Saturday, February 9, 2013

Exploring Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability is a tough one for me.  Some people come by it so naturally, so effortlessly.  They share their dark fears, their insecurities, their disappointments, their failures.  Me, not so much.  I *can* do that, but I have to trust you in such a way that I know if I divulge those inner darknesses, those painful discomforts that sit somewhere in the confines of my large intestine (kind of between the yellow and the orange chakra if you're into that kind of thing), that you will not damage me further.  You will not play with those vulnerabilities as if you thought they were a set of darts.  My vulnerabilities seem so fragile to me, and so very scary.

I first really started noticing my vulnerabilities around the 4th grade.  This is not a surprise since the summer before I had been in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle between my parents.  The non-custodial parent won, so I moved cities (tiny east Texas town to giant Houston urbanization), moved houses, moved friends, moved schools.  And then, after spending 4th grade at one school, due to the district re-arranging everything, I moved to a different school in the 5th grade.  And then, my parents moved across town, so in 6th grade I changed yet again. (This whole school changing thing happened again in the 8th grade and then again in the 9th in case you were wondering if it got any better - it didn't).

In 4th grade my vulnerabilities were adjusting to new rules, new parents, and abuse.  I won't go into the abuse, not because I'm afraid to share (I'll tell you in person) but because the internet is place where people can find things, I feel like I need to tread very lightly here in order to protect myself.  Suffice it to say, my home-life wasn't great - but I did get a new sister a few months later (new home, new city, and a new baby in the house!) and my new step-mom was wonderful and did the best she could given her own limitations and, oh by the way, she had a new-born and me, a 9.5 year old, to care for.  It was a lot.

In 6th grade, however, I hit that really really really awkward, ugly duck, molting, all elbows and knobby knees and kinky hair, buck teeth and bad glasses, kind of stage.  I'll be honest, I've gasped at a few of the photos.  And my vulnerabilities were all exposed, because I was a living, breathing, ball of hormones and changes. 

 How lovely that the caterpillar gets to wrap himself in silk and go away for awhile, away from the persecuting eyes of pre-pubescent 'mean girls', and then emerge into a glorious butterfly. That was so NOT my experience.

I was not, on any level, a popular girl in junior high (or ever in my life, for that matter).  I remember this one girl Andrea who was in 8th grade (which seemed so old to my 6th grade self) was one of the 'coolest' girls in the school.  She had 80s outfits down like a mini-Madonna: velvet baby doll dresses, lace-trimmed leggings, hair shaved under on the bottom and permed on top.  She was popular.  And 8th-grade-uber-cool-Andrea told 6th-grade-vulnerable-Sarah on the first day of school while waiting at the bus stop, that she was WAY too skinny. (Ok, yes, I miss that problem now, but we're in the past so bear with me.)

I didn't even know there was such a thing as being to skinny, and that it was really un-cool.  And, just like that, I began to have a serious look at my body and be totally insecure about it.  Then there were the glasses; I was called four-eyes a lot -- and it didn't help that my parents had truly chosen the UGLIEST glasses in the world for me.  My lips (for which I'm now ever so grateful), were called cow lips, and I was teased for those too.  Oh, and I learned in the girls locker room while changing for P.E. that Care Bear panties were for babies (note to self, no Care Bears panties after 5th grade).

The cherry on the parfait of this vulnerability was my little sister.  I shared a room with her (we lived in a tiny little 2 bedroom townhouse) and she watched my ever-changing body with the fascination of a kid at the zoo.  I was constantly trying to dress in the bathroom, the closet, beneath my sheets.  Anything to avoid the staring.  We laugh about this now, but at the time, it was traumatic.

So, I learned to hide my vulnerabilities.  At home, because I didn't want to be weak (dealing with the abuse issues), and I didn't like the staring from my sister, at school because I didn't want to appear outwardly hurt by the comments about my ugly clothes, my ugly lips, my ugly, skinny legs, my ugly...whatever. 

As an adult, I'm having to unravel this behavior.  I'm having to learn to re-expose myself to the world.  I'm having to share my fears, my pain, my failures.  I'll be honest, it sucks. The first time I saw Brene Brown's video (and if you haven't seen this - you MUST), I thought "my God, she is me!".  I love to wrap myself in data and measurements and academia (maybe there is a correlation between highly vulnerable people and getting a PhD?)  If I'm researching a country's or a population's vulnerabilities (which is what I do), then I don't have to examine my own. 

Because it feels like putting genital warts on my face and then meeting Daniel Craig to acknowledge my vulnerabilities and talk about them.  Painful.

I don't really do 'resolutions', but what I do instead is, every year I pick a mantra or set an intention for the year.  This year my mantra and my intention is to be gentle with everyone's vulnerabilities, including my own.  To tread softly when they expose them, and to gently relinquish my own and allow them to appear more.

When I first saw Brene Brown's Ted Talk at a TEDx event in Austin, I sat in that darkened room with tears silently streaming down my face.  So many instances of shame were flashing through my mind -- both my own shame, and the shame projected on to me by an abusive narcissistic parent.  The shame and vulnerability I felt in junior high and high school -- the whispers behind my back, the hateful comments about my clothes, my face...anything that was part of me which led me to hate parts of me.

This year I'm going to try and love me a bit more.  Love other people a bit more.  Expose my vulnerabilities a little more.  Trust a little more.

Let's face it, I'm not going to be Mother Teresa overnight.  Or probably ever.  I'm me, and I'll probably always be kind of a scrapper. But I don't have to pick every battle, and I don't have to make every point, and I can just try and soften those edges just a little bit. Be. More. Vulnerable.

What's your intention this year?  What are your vulnerabilities that you're hiding? How are you going to go into 2013?  What are you going to take on, or get rid of that no longer suits you? 

Today, vulnerably,

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