I Just Want You to Know: A Story of Anticipatory Grief.

 
 
 
 

About a year ago, as I was sitting with my grandmother watching my grandfather, her husband of 57 years, take his last breaths in hospice care, she asked me why anyone would ever want to do this work- caring for people in their last days of life, as she found it utterly depressing and void of hope. My answer to her was quickly and easily given: “because it’s about love.” It’s about free-flowing, unbounded gratitude, raw vulnerability and pure courage.

Hanging in the balance between present reality and future uncertainty, between “have” and “have lost” unites us. It breaks the walls of fear which often surround us and allows us to shed our protective masks. We begin to fearlessly stand in what’s real, unapologetically, for time adopts a new sense of significance when we recognize that it truly is finite.  All things felt, but never said rise to the surface and are expressed with a sense of urgency. Hugs are given. Connection is fostered and love shines brightly.

When I talk to people about my experience of watching my grandfather’s health rapidly decline over a period of about six months, I don’t deny that it is one of the hardest things I have experienced. It was a time wrought with fear of what was to come. I spent many nights worrying about what he was feeling, and how I was to continue living my life without him. At the same time though, those six months were abundantly powerful, because alongside the fears and sleepless nights was a new sense of meaning. Each interaction we shared, we both recognized, was a gift. We were able to have the conversations that we would not have had otherwise, without any sense reservation. Vulnerability was brought to the table in a very real way.

Those six months were about living in the space of fearless authenticity which arose from us both feeling that we were given the permission to engage in those conversations. But here’s the thing,the idea that we need to be given permission to be authentic, and courageously vulnerable with those for whom we care the most, is false. The all-important and life-altering conversations which only seem to happen when time is of the essence, need to start happening without an underlying reason, and without feeling as though we need to be given permission. They need to start happening simply because the people who fill our lives are to be cherished. We need to start letting life unite us, for it is far more fragile than we often care to admit.

So go ahead and be generous with your words of love and gratitude. Tell people what they mean to you and how they have impacted your life. Say “I love you” just because you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vulnerability Remedy.

A few months days ago, while having a conversation with a good friend of mine, I crossed a boundary. I used a story which wasn’t mine to share, to illustrate a point.  Although the story fit with the nature of the conversation we were having, as soon as the words left my mouth I felt utterly disgusting. I knew, based on the physical reaction I was experiencing that I had made a huge mistake. I immediately went into shame mode. Narratives akin to “I am a horrible person” started to swirl in my mind. I felt that what I had done was in such stark contrast to my core guiding value (fierce compassion) that I couldn’t take it. I literally wanted to crawl out of my own skin and hide. Huge, huge shame.

I let a few more minutes of conversation pass.

The thoughts kept going. “What is wrong with you?” “How could you have been so careless?”  “You are a bad person.”  On and on. And, I knew that these thoughts would continue for days. I would punish myself in this way for hours on end until I felt that I had paid for what I had done. Interrupted nights, and days spent in a bad mood to follow. This cycle was all too familiar to me.

I desperately didn’t want to go down that road. So, instead of condemning myself for days, I decided to purposely break the cycle: I called on my self-compassion. I instantly knew what I had to do. I had to bring this up. I had to get vulnerable. And so, I brought it up. I told my friend, that I was very uncomfortable with what I had said and that I was experiencing some heavy shame about it. I told her about the thoughts that I had been having in the last few minutes of our conversation.  She listened, and I immediately felt better. I told her that I was fearful of her judgment of me, and that what I had done was out of alignment with who I want to be. The more vulnerable I got, the better I felt. She responded with compassion, and assured me that we all make mistakes and that what I had done, she believed was not a reflection of my character.

And, there it was: my ticket to freedom. It was in her speaking those words that I knew that the next few days would not be colored by self-punishing thoughts.

Healing happens in the space of vulnerability.

Yes, vulnerability is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s a reflection of courage, not weakness. But as uncomfortable as it may be, it comes with the greatest rewards life has to offer. It allows us to feel connected, reassured and united. Vulnerability is deeply empowering and enabling. It is the birthplace of freedom, because it is inherently risky, and what is risky is profoundly liberating.

 

 

 
 
 

 

Why it’s Okay if the Metaphorical Glass is Actually Half Empty.

 
 

We’ve all heard them at one time or another, those trite phrases of wisdom intended to uplift and inspire when we turn to others in times of pain. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “You just need to start thinking more positively,” “Look on the bright side…,” “You need to see the glass as half full,” the list goes on.

Well intentioned? Most definitely.

Helpful? Probably not.

When we turn to others in times of pain and distress, we are not looking for the quick fixes offered by such words. In fact, such words can often increase our pain, and make us feel even worse. Vulnerability is risky, and often takes all the courage we can muster to reach out and let others in, because our most precious, and deeply held stories – those which require the most vulnerability to speak- are typically cloaked in fear, fear that others will not truly understand, will abandon us, and judge us as weak. That’s what makes vulnerability so incredibly powerful, because we know that when we are truly vulnerable, there was a whole bunch of fear that had to be pushed aside. That’s why bearing witness to someone’s most vulnerable stories and experiences is such a deep honor. It takes an immense amount of courage to expose oneself in such a raw and unprotected way. When we render ourselves vulnerable, we are essentially relinquishing control, and placing ourselves in the hands of another. We have no way of predicting how they are going to respond to us- will they nurture, love and respect us or will they disrespect, hurt, and shame us?

Our stories are abundantly powerful, and when they are met with quick fix phrases, it can make us feel that they have been robbed of their power and importance. Such phrases can be degrading and disrespectful because they fail to acknowledge the courage that is vulnerability. They dishonor the sheer valor it requires to let someone else in. Such phrases can make inspire shame and guilt, because they are wrapped in the implicit message that “negative” feelings are bad and therefore should be vehemently avoided. They send the message that we are wrong to have feelings that are not “positive.” Welcome disconnection, isolation and sometimes, self-loathing.

But here’s the thing, the idea that feelings can be labeled as “positive” or “negative” is a social construction. Feelings do not have a positive or negative value. They just are. They are all of equal importance. It’s okay to experience feelings of sadness, hurt, grief and so on because they are all part of the human experience, as much as happiness and joy are. We get scared. We get hurt. We can feel ashamed. We can feel lost. We can feel hopeless. And that’s okay, because it’s normal, and inherently human.

It’s okay that the glass isn’t always half full. It’s not supposed to be.

When we let someone see our pain, what we need is for them to truly honor our story and to meet it with empathy- a compassionate willingness to sit alongside us and delve into our experiences without judgment, as it is though this compassionate presence that connection is fostered. The walls of isolation are effectively shattered because we are made to feel “normal” when we begin to understand that all feelings are universal. We begin to understand that we are not weak because we are scared, hurt, grieving etc. We are in fact, just human, and that all we really need when we are in pain is for someone to sit with us and say, “I get it.”

 


 

 
 
 

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.