When speaking the serenity prayer in recovery, we are aware that the courage we are requesting is that which will allow us to change the things we can control – namely, ourselves. But, to do so, we must also find our voice.
Throughout our active addiction, we typically had no voice. In fact, many of us utilized substances or processes to prevent ourselves from speaking or even feeling. We may have been stripped of our voices in childhood through abuse or neglect. We may have been inadvertently cast in the role of lost child within the family dynamics of addiction. Maybe we were the aggressors or even the scapegoats of our families. So, we may have utilized substances and processes as a silencer to calm the rage and screaming. Conversely, it may have been a convenient excuse to turn up the volume and release the pent-up anger, dramatically or even violently.
And, then there are those of us who may believe that active addiction gave us a voice. It became our truth serum, so to speak, removing our inhibitions just enough to permit us the space to say whatever came to our hearts or minds.
In any case, we never really had our voice, at least not authentically. We were either silent or raging (reacting from a place of trauma or fear) or we were imposters in our own relationships, saying all the things we needed and wanted to say only to have no memory of it the next day. And, as we enter into recovery and lose our silencer, truth serum or our excuse to scream – our liquid courage – we are asked to share in groups, process publicly and engage with ourselves, families and our recovery community.
And so, again, our voice is desperately needed, as is the courage to change ourselves by not only respecting but also setting boundaries. However, in recovery, it may be that the idea of doing so isn’t the most comfortable thing.
Harnessing the raw (not liquid) courage needed to stay sober is one thing. But, speaking our truth and setting boundaries? It may sound like jumping from a plane without a parachute – nothing to cling to and no safety in the falling. It’s just a naked leap.
But, that’s recovery.
In recovery, we learn that substances and processes were always just a false sense of security and a heavy anchor rather than wings. We begin to realize that it’s not about being in control of the plane or in the safety of the cargo hold or chasing the thrill of falling. We come to see our potential and believe we can fly. Self-love gives us the ability to reach that potential, to soar high.
Boundaries, therefore, are key.
So, how do we find our authentic voice and set them in recovery?
Journaling your daily experiences, thoughts, and feelings can assist you in expressing your authenticity. It is an act of reparenting the inner child, which is where the authentic voice originates. Reparenting yourself begins with getting to know and properly care for you. When you take the time to sit with yourself daily and unearth and share privately that which you are going through, you are honoring your inner child and giving written voice to your childhood and adulthood experiences. You are also giving yourself space to observe where boundaries are needed or lacking.
Taking deep breaths into the belly assist in grounding you. This allows you to calm any anxiety or fear that surfaces in both unpleasantly familiar and full foreign and uncomfortable situations. Additionally, this brings you back to your own energy by centering you. With anxiety cleared and external energies removed or transmuted, you can speak and respond from your authenticity and set boundaries accordingly.
Healing deeply is also key. Sobriety alone is not recovery nor will it lead to the discovery or use of your authentic voice. It is necessary to treat more than just the symptoms of any dis-ease and heal the root cause. This requires a holistic approach, one which takes into account the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and energetic reasons substances and processes were initially employed.
This is likely to require the assistance of a helping professional or possibly a holistic team, as the depth of work needed may require objective facilitation and accountability. It is worth the dive, however, as any unresolved issues or unaddressed traumas further silence or distorts your voice. Moreover, the dynamics within the family of origin also play a big role in the ability to set and respect boundaries.
Write Letters, Unsent (Initially)
Beyond journaling and deep breathing and healing, there’s a need to speak to those who have accountability in the silencing or distorting of your voice. Writing unsent (initially) letters is a great way to begin. Though this technique is not about moving into a space of blame or shame (as some letters need to be addressed to yourself), this does allow the inner child an opportunity to speak honestly and gives us a chance to further reparent by advocating for ourselves – a key component of setting boundaries.
Additionally, this allows for the opportunity to begin setting boundaries within recent or current relationships by providing a safe way to practice what you might want to say. Eventually, these letters can be sent (if appropriate) to spark face-to-face communication that allows for your boundaries to be spoken.
As with anything else, using your voice and setting boundaries requires practice. It is not something that can simply begin the moment you enter into recovery. It takes time to get to know you, learn how to properly care for you and to honor your voice and boundaries. So, beginning with safe people (like counselors, coaches, sponsors, accountability partners, etc.) who will allow you your voice and the space to practice healthy boundary setting is a great way to practice. Once you get the hang of it, begin employing it in less comfortable situations.
It won’t be easy, and it requires a lot of courage. But, your authentic voice and the boundaries you set have the power to change everything. It will be worth the work.