Slurred Words

Drunk Every Night, My Parents Made it Hard For Me to Find My Own Voice

The sun is shining. My wispy blonde hair in my face. Another beautiful Southern California summer day.

He pours another one. The plastic sixteen ounce glass with blue and orange fishes. The ones you see in advertisements with a perfectly set outdoor table. It never seems to empty. I knew it then. As much as you can know at three. At five.

I was wearing a yellow dress with pink flowers and matching pink tights. Two plastic barrettes in my hair. Today I was starting school. Kindergarten. A whole new community of people. New faces. New environment. New language. I was ready.

Walking into the gated area out front, I was excited. Wood chips filled the small play area with a slide and two swings. A small grass lot with a paved walkway around it made to look like a race track. I would spend a lot of time doing circles on that track.

“Good morning. I am Mrs. Browski. And who might you be?”

She was older than my mom. Short curly hair that was tight to her head. Glasses. A mixture of strict librarian and loving grandmother.

“Jamie.”

A quick hug and into the room I went. The first day is always filled with telling stories of summer. Where you vacationed. What new toy you got. Swimming lessons, movies. All 22 of us little five-year-olds sitting criss cross applesauce on a rug. Sharing one by one as best we could.

“Jamie, what did you do this summer?”

“I was at the river. We have a boat. Lots of thun and thwimming.”

The smallest little giggles next to me.

“You spent time in the sun and went swimming?”

Why is she asking me that? I just told her. My body got warm as I felt everyone paying attention to me. Why is it so quiet now?

I nodded.

   I was able to control my tongue and fix my lisp by third grade. However, having the extra attention came with the pressure to keep a secret and wear a mask. No one could know that every night my parents drank, heavily.

On to other five-year-olds. Followed by markers and puzzles. I was doodling at the table. Markers were always my favorite. That’s when she came for me.

“Jamie, this is Ms. Rome. She would like for you to go with her and share more about your summer, okay?”

Of course okay. She looked like Barbie mixed with Snow White. Long blonde hair with a blue bow and a full, light blue skirt. I was so excited to see her. I took her hand and left the classroom.

We walked out of the gate and into the main front office. Down a hallway and into the smallest unmarked room. The nurse’s office. Just a small desk, a chair, and a bench to lie on. She gestured to the bench, which would become my normal seat three days a week for the next two years.

Speech therapy. I had a lisp. A functional speech disorder.

A house of two alcoholics and not much social interaction had brought me here. What was normal in our home, the slurred words, was exposed to the outside world for the first time.

Well, sort of.

When my parents found out I had a lisp they did everything they could to be the perfect parents. They showed up to encourage speech therapy; made nice with the office staff and my teachers. A major show. I’m rather certain others couldn’t see through the act.

I was able to control my tongue and fix my lisp by third grade. However, having the extra attention came with the pressure to keep a secret and wear a mask. No one could know that every night my parents drank, heavily.

Speech therapy taught me to focus on how I speak. But, even more, to watch how everyone else speaks.

I quickly learned that my mother and father both lisped, too. Slurred. The plastic fishy cups filled with Diet Coke and a clear liquid from a jug with a pirate on it. Captain and Diet.

For years, I hid behind an idea of normal. My life revolved around what to say and what not to say, as well as how to say it. Words. I got to know them intimately.

What I didn’t get to know so closely was myself.

   I saw so clearly all the effort I made to fit in, to be like everyone around me. Not to shine too brightly, but to blend in. To go by unseen.

I recently felt the urge to have an astrological session. I had heard a lot about how the alignment of the planets and moon can be a sort of map into your soul and way of thinking. A map into my wordless self was exactly what I was trying to find. I was open to seeing what knowledge the planets and moon could offer me.

I place my phone against a candle so it will stay upright. Push away books to clear space to take notes. My call with Danielle Beinstein, the astrologist, is in two minutes. I should write down an intention. To be open. To fully listen and be present.

The phone rings.

“Hi, Jamie”

She is so relaxed. Headphones in. The phone close up on her face. Just true authenticity beaming through.

“Hi -“

Right into it. No time for small talk.

“So I’m curious,” she asks. “How do you get signs from the universe?”

I don’t say anything. I stare back at her blankly.

“How do you know when your intention is guiding you?”

I truly have no idea how to respond. Then I tell her about speech therapy. A childhood of outward focus and carefully chosen language.

She tilts her head the slightest bit. “According to your chart the universe sends you symbols and numbers.”

I laugh. “No, that’s my husband. I am very literal and use words.”

Ever so softly she smiles; it was the kindest moment.

“That’s what you have been conditioned to think, but it’s not where your most authentic self is. You have to unblock that. It’s no surprise that you married your husband.”

Listening to her, I saw myself at every age, fixated with words. Spending so much time with them and trying to sound like everyone else. Extra time spent molding myself to be like others. To be fixed. Closing myself off from myself. I saw so clearly all the effort I made to fit in, to be like everyone around me. Not to shine too brightly, but to blend in. Many times to go by unseen.

For the first time, I told myself: No more. I want to know myself truly, on the deepest level. To unblock these parts of me I have shut off to myself. To unbury the connection I have with myself and nourish it.

There is the part of me that spent twenty nine years being who everyone else wanted me to be. The independent, strong willed, hard working me. I will survive anything me. I came from two alcoholic parents but look at what I have done me. Follow everyone else; get married, buy a house, have a baby me.

And there is actual me. My magnetic self with my very own path and purpose. The me that is hurt and healing, who wants to be a kid and just play. The me who doesn’t want to have a baby and buy a house just because I’m thirty.

I’ve become aware of my inner need for something more, something real. It is a different kind of nourishment. I’m fueled internally now, no longer waiting on others for approval and praise but finding it in myself.

I’m making a mess. Instead of legos, crayons, and dolls scattered around, I’m surrounded by spiritual books, oracle decks, and meditation texts.

It’s a freedom that I can only imagine is like being a child, an interior clarity and truth that I didn’t know existed. I’m sifting through all the slurred words, and on the other side I am finding a peaceful, softer, unspoken place.

Home.

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Author: Jamie Gillespie

Jamie is Southern California born and raised. She's diving headfirst into spiritual work and sharing the journey over on Instagram, but, if you can’t find her there, try the local pizza shop, because balance.

 jamiediane.gillespie@gmail.com