Hearing Voices

shutterstock_158676188Two nights ago, Dave and I watched the season premier of Homeland, a show about a brilliant but terribly flawed CIA agent played by Claire Danes. At one point in the episode, her sister, who happens to be a doctor, says to her something like: “What’s wrong with you is so wrong there’s not even a diagnosis.”

Ha! I thought this was such a funny line. Then I realized it was kind of familiar, too. It sounded exactly like the kind of thing the mean voice I hear in my head on a regular basis would say: You’re such a fraud and a failure! You’re bad and broken in ways that go way beyond what it means to be a regular human.  

My sister has a lot of experience with this mean voice, too. Lately, she’s been going to Alanon, which has been a great help to her—and me, too. Last week, she called to tell me something she heard a woman say after a meeting that was so powerful to her she thought it might change her life.

Really? I thought. A single idea could change your life?  And then she told me what the woman said: “I’m single and I live alone, but I’m in an abusive relationship.”

Meaning, with herself.

Wow. My sister was right. This idea could change my life, too. Of course, the notion that we’re hard on ourselves is nothing new, but putting it in terms of being in a potentially abusive relationship is a fresh, helpful way to look at the importance of how we talk to and treat ourselves.

Especially when you consider that, apart from God, the relationship we have with ourselves is the most constant, lasting, and influential one we’ll ever have.

No wonder in recovery we emphasize self-care so much. Being in an abusive relationship with yourself is pretty much the definition of addiction, don’t you think?  So it goes to reason that healing this relationship would be a big part of what it takes to achieve long term recovery.

This was brought home to me in a real way yesterday when I got a  call from a friend who’s in the same treatment center I went to seven years ago. She, too, was asked to write a letter to herself about her alcoholism and how she intends to stay sober.

I’ll never forget how much I cried and how surprisingly healing it was for me to write that letter. And it was the same for my friend. Something about intentionally talking  to yourself in an encouraging, compassionate way makes you realize how much of the time you unintentionally talk to yourself in ways that bring you down.

So maybe it’s worth asking questions like these more often: If that voice in my head were incarnated into a person—what would our relationship look like? What do I put up with that I shouldn’t? How might I set better boundaries about how I let myself think and behave toward myself?

And since that voice in my head isn’t about to reform or leave any time soon, how can I respond to her in a way that doesn’t just antagonize her further? How can I show that hurt, fear-driven part of myself the kind of compassion I’d show a sick friend?

I need to think a lot more about this, and maybe you do, too.

In the meantime, as we watch out for the mean voice in our head, we can also listen—with all our heart—for the voice of love that comes from our soul, created in God’s image.

I hope you hear that voice often.

Hugs and love, Heather

Author: Heather Kopp at SoberBoots.com

Heather Kopp is an author and blogger who writes about the intersection of addiction and faith. Her memoir about her recovery, Sober Mercies, was published by Jericho, a new imprint of HBG (Hachette Book Group) in Spring 2013.

34 thoughts on “Hearing Voices”

  1. When I was in the pit once-feeling a failure in so many different directions I found a book called:
    ” The Gospel of Falling Down
    The Beauty of failure, in an age of success”
    By Mark Townsend
    It was just the book I needed. There is a chapter in that where it suggests writing a letter first from the “Little Me”; and replying as if from the “Divine Me”.
    I still have the two letters and was looking at them recently. Your post also reminded me.
    I love your words: “We can also listen, with all our heart, to the voice of love that comes from our soul, created in God’s image”. In other words, the voice of love from the Divine Me.
    Love and best wishes, Julia

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  2. I always thought that putting everyone else first was what a good Christian was supposed to do ~ even to the detriment of myself. Boy, did I misunderstand that one. Now, I look back and see that it all came back to me anyway. It mattered what people thought of me. I wanted to be thought of as a “nice” person, instead of a genuine person. So, I was nice to others and then secretly beat myself up to a pulp on a regular basis. I was full of shame and the fear that they would leave me if they knew the “real” me.

    I have come to appreciate that a clean conscience helps me to combat negative thoughts. Humility ~ and I mean real humility ~ the one that knows the truth (both the good and bad) about us is also necessary. If you have the courage to hear the truth, ask the positive people in your life. Try and be open to the good though. Ask yourself, “Is this true?”

    “Happy are those whose conscience does not reproach them,
    those who have not lost hope.” Sirach 14:2

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    1. Such an important point you make about humility. Humility, I’ve found, is the best antidote to the ego’s mean voice. It’s like the moment you agree and speak from your Soul–yep, I’m just a human being with lots of foibles and God’s loves me anyway–it takes the wind out of the sails of the Ego part of our psyche which can only think in terms of us being better than or less than. Humility is truth and there’s so much shelter there. Thank you for this!!

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  3. Growing up in church and being part of that culture my whole life, I never heard about self care until being part of a recovery community. And how I’ve needed the grace of self-care. Once again, thank you!

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    1. Isn’t that amazing? I never did, either! The whole focus was on trying harder to do a bunch of things better so that I could become a “stronger” Christian. Yikes. Exhausting. Utterly. But there was a lot of good, too. My church today is so not like that, thank goodness. It feeds and fills and sends out–but with the humility of knowing that striving doesn’t add anything to what God can do through us. Thanks for chiming in, Debby.

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  4. What a concept. I was just on a long walk with my spiritual advisor yesterday and I said the words, “I think it all comes down to self loathing…the drinking, the eating disorders, the bad men…Why do I hate myself SO much?” I am (as we all are) working on being better to myself and sober. It does seem that an abusive relationship with one’s SELF is the well spring of the alcoholic. Thanks for bringing it to light in a fresh (life changing) way.

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    1. Oh yes, yes, yes. Isn’t it amazing how much we are paradoxically out for ourselves and also out to get ourselves? I like the way I put that. 🙂 Ha. See, I can even say kind things about me this morning! I so appreciate your comments. Hope you’re well Marilyn, and thanks for your blog, too.

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  5. “If that voice in my head were incarnated into a person—what would our relationship look like? What do I put up with that I shouldn’t?” What great questions! Would I be a friend of mine? A roommate? Mortal enemies? Gotta think about this for awhile. I’m afraid I know the answer.

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  6. Until I quit drinking I honestly thought everyone had that mean voice in their head. The one that told me I wasn’t smart enough, thin enough, doing enough, good, wanted, etc.
    The one that hated me when I drank and hated me when I was sober.
    In my 10 months of sobriety I have silenced that voice. I have replaced it with a voice that comes from a place of kindness and love. Because I am not broken. I’m not flawed. I was just confused. And trying to drown it out with alcohol, starvation and exercise had worn me out.
    Being free from that constant beratement is so unbelievably freeing and relieving.

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  7. from high atop a hill in vermont, i am always encouraged by your words. i pop in from time to time to catch up…and i never fail to be moved. thank you miss heather 🙂

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  8. I always enjoy your posts and they bring me such comfort! I think we all are our own worst enemy. We are besieged by doubts at every turn and that mean voice is always waiting in the background to come forth and make us crazy. I get this all the time. I’ve been lucky enough to not give in to my weakness which is gambling. I honestly don’t miss it, and that is something living in Las Vegas, where it is even at the grocery stores. I am happy to even to able to sit at a machine while waiting for my roommate to finish shopping, and read my Kindle rather than play. But sometimes I will hear that mean voice. “Oh, come on, five dollars won’t break you while you are here waiting.” I am able to ignore that now. But, when that voice starts in about my writing, it is much harder to ignore. I’ve been researching and working on plotting my book for over two years now, and I don’t have too much done in actual writing. I will keep changing my mind and scrapping it and start over again. Then I will hear that voice. “No, you really can’t do this. You aren’t as smart as most all the other writers. All the successful ones have degrees, and you didn’t even finish your BA let alone an MFA. What makes you think you can do this? You will just embarrass yourself. You should probably just quit now because you will never be a success!” Sometimes I believe this and feel defeated. Then I remember a very important fact. That would delight Satan, the king of lies, too much! That is what he wants! He wants us to feel defeated and to hate ourselves. God wants to lift us up. That is when we have to beat the enemy down with prayer. It really works. I’ve had some spiritual issues lately and haven’t been as prayerful as I should be. That is when those doubts sneak up. When I talk to God about it, I feel calm and know that it doesn’t really matter if I have a degree, or how many times I change my mind about the book. We all succeed in our own time and with God’s help, that is always the right time after all. Thanks again, Heather! 🙂

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    1. Rebecca, don’t listen to that voice! Heck, I barely got in 2 years of community college! I was having babies instead. You’re a fabulous writer, as I can tell just from all your comments over the last couple years. I am such a fan of how you think. Go for it. It’s easier to keep that voice at bay, though, if you write because you want to and let go of outcomes and don’t define success in terms of selling it, etc. I know that’s hard, but it’s not a bad way to go. I wrote my entire memoir before I sold it and it took me YEARS. More than TWO. And a dozen versions and revisions. So encouraged by you today.

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  9. Hi Heather,
    Thank you!

    I wish I could hear that other voice more often. Lately, the “WTF did you just do?” voice is all I can hear, and it’s making my behavior, moods, eating, spending and just about everything else out of control too. I think it is my MO for handling stress, but it ain’t working so well.

    I keep hearing this other little voice telling me “you’re out of control,” but..

    But…I don’t know, I don’t know much of anything right now except it ain’t working.

    Me

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    1. Oh Nancy, you’re always so honest. I’m sorry you’re in that place. I know that place well. I hope God’s voice keeps waking you up over and over so you notice your thoughts and then take a deep breath and bring your attention back to your heart space where maybe you can hear that voice of love. In the meantime, I’m with you, friend. Life is SO dang hard it should be illegal. 🙂

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