The Emperor(Empress) Has no….Skin?!

Vulnerability.  There it is.  A word that can, at it’s very utterance, strike terror into the hearts of thousands of adult, teens, preteens and maybe even some kids.  But why?  Well, there are lots of reasons.  We’re taught that being vulnerable is synonymous with being weak.  That it means you’re a push over, or alone, or easily trampled.  And yes, it can be these things, when misused.  However, vulnerability – when wisely and judiciously applied – can be a source of great strength and insurmountable power.

Yes, yes, I see you over there in the corner raising an eyebrow and saying ‘yeah, right!’  Let me explain how I’ve come to this…remembrance, you might call it…and the effect I’ve seen as I’ve applied it in my life.

When I was a child, I would often forget to wear my skin.  What do I mean by this?  Well, I was transparent.  I wasn’t just the emperor who forgot to wear his clothes, proudly strutting through town.  No, I was the kid that forgot that you weren’t supposed to let people see your heart, or maybe even your soul.  That didn’t know, instinctively – as so many seem to, that there is a price to loving people.  That never thought of protecting themselves first, but rather of how they could help whoever was around them (even if I didn’t like them).  I really didn’t see the reason for wearing a skin, though through many painful lessons, I did learn some reasons.  Even for seeking out the thickest skin it was possible to achieve.

You could say I went from walking around skinless, to being wrapped in my own version of blubber.  To insulate me from all the pain and heartache and cruelty I saw around me.  And for a very long time, I stayed that way.  It seemed the safest.  Rather to experience life a little dulled through senses that couldn’t quite fully penetrate out of my cocoon of safety, than to risk the sharp prick of unkindness or the stab of betrayal.  Better to be numb, than to feel.  Better to be a zombie, than to risk the “slings and arrows” of being alive.  Better to be the cause of my pain, myself, before others could even try to hurt me.

What’s that?  You say that’s messed up?  You’re right.  It is.  But for many on many years, it’s precisely how I lived.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t have any friends, or that I was completely isolated, locked in an attic somewhere.  Of course I wasn’t.  I had friends – but I kept them at arms length.  Some of them knew this and were fine with it.  Some tried to get closer – and I’d mentally yelp and run and hide in my safe corner.  The patient ones recognized something in me worth sticking around and seeing if – with enough love and no pressure – I might, like some skittish animal, eventually crawl out of my deep dark whole and let them near.  For those folks, I am and will always be, eternally grateful.  Their patience was tried time and again, and it couldn’t have been easy.  But it worked.  In spurts and starts, it worked.

One of the last painful lessons I’d learned caused me to insulate myself to the point of being near agoraphobic.  It wasn’t the most painful lesson, but it was on the heels of it.  It was the proverbial straw you might say, that caused me to just give up – or give in.  Give in to fear, give up my power.  I secluded myself in my home.  I didn’t want to see anyone, I barely would answer emails or talk to people even via chat.  I wanted nothing to do with people anymore.  My faith in people on a whole was completely obliterated.  I loved and trusted my dear wife – but I was even starting to push her away.  So slowly, that she didn’t realize I was doing it – but I did.  And my very old nemesis of depression and anorexia and self-harming not only came back to visit, but moved in and set up home in my mind again.

Now, mind you,  I am many many thing – but a fool is not one of them.  I didn’t wear my depression on my sleeve.  I ate as little as possible and only when I knew I was being watched, and since I couldn’t completely starve myself, I starved other appetites as well.  I wouldn’t allow myself to do the things that brought me joy, for example. And all my self-harming activities were such that however much pain I might inflict – there were no tell tale marks to give me away.  Allowing any of it to be seen, to be known, would mean letting someone in.  And that was dangerous.  That was painful.  That was the last thing I wanted.  It was also the only thing I really wanted – if I’d allowed myself to admit it.  It hurts to be that alone.  Especially when even you aren’t a safe place for yourself.

Eventually things spiraled down until I hit bottom.  I was heading back to bed one night after a whopping two hours awake for the day and I thought “everyone would just be better off if I never woke up.”  In that moment, I knew just how bad I’d let things get.  I hadn’t had a suicidal thought since I’d recovered from my attempts when I was 17.  But I still remembered clearly enough the slippery slope from thought to action.  I was terrified.  I didn’t truly want to die, yet…but I knew if I didn’t change something drastically and fast – it was only a matter of time.

I can honestly say at that point, I wasn’t sure any more if I believed in God or a higher power anymore.  If I believed in anything at all, any more.  But I was desperate, in a way only those who have faced that kind of darkness can know.  Desperate enough to pray, even if I didn’t know if it would do any good.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I lit a candle alone in a quiet room, and I prayed – begged – any God that might exist, the universe, any higher power that might be inclined to look on me with sympathy, for help.  For guidance, to find my way, to find me, to find the joy I used to feel, to find a way back to being alive again.  That was two years ago – this month.  Though I couldn’t tell you right down to the day.

Slowly, oh so very slowly, I started to come back up the other side.  I’d found a forum online within days of my appeal that led me to a group of very kind hearted people from around the world – who allowed me to simply be.  They didn’t know me from Eve.  They let me question – everything.  They let me be authentic, for maybe the first time in I couldn’t tell you how long.  Anything that I was exploring, questioning, trying to figure out – they withheld any judgments and were amazingly supportive.  But they were also safe.  None of them were local, none of them knew me, none of them could – in any real and tangible way – hurt me.  Still, it was a start.

Slowly I began to peek out just a little, began to feel – just a little.  I can’t say I began to trust, but I did begin to be just a bit less afraid.  Nine months later, that little bit of fledgling courage would start being put to the test.

Having grasped onto that forum like the life line it was, forcing myself to interact with others and look for anything that might help me be ME again, I took small risks and reinforced a small sense that maybe, just maybe, it might be ok.  About this time, my life went through another upheaval – as life will.  While I didn’t land down in the pit again, I was shaken up pretty good.

You see, I didn’t think I had any worth.  I didn’t have any value.  I believed that I deserved every bad thing that ever came my way, but none of the good.  I thought my very audacity of existing, something to be punished with extreme prejudice, and apologized for.  That any act of reaching out was being a burden – rather than a way to share joy.  This time though, instead of withdrawing and seeking solace in sleep and solitude, I did the thing that is hardest for me to do.  I reached out.

You remember those very patient few I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, they were still there.  They may not have known how deep a whole they were waiting for me to crawl out of, but they were still there, bless them.  And when I did reach out, even tentatively, I was received with sympathetic ears, commiseration, and from some – enveloped in bear hugs before I could know what was happening to me!   Some bear hugs were real, some metaphorical, but they were all very strong and not a little overwhelming.  I am forever grateful to them, family and friends, for being there – even when I didn’t know how badly I needed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t divulging the secrets of the universe, or ever the secrets of my heart – not yet.  I was however, willing to take the risk of making a connection – to another person, to another heart – if only very timidly.  It was another, more important, start.

The year forward from that has been very possibly one of the most profound, if not THE most profound year yet, of my entire life.  I have been challenged on every front, on a daily – if not at times hourly – basis, to live my life with courage.  To shed the layers and layers of skin.  To endure newly exposed nerves to the air of life, without shrinking back.    To live authentically, to live in truth – whatever my definition of that may be (it’s different for everyone), to BE.

To be open.  To be honest.  To be brave.  To be emotional.  To be daring.  To dream.  To pursue those dreams.  To open my heart.  To open my soul.  To connect.  To be VULNERABLE.

Ah-hah!  You thought I forgot didn’t you?  Nope.  To be vulnerable.  Let’s take a closer look at that word.  It’s synonyms are: exposed, open, sensitive, subject (to), susceptible.    So to make one’s self vulnerable to another person, is to make yourself open, sensitive, exposed, susceptible and even sometimes subject to that other person.  Is this a wholly bad thing?  No.  Without vulnerability, we can never be truly close to another person or really know them.  Is it without risk?  NEVER.  Is it worth the risk?  Always.

Yes, being vulnerable, willingly and knowingly to another person is always a risk.  You do give that person power to hurt you.  But you also give that person the ability to love you, and to be vulnerable to you as well.  It means trust.  It means love.  It means respect and honesty.  And it can be the most rewarding thing you ever do – even as it is simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying thing you ever do.

By being vulnerable to those that love and support you, you gain not only their love and support, but your own strength and self-confidence has a safe place to grow and expand.  By taking the calculated risk of making yourself vulnerable to a stranger, you can gain a life long friend.  By taking the bigger risk of walking and talking your truth, and going out into the world skinless – but not blind – you not only gain the strength and power to be found in a life lived authentically, but you can lend that same strength to others fighting similar battles and who think they are alone.

By being vulnerable to some very special people in my life, I’m no longer not only not suicidal, I’m actually hungry and enjoying meals with those I love rather than trying to starve myself as punishment for existing.  I’m even winning the battle on not self-harming.

Even those not cursed to be English Majors as I was, oft know the line from Meditation XVII by John Donne “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  A more complete though lesser recognized version of that same quote reads thus:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

“No man is an island.” No one is alone.  I thought I was and I was so very wrong.  I’m not alone.  Neither are you.  Isn’t that something worth being vulnerable for?

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. JenPastiloff
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 02:30:36

    so beautiful

    Reply

  2. Melissa Cartwright
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 07:01:54

    wonderful..simply beautiful..so very proud of you and blessed that you are my friend

    Reply

  3. Stacy
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 11:24:16

    Love you!
    *hug*

    Reply

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