“Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean we are unafraid; it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty.” –Brene Brown
I didn’t go through life thinking vulnerability was a good thing. I actually associated it with negativity. Being vulnerable automatically means you can’t handle your emotions, and you’re just one of those dramatic people that cry all the time about stupid shit.
I could be wrong. I grew up playing competitive sports, and I’m an ICU nurse. There isn’t a whole lot of room for vulnerability in those two things. Suck it up. Work harder. Don’t cry; don’t let anyone see you cry.
I remember when I moved to North Carolina, where I started my recovery journey, and my best friend there jokingly labeled me as a “crier.” I remember feeling like SUCH a loser. Shame crept in as I told myself, “How can you look so weak and needy to other people? How embarrassing. What the heck has recovery done to you?”
Recovery has made me vulnerable. It has made me dig through times in my life I am ashamed of. It has made me expose parts of myself I’ve kept hidden from everyone. It has made me cry IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE- like, more than once. Or twice. Or more times than I can count. Snot-nosed, red-faced, ugly crying in front of all sorts of people in my life. Vulnerability has come with owning my story, and with sharing it. Vulnerability is messy. It is uncomfortable.
I know it’s just not me that feels this way. How many of us were raised with the “don’t talk about it and it doesn’t exist” mentality? Isn’t avoidance easier? We call it “not liking confrontation” to justify tip-toeing around the things in life that make us uncomfortable and emotional. For many, addiction (eating disorder or otherwise) takes the place of being vulnerable. Example: Someone hurts my feelings…like legit hurts my feelings. When do I cry? When no one is looking. How do I cope? I restrict, exercise, and/or minimize.
I wonder if we are afraid of vulnerability because deep down, we know what power it has. Emotions are powerful- they can determine the course of your life. Vulnerability seems more out of control, and who wants to feel out of control in any part of their life?!
What I’ve learned about vulnerability in my recovery is that it means I am brave. I have the courage to share and show my feelings, even when the opinion is unpopular. It allows me to admit I am not perfect in a world that is constantly trying to define and redefine perfection. I had this idea in my head about therapy- that once I talked about something, everything I felt about it would simply melt away. It’s the idea I started recovery with- give it a few months of treatment, and I’ll be all better. But, treatment is not a cure. It is a band-aid, and the medicine is vulnerability. Being brave enough to sit on a couch in a therapists office for an hour a week going through all your shameful shit- that’s hard stuff. Sometimes I have to count to ten really slowly in my head so I don’t just get up and leave a session because I’m so frustrated. And honestly, I spend more time bullshitting in therapy because it’s easier than owning my stuff and having feelings. Writing posts like this and putting myself out there for whoever the heck wants to see- it’s not easy. I worry about what people might think, how they might see me differently, etc. I am afraid. I am uncertain. Vulnerability is hard.
Being vulnerable allows others to learn from your life. When I write a post on Instagram about how I’m doing so well but BAM, one day my eating disorder decides I need a FitBit, and I jump on a scale, and I want to go back to being unhealthy- I have people thank me for that. For me, vulnerability has had a lot to do with admitting everything is not rainbows and roses. Being vulnerable ties us together as humans, because we all struggle. Being vulnerable creates meaning between people who don’t even know each other- “Hey, I feel that way too.” What a relief to know we aren’t alone in our crazy, irrational minds. What a blessing to know we are not alone in life.
So, I challenge you. And, I challenge myself. The next time someone you care about genuinely wants to know how you are, tell them the truth. When a friend calls you out, own it. Don’t just own it, but really think about if what you are doing serves you and the people around you. When you’re too anxious or scared to do something you know needs to be done, do it. Don’t wait. We always think we have time. If someone hurts you, tell them. Instead of holding a grudge or cutting them off, talk to that person. Admit you have feelings. They do too. The next time you want to lie in therapy, skip a meal, or run that extra five minutes- don’t. Take a look at why you’re avoiding vulnerability.
Note to self: To have vulnerability is HUMAN. It is not weakness, it doesn’t make me a wimp, it doesn’t mean there is an absence of strength. The ability to be vulnerable, and confident in such a place- is it actually a sign of strength?