This morning, our upper school faculty participated in a diversity training. To begin the session, and to encourage us to lean into the discomfort of talking about the sometimes-painful, sometimes-shameful, aspects of our identity, we watched Brene Brown’s amazing Ted Talk.
It was a very full circle moment for me.
If you followed my previous blog incarnation, you may remember me posting that exact talk several years ago. It spoke to me deeply, and at the time I watched it over and over, for weeks on end. I bought her book Daring Greatly. I thought, really thought, about her assertions regarding vulnerability, and shame, and numbing.
Like Brown, I have had a lifelong aversion to vulnerability. After years of therapy in my 20’s and a Master’s degree in counseling, I can tell you, with precise psychological precision, why and where this fear originated; much less clear was the pathway of how to exorcise the visceral, instinctual response I had each and every time I felt threatened by my own emotional weakness. I wanted to love deeply, to feel joy passionately, to “suck out all the marrow of life”, as Thoreau would say.
I just couldn’t put my finger on how to do it.
Then 2010 happened. There was no escaping those emotions. I remember saying to my friends, “I’m broken. I am actually broken” and with the best of intentions, they would fervently reply “No, no you’re not broken. You’re just … not in a good place.” But what I sensed, even if I didn’t understand it yet, was that being broken wasn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong, it was excruciating. There was no relief from the pain, no way to get away from it, no way out but through. I cried every single day, multiple times a day, for months.
I vividly remember my therapist telling me that most “women like me” are never able to recover. The odds of going on to have a healthy, loving, trusting relationship were slim. That my early childhood, family of origin issues, and events over the past year all created scars that were difficult to scab over, nevermind heal.
I took it as a personal challenge. You’re telling me that not only do I have to get through this living hell, get up every day and look and act normal and take care of my children and go to work and “move on”, but that in all likelihood, this was as good as it got? I’ll show you, lady. I’m healing.
In retrospect, I think my therapist was fairly brilliant. Clearly she understood that if anything could overcome my lifelong fear of vulnerability, it was my sense of competition.
Tonight, years later, I watch this different clip from Brene Brown:
My entire life I have felt foreboding joy. Dress rehearsing tragedy. I could never imagine, much less experience, joy without immediately thinking “this is going to disappear, so be prepared.”
I can honestly say that these days? I can pause, and acknowledge, how happy I am in that exact moment. I appreciate it. I know that it won’t last, that it may be hours, or days, before I feel that lighthearted and peaceful again – but in that moment, instead of worrying about it ending, I just appreciate that it’s there.
I did break. But sometimes you have to break to become whole.