When I was 16 years old, I had a cheerleading accident that left me with a traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, subdural hematoma, loss of smell, whiplash and… an opening to the depths of my soul.
Before then, I was a fairly typical teenager plodding along in my life unaware of the pain, trauma, and immense power I held within me. I got tossed in the air and cheered my way to the top of formations with confidence. I excelled at most of the societally accepted markers of success.
But, I suffered within.
After time and reflection, I know the accident was partly caused by my insecurity and all the hidden parts I had yet to explore. Laying on the floor that night in the basketball gym, as endorphins flooded through me and peace came over my body, I wondered how I got there.
Not just onto the floor, but to this point in my life.
The numbness of euphoria continued as chaos ensued around me. I watched people yelling and moving quickly but in slow motion. They strapped me onto a gurney and the ceiling lights raced overhead as my senses gave way. Life came in flashes and memories started to fade.
At the hospital, I was poked, prodded, propped up, and probed for answers to test how badly damaged I might be. Thankfully, one ‘p’ I was not was paralyzed. I counted my blessings for that as I learned of my injuries and tried to remember the last three words I was asked to memorize.
Gone. Poof. Like they were never there.
That scared me a lot. How would I study and become a doctor like I’d planned? How would I succeed? Without memories who would I be?
Over the next few days, my short term memory began its sluggish return into my life. With each successive test, a little more strength came into my being as I celebrated remembering the word apple or triangle.
It was a strange few weeks. I felt untethered to time. I was awake at all intervals but also slept constantly. The blips and bleeps of the monitors created a sci-fi symphony of alarms letting me know when someone was coming in to do some sort of test on me, take me to the MRI, or give me a pill, a drip, and occasional meal.
I’m not sure what day of my ICU stay that it happened. May have been the first but it definitely wasn’t the last. A voice came through me and started questioning the nurses and technicians about everything.
The voice asked them what every pill, test, and treatment was, what it did to me, if there were any side effects, and whether having it was necessary for my healing, i.e. could I live without it.
I had no idea where this voice was coming from.
I didn’t question the voice and it didn’t scare me. I felt like it had my best interest at heart. It was benevolent and powerful. The voice of God, some might say.
The nurses were kind and they answered my questions. I refused certain pills and advocated for my safety. I don’t remember anyone getting brusque with me which is what you might imagine happening to a teenager wannabe doctor cheerleader. I just remember feeling empowered, calm, and in absolute knowing I would be ok.
The voice stayed with me and spoke for me throughout my hospital stay. When I was recovering at home, the voice soothed me with the reassurance I would fully recover.
The more I listened, the more I realized the voice wasn’t coming from outside of me. It came from somewhere deep within. From a place I had not accessed in a very, very long time. I started talking with the voice and eventually it melded with mine.
During the first few months of my recovery, I spent most hours in the bed my dad constructed that kept me perpetually propped up so my brain fluid wouldn’t leak out of my skull. I would close my eyes and tell myself over and over I was healed and fully recovered. I would imagine myself back to my normal activities, even cheerleading, again. I would see myself running, dancing, laughing, and having fun with my friends.
When I returned to school, for a few hours a day at first, I remember seeing an acquaintance in the hallway and she turned ghostly white as she stared at me mouth agape. Did I look that terrible? The girl ran up to me and started crying. She thought I had died! This was before social media when everyone knew everything about everyone else and apparently a rumor was going around.
We had a laugh and later that day, back in my bed, I realized that some part of me had died. A smidgeon of the scared little girl in me had transitioned to the other side and left a more capable and questioning older sister in her wake.
As I slowly returned to my normal life, my well-worn coping mechanisms and habits took over, and the voice found its way back into hiding. But, I never forgot it. And it never left me.
Over the years, as I struggled with new upheavals, the voice spoke up and saved me from myself. In my 20s, I began to heal from the early traumas of my life and the voice grew stronger. In my 30s, the voice began to take charge and guide me as I trusted it more and more.
Now, in my 40s, my inner voice and wisdom are fully present in my life. Every day I have conversations with it and ask myself for advice, guidance, reassurance, and support. I answer myself wholeheartedly and fully building on the trust I’ve imparted to myself and my voice, the voice that’s always guided me.
I just needed to learn how to listen.
Are you listening to your inner guidance? What’s it saying? Where is it pointing you?
If you don’t hear anything, don’t worry. You don’t need to fracture your skull to let it in. There are everyday things you can do to open up your connection and deepen your listening. The trick is to do them. To not make any excuses. To actually practice these simple methods. Over time, the practice will turn into habit and you won’t even need to think about doing them.
Start by focusing on one of these things and eventually combine them all (and others you come up with) into your everyday:
- Get off your hamster wheel. Routine can be good for some things (like meditating) but when it’s the same old, same old day in and day out you tend to think the same thoughts and feel the same feels as your body moves through the static motions of your life. Changing things up could be as minor as driving a different way to work or taking yourself out to lunch if you normally eat at your desk. You could take a midday hike or run. Call or visit a friend out of the blue. Do something different than you normally would each day to mix up your neurons and get them firing differently.
- Skip the alcohol. It’s an easy (too easy!) way to relax, unwind, and have fun and is the go-to for adults (and some teens who started drinking in their parents’ basement during sleepovers). But, the big BUT is that it quiets your inner knowing. You lose yourself but not in a good way (read on for alternative ways to get there without this crutch). Alcohol numbs the senses and detaches you from your wisdom and guidance. Sure, you may feel a sense of freedom and abandon but you’re cheating your way there. To truly feel unencumbered by life’s traumas you need to face them, heal, and tune into, love, and trust your deepest self.
- Turn off the TV… and movies and social media and YouTube and even some book reading. I know, I know. This is starting to get a little extreme. But, bear with me. Just like alcohol, these activities can become easy distractions from your life and your listening. Imagine getting all your ideas, thoughts, and feelings from the media you consume? I used to love watching tearjerker movies when I was sad because I knew they would make me cry. Did I think about why I was sad and wanted to cry? No. I thought about the characters and plot and lost myself in them. Occasional media consumption can be fun and enlightening but cutting down regular use can be a fantastic way to tune into your own stories and emotions.
- Get into nature. The quiet of being alone in nature is a beautiful way to tune into your inner voice. You don’t have to just sit there in a cave or under a tree. You could kayak or hike or write or do anything that isn’t too technical. The less you have to think about the activity, the better. You don’t want whatever you’re doing to be too distracting from your enjoyment of nature itself and the wisdom it inspires in you.
- Quiet your mind. Now we’re getting to real meditating, which I know may sound hard to some of you. I used to tell myself and anyone else that would listen that I couldn’t meditate. I was just too fidgety and uncomfortable when I did. To overcome this, I started telling myself I could meditate and doing meditative things that helped me get into that space. And then I remembered how good I was at it, at age 16, at home in my recovery bed willing myself to heal. Meditating can be done in a variety of ways but the standard parts of the practice are to carve out a time to do it, be in a quiet space, sit or lay with yourself (but don’t get so cozy you fall asleep), and close your eyes. We take in tons of data through our visual cortex so cutting that out by closing your eyes will help you quiet your thoughts and listen more deeply.
- Lose yourself. All the other methods mentioned can help you achieve this one more easily. Losing yourself means a detachment from your ego state, conscious thoughts, and everyday existence. Not forever, but enough so you can deepen into your subconscious and access the unconscious. This is about moving through your suppressed thoughts, feelings, and memories into the repressed ones you don’t even know are there. Into the place that may be driving so much of your conscious life without your knowing. Into the place of your deepest self and highest wisdom. Getting there can be assisted through a variety of therapies. Hypnotherapy, somatic bodywork, and plant medicines have all worked well for me. I highly recommend working with a skilled guide in this process and being careful not to get too attached to the methods you employ.
Just like alcohol and TV, you can get addicted to your own healing processes. Healing work and all the techniques I’ve mentioned are just techniques. Ways to achieve certain means. They shouldn’t be the focus and may, eventually, not even be necessary.
There are many paths leading to the same place. What matters is finding the path that works for you and your connection to that place. That voice within that knows exactly who you are, what’s best for you, and why you’re here.
Are you ready to listen? Share any questions or comments below and enjoy connecting with your inner voice!