I wrote my first book when I was 10, a fact I had forgotten until recently. Something in my current life, I’m not sure what, triggered a memory of a favorite childhood book, Mr. Mysterious and Company by Sid Fleischman. The memory then took me down the path to the “knock-off” story I wrote, illustrated and bound in a little handmade cover as a project for one of my teachers. Fleischman’s original story is one of a traveling family of magicians and their adventures. My story was about me joining that happy band of nomadic performers and leaving my current life behind. In my story, I was free and happy and no longer bound by the life I was really leading. It was a fantasy I translated to paper.
It’s a good memory, and one that always reminds me of my earliest passions for writing. But the memory is also laced with terror, and the minute I go deeper, troubling, fearful emotions of my early childhood begin to arise. That crude little book was my first attempt to deal with those stories, real and imagined, that pop up when we least expect them.
Memory and the stories we tell ourselves about them are like that. They are not just snapshots in time of what really happened to us, but a complex patchwork of multiple, sometimes unrelated experiences that can shape what we remember, and more importantly, change our present reality. Sometimes the stories are buried, unreachable, running in the background of our lives without our conscious awareness, but affecting us immensely anyway. The can keep us mired in fear, anxiety and unable to move forward.
The good news is that scientists and healers know a lot more about memory and the impact of the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves. We can change how memory and fearful stories about what might happen rule our lives. It’s a process of excavation and revision, but with care and awareness we can rewrite the stories that keep us tethered to fear. And that’s real magic.
How do you own your fearful memories?
Dr. Brene Brown “The vulnerability paradox: It’s the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I want you to see in me. Trying to remember to show up and be seen today!”
Being vulnerable as an adult is about feeling safe in the world. A friend shared this wonderful affirmation – In my world of loving, generous, joyful stable souls I am safe moving forward with my gifts and dreams. When I say the word “safe” my heart takes a giant leap. I have to breathe in I am safe, I am safe, I am safe. Now if only I could wave a magic wand and convince all of myself this is true life would be so different. Because those moments when I know that the world is safe life is wonderful.
By now I have learned that feeling vulnerable doesn’t have to hurt. Growing up with my father’s bullying behavior shaped my life and instilled a form of PTSD in me. I was not safe being myself and definitely felt alone. As an adult memories of abuse get triggered when I feel scared and alone. Then I feel powerless just like I did when I was a child. When I am caught by these anxieties I forget that I am no longer a child. Feeling vulnerable can send me into a panic and the anxiety builds. That’s when anxiety girl takes over to find a solution to whatever problem is causing me discomfort.
Most of my life anxiety girl was the mask I wore. When I was caught being her I was careful where I would be seen and often stopped myself from attending parties or other social events because of how vulnerable I felt. I would do anything rather than feel the anxiety. Besides hiding there were other remedies that I sought to soothe that anxiety. Anxiety girl was always hungry. Or if she wasn’t hungry she was thirsty. Anxiety girl always needed more escape routes whether it was FB games or reading science fiction. Soothing the anxiety was a full time job.
The good news is that the mask of anxiety is changing. Anxiety girl does not have such a strangle hold on me or my emotions. Instead of soothing her with substances, or escape I am writing more. Daily I am walking more out into the world with my heart open as I am safer being me. I can breathe when I take risks. Instead of fighting the powerless feeling I am accepting that there is a solution to feeling powerless. Instead of feeling alone, I am reaching for a power greater than me and feeling comforted by that power.
Today how I react to being vulnerable can change from day to day. Some days I still feel so vulnerable I can’t bear to be seen. Other days vulnerability is a powerful place that exists in me, a place that exists totally without fear. It’s just me being human walking out into the world heart open.
What do you think? What does vulnerability mean to you? How do you react to being vulnerable?