Finding my voice

When I approached the presenter at the cancer caregivers workshop to share my reaction to her words about hope, she responded, “I wish you would have said that at the mic.”

At the end of each presentation, we were invited to come to the mic and ask questions or share reflections.

But, I don’t do that; I don’t share in front of groups.

Ironically, I love public speaking and have done a fair amount of it for my nonprofit work. But there is a difference between telling other people’s stories and sharing my personal stories. Other people’s, ok. My own, not so much.

As a child, I was told that what happened in our house stayed in our house. We also did not talk inside our house about anything that happened. I felt invisible, as if no one cared what I was going through—or even noticed that I was there. I didn’t seem to matter.
vulnerability-faith-hopeBy my late twenties, I was an emotional mess and started going to therapy to help me process growing up in a chaotic house and to reconcile my past.

However, growing up in a home where I was told never to talk about what happened made sharing extremely stressful. Every time words formed about an experience or feeling, an alarm would sound inside my head. Do not say that!vulnerability-faith-hopeI was incapable of identifying what I was feeling, much less talking about it.

Early on in therapy, I shared one of my earliest memories.

I was four years old, playing in my back yard, when I found a dime. What luck! Even at that young age, I knew a dime could buy me something special. I remember how shiny it was and how fortunate I felt. And then my older brother saw what I had and claimed it was his. “No!” I shouted. “It’s mine!” He tried to take it from me, and I knew he would triumph, so I swallowed it.

My therapist commented, “And you have been swallowing every challenge since them.”

I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr talk about our shadow side, and he described it as a sack where we stuff all the negative things from our lives. The image that popped into my mind was of something like Santa’s bag—this huge sack, dragging behind me. I could feel the weight of it pulling me back.

My shadow bag was filled with twenty-eight years of negative experiences that I had swallowed and tamped down deeper and deeper.

As I began to unpack my shadow bag in therapy and at retreats, and look at my history, I started to realize that surviving those experiences had made me who I was; they had made me strong and resilient. Learning to talk about it—especially at the mic—is still a work in progress.vulnerability-faith-hope



6 thoughts on “Finding my voice

  1. dslyon

    Well, you got me at “But, I don’t do that; I don’t share in front of groups.” Since we worked together at early ages (me 18…you…HOW OLD WERE YOU IN 1972???), I always felt like we BOTH were never at a loss for words! But we now know that “words” can mask feelings, etc. We’re both still “works” in progress, and as Psalms 139:14 proclaims, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Yes, Debbie Sue, I have rarely been at a loss for words, but those words rarely revealed the deeper truth of my brokenness and vulnerability. I can so easily use words to show my strengths and cover my weaknesses. Writing this blog has helped me so much to speak my truth–both the strong and also the vulnerable sides of me. Psalm 139 is an all-time favorite of mine, reminding me of how intimately God knows and loves me–all of me.

  2. Lee

    Looking back to 1972 I feel we all outwardly portrayed that we had it all together …. we were fortunate to be good with our words to cover our baggage …. due to being “busy” for the last four decades with children and work and aging parents, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about the past and its effect on my life …. your blog takes me back and makes me reflect on so many things, some fondly, some “not so much”. I appreciate you putting into written words many things that I just keep in my head.

  3. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    Since Debbie Sue’s comment, I have been thinking of how I did not talk about my “baggage” but I know it was visible through my actions, attitudes and emotions–leaving room for lots of speculation. Having the words to name what shaped my early life allows me to present a more honest portrayal. I have been reading about Adverse Childhood Experiences (traumas) and their long-term health effects on adults. At the recent workshop I attended, a presenter talked about how when animals encounter an “enemy” they fight, flee or freeze. But once the danger is over, they shake it off and forget about it. We, on the other hand, carry those “enemies” and the traumas they caused.

  4. Lee

    I think it would be interesting to see from each of our perspectives what we actually knew about unspoken baggage of each other during those years when we worked together. I’m not sure that I ever thought about the “why” of any of our behaviors … especially mine. Most of my “baggage” has been buried for many years and did not rear its ugly head until recently and I had to examine the past/present correlation and reflect on a myriad of things that I just stuffed down inside ….. Due to adverse health effects I ended up in doctor offices and therapy to address so many things that I just didn’t acknowledge … still working through it and probably will be forever, but these things shaped who I am and I work on not dwelling on them ..
    … and I’m okay.

  5. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    Lee, At one point in my life, I did what you suggest. I asked people from my past what they thought of me–how they interpreted my behaviors, etc. It was interesting to hear other’s perspectives–and how much they did not know about me. I hope your health has improved–both physical and mental. In the spiritual life, embracing our shadow side is an important step to freedom.


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