Note: As I share this I realize there are multiple layers to the vulnerability I am speaking about, and here are two – the actual act of being vulnerable with my husband that you are to read about read below, and the vulnerability of writing it down and sharing it on my blog and social media. I am still sometimes wildly uncomfortable with sharing my writing and the truths I have discovered. Why? Because somewhere along the way some voice inside of me starting saying, “it’s a bit too much – cease the overshare.” What do I say to that voice today? Don’t be such a coward.
And what the hell else can I write about on here except that which has shaped and transformed my life? (You can find my fiction somewhere in the bowels of my computer documents.)
I admire writers today who tell all their murky stories about drug addiction, eating disorders, toxic relationships and failed marriages, troubles with parenting, problems with career, and cultural and political woes. I especially admire writers who not only tell these stories but talk about their conflicting thoughts and feelings surrounding these issues. I like when they don’t sugarcoat it or wrap it all up in a nice bow. I really like it when they don’t tell you what you want to hear. They say, here is the resentment, rage, fury, grief, self-pity, sadness, and overwhelm that took over my life. Here are the crazy coping mechanisms I picked up along the way. Here are the insane thoughts of giving up I had, of running away, of ending it all. Here are the irrational beliefs I have had about life. Here is my suffering. Agh, does it get me going! Such raw human emotion. Not colored and filtered and tidied up all nice with image-awareness and perfectionism. Just pure unadulterated icky sticky honesty. And what comes through that honesty? An even sparklier jewel than before.
Sure, it makes us uncomfortable. Have you ever been in a meeting at work or a family affair where someone breaks through the facade of niceties and lays it all bare? You want to hide inside yourself, don’t you? You want to look down or check your phone or say, hey now, come on now – it’s natural to bristle against cold hard reality. And sometimes we should. Civility is highly necessary. But so is telling the truth. So is normalizing humanness, lest we mistake it for some Instagram-storied airbrushed and filtered slice of life striving for a certain image image. You know what I mean.
Even my disclaimer of being uncomfortable putting my writing out there is still a bit of a railing against vulnerability and honesty. As if I am asking permission or at least saying, warning, this piece is going to tell the truth about how I sometimes cry myself into a puddle. Baby steps, my friends. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
I spent a full hour the other night sobbing to my husband, who, gracious man that he is, did his best to comfort and console me through the swinging ebbs of anger, sadness, and fear. My tidal of emotions came from out of the depths, triggered by a rather mild incident, and I was immediately thrust into a swirling range of feeling that bounced from homesickness to loneliness to overwhelm to irritation-inspired resentment, to fear of such intensity, to tender hearted sadness at the humanness of it all.
I have always been one who is visited by giant looming feelings, though I spent many years of my life desperately outrunning actually feeling. I learned quite young to repress my strong reactions to life. When the repressing lid was no longer fitting on quite tight enough and the emotions were threatening to erupt and seemingly break my heart, I learned to drink, do drugs, eat, exercise, cut, shop, work, study, obsess, and fear – anything to prevent what felt like a danger zone in my guts and chest, ever-rising.
And then I learned through many years of recovery to allow the feelings and let them bowl me over, let them make me feel as if I had no skin or was being boiled alive, until I then learned to tolerate them, until I naturally allowed them to come, until they came on their own and spilled from me and took me on a wild ride to eventual relief. It is a big fat fresh breath of liberation to allow the feelings to move through me. And they move through a lot faster when I’ve welcomed them home.
But oh the yarns I’ll weave about their being there. I sometimes wonder if I am two selves, two brains, two dueling organisms of experience. It might really be what Freud and Jung understood, that I have an ego and a superego telling the little id child in me to knock it off, calm down, toughen up, and quit overreacting. Maybe it’s a parent’s voice from long ago, or a societal message, or something I learned in school – who knows. What I do know is that my instinct is to judge myself and immediately assume that there is something wrong with my heightened experience of emotions and that I ought to do something about it. My instinct is to tell myself that I am overreacting, being dramatic, am forever too sensitive, overblowing issues, wallowing, being negative, not looking on the bright side, not taking care of myself – when the actual reality in the moment is that I am just having normal human emotions and reactions to life circumstances, and jeez, it just is what it is. Drop the story. For once, let my love of fiction and drama take a backseat.
When I allow myself the space to have all the feelings, (even the pesky judgment of feelings), they pass by and I’m washed clean, and then I can reevaluate and see if maybe there is some truth to my judgmental thoughts – maybe there are areas of my life where I can make changes that will support my mental and emotional health. Do I need some outside support? A good talk with a friend or mentor? Some exercise sessions? Some time outdoors? A more nutritious meal? A bit of prayer or meditation? Maybe more fun? Or less of something? Better sleep? Maybe I need to change nothing at all and the feelings are simply what they are anyway – a moment. Making the changes can be important, but they come second and they need not alert the critic and the task force to start setting about making plans – first I just need to let the feelings be there and not be so rough with myself about having them. They are usually telling the truth anyway, even if the truth comes through wails and salty tears and a sinking feeling that everything is falling apart.
In many circles today, they call this vulnerability. Me wailing to my husband is me showing my humanness and taking a risk – that I might overwhelm him or scare him or that he might not comfort me exactly how I want, that I am showing a part of myself, a fragile, sensitive, delicate part that was once told to stay hidden because she was a bit much. Who was once told to toughen up. Who was once taught to stop complaining stop crying stop feeling just stop. And risking that she might be told this again, especially now that she is an adult. But I picked the right man, because he doesn’t tell me this. He holds me, he tells me I’m brave and wise and beautiful and wonderful and that everything is alright, and he makes a few jokes, and he gives me the time to keep talking and keep going and then eventually catch my breath.
I am an adult, today, though, not a little child, and I’m not in the business of doing this to my husband night after night, nor do I have these strong moments of feeling night after night. It’s not his perpetual job to rescue me from my childhood fears or sometimes bottomless pit of emotions. As an adult, it is not the world’s job either to cater to these feelings. What a mess we’d all be in if that were the case. It’s my job to tend to them and to build enough of a support system so that I am not all alone and out to sea when the going gets tough. But it’s never perfect. It’s always messy. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s the way.
I still sometimes forget this and belief in the firm hand, the tough rawhide of love. There is a place for that, but not in how I treat and talk to myself while in the midst of pain. Self-compassion has nothing to do with self-pity or self-indulgence, nor does it mean I’m going to wallow for days on end or throw in the towel of dusting myself off and trying again. Quite the contrary, it allows me to treat myself gently and delicately so that it all can pass through, and then I am more likely to get back up and get busy living. It is natural for those of us who struggle with vulnerability and self-compassion to deny it to ourselves out of fear of being unproductive, lazy, or maudlin. We are the ones who need it the most. It has only ever been the denial of emotion that has kept me stuck.
I still can find myself thinking there is more pride or reverence in the toughen up honey path, but the truth is that everything that blocks me – fear, self-pity, pain, isolation, addictive tendencies – arise more when I am hard on myself and instead delicately fall away when I give myself self-compassion and lovingkindness. A paradox perhaps, or maybe just the deepest truth. Something shifts within, a quiet awakening of relief and absolute capital L Love in the midst of sincere vulnerability and sweetness that makes the higher-self path more prevalent – forgiveness comes, perspective comes, softening comes. It is less about the little stories that keep me weak or victimized or stuck in the slow burn of fury and more about the common humanity that we all share.
We all share the understanding of the presented acceptable civilized persona vs. the deepest truth of being human, and hey, maybe some more in the others. Personalities differ, family systems differ, astrological charts differ (hardy har har). Do what you want with the experience that you have. I’ll be over here feeling it all, writing about it, and then taking three months of mustering up the courage to post it on my blog.