I always perceived the word vulnerable or vulnerability as weakness. To be vulnerable to me meant to be weak and soft, and I guess part of that interpretation is correct if you were referring to being at war, in battle, or under attack it could leave you being weak.
When it comes to emotions the word ‘vulnerable’ is looked at as a negative, a taboo word like fear and anger, guilt and shame and whilst I understand that vulnerability itself is not an emotion for me it is the bridge to connecting us to our emotions,
As you will (probably) know by now I am a Cocaine addict in recovery. I am in a good place in my life after a few years of being in hell.
I had my first stint in rehab last year and my second this, and I remember the first thing that one of the therapists said in the group therapy sessions “All I ask of you is to be vulnerable and honest”. I had a problem with this, firstly I had forgotten what being honest meant after I has spent so long lying, manipulating and cheating people out of money to feed the burning addiction inside of me and secondly I don’t think I quite understood what ‘being vulnerable meant’. Problem!
The honesty part I could blag my way through because I had become great at duping people, but the vulnerability would take some work as I just didn’t get it!
Having been through the first stint of rehab and then relapsing I have been able to look back on it, with hindsight and I’ve realized that so long as I wasn’t honest and lets face it I wasn’t then the emotions would not rise to the surface meaning I wasn’t allowing myself to be vulnerable. All I was doing was keeping up appearances.
Stint #2 at Rehab – By this point, I’d sunk below the depths of rock bottom and was actually propping it up, I sat down with my therapist, told him all the things I hadn’t mentioned the first time round, I incurred the wrath which usually came in the form of a disgruntled frown, shake of the head and an uncomfortable pause of silence, but things instantly and in mean instantly felt different, within me, like a weight had been lifted, it was at that point I realized that vulnerability and honest go hand in hand
I nervously waited over the weekend in rehab for my treatment programme to begin, and had a good chance to think about what I wanted out of it and how that looked compared to the first time around. This free time allowed me to sit with the feelings and think about how I can open myself up to being vulnerable so that I can get the most out of therapy and get my life back which I had lost to cocaine.
One thing I thought about at length was why I put this such an emphasis on vulnerability being a negative and I think that it goes back to the male ego state, (or certainly mine) the sense of pride, being the tough guy and I can’t show emotions and certainly cant cry. If I think back to its definition “the state of being exposed to attack or harmed” so on an emotional level it makes sense to protect yourself. but what I found out is by trying to be ‘macho’ and not be vulnerable and show any emotions you actually are putting yourself in more harm long-term.
I had spent the best part of 25 years suppressing my emotions from when my Father passed away as a boy not showing my Mum that I would be hurting, in excruciating pain, hiding under the bed to not show my feelings, to be there ‘man of the house’ then later when I became seriously addicted to cocaine, not feeling anything, just numbness, so the transition emotionally was fairly natural. I was so good at not wanting to feel or not allowing myself to feel.
I now live by a rule that there are no good or bad emotions, they are all healthy and need to be felt. Uncomfortable and unsettling yes, but In order to feel joy and happiness, its 100% necessary to have to feel sadness and grief, it’s a natural balance, Yin and Yang, you can’t ‘pick and choose’ which emotions to feel, life isn’t that kind, but that was exactly what I was trying to do. The simple fact is tough stuff happens, and it sucks.
I however had become so good at ‘numbing’ the sadness that I actually question when and if I was ever truly happy over that lengthily period of time. Don’t get me wrong there were obvious moments of joy and happiness mainly via special occasions, my wedding, the birth of my daughter, but i’m on about sustained happiness, I don’t mean every minute of every day, i’m not naive, I know you will have bad days still, it’s not all pink fluffy clouds and rainbows but generally happy within yourself. Contentment I guess.
I learnt through therapy and rehab the second time that I had to be prepared to look at the really shitty parts of my personality (too many to list) and the parts that are broken (too many to list), and let others see them and as I had started being more honest I had laid everything out on the table.
I talked about how sad I was going to be to let drugs go and never use again, something I’d never admitted and whether I could actually go through life and not use again, even for the mundane stuff, the normal basic day-to-day problems that had become so problematic I had to use, I know that sounds ludicrous but its the truth, it made me sad to think I would never use again, but once I talked about this instead of shutting it away, I cried, and cried and cried. I was sad, scared, anxious you name it, I was feeling it, at this rate I would be paddling out of rehab as my tears were flooding.
It takes great courage to lay yourself bare and expose your weaknesses but once I broke through that barrier, I realized that in fact your actually more of a man by doing so than trying to put on a front. This has actually allowed myself to become a different person emotionally, I don’t actually care what people think about my shortcomings, in fact I embrace it. I don’t pretend to have riches when I don’t, and I don’t pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t. Its been hard work pretending to be something I’m not for so long, pretending to be happy, pretending to be richer than I am and pretending not to be an addict. Pretend, pretend, pretend. Exhausting, absolutely draining!
Not only did rehab give me the understanding of vulnerability and how I can re-connect with my emotions when being vulnerable, it made me feel completely honest and true to myself and I have kept that going in the 67 days that I have now been clean.
I’ve gone from a severely battered, emotionally, depressed and a beaten cocaine addict who wouldn’t ask for help, couldn’t be honest and lied about everything, and I mean everything, to being able to stand up in front of 150 people as The Best Man to my closest friends wedding with everyone knowing that I was only 14 days out of rehab, recovering from addiction very open and transparent. Whenever anyone asked me, I told them, I broke the ice, when I thought people were getting uncomfortable, I eased the situation, because whats the point of keeping up a pretense? One thing that I discovered was that my addiction and story that goes with it is probably, well definitely the ugliest side of me, I have actually gained more respect from people for taking that leap of courage than people actually resenting me for lying and acting the big I am…..
Wow what a breakthrough.
That day, at the wedding, I made myself vulnerable, in the biggest way possible, just by being there, I was surrounded by people who knew I was an addict, I was offered drinks and declined (even though drink was never my problem) and told people it was because I was in recovery, and I was proud to say it, and then stood up and gave a speech, which I might add went down an absolute treat and was absolutely honoured to stand up there on behalf of my best friend. Yes it was hard, in front of people I had lied to and been dishonest to over the recent year, ex girl friends and even the ex wife, the list goes on of people who I had hurt and embarrassed myself around, but I owed it to myself and the groom to be authentic and that was my word for the day, no matter what happens today be true to yourself, Authenticity!!!
Despite the nerves and fear I actually felt remarkably calm, purely because I was being myself, I had nothing to hide, and I embraced that as did everybody there.
To be vulnerable you need courage and lots of it, the courage to put yourself out there and be potentially be criticized and to show your weaknesses, that might mean you are scared, it might mean you are nervous, it might even mean you cry but so what, one thing I have realized is it takes a real man, a courageous man to cry and is more cowardly to hide your emotions and lock them away inside, and far more destructive to yourself, That’s the easy way out! The cowards way out.
Be vulnerable, feel the tough stuff and you will feel the good stuff, and its only recently since I’ve allowed myself to feel true sadness and grief, unmasked my drugs that I am probably feeling the happiest, most content and centered than I have ever felt. Ever.
To be vulnerable is not to be weak
To be vulnerable is truly brave and courageous.