Life Lessons from being vulnerable

If you haven’t noticed since my last post, I am REALLY going “THERE”.  “There” meaning that place of vulnerability that I keep locked and chained beneath layers of perfectionism, self-criticism, self-deprecation (mostly in the humorous form), and nicely cemented in a frosting of anxiety masquerading as enthusiasm, shall I go on…Nah, I think you get the point.  We all have our layers or what some therapists refer to as our armor.

But in going there in my process, I would like to apologize.  For some of my readers, my words may have cut you like the Santuko knife I had no business using that one time I hastily made tuna salad and cleanly removed my thumb tip along with the dicing of the shallots.  Sort of unexpected and painful-like.  In my endeavor to self-accept, I may have in turn, made you feel vulnerable.  To me vulnerable is great…no longer repressing emotions that may one day transform into a debilitating health concern…oh wait, I have migraines and chronic pain.  Too late for that then (but not too late to accept these challenges and work with them).  However, not everyone wants this all-access backstage pass that comes with reading my blog.

So back to my apology.  I would like to acknowledge that my stories and my truths may trigger you.  They may make you feel anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, even disgust.  These are feelings I have tried to avoid myself for decades.  Wondering why does that person need to share that story? Why are they desperate for attention? (pretty sure those questions go along hand in hand with disgust, if not the very least disapproval.)  I am sorry if this is the case for you.  But perhaps take a moment to ask yourself, “What am I feeling?  Where in my body do I feel this?  When was the first time I remember feeling this way?”  Gabor Mate said, ” What we project onto others is how we feel about ourselves.”  And I say don’t look in this mirror if you don’t want to.  You can look away and stop reading my words right now if you like.

However, if you are still here, right now, reading my train-wrecks and triumphs, its probably because you have made a personal connection from your life to mine and may even feel some sense of recognition, validation or acceptance.  And if that is the case, I thank you for the courage to go “there” yourself.  Even if only energetically you are saying “yes” to these words, it’s still palpable…I can feel this emotional holding from you and it heals me.  Gabor also spoke about Interpersonal Neurobiology (Dr. Dan Siegal) and how our brains are constantly being shaped by new relationships.  We are energy fields who are interconnected.

Some of you were extra brave and felt safe enough to share with me a similar struggle or identified with your own trauma after reading my last post.   This emotional holding was profound for me.  Although I am yet to hear a response to my questions from the good doctor himself, through others who have reached out, I now see how many wise, compassionate, insightful people are in my everyday life.

When I first arrived at the Compassionate Inquiry conference, I was completely anxiety-stricken.  I literally could not get my shoulders to retract from the space in which my ears were meant to be.  I breathed and I breathed, expanding my belly, through my mouth to get out of my head and into my body.  But no matter how aware and oxygenated I thought I was, I could not ground myself.  For the first hour – this was my existence.  And then came the onslaught of guilty thoughts, knowing if I didn’t get my shit together, I wasn’t going to engage the way I wanted to – losing this once in a lifetime opportunity to learn from a master, standing only meters away (we had great seats…second row).  So much on the line, no wonder I was anxious!

So there I was denying my emotions by resisting and trying to control them and literally as if on cue Gabor said, “Pain and Suffering are the avoidance of truth…when compassion is present we can experience our truth.”  So I stopped avoiding and got compassionate with myself.  Okay Sarah, What’s going on?  Why do you feel this panic right now?  And I responded with (right in the middle of my note taking in a different colour ink of course – perfectionist pen options) I am unsure of how I will respond to what will be covered today and am feeling vulnerable in front of others…I am worried I will miss something crucial.

With this acknowledgement,  my migraine fog began to lift (ya, I also had one of those on the flight from hell accompanied with a nauseating side of air sickness as we descended into the city lights of Vancouver the night before), my eyes focussed, my core loosened to allow the full capacity of my lungs to function and finally the shoulders dropped back into their sockets, providing room for my ears to hear.  My flight had landed at 8 pm the night before but it took my mind and body another 14 hours to “show up to the party”.

At this point, my dear friend, who joined me for this event leaned over and asked, “Are you okay? Cause I can feel your shoulders tense.”  With a knowing smile I told her I was starting to feel better now. Again, energy can be palpable.  She turned out to be my saving grace over those two days.  Throughout the sessions, she kept showing up, checking in, getting all Gabor Mate on me with the most compassionate holding she could muster.  I owe her a holiday from her holiday.  But how grateful I am for her beingness.   In turn, she allowed me to do the same for her during some of her own vulnerable moments – giving me the gift of empowerment.  It turns out I am not so weak and lost all the time:)

When I got home and wrote the first post-conference post 2 days later – I was again anxious and out of my body.  The human connections I have been given in response to my complete transparency however, have been moving and grounding.

My husband’s response came with some hesitation and a concerned exhale of, “Okay. You really went there.”  But from his processing, one of the most valuable insights came forth.  He suggested that the increased intensity in my neck pain may be present because my increase in self-awareness.  Also I am no longer blocking my body’s natural pain responses with a steady drip of Tylenol and Ibuprofen.  Could it be the absence of pain meds is finally allowing me to feel my baseline?

Another friend shared how her own lengthily struggle with trauma, depression and panic attacks brought her to therapy after years of denial.  She wished me peace, but gave it to me in her words of recognition.  Reassuring me that in my process I will surrender and know great things are in store for me.  She recommended “Focusing” and the book “The Body Keeps the Score” (also recommended by Mate).

One of my health care practitioners (and my Yoda) read my words and shared the idea that maybe instead of asking what’s next just continue to be with what is. (I know, Yoda right?)  Knowing I am already doing so much for my self-care routine she suggested that the new information I gained from the conference can simply be integrated with what already is.

(I am surrounded my geniuses)

And yet another friend and loyal blog reader sent me encouragement for my raw honesty.  She made the connection to how society can mock self-care and acknowledging emotions.  She helped me see the difference between self-care and self-compassion, physical care vs. emotional care.  Both very important, but health can’t show up with just one piece making the phone call.  Her book recommendation, “Self-Compassion” by Kristen Neff, PhD.

One of my favorite friends from childhood sent a 2 am message to me about the medical use of hallucinogens to uncover repressed emotions.  Her words were eloquent and sincere and mirrored another part of the CI conference – as Mate himself has explored the use of mushrooms to heal his own trauma and studies the use of the Peruvian plant Ayahuasca.  This intrigues me certainly, but I am terrified of hallucinating, one time after taking a particular cold med, I wondered and panicked about if what I was seeing was really there…I already have enough issues dealing with what I am feeling and if that is real, I don’t need to add to my sensory confusion.  Contact C, not for me. Ayahuasca…mmmm….okay nothing rhymes with that.

So I went all the way to Vancouver and spent an ass-load of money for an authentic, therapeutic awakening with one of my best friends.  I would not trade that for anything.  But as Eckhardt Tolle likes to remind me with his weekly email about presence, Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.  To paraphrase, this is the path you are meant to be on.  What surprised me about that path is how it took me home to all these people and therein lies the beauty of recognizing the answers are right here, if you are vulnerable enough and brave enough to ask enough people your question.




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