My body is amazing.

This woman’s body isn’t the only thing that is amazing.  Her courage, her voice, her strength, her intellect…just HER.

Reblogging from Villainy Loveless…

My body is amazing..

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Can You Find The Silver Lining?

I haven’t posted here in a while.  There’s been a lot going on, birthdays, graduations, travels, school concerts and soon dance recitals – mixed in with the other multitudes of minutia that make up life (VA appointments, errands, paying bills – you know what I mean).    And I do have things to share about some of those experiences – but they’re still….taking form and finding the right words to write.

So while that continues to gel, I’m going to take a risk.  I’m going to be blunt about something I almost never talk about, not unless you’re part of a very treasured handful of people.  But maybe my sharing it can help give some solid strength to my shaky legs as I travel this path of healing.  And maybe, just maybe, it can help someone else if I share it.  Even if it’s only to know they’re not the only out there – because in the depth of the dark night when you’re battling against your darkest self – you feel very much alone.  Even when you’re not.

For a longer time than I care to admit to, I’ve dealt with various forms of self-harm and self-abuse.  From purposefully starving myself and denying food until even my body gave up and no longer recognized what ‘hungry’ meant.  To actively seeking to cause myself pain.  In very specific and purposeful ways, with the sole intention being to punish myself.  I still fight with it.

Sometimes the punishment was for things I could point at and say ‘I said this’ or ‘I did that’ or ‘I thought “x.”‘  And I’d use those reasons to justify why I deserved it.  Why I deserved not just the pain I was inflicting on myself, but every bad thing that had or ever could happen to me.  I deserved every last bit of it – and none of the good.  A lot of times, I didn’t even need a reason.  My existence was reason enough that I deserved every bit of pain and punishment I could inflict.

No, I’m not a cutter.  I don’t do anything that leaves marks or scars that can be seen (not past a handful of hours).  And chances are – even if you saw me just seconds after I finished  – you still wouldn’t see anything.  I choose the most sensitive and secret parts to inflict the greatest amounts of pain and punishment on.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?  I’m not going to go into any details on what I do, that’s not the point here, and I don’t want to give anyone else who is struggling any ideas on things they have or haven’t tried.

Here’s the thing, if you’ve never experience the need – yes, need – to self-harm, you can’t understand the compulsion, drive, urge, very nearly obsession that takes over your brain until you follow through.  And often times, it’s an escalation thing.  One outlet might work for a while, but you get used to it, so you have to find a new way to inflict pain, or a way to intensify it, to get the same, if very temporary, relief.  And it’s an insidious thing.  It sneaks up on you, even when you think you’re strong and doing well.  It attacks when you’re alone, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re not looking.  This graphic below gives a little insight into the cyclic nature of it:

self_harm_diagram

 

I’m very lucky and very blessed.  I have a wonderful inner circle of supportive and loving people who do everything they can to support me, as I battle to end this cycle.  It’s beyond difficult for me to fathom why they do this.  Why they care so much, why they love me so much, why it matters what happens if it’s happening to me.

When I’m at my strongest and healthiest, I may not understand or think I deserve all they give me, but I accept it and am grateful for it.  When I’m at my most vulnerable and sincerely fighting the urge to inflict very real physical pain on myself almost on a heartbeat by heartbeat basis…I have trouble even accepting it.  I don’t deserve it (in my perception of reality – a flawed perception, I understand that on a strictly logical basis, but there it is – logic has no hand in this reality).  I don’t deserve the love, the concern, the support, the tremendous generosity of these so very loving people.   I want to hide from them.  I want to disappear.  I want to become the nothing that I feel like I am.

I’m trying to help you understand the very warped reality, the darkness that my mind lives in during these times, even while I realize that if you haven’t been there – you’ll never fully comprehend the starkness and desperation of it.

Despite all of this, those special few have never abandoned me to my inner demons.  Despite not always understanding.  Despite the heartache that I know I have caused them at the thought of some of what I’ve done.  They have stood by me, and forgiven me time and again – even when I couldn’t forgive myself.  Even as I’ve stumbled and tripped along my way to fixing what is broken within me, to finding a healthy me under it all.   And because of this, I’ve come lightyears from where I once was.

I stumbled again last night.  I was cruel to myself, and I caused myself physical pain.  Not nearly as cruel, not nearly as much pain as I’ve been known to do at my worst.  After  fighting and fighting I gave in, because I was exhausted.  I was tired, and tired of the fight and wanted so badly for the quiet and the relief that usually comes from surrendering.  And after it was all over I was in tears, because that relief never came.  I’d lost that battle.  And for nothing.

But today, with a clearer head, something occurred to me that I need to try to remember more often than I do.  Often times we’re told ‘don’t look back, you’re not going that way’.  And for a good deal of situations, that’s true.  BUT…but…sometimes we do need to look back.  Not to wallow in our past, but to remind ourself just how far we’ve come already – when it feels like we still have so very far to go and don’t have the strength to keep going.  There was a time that I inflicted pain on myself on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day or for entire days without rest.

Even counting last night’s stumble, in the past year I’ve only given in maybe a handful of times – in an entire year!  Put into that kind of perspective – I’ve come so very far!!  I may not be where I want to be yet.  But it truly makes me take another look at how far is left to the goal of health, versus how far I’ve already come just to get where I am now.

Now, I know what a healthy mindset is, and can maintain one for long periods of time.  I know the mindset I want to have, who I want to be and am working to become.  And I realized something else.  In not gaining the relief, even temporary as it would have been, the cycle is breaking down.  I may have given in, but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.  Rather it showed me how far I’ve come, and that my work to fix myself is not for nothing.  I may not be fixed – yet – but the changes are taking effect.  Some of it is beginning to sink in – if slowly and only subconsciously – that maybe I do have a small bit of value.  It has to be, or the relief would have come.

I have no trouble seeing the body as sacred and to be honored and treated gently – for others.  The idea of anyone I love and care about harming themselves as I have done, is horrifying to me.  And yet…that horror is not there when I look at myself.  Someday, I hope it will be.  I’m working to try and see and honor the sacred within myself.  To see my existence as something to be celebrated, not punished.  To see value and worth in myself.  And when I can’t, I try to remember what those I love and trust have said that they see in me.  I rely on their faith and belief in me, when my own faith and belief in myself falters.

It’s been said that you can’t ‘live on borrowed light.’  And you can’t.  But sometimes you need someone else to light your candle when you can’t find that first spark yourself.  Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you and see value and worth in you, before you can see it in yourself.  Sometimes, before you can love yourself, you need someone else to love you even in your broken and flawed self, to know that even you deserve love.  I’ve been so very lucky to have not just one, but a handful of dear people, that have been willing to do just that for me.  Even when I stumble and fall, they still love me, they still support me, and they remind me that it’s not the end of the world.

Losing one battle, does not lose the war, as long as you regroup and fight again.  So, a reminder to myself, and a reminder to anyone else out there fighting their own battles, don’t give up.  Rest, if you need to.  Heal, if you need to.  And then pick up your sword and fight again.  Remind yourself how far you’ve already come, to give you the strength to keep going.

MB-MA123_LRG

An Open Love Letter…

Some of the folks close to me know about a special work that I participate in every month.  I don’t talk about it a great deal.  A few months ago I learned about More Love Letters.  It’s a project to send more love letters out into the world.  Not the sappy kind you wrote to your first crush back in grade school, but the uplifting, encouraging kind.  Written anonymously and left either for a person to find in some public venue, or gathered for love letter bundles to be mailed to a person that such letters have been requested for.  I’ve been participating since I first learned about it.  And an interesting thing has happened…I’ve found that writing these letters has helped make me a more compassionate, thoughtful.  It’s helped to make me a better person.

At times like now, it’s hard not to walk around with a feeling of melancholy.  Maybe to even fight not to lose your faith that humanity has value.  I know I certainly do.  But being negative – doesn’t help anyone.  One cliché that I have found proven true time and again in my life…is that if you want to feel better…help someone else.  And while I certainly try my best to help those I know, and a fair number of people I don’t know, I thought that right now might be a good time to try and stretch that a little more…by writing an open love letter to anyone who might need one right now.  And so, if you’re reading this…this is for YOU.

 

Dear Darling One,

I can’t begin to imagine what you might be going through right now.  The trials and struggles that we all have to face that are utterly unique to each one of us.  One thing I do know, and want you to know – is that what ever you may be facing…you are not alone.  It feels like it sometimes.  It can be hard to reach out.  But I can promise you.  You are not alone.  There are people around you who love you.  Who want you to succeed.  Who would love a chance to support and help you conquer whatever you are facing.

It’s easy to feel alone.  To cut yourself off thinking that others would never, could never understand.  But I promise, there are those that do.  You are never alone, but your thinking makes it so.  It’s ok if you’re scared.  It’s ok if you’re confused.  It’s ok if you’re hurting.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to have it all together.  All you have to do, is take a deep breath and reach out.  You can do it.  I can’t promise it’ll be easy – it probably won’t.  I can’t promise it won’t terrify you – it might.  I can promise, it’ll be worth it.  I can promise this, because I’ve been there.  Sometimes I still am.  But I have learned that it is ALWAYS worth it.  Go through the pain, through the fear, through all of it…and connect.  It’s always worth it.

You are a beautiful person.  You have so much going for you – more that you can even realize.  And we need you.  This whole crazy messed up world, needs YOU.  There is only one person who can be the unique mix of crazy, beautiful, talented, wonderful being that you are.  You can not and will not ever be duplicated.  So please, share your talent with us. Share your crazy, your beautiful.  Share the uniqueness that only you can give.  We’re all waiting just to cheer you on.

Love,

C

 

Too See Yourself Through the Eyes of Another

For about a year or so now, I’ve been following quite a few blogs.  Very notably I’ve been following the blog of Jennifer Pastiloff.  A remarkable woman of profound courage and honesty, a brilliant talent with words, a manifestation yogi, and an inspiration.

In one of her blogs, posted February 23, on Positively Positive, she ended her blog with a request of her readers, her Tribe.  The request seemed an easy one, yet I’ve been unable to face it and actually put words to the page for almost a month now.  Even though the idea of it has haunted my brain on a near daily basis.  Today though, I did.  The request was this:  Please post below a description of yourself or a letter to yourself written in the voice of someone who loves you.

One of the first challenges was to pick which voice to write it in.  My lovely wife would seem an obvious choice, however, I’ve often discounted her words as being biased.  I knew I’d have to write it in the voice of someone that I know I can’t argue with.  Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I haven’t tried.  I am me, after all.  But this is the one person, besides my darling wife, who knows ALL of my secrets – good and bad – and who still found worth in me.  How, I still don’t know, but she did.  The voice of someone who’s helped me on many profound levels and to whom I owe an immense debt of gratitude and love. And while I know I can never fully repay her for all she’s done and does, I still try.

I know she doesn’t follow the same blogs I do, so the chances that she would see the letter I wrote to myself in her voice were beyond microscopic.  So…to thank her, and to let her know that for all my quarrelsome nature, I have indeed been paying attention, and I have been listening…here’s the letter…

Dear Doll,

There have been those in your life who’ve abused and misused you. And instead of getting angry with them, you tried to figure out what you did wrong and took on the blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault, the horrors you endured. If I could wrap you in a quilt and hold you until the memories went away and your self-worth was restored to you I would. One day, you’ll remember your worth and value are infinite. You are enough just the way you are. You are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, kind enough – you are enough – more than enough. You are a lion that’s been told for so long that it’s a sheep, that you’ve forgotten how to roar. Your faith is a beautiful thing to witness, and when it falters, I have faith enough in you to carry you until you find your way again. I will do anything I can to help you remember your worth and who you are, and I will celebrate with you when that day comes. You’ve come so far this past year. Lightyears from where anyone could have ever predicted. And you have so much still ahead of you.

I’ve told you these things before, but I’m not sure they’re sinking in. I think you are a beautiful young woman who is facing many very hard challenges, and I want to help if I can. You are my hero, and you will want to know why…Because of all you have endured and yet you still believe that you matter (even if it’s just a fledgling belief). Because you care about people in the world that you don’t even know – you pay for their groceries behind you in line, you send money to help the kids of a stranger without a second thought just because you found out that they were struggling, you write love letters of encouragement to people you’ve never met and never will. Because you have undying love for your family that you barely know but would do anything for. Because you have a knowledge and insight at age 35 that I am still trying to attain. Because of your ability to see people’s shortcomings and still be nonjudgmental and loving towards them. Because you put everyone before yourself.

You give me strength. You spoil me and at times I don’t know what to do with you! You are exceptionally kind and exceptionally good – even if you don’t see it. I am very thankful to have you in my life. You are too good to be true – at times I’m convinced you’re an angel. And as much as you tell me I don’t have to thank you, the gratitude that swells in me for you and all you’ve done and do – is so immense that I have no words to express it properly. So please, don’t argue with me when I thank you. I’m grateful you’re my family AND my friend. I love you for who you are, for your heart and your immense spirit. Nothing you do can ever change that, and you can’t disappoint me – so stop worrying about that and chase your dreams. I’m proud of you.

I love you as big as the sky.

Fight or Flight….Which Shall It Be…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

I don’t know about most of you, but I take comfort in my daily routines. I don’t cling to them. I can change around the order in which I do things – or even skip some things for a day here or there. But most of the things that are my “daily’s” are things that help me feel more calm and balanced and ready to take on the world – regardless of what my current challenges are. Lately though, I’ve been avoiding them. Massively. And the kicker of it is – I don’t fully know why.

I started my routine about a year or so ago. It grew as new elements got added in until it reached the form it has today – that I’m currently avoiding in it’s near entirety. It would start with some affirmations, proceed to writing three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness type of journaling. The pages were for many purposes. To give me a safe place to vent, to help me be more aware and tuned in to my inner thoughtscape, to help me learn to turn off my inner editor to aid in the other types of writing that I do. And at the end of my day, I would list the things I was grateful for, for that day in one journal, and in another, I’d place an image of something/someone I was grateful for, and roughly three reasons that image invoked feelings of gratitude that day. Those were the nuts and bolts of my routine.

Interspersed in all this was also lots of reading: leisure reading, slush pile reading, beta reading, and self-help and/or spiritual reading. (add in there research for writing topics or other tasks as needed). Then add in trying to make progress on or finish various WIP’s (works – in – progress)  – novels and short stories. And of course, a loving wife to look after (if you know my wife, you know that alone is a full time job with never a dull moment!), furkids to take care of, and the sacred inner circle that I connect with daily. Sprinkle liberally with friends, any attempts at a social life, the more love letters monthly campaign, and various other fun/interesting/stressful challenges that life sees fit to throw my way.

It sounds like a lot, when listed out like this – but it was something that I handled without a second thought. But of late – I’m avoiding it. I’m paying a price for this avoidance. My headspace is less well behaved, my sleep is not as restful, I’m more moody. I know returning to my routine would solve the greater majority of it all. And yet…and, yet… I don’t.

So, what changed? Nothing, and everything. I got hit with an emotional curveball that skyrocketed my stress levels. I caught the latest version of the plague, that had me unconscious more often than not, and led to a lapse in my routine. I got over the plague, but never got back to my routine. Not really. A day here or there, but not the steady daily work that had so marked my last year. A year that was filled with the most growth, the most challenges, and was the most remarkable year I’ve lived yet. Filled with blessings and turns in the road I’d never have anticipated in my wildest daydreams or what-if’s. So why did I stop?

About the best I can figure it out is this. I got scared and I got tired. The final stress curveball that hit me, was the straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s made me scared to hope. Scared to count my blessings for fear that it’ll make it easier to steal them away from me. And as for facing myself in the pages? I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Because what I’d have to face is pain and raw and fear. After facing pain and raw and fear for a year, I’m tired. Even knowing all the growth and good that‘s come from it, hasn’t been enough to make me go back. The raw has been too large. The fear has been to entrenched. The pain has been both too old and too new all at the same time. I’ve even avoided this blog – which I’d been doing better about updating on a regular basis.

I have been forcing myself to face and deal with the curveball – with all the new knowledge and wisdom and strength the past year has given me. But it’s taken everything I’ve had and left me feeling like a husk each time. Only to start the process over again a few days later. And I’ve been afraid to look in the mirror that pages provide. Afraid I’d find all that I thought I’d learned about myself were just so many pretty lies. Afraid I’d find the old wreck of a girl I used to be. That I’d only watch myself deteriorate back to that lost little girl. If I didn’t look, then maybe it wouldn’t happen. I could keep up the facade of “ok”, the lie of “fine.”

But I’m not ok, and I’m not fine. I’m scared and scarred. I’m trying to protect myself and yet at the same time lay down my sword and shield. Never before has my old motto of “hope for the best, expect the worst” been more true or harder to bear. I’m scared to hope, and even more scared of what the worst could be. And while I know that this time things are different in very profound ways, memories are wicked and cruel beasts that will cut you to the quick at your most vulnerable and unexpected moments. I know that I’m not alone, that friends, loved ones, and that sacred inner circle are all around me – if I but reach out. And yet….and, yet….my hands are tied.

Others can listen and support and cheer me on, but ultimately only I can walk this road. For good or bad, in some very real ways I have to go through this alone. While it’s nice to know that others think I’m capable. That they believe I’m stronger than I was, and that I’ve “got this.” I don’t have their same confidence. I want to. I’m trying to live up to the vision they have of who I am…and clinging to it, when I can’t see myself at all.

You’d be surprised how often I can’t. I’ve avoided the mirror, scared I’d look and find no one there at all. Worse than a reflection of all the worst that’s in me, I’d find no reflection at all. I haven’t dared hope to see a reflection of the good – to see the reflection those who care about me have assured me is really there. Afraid to find the confirmation that I’ve just had them all fooled all along. And with the confirmation all the good in my life would evaporate along with the reflection until nothing remained in the mirror at all.

But I can’t keep it up. Something’s gotta give. And the truth of it is, I can’t bear to go back to the black pit of depression and all that it brings with it. I’ve never really counted myself a coward, and I’m not going to start now. So foolish at may feel to take the risk of seeing hopes dashed, I’m taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, swallowing hard and believing in the hope and faith and love and good that those I love and trust have told me is there.

Tomorrow I go back to my routine, and face what pains are waiting for me. I’ll patch and bandage my cuts and bruises, and return to fight the good fight. I’ve avoided and avoided and gotten nowhere. Let the blows fall where they may. Better battered and bruised and true – authentic and alive – than to return to being little more than a wisp of a ghost, vanishing in the morning’s light. I’m going to avoid avoiding. Sew up these last few stitches, pick back up my sword and shield, and then, dear friends, once more into the breach. Pray for me?

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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