I have voices in my head.
I think that makes me weird, and honestly I’m okay with that. The Voices keep life interesting. Their presence also makes me somewhat unique, if in no other way than the voices themselves are unique.
For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me. I never really mentioned the Voices for fear of judgment, worry that no one will believe me, and (the biggest issue) lack of trust that anyone could possibly understand. I don’t talk about the Voices with friends or at parties. I don’t tell anyone that “the Voices helped me figure this out.” The fact I HAVE Voices is permanently added to the list of “things you do not mention on the first date.”
It’s an act of consideration, really… I try to be fair and not creep people out. Most would have a hard time understanding that my “sitting quietly and thinking” time is less like a single chair in an empty room, and more like a family meeting. With eight people attending. And they all have strong opinions, they all “know what’s best,” most of them dislike one another, and most of the time they’re fighting about something stupid.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more comfortable talking about the voices. I think partly that’s due to being more comfortable with myself, my reality, and the cards I’ve been dealt, but even more than that my comfort level can be attributed to realizing just how much The Voices are a part of who I am. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world while listening to their dialogue. They also help me to analyze all sides of a problem, to see multiple perspectives. I’ve solved COUNTLESS problems that seemed impossible to resolve by letting The Erins argue it out during my otherwise preoccupied hours.
Over the last couple years I’ve learned to distinguish and identify the voices. I read somewhere that having voices in your head is fairly normal, and you’re not really crazy unless you NAME THEM. I totally named them. Label me as you see fit because of it, but having named them helps me a lot to understand from which part of myself the thoughts are coming from. I’m able to identify WHO is talking, to decide how much weight to give what is said, and what thoughts to dismiss when I hear things that aren’t productive or uplifting.
And now I’d like to introduce you to them.
Little Erin is the seven year old “me.” She exists as quite an accurate representation of the way I was at age seven. Age seven was the age I became self-actualized, and the year I realized that age equaled neither wisdom nor intelligence. In my more-ignorant-than-proud (yet still fairly accurate) mind, I was smarter than most adults I knew. My seventh year was the year my world opened up. It was also the year my world caved in. Hard things started happening to me at that age, things that changed me forever. In my mind age seven marks the death of any virtue I may have had, but before that point there also existed a world that was safe and hopeful and promising. My seventh year contained a turning point. Hope and pain stood in stark contrast on either side of that axis, but Little Erin exists on the side of hope. Little Erin is not yet hurt or hardened off by the world. She is innocent, trusting, and self-deluded enough to feel she can impact all things for the better. When I’ve got ideas, hope, and grandeur for “how to change the world,” those things come from her.
Across the room of my mind, standing in the shadowy corner with arms tightly crossed, broods my Gothic Self. Gothic Self was born into existence as Little Erin faded. Of all the people in my head I relate most closely to Gothic Self. She’s a deep, sadistic, moody, sexual, masochistic, ANGRY person that likes to cut herself and pierce every flap of skin on her body. She’s covered with tattoos, wears black eyeliner like a shield, drinks heavily, smokes cigarettes, and needs glue to make her blue-black hair stand up in spikes. Gothic Self is bitter, cynical, pessimistic, defiant, and cold. She likes to make people feel bad for their shortcomings and takes great pleasure in the failures of self and others. Gothic Self is pain. She is angst. She is fury. She is WRATH and she is RAGE. She puts up walls as thick as she can make them, because “if no one is close no one can hurt you.” Gothic Self HATES Little Erin and thinks she is is stupid, naive, weak, ignorant, and deluded. When headed at breakneck speed toward rock bottom of a downward, cyclic, depressive spiral, Gothic Self is the one that celebrates the decline. She rolls her eyes back in her head with blissful pleasure as the ground falls out from under her feet.
However. Gothic Self is also the one whose passionate fury fuels me to get back up and keep going once I get tired of sitting at rock bottom. When channeled correctly, anger has its place. Gothic Self is strong and determined and self-reliant. She learned lessons from the pain, grew strong because of the suffering. She is the most dependable, reliable, and well known to me of the bunch. She is the one I trust most and the one I feel most comfortable with.
Hovering miserably over the snack table in my head is Fat Erin. She is ALWAYS. ALWAYS. EATING. Fat Erin was never popular in school. She has horrible skin and no fashion sense no matter how much she tries to change either of those things. She got teased a lot, picked last for every team (sports or otherwise), and was forsaken by those she considered to be good friends. In second grade a group of girls decided one day that Fat Erin was “the bad guy.” They held their throats and made gagging noises and ran away from the poor girl every time she was within ten feet, made her the butt of every joke and the source of a lot of their laughter. One time a boy called Fat Erin over on the playground “to talk” but really to distract her while another boy kneeled down on the grass behind her. One shove and Fat Erin was on her back, skirt over her head, underpants on display, surrounded by laughing kids. Fat Erin gets second or third or ZERO place no matter how hard she tries. Her sister is “the pretty, popular one,” her brother is “the smart, promising one,” and Fat Erin is “the oldest.” Fat Erin has a lot of great male friends but none that would ever ask her out on a date, she has zero female friends, and she sits by herself on bus rides for sporting events because the other girls think she’s weird. Fat Erin wears huge, oversized male clothing to hide her physical self. Whenever I feel gross, fat, disgusting, insecure, unworthy, or self-hatred, Fat Erin is the center of attention. Fat Erin is sad, lonely, and desperately wants to be worthy. She wants some friends to know her for what she really is, then accept her and like her anyways. She wants GOOD friends. Female friends. She wants to be one of the pretty and popular ones.
With the deepest part of her being, Fat Erin wants to be friends with the group of pretty Voices standing across the room.
Skinny is one of them.
Mia and Ana are the others.
Skinny is a voice of misdirected encouragement, the sign alongside the road to Perfect that points toward self-destruction. All self-destructive actions with regard to my weight, appearance, or capabilities belong to her. “Just one more pound, Erin.” She brings fashion magazines to Mia and Ana, points out all the women that are smaller than I am, sets unreasonable and unrealistic expectations for what my body should look like. Skinny is a voice of pure, self-centered, selfish desire.
Mia is the voice that tells me to eat until it hurts and then pay for it later with a monster purge. She is a compulsive voice of control.
Ana is the voice that tells me to stop eating until Fat Erin disappears. “Kill the Fatty” is her motto. She hates fat in any shape or form. Fat equals weakness. Ana is ALSO a voice of control.
One more thing I will say about those three is that they are horribly mean to ME, and all the others in the room of my mind. And rude. And judgmental and inconsiderate and selfish and stuck up, and they’re hateful of anything outside their idea of perfect. They’ve bullied Little Erin, mocked Gothic Self (although they’re kind of afraid of her), and laughed at Fat Erin for as long as I can remember. For a long, long time they were running the show and dominating conversation.
Not so much anymore. As of recently The Sheriff is in there, too.
It’s only just recently that I’ve given a name to The Sheriff. I’m pretty sure she’s been there all along, but only recently have the other voices been quiet enough that I can HEAR her. After a monster binge the night before, The Sheriff got fed up and started yelling at me one morning last month.
Her voice was like a beam of light in the dark.
She is strong, confident, and RIGHT. She is powerful. Decisive. Determined. She is uncompromising. She is WILL. The Sheriff makes the rules and insists that they’re followed. She decides that instead of listening to Mia at 10.45 at night, I hit the weights and behave in a way that I will be proud of the next day. She stares Ana into silence and threatens to smack the snark off her face when I sit down to eat a real breakfast. Maybe I didn’t hear her before because she wasn’t grown up enough? Or maybe she was just waiting for me to be fed up with the others. The Sheriff was silent for a long time, listening to the insecurities and fears of the other voices, never speaking up or drawing a line in the sand. She’s loud NOW, though. And things are changing. With her there is hope.
There’s still one more voice in there, and it’s the loudest one.
The last voice is the one that causes me the most grief. The most heartache. Every sinking feeling I get when I meet an obstacle to circumvent or mountain to climb stems from this last voice.
It’s the voice of Failure.
For the most part all the other voices, the Voices of Self, are on the same page. They’re mostly supportive of the same goals, the same dreams, and the same vision. Even when they have doubts or argue amongst themselves they’re pointing in the same direction because I am pointing in that direction. Failure, though… she’s not “on the team.” Gothic Self and Failure arrived about the same time, but while one came through the front door and was invited in out of need and self-preservation, the other slithered in through the crack under the dark, damp door in the basement of my soul.
The Voices of Self came from my life, my experiences, my thoughts, from the pain and joy and heartache and elation I’ve been through. I believe that the Voices represent different facets of my personality. As much as I’d like to say that I listen to one Voice at a time, they’re all IN THERE. They’re all ME.
All except Failure. That voice came from somewhere else.
Failure is the collective voice of all those that didn’t support, of those that hurt and ridiculed and expected much but were never satisfied. It’s the voice of the second grade girls that teased Fat Erin, the cruelty of the supposed-to-be-trustworthy people that destroyed Little Erin, and the target of Gothic Self’s rage. Failure is the reason Skinny, Ana, and Mia joined the party in the first place… she sent out the invitation, put out the welcome mat and opened the door. Failure sets the bar for “perfect” and determines how high I’m supposed to jump.
The voice of Failure is every cold shoulder received for failing to meet an expectation, every dismissive reaction Little Erin received when she shared a secret she was proud of, every cold dose of skepticism that loved ones deposit onto Gothic Self’s SO-HARD-TO-SHARE-in-the-first-place joyful news. Failure thinks I’m worthless and ugly and disgusting.
Failure tells me “you can’t,” and “you shouldn’t,” and “you won’t be able to.”
Failure has loudest Voice and is hardest to ignore.
And Failure is the easiest to believe.
“OF COURSE YOU FAILED, Fatty. You’re gross, and worthless, and disgusting. There is NO WAY you’ll EVER be more or better than what you are right now. Why are you even trying? Just stop trying. Look at Fat Erin. THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE. Look at LITTLE Erin. That’s how STUPID you are. Remember the workout you missed last week? YOUR FAULT. ALSO that’s why you’re so gross. Remember the second helping of dinner yesterday? And the cookie you ate for dessert the day before? And the extra egg with breakfast? FAILURES. YOU ARE SO STUPID, you disgusting failure. No one wants you. You’re ugly and fat and ugly some more. Your body is gross and your face is WORSE. You’re going to be ugly and fat forever. Just own it. Yes, that’s it… roll over onto your fat stomach, bury your disgusting face, and CRY.”
Failure is the easiest to believe.
Failure is a horribly intelligent version of myself and knows me better than all the other voices put together. I think that’s part of what makes her so painfully effective. Failure knows the location of every button, lever, and hole in my heart and mind. She remembers every mistake, every slip, every poor choice, and she is FUCKING RELENTLESS with her reminders. Failure will worm her way into any crack, crevice, or mistake and find the softest, tenderest, most sensitive spots to chew on. Once she gets inside one of those places she wiggles her barbed body around and scratches the raw edges of the breach she found to make it bigger and irritated and painful. She REMINDS ME THAT IT’S THERE with pain…. then she changes tactics.
“It sucks to cry, doesn’t it. It HURTS. I KNOW I HURT YOU WHEN I’M HERE. It’s SO HARD to keep going, it’s so hard to keep exercising and eating well. It doesn’t have to be hard, though. You don’t HAVE TO keep going. Hell, look at Fat Erin. She’s been through so much, let’s be nice to her and give her a treat. She DESERVES the food she wants. We deserve to just LET GO and STOP TRYING. Listen to Mia, let her hang out with Fat Erin. They’ll have fun. KEEP EATING. We’ll make up for it later with Ana. Ana is our friend, too. Crying and failing doesn’t feel good, so let’s just quit. Let’s just do what you’ve always done because that’s what you’re good at and that’s what you deserve. It’s going to be okay.”
Failure is SO EASY TO BELIEVE.
Almost all of my life I have been listening to the voice of Failure. I have allowed that Voice to dictate my actions and reactions. I have blindly accepted what Failure tells me, never questioning, always believing that what Failure says is true.
Want to know what I discovered, though?
Failure is a liar.
And not in a small way. Failure ONLY SPEAK LIES. Not one true or worthwhile or uplifting thing comes from the voice of Failure. Not one.
The voice of Failure is not to be trusted.
There are a few great things I’ve done in my life, a few accomplishments I’ve achieved. There are some people that love me for who I am and people who have said great things to me over the years. Failure, though, chooses to not remember those things. Failure seeks out those memories only so that she can paste over them with ugliness. Failure wants to destroy joy, hope, and light.
As of recently, though, The Sheriff is fighting back.
And that right there, friends, is the beauty of the Voices. Although Failure is the loudest and most obnoxious and most relentless and hardest to ignore and easiest to believe, THERE ARE OTHER VOICES. The beautiful, wonderful, world-shifting realization I’ve made is that I have inside of me somehow a badass, kickass defender against Failure, if only I will use her. If only I will listen to the right Voice.
We are not powerless to ourselves. We need not be victim to our failures and emotions. We get to choose what we do about things, how we react to things, and how we feel about things that go on around us. We get to choose how we react EVEN TO THOSE THINGS THAT GO ON INSIDE OUR HEADS.
The way we perceive the world around us determines our reality. The way we perceive the Voices in our heads determines our reality of SELF. Often we can’t control our ingrained thoughts any more than we can control the world around us, but WE CAN ONE HUNDRED PERCENT CONTROL OUR PERCEPTION. WE CAN CHOOSE WHICH VOICE TO LISTEN TO. I will choose to listen to the RIGHT VOICE. I will choose to listen to the Sheriff, and through that persistent drive to fill myself with light and hope I will determine a reality filled with those things. My reality will be one of success, and power, and life, and GROWTH, and my reality will move onward and upward.
We can determine our own reality. WE control our focus. We control our perception.
Just today Failure has tried to talk to me at least four times. Once at 5.30 when I chose to get more sleep instead of work out. “FAIL. You’re lazy.” Once when I reached into my drawer to pull out pants that are a bit snug (but are fitting better than they did two weeks ago). “FAIL, you’re still too fat for those jeans.” Once at breakfast for eating extra fruit. “FAIL, you’re going to be even more fat.” And Failure is telling me right now “don’t even bother writing this down, no one will care to read it.”
All four of those times, behind the overwhelming voice of Failure was the hard, strong, getting-louder-every-day voice of The Sheriff.
“Keep going. You are worthy. You are strong, you are DOING WHAT NEEDS DONE. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Keep pushing. Keep going. Keep going.”
And so it is a choice. Choose to listen to Failure, or fight. Fight every day, every time, every moment to listen to The Sheriff.
And IT IS A FIGHT.
FIGHT to be who you want to be. PUSH to go where you want to go. Let no voice, not even the one on the inside, determine your reality for you.
Find your Sheriff and listen carefully.
“Just. Keep. Going.”