This first time I remember feeling this feeling, I was about 7 years old. My parents had recently divorced and my dad had come to pick me up to spend some time together. This was a rare and much anticipated event throughout my childhood. I was sitting in the passenger seat, looking down at my clenched fists and clamped together knees, bursting with things I wanted to say to him. But I could’t speak. I felt my throat closing in, I was literally “choked up.” Aside from polite “yes’s, no’s,” and “thank you’s” I was quiet.
Shutting down became my M.O. When I was upset I simply wouldn’t talk. I didn’t want to yell and scream, that didn’t seem like me; also it was a way of controlling the situation when I felt out of control. It wasn’t just anger that made me shut down, it was sadness too, or anxiety, basically any negative emotion. I never wanted to burden my family and friends with my problems; a nod to the old adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Once in college, I didn’t speak to my mom for months. I did the same thing to my best friend. To this day it bothers me that I treated them like that.
Later on when I got into relationships I continued this pattern. I wouldn’t fight or argue. I wouldn’t listen to my partner if I hurt them, or tell them if they hurt me. I would just freeze them out until one of us thawed. It was always them.
There were other factors at play here as well. I didn’t like my voice. I thought it was weird, to nasally or something. I wished I sounded like the other kids in my school and I wondered if the sound of my voice was annoying to people’s ears. I tried to speak differently but it was exhausting and never stuck.
Years later, when I started DJing, people would ask me to do shout outs, etc. I would lie and say “The mic is broken. Sorry!” If it was the manager or owner of the club, asking me to do last call, (who knew they had a functioning mic,) and I absolutely had to, it would be a clammy, awkward, red-faced, indiscernible mumble. Yikes. It’s hard to write that!
I didn’t really spend much time thinking about how strange all of this was. I did however begin a spiritual journey into plant medicine. We would sit in circles, drink tiny amounts of powerful plant tinctures, and do our work. Some people sang. I loved it. Everyone sounded so soulful, so unique. One day I was called on to sing. Again-that feeling. I wanted to burst out from the depths of my soul, but the choking was back in full effect! This time I knew I had to face it. I choked out a short, disjointed poem/rap I had written, through sobs and tears. It broke my heart wide open.
Have you sung in front of people lately? It is a very healing and revealing action. I had a flashback to the last time I did it. I was 3 years old, visiting a school that I would go on to attend for 8 wonderful years. (Shout out to Sprout House, all its rad teachers, and the rad humans who’s radness was certainly facilitated and cultivated there!) I was with my mom and we were being shown around the classrooms to get a feel for the daily routine. We walked into a room of singing children. Mrs. White, (to this day, one of my Sheroes) was at the front of the room, her guitar perched on her lap. She was leading the songs. I was standing in the back with my mom, enthralled. The other kids were sitting on the floor crosslegged, intently watching Mrs. White, waiting to join in on the next song. She called out “Does anyone have a song they would like to sing?”
I let go of my moms hand and raised mine.
“Ryan! What would you like to sing?” -Mrs. White.
Instead of naming my song, waiting for her to play her guitar, and all singing as a group (which I later found out was the etiquette of the class) I marched up to the front of the room with zero hesitation. I faced the kids, took a deep breath, and belted out the hottest jam of the moment: The theme song from Sleeping Beauty.
“I knoooow you, I walked with you once upoooon a dreeeam…” etc
I was swaying back and forth, hitting all the notes, feeling myself. But a few lines in, I noticed the look of sheer terror on my mom’s face. ‘Dang’, I thought in my little baby head, ‘Am I f-ing up right now?’ (In my memory, baby Ry has a gangster inner monologue.) I don’t remember if I finished the song. All I came away with was feeling like I had done something truly wrong.
That was the last time I sang.
Fast forward about 30 years. (Shoom!) I joined a band, Tyrone’s Jacket. I was getting on bigger stages, in front of larger audiences. Again, it was time to face this issue head on. I went behind my bandmates backs and started taking singing lessons. In the beginning, we didn’t do much singing. Mostly I just cried and tried to muster up a few notes between waves of uncontrollable emotion. But eventually we got to singing and it was/is wonderful. By learning a little bit about how to sing a song, I learned a lot about how to use my voice. As in, how to communicate a more honest version of myself. How to be present enough to recognize that choking feeling and know that in that moment it is absolutely pivotal to breathe and speak with impeccability. Not perfection, but impeccable honesty, in other words to say what I really mean. Not to clam up, not to say what I think someone wants to hear, not to put my words through a filter of worry over what others might think, but to speak directly from my heart.
Sometimes it brings tears out, but it is not sadness or hysterics and shouldn’t be seen as such. I think it’s it’s that little girl who stopped giving herself that chance to express her feelings out of fear. Fear that her father might leave her. Fear that people would not like her. Fear that she was not good enough.
Now, as I type this, I am surrounded by love and support everywhere I look, and the true blessing is that I am aware of this. When I am faced with a situation that makes my throat tighten, or the tears well up, I smile to myself because I know the magic is seeping in and cementing the tiny remaining cracks in my heart, and I am grateful.
I am also aware that the courage to share these words is riding on the wings of countless other women who are voicing their truths. I hope that in some small way, I can add to the momentum of this movement. We have let ourselves be silenced for too long. Our thoughts, opinions, and are not just valid, they are absolutely necessary to the survival of the planet at this time. As women, we have innate healing abilities. The earth, the animals, and men, need our skills, intellect, and grace now more than ever. Love who you are, and let that be the medicine that heals the world.
Love and Respect,
Photo by Good Vibes Photography