Vulnerability. It’s an uncomfortable thing to embrace. It’s like the feeling you get watching The Office and the boss, Michael, makes another awkward comment that is horrifically mistimed and it creates a silence in the room filled with mixed facial expressions of shock and entertainment. His character is the epitome of highlighting one’s vulnerabilities every minute of each day.
Vulnerability is the feeling you get when you feel exposed during a weak or uncertain state of your mind or moment in life. It’s the feeling you get right before you are about to speak your mind knowing your words may be unpopular. It’s the feeling you have when you want to say no but you’re too scared to, or when you know you’ve done something wrong and want to ask forgiveness. Vulnerability is the state of fear that accompanies monumental changes in your life, when you have to admit to yourself that you failed and must start over, or the realization that your trust had been used against you, you’ve been abandoned, told you have cancer. It’s the emotion you feel just as you submit a job applicatio, file for a loan, or watch your child get on the bus and go to school for the first time.
Vulnerability is almost always accompanied by pain. Whether its emotional, physical, mental or spiritual, we are vulnerable because we are exposed, either to ourselves or to ourselves and everyone around us. This happens because we are feeling some level of pain. Pain to speak, pain to feel, pain to listen, see, grieve, process, comfort, learn, grow. Whatever level of pain, and from wherever it stems… there is the birth of our vulnerability. And though it’s simply a human function and process that we all naturally, and innately go through, we have learned from day one that it is not okay. Vulnerability is weakness… and weakness is bad. Don’t SHOW your weakness, don’t let others see it. How will they feel if you do? How will it make you look? Don’t oppress others with the duty or responsibility to see you vulnerable, keep that shit locked up. When a child scrapes their knee and cries, what do we do? “Shhhhh” and give them a bandaid… then distract them with a popsicle or piece of candy. Problem solved. And metaphorically, that is what we do our entire lives. Shhhh…. sweep that dust under the rug, grab a drink, smile and act normal. The scary alternative is to reveal what our perceptions actually are about our own vulnerabilities:
I, like all of you – whether you admit it or not, can relate to this and I identify with all of it. Even the examples I didn’t even list, but you know what’s missing. It’s the stuff you’re thinking about right now. Stuff you know you wouldn’t dare share with others, or be open about. So let’s just pretend we’re all here sitting in a circle and each of us will have a turn to speak. When it’s your turn, you have to share your vulnerability. It can be whatever you want. And so I will start, and as you are reading my naked truth about my experience to becoming unapologetically vulnerable, I want you to get ready to share that one thing you’ve been too scared to reveal. Ready? Here we go.
Sometimes It Starts With a Big Change
I have certainly been vulnerable many times in my life, which is exactly how I’ve learned to hide it. If you know me, or have read my story here on my site, you know that my life has forced me into countless vulnerable situations. And each time, I got more stubborn about hiding it, denying it, looking past it while simultaneously getting real damned good at faking a socially acceptable level of strength, by social definitions. Because that’s what gets the applause and kudos and ‘atta girls’. But as the universe would have it, and if you don’t know this by now, you should… the more you deny something, the bigger and badder it will come back to kick you in the nuts.
Nothing could be more clear about that last statement than the demonstration of reality by such bold, consecutive events, one by one, in my life since October of this past year (2014). My life was envied, and I don’t say that with ego, but I had a life to be envied. It’s true. But every blessing in my life, and every piece of the puzzle I held together in such gratitude was about to be disengaged, picked apart, re-analyzed, put under the microscope, and revealed back to me in such a way that I would be forced upon my knees at the mercy of some new realities; that what was before, was now… no longer. Nothing I believed was what it had seemed.
In October I left for training in California. It was a week long trip, where I studied with a group of practitioners from the CHEK Institute for our HLC level 3 course. I was still high from this week upon my arrival home, and couldn’t wait to share this with my husband, friends, and clients. But what I came home to was the unexpected notice that we were moving in 9 days. I had one week to catch up on work and with clients, as well as inform them all that my office is moving and all of the other changes. I had one week to prepare for this move, and process the fact that I’d no longer live next to my best friend or hop out the front door with both dogs and my kids to go for a hike on my favorite trail behind my house. I was grieving and trying to process all at the same time, meanwhile boxes are being packed up and furniture quickly loaded into a moving truck and my house was getting emptier and emptier. I distracted myself, denied it. I went into the garage and performed deadlifts with the music turned up, I invited my neighbors over to workout and offered to do some manual therapy and reflexology on them… ‘just cause’, and then when I had to let the movers begin loading things from my garage, I could no longer “hide out” in there, so I went for a hike on my favorite trail behind the house and took pictures.
I denied it all until the sun went down, my house was empty, and the movers had left for the new house downtown. I began to feel that lump in my throat. So I got in my car and left. And that’s not all. This isn’t a story about moving. This is not where it ends. That’s just where it started.
Stress Will Reveal Our Vulnerabilities
The top 5 most stressful events in a person’s life are listed in this order (according to Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS):
1. death of spouse
6. death of family member
7. separation of partners
8. getting fired/job change
9. getting married (irony)
Moving was hard. And initially, I did it all alone because my husband had to travel the very next day the movers dropped our things off at the new house. I unpacked, put everything away, moved furniture, hung photos and got the girls settled in while he was gone, and not in spite of him, but because I had to. In my head. Moving was just one thing on that list that was about to change my life. Little did I know that I would be moving, again, within just 6 short weeks.
Fast forward to January, the beginning of a new year. The beginning of a lot of things, in fact. Between the time we moved at the end of October and January, I experienced 3/4 of that list. No, I did not go to prison, retire, nor did my spouse die. But the rest of it somehow made its way into my life within a span of 8 weeks, plus a bunch of other stuff like holidays, financial crisis, informing the kids of our divorce, etc. All of that prior to the following chain of events I experienced Jan. 5th – Feb. 3rd 2015:
- Surgery to adjust retainer of jaw, fix an abdominal hernia, remove implants
- Packed, moved, unpacked into new home 5 days post-op
- Realized this is the first time I’ve lived alone in 12 years
- Finalized divorce
- Experienced a huge financial crisis and subsequent moments of uncertainty
- Sudden crisis in post-op complications with bad case of hematoma
- In & out of hospital, on & off operating table 3x in one week, lost 2 liters of blood
- Gas and Cable company still have not turned services on at new home
(this meant no heat, working stove, hot water, showers, or wifi to get any work done for over a week during all this post-op health chaos)
- Rounds of medications and antibiotics, follow ups with surgeon
- Trying to settle into new home, this 2nd huge move in less than two months while so physically limited
- Processing my emotions and feelings of fear, abandonment, vulnerability, pressure, guilt, new love, new identity, all of it. So much of it.
- Various promotional projects for conference, meetings, new stages of planning, more work and juggling both careers
- Then we noticed an onset of infection in my surgical incisions, likely from having them open for draining the hematoma (had tubes put in/removed to continue draining the blood), started new round of medications
- Followed up with surgeon again, confident this was all getting better, yet told it was worse
- Shocked by the news I had to have another surgery, with less than 24 hours to prepare
Dropping the Veil
Now, by this time so much had occurred in my life within the last three months that I’m just thinking “what’s another easy surgery, nothing new,” until they had to convince me that nothing was okay. Here I was, feeling pretty good. I had a good, solid week to get back on my feet. Started seeing clients again, had a great conference meeting, was feeling settled in the new house and getting familiar with my new life. But importantly, and despite all of the complications I had physically dealt with since the first surgery in January, I was feeling better. And not only better, I felt GOOD. So for them to inform me that I needed more surgery, it required more convincing on their end.
And they followed through on that request. I was told that the fact that I felt “good” was actually a really bad sign. And I’ll get to that huge metaphor later, so stick that in your pocket for now.
My lab reports came back positive for MRSA. As they detailed what this was, the looks on their faces were anything but optimistic. And they explained why. Because my blood counts were anything but evidence that my immune system was even functioning at this point, and having MRSA without any fever, pain or other symptoms was a huge concern for them. And they needed me to be concerned. So I could understand their reason behind not allowing me to take another round of anesthesia. That’s right… this wasn’t just another simple surgery, no biggie. I had to be awake for it. And granted, some of the subsequent post-op procedures I had were done with local anesthesia, but those were quick cuts and closes for the tubes/draining. This was actual surgery to go into all wound sites and remove any/all infection, exposed tissues and any/all artificial inserts, supports and implants that had been exposed. I asked why. They said because my risk of going into shock was too high to even consider it, and anesthesia would add too much weight to that risk.
I felt convinced. I got it. And I had less than 24 hours to process this, prepare myself, and get all my ducks in a row for what was about to happen and what needed to be lined up for after; considering several scenarios I do not wish to put in permanent writing. My daughters were with me because my ex was stuck in a snow storm in Boston, so here is where I felt my first round of vulnerability hit me like a sucker punch to the face. But I deserved it. I had dodged it so many times, my ego needed a sucker punch. There was nothing unfair about it. The scenarios swirling around in my head and everything I had to consider and prepare for had to be done with these two little girls standing in front of me wanting an explanation, and requesting reassurance from me that they are still loved, and safe, and their Mom is, and will be okay. And I could not give that to them. That sucked. For everyone. But being vulnerable in front of them, allowed them to see/ know that they can be vulnerable right back, and that’s okay. So we had our moments and we cried. I realized that I will never again tell them to “shhh…”
With an Army of Love, I Am Disarmed–
I woke up the next morning, Tuesday February 3rd, and got each of my inboxes cleared, answered emails, followed up on some tasks, paid bills, and sent notifications out to my executive team as well as my clients, and then I was ready. My friend Katie stopped by to be there for me and be awesome as usual, and I was receiving a lot of support from others as well. My friends really came out from the woods, so to speak, out of their own lives to show up for me. What this did to me, as a human being, was truly allow myself to be vulnerable. As they all showed up, in their own ways, perfectly, one by one, I began to feel the walls come down. I was scared, and guess what? I’ve been scared shitless for the last three months but it wasn’t until now that I could really allow myself to crumble and land on my knees exposing every weakness, every fear, every uncertainty I had… to each of my friends. And you know something about genuine friends when this happens? You realize: they already knew. They already knew! And they still showed up. Isn’t that something?
I felt strong as I left for the surgery. Optimistic and a bit confident. Why? Here’s why: because I was vulnerable. Vulnerable isn’t about being weak, it’s about exposing that weakness without apology because that is who you are and where you are and there is nothing about that but being a strong human being.
I felt strong because I let myself be weak.
I’m not done. Nope. This gets better, I promise. And by “better”, I mean, the worst is yet to come. (buckle up) So I get to the office and have to sign a bunch of legal stuff before I can take my valium (that’s what I got to take for surgery by the way) so that everything was signed and planned and confirmed with a “sound mind”. I popped my valium, used the restroom, got changed and followed the nurse into the O.R. where I was cleaned and got to lay down. Yep, I got myself up on my own operating table, staring at the bright lights above me. I did not get to close my eyes and escape this time, waking up with no memory of anything. I took a deep breath and looked at the nurse and said “I’m scared,” and she said, “You’re strong,” She tied the surgical mask up over her mouth and hung the sheet up in front of me so I could not see beyond my chin. I plugged my earphones in, turned my binaural beats on, informed them to tell me anything they needed to now or forever hold their tongues because my mission was to take this valium-induced high and go into a deep meditative trance. And I did. Each time I felt them make a cut, I reminded my body to let go even more. I melted into the operating table and traveled to my favorite place in the woods. Before I knew it, a bright light was piercing me and I saw them removing the sheet in front of me. I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up. I removed my earphones and heard them talking to me as I came out of this deep meditation. But I looked up and saw three of them around me, surgical masks still on, but their eyes. Their eyes said it all. They were sad, there was pity and guilt pouring our of their eyes. What happened? Am I alive? Am I having an out of body experience here, did I die? No… I’m not dead. I hear, “Do you want to see?” and two hands helped me sit up and as I looked down, I knew.
There were two tubes sewn into a pair of holes in my chest.
(Where my breasts used to be.)
And ultimately, the shock of that has not worn off. I’m writing this only four days after surgery, so I know it will, but it hasn’t yet. Surprisingly, my reaction was not sadness or anger or self pity or “Oh my God, I look awful,” but instantly I began to hear the voices of every woman who has experienced this and I felt nothing but compassion and love for every voice, and therefore myself. And all I wanted to do was let them speak through me. I am not going to “Shhh…” these voices. I wanted to hear them. I wanted to feel them. I don’t care that my breasts are gone. And not just the implants, the tissue and the skin. What they represent. And what a strange feeling to simultaneously go between gratitude for living and grieving for loss. I heard voices that rejoiced for the life they’re given back and I heard those same voices crack at the shame and guilt felt over grieving the loss of something that signified such a great part of their feminine identity as mothers, lovers, caretakers, nourishers, powerful healers. Shame, and guilt. That’s where this is going. Because that’s a real thing. People really, truly, without hesitation feel shame and guilt as a result of…. feeling something else. And so yes, I’ve got my health and I’ve got a road to recovery that is full of promise and good things and I am grateful for that. But I won’t be ashamed or feel guilty about the day I am able to process this and truly allow those feelings in. If I am sad about losing my breasts, then I’ll be sad. And I will apologize to no one. I’ve had moments already, but they are fleeting as I focus on so many other things.
My friend T drove me to Target the day after surgery because I had to get “tight” sports bras to compress my chest, and well, we eventually had to find our way over to the pre-teens section to dig through the wall of training bras and guess what, even a size Small is too big. And here’s the thing about that… it’s fucking hilarious.
Call me crazy, but it is. Each friend of mine who has reached out is expecting me to be vulnerable about this again, they expect to hear me cry about it and express my body-shaming over something that symbolizes something very important to me as a woman. But you know why I’m laughing? Why I’m writing this long post 4 days later without one tear drop?
Because I was vulnerable out loud. I opened myself up naked and fully exposed to those who appeared there for me and I showed every square inch of that vulnerability and all of the fears hiding behind it. As a result, I felt a congregation of love surround me and I became stronger because of it. I have carried that strength with me all week and it’s because of that strength that everything else I’m processing right now is so easy. Do you get it?
No, I mean… do you get it. Do you understand that I am strong and not just strong, but I am so supported by strength that I have the confidence and ease to process everything in front of me now. I have that because I am vulnerable. And I’m continuing to be vulnerable; without apology or shame or guilt or fear because it somehow makes me weak or ungrateful.
“We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.” – Eric Micha’el Leventhal
So, remember earlier that metaphor I asked you to put in your pocket for later? When I could not understand the urgency and concern of my physician about getting me back on the operating table because I felt good, and I had zero inclination to believe anything was wrong, and he came back with, “That’s the problem. The problem is even more serious because you are unable to see or feel or understand that there’s a problem,” and because of this, had I not returned for my follow up – or even had a follow up with this doctor – I would have been unequipped to determine a problem exists, and subsequently predict the outcome of ignoring it and therefore taking any steps to prevent those outcomes.
Following me? Basically, the more you tuck shit away and hide it, pretend you’re fine, choose only see and show the world what is considered your “strengths” and what will continue to always make you such a badass, in terms of what we have all socially defined, then the less capable you will become at identifying, predicting, preventing, and managing every problem, obstacle, crisis, road block, or change subsequent to each time you sweep yet another thing under the rug and deny pain and change. Whether its a simple fact of looking yourself in the mirror and dealing with the truth, or letting others see your truth, the less you avoid that… the stronger you become. The more you engage yourself as a vulnerable human being by first accepting that you are vulnerable, and second by allowing yourself to feel it, and third by not being afraid to show it… the stronger you are.
What happens after that is you stop fearing everything in life that could possibly happen. You stop walking around scared that this could happen, that could happen, someone could think this or that about you, etc. You stop worrying about every bad thing that could or is about to happen because, as a vulnerable person, you are strong and capable of handling anything. There’s no worry. It’s just confidence. Confidence and trust…both in the fact that God has a purpose for you and so it doesn’t matter what happens. The universe keeps evolving and you have a choice to either evolve with it and expand and grow and fulfill the purpose you’ve been given… or to stay at your own limited, comfortable pace within the box you’ve tucked yourself into because evolving is scary, and “being scared is vulnerable, and being vulnerable is weak”.
Stop lying to yourself about it. Start living the truth of who you are, all that beautiful mess inside of you, and reveal it without fear or shame. Respond to this post below and state your vulnerabilities. Or simply leave this page now and go do it on your own terms. But no cheating. It won’t work if you cheat.
“But, of course, putting yourself out there takes vulnerability. Vulnerability is hard, and we, as a rule, tend to go for what’s easy; by that logic, closing ourselves off is the easiest thing in the world. We quote the words of others to do our talking for us, send each other links to articles and stories in lieu of actual conversation, post pretty pictures to adequately convey our current state of mind, all to avoid having to proffer a single identifiable human emotion. We keep in touch with relatives by emailing them mawkishly inspirational chain letters once in a while. We regurgitate memes to approximate the feeling of being in the loop.” ― Phil Roland