"There is no such thing as a neutral word... Either you are speaking life... Or you are speaking death..."
I heard somebody say that once. And I've never forgotten it.
I've had a lot of death spoken into me over the years. Harsh words. From multiple directions. Aimed in my direction. And at some point in there I guess I grabbed the baton. Started speaking death into myself.
There are things I've said to myself, about myself, in my car/apartment/shower that I wouldn't dream of repeating in public. That if I saw written in a book or heard on TV I'd think, "horrible." "Abusive." "Not okay." Words that speak - that have literally encouraged - death.
If I heard a parent say to their kid the things I used to say to myself on a regular basis, I'd call the cops. See to it that child was removed from the home.
And that's just what I've said out loud.
In my head it's a whole other story.
In my head I host a perpetual chorus, a gaggle of voices - some strident, some seductive, some sounding like specific individuals and others like nobody in particular - that can be relied on to say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time. Disabling me. Unmanning me. Reminding me of my place (small, in the shadows) in the scheme of things.
I know this is true for other people too. Because I've heard them make the same complaint. They've got voices in their heads they can't get rid of. Try as they might. Bigoted. Belittling. Shaming. Voices that sound suspiciously like their parents or their peers. Like a former teacher or boss. Or maybe an ex. Or exes plural.
Well if you're one of those people I've got bad news for you. I don't think those voices are going away. I don't think there's any cutting them off or tuning them out. I think they're there to stay.
So what to do?
The picture I always picture is a bank vault, stacked floor to ceiling with coins, all of them slicked with something black and shiny. Viscous. And each of these coins represents a word. And that word is death.
And there are thousands of them. These coins. Saved up over the 40+ years I've been alive on this planet.
And this vault - this account - is in my name. It belongs to me. Interest constantly accruing.
But there's a second vault. Same dimensions but nearly empty. Just a handful of coins lying in the corner.
And these are made of gold. And they speak life.
Some of these gold coins were put here by others. The rest were put here by me. But their number is few.I've come to believe it's my duty - my responsibility - to fill this second vault. My duty to speak life into myself until these gold coins balance and finally outnumber the coins in that other vault. The ones that speak death.
Okay. Great. How is that done?
Every day, several times a day, I say nice things to myself.
I talk to myself.
I talk to myself about the things in my life that I appreciate. The people and the experiences I'm grateful for. What I'd like to see happen for me and for those I care about.
I speak words that are warm. Generous. Forgiving. Words that speak less to "self-esteem" and more to self-compassion. I speak to myself like I'd speak to a cherished friend. Or like I'd want that cherished friend to speak to me.
I do it in the car, I do it in the apartment, I do it in the shower.
You can call it prayer. You can call it positive affirmation. You can call it cornball.
I call it life-saving. Or maybe life savings.
When I first started this practice I didn't even necessarily believe most of the loving things I would say to myself. But belief isn't necessary. Repetition is.
Repetition, for me, is the key.
You see I'm fairly positive I didn't come into this world believing that I was too much or less than or not enough. I don't think I came into this world with a hateful chorus echoing in my head. It was by virtue of repetition, because I heard these lies over and over again, that I eventually came to believe - or at least be open to the possibility - that they were true.
Well if that's the case I can play that game too. I can use the same principle - repetition - to balance the scales.
So I've been saying nice things to myself. Lots of them. All the time. Things that won't be revealed here because they're private. They belong to me and me alone.
But I'll tell you something miraculous. Some of the things I've been saying to myself (most of which I didn't, at first, believe to be true) I've started hearing in my head. Unsolicited. It would seem I've added a few new members to that mental chorus. Because now, when the more veteran members start in with their nagging/limiting/discrediting, someone answers back.
It's like I'm creating a new theme song for myself. Slowly but surely. An upgraded mental playlist offering support and assurance instead of sabotage and upset.
(On a side note, this is pretty much the same thing I do as an actor. When I get a new part I take the lines - written by someone else, about a character and a story completely unrelated to me - and I memorize them by repeating them out loud. With every repetition these foreign words and phrases become more and more familiar, gathering weight and meaning and texture until they're a part of me. Personalized. Ready to be spoken and brought to life when the cameras roll.)
I'll be honest with you - I'm not always in the mood to say nice things to myself. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes, yes, it feels a little silly. Sometimes it feels like I'm just going through the motions, like there's nothing behind the words as I say them. No energy. No passion. No enthusiasm. Sometimes they're just... words.
But on those days when I find I'm not in the mood, when it feels like I can't be bothered to give breath to my loving thoughts and wants for myself and others, I think of the death vault. Its dark coins stacked high. Four decades' worth. I think about how long it's going to take me to balance that out. How many deposits I'll need to make in that other vault, the one that speaks life. I remind myself that I've got my work cut out for me. And that I'd better get to it.
Then I open my mouth to speak. And when I speak, I speak life.