As time wore on I realised what I had was something new, and that it was better than it had been before because this time it was honest. This meant realising that Rich was not a knight on a white horse in shiny armour, but a flawed man who made mistakes and got on my tits sometimes!
Over the last year, I have spent a great deal of time trying to expand my vocabulary to better articulate in a healthier way what I feel, think, need, and want.
At some things, I am doing an excellent job. At others? Well, it’s a work in progress…
I’ve come to appreciate vulnerability cannot happen if I don’t have the language to express emotionally, mentally, and spiritually what is happening on the inside.
And how do I learn to express vulnerability? How does anyone learn?
By practicing the skill they want to improve. Want to be a better writer? Write. Want to be a better painter? Paint. Want to be a better lover? Love.
This is scary stuff because all of these things require me being vulnerable and living with a willful disregard for the perceptions of others. I’m forced to sacrifice fitting in for belonging. “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen.” writes Brene Brown, “It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”
Tara Brach, Brene Brown and Mark Nepo have taught me that vulnerability is a habit that can be learned. It can be refined. Improved. Enhanced. Nurtured. Matured. Anyone can do it. There are actually best practices for learning these skills – much to my surprise.
Of course, there is no merit badge. You just keep taking a few steps forward and occasional step back. The only way to fail is to do nothing. The only obstacle is a false Pride.
I’m thinking the process of learning to be vulnerable as an icebreaker.
Sometimes the ship appears to move effortlessly, finding the flow but in reality, there are complex physics at play between the bow of the ship, the ice, currents, and weather.
Often, the icebreaker has to back up, pause, build momentum and try again, throwing itself atop a cold and dangerous shelf of ice. Sometimes it has to take an entirely new tact, an entirely new angle of approach as the sea around it breaks only to refreeze a few moments later.
Therefore, as odd as this may sound, all of the lies and secrets attached to my infidelity was driven by the desire to fit in; to avoid the harsh and often unforgiving judgments of my “friends”, family, and those that loved me. It is an attempt to manipulate perceptions. Once I screwed up I was afraid to lose those things that mattered to me in the moment…so I chased safety.
As tears have washed away my Pride I see more clearly that so much of my deceptions were based on protecting myself – and C – from the perceptions of others and their sanctimonious and hypocritical judgments.
A vulnerability is found by taking the risk, facing the uncertainty, and walking through the fear required to leave the safety of one place to be exposed to the lessons of the new. Finding my places of vulnerability has been a process of exploration.
Sometimes the exploration is by choice. Sometimes it feels like a death march.
How we respond to the Ugly demonstrates what is beautiful. Only through adversity have I been able to discover what is Ugly and what is beautiful about me, and about my life. How we respond to our pain is the only true window into the soul.
Anyone can be perfect and loving on date and dancing night, but who we are is revealed when things are hardest: do we fight for what we want knowing we may be hurt again, as Swindell did, or do we hide behind bitterness and fear exacting revenge over and over blaming others for our pain because we are afraid of it?
My Ugly gave C the permission to do what she wanted: end our relationship. For months prior to discovery, she was dabbling with her own patterns. I know this now. I didn’t know this was her pattern then.
As a result, I learned that despite her Ugly, I’m capable of accepting and loving her unconditionally. I can be hated without hating back.
Those are powerful gifts and I will always be grateful to her love for the lessons as I struggle with applying them to my life moving forward.
Lacking courage I ran from the pain as long as I thought I had to fix it alone.
Only when the truth came out, and I had no place to run, did I turn into the teeth of the storm, and, stripped of my mangled coping tools, I turned to fight. I continue to fight. I continue to be grateful for this experience while sorrowful for the loss and pain other people may carry because of my selfishness.
In reality, I cannot have what I say I need and want if I’m not willing to give what I need and want. For example, I need and want © but I destroyed that because I wasn’t willing to take the risk, face the uncertainty, and provide emotional openness. I was practicing the opposite of vulnerability. I was working for safety.
When I discuss safety with my Doctor she reminds me constantly, safety is an illusion; living for safety is avoiding pain and fear, avoiding loss and confusion. Without those things how will I ever discover who I am and where I stand. By definition, I cannot be safe and vulnerable and I cannot grow into deeper, more meaningful relationships without risk and uncertainty. “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” said FDR.
In hindsight, I feel like I confused safety with vulnerability. I see now that comfort was the obstacle to vulnerability. I avoided the hard things to try and protect what I wanted: a life with C.
Nothing is perfect except for the imagination. What a horrible expectation I place on another person, making them responsible for my safety. When they fail, and across a lifetime they will fail, I punish them for my expectations.
Or I hear, “Well, I’ll be vulnerable when I feel safe.” The mantra is, “He isn’t safe so I cannot be vulnerable.”
At some point in time that becomes bullshit, and justification to avoid our own emotional work.
We blame others and expect them to make things just right so we can come out of the emotional bunker…but as long as I stay in the bunker I will never know what is safe and what is my imagination.
And of if I demand they respond in the “proper” way than I am setting others up to fail. Demanding the other person be something “else” or respond in only my preapproved and defined ways is manipulative. It is convenient and it risks nothing. It is a nonsustainable relationship.
And I would know.
If years later I am still bitter because of what someone else has done, the problem is me, not them. It is my choice if I’ve chosen to remain bitter. In that circumstance, I’ve chosen to avoid the hard work to dig into the truth of my bitterness. Bitterness is the weapon I wield to stave off vulnerability.
It is the armor against healing.
Opening myself up to C’s fury and rage isn’t safe. She has proven over and over she will respond with vengeance, pettiness, and anger. Early on as people piled on and I defensively lashed out at C for the behavior of Interlopers, Flying Monkeys, and the Splitter. I understand why she might confuse my anger with them for anger with her.
C didn’t do anything wrong. She did things that were hurtful, but that is different.
Today I try to patiently meet each lash with acceptance, kindness, and compassion. I try to respond with a soft heart, not more hardness. I try to avoid responding to her suffering with more suffering, to her hurt with more hurt.
I’ve done a good job.
…because although I wouldn’t go back, I love her more now than before. Sometimes you have to lose a relationship to realize how deep it went. For me, it went deep. I’m trying not to further dishonor that with entitlement and anger.
What I really needed was help but I wouldn’t ask because I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. I believed I had to fix it alone. My betrayal and supporting behaviors were driven by childish and entitled coping mechanisms not pathological, moral, or character issues.
Without exception, my behaviors were driven by an unwillingness to take the risk of being humiliated, facing the uncertainty of C’s reactions, and being emotionally open, humbly admitting I didn’t know what to do next. I denied C – and my ex-wife – the freedom to choose their lives.
This is where I find myself now: I am the kind of man that leans on vulnerability to demonstrate courage. I tried safety…and failed. Therefore, it’s time to do life differently…even as I rebuild this life brick by brick.