Write Your Story; Your Voice Matters
For as long as I can remember, I was passionate about books and stories about life. One of my favorite books from childhood was, “B is for Betsy,” by Carolyn Haywood. The description from Google Books: “Betsy is scared about going to first grade, but it turns out school is a great place. She learns about tadpoles and the true meaning of Thanksgiving, makes new friends, and has more fun than she’d ever imagined.”
That is where this thread began. Reading stories about how people navigate life. What happens when you are afraid, or you have a loss or trauma? How do you go on and live your life? In addition to books, I was also in love with film and art and music and photography, all of the creative ways that people tell a story or portray emotion. It is still fascinating to me. How do we tell our stories?
Fast forward to studying Social Work and Human Sexuality in college, I wanted to help people. Then, the marriage to an abusive alcoholic, a hell of a divorce, the loss of a child, a life-threatening illness, the death of my second husband, an eviction, which led me to start Heal My Voice, an organization that inspires women to heal a story, reclaim personal power and step into greater leadership. In learning to heal myself, I was ready to help others and to write my personal stories for deeper healing.
Backing up a minute, to fill you on a few details:
1985: During my first marriage, I rediscovered stories written by women. I started going to a monthly woman’s circle and weekly Al-Anon meetings, which helped me to reconnect with my writing voice. I began to journal and record thoughts and feelings for myself. I began to process what was happening in my life.
1990: When I got married the second time, I began to invite people into our home. The first book circle I organized was for men and women. We read John Bradshaw’s book: The Family. The book is about emotionally impaired families and how to heal. After the first meeting, I remember a conversation with my husband where he expressed how impressed he was with the way I led the group. He said, “I had no idea you could do that and you were great!” It’s funny how in those moments, a seed has been planted that we may not even be aware of at the time. I was just happy to have turned a corner in my life where I could invite people into my home to have deep conversations about life and feelings. No more secrets. My husband saw that there was something in the conversations and leading the circle that connected me to my passions and unique gifts, and he encouraged me to do more.
1997: The book circles expanded into women’s groups. We read The Celestine Prophecy and The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold. Themes of spirituality and creative expression, recording our thoughts and feelings in journal writing and expressing them in circle discussions and artist dates. It was in the circles that I began to learn about the dynamics of women’s voices. I saw the imbalance in sharing, and who would speak and who would be silent, and how that limited the connection. I saw the moments when the flow in the group opened each of us to express more.
Words to describe my activism are seeker, spiritual peacemaker, writer, and a Transformation Guide who leads people to move from grief to joy, from confusion to clarity, from the old way of living to a new, more dynamic relationship to life. After the death of my husband and the birth of social media, I started to blog and share my life on Facebook. Instead of reading women’s stories, I began to tell my own. Always the peacekeeper in my family and friend groups, I learned that the willingness to stand up for something may not look like peace. It may stir up controversy. It may make people uncomfortable. It may put a voice to something no one is saying out loud. It may impact the way we see our lives, and it has the potential to changing the world in a positive, uplifting way.
The evolution of my voice:
2009: Grief: As I downsized from an 11-room house to a small storage unit to sell my house, I shared the process of releasing the physical stuff and grieving the loss of my husband. I shared experiences like giving away all of our camping gear and Girl Scout supplies, and the loss of roles that gave me value. Who am I, if I am not a Girl Scout Leader? My daughter, Hannah, and I were leaving Maryland and driving to California to explore a new life. The process of selling our house took a year and there were layers of grief that year. I cried on Facebook. I posted music videos that expressed my pain. I posted music that showed how I connected with joy, after each wave of grief. There were people who thanked me for sharing openly, for putting a voice to something they had experienced and felt. There were people who told me to stop whining. My husband had died four years earlier and they said, “Get on with your life,” as if grief had a time limit. That was the beginning of learning how to stay open and share, while also receiving criticism.
2011: Money: I shared the experience of loss when someone who bought my husband’s business declared bankruptcy, and which wiped out my life savings, and putting me on the edge of eviction for two years. As I shared the vulnerability of starting over and the fears and breakthroughs, people wrote to me privately about their own foreclosures, bankruptcy, job loss and money shame. They shared their secrets with me, the things they felt they could not even tell family and friends. Other people shamed me publicly by telling me that I was irresponsible and stupid, and I should have known there would be a housing crisis and to have prepared in a better way.
2013: Sexuality: I began to share about an awakening sexuality and my journey with Orgasmic Meditation and Intimacy Research with a man from Germany. Women thanked me and shared their own journey of sexuality and other people called me a slut.
2016: Politics: I was supporting Hillary Clinton in her run for President in the United States. The first time I posted my support, I received a backlash of anger. Politics was a topic I had avoided my whole life. It was too messy, emotional and complex. I kept my voting choices secret. This election really challenged me to speak. How could I lead women to heal their voices, and encourage them to speak out loud, if I couldn’t stand up and hold space for conversations that were controversial and uncomfortable? I learned how to open the conversation, ask questions, listen to hold space for different opinions, know when to step away from the anger, when to listen and when to penetrate and challenge it.
Heal My Voice was founded in 2011, after I heard the words during a walk in nature. I knew it was time for women to heal their voices and find a space at the table in conversations with men. The nine-month programs of diving into the depth of a story and reclaiming personal power, birthed 10 books with 200 stories written by women from around the world. The final nine-month program ended in 2017 and the current evolution of Heal My Voice are a library of stories with free study guides for personal reflection and book group discussions. The programs to explore your voice through writing for 30 days, and 100 days to transform and alchemize our experiences are offered a few times a year. There is a Writing Incubator for people to workshop a writing project and publish their own books.
Looking back at my life, I remember myself at 16 years old, pulling over to the side of the road and making a passenger get out of the car and walk back to pick up the trash they threw out the car window. No littering! There have been times when I have passionately used my voice to stand up for things I believe in and that continues…
My activism is evolving into working with women and men on their writing projects while also writing my own books, memoir stories, and novels based on true experiences. One of my clients sent me a text last night: “I had a thought… I think you are a coach that helps people cross the unknown.” My passion is to help you find and use your voice, to close the door to the old, walk across the bridge and open the door to the life you really want to live!
Write your story! Your voice matters.
Written by: Andrea Hylen; Heal My Voice