“You have a story,” she said, “You have a lot to your story.”
I sat with it for a moment. “I guess,” I hesitated, “I just feel like there’s soooo many stories and books out there, just like mine. What makes mine really worth telling?”
“You do have a story,” she reiterated, “And your story can help a lot of people. You story can teach the lessons you’ve gone through and you’ve gone through a lot and you are still standing.”
I nodded. I had been through a lot and my work is to help people excavate the greatest parts of themselves, to move past whatever story they’re telling so that they can step into who they really are.
“Yeah, that’s true.” I said, “I mean that’s the work I want to do. It’s the reason I’m so open about what I’ve gone through and what I’m going through in my classes. I do believe sharing our story and what we’ve been through helps others realize they aren’t alone. I just – I’ve never questioned my writing up until now. But when I think about “The Book” and I ask myself, What’s my story? I freeze.”
I laughed, “I’m telling some version of not-enough. I’m telling myself that everyone faces hard things – struggle, loss, eating disorders – and I’m telling myself that someone has already been through it and told the story or has had it worse than me which makes their story a more poignant one. How ridiculous is that?”
“Very,” she said, “But,” she continued, “You do have a story and you’ve been dealt a really insane hand in life. Yet you’ve found you. And you’re positive. Sometimes maybe you’re hard on yourself, but you’ve come out of these things stronger.
Your story can help people. Think about someone struggling with an eating disorder. Your story can be the hope that she can heal and that would be super rewarding for you. You’ve lost not one but two siblings. You can help someone who feels like they’ll never get out of the depression they feel from losing a loved one. You can help them find their way out. And, you were a woman, married with a child who was able to hold her head up and tell your family and friends that it didn’t work because you were gay – think about how that could be the light for someone else so afraid to come out. You have overcome so much and you have never given up on anything in life. And that’s not something that a lot of people can say.”
She was right. I had been through a lot:
I’ve lost two siblings
I’ve struggled with deep depression and spent time in Friends Hospital
I’ve lost friends to suicide (and I’ve had those moments myself of not wanting to be here)
I’ve battled an eating disorder
I’ve lived through breaking my C2 vertebrae, a seriously traumatizing moment
I’ve grown up alongside alcoholism and from a young age learned how violent addiction can be
…and I’ve also hidden behind my pain.
The real changing point for me, where everything I’ve been through became something that healed me, where my story became a larger part of my purpose, was when I stumbled into my vulnerability six years ago.
I stumbled into my vulnerability. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t even step into it. I stumbled.
In one of my early intenSati classes six years ago, for the first time, I publicly shared about my struggle with food and my body and how this practice was helping me in my eating disorder recovery, how it reminded me of the practice of choosing my thoughts and that I was not the thoughts that said I am fat and I am not enough. I remember my hands shaking, worrying about what people would think, how my voice trembled. As I talked, I looked just above people’s heads to make it look like I was talking to them. I had stumbled into my vulnerability and I did not like it, not one bit.
After class I regretted having shared anything and as I was in a full-blown shame moment two girls came up to me, tears in their eyes and through sobs they started to tell me their story, their struggle and their battle with their own eating disorders. I was touched and moved by their words, but I still held tight to my own heart. I must not share like this again, I reminded myself. Vulnerability made me feel naked and I just wanted to hide.
Hiding. It was something I was very good at. And from a young age I had learned to close my heart. When I was six years old, I adopted the thought of not being good enough. I had placed second runner-up in a beauty pageant in the girl’s division and my younger brother had walked away as the winner in the boy’s division.
When you’re a young child, losing to your sibling is hard to digest, but this went well beyond mere sibling rivalry. This cut to the core of who I was (or wasn’t). And ever determined to get to that core, ever determined to unearth what enoughness was left inside of me, I found myself in the kitchen holding a butter knife to my neck sobbing uncontrollably.
Not your typical six-year-old outburst and understandably not something my parents were prepared to deal with. Shortly after what was then known as “The Incident,” I remember sitting in a room with my parents, my brother and a therapist who wanted to talk about my “feelings.” I didn’t even know what that meant. I felt not-enough and it was my not-enoughness that got me here. But I didn’t share that. Instead, that night I learned how to carefully choose my words, how to construct a story – a quasi-truth, a layer of the reality other people wanted to hear or that other people could digest. As a child, things are either right or wrong and the real story was “wrong.” Telling that wrong story would have led to many more visits and talks. At six, it’s easier to be a child and say you’re sorry, that you’ll never do it again, that what you did was wrong and to just move on with your life.
I learned how to lie and hid behind my I’m fines. I learned how to tell half-truths. I’d skirt around vulnerability while clutching my heart so tightly I could barely breathe. I told myself if you knew all the scars I had, if you saw the hell I’ve been through, my not-enoughness would be confirmed. I’d be unlovable, unworthy, maybe even considered bat-shit crazy.
So, when I stumbled into my vulnerability some 30 years later in that class, I froze. There was no turning back, but I also knew I couldn’t take another step forward. And so, I lived in a world of half-shares and after-shares where I’d only tell you part of the real story, or I’d tell you the lesson I learned only after having been through the struggle.
What I wasn’t sharing at the time with my classes was that I was still taking diuretics and supplements to lose weight (while working on my mindset, of course). I wasn’t sharing the ugly parts of what I was going through, how I had days of intense hate for myself and how I’d still punish myself with not eating or working out for hours on end. Instead of sharing the messy parts that we all have in the moments of struggle, I was glossing over the struggle by sharing that I “had” this struggle and here’s what I’m learning. I may have stumbled into vulnerability in that one moment, but I didn’t like how raw it felt.
Vulnerability feels a little bit like being “found out”, like letting someone into the house you haven’t had a chance to clean with toys and crap strewn everywhere, except that “house” is your life. It’s scary, it’s raw, and it puts us up against our shame, guilt and all the feelings surrounding whatever it is we’re hiding behind. As much as we’re reluctant to let someone see the behind the scenes of our living room, we’re far more reluctant to let someone see the behind the scenes of our heart.
I was in a limbo of sorts, dancing the line of ‘here’s what’s happening but not really’, that is, until my teacher called me out on my half-sharing bullshit. She sat me down and told me that when I only share the lessons I’ve learned after I’ve been through the hard stuff (the after-share), when I gloss over what’s really going on and only scratch the surface (the half-share), I’m doing myself and my students a disservice. In after-sharing or half-sharing, we lose the ability to connect with ourselves, others and the experience itself – and that’s where the magic and the healing happens she explained.
In trying to not be “found out”, I was found out by someone who like me, knew exactly what I was doing. She had been there and after years of her own lying, hiding and half-sharing, she had found her way to live open-heartedly. She saw more for me and challenged me to own my story in a way I never had before.
It wasn’t – and it isn’t – an easy road to walk.
Stumbling into your vulnerability is one thing. Living it and sharing your story and the journey you are on is another thing entirely. In fact, owning our story is one of the bravest and hardest things to do. And it’s a process. It can only happen one layer at a time, no matter what tools we have or how much peeling back we want to do in the moment. It’s the acknowledgement of those small, seemingly insignificant, but immensely raw moments that allow us to excavate deeper levels of truth. With each new layer, comes a new degree of vulnerability. With each layer, there’s more truth and with each layer you start to realize how subtle the shades of vulnerability are.
Only when I started to tell my story, sharing the most vulnerable parts of myself, only when I actually shared the story and not simply the lesson I got from something I’ve already been through, did I start to heal myself. By writing my story I started to make sense of what I experienced. Instead of just living with the pain, I found meaning in the pain I felt. Even more, in my vulnerability I found connection.
Over the last six years since stumbling into my vulnerability, I’ve had countless people approach me, reach out to me, write to me to tell me their story and how my story has helped them in whatever they’re going through:
concerned and helpless mothers who are watching their own children struggle with eating disorders
women desperate to heal their own bodies and minds
people crippled with thoughts of not-enough
men and women who are recently divorced and who are navigating that loss
Stories of struggle, loss, pain, addiction. Stories we all share.
When we share our stories and jump head on into vulnerability, it serves as an important part of our healing. Sharing your story allows you to make sense of the experience for yourself and in addition, sharing your story with someone else – be it one person, a class of students or through the internet – allows you to turn off the body’s stress responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and to flip on relaxation responses like oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins.
Vulnerability is connection. It makes us realize we’re not alone. It’s why the #metoo movement is so powerful. Sometimes hearing and sharing in someone else’s experience makes us realize we aren’t alone. And, it reminds us that we can get through whatever it is we’re going through together.
Your story is the most powerful thing you will ever own. And I’d love to hear from you. What’s your story? What’s true for you? Post it in the comments below 🙂
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