About five months ago, my therapist gave me an assignment to watch a YouTube video on vulnerability. What I thought was sure to be another lesson in dragging my inner-child out of the closet, turned into an experience that shook me to my core. The TedX lecturer spoke on the power of vulnerability, something I was discovering to be true in this journey of recovery and in life. Her name was Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. I instantly became her follower and (unbeknownst to her) her new best friend.
Most days my TV is off. My iTunes playlist and son’s squeals fill our house. But this morning, I had my TV on and tuned in. My best friend, Brene, was on Oprah for her second installment of ‘Super Soul Sunday’. I was so happy for her and couldn’t wait to watch both episodes back to back. Little did I realize that once again I would be left speechless with Brene’s powerful, yet simple words and truth that resonate so deeply with where I am in my journey.
So since I tend to write how I think…which is in bullet points…here is a list of this morning’s Ah-Ha moments as spoken by Brene Brown:
Ah-Ha #1: “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”
Preach. I spent my whole life running from vulnerability. I grew up thinking being vulnerable meant being weak. Boy, was I wrong. My time in treatment and in recovery since, has taught me the exact opposite. When I am vulnerable and reach for support, it shows unprecedented strength and courage. I feel bravest when I am vulnerable, no question about that. And it is in those moments of vulnerability that I really reap life’s benefits and discover true joy and gratitude.
Ah-Ha #2: “Authenticity is a practice. It is a choice.”
Yes. It. Is. Anyone who has heard me speak lately knows I always end by speaking to authenticity, vulnerability and living your life with an open heart. It is something I do everyday…by choice, just like how I CHOOSE recovery every day. I always like to tell the story of my ah-ha moment in treatment, the moment I realized that recovery was a choice. It is my favorite story because it applies to all aspects of life. Authenticity included. I choose to practice authenticity every day and the more I practice, the better I am becoming.
Ah-Ha #3: “In the very same second, I can be brave and scared.”
I have two words: Southern Smash. I am blazing through unchartered territory and I am scared out of my mind. I am speaking out on a subject that I spent my whole life silently shaming. When I speak in public, I feel both. I fear that people will call me a fraud or that no one will come or that they will be disengaged, but at the same time I feel so courageous in speaking my story. It was and is a very weird feeling to be brave and scared in the very same second and it wasn’t until Brene spoke this ah-ha moment that I gave myself permission to feel both. And that permission alone gave me some much needed clarity and peace.
Ah-Ha #4 : “Gratitude is PRACTICE.”
AMEN. Brene says that people get lost looking for the extraordinary. She says that people who have been through a lot in life or lost a lot often find gratitude in the small things. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…recovery comes in the really tiny moments that take your breath away. After living a lifetime trapped in my disorder, the freedom I’ve found in recovery is simply extraordinary and it isn’t in some huge ah-ha stadium like, surround-sound moment. My gratitude overflows when I eat a cookie or sweet in the middle of the day just because I wanted to…or when I open my pantry and it is filled with food…or when I get dressed and can’t decide what to wear because I feel great in everything I put on…or when my husband puts his arm at my side and I snuggle in closer instead of pushing his hand away. The biggest moments of gratitude come to me in the smallest of ways…and that alone is something I’m grateful for.
Ah-Ha #5: “Shame cannot survive empathy.”
The past eight months or so have really been about me coming into my own skin and finding the courage to be authentic and vulnerable. It is not an easy thing to do to expose yourself, like really strip naked and say, “This is me.” I spent my whole life shaming who I was and shaming my struggles. My self-talk read something like this: “Why are you so crazy, McCall? Just get your shit together. Why can’t you be normal? You’re such an idiot. You are so ugly and gross.” As I began treatment and started my work towards recovery, I was forced, I mean gently shoved, to speak my shame. Brene says that you have to speak your shame and that shame flourishes in secrecy, silence and judgement. Once I began speaking my shame, to those who could provide me with the much-needed empathy, my shame slowly started to die away. And it really perished in group therapy, a place where the empathy poured out in numbers. Today, I no longer have the scheduled empathy group meetings, but what I do have is the knowledge and skill set to let my shame shine in the light so that it can’t metastasize in the darkness.
Ah-Ha #6: “You share with the people who earn the right to hear your shame story.”
Brene spoke about needing ONE friend, one good person in your life who can provide you that much needed empathy in those shameful times. This past month or so for me has been about identifying the people in my life who have ‘earned the right to hear my story,’ as Brene says. She talked about sharing shame with the wrong person and not getting the empathy or connection we need in return. I can’t even count how many times I have shared my struggles and shame with the wrong people. I would always leave the conversation feeling worse or unimportant or forgotten or that my struggle had been ‘topped’ by the other person. I was going to the wrong people, and as much as I wanted those people to be my ‘one’ friend, they were limited and could not offer what I truly needed and deserved. Lately, I’ve been working to see and accept people for who they are, limitations and all, and setting realistic expectations about what they can offer me in a relationship. It is a tough thing to see people and know they can’t be there for you the way you always wanted them to be. But hearing Brene this morning really put things into perspective for me, as well as made me grateful to now have that ONE friend. That friend who has earned the right to hear my story and can give me what I need.
Ah-Ha #7: “Compassion is not infinite. Compassion grow exponentially”
To this day, I struggle in reaching out. I always end up shoving my feelings aside because it seems as if someone else needs compassion and a listening ear more than I do at the time. Brene calls this “Comparative Suffering” and says that we rank order our suffering. I am a Comparative Sufferer Addict. I need a 12-Step program. But she speaks the truth in that compassion is not infinite. My compassion for friends and family could go on forever. Just because I give it to my husband, does not mean I can’t give it to my friend all in the same day, or same moment for that matter. This Brene Ah-Ha helped me accept and admit my Comparative Sufferer disease and isn’t admission of the problem the first step in every healing process?
These ah-ha moments could go on forever, but I’ll practice some blogging moderation and end here…(plus, my sick little guy is rising from his morning slumber.)
So until next time my bestie, Brene, Oprah and I hang out…Happy Sunday.