“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, but vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage” Brene Brown.
Learning to ask for help
Then it happened……
A slip and fall permanently injuring one of my knees almost seven years ago that changed my life. In a split second, I had constant pain. It was not too bad at first. After about a month, it progressed into chronic pain walking with a cane and sometimes crutches. I was able to cope at first with a couple of years of physio and herbal supplements. I could even walk unassisted at times, but I was still always in pain. I was getting angry and frustrated by my new reality over time. A year after my injury, several emotionally painful events happened simultaneously. The worst being my brother passed away. All together, they created a perfect storm that left me in a dark place of depression. Over time I shut down emotionally. I tried hard to hide it. I tried to do what I was taught; suck it up, put on a fake smile and pretend I was not hurting, emotionally or physically. I was good at it at first, but in time I did not always succeed and it spilled out towards myself and others.
The greatest lesson I had yet to learn in all of that darkness was to embrace vulnerability. I was intensely stubbornly independent; this was not easy. My ego did not want to. Plain and simple, my old friend’s anger and overeating were easier. With these, I could numb the physical and emotional pain that was creating fear. I forgot that fear repressed often disguises itself as anger. I was afraid of being seen as weak or not capable anymore or worse, having to rely on others for help. In time I lost the connection to my spiritual journey that I had been on for years and pulled away into a dark place. This started my “dark night of the soul.”
I had a deeply ingrained belief that is prevalent in our western society. For most of my life, I was taught and believed that vulnerably was a weakness. Now that I felt vulnerable in my pain, I built walls around me and pushed people away.
The lesson I needed to learn was that vulnerability is the gateway to finding real courage and a deep connection with others. This is where I would find joy and beauty back into my life again but in a much deeper and more truthful way.
Vulnerability is not winning or losing: its having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” Brene Brown
I read Brene Brown’s books on vulnerability. I also took a course online with her. These put a small crack in my walls that I had built back up strong by that time. This crack was small, but it lets light in again. It was just enough for God to lead me to an earth angel in the most unusual way.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you” Rumi
“Its a warm summer day in 2017, I am in a car with three friends driving to a retreat center. All I can think about is, “what the f**k am I doing. If I were travelling alone, I would turn this damn car around and go home.” We finally pull into the driveway; it’s a quaint home with a beautifully manicured lawn with shrubs in full bloom in the back. It looked peaceful, yet I feel out of place and on edge in my body. I’m here only for one fundamental reason; I remind myself that a former Monk Sharon from the monastery called Nova Nada years ago (which is now known as Birchdale), was facilitating the retreat, After introductions, Sharon shares a beautiful talk. We then broke up into small groups; I ended up with three people, a nun and one other person and Sharon. They all felt genuine and kind. I am listening politely; still, my feelings of frustration inside of me are growing. I feel so f**king distant from all of this. I cannot relate anymore. I cannot honestly remember the exact question that Sharon asked, but whatever it was, I snapped inside. Oh my God, my mouth is opening; I cannot believe what I hear coming out! “I don’t give a shit anymore. I honestly did not want to be here! I don’t relate anymore! I feel numb, angry and lost. Sometimes I think this is all bullshit”
Or something along those lines with maybe even more expletives. All I know, at this moment, I have no energy left for pretending, platitudes or for politeness.
My frustration was bubbling up. I had spent too much of my life saying and doing what others thought was right even when it was no longer true for me. At this moment, I could not hold back any longer, no matter who I am sitting across. My heart is pounding. I take a breath and look up; first, at the other two people, I am pleasantly surprised they have a gentle smile that seemed to have a hint of understanding with no judgement in their eyes. I look over at Sharon, and I see the same. I take a deep breath and feel my body relax a bit; I think to myself, “at least I am no longer pretending.”
The following week after the retreat, I keep remembering; Sharon had shared that she was now a trained spiritual director. I had been praying for years for one. I hesitate to reach out to her because I was embarrassed about speaking my truth in such a bold way. A few days later, I send her an email. When she agreed, I asked her why, especially after my spewing and cursing? She said, “It is the very reason I felt called to, you were so honest in your sharing I knew I could work with you” Later, I realized she also heard between the words into my pain which is a skill very few have.
Sharon did not try and rescue me or fix me. She did not minimize my pain or get frustrated and tell me to get over it. She did not think I was weak, to the contrary, she mirrored how strong I was for reaching out to her. She did not think I needed saving; she did not guilt me or shame me; first and foremost, she listened, really listened. Sharon did not give me any answers; she helps me find my own. She held a sacred space of non-judgment and kindness for me to express my pain no matter how I voiced it. Sharon could see what I could not. I was not lost; her caring held a light so I could find my way back to God. She slowly, in time, guided me back to the familiar silence I loved long ago that I had in recent years filled with TV, anger, worry and food. I began to feel and heal again. It was profoundly painful at times. She reminded me of a lesson I had forgotten.
“We cannot heal what we cannot feel,” John Bradshaw.
“If we do not suffer a loss all the way to the end. It wont just dissipate and disappear. Rather, it will fester, and we will experience its sorrow later, in stranger forms.” Elizabeth Lesser
My heart began to heal. Mainly because for the first time in a long time, someone saw who I was underneath the emotional and physical pain. I came out of the dark, and I uncovered more pain that had stayed hidden even after so much healing so many years ago. It took the universe, bringing me to my knees to finally look at it. Only then could God sent me an angel when I was finally ready to be honest with myself and her.
My hope for anyone in the darkness that some of this story will help you reach out for help and accept “what is” much earlier than I did. We are not alone.
Life can change in an instant. What comes next is not always easy, yet if we are willing to be vulnerable and stay open-hearted, it can start an inner transformation that is a powerful reminder of how resilient our Spirits are. There is a subline quote that encapsulates this lesson for me by the Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield.
“Consciously suffer the impact, to become the ground where the sorrows can be held and reworked. These things can be carried with grace. But it can’t be faked. If you go to someone with 99 percent of goodwill and are still caught in 1 percent anger, all they feel is the anger, and it pushes them from reconciliation. The heart has to willingly hold the whole of suffering for it to be transformed.”
― Jack Kornfield, After The Ecstasy, The Laundry