Sometimes we learn a thing, internalize it even, then before we’ve done it for enough time to become expert at it, life happens and we return to old habits without notice. It can be hard to notice a thing that slithers up your leg and find its way into your soul when it used to be an intimate and integral part of you. It knows where the secret entrances are to reclaim their residence within.This isn’t a revelation to most folks, who can recall the times this has been true. Periodically I go back and read my old blog posts to remind myself of those hard fought lessons. Often this proves to be a really useful action at just the right time. This happened again today.
This is from a response to a post I’d written that is only tangentially related to the discussion that occurred in the comments. As part of her reply, my friend Cyn said: “Time and time again, I am valued and loved only commensurate to how Super Woman I can be. ” Her comment prompted a dialogue about vulnerability and Shadow Work I had done surrounding it.
My reply: [My Work was] allowing myself to be seen in my vulnerability and more importantly, allowing myself to be loved in it. Sure, there are some out there who WILL reject people with exposed fragility in them. Just not everyone, nor even most. I was operating under the erroneous belief that most of the people who loved me would stop “if they knew”. And that no-one new would love me if I allowed those parts of me to be visible. I was wrong.
There were people who auto-rejected me because I showed no vulnerability at all. About the same percentage as those who may reject me for my fragile parts. The difference now is not in them. They remain the same. The difference is in me – if I am to move forward with any bit of grace and become who I wish to be fully I had to not only accept my fragile bits, but to handle them with love. This requires a level of exposure I hadn’t had since before the sexual abuse and the coping mechanisms adopted by virtue of living with an alcoholic parent.
So, that’s been my learning and my progress thus far. And yes, “Time and time again, I am valued and loved only commensurate to how Super Woman I can be, “ that was me. But I stopped. I chose to no longer gauge my lovability quotient based on other people’e expectations of who I should be. This was/is part of the same work. I have lost things because of it. And I’ve lost some people because it. Those losses hurt like hell. They do not hurt more than the manner I was hurting myself when I was living for them instead of me, though.
So while I don’t want a t-shirt screaming, “I am vulnerable! Take your best shot!” because I’m not completely unsound, I neither want one that screams “Vulnerability sucks!” If I had to have one I think it would say, “Vulnerability just is. Deal with it.”
I had forgotten my commitment to vulnerability while interacting in some spaces. I had forgotten my commitment to not act based on other folks’ expectations. I had forgotten my commitment to my lovability quotient being determined by me alone. Now that I’ve been reminded, I can see how those commitments were slipping away in my life. Until the reminder, I was ignoring the slithering, leg-climbing, blindspot from my past. Beautifully useful hindsight, I can tell you the occurrences that I believe started the slippage two years ago. I won’t use that hindsight to flog the me that lives in the now. I do hope to use it to keep this habit strong until I am expert at it so it doesn’t slip away again when I’m not being vigilant. That’s part of the point of holding a new thing until one is well practiced at it, once that is achieved, vigilance can be released to make room for other things you are tending into permanence.
To banish this most recently returned blindspot, I am renewing my commitments:
I will not act based on other folks’ expectations.
I will gauge my lovability quotient based solely on my own desires.
I will allow my vulnerability to be seen.
I have a hospice client I’ve been visiting since March. She is on a slow walk to death. She is unhurried about the process in all ways. She is directing it. Never doubt that the one who is doing the business of dying has a say in the progress. Every person I’ve sat with has shown this to be true. Not a stop to it, mind you, but the final puff of breath doesn’t come without consent.
Each week there is a little less fat under her skin as her illnesses take from her more than she can manage to replenish. She gets chilled easily so she wears thick clothes, lap blankets, and fingerless gloves pulled halfway done her hands. I see the upper half of her fingers, and I see the bones more clearly each visit. This week her gloves were pushed back to her wrists.
It was like an anatomy lesson laid out in topographic relief across the backs of her hands. Almond and purple tissue paper skin creates the ground with raised blue roads running the length, winding around knuckle-boulders as tendons stretch taut between unnaturally long looking bones. As she drifted in and out of naps I looked at her hands, fascinated that they could be reduced to their base elements, yet still function to pick tiny bits of of fluff from her blanket, grab my hand and pull it to her lips to give a kiss, then entwine her fingers for our prayer before I leave.
The human body is an amazing thing, and it stays just as amazing during the final slide to the door that we all go through. Blessings to the hands, and all they have done, and all they continue to do, even as they waste away to resembling the model strung up on poles in physiology labs. Blessings to the hands of the dying, offering poignant visuals to become memories for those who will remain.