I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about vulnerability. Not just thinking – reading and listening. And practicing. Lots of practicing vulnerability.
It’s scary stuff, right? Laying it all out there, opening up, allowing other people in – whatever you want to call it, it leaves you vulnerable to judgment, pity, criticism, rejection and even anger. These aren’t easy emotions to handle.
At a certain point, though, shame does one of two things. It either consumes you, or it forces you to find a way out.
In March, after nearly 5 years of work and self-exploration through anxiety and disordered eating, I made the decision to do a concentrated program that would give me the time and space to focus on my re(dis)covery. And it truly is discovery within recovery. The 4 weeks I spent working on issues individually and in groups was the best gift I ever could have given myself. By allowing myself some space and grace, I began learning how to trust myself and the universe again.
I quickly learned that it’s a work in progress, just like anything else in life. Boundaries, trust, self love and self care – these essential needs are constantly evolving. But the foundation is key. Nurturing the roots. Without it, there’s nothing to grow from.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.
The experience also reaffirmed that we don’t need to plant roots alone. We need support, love and wisdom from others. It means being vulnerable – and that can be very scary.
But I know that the people I most admire, the lives I’m most inspired by, are authentic. They’re willing to be vulnerable in order to make a connection. It is terrifying and beautiful, and it’s what ultimately makes us human.
Vulnerability is at the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.
So much of the time, it feels safer to protect ourselves. It feels a lot more comfortable, and it causes a lot less controversy. Except on the inside, where the turmoil can be so overwhelming that it suffocates us.
And that’s where I sat for a really long time. I knew I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I knew I was trapped in a debilitating cycle of anxiety and isolation and restriction and binge eating.
I knew it, and yet.
Sometimes I felt like I deserved it. I’d clearly gotten myself into that space. Who did I think I was to be okay? How dare I think I deserved to thrive. I had given up the right to happiness because of the bad decisions I’d made. I didn’t deserve to feel loved because I was ungrateful. And so the cycle continued, and even became addicting. The isolation, the emotional abuse, the binges…all out of shame.
It was truly one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, not because I didn’t want to feel better. Not because I didn’t deserve better. Not because I was tired of being so absent from the people I love. It was, in fact, was the people I love who made the decision so easy. I wanted to come back to them. I wanted to come back to the life I was building and be fully present. But I was terrifed of the shame that accompanied admitting I was overwhelmed and needed help.
You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.
I needed to step back and breathe. And I realized very quickly that it’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity. Habits need breaking. Skills need learning. Trust needs building. Beliefs need challenging. Switching off, even just periodically, is imperative. And it instills a level of gratitude I didn’t know exists. Rather than feel guilty that I had the opportunity and went with it, I’m realizing that it’s a gift.
Since 16, I’ve known that one of my greatest joys and purpose is helping other women. The silver lining in all of it is that – in surviving – I can support other women in thriving. My re(dis)covery process always comes back to two of my greatest loves – writing and educating. As the universe would have it, this program coincided with the end of my holistic health coach training. I believe so deeply in the work I will do as a health coach. And I knew that in order to do that from the most authentic place, I needed to be vulnerable.
You have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs.
The funny thing about vulnerability is that once you’ve started to embrace it? It’s not nearly as overwhelming. I desire a life that is open, authentic, without judgment. And I learned that I can’t accept that into my life – or inspire it in the lives of others – if I don’t practice it.
I’m grateful for the opportunity every single day to practice. Because that’s exactly what it is. Practice doesn’t make perfect, as it turns out, and it’s not supposed to. Slowly, slowly, I’m learning to embrace the imperfection.
Quotes from the brilliant Dr. Brene Brown, who expounds on vulnerability in some pretty soul-shattering ways in her book The Gifts of Imperfection.