It Starts with You…

 

 

A few nights ago, I was out for dinner with a friend and I ran into a woman who I met before but who I did not know well. We had seen each other around town so we had formed enough of a connection that we greet each other with an acknowledging head nod and a wave. While I was eating and talking to my friend, she approached us and introduced herself. We spoke about the fact that we seem to know each other without really knowing each other. Then came the question that always inevitably arises when I meet someone new: “What happened to you?” I tell her that I was born prematurely which meant that my lungs weren’t fully developed and as I tried to breathe, I acquired brain damage as a result of a lack of oxygen to my brain. I explain to her that I am very fortunate though because my brain damage has only impacted my ability to walk. Following my answer, she said “But you seem so happy” to which I responded “I am. I love my life.” And I really do. I am so grateful for the life I have been gifted, and I am even grateful for the disability I have been gifted. I regularly say that I know at the very core of my being that this was no mistake. I have become the person I am today because of it. Living with a disability has gifted me a sense of perspective. It has helped me find my purpose.

What stood out for me though, was her initial response: “But you seem so happy.” Although I know her words were in no way ill intended, it reminded me that as human beings we need to practice checking our assumptions at the door, if we really want to connect with another. We have to be careful to examine the pre- conceived notions we carry, if we are to ever move toward a true sense of equality within our society. Why is it assumed that because I live with a disability that I am bound to be unhappy? Letting assumptions rule only serves to reinforce stigma and drives disconnection.

Changing the world really does start with each and every one of us. Check your assumptions at the door, and open the space for people to teach you about their experience, knowing that the vastness that is the human experience can never be contained to a series of labels and assumptions.

By suspending judgement we free ourselves and others. Here’s to radical openness and ever abounding love. It starts with you. Never doubt that.

Shame, Perfectionism, and Sacred Protection.

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Shame. That all too familiar urge to hide, and retreat, to lash out and attack in an attempt to protect and defend yourself in response to a cutting comment or an excruciating experience. Feelings of unbearable exposure and fear ridden vulnerability take over. The sense that you are completely alone in this world seems like an irrefutable fact.  Thoughts of self-judgement arise. You begin to believe that you are unlovable. Not good enough. A failure. That you will never amount to anything. That you have nothing of value to contribute to this world. That you are a waste of space.

Shame is universal.
We all experience it at some point in our lives, under various guises. Shame is often masked, hidden, and seemingly undetectable. Perfectionism is one of those masks. It is a way of staying hidden. Staying guarded and impenetrable. It helps us to defend ourselves against exposing the parts of ourselves that we believe no one could truly love and accept. We become consumed by the need to look and behave perfectly at all times, never allowing ourselves to falter- for that would be far too risky. We begin to believe that perfection is the prerequisite for acceptance. That people expect certain things of us and that we must abide by these expectations to keep the connections we have. The possibility of true connection is taken off the table, because we begin to believe that we can’t show our true selves to the world, without having it be rejected. The belief in the need for perfectionism becomes stronger and stronger and we become increasingly isolated, but appearances won’t let anybody know that. We live in the space of “I’m good!” while we are really just trying to keep everything from falling apart. Loneliness sets in, and shame continues to build. Layer upon layer. We begin to feel trapped- perfectionism severely limits us. We start to feel as though we are confined in prison cell. We begin to believe that there is no hope for escape. But, here’s the thing: we hold the key, and it is in our power to choose if we are going to use that key. Using the key though requires a great deal of risk… it just seems too scary, for the key is imperfection in all its inherent vulnerability.

Liberation is found in the embrace and acknowledgement of imperfection.

 Liberation is found in speaking your imperfections. Owning them and embracing them and having them be met with relentless empathy. One person to get down with you on that level to say, “yeah, I’ve totally been there too.” One person who will meet you on that plane of vulnerability. One person who will lovingly sit alongside you to peel back the layers.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brene Brown


Empathy remedies shame. At the same time though, we must be careful about who we choose our “vulnerability running buddy” to be. Not everyone can hold our story. That is just a fact.  And so, we must use our discretion.We must protect our hearts, but not to the point where they become inaccessible. It’s about living from the space of sacred protection. Living from the knowing that our innermost “stuff” is the stuff of divinity. Immensely precious. Immensely sacred. Living from the knowing that you are immensely sacred. Living from the space of remembering your divinity.

Openness is not about letting it all “hang out” it’s about operating from a place of recognizing your value and sharing yourself with those who have proven themselves worthy of hearing your story. True, authentic, raw openness requires sacred protection grounded in unfaltering acceptance and big love.