being heard. Please learn vicariously through me and use your voice now, as much as possible and as frequently as possible because you have a message and a story that the world needs to hear and know.
#useyourvoice #publicspeaker #publicspeaking #speaking #raiseyourvoice #resilience