I never had straight teeth, and I didn’t have front teeth throughout most of elementary school due to an unfortunate accident with my baby teeth, a bottle and a throw rug when I was very little. But I always liked my smile, and I felt it gave me a different charm, like Lauren Bacall with her trade mark gap. I was quirky and fun and I didn’t allow a few imperfect teeth to define me.
Then as I aged, and my teeth continued to shift, it caused sensitivity that my dentist said could be corrected by orthodontics. She also told me I had healthy teeth and gums and this would mean I get to keep them this way throughout my adult life. Cool. Sign me up.
The first thing I noticed wasn’t the pain, it was the spit. Dear lord there was so much spit. I felt like a toddler licking a lollipop. Every time I wanted to speak I had to suck it all out of the braces. Even then I could really only get a few sentences in before I needed to pause, suck, breathe and start again. It wasn’t until day two the pain really started. And it progressively got worse as my gums and inner mouth adjusted to the intrusion, before eventually getting used to it.
This was incredibly hard for me for several reasons, but the worst of them was the way it changed my conversations.
I have never had a very strong vocal filter. It has gotten stronger over the years, but I am a “foot in mouth” type of talker on occasion. Also, I am an interrupter. I speak and I do not always stop to wait for someone to complete their own sentence before I begin my own. Talking has always been my connection to the world around me. Any time in my life I have been sick with a sore throat or faced another reason I may not be able to talk, I have struggled with my connection to the people around me, as well as my connection to reality.
Usually, a loss of connection will send me in to a tailspin of self-doubt and unfounded fears, because it is my connection to others that makes me feel secure. It wasn’t until my teeth and jaw started to hurt that I realized how I used talking to seek validation from others. It was the limited ability to speak that forced me to have an inward perspective about where these insecurities came from. And to learn how to correct my behavior, I had to understand the source.
I am the second oldest of five, and I have always had to speak up loudly and talk over everyone to get a word in on any conversation. This conditioned the way I speak in group settings, but I noticed it also affected one on one conversations. I realized that my husband was right, I was constantly interrupting him, and other people as well. To me, it felt like I was being supportive by verbalizing my own similar experiences. In truth, I was so busy thinking about myself that I was not really listening to the conversation at hand, and I was not creating a space for those around me to be heard.
At first, this really bothered me. As someone who always fought their way through conversation I felt that was what everyone should be doing for themselves. I didn’t understand why it was my task to make sure someone else had a chance to speak. This was a very selfish way of thinking. I believe part of connecting in my relationships with other people means it is my task to create the space for them to be heard.
Talk about an eye opener. Over the first ten days I had braces these thoughts marinated in my head, mainly because it simply was not worth the effort it took to verbalize them. And I realized that every single reason I hated not being able to speak, was because what I really needed was to learn NOT to speak. It was time, for the first time, to really listen. It was like I had a tool, the braces, to help teach me when it was important to listen, and when it was important to speak up.
My thought process about all of it evolved as fast as my mentality did. It was like behavioral modification therapy to the ultimate degree. I had a device inside my mouth that forced me to pause before I spoke. This was something I had always wanted to learn, but I had no idea how to put it into practice. Since I now had a tool, and I had no choice but to pause, for the first time in my life I was taking the necessary moment to listen, and really think about what I prepared to say out loud. And it is working for me. Not one hundred percent, nope, I still have a way to go. But I listen more, even when I am not in pain. And I wait to speak, as often as I can remember to do so.
This has already proven to be a positive change, I have found myself not only pausing prior to speaking, but also realizing the things that are not important to verbalize at all. It has had an impact on my relationship with my husband, because I have created space for him to be heard in our conversations. It has also had a positive impact in other relationships, both personal and professional. It turns out, people really like to be heard, and they respond very well to someone who will listen.