Daring To Be Vulnerable

“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 we will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Dr. Brene Brown

The best things; people and places, friendships and companionships never lasted long – at least not as long as I’d want it to. ‘Goodbye’ seemed to come around too soon. But I was young – a little girl- and the exuberance and expectations of youthfulness;  the hope of new and more exciting experiences helped to blunt the pain of loss and too many changes.

As the years rolled by and friendships began to mean more – there were stronger bonds of closeness and dependability – moving away became harder. We were not in an era of such high technology as we are in today.

One wrote letters, snail-mail, and soon the frequency of writing and receiving mail would peter out and finally die. Old friends became a vague memory as new ones took their place. But this transition was not as easy or smooth as I consciously thought it was. Somewhere at the sub-conscious level I was taking it harder and reacting to it in a very wrong way. To avoid the pain I was slowly developing a shell of protection. I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So I would never give a hundred percent of myself to any relationship.

I liked my friends, and I made friends easily but there was always something lacking because I did not get too close to anyone. I was guarded in my relationships, not open. This distance I maintained distanced them from me. They took it personally and our friendships, though warm, never developed into life-long ties.

While I felt bad about it, I also felt better because our constant moving from place to place didn’t affect me emotionally the way it did earlier. I wasn’t breaking down inside anymore. My heart and my mind were intact; I was not vulnerable anymore. I was slowly becoming distant – ‘arm’s length’ is how I’d say it: ‘Keep at arm’s length’. I don’t know when or how I built these walls around me but walls were surely rising and imprisoning my soul.

Saying bye to someone you love is painful. Especially when you know you aren’t going to see them anytime soon or probably never meet them again because chances are, you’re not going to return to that place again.

The first pangs of farewell pains that I experienced were when my two elder sisters left for boarding school. I must have been six yrs old and it was terrible. I can still recall how it hurt so much, even though they would be away for less than a year, coming back for their long holidays every summer. I’d dam the tears that welled up as soon as the railway station came into sight. Then I’d let the floodgates down and let them flow and flow long after the byes were said and the train had chugged out of the station. Long after we were home and I was in my room. The emptiness would seep into me and I’d sit on the floor, take out my tea set and dolls and bawl my heart out. I still remember that! And this was how it was in the following years; I’d hurt so bad with every departure!

I also remember that as the years went by and both of them had finished with school, yet, they were never at home. They’d come for a short break and go back to wherever they were at the time. But what had changed was: I no longer felt the wracking pain of my childhood. Not that I was so grown-up but because I had learned to “put a stone on my heart” as the saying goes. We were brought up to keep our emotions in check. A stiff upper lip. So no matter how much my heart ached, I held my head high and went about living life as usual. If I needed to vent, I stuck my head in a closet and cried or buried myself under the covers and wept copiously on the welcoming foam of a pillow or then, took out my journal and wrote, wrote, wrote until I couldn’t see the page through my tears. I had learned this by the time I turned ten!

So deeply ingrained was this conditioning that, when I said the most painful farewell I would ever say in all my life, I was still holding back – still pulling on the reins to keep a check on myself. I wanted to scream, shout, bang my fists, grieve bitterly but all I did was shed a few tears, episodically, and try to maintain a calm and cold exterior. The biggest love of my life had gone forever! An unexpected, shocking departure from life, and those who loved him so well. A life truncated in its prime.  Yes, my husband had died of three successive, massive heart attacks in his thirty-ninth year. And all I could do was shed some tears in public because I couldn’t let my guard down. The guard that we were taught to keep up in a show of strength – emotional strength.

I thought it helped in keeping me from crumbling; from losing my sanity. I was so focused on being strong; on not making a public display of my inner-most feelings, not letting my young sons see me weak and devastated that I didn’t dwell on my personal loss. In hindsight, however, that was bad for me. I suffered the agony for years. For years I remained angry with my husband for dying and leaving me alone. For years I rolled up into a fetal position and wet my pillow with muffled sobs; so great was the pain.

The worst was, we had not said our final goodbyes! He died on one of his tours. He came back cold and dead. The best was when he was leaving home, although we had said our casual bye-byes, he turned back and with a rare, broad grin waved a bye to me again. I almost missed it because he never did that ever before. Once he was out of the gate he’d just drive away, our ‘see you’ being said. It took me by surprise and I did wonder for a second, ‘what was that?!’ But it made me happy and I saved the moment. This image came to my rescue every time I felt desolate because it was his ‘final farewell’. And what a memory it was!

This image brought relief because it became ‘our’ final farewell. Down deep I still ached because I knew I’d never see him again, but whenever I thought of him, this last image spoke volumes to me; it still does. The pain will never go but I have accepted it and it has become bearable.

I thought I had dealt with my unexpressed anguish and loss very well. Unknown to me it had a negative fall-out that carved out a new me. I became scared of loving anyone too much. I was afraid if I showed too much of love, or clung to anyone they would leave and I didn’t want to be hurt so bad again. I refused to love with all my love. I was afraid to show too much love towards my kids too.

The years went by and there were many farewells to friends and family as we moved from one place to another. It wasn’t a good experience but I no longer hurt so much… I missed my friends and family but it didn’t pain me as it would have before. Then along came a little bundle of golden fur. She was called Heidi.

Heidi was a golden retriever pup just a month old and she stole our hearts. Something inside me began to melt. The walls began to crumble and slowly I allowed myself to bring someone close to me. So close that she became my companion and confidante. She was not a dog for me, she was a person, my friend. I became defenseless; vulnerable and experienced so much of love from her.

She understood me when I spoke and even when I was quiet. She knew my silences, she felt my every feeling and responded to it. If she saw me with my face in my hands, she’d be there sitting in front of me moving my hands from my face and trying to get on my lap. She knew even if I was crying quietly. She’d come to my side and cuddle and lick my tears. She was the one who brought me out of the abyss of anger, self-pity, and the victim mentality. I was reluctant to get out of there. Heidi won this round. Letting go of my anger against David for dying and leaving me bereft was a life-saver for me.

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Heidi did indeed bring a ray of sunshine and literal warmth with her soft, furry body. And then when she had become my sturdy pillar of strength and emotional support she got cancer and died! That she had to be put down didn’t help the situation. I was devastated and, even now, when I think about her leaving the house on her way to her own ‘execution’ I am moved to tears. She went away trusting us – Moreso me. I hugged her and kissed her and let her go. I was against it but that doesn’t count, I acquiesced ultimately.

I was back to square one. The old me was doing a victory dance and whispering maliciously: ‘I told you so, I told you so’!

This was when God responded to my desperate cry for help. It’s not that He wasn’t on call before. I would pray and have my daily chats with Him. He’s been my BFF for a long, long time. But I used Him as my sounding board. And one who rendered help and protection when I needed it. I rejected the solutions He offered to my problems and stubbornly clung to my shadows, my walls, and wallowed in my misery: my fears, insecurity, and anger.

This time, however, I listened to Him instead of Him listening to me. It was the beginning of my new walk with God. The beginning of a new understanding. The understanding that to experience the wholeness of loving and being loved, I had to keep myself vulnerable. I had to let down all barriers and love wholeheartedly and even allow myself to be heartbroken, if at all that happened.

That’s what I had done with David, that’s what I had done with Heidi, that’s what I did with my kids – I had let down all barriers and let myself be open to giving and receiving love. I was vulnerable; I got hurt, let down, disappointed and sometimes desperate and frustrated but I always overcame and bounced back. These were the closest of bonds and I knew I could rely on love to set me free from my self-imposed imprisonment.

I had known love and the unique friendship David and I shared in our marriage.  I made beautiful memories to sustain me when I needed love the most and it wasn’t there. Maybe no one was there but the memories of happy times, good times, loving and caring times were always at hand to pull me out of the doldrums. I am grateful for these everlasting moments. Now it was time to come out of my shell. So, I let myself be open to the possibility of being hurt once again and in return, I strengthened my existing friendships, made new friends, and began liking the person I was becoming.

That’s what I relearned… to break down the walls and let love flow.

“To share your weakness is  – to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” -Criss Jami

It was the best thing I had done in my life: open myself to love and be loved. Love taught me it was okay to grieve for my loss; it didn’t make me weak, on the contrary, it made me normal and helped in the recovery process which in turn made me stronger.

I grew in my closeness to God and understood His love in a new light. In my walk with Him, I realized that I have good reason to make close ties even if it meant being hurt or that the ties would be eventually broken. We will all meet again in the sweet by and by. The fear of separation or loss must not keep us from feeling the great love that God has placed in our hearts and from sharing that with our family, friends, neighbors, so we might shine for Him.

Being vulnerable has brought more love into my life. I have grown stronger with the walls down and the protective shell removed. It has made my friendships worthwhile and long-lasting. I have learned that it is in giving love wholeheartedly that we receive more back. My best memories are of the times when I had opened my heart, unreservedly, unabashed, unafraid; the times when I received so much of love and care.

Love {and the vulnerability it brings} taught me forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, patience, self-control, understanding, humbleness, caring, sharing, resilience, thoughtfulness, and gratitude. It also kept me grounded. How poor was I when I kept my heart in a tower, safe and unbroken! How rich I am with a wealth of love and old friendships that have endured time and hardships and new ones that have enriched me no end and a family – sons, daughters-in-law and the most beautiful grandkids – love brings it all together!

“With each passage of human growth, we must shed a protective structure {like a crustacean}. We are left exposed and vulnerable – but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” -Gail Sheehy