“Wow. You’ve been through a lot.”
My therapist said this to me at my most recent appointment. She said it a few times, actually, while reiterating how far I’ve come from what I’ve been through (which is a topic for another post).
It’s nice having someone else validate that your life is/has been batshit crazy. Because it has. Even when I’ve pretended otherwise.
I very rarely admit to myself how much I’ve been through. How much has happened in my 24 years.
I tend to shove it all under a rug. Pretend it’s “normal” when it’s anything but. I just shrugged my shoulders at my junk, barely mentioning its existence until asked. And even when asked, I tend to leave out the more unsavory parts– the parts I’m either ashamed to admit or fear people will judge me for.
I struggle to face the reality of what I’ve been dealt. Instead of actually dealing with it (and the emotions attached), I’ve hidden it under the rug, letting it collect dust until someone lifts the rug to sweep the underneath.
There are some things I let people see. I let people in to my world when it comes to my battles with mental illness, because I learned that not only did it help me to be open about it, but it made others too. Sometimes I’m open about other stuff. But it’s rare.
Truthfully, sometimes I just leave things out of my story because they seem too crazy or ridiculous to be believed. Or because there’s so much that I forget details. For real, I asked my mom a question a few days ago and she reminded me of a pretty important story/detail I completely forgot to clue my therapist into. oops.
I’m not talking about honesty online, for the most part; there are just some things that are kept off the interwebs because I don’t think I should leave them out there for the whole world to see. I’m talking about real-life, face-to-face vulnerability with friends and people that know me. Writing is the best way for me to unpack and sort what I’m experiencing and thinking, but sometimes things are better left unsaid (or unwritten).
I don’t need or want the whole internet/blogosphere to know my life. I just want the people in my life to know it. At least I do sometimes.
Some days I don’t think most anyone knows all of me. Except maybe my therapist. (and I haven’t had enough sessions yet to even scrape the surface with my newest one).
I don’t think this is a bad thing, necessarily. But I wonder sometimes what it would be like if i was completely vulnerable and honest with people. If i was fully trusting with my story.
I’ve hidden parts of my life for fear’s sake for so long. I’ve hidden under Elsa’s “Let It Go” philosophy: conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized just how important specific hidden parts of my story are to who I am. Through therapy and actually sharing parts of my life that I’ve kept hidden for so long, I’ve made some huge strides in connecting the dots in my life… oh, I’m like this because this happened. Or I do things one because of this thing or that experience… Insert more vague examples here.
Sarah Bessey last year (on this day, actually) posted this about sanitized stories we tell each other… how we are only vulnerable with parts of the story, how we only let ourselves feel the feelings we’re comfortable with.
How we compartmentalize our life stories to fit into what we want them to be instead of being raw and 100% real with each other.
She said this in said post:
“I do not feel like I am allowed to be traumatized: it turned out fine. Look!”
There are so many times I feel guilty for talking about the things I struggle with. I see other peoples’ lives and what they’re dealing with and I think, how do I even have a right to complain? Look at what they’re going through! My problems are so minuscule compared to theirs. I should just not share what I’m dealing with.
And then I also think about the whole look how far I’ve come angle. I’ve overcome so much! I’ve got a college degree from a great school that i love, I’m working at a place I love doing what I’m passionate about. I have great friends and a God that loves me. I have hobbies and passions and things that bring me such joy. I have no right to complain. I have no right to talk about where I’ve been because of where i am now… right?
How can I be traumatized by my trauma when others have it so much worse?
Because my trauma is my trauma. And it needs to be heard.
My feelings are my feelings. And they need to be felt.
My struggles are my struggles. And I don’t need to put myself through the Grief and Suffering Olympics just because someone else’s right-now is worse than mine.
My suffering is worse because it is mine, unique to me, and how I feel and deal with it differently makes it worse to me. And it doesn’t need to be kept under a rug because of fear of being less-than.
My right-now might be OK, but that doesn’t mean my trauma from the past is less-than.
And it’s OK-more than OK, actually- to share your brokenness openly with people.
“If we don’t deal with our trauma, our trauma begins to deal with us. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our feelings, they have a habit of peeking around the corners of our lives, breaking in at the most inopportune moments.”
I’ve spent a long time avoiding my trauma– all of it. All. of. it.
I’ve said it’s too much or I’ve said it’s not enough.
I’ve thought it wasn’t important enough to share.
I’ve feared people would see me differently or feel sorry for me.
I wanted to be the friend everyone could lean on, instead of having to lean on others.
I’ve worried people would leave when they see the whole me– the whole mess, the baggage I’d rather leave at baggage claim for someone else to deal with.
I’ve figured no one would care. That I’d be better off showing the shiny, good parts of my story than the whole shebang.
As Mike Foster said in his book Wonderlife:
“For so long, I thought I had to be so strong. I believed the lie that said that I could only show healed scars but not open wounds (THIS THIS THIS). I practiced bogus authenticity. I mastered carefully orchestrated, controlled vulnerability. I held back my heart because I was scared. Scared of rejection. Scared of losing love. Scared of people thinking I was week. (Italicized words my own)
I could have written that exact paragraph word-for-word. It’s why I’m carefully veiled about my vulnerability: I only share the things that won’t scare people off, the things that people won’t be shocked by. I don’t share all of me because that is a lot of me and I don’t think people want to know all that. People don’t care that much to know my whole story. Right?
Now I know this: it doesn’t matter. I’m not sharing my life story because I care about what everyone else thinks.
Instead, I’m choosing to deal with my trauma. I’m deciding to be vulnerable because I need to be honest with myself about where I am instead of being fake vulnerable because I think it’s what people want to hear. I’m choosing to work through my feelings instead of shoving them under a rug.
Because I’ve let my emotions fester underneath the surface for so long.
By not dealing with my past and my baggage, I’ve inflicted my own deeper wounds that have been hard to recover from. I’m still recovering, and probably always will be. The anxiety and depression I’ve struggled with stem from stuffing all my emotions away– from letting the hurts from my past go unnoticed and uncared for.
As Sarah puts it, I let it manifest into this mental hell. This mind-numbing battle between me and my brain. A battle that damages every damn thing I do and think and say. I hate it.
And I hate that I’m just now figuring out the things that have made me think and feel this way. If I’d worked through this stuff as a kid (or even as a teen!), I may not have struggled this much. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, y’know?
If I was just honest with myself, that I was hurting, man would life be different. If I’d been honest that I was in need of help, in need of something to fix the brokenness I didn’t realize was there… a lot of things would be different.
We’re a lot different when we admit we have baggage to deal with. I’m a lot different when I admit I have baggage I need to deal with.
In the latest She Reads Truth study (on Hosea), Amanda Williams shared that she and her husband spend time “admitting our brokenness” with one another. I love that. I love the idea of admitting our brokenness– admitting where we falter, where we’re struggling, what baggage or struggles or pain we come with from our past or our present. But I don’t admit my brokenness– or my full brokenness– like I should with the people I trust to hold it.
I want to be willing to admit my brokenness. My not okay-ness. I want to be honest with my answers to how I’m doing and what I’m struggling with. I want to hold my story up to the light with people that I love and that love me back and say: “this happened. here’s how it hurt me. here’s how I’ve overcome.” Because with people beside me and a God for me, I have been able to walk through a lot and make it to the other side. Now i just need to work through the muck I left in the rearview mirror.
I want to be willing to admit that I am one broken, screwed up individual. That I have a past that isn’t pretty or fun, and that a lot of what I struggle with today stems from the pain I still am dealing with from it. That I am far from perfect and am desperately in need of grace. And I want to be willing to admit that, no matter who is listening.
I don’t want veiled vulnerability and bogus authenticity. I want to be real and honest with everyone I meet.
I want to learn how to admit my brokenness, one life story at a time.