#128 Be Vulnerable

While it can be scary and uncomfortable, the experience of being vulnerable is healthy for us in many ways.

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#128

Be Vulnerable

As a mental health counselor, I spend a significant amount of time encouraging people to ‘be vulnerable’. By definition, being vulnerable means that you “expose yourself to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” It means that we must be willing to lose love, admiration, safety, respect, attention, etc… It is not possible to love without vulnerability.

Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown has spent much of her career researching and talking about being vulnerable. In fact, it is at the core of her famous TED Talk. She has several books documenting her stance on how life is best lived through the state of vulnerability. Indeed – one of the most popular quotes is “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experience.”

The Value

While it can be scary and uncomfortable, the experience of being vulnerable is healthy for us in many ways. When we are vulnerable, we are our most authentic selves. In that state of mind, we are able to experience intimacy in our relationships more fully. Our sense of self worth increases and we become more accountable for our actions. We are apt to experience more compassion, be more motivated, and share our ideas more freely. Maybe most importantly, when we accept the feeling of vulnerability, we tend to let go of our need to be in control… opening doors in most areas of our life.

Letting Go

For most of us, the key to vulnerability is in learning to let go. Letting go means that we have to trust in the process most of the time, trust in the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with, and trust in our own abilities to manage life and relationships. We have to be willing to be a little afraid and accept a bit of discomfort as life unfolds in unknowing ways.

In general, life is better all the way around when we allow ourselves to …

Be vulnerable.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

Six Ways to Cope with Crap

Here are six constructive and helpful ways to manage all that stinky stuff:

“You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.” ― Alysha Speer

We can’t control everything that happens in our life and there are times for all of us that we turn a corner and run full on into crap. For some, we are just getting cleaned off and another pile of dodo drops from the sky like a storm that blows in on a hot summer day without any warning. The kind of crap I am talking about doesn’t distinguish between gender or class, race or religion, age or vocation… it comes slowly and quickly sometimes with notice, other times suddenly and abruptly. At all times, the only part of the crap that we actually can control is how we cope with it. Here are six constructive and helpful ways to manage all that stinky stuff:

ONE: Use the skills you have.

Remember that you’ve made it through every rough day you’ve ever had before. Chances are, the thing you are going through now is not the first load of crap you’ve encountered. Remind yourself of the coping skills you’ve used in the past. Generally speaking, crap causes stress – stress can be mediated by utilizing traditional and somewhat basic coping tools. Meditation, exercise, therapy, social support, writing and the like are fantastic resources that help us deal with stressors both big and small. Use them! Use several of them at once if necessary and use them often.

TWO: Eat right and sleep right.

Both of these are relative ‘no-brainers’ and we all know them intellectually but the first thing that people under stress tell me is that it is preventing them from eating and sleeping. Then we face the bigger problem of how magnified the basic stressor becomes when we haven’t slept and/or we aren’t providing our bodies with the nourishment that makes our brains work. Furthermore, it seems as if the basic stress point births more stressors that in and of themselves, become big and problematic when we allow ourselves to become run down physically.

This isn’t the time to worry about dieting… while I’m not suggesting that we all develop the habit of ‘stress eating’… keeping fruit, nuts, and juices available so that we have something healthy and quick to grab at any time, makes sense. When I know someone is going through a rough time, I take them a big bowl of whole fruits – I know… buzzkill.

Sleeping is difficult when our brains don’t ‘turn off’. You can help by making sure you create an environment conducive to sleeping. Many of us have really bad habits that don’t support healthy sleeping conditions. NO television in the bedroom! NO sleeping on the couch in front of the TV. NO caffeine (including chocolate ice cream and other hidden sources of stimulants – including alcohol). Yes, a single glass of wine can relax you but two may induce less ‘restful’ sleep. More than just a little alcohol of any kind will certainly help you ‘fall’ asleep but your slumber will be restless. Learn progressive relaxation (search in YouTube) and do it as you fall asleep. Use a fan or a white noise machine to help drone out the sound of your thoughts. Technology allows us access to so many helpful tools regarding sleep these days. Lastly, don’t forget to support melatonin production in your body as well.

THREE:  Self-care.

As simple as this sounds, it is the one thing I find goes unnoticed most often. Seemingly, the last thing we think about when we are experiencing a load of crap in life is taking time out for ourselves. I guess it isn’t second nature to stop in the middle of chaos and ‘fuel up’ but let’s think about this… how far does your car go without gas?? Would you let a leak in your roof go indefinitely or would you take time to fix it so it doesn’t get worse?? When I recommend to people that they take some time for themselves, they often tell me they don’t have time but we both know that is an excuse. Learn to look at your life with the intent of carving out small slices that belong to ONLY you. This is the opposite of selfish – the objection most everyone tries to lay out – if you run out of steam, you will be worthless to help anyone! Take five minutes an hour under extreme duress and 30 min. a day otherwise to devote to making sure that YOU are bringing your ‘stress level’ down to its base line. If not, your body will think that it needs an elevated amount of Cortisol in your system to function and a new base will be established – that won’t feel good either!

FOUR: Accept Help

Are you good at asking for or accepting help? I always recommend accepting any type of help that is offered even if you think you may not need it. Someone willing to come mow your lawn will probably be willing to run the kids around instead if you find that more helpful. If someone asks how they can help – don’t say “I’m fine” – ask them “what are you offering?” or “Sure, what did you have in mind?” or better yet, “That would be great! Would you please….”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to ‘do it all myself’ and it eventually backfires. Asking for help is a sign of STRENGTH – because it unzips your vulnerability. When we ask for or accept help we are making a statement that we can’t do it all ourselves and that is OK!! We are social creatures, not designed to be isolated and alone, or draining every personal resource we have. As a single mom, I had a village – almost literally – neighbors, scout leaders, friends, coaches, and the occasional family member that I depended on because I was only one person and even though I tried – God knows – I couldn’t do it – not successfully. When I made the decision to actually respond affirmatively to people who volunteered their help – my life was instantly better. Those who hadn’t meant it learned a lesson and we probably didn’t remain friends. Those who did, learned that I am a loyal friend who gives back when it is possible.

FIVE: Breathe & Count

At the very least learn how to breathe and count to five. In those few seconds where I take a deep breath and slowly exhale to the count of five, I collect myself and create intention (most of the time anyway). I respond better in conversations that are stressful, to people who are hyper or ultra emotional, and when there is significant chaos or confusion. The time it takes me to breathe and count allows my brain to run through a variety of scenarios where it can choose the best response, or the most logical in that time at least. Sometimes I count to ten if there is room for the extra pause.

SIX: Practice Gratitude

Everywhere you look these days we see reminders to practice gratitude and yet I find that the habits are not yet developed in many people… no worries, start again to make appreciation a part of everything you do. No matter how dense or smelly your pile of crap is – find something in it to appreciate it. I realize that sometimes, this is done in retrospect for the crap as a whole but in your day… there are at least three things that you can be grateful for. Today, I had enough to eat, I hugged three people who love me, and saw a beautiful sunset. If I take some time to really acknowledge those three things, I feel better about my day – at least a little. If you do a gratitude just before bedtime, you’ll have something fresh on your mind that is positive – helping you to sleep more soundly.

 

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Discovering My Soul

I knew that I could look at each hurt and place it into a perspective of how my soul needed to grow.

Continued from Welcome Back

“I value and honor the way that my suffering brings me to further search and surrender.” ~ Maureen Brady

Thanksgiving was right around the corner and I had promised mom that I would try and get to a place where I was at ease enough with Abee so that we could come together as a family. Twin Emma came with her family to help bridge the crevasse and we got through it. I’m not sure who was pretending more that day Hubby, mom, Abee, or me… I had eagle eyes on them the entire time and knew that my heart raced several times an hour as one of them entered or exited the room and I searched quickly to see where the other was. It was hard to relax but I love Thanksgiving and everything it has always represented so I kept trying and reminded myself constantly to ‘give thanks’ that we were all there, beginning to heal.

My spiritual journey was continuing to evolve as I dove into the hypotheses of what constitutes a ‘soul’. My religious teachings from the Catholic church taught the Blessed Trinity of ‘Father, Son & Holy Ghost’. I had always inferred Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) to mean our soul – although I’m not sure that’s the direct correlation that religious scholars have in mind.

I started to think about our ‘soul’ in a new way. In Conversations with God – Book 3, the author asks God “what is a Soul” (Chapter 11).

As a side note, I don’t believe it is important to debate whether this author was actually talking to God or not. For me, simply reading and opening myself up to a new understanding of my own spirituality was immensely helpful. Who are any of us to tell this man that he was NOT talking to God?? The truth is – we cannot absolutely know for sure. Consequently, reading and asking questions, being open to thinking more broadly, was extremely valuable.

The idea that one’s Soul is the essence of God, a life force that is immortal and evolving across all time, not only made sense but resonated deeply within my own spirit. Suddenly, my religious teachings made more sense. If I took my human body out of the equation and thought of myself as an ageless entity born of the universe and moving through time with for the sole purpose of learning – everything was clearer. My curiosity became almost insatiable and quite naturally, led me right to the concept of reincarnation.

I gradually began to develop a clear vision of how a soul could travel through many human lifetimes, each one designed to teach another lesson much like we Americans move through classroom grades geared to address the knowledge we have accumulated along the way. I considered the term ‘old soul’ – often attributed to someone who had seemingly acquired wisdom, patience, and humility. I thought about people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, modern day prophets who emulated everything I had learned to want from a spiritual perspective.

I thought about Jesus and his living example of soulful perfection – the goal of a Christian conscience. Surely one could interpret that Christ was born to demonstrate the ideal personification of what our ‘souls’ had the capacity to achieve and that by believing that he was ‘the son of God’ (a perfect representation of the purest soul) and who died for our sins (allowed persecution as a demonstration of perfect love) so that we may live (aim for that example) – I was IN!! Wow, that made perfect sense to me. I want to be like Jesus Christ. I want to learn how to live with the purity of love and humility of his example. If it meant coming back to this world over and over again, learning and growing – bring it on!

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain”. ~ Carl Jung

Now I had a reason for all the pain. I knew that I could look at each hurt and place it into a perspective of how my soul needed to grow. I hated to think that growth was only possible through painful experience but hey – we are human and we are not paying close attention generally unless we are in pain. Of course, more evolved souls know that this is achieved through meditation and prayer but I wasn’t there yet!  In any regard, I was wide open to learning and forgiveness loomed broadly in front of me. Crap… this learning stuff is hard!

Forgiving Hubby for some reason was much easier. I don’t know if it was because I already had practice with it or if my expectations for him were just so much lower. Maybe it was because he was there every morning and as the father of my children, the motivation was much stronger. In any case, I opened my heart and allowed God in, which just meant that I lowered the drawbridge that had been so tightly chained and authorized my heart to be vulnerable once more. I understood that to be vulnerable, God has to be at work in your spirit – you must be open to learning (potentially hurting) and that is the work of spiritual growing. I came to believe that if I was hurting then God was growing me. Any tears I shed really were watering the seeds of love and wisdom that were being cultivated in my soul.

The work of forgiving Abee was much more difficult and I needed a ton of help. Our joint therapy sessions continued and I had derived what I thought was a good idea. I had a bag of polished stones that one of the girls had gotten from one place or another. They were in a purple velvet bag about three inches long and two across, with a drawstring closure. I think there were about ten stones. My idea was that the bag represented the relationship I wanted to have with Abee. While I was not under any delusion that our connection would ever be the same, I at least wanted to be able to be together without stress or emotional duress. The stones in the bag represented building blocks to me and after each counseling session or family time where I believed there to be an advancement in my trust of her – I would give her a stone. The control of rebuilding positive interactions between us became mine and it worked for me.

In December, mom and I traveled to Notre Dame to watch Frank swim in one of his last invitationals. I loved watching that boy swim! It was a good trip for mom and I as well, allowing us uninterrupted time to distance ourselves from the family drama. I was nervous about not being there to ‘monitor’ interactions between Hubby and Abee but mom assured me that she knew Abee’s heart, which apparently was beginning to ‘beat’ for another guy. I hadn’t heard about him but I was working on being ‘like Jesus’ so I practiced letting go… I believed that Hubby and I were in a good spot having made it through so much crap… I assured her that we would probably be married forever. I mean, what could possibly be worse than what we’ve already been through?

Just Give Me Xanax

My internal warning sirens had started to run out of steam as the foundation of a relationship was evolving.

“Each meeting occurs at the precise moment for which it was meant. Usually, when it will have the greatest impact on our lives.”  ― Nadia Scrieva

It was a long drive home for several reasons. First, getting anywhere on Sunday afternoons if you are moving through the Washington DC area (even 25 years ago) is a formidable challenge and it doesn’t seem to matter what direction you are travelling. I was driving and being the frugal (broke really) single moms we were, we packed food so E (what I sometimes call my BFF) handed me one of the sandwiches she had grabbed from the lunch buffet we were too hung over to enjoy. I took a sizable bite, chewed a couple of times, and then all of the air was sucked out of my respiratory system. The amount of freshly grated horseradish on that sandwich could have been the base ingredient for an atom bomb. I sincerely, could not breath. It’s a true miracle that we didn’t die right there, me from horseradish, E from the median I almost crashed into.

One of the best parts of having a best friend is their ability to build you back up after our mental gremlins have demolished our self-image, self-confidence, or self-worth. All of my ‘self’ things were battered and torn after the weekend. I was still very much trapped inside that girl who believed she wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough. The girl who believed random sex was ‘bad’. I was pretty sure that I had just demonstrated myself to be a disappointment to every standard my parents had ever attempted to instill. Socially, I had just fulfilled the role of being ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. Label after label drifted across my awareness as I judged myself harshly. She was great at listening to me babble and then countering each and every contorted thought I presented with something positive and complimentary. Balance… that was always the goal.

It was still time before cordless and mobile phones. I had a really long cord on the kitchen wall phone; long enough that I could drape it across the little breakfast bar to the couch where I could comfortably chat. In addition, I had one on my nightstand. I wasn’t home an hour at best before the phone rang. My first thought was that E had forgotten something at my place and was turning around to get it. Nope. It was him.

He was calling to tell me he had gotten home and that he couldn’t get me off his mind. For just a split minute I was feeling a bit prideful, figuring it was the sex piece he was lamenting over. Actually, on that occasion, he didn’t refer to sex but to how much he wanted to get to know me better. I had some time before my weekend sitter brought Francis home so I settled in and began to share myself in a more appropriate way. We talked again that night before I went to sleep. We covered a lot of history and filled in some details where holes had developed from our weekend discussions. Since we worked for the same company, some of our conversation was about the stock market, our investment strategies, and pet peeves regarding both. We were on the phone well into the night.

I was tired at work the next morning as I prepped for the Monday morning meeting I typically ran. Just before I got started the door opened and in walked a delivery driver holding a massive vase of red roses with a dramatic white bow tied around it. There must have been 30 or more long stemmed roses. Everyone oohed and aahed. The women were instantly barraging me with questions and the men just offered raised eyebrows. My meeting wasn’t going to be productive.

I had to call. I did. If it were today, of course I would Snap it, save it to my story and then all of my friends would be involved. But again, this was back-in-the-day so I was relegated to also using the phone and of course, I called E. We oohed and aaed together about how sweet it was that I received flowers and I shared our talk from the night before with her. Best friends get the whole scoop!

Again that night after Francis was tucked into bed and sleeping, he called and we talked for several hours. I was amazed at how much there was to say. We talked about our families and I shared the story of Rocky’s death. We compared stories about being the oldest sibling and about large families. It began to feel easy. After we hung up, I would call E and talk about how I felt about talking to him. There was a lot of talking.

Wednesday I received more flowers, a different kind but a bigger bouquet. We talked again at lunch time and for several hours later that night. I pulled out that ‘attraction list’, the one where I had written down all the qualities I wanted in a man… As I ran down the list I felt goosebumps developing. He was all of them but one. He wasn’t Catholic. He was Lutheran though geez – -you couldn’t get much closer. Frankly, it turned out that my philosophies aligned more closely with the Lutheran traditions than with Catholicism anyway – at least back then. Lay ministers and no confession worked well for me.

He wanted to see me again and we agreed he would come to Fredericksburg. As a branch manager, I sometimes brought motivational speakers in to inspire my reps and a Top 10 sales representative fit the bill. We scheduled a meeting for the coming Friday morning. He would take the train down from Delaware and be at my office by 10 a.m.

I called E. I shared more of our discussions; how I was beginning to feel. I ranted incessantly about the craziness of how fast this was all developing. My internal warning sirens had started to run out of steam as the foundation of a relationship was evolving. He lived in another state, he had never been married, he matched my list, he was super charming… I was feeling excited, nervous, afraid, vulnerable, and restless – all at once – constantly. Somehow I went from an undignified walk-of-shame on Sunday to a skittish ball of anticipation and overstimulated imagination on Thursday. What was happening? It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about Xanax. She allowed me to run through the gamut and then matter-of-factly asked me “what will you do if he asks you to marry him”. Wait… what? Seriously? We’ve known each other 5 days.

I can’t say ‘yes’.

Can I?

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My Heart at DEFCON 1

Holy crap… did God just talk to me? Was that my imagination? Who’s there?

I spent the end of my twenties as a single lady. In retrospect, it was a time of defense. I was in personal DEFCON 1. I was unwilling and unable to invest my emotional being in any type of intimate connection. I developed ‘control issues’. Ultimately, at any time that we feel unsafe – emotionally or otherwise – we attempt to gain control of our surroundings so that we can experience comfort. My intent was not to control any ‘person’ or really any ‘thing’ – simply create an environment in which I felt emotionally safe. It was much harder to do than one imagines.

In those years I did have a relationship with a guy who was really, really, comfortable. He was great. Non-confrontational and easy, really easy to be with. He was fun. He wasn’t a lot of other things that really mattered to me but I loved the ease with which we existed together. It was mostly a long distance relationship and when it became a REALLY long distance romance because he moved – he asked me to marry him. He called dad and I said yes. There was no ring – no real plans – it was a desperate proposal. We loved what we had together – we didn’t love each other!

He relocated and started building his life in a new town – I was setting things in motion to get there. It was really hard for us to connect when we couldn’t even spend weekends together (Ahhh… time before cell phones and Skype). He was lonely – I was distracted and busy with a preschooler and a 50 hour per week job. We started arguing and disagreeing about timing of my move, etc. One day he called and talked about an ‘attraction’ he had to a woman he was working with… he was reconsidering our engagement. I didn’t give him a chance. My reaction was at gut level and instinctive…. “I guess I’ll just have to get over you then.” That was me – controlling. I believed I was in control of the amount of emotion that I could allow in the experience. I shut down anything that was intense. I had developed a coping mechanism that was completely unhealthy. I was refusing to feel.

It was me – reacting to yet another loss in my life. I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt – I didn’t let him explain or share feelings, insecurities, or fears. I shut him down before he could shut me out. He was done in my mind. I had reacted from a place of deep pain – a part of me that had lost love and had yet to be willing to experience the vulnerability of truly loving again.

Love – in any way – did not feel safe.  I had loved my mother and she left. I had loved Rocky and he died. I had loved another and he got sidetracked. Bam! Fuck love. I was now in control mode and making sure that love didn’t touch any part of my life. Defense … Defending … Protected. That was me.

I didn’t know that I had adopted those mechanisms. I was on auto pilot. I was dating and anticipating… excited to meet each new guy but every time, failed to make a connection that felt authentic or long lasting. I was holding everyone I met to the standard of how I loved Rocky and of how he loved me. Even though there were real moments in my marriage that humanized him, Rocky remained a superman in my mind. I had him on a pedestal of sorts. I knew that there were problems in our relationship that were real and typical of young love – it didn’t enter the equation when I associated men that came after him. No one compared.

I put a lot of focus on being a mom. I rented a room in my house to a guy that had been a really good friend of Rocky’s. He was in the area for work and was a great addition to our home. I wanted to love him. We weren’t romantic at all but I wanted to be with him – he was a connection to Rock. I couldn’t. I’m not sure he ever knew my thoughts and I’m still not completely sure if I was simply horny and trusted him or if I loved the idea of him from the perspective of the memories we shared. We had both loved the same guy – differently of course – but it was a connection that I didn’t have with anyone else. I lost track of him eventually.

I was a mom and a hard worker. I spent a ton of time working (a pure commission job) just to make ends meet. Rocky didn’t have life a life insurance policy. I distinctly remember a couple of guys from some Veteran’s group sitting at our kitchen table before he went overseas, trying to sell us a substantial policy but we were poor and young. We believed there was time. He had a small benefit from the Navy Reserves but it took me a long time to submit the paperwork. There was a finality about it. If I got the money it meant, he wasn’t coming back.

Our life (Francis’s and mine) was forging forward without much effort. I bought a house by assuming a mortgage. He started preschool and I kept working. I would drop him off at daycare in the morning – pick him up at night – take him home to eat dinner – and then wait for the babysitter to come so that I could go back out to work and yet… we were basically broke. I had never finished my degree so I felt stuck with the job I had – a sales job with an investment company. I was determined to make something of it.

I was lonely though. I still wanted a piece of that dream I had created all those years ago and I had become somewhat depressed and pessimistic – angry almost – about it coming to fruition. I recall a pivotal moment one evening when, after making a dead end sales call far away from home, I had started the return trip home – in tears – feeling completely and totally defeated. I was sure that none of my dreams would ever come true. In an instant – there was a voice – a male voice – deep and comforting – that said “stop being narrow minded – there are so many possibilities”. Holy crap… did God just talk to me? Was that my imagination? Who’s there? It’s hard to explain what a deep sense of ‘knowing’ I had immediately. It was so intense that I started laughing. Like a slide show on fast forward, dozens of potential life scenarios appeared in my mind. I went from sadness to exhilaration in a second (this experience is what I reference when I attempt to empathize with a psychotic break). I experienced an understanding that had not been there before. I would be OK.

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