On Vulnerability

November 15, 2018

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”     ~ Brené Brown | Daring Greatly

— —

During the years my son was an addict, I spent a lot of afternoons volunteering at residential youth treatment centers.  Sundays were some of my favorite days, not only because they were far more relaxed, but these were the days families could come for visits.

If someone were more advanced, in terms of the program, they'd likely earned the privilege of being whisked away for a couple of hours.  And because the majority of the kids were a long way from home, most of these visits/escapes meant going to see a movie or finding a fun place for lunch

I hadn't thought about her for the longest time

Certainly, I'd encountered many a picky eater in my day, but one of the girls, I swear, was in a class unto herself.  No medical issues or food allergies.  More along the lines of restaurant food is going to be too spicy, too ethnic, different things might touch each other on the plate, who knows what's really in it, or it's just plain weird

So her poor sister and grandmother attempted to find a place that would have something she could eat .. in a town they'd never been to before.  Pretty soon everyone within close proximity found themselves trying to be helpful.  How fun!  A challenge!  There are so many cool places to eat in Ames; surely there had to be something.

I tell this story, not because the picky eaters we love are somehow difficult and shouldn't be accommodated.  I tell this story because the conversation went on for almost an hour.  Everybody within earshot was either raising suggestions or shooting them down.  During all of this the girl in question, quite literally, never said a word

She never said

“If you guys like Mexican of Thai, that's cool because they'll have rice” or

“The cafe on Mainstreet sounds yummy.  I bet they'd make me a grilled cheese or a plain pancake and put everything on the side in separate dishes” or

“Actually, let's skip the Italian place.  Pasta is far too heavy, and everything's covered with sauce” or

“Listen, why don't I warm up some of the Kraft mac and cheese that's in the fridge so I'm not starving and I can keep you company” or

“How about this?  Let's pull up an online menu to see if there's anything I'm willing to eat.”

Instead, she just sat there quietly, oscillating between frowns and grimaces for nearly an hour while ten people (most of whom she didn't know) tried to figure out options.  All the while, her sister acted as interpreter based upon her expression and a mediator between everyone else.

Grandma sat in the corner with the awkward look of someone who's never been to a treatment house before.

How in the world did I find myself here?  When do I get to go home?”

— —

It was the strangest thing

Mostly because of the way that the visiting sister had been trained by her sibling to anticipate, worry, and fear her negative reactions.  She didn't have to say a word.  The mere prospect of her being sad, upset or unsatisfied was enough for everyone to strategize around it

At the same time, I couldn't believe how quickly those of us around were being trained, by proxy, to react in exactly the same way.  Also notable was the amount of effort it took to break out of the pattern that had been established among us.  The amount of energy that it took to be able to say

“Listen, since you have to be back by 5 pm, if you don't make a decision pretty soon, you're going to run out of time.”

They went to a Mexican restaurant.  There were plain quesadillas.  The whole thing was fine.  The dynamic continued to play out every Sunday for the next six weeks

This month, so far for me, as all, has been one of the good and the not-so

I'm catching a groove at my new job. I really, really like it.  But also: there's so much to learn

In December, Spaghetti Saturdays are re-starting, this time, in my new building.  But also: will anyone want to come?

I'm learning the art of cooking for one.  But also: soup from the corner grocery

Toast crumbs to vacuum from the kitchen cabinet.  But also: toast

I'm doing my best to start over.  But also: a heart that's still sad and fragile

Some of the thoughts I share this week.  Along with an invitation to get together for a drink sometime.  Whatever strength the day demands

But also, the response “No time for woe is me.”  

The realization I'd said the wrong thing.  Awkward attempts at repair

A clarification, “But sometimes, even when you're doing your life, it's just nice to tell another human that your heart feels sad.”

No luck

My heart starts to race, panic sets in; I craft apologies

And it was then that I thought of her

About habits, group dynamics, and the ways they calcify.  How fearful I'd become after so many years of second-guessing, doubting, and twisting myself into pretzel-like shapes to avoid saying the wrong things.  The negative reactions that follow

— —

Relationships where one person is always apologizing and the other person always in need of an apology are pretty unbalanced.

Relationships spent strategizing around the possibility of someone blowing up about pretty minor things, are also unbalanced and terribly exhausting

Whatever you've shared in the past, this is where you are now

Sometimes a small shift is in order

I know two things: (1) It's been a hard year and I'm still recovering.   (2) I love my family

I am learning that one is not in direct competition with the other; that separation doesn’t always mean absence.  That life, mostly, can be compartmentalized until it can’t.⁣

That the mind is a fickle thing.⁣

— —

There are days spent in sweats with avocado smears, scrubbing cat throw-up out of the rug.  Some nights we fall into bed dreaming of feeling heard, seen, celebrated

And there are other days that our wishes come true.  A great presentation at work, or an hour or two with tiny forks and something sparkly to sip.  We find ourselves falling into bed, dreaming of anonymity, of comfort.  Our own quiet life, our own soft pillow.

I'm learning that not everyone is our person for which all of these things can be shared.  Parts, certainly, but not always in their entirety

Not everyone will allow you to be vulnerable.  But some will.

Not everyone will offer a hug or want to hold your hand.  But some will.

Not everyone will ask what you need for this day.  But some will

Not everyone will sit with you in the dark of the night and ask about your fears.  But some will.

It's about finding your people, I've come to realize.  Those with whom your heart feels safe.

We may call the process awkward and vulnerable

(We may also call it lovely)


Photo Credits: Beaker – The Muppet Mindset and all others – Mari Andrew


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  • Reply Heydave November 16, 2018 at 7:50 am

    I easily forgot my search for your new recipe here… sounded like taking to you over coffee and that was fine. And thank you for sharing!

  • Reply David Elliott December 2, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Some great photos there I have to admit. You are doing an amazing job of having to deal with all the crazy in your life and the imbalance it has all caused. Vulnerability can be a hard thing. But I know you do it better than anyone I have ever known. And you constantly put yourself out there in ways which I am always astonished. Wish I could have been at your first spaghetti Saturday, which I imagine happened yesterday. I was doing lights on a tree with my daughter. Thinking good thoughts for you and wishing you a beautiful holiday month with new beautiful memories.

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