The Art of Doing Life Episode 2: What Thrives in Silence

Episode Description

Well. This episode didn’t go according to plan…and that’s okay. Breathe. Remember that self-compassion and the creative process can (and should) co-exist. In this imperfect episode, I explore the gifts and risks of silence and why pain and trauma need a place to live.

Note: This episode contains a content warning. The content note and timestamps are below (view content warning). Please listen with care.

  • 21:05-23:02 Mental health challenges affecting college students, suicidal ideation, suicide
  • 23:40-25:33 Obsessive-compulsive disorder, emotional abuse (referenced, but no details)
  • 28:26-29:06 Disordered eating and self-harm behaviors


View a selective list of organizations that offer direct services and provide education programs and initiatives to address eating disorders, intimate partner/domestic violence, mental health, and sexualized violence: ⁠Resources

Episode Highlights

  1. Perfectionism has entered the chat…
  2. Why I’m celebrating myself right now
  3. Content warnings: What they are and why this episode has one
  4. Meet the two voices that live within me
  5. The ways in which pain and trauma speak to and through us
  6. Story sharing and giving pain somewhere to land

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Episode Transcript

Friends, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. 

None of this has gone according to plan. None. Zero percent.

I wasn’t planning on doing this, but here we are. 

As I’ve been preparing to publish episode two of this podcast, I have gotten lost in the details and logistics. I have been trying for way too long to find the perfect sounds for transitions and background music. Then last night, I asked myself, “What if you just…didn’t have music?” 

I sat with that possibility for about three whole seconds, and then immediately countered with, “Yeah, but I’ll know that there was the potential for this episode to have musical accompaniment that could have made it so much better, and it will haunt me.” 

Then, I remembered there is such a thing as self-compassion, and I asked myself, “What is the most self-compassionate action you can take?” 

And I chose that. 

So, what you have coming your way is episode 2 without any background music or transitional sounds whatsoever. It’s just me and my voice. 

Interestingly, the topic of the episode is…silence. Make of that what you will.

Someone might be listening and think, “Why even tell us that? You could’ve just let us believe that the choice was an intentional one.” 

I could’ve done that, sure. 

But, I live in a world in which so many things we encounter on a daily basis are polished and seem as though they became that way almost effortlessly. Many or most of the podcasts on these apps have whole teams and people who specialize in their production and in making them sound flawless. I don’t have a team. What I have is me…and the most basic of skills when it comes to audio. 

And one of the reasons this podcast exists in the first place is because I want to explore how creativity interacts with mental health. 

Perfectionism is a barrier to many people who engage in creative expression, and my perfectionism shows up in ways such as spending hours (and I mean hours) trying to find the perfect audio to transition from between segment 14 and segment 15 of a podcast episode. 

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with showing what a learning process looks like or being transparent about some of the emotions that can arise in a learning process.

So. As I’m thinking about perfectionism and other barriers that often challenge us as we try to bring art and creative work into the world, before we head into what I did have planned for episode 2, I have two messages I want to share with you.

The first message is from Alexandra Franzen, one of the co-founders of the Tiny Book Course, which is the course that helped me create and publish my book. Alex and her co-founder, Lindsey Smith, encouraged all students in the course to make imperfect art. During a check-in meeting, a classmate shared how she had been feeling overwhelmed by the book creation process and was having difficulty due to perfectionism. What Alex offered in response was so lovely that I had to write it down, and I have revisited the course recording so many times as I needed the encouragement myself. Here’s what Alex said:

What I’ve come to believe is that excellence and perfection are not the same thing. Perfection is not attainable. Perfection is like this target that we can never reach. Whereas, excellence is attainable. Excellence means ‘I set an intention for my book. I poured my heart into this book. I sincerely want to make a positive impact on my reader’s life…I’ve put forth the best that’s within me at this time, and I’m putting this book out into the world knowing that it’s not perfect, and it never will be, but it’s as excellent a book as I can possibly create at this time.’ Something can be flawed and still be beautiful. And something can be flawed and still make a positive difference in the world. Someone can get up on stage and deliver a powerful speech that changes peoples’ lives, and they can cough and hiccup and maybe forget their words at one point in the speech, but it doesn’t matter. Those little hiccups and bumbles don’t matter. What the audience remembers is the story, the voice, the message. That’s the impact. That’s the power. Your book can have mistakes. Your book can have a typo or two. Your book can be flawed and imperfect, and it can still be incredibly powerful and valuable for your reader.

Alexandra Franzen – The Tiny Book Course

The second message I’d like to share with you is from me…from episode one. (Because, apparently, I have a short memory for these types of things, and I need to hear them over and over and over again.) Here’s what I said:

What I am learning is that those of us who wish to create amidst these hard things need to make processes that work for our specific situation. We need to give ourselves grace to show up for the work we want to do in the specific, unique way we need to show up. So if that means that we need to disregard or disobey best practices or rules that we’ve always been taught when it comes to creating, then we disobey.

Danielle Shontae Smith – The Art of Doing Life Episode 1: Creating Things While Falling Apart

So, friends, with grace and self-compassion, I present you with the imperfect episode two of The Art of Doing Life.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Art of Doing Life, the podcast about creating things while falling apart. I’m your host, Danielle.

It’s been a while since my first episode, and there’s good reason for that.

Amongst other things, I recently started an intensive outpatient behavioral health program because my mental and physical health have been in shambles for a long time.

How’s that for a beginning of a podcast episode?

Well, around here, it’s on brand. Because here at The Art of Doing Life, I explore the intersection of art, creativity, mental health, and chronic illness. And I would like to open today’s episode by taking a moment to celebrate myself. Because I reached out to my medical team and told them that I had been growing increasingly concerned about the state of my mental and physical health, and I asked to take a medical leave from work to focus on getting better. So that is what I’ve been doing.

There was a time when I would not have been able to advocate for myself, and so I celebrate that, even though I am engaged in some difficult but critical work to heal. Someday, I will possibly share more details about my experience and what I’m learning in this program, but today is not that day.

Today, I have a message I want to share with you that I hope will be as impactful for you to hear as it was for me to create.

But first, I want to introduce you to an organization that is engaged in some incredible community development work. My aunt and uncle, Jan and Marvin Malone, founded an organization called “A Seat at the Table,” a non-profit organization based in Palmdale, CA. This organization is committed to the growth and development of children and families in the Antelope Valley. Their work is centered on building transformational and sustainable personal and community development initiatives to address important needs in their community—such as mentoring services; teen pregnancy support; after-school care; family counseling; entrepreneurship and college prep programs for community youth; and other programming based on community needs.

A Seat at the Table also hosts several events, one of which is called My Beautiful Self, a full-day event designed for women to gather in community with other women to self-reflect on and share stories of struggle, moments of courage, and their many, many triumphs.

Last year, I had the incredible honor of being the keynote speaker at My Beautiful Self. It was a day filled with incredible story sharing (which is my favorite thing), poetry (my other favorite thing), dance, and affirmations. The event also showcased female entrepreneurs and small business owners in the area. It was such a life-giving experience! I felt so blessed to be in that space and in community with so many talented, powerful, phenomenal women.

That day, many of my friends, family, and supporters weren’t able to attend, so I thought I would use this platform to share my message with them and with a broader audience that might enjoy it.

Content Warning

Before I share my talk with you, however, I want to provide a content note, also known as a content warning. Content warnings are a somewhat controversial, polarizing topic, as there are those of us who are wholly in support of them and then there are others who find them unnecessary or have other critiques. I plan to speak more in depth about that subject in a future episode. But for today’s purposes, I will give a brief overview.

For those who are unfamiliar, content warnings (also commonly known as trigger warnings) inform an audience in advance that subject matter may provoke a strong psychological or physiological response. The purpose of a content warning is to prepare the audience so they can make informed decisions regarding if, when, and/or how they wish to engage with the content.

You most often will see a content note on books, articles, blog posts, or other content that contains sensitive topics, as some readers may find the content upsetting. For my purposes, in my work, I write and speak about subjects such as disordered eating and body image, mental health conditions, abuse, and sexualized violence. I strive to include only as much detail as necessary to share the story without providing graphic descriptions that could be retraumatizing or distressing (to me or my audience). To honor that, I write or speak about some topics in general terms or with brief references only.

I share this with you because there are references in my talk that may be sensitive for some listeners, so I wanted to let you know. I briefly mention emotional abuse, disordered eating, self-harm, and suicide. The mentions are brief, but they are present.

If you feel that you are in a place where hearing any of that may potentially cause distress, you may skip that part of the episode. The timestamp is also in the show notes.

NOTE: For this transcript, I have provided the option to skip any or all of these sections. As you approach the section with the content in question, you will see the option to skip ahead to the section directly after the end of the content. I’ve also added space around each section to minimize the likelihood you will inadvertently read content you don’t wish to see.

  • 21:05-23:02 Mental health challenges affecting college students, suicidal ideation, suicide
  • 23:40-25:33 Obsessive-compulsive disorder, emotional abuse (referenced, but no details)
  • 28:26-29:06 Disordered eating and self-harm behaviors

All that said, however you decide to engage with this content, your choice is valid.

Thank you for your attention during this mini-lecture.

Here is a lightly revised version of my talk “What Thrives in Silence.”

To get oriented, I want to start with an activity that I have often shared with my students when I have taught classes. I’m an educator, and most of my work concerns students who are in a period of transition—specifically, the challenging transition from high school to college.

At the beginning of class periods, I would check in with my students. Often, I would ask two questions:

What’s the state of your heart today?
What do you need?

So, I’ll share the state of my heart with you.

I have to admit that lately I have really been struggling with my mental health, and the way that I can honor myself and you is to show up in a way that is authentic and honest. I vowed some time ago to never again show up in any space and put forth an image of myself that was inauthentic—one that smiled on the outside while everything inside of me was disintegrating. I chose never to do that again, so that means that sometimes I show up in spaces when life is truly hard, and I won’t smile and pretend that it’s not.

And so, as I speak to you now in all my vulnerability, what I need is to honor the promise I made to myself to always tell the truth, because, in my life, choosing the alternative—choosing to struggle silently—was slowly killing me.

And so, what I need is to spend some time with you here telling you some truths.

When Jan called and invited me to be the keynote speaker for My Beautiful Self, she shared the details with me then said, “If you want to take some time and think about it…”

I said, “I don’t need to think about it. I’m going to tell you ‘yes.’ And here’s why: Because a former me would’ve said an immediate ‘no,’ or told you I would think about it, then overthink it and let fear take over.”

After we were done speaking, I hung up and stared at my phone for a while, then put my phone on my desk and backed away from it, with my hands raised and said, “What did I just do?!”

My hands were shaking, and I remember looking down at them, thinking, I don’t know what to do with my hands.

I often have a visceral reaction such as that when I do something that feels brave or scary or vulnerable.

And, recently, it just hit me that I have these two voices inside me that are constantly battling back and forth.

The first voice is the original impulse within me that wants to say “Yes!” or does say “Yes.” And this is who I really am at my core.

And then the second voice is fear. It’s my socialization and my conditioning. That second voice that shows up and says “Be cautious!” or “Maybe not.” That’s the societal messaging that I have internalized that makes me think that I’m not worthy or that I’m not good enough or that I will fail.

In the past few years, I’m finding more and more that the first self, that true self, is speaking louder than the second voice. Maybe that second voice will someday disappear completely. Who knows?

But for now, I am so grateful to and appreciate whatever drives the voice within me that has said “Yes” and continues to say “Yes.”

Because, as mentioned, I have—for most of my life—said “no.” At times, it was a non-verbal “no” with my actions, which looks like letting fear direct my steps and not pursuing the exciting but unknown and unfamiliar path. It’s the action of walking with intention down the safe path.

At other times, it was a literal “no” to opportunities such as speaking engagements.

Or sometimes, my anxiety, fear, and self-doubt would render me unable to say anything at all.

In fact, I have a complicated relationship with silence.

As an introvert and highly sensitive person, I need silence to maintain my calm and peace. I can go long stretches of time just enjoying my own company.

Like the winter of 2015, when I had an illness that required me to take almost two months of medical leave. I was alone in my apartment, with no visitors, no internet, and no television—just me and my thoughts, for seven glorious weeks. I was content.

I thrive in the silences that I choose.

Many times when I am silent, I am using that silence to make a point.

These are tactical silences, and these strategic silences have often saved me. And having been in romantic relationships with emotionally volatile partners, there were times when my silence was necessary for my survival and safety.

Silence, for me, is part of my daily practice. And because I’m an internal processor, which is true for many introverts, I am not the kind of person who can be presented with information and immediately respond. I require time for reflection, and I can only engage meaningfully in this practice in pure silence.

I’ve chosen my silence in that moment because I need to take time to process what I’ve heard. I will respond, but I will respond later. Sometimes much later, and this often frustrates my friends, family, and colleagues who seek immediate gratification and are uncomfortable with my pause for contemplation.

But when emerging from that place of contemplation, I emerge with clarity and with decisions or wisdom that can often only come from introspection. And the result is always worth it. This trait is what makes me an empathic confidante, attentive listener, and a good educator.

These, I feel, are the gifts of silence.

As true as this is for me—that silence is a gift—there are risks to silence.

There is the silence I feel I need to assume because I believe my voice doesn’t belong in a conversation or space. When I don’t speak the truth that’s within me.

Over the course of my life, silence has taken the form of my not advocating for myself and my needs.

Or when I have had the opportunity to stand up for someone else, and I’ve said nothing.

There’s a difference between a silence that I choose and a silence that’s imposed on me or that I feel I need to assume.

When looking over my life, I’ve encountered many situations in which silence has not been a gift and has mostly come at great cost.

I saw it in my family growing up. I saw it in my friend groups. The harm that is done when we humans are faced with great difficulty or pain or trauma that goes unaddressed.

NOTE: The next section references mental health challenges affecting college students, suicidal ideation, and suicide. To skip this content, click here to jump to the next section.

Content warning 1: Mental health challenges affecting college students, suicidal ideation, suicide

One place where I have seen this most intimately, however, is with college students. In about 50% of people who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, the average age of onset is between 14 years to 21 years old for conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, stress disorders, addiction, schizophrenia, and depression.

As mentioned, I work in higher education. Here, we take young people at these critical ages, and we put them in an environment that is high pressure, competitive, criticizes and shames failure, and promotes perfection at any cost.

What we do is offer them mental health services and student support programs but continue the same practices and pressure and unsustainable pace that contributed to their crisis in the first place.

I have spoken to hundreds (possibly thousands) of students both in groups and individually. Many of the students I’ve taught or advised were experiencing the same struggles, but they never talked about it or never sought help. Many of them were deeply in the grips of mental health crisis.

One conversation I will never forget was with a student who was contemplating suicide because he was failing his classes and was terrified of disappointing his parents.

More than once, I have been on the staff or faculty of a university when students—having succumbed to these pressures—have taken their own lives, and I wept while reading the President’s devastating email to the campus to share the news.

So many students suffer silently, and when they look around them, no one else seems to be struggling, so they believe that their pain is individual.

Pain and trauma thrive in silence.

And sometimes that silence isn’t literal. Sometimes, our silences are masked as excuses.

NOTE: The next section references obsessive-compulsive disorder and emotional abuse (referenced, but no specific details). To skip this content, click here to jump to the next section.

End of Content Warning 1

Content Warning 2: Obsessive-compulsive disorder, emotional abuse (referenced, but no details)

To skip this content, click here to jump to the next section.

I encountered this in my romantic relationships with men. I told myself, “He didn’t mean to. He had childhood trauma, so it’s not his fault.”

Allowing harm to continue is an act of silence.

In my second year of graduate school, I entered a relationship with a man. Shortly into our relationship, I learned he had severe OCD, which I believe stemmed from childhood trauma that he told me about. I won’t share the details of what he experienced, because it’s not my story to tell.

What I did not learn until much later was that he was emotionally abusive. And I did not learn this until I spoke to a friend about what I was experiencing, thinking I was simply ranting to my friend about my latest relationship drama.

She listened to me speak—at length and for several minutes—then she said softly into the phone, “You do realize that you just described emotional abuse, like, exactly…right?”

A decade later, I still remember her exact words down to the pacing and the emphasis. I remember I was on campus in the student recreation center walking across the basketball courts, and when she spoke those words, I stopped in my tracks, because, right then, I knew she was right.

There I was with a limited understanding of relationships and having always heard people say “Relationships are hard!,” I thought that what I was experiencing was just my specific kind of hard. I thought, “Ok, this hurts, but I guess this is what it means to be in a relationship.”

End of Content Warning 2

So many of us live these experiences in silence and isolation. No one has been served well by keeping these experiences and emotions to themselves.

Researcher-storyteller Brené Brown who studies shame, says, “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot tolerate having words wrapped around it. What it craves is secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you stay quiet, you stay in a lot of self-judgment.”

Several years ago, I had brunch with a dear friend. I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but I remember her powerful statement: “Silence tells a lot of lies.”

Silence can tell you: Your voice is unimportant. You don’t deserve better. No one will believe you. You will be dismissed or ridiculed if you break your silence.

Silence is the lie that tells you that you don’t belong here. You are a failure. You are worthless. Something must be wrong with you.

It’s the lie that says to you: what happened to you was your fault. No one will understand. If you were to speak, no one would ever look at you the same way.

In the lies of silence, you believe that you are broken. That you can’t burden anyone with your pain, so you must bear it alone. That you’re the only one who has ever felt this way.

Not only does silence tell a lot of lies, but my silence had not served me.

Here’s the tricky thing about silence. Sometimes, the silence isn’t even just directed at others. At times, it’s directed at ourselves. When we refuse to face or don’t even admit to ourselves the pain we feel or the trauma we’ve experienced.

But here’s a truth I’ve learned and that a lot of us may suspect: Even if we refuse to face our struggles, pain, or trauma ourselves, our bodies do not forget.

Our bodies often make choices for us. This is why our mouths can say one thing, but our bodies and actions will say another. We experience headaches, body aches, chronic pain with no apparent explanation, and worse.

We carry trauma with us in our bodies.

NOTE: The next section references disordered eating and self-harm behaviors. To skip this content, click here to jump to the next section.

Content Warning 3: Disordered eating and self-harm behaviors

To skip this content, click here to jump to the next section.

Earlier, I said that for most of my life, I’ve been silent. That’s not quite accurate. No. I spoke.

I spoke for 5 years through my eating disorder by restricting food and overexercising. I spoke by draping myself over a toilet bowl and purging after every meal, if I allowed myself to eat at all.

I spoke as a teenager by slicing at my flesh with sharp objects.

End of Content Warning 3

Each of these actions were telling a story.

And what my actions were saying was, “I have pain with nowhere to go.”

My actions were saying, “I no longer have interest in ticking all the boxes on the outside: thin, polite, agreeable, nice, pleasant. While on the inside, I am slowly dying and suffocating, unhealthy, in need of nourishment.”

My actions said, “I am tired of caring more about being thin than I do about being whole. I’m tired of caring more about what others see on the outside than I do about what’s true for me on the inside.”

My actions asked, “What good is it to look composed if, on the inside, I am disintegrating?”

I have spent so much of my life seeking approval and external validation, abandoning authenticity in the name of perception. I now know that where I can make the biggest impact is by being honest. And to speak even when—not just my voice—but when my entire body is shaking.

I would be remiss in speaking about silence and not talking to you about feminist, warrior, poet Audre Lorde. In 1977, Lorde delivered a talk: “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” In her closing, she said:

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

In my life I’ve been told, “Speak up! Your voice is too low. You’re too shy. You’re too quiet. You don’t use a script at a TED Talk; that’s not what a TED talk is.”

And in the face of this resistance, I have made it my mission to spread the word that you matter, regardless of how you need to show up. Your voice matters, regardless of how it sounds or how steady it is. And your story matters, regardless of how you need to tell it.

I graduated with a master’s degree in English–Creative Writing. I’ll just say it, English majors can be snooty, pretentious, judgmental, and, honestly, sometimes insufferable. But we can’t really blame them, can we? Because they too are the consequence of an institution and culture that seeks to define what is acceptable and condemns all that lives outside of that definition.

We already have enough gatekeepers—those who believe their mission is to define what and who we are and can be. These gatekeepers will attempt to define what type of story gets to be told, how it should be told, and whether it is good or not—often leaving the realm of opinion and forcing their ideas as fact.

I say: Enough. Enough gatekeeping.

It does not matter how you put your voice in the world. Whether you need a script, post-it notes, or to stand silently next to someone else as they share your story for you. Whatever you need to do. Find and honor your authentic voice. That first, true voice. The voice that comes just before the doubt and the hesitation and the fear. As the author of your own stories, you alone decide where your voice belongs and how you express it.

I have given up so much of my power over the course of my lifetime, and I am over it. I lost decades of my life to people-pleasing, an insatiable need for external validation, and the endless, futile pursuit of perfection. I wholeheartedly reject that way of being now. Regardless of the consequence.

In the years since, I have been re-learning how to be in the world, with the audacity to seek wholeness and self-compassion and joy.

I spoke about what happens when pain has nowhere to go.

Upon recognizing this, I realized I needed to give my pain somewhere to land.

I started writing about it and speaking about it. I took my voice to spaces to talk about many things we don’t typically discuss. And in doing so, in participating in story sharing and story work, I began destigmatizing the subjects and lived experiences that had kept me silent.

I cannot tell you how many people have approached me after speaking at an open mic, after my TED Talk, or even after sharing my truth in a meeting at work. They wanted to thank me for my strength, vulnerability, and honesty.

But also, they wanted to share their stories, too.

So many of their stories began with, “I’ve never told this to anyone…,” and then they proceeded to tell me (sometimes a stranger).

I’ve had people tell me, “I feel that I can share this with you because you won’t judge me.”

And story sharing brought me face-to-face with what happens when we step out of the isolation that almost always accompanies shame. It introduced me to common humanity.

One of the three core elements of mindful self-compassion, common humanity recognizes that all human beings endure hardships, experience failure, and make mistakes, and these shared experiences allow for connection rather than the feeling of isolation that often accompanies struggle.

My most recent act of story sharing was to write and publish a book, A Map You Cannot Refold. In my book, I wrote about everything from health crises to internalized oppression, body image and my experience with disordered eating, abuse, sexualized violence, and mental health.

One might think that writing about these topics would be really difficult. Instead, it was therapeutic. I wrote about those experiences because I was tired of holding them. And what happened in the process was that—in writing my experiences very plainly and writing them in a way that a reader could understand—I was forced to be objective.

Throughout the book until the end, I didn’t really comment on any of the stories I shared. I simply presented the facts of the situation. Without judging it. Without putting any meaning to it.

To write those experiences, I had to first admit to myself they were real, which is one of the earliest stages of healing. What I was able to face, I was then able to share with someone else.

In the act of doing so, I released stigma and shame.

For me, writing this book and independently publishing it, gave me full freedom, which is something I have felt I’ve lacked my whole life. I had the opportunity to tell my stories, and I didn’t have to adjust my truth to fit a template.

There was no publisher who told me what I could write…or how. No one to say, “Danielle, you can’t have essays, poems, letters, class records, and medical records in the same book. You gotta pick a genre.”

Many times as I was writing A Map You Cannot Refold, I would write something then pause and think “Ooh…should I put that in? Should I go there?”

Then almost immediately, I would say, “I can do whatever the hell I want; it’s my book.”

It was important to me that I didn’t quote others too much or add quotations from renowned thinkers or philosophers—even those I admire greatly—because I wanted my voice to be loudest.

There are some names I didn’t share or people I wrote about vaguely because I did not want to have to ask permission from that person to share my stories that featured them.

I decided that I had spent long enough asking other people for permission.

Here, I’d like to read an excerpt from my book.

To give you a visual, the chapter begins with a heading stylized to resemble a class syllabus with course information. This chapter is called “Slam.”

One of my favorite quotes is from theologian and scholar Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I have said I wanted to change the world through writing, and I have. I changed me.

In the spirit of Howard Thurman: What this world needs is people who don’t believe their existence is a crime or a mistake.

People who challenge the narratives that worth and value have to be earned.

Over the last few years, I have been living much less by default and more intentionally and asking a lot of questions as I navigate the world.

I have begun to ask myself: Does this silence serve my purpose, or does it serve someone else’s purpose?

I’ve asked: What are some narratives that don’t serve me anymore or that don’t support my healing? Where do those narratives come from? Who authored them? And do I want this to continue to be my story?

I’ve asked: What would I do if I believed I am worthy? If I am valuable? If I deserve the desires of my heart? Not with any effort or change on my part, but because my worth and value are inborn.

And beyond this, I have asked: Who stands to benefit if I believe I’m not worthy? Who benefits if I believe I’m only valuable if I am perfect and therefore must continuously labor and overachieve? Who stands to benefit if I believe I deserve nothing?

Because—make no mistake—there are indeed beneficiaries of our self-denial and erasure.

Educator, author, and activist bell hooks once said, “Sometimes people try to destroy you precisely because they recognize your power. Not because they don’t see it, but because they see it, and they don’t want it to exist.”

Because if we believe in our own worth, our own sovereignty, we will speak and live accordingly. And just as trauma can inhabit and speak through our bodies, so can joy. So can self-compassion. 

You and your story matter. What does not matter is how you choose to tell it. 

I would like to end with a blessing:

May we give voice to all stories we had once contained in silence—however we need to unearth them. Be it a whisper or a shout. Standing before an audience or pen in hand with the journal page. 

May we remind ourselves that we may tell our stories however we need. 

We can tell them exactly like that.

You just listened to an adapted version of a speech called “What Thrives in Silence” that I delivered in June 2022 at My Beautiful Self, an event hosted by A Seat At The Table.

A Seat At The Table is a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide free or low-cost community resources and activities to the public and communities in the Antelope Valley. Their community development efforts would not be possible without collective action. If the mission of A Seat At The Table speaks to you, you can learn more about them and how to support their work at or on their Facebook page. The links will be in the show notes.

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