We’ve all had the experience where something hits you like a ton of bricks. Out of the blue. From out of left field. Whacks you upside the head. I was blind but now I can see. The abundance of clichés verifies that this is not an uncommon experience.
From her book, The Gifts of Imperfection
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
Brené’s notion of “telling our authentic story” is stunningly similar to my dear friend and author Charlena Miller’s idea of “Authentic Storytelling,” only she comes to it from an almost perfectly opposite place. Whereas Charlena’s quest to slough off false layers and useless external trappings to discover her life’s true path is deeply infused with her spirituality and faith, Brené’s journey started in her rational, academic world of a researcher—“if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” (Though she was essentially forced to follow her research to a place her rational, in-control academic self clearly wished she could deny existed!)
But like so many things that have substance, for me, this is not the kind of moment in which everything becomes clear. Brené herself says, “I don’t do how-to.”
How it all lays out in my current “place” (Stage? Path? Point along the Journey? Meh!) is something like this:
Pursue your authentic story; your personal truth. Share that story, knowing that those who would reject you for who you really are aren’t worth worrying about. Plus, those that get to know the real, imperfect, flawed, vulnerable you—and STILL want to be a part of your life—they will have made a fully informed choice. No worries that they’ll bail on you when they figure out what you’re REALLY like.
Yeah, yeah, great in theory, hard as hell in practice.
Practice. That’s one of Brené’s big ideas. Not as in “practice makes perfect” (perfectionism being one of the main things that keeps us from experiencing the self-compassion that’s essential to living authentically), but as in “a practice”—something one does regularly, like exercise, only for the soul.
Great. I don’t exercise. (Well, that’s not entirely fair. I take hard-breathing walks to the tunes served up by my dead wife’s psychotic mind-reading iPod. Yeah. And I’ve run. Once. Because a woman I like is a runner. Will I do it by myself? Damn—there’s no “pleading the 5th” if you’re being authentic!)
I’ve also never had a “practice”—never prayed, or meditated, or chanted or any of that. My post-widowerhood ex did, though. When she dumped me, she told me she had prayed and mediated for weeks about the fact that she didn’t see an “us” in any kind of long-term way, all the while acting as if everything was fine. Until it wasn’t. Like that was supposed to certify the inviolability of her decision and let her off the hook for lying about how she felt about me.
Yeah. Sure. Great. Sign me up.
So, the devil’s in the details. As in, what if being my authentic self means accepting and talking about the fact that I can be insecure in relationships. I mean, nothing creates a self-fulfilling prophecy like insecurity. The more I look for reassurance, the more freaked they get, and the more freaked they get, the more I look for reassurance, and so on. But I’m not sure that coming out and “owning my insecurity” is going to work a heck of a lot better. After all, won’t someone with a halfway-healthy set of boundaries simply go, “OK, well, good luck with that!” and make a beeline for the exit?
And that’s another thing—“work… better?” The whole idea of certainty, or probability, or likelihood? Ha! For me, it’s tied up with the hyper-vigilance I started cultivating when my father went from apparently healthy to dead from cancer in six months when I was seven years old. An illusion that the worst could somehow be prevented or at least mitigated by the power of an overactive brain to reason out and prepare for every possible scenario. Becoming a widowed father of 2 before the age of 50 has pretty much smashed what was left of that idea to bits, but there still remains what feels like an almost instinctive impulse to not do the thing that seems most likely to lead to the outcome one doesn’t want. Don’t want to get smashed to bits at the bottom of the canyon? Then don’t drive off the fucking cliff! This, despite the fact that the best—and worst—experiences have taught me that the principles behind it—“likely,” “lead to,” “outcome,” “want”—are at best ephemeral and more likely complete illusions.
Great. The only thing I’m certain of is that there is no certainty. Except I’m not entirely sure about that…
Another devilish detail is the continuum between healthy intimacy and enmeshment. If you’ve grown up thinking that all your worth comes from your value to others, then a relationship doesn’t feel intimate until it’s pegging the enmeshment meter. But, if your experiences have taught you that you can’t trust anyone to be there when the chips are down, and that those who profess love and ask for intimacy are really just in it for their own selfish purposes, and not because they truly care about you, then anything approaching healthy intimacy is going to feel like unhealthy enmeshment.
Of course, we all need to do the hard work of figuring out for ourselves where the lines are between having healthy boundaries and erecting twelve inch thick walls between us and those with whom we wish to connect; between courageous vulnerability that comes from self-love and reckless openness that comes form self-loathing.
But lately I don’t see lines; I see huge, blurry bands, a thousand miles wide.
So, you could have two people, each trying to own their own story, yet never able to find each other in all this pea-soup fog.
“Maybe it’s just not meant to be.”
“You have to open a thousand oysters to find one pearl.”
“There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”
Rrrrriiiiiipppppp! Fuck THAT shit. I’m quoting Todd Rundgren, damnit:
If not now, when?
If not now, when?
If not now, when?
If not you, who, then?
For every ecstatic moment of clarity and confidence, there are a thousand of doubt, anxiety and hopelessness.
For every bright beam of truth and light, there are countless hours of trudging through the darkness, thinking, “I’m sure I’ve passed this way before.”
For every courageous act of authentic vulnerability, there are endless unanswerable questions of motivation, sincerity and strength (or weakness).
I can take some solace in that I’m authentic enough to post this, as is. No great conclusions. No light at the end of the tunnel. No clarifying insights to impart to my readers.
But, then again, maybe I’m just fucking lazy.