I have facilitated support groups and worked one-on-one with those who hear voices for nearly 10 years.. The insights I’ve come to from my own experience have often facilitated understanding for others. Here is what I have learned from my experience of hearing voices.
One night when I was 18, my best friend and her boyfriend were visiting me at Hampshire College and we drove around the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts for over an hour looking for a vacant motel. They had both taken acid but I hadn’t. None of the motels had vacancy. Finally we drove up to The Inn at Northampton, the 8th or so place we had tried. It was past midnight and I was getting exhausted. “The Inn. This is it,” I said. And it was. We went on in, they had a vacancy, we spent the night there. I had heard “The Inn” in my mind from a voice that wasn’t me.
I’d been a writer for my whole life and sometimes when I wrote poetry or other things, the words came to me from a voice outside myself. Many writers have a similar experience; this may be the thrill of writing. The same is true when I write songs, even more so, and many musicians and songwriters experience “hearing” the music they write. Seems natural.
When I was 20 or so my psychic sensitivity and ability to hear things became even stronger. I met a new friend who called himself psychic, and he initiated me, to some degree, into trusting those voices I would hear — even for others. I started to hear messages for friends that were sometimes highly accurate, sometimes in poetic form and weren’t coming from my ordinary mind at all. When I shared them with these friends, they validated that the voices I was hearing rang true. There was a high for me in delivering these messages.
We’ve all had the experience, at least once, of knowing something without having any idea how we know. Some of us might not even realize it, such as my father. He nearly always calls both me and my brother whenever we are together. He doesn’t know we are together, we’re going for a hike in California, and he calls from New York. Consciousness has the capacity to be all-aware, and hearing voices is part of that awareness. Voices (whether guiding, commanding, negative or critical voices) are pointing to something that needs our awareness.
At the same time, I was experiencing anxiety and confusion in my life. School, even Hampshire College, didn’t seem like the place for me to explore and come to understand the things going on inside of me. I frequently skipped certain classes because my soul was speaking to me so loudly about something else, yet there were few people who I shared these experiences with. I went into states of “false voice” hearing where I created voices out of fear.
Since hearing intuitive and guiding voices had been one of the most powerful things to occur in my life – and still is – I went through a time where I thought my voices could predict everything. I’d ask them a question and make up far fetched realities and fantasies to hear the answers. Then I assumed I was a master channeler all the time and everything I “heard” would come to pass.
I did this because I felt so isolated in my reality and these false voices (which were my own fantasies/escape mechanisms) distracted me and gave me some comfort. They gave me something to hold onto, something to imagine and look forward to. They allowed me to imagine I could entirely create my own reality. I cooked up fantasy love affairs, fantasy projects with all of my favorite people, in my favorite places. I believed that whatever I envisioned or heard would occur. Much of it didn’t.
The following summer, in a hotel room in Colorado, I started to integrate into my awareness some side effects of taking Prozac as a teenager. Lying in my bed there, on vacation with my mom, I traced effects through my life and determined Prozac had caused me the health problems I was experiencing. I was 20 and I had a vision that I would expose Prozac and other pharmaceuticals and radically change the public perception of them. I saw a newspaper article. It looked so vivid, like a hallucination. Similar to my other fantasies, to me it was a psychic vision. In retrospect, this one blurs the line between a vision and a hallucination, thinking I can create reality, and actually creating reality or hearing prophetic voices.
That was 2001, the summer before the World Trade Center bombing would occur. I was not involved in mental health activism yet at all. There were very few voices speaking up against the uprise in psychiatric drugs. The Prozac backlash had hardly begun. The mental health activist movement was much smaller and I hadn’t found it yet. Social media was limited to the just-launched Wikipedia; Friendster would be born the following year in 2002. Facebook would take several more years and blogs were unheard of. Media was limited and controlled by corporations.
Around 1999-2001 when both my psychic abilities were coming out and my voice hearing increased, I was having severe digestive issues which inspired me to try different diets, supplements and fasts. It was when I was experimenting with food and sometimes losing scary amounts of weight (unintentionally) that I would hear (or create) voices that would tell me what to eat. Anxious voices would tell me to walk to the refrigerator, and when I got there, they’d tell me to walk away. I’d walk to and from the refrigerator over and over anxiously, listening to commanding voices that sounded threatening.
Some intense things were going on in my life. My mom was very addicted to benzodiazepines and pot. My dad was emotionally shut down and furious that I was wasting a $30,000 a year education. My younger brother was coping with the abuse he experienced in childhood by drinking a lot, smoking a lot of pot and escaping into television and whatever else possible. Amidst all of this, my family had decided I was mentally ill and needed to be fixed.
The digestive issues made it hard for me to eat or digest anything at times. My mom wanted to send me to Renfrew, which specializes in eating disorders, though I had never tried to lose weight in my life. Meanwhile I was wasting away and dropped below 90 pounds on a 5’8” frame. When I looked in the mirror at my naked body, it scared me. Still, I had such a strong sense of faith during this time. I knew more than ever that I was on a spiritual journey.
There was another voice I heard, perhaps the commanding voice that was the most powerful, as well as the one that got me labeled “without a doubt psychotic.” That voice came to me first in writing, and many times right before the first time I was hospitalized. The voice told me to scream, “God I need help NOW.” The voice commanded me to scream that in a variety of situations. And often after I screamed it, the voice commanded me to scream it again, louder. One time I was on the phone with a friend and he asked, “Where are you that you are screaming that?” There was something so liberating about it. Every time I screamed it, I felt my heart uplifted, I felt light enter my heart (not as a hallucination but as an actual feeling), I knew I was safe.
I also screamed it in the NYC subway station. It could have been humiliating, but it felt like an initiation, like a form of humiliation my soul wanted. My parents, doctors and friends were embarrassed by my behavior, but I was not. Looking back, over 10 years later, I know I needed to go through that. I can still feel the strength in it. I needed to be willing to be “the crazy one.” No one should be locked up or drugged against their will for screaming “God I need help NOW.” That person is in turmoil, and I was, but clearly if the mental health system was trustworthy, safe and helpful, I’d have sought them out. Instead, I screamed to God because I knew they weren’t. Because I knew the world I was living in wasn’t a safe place for me to be me. I also knew I had absolute faith in doing whatever it would take to be me.
During this period, my voices told me to do other things as well, such as copy my poetry and art (in color) 100 times on my mom’s credit card and make books. I carried a heavy box with these self-made books on public transit between New York and Massachusetts several times, asking strangers for help up the stairs when it was too heavy for me to carry. After thanking them, I’d tell them this was my book, thinking I’d be famous someday and they’d remember they’d helped me carry that bestselling book.
Perhaps what it came down to was that as a writer and artist I feared I’d never be accepted or “enough” for my family or society unless I became famous and some kind of big deal.
In the end that time in my life passed and I mostly hear clear voices of guidance now. I still hear voices guiding me in my writing, teaching, speaking and giving intuitive readings for others. This is my greatest strength in life. When going through extreme stress, loss, heartbreak or trauma, anxious, commanding voices have continued to speak to me. Or perhaps I’ve created them for comfort, as an expression of authority and clarity when I’ve felt out of control and confused. In those times, breaking out of isolation has helped. Sometimes I’ve allowed myself to do what the voices told me to, even when they were “false voices.”
My experience of hearing voices isn’t all that different than what many others go through during grief/trauma/extreme distress. Having worked with many people in these states over the years, my range of voice hearing has enabled me to be able to relate with many peoples’ experiences. We all have slightly unique ways and perhaps accepting my voices and learning when and how to ignore them has been the gift of having lived with them longer. Like with friends or family members, I have been able to recognize patterns in these voices and have learned when to take them seriously and when not to, for the most part. They are also a signal to me to break out of isolation and share my experiences with a trusted friend. Having these trusted friends and my own language to describe these experiences has been my saving grace. By finding language that isn’t self pathologizing and having friends who don’t pathologize me, I feel safe and relieved to express these things, in my own words.
In the Hearing Voices groups and other support groups I have facilitated over the years, I have seen that in nearly every case, people who hear voices experience benefits and gifts from those voices as well as (oftentimes) distress. Most people I have worked with who hear voices have amazing capacities to envision and create.