Thursday, May 23, 2013

In the Fire of Vulnerability

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” - Brene Brown

Two months ago, I met David while walking on the beach. In an instant here was there and before we even said hello, I was gone. I can't say exactly what it was or why, it was just sudden and certain. I won't go into a lot of details as I want to keep certain things about our relationship private. The reason I am blogging about it at all, is that he is an incredibly important person in my life. He is one of those people that radiate joy from the deepest part of himself and to be in his presence is to be in the most incredible space. He is the kind of person that gives himself freely, without reservation and because of that, makes me want to do the same. That is the other reason I am writing about David.

Back in late February or early March, I got introduced to Brene Brown. I saw two of her videos on TED (Video 1, Video 2) and what she said resonated so much with me that I had to watch each video several times and then I had no choice but to buy her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” and read it immediately. If you aren't familiar with Brene Brown, she has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. While reading the book, I found myself all but screaming “Bring on the vulnerability!” I need to be careful what I wish for.

Almost immediately, I was in situations that required nothing less that complete vulnerability and authenticity. I had to have a difficult conversation with my sister. I had a very bumpy road with my room mate. I had drama with my mom. I had my own things going on in life. And then there was David. I can't think of anything more vulnerable than having massive feelings for someone, letting them in and then stripping off the layers and standing there emotionally naked. I quickly realized I have a love/hate relationship with being vulnerable.

Shame works like the zoom lens on a camera. When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling.” ― Brené Brown

Fortunately or unfortunately, shame and vulnerability go hand in hand. Of course, I didn't believe that when I read it. I was sure I could be vulnerable and emotionally open while leaving shame out of it all. I wonder if there really is anything scarier than taking something that we feel ashamed about and laying it out in full view of someone we love, someone with the power to hurt us. Normally, I like to keep things hidden and to myself. When things go wrong, I go inward. When things get tough, I shut people out. When I get scared, I put up walls. With David, I choose not to do those things. He is amazing at letting me be emotionally bare and making me feel safe. Seeing my own fears and insecurities and walking into them and standing there in full view of someone is beyond daunting. The more I feel I want to run, the more I force myself to remain still. The more I want to build a wall, the more I force myself to remove a brick. This, of course could not happen without the support and safety I feel.

If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm. - Brene Brown, from The Gifts of Imperfection

There are a few people in my life I can really share my story with, without any fear of judgement. David is one of those people for me. He not only makes me feel safe and protected, he makes me want to tell my story and let him in to places that I had long ago closed off. Every time I face the fear, every time I ignore the voices that start to play and tell me to keep it all to myself, every time I decide to open up, I feel not only closer to him, but freer in myself.

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” - Brene Brown, from Daring Greatly

David and I recently had our first real issue in our journey together. Sitting across from someone and talking open and honestly, without the intention of doing harm, but with the intention of healing was one of the hardest things I have done. When I feel fear, confusion or insecurity, I tend to hurt others. It is one of my “go to” places. So is running. There was a time not long ago when I would have gone. Gone to another state, gone to another country. I have never had an issue leaving one life behind in an instant and starting a new one. Not this time. I chose to face one of my biggest fears head-on. I chose to be honest and I chose to listen without judgment. It wasn't easy. When I felt threatened, I had to tell myself not to shut down, not to react in anger or pain, but to listen and hear what was really being said.

It is easy to tell someone we love them when things are going great. It is easy to reach for a hand when walking on the beach or sharing a wonderful moment. It is terrifying to say I love you when things are hard, and almost impossible to reach for a hand when we have no idea if it will be pulled away.

David's grandma has been married almost 60 years. I asked her a few weeks ago what she felt was the secret. I asked her how she kept it together for so long. Her answer was both simple and complex. She said you just have to stay with it. She said that leaving is easy and staying together is difficult and at times almost impossible. But running, for her, was never an option.

Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: "Who has earned the right to hear my story?" If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky” - Brené Brown

Yesterday, I said “I love you”, ready to not hear it back. I reached for a hand, ready for it to be withdrawn. I wanted to run, but instead I did those things. And David, being vulnerable and emotionally bare, was there. And because of that, we are still here and we are going to be ok. Actually, we are going to be amazing. 

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