May/June 2023

Finding Your Voice: Losing, Finding, And Having A Voice

Finding Your Voice: Losing, Finding, And Having A Voice

Something profoundly shifted when I underwent tongue surgery – in the aftermath, I found my voice. The surgeon had told me on the table that the procedure (to remove a benign saliva gland stone) was unnecessary. However, I’m a pathological people-pleaser and went through with it against my inner voice’s intuition. Shaking like a leaf, gaping bloody hole, extreme self-aversion, insecurity.

One month later, my tongue has 50% less reach, dead flesh in my top lip, stunted articulation, numbness, pins and needles. Overnight, I became a health-rights advocate, desperate to have this pointless, traumatic, painful, and debilitating operation banned! What’s the point? Saliva-gland stones dissolve back into the mystery after five years or so anyway…

I had always felt like I’d been de-voiced: belonging to invisible and marginalised communities that haven’t had access to the microphone, ignored by the music industry with its norm set predominantly to a young white male rock/pop band model, self-loathing, introverted and shy, experiencing extreme discomfort with self-promotion and a history of vocal issues (nodules, cyst) and frequently losing my voice.

Given my state of suicidal ideation, I was forced to take action. Finding and using my voice became a matter of survival, a literal ‘do or die’. I felt like I’d lost something and urgently had to find it. Concepts of losing and finding became a therapeutic meditation.

Due to the adverse effects of surgery, I became acutely aware of…

  • What wasn’t fully functioning that once worked effortlessly well. The focus on deficit and dysfunction created great suffering. Shifting focus exclusively onto what was still working was essential; my vocal cords, the rest of my body, mind, playing piano, writing, and everything that is me.
  • My expertise in healing when no post-operative care or information about recovery is provided by the hospital or health system. Sometimes it’s hard to accept the wisdom and truth of your inner voice, but, at times like this… it’s all we’ve got. Connect with your experiential knowledge of what works (… or contact me and I’ll guide you through)
  • Not rabbit holing down into negative hydroslides. Concentrating entirely on the positive, reminding myself of what I want. Actively ignoring the doubting self-loathing regretful victim voice. Ignoring difficulties in my ‘current reality’. Making my goal emotional well-being.
  • The wholeness of, and how the vocal ‘apparatus, body, mind, spirit’ work and fit together. As with the blind experience, when part of the system goes down other components take up the slack and work harder. There isn’t any lack or loss, rather everything is gained: improvement, awareness, evolution.
  • Not taking anything for granted. I’m focusing entirely on healing – working adamantly to restore as much function in the tongue and face as possible, through tongue and facial stretches. Like Cinderella, I’m making the most of what I’ve got – making miracles of what’s available.
  • How an accident or surgery can change and/or take away everything and anything in any given moment. This surgery became a reset button to activate, use, enjoy and appreciate my voice. No more complacency or feeling like I’ve got all the time in the world. Though it wasn’t a near-death experience per se, it was considerably traumatic, and had a similar effect.
  • The notion that ‘finding your voice’ represents not just what you sound like, but what you have to say. Can I speak up for myself? Express myself? Voice an opinion? Speak on behalf of my community, beliefs, or issue? Am I comfortable being heard, using my voice, being listened to? Does my voice represent me as a person/artist and what I have to say? What/who do I wish to represent?
  • The urgent need to complete personal projects. It was a wake-up call, catalyst / karanga to; record my poems as a Substrack subscription, recite these NZM Finding Your Voice columns into an audiobook, record my next album, activate a global Blind Pride campaign, set up an artist-led peer support network for songwriters. It’s showtime! Potentially, all could’ve been lost. I felt like I’d been given a second chance.
  • Silence perpetuating misrepresentation, invisibility, misunderstanding, exclusion, and misery.
  • An acceptance that even if we’re ignored or unheard, we still need to create, express, collaborate, and use our voices (regardless of outcome or response)
  • Being the only person to represent and express myself. We can have allies and assistance, but ultimately no-one can speak/sing/write for you but you.
  • Being so egregiously misrepresented, misunderstood, or disrespected that you MUST voice your truth to set the record straight.
  • Speaking now reminds me of my shortcomings in diction, articulacy and stunted vowel shaping. However, I feel freer when singing as I can exaggerate mouth-shapes, turn on the face and use the Technique Almighty that I teach. Though it’s still different, I’m trying to make singing a safe healing space, a refuge.
  • The self-abandonment of ignoring my inner voice is way too high a price to pay. The regret of doing so is overwhelming.
  • My voice being who and what I am and so much greater than just part of my tongue, lips, and mouth (and how well they function).
  • The concept of losing and finding a voice. Where/when did we have it last? And when we find it promising to love, respect, use it wisely, appreciate it more and take better care of it. Take safety measures so that it’s not so easily lost again.
  • The feeling of not having a voice (and when that was most acutely felt). Not being consulted, considered, having a right to speak or ‘a say in the matter’ (as a group or individually). This new responsibility may feel unsafe but is ultimately liberating.
  • Being criticised, ridiculed, silenced, maligned, unheard or abused makes us feel as if we don’t have a voice. It hasn’t disappeared. Our voice is still there, it just needs to be coaxed out of hiding and strengthened.
  • Resistance becoming the fuel of revolution. To resist oppression and injustice is better than feeling defeated and powerless.
  • Now that my voice is found, I’m never going to lose it again!
  • Our voice is who we are, we can never lose who we are.
  • Defending my proposal to CNZ used my voice in ‘self-defence’, instead of my usual: giving up.

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