I feel compelled to explain the absence but I won’t. I am not really writing for an audience this time. I am not sharing this because I seek your approval or acceptance. I am sharing it because I need to feel vulnerable and be ok with it. To accept it, embrace it and understand that it is not my enemy, it is an aid to my growth as a person, a wife, a parent, an artist and all the other hats I wear.
Being vulnerable is a scary thing. I know from experience. I am so good at climbing into my cocoon and adding layers to it that it was almost impossible to get back out again.
What does vulnerability mean?
vul·ner·a·ble ˈvəln(ə)rəbəl susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
I always thought that the first time I was really vulnerable was when my father died, but after a lot of soul searching and thinking I realized it was before that. It was when my family moved back to Egypt from Scotland. It was a move that I originally wanted and hoped for. I have always yearned for the feeling of belonging and my 11 year old self thought that living in Egypt would make that come true. Interestingly, I just finished Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
and she touches on the difference between fitting in and belonging.
I was struck by these two paragraphs. I used to think fitting in and belonging were the same thing, but according to her they aren’t, and I think I agree with her. But what does belonging have to do with being vulnerable? Personally, a lot. It is the root of why I feel what I feel.
After moving to Egypt I never really felt accepted or that I belonged. I couldn’t connect with friends or the people around me and eventually I stopped trying to belong and started learning how to fit in. It became so easy and automatic that I don’t think I even realized I was doing it. Honestly, I probably still don’t believe it.
Perhaps the hardest vulnerability is with your self. To step back and say I will examine my beliefs, I will question them and I will allow them to change and evolve. Then comes being vulnerable with the people you love. Accepting that they can see you as you are, flaws, imperfections and all and trusting that they will accept that and cherish it. It is hard because before you can expect it from others you need to be able to do it yourself. Am I worthy of love? Is the real me worthy of love and respect? Questions that we might not really ask but our behavior always exposes. Because of our ability to hussle for acceptance, we usually go through life without really taking that deep look inside of ourselves.
For me, it is time. Time to stop and explore. Take an adventure inside my soul, not my head but my soul.
When my father died in 1999 it was an incredible shock. It rocked our world almost threatening to demolish everything we ever knew. I tell this story saying we because it involved three people. My mother, my sister and I. And while I do not claim to know exactly what they went through I am pretty confident I can tell the collective story. My father was not a sick or dying man. He was a brilliant orthopedic surgeon. He was 45. But my father was a long time sufferer of diabetes. It was slowly eating him alive inside out. But there was nothing on the outside that foretold his death. He went to work that Friday and never came home. It was his wish that he never have to become an invalid or too sick to work.
To say that death is terrifying would be robbing death of its true meaning. Death is a thief. It takes what we hold most dear and gives nothing back. Some would say it gives back strength or resilience to adversity. But that is not death’s work, it is the work of hope and our desire or need to keep going. My mother suddenly found herself having to carry a heavy burden, two girls still at university, a home to run, a job to go to, finances to keep straight. My sister and I were lost. We had very little support from the outside world. Yes people might be empathetic in the first few days even sympathetic or compassionate. There was no grief counseling and no real long term support.
Everything was tough at the beginning. You have to grow up suddenly. Without the luxury of time or feeling your way through the process, you are suddenly thrown into life unprepared and definitely not ready.
No one is ever ready or prepared for that kind of thing. Even people who have lost loved ones after long battles with disease are never really prepared for what comes next.
Instead of reaching out or asking for help we did the exact opposite we clammed up even harder. I am not blaming anyone or saying that we should have been helped I am just saying that maybe next time if God forbid you have someone close to you dealing with something of this magnitude, remember that they might not ask for help even though they will be needing it the most.
Perhaps one person I will always be grateful for is my grandmother’s cousin, he would drop by every couple of weeks just to ask about it. For no reason. No explanation. No justification. Just an unexpressed offer of support. My mother’s aunt would sometimes drop by with lunch and spend some times with us. I am pretty sure that they have no idea that what they did is something we valued very much. Perhaps the simplicity and total honesty of their actions was what we needed the most.
There were many others who did give support in the way they new how. And to them I will be forever grateful. Some of them don’t even know that what they did may have saved us or helped us. My sister has a friend who spent the first couple of days with us. To her I say, thank you. My cousins spent the first week with us, to them I say thank you. And to my best friend who also was there for hugs and support, I am eternally in your debt.
But then life goes one, everyone goes home but the pain and loss don’t. Suddenly you learn to laugh and smile to mask it and after a while it stops becoming a mask it becomes part of who you are. It is not an act, it is a natural reflex to pain and hurt and all the horrible things in life that you don’t really know how to deal with. You stop believing in the future. You stop trusting the present. You are not miserable, on the contrary, you lead a good life, but you are never whole and because you never learn to deal with it, it doesn’t go away.
At some point in life we need to stop, tell our story, own it and accept it. It is what makes us who we are, flaws and all. These flaws do not make us worse, they are what give us our value. But for them to do that we need to accept them. No one in life hasn’t been touched by some kind of adversity and no one is perfect. Far from that, we are all imperfect. But we are who we are, and you get what you get. It is what you do with it that changes everything.
Last year I almost died. It is a long story that I do not feel like telling today. But it was another scary moment for me. It made me go back and forth between I need to be strong and I need to break down. All of this might seem touchy feely or mushy. Yes true. But I am not writing this for you. I am writing this for me, I need to heal. Because now I know I do not need to be strong on the outside. I am strong, I am flexible, I am adaptable and I am a survivor. But right now I need to be at peace with myself. True serenity and peace, that stem from the bottom of my being that can carry me into the future, a future that I so desperately need to believe in.
We carry a lot of baggage with us. We don’t need to. We need to travel light. Take only what you need and keep going. I am unpacking the bags because it is the only way forward.