“How can you be so vulnerable?” readers have asked me over the years.
That question makes me nervous. Am I too vulnerable? What criticism have I invited?
Then I hear from these askers the most common response to my honesty: appreciation. “I read what you wrote and think, Me, too!” they say. “I’m so relieved to hear that I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
In SoulStream’s Living from the Heart course, participants and facilitators share vulnerably around the circle. I’ve often thought that if the average person walked in and saw this, they would consider it strange or woo-woo. But now I realize it’s how people talk in a group unconstrained by collective trauma.
Let me back up. Fred and I couldn’t go to Banff as planned because of the forest fires, so I happened to be home for a limited-time viewing of The Wisdom of Trauma documentary about Gabor Maté along with seventeen interviews with leading experts on the subject of trauma. In one interview, Thomas Hübl explained that collective trauma is when we all buy into a belief or behaviour that continues to traumatize us. In this case, the common cultural belief that keeps us from being real is “I can’t let you know who I am because you may judge me and the pain of shame and exclusion would be unbearable.”
That got me thinking that appropriately sharing what is really going on for us is healthy. I hear the same from my heroes in this: the founders of SoulStream, Brené Brown, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Maya Angelou, Sia, Gabor Maté, and Glennon Doyle.
In an On Being podcast, Krista Tippet said to Glennon, “You wrote somewhere [about being in recovery and going to Alcoholics Anonymous] that you thought to yourself, ‘Why is it that we can only be this honest in little dark basements of churches, one hour a week? What if we could actually be fully human and honest with each other in real life?”
Glennon explained, “I write about things that maybe other people don’t write about—all the time—but that’s because it’s a spiritual practice for me. The second I start to feel anything that has a hint of shame in it, I always think of that Maya Angelou quote that’s ‘I am human, so nothing human can be foreign to me.’ I get it out, if it’s scary inside and dark; but once I get it out and get light on it, it just shrinks. It’s not so scary anymore. A bunch of people say, ‘Me too,’ and I’m like, ‘Ah, I’m not bad. I’m just human,’ and we get on with it. So I’ve just tried to turn my entire life into one giant AA meeting.”
When I heard Glennon say that, a huge YES! rose up in me. I don’t want to live afraid of judgment and shame. If my writing can be a place of connection and healing, I’m deeply grateful.
That’s not to say that my heroes are impervious to judgment and shame. After Brené Brown’s Ted Talks on vulnerability and shame went viral, she received a lot of feedback. Most of it was great, but some was nasty and hurtful. Shame knocked her flat, and she said somewhere that she found solace in binge-watching Downton Abbey and eating peanut butter. Sia told Gabor Maté that she relapsed during Covid. However, if you follow their stories, you will know that shame did not have the last word. They rose up, talked about it, and got on with their lives.
Thankfully, those who think less of me haven’t shared their thoughts in comments, emails, or on social media. I’d be grateful if it stayed that way. Still, it could happen, and God will be with me in it. That doesn’t mean it won’t knock me flat before I rise up and find compassion for another dark part of myself.
Then, I hope, I’ll have the courage to write about it.
The only place to begin is where I am, and whether by desire or disaster, I am here. My being here is not dependent on my recognition of the fact. I am here anyway. But it might help if I could learn to look around. ― Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World
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I’ve been captivated by the energy and pathos in this video by Sia. I hear in it my desire to live free and in the present moment. I also hear how addiction unlocks these desires and works against them. Trapped in her world, Sia is able make it through another day with the help of what is robbing her of life. I feel compassion for her and for myself. And yet there are more feelings rumbling around in me. I feel anger and judgment towards those who have hurt me because of their addictive behaviours and also disconnected from the pain I have caused others because of my limitations. I feel helpless, hopeful, ashamed, sad and comforted that I am not the only one who feels this way.