Mockingbird, Don’t Sing

I got a question on Formspring last week that asked me if I was sad that I can't sing anymore. I said yes, for certain, and that I would talk about it on the blog. Well, I guess now is the time for me to dig up that particular piece of pain and share it, so bear with me if this is a little difficult to get through. Let's start with some background.

I've always been a singer. Always. Started voice classes quite young, probably 12 years old, and started being classically trained in opera while still in my teens. I was a theatre major in college, performed in several musicals, and competed in vocal competitions throughout. I was a singer. It was what I did. In the car, in the shower, you couldn't shut me up if you tried. And, according to other people, I was pretty damn good at it. 

When my depression and the ensuing booze a go-go began, I stopped singing. I didn't have the heart for it anymore. But I still COULD, and every once and a while I'd belt out something when I knew no one was around. My voice was strong, clear, and highly trained. I had just lost the spark behind it. 

Which brings us to the hospital. Still damn hard to talk about, the hospital. When I fell into the coma, I had to be intubated – that is, I had tubes shoved into my lungs through my mouth to make me breathe. When I woke up from the coma, one of my first conscious thoughts was "I'm choking. I'm choking, something is in my mouth, get it out, get it out." And I tore the tubes out. This was not a good thing to do. They were replaced, I was gravely scolded, and I went on to do it again a day later. This was when they decided that putting me in restraints was a grand idea, but that is not what I want to talk about right now, and this is my blog, so we'll skip that super fun part and go back to my voice.

When I was finally extubated, I couldn't eat, or drink, or speak without gasping and choking for air. I was constantly on supplemental oxygen, and scribbled tomes of what I WANTED to say on pieces of paper, shoving them in people's faces, and often throwing the pen in frustration and downright rage. 

When my parents told me I was going straight to rehab, and not home, I didn't say a word.

Rehab was spent in choked words and mostly silence. As I described before, I learned to listen in rehab, partially because I didn't really have any other options. I also learned that being silent meant I became secret-keeper, confidant, and the best shrink you never paid for. I liked that. I liked that part a lot. It gave me self-worth, and I still feel the best when I'm at least attempting to help other people, even if it means listening in silence. 

My voice eventually returned. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, it returned, first as a rasp of someone who had been smoking Duraflame logs since BIRTH, and eventually into a lower-registered version of my old voice. To this day, I run out of breath a lot when I talk, and my voice is lower than it used to be, but it's there. What isn't there is the music.

I lost my singing voice entirely during the course of all this drama. I can't sing a note. I've tried, tried so desperately, in the shower, in the car, to get something, anything back. I've tried Broadway standards, rock songs off the radio, scales…there's nothing. It's all gone. Such is the enduring price I pay for almost killing myself. 

I see it as a fair trade. I got to live, but a very precious part of me, a huge part of my identity, died.

So that's the story. I'm still singing all the time, in my head, still love music intensely, but the arias and the musical theatre pieces I used to belt out? I don't listen to them anymore. It makes me too sad. I mourn my voice. Hell, I'm crying as I type this. I mourn the incredible gift I was given, that died so I could live. 

Like I said, I see it as a fair trade. But I'll mourn it for the rest of my days. 



Mockingbird, Don’t Sing — 25 Comments

  1. I’ve heard/read so many stories of individuals who lose their ability to vocalize and turn to the power of the printed word. You among then.
    I love to sing – but was gifted with only an average singing voice. Still, for years I someone let life steal the joy of that singing away from me. Because we know singing turns us from mortals into angels- even when we’re acting devilish.

  2. And it was beautiful… but you and your life are more so! Let other people sing for you… and try to enjoy πŸ™‚ xoxo

  3. It was a beautiful voice that made people cry/ your story makes us cry but having you alive with us again give us greater joy than a beautiful song

  4. Reding this makes me mourn with you. Empathy. I have been told all of my life that I can sing -since I was a little toddler even. I did sing in bands and perform solo for a period of my life, but stopped. Not for reasons that you have. I still sing every single day, but not for anyone else’s benefit, just my own. Is that selfish or just cowardly? Reading your story breaks my heart. Why is it I hide my light, when talents like you have it stolen? I’m so sorry Miss Banshee. And by the way, you are beautiful!

  5. Your writing is now your Arias, your solos , you may not be able to belt it out vocal wise but your singing is still soaring high in your writings. It is your song and you sing it well.

  6. I’m going through something like that, albeit not physical, with performing on stage. I’m bi-polar, and also suffer from PTSD and (long-undiagnosed) reactive attachment disorder, and since the death of my mom and the subsequent suicide of my older brother, have found it difficult to perform onstage. I’ve been performing professionally since I was five years old, and doing stand-up comedy since I was 19 (I’m now almost 40), so this is a *huge* part of my life that is now just…gone. I don’t know what to do with my life now. I just kind of feel hollow.
    Thanks for writing about your pain. I try to write about mine, but either I can’t, or it comes out as a rant. Reading your blog and your tweets reminds me that I’m not alone.

  7. Man. I feel like a whiner.
    I was never as good as you were, as I stuck to rock and roll and some choral work and never had the voice for any sort of aria, or even musical theater :), but I was *good*. And one of my calling cards was a crazy high tenor, accompanied by a falsetto that could hit Frankie Valli territory. And the tenor chest voice? To give you a mode of comparison, Steve Perry of Journey never sang a note that I couldn’t hit. And I once won a large pot of money in a Karaoke contest doing the Beatles’ “Oh Darling,” which goes *insane* high in the middle eight and the final verse.
    30 years of smoking has ended all this. I’ve lost at least a half octave off my top end, and my falsetto is *completely* gone. I can’t sing Journey any more. “Oh Darling” is way out of my league. I even tried to sing along the other day with “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, which used to be square in my wheelhouse. When it hit the chorus, the noises coming out of my mouth sounded like cats being strangled.
    I can still *sing*, mind you. (Henley might be out, but Glenn Frey is still right in the ol’ range.) I just can’t make people wonder about my genitalia anymore. But that was my calling card. And I miss it.
    And I kick myself for it, and bemoan it, and whine about it, and kick myself for it again (remember, I did this to myself with the smoking).
    And then I read this.
    I am suitably ashamed of myself.
    Thank you. I needed the whack with the clue by four.

  8. After 22 years sober, I’m not sure I’ll ever get completely over the things I lost when I was out there. But what I’ve gotten since then is so much better than I could have hoped for definitely makes up for it. I’m so glad life isn’t fair, because I certainly don’t deserve what I have now, after having pissed away gifts of the same magnitude as yours.
    What I lost I look at like ex-lovers with whom I had amicable breakups. I’ll always miss them and they’ll always be with me in one way or another, but I know now that none of them were the only one for me.
    Thank you for writing this.

  9. I had a roommate named Danny with a similar story. He had a great voice. He’d moved from Spain to make it as a singer in the states.
    Unfortunately, when he got drunk he got REALLY drunk which got him in trouble some times. One night he was walking down Hollywood Blvd. and knocked over a tip jar for some street performers. He’s not really sure how it went down, but he got punched in the face.
    He was working as a mover at the time and his boss was a bit of a tough guy, so he called him up and told him what happened. They met up shortly thereafter. His boss showed up with a friend and his girlfriend. He told Danny, my roommate, to sit tight while him and his friend confronted whomever had punched him.
    It’s not too clear what happened next, but the jist of the story is that Danny was making aggressive advances towards his boss’s girlfriend. When his boss came back he went after him and put him in some kind of choke hold.
    The next day when he woke up he’d lost his voice. Didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time, but it never came back. Eventually he could talk fairly well, but he couldn’t sing. Over and over he tried and tried. It was really sad and difficult to listen to. He went to specialists and tried everything imaginable, but with no luck.
    Although I don’t know what it’s like to go through what you’re going through, I certainly feel your pain. Hopefully your honesty can help some people understand how important it is to confront their personal issues. If you’re honest with yourself and you really look for answers then you’ll find them. Unfortunately sometimes it takes something traumatic before we confront our demons. For some people the dramatic event that changes their life results in people dying.
    For me it was a car accident and a DUI that woke me up. I think we were both lucky. The bottom line is that it all ads up in the end. You simply can’t escape that. The harder you try to run from reality, the worse the consequences will be. The good news is that no matter what your circumstances, you can always take responsibility and you can always do something to make other people’s lives better.
    I wish you the best from here on out. I send you really big virtual hugs. πŸ™‚

  10. So sad when a song bird loses it’s voice.
    I’m sad for your loss but I have to tell you chicklet, I’d have traded it a thousand times over just to have you still with us.
    You may not be singing out loud, but the words you share are lyrical and amaze the world.

  11. I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your singing voice. Since developing adult-onset asthma, I don’t sing as well as I used to (I was also a music major in college), but a little bit is still there. I’m glad you were able to channel yourself into the printed word though!

  12. Thanks for writing about your pain and recovery. I remember days of not wanting to wake up from the last bender and the relationships long gone. I am sorry you lost your voice, but, as others have said, your writing is another gift for you to use. There are others in such pain. Find and help them. That is something not everyone can do. You have the gift. Keep sharing and good luck!

  13. Thank you for your story.
    It makes me feel less alone, I was a professional musician until some idiot hit me in the erar for no reason inside Virgin Megastore here in Paris. At first my ear only rang, but the first doctor I saw told me it was hopeless , I would lose my hearing, I didn’t believe him, he was rude. But others confirmed the fact as my ear rang more and more and soon that was all I heard. I know I am awake in the morining when I hear the ringing…

  14. I’m priveledged to have heard your voice before and doubly so to be able to speak with you today.
    ps Play my guitar.

  15. Yes, you had an incredible voice. However, you have so many other attributes that its loss does not diminish you. You are like the Little Mermaid – only much less disturbing, less fishy, and with cats πŸ˜‰

  16. Wow …. what an amazing post. Addiction/alcoholism is known as “the Great Remover,” systematically removing everything from our lives. It took your voice … and I dare say almost took you.
    Thank you for writing this.

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