Do you ever feel exposed? I do all the time. It makes me want to run and hide.
I want to jump in bed, throw the covers over my head, and read a good book until my painful world melts away and I’m lost in a pretend world forever.
Early in life, hiding became my defense mechanism. I learned way too soon that sharing myself hurt. Maybe it started that day in kindergarten when I volunteered to sing the Days of the Week song (with confidence! I’d sung it at least a thousand times in the car with my mom) and tagged “fun day” on the end. I may have imagined the whole class erupting in cackling hysterics and finger pointing, but I didn’t imagine the look of harassment on my teacher’s face as she informed me that “there is no fun day.”
Regardless of when it started, “sharing hurt” got reinforced that day in high school, parked in my driveway with my youth leader, when I shared my most haunting memories. Memories that had terrorized me for years, had prevented me from sleeping or walking across a dark room or making eye contact in dim light. I so badly needed to be seen and understood and comforted. Instead she dismissed me, and though she didn’t say it outright, her body language and word choice let me know she thought I was crazy.
With experience after experience after experience like this, I learned to shut up. I learned that sharing my true, authentic self only asked for rejection, betrayal, or ridicule. I learned the face I shared needed to be sweet and normal and predictable. I learned how to bury my truest self deep inside and to mask the pain and burden hiding it had become.
Even now, after years of therapy and fighting to always be me, I still fall into the trap of hiding. It might start with a hard conversation or posting a blog, then add a heap of life on top, and it gets to be too much–too much fear, too much naked, too much exposure–and I want to withdraw into myself. I start resenting all the brave steps I’ve made. I want to delete every blog I’ve ever posted. I want to write in obscurity for the rest of my life. I want to throw a blanket over my head when I think of the rejections I’ve gotten from agents. I want to move away from a town where people believe the worst of me.
Hiding works really well, except for when it doesn’t. You know that whole chasing dreams and living fully thing?
So what do I do with the tension? This drive inside me to run?
My friend Jessica gave me Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and I read this:
Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage without vulnerability determines the depth of courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.
When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bullet proof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunitues that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.
Perfect and bullet proof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be–a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation–with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sideliines and hurling judgement and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.
Wow, right? No matter how many times I read over that passage, it leaves me breathless.
We must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.
This is sooooooo hard, but essential. It’s the hiding that holds me back from my dreams. It’s the false belief that if anyone sees the true me, they will despise it.
The arena for me is feeling the pain and not numbing it or pushing it down or beating myself up for being emotional. It’s rallying hope and sending another query letter to an an agent. It’s loving deeply regardless of the risk of loss, again. It’s accepting myself as not perfect, as still learning, as doing the best I can always and allowing mistakes, embracing them, learning from them, and not hiding in shame.
My arena is living with arms wide open no matter the degree of potential emotional pain.
I have to choose this every day because the pain had been so deep. Yet, the joy has been so full. And that is life. Living with both equally. Sometimes the act of bravery is simply to breathe. Choosing to stay open. Refusing to clench or to become hard or controlling.
What’s your arena? What act of braery will you take today to breathe despite it all?