Shifting the Paradigm for Vulnerable
For many years, no, decades, I thought of my mom as weak and pitiful because, sometimes despite her best efforts, she let her feelings show. She laughed (seldom), cried (often), raged (even more often), and allowed some of the pain she carried inside to show.
Dad on the other hand was my rock, though I’ve since realized my trust was misplaced. He laughed often, many times at my expense. I only remember him crying once in my life before mom’s death, and it scared the crap out of me. When he got angry, it was usually the quiet, simmering kind except for his increasingly frequent yelling matches with my mother. Most of the time, they were about money and mom’s propensity to spend when she was unhappy. After she died, we found clothes with the tags still on she’d never worn, and mountains of sundries like baby powder, toothpaste, mouth wash, and toilet paper.
Because of my misplaced affections, I learned to view vulnerability and emotions as weakness. My dad frowned upon such outward displays. I thought he did it from a place of strength. Therefore, whatever my mom did was weak, right?
The Many Faces of Alcohol Addiction
Both of my parents were very social and their frequent parties were well-attended. Of course, their circles of friends also required excessive amounts of alcohol before they’d let loose and act like fools. At the time I thought that was normal. I’ve since learned better. But it took an 11-year marriage to another alcoholic, and living the dysfunction of having to be the only responsible adult in the household for me to recognize how abnormal my home life was.
Sure, dad was a business owner from the time I was about 12. Mom dabbled in Real Estate, but I think her heart was in the charity work she did. In hindsight, she’d have done well working for a non-profit. In many ways, I suppose they were functioning alcoholics, as were many of their friends who were also business owners. All had achieved at least a reasonable amount of success; enough to move to the newly built suburban area west of the San Fernando Valley in what was, at the time an unincorporated section of Los Angeles County. But years of heavy drinking took its toll on most of them. For some it was health, others, their businesses, and for many, it was both.
Where Do We Draw the Line Between Weakness and Strength?
I’ve learned a lot from my experiences up to the time I moved out of my parents’ home for good. For a while, the lesson was primarily related to alcohol consumption. Never one to feel comfortable being drunk and out of control (though I’ve only recently figured out why), my ventures into that world were relatively mild and short-lived. One particularly nasty hangover in my early 30’s was enough to quench the desire to ever drink excessively again. It also put me off Mexican coffee forever! Essentially being more parent than wife to an alcoholic cured me of any lingering desire to drink to excess, even occasionally.
In a roundabout way, it all leads to the topic of this post. I could oversimplify and say the alcohol abuse was a sign of weakness in everyone concerned. But that would be naive and inaccurate. People drink for their own reasons. Certainly, weakness and inability to deal with their day-to-day problems is one of them, but if you ask me, it’s hardly the most common.
In fact, some of the strongest people I’ve ever known abused alcohol or drugs at some point in their lives, not to run away from their lives, but from something far more insidious; voices in their heads they didn’t realize weren’t their own, but belonged to the people around them.
Finding Our Strength By Being Vulnerable
Which brings me back to vulnerability. Admitting you’re hearing and feeling things that don’t feel like your own, or talking about the abundance of inexplicable feelings you’re experiencing aren’t exactly table talk. Many of us were taught to keep things to ourselves and basically deal with our own shit. It would never occur to us to share something we were struggling with, especially if it reeked of mental imbalance. Yet the strongest among us have figured out the flaw in this line of thinking. We are stronger together, and how better to move closer together than to admit we don’t have all the answers?
People who try to fix everything themselves are like a house that’s been wired for electricity, but doesn’t have any outlets to plug things in. Sure, internally everything needed is there, but there’s no way to access it. Sure, deep down inside ourselves, we have what we need to solve nearly anything that comes our way, but some of it is buried so deep in our memories and history, we couldn’t access it if we tried.
It might be something simple like fixing a toilet or installing a new breaker. We would eventually figure it out, but what would we destroy in the process, and how would our sanity fare? More importantly, what pressing tasks would go undone while we spun our wheels trying to figure it out? It could be a legal issue, or a problem with one of our kids. Why not admit we’re imperfect and open the door for someone with the necessary skills and experience to come in and help us do it right the first time? Or at least avoid some of the pitfalls we’d surely encounter without talking to someone who’d already had to go through them before finding the best answer.
Ask For Help, Be Part of a Community
In opening up and admitting we need help, we learn something from the person or people who come to our aid. We also learn opening ourselves up like that takes a lot more strength and courage than trying to tough it out alone. Needing other people is hard! Especially if you’ve been taken advantage of, or had your heart stomped into a bloody puddle of mush a few times, or worse, humiliated. Being willing to go there again despite what you’ve been through is tantamount to stepping barefoot into a scorpion’s nest. You know the likelihood of a painful outcome will always be there, so you want to at least put on a heavy boot to protect your delicate skin.
If you’ve already done some reaching out and created a community, you no longer expose your imperfectness unprotected. My mom knew that and had friends who saw her at her most exposed. Dad on the other hand didn’t. After mom died, he lived alone with his cat, letting his girlfriend stay on certain nights, but spending the nights alone others; including the night before he took his life. He shared his health issues with a select few. His daughters weren’t among them. Even so, I doubt he shared the severity with anyone. He wasn’t one to handle pity or even concern well. He gathered around him men who supported him by drinking with him; each doing his best to mask his own pain.
And he went out alone. Unwilling, right up to the end to reach out and ask for help navigating the latest in a long series of perils and pitfalls.
Learning to Ask for Help Can Be a Rewarding Experience
I may not have the concept of reaching out for help down yet. I’m definitely in the fledgling stage. But I have come to understand and appreciate the advantages even if I’m reluctant at times to take advantage of them. Perhaps I still spend more time alone than others might deem healthy.
Each of us must find our own balance between going our own way and traveling in company. One of the groups I follow on Facebook has been using the mantra “test, adjust, test. repeat.” I think we can apply this to life in general, though the group refers to business-related activities. It starts when we’re infants, learning to roll over, then crawl, and ultimately walk.
Sometimes, part of the test is tuning into our internal monitor and adjusting our tolerance to things outside our comfort zone. The adjustments push us out of our self-imposed nest and, for some of us, further into a community where we learn there truly can be safety in numbers.
Being Grateful for Everything, Both Large and Small
My gratitudes today are:
- I am grateful for the friends who’ve been patient with me as I learn to walk as part of a community instead of as a solo act.
- I am grateful for the teachers who have been appearing in my life as the student becomes ready.
- I am grateful for some of the less-than-gentle drop kicks I’ve received to leave my nest behind and test my perfectly formed wings out in the real world.
- I am grateful for my writing which has played a huge part in changing my hermit-y ways, and for all the people who read and comment. Their inspiration and insight are invaluable to my personal growth.
- I am grateful for abundance; friendship, love, joy, connections, community, opportunities, inspiration, motivation, earlier mornings, dreams, answers, questions, peace, health, harmony, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, ghostwriter, and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws , of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward.