When I first heard about #vulnerablerally, I initially thought my sign would read “I am afraid of getting old because I place my value on my beauty.” As I held this statement in my body over the week leading up to the rally, I realized that simply acknowledging that fear was enough to loosen its power over me. And while my initial statement—even today—is still vulnerable to admit, I knew going into the rally that there was a deeper wound yearning to be exposed.
So as I got out of the car Sunday afternoon, new words formed that felt like a punch in the gut:
“I chose anorexia over my marriage.”
As I leaned into this new vulnerable share, I felt the intense shame of being a perpetrator of emotional violence. A war waged upon my body that left a 6-year marriage in its wake. An admission of mental illness that still leaves me feeling embarrassed and stigmatized.
I also was afraid as I held up my sign that no one would relate. Fear of getting older or being alone seemed universal. But my vulnerability felt selfish. Wasn’t I supposed to share something in the spirit of unison? I was doing it all wrong.
But I stood there. My sign exposed. And people walked by. I noticed I started feeling amused as people’s faces shifted from irritation (“those annoying protestors”) to surprise (“those aren’t the words I expected”) to respect (“wow, those folks are really putting it out there”).
One person ran up to us and started blowing kisses, telling us he loved us. Another woman on a bike raised her fist in solidarity to me. I raised mine back. Another sister in the struggle. And even if every single person that came by couldn’t fully relate to my sign, the only person that really needed to relate was me.
As I stood in the fire of my own shame, burning away the impurities that stopped me from loving myself and alchemizing the lead of my self-hatred into the gold of self-acceptance, I thought about a distinction that Brené Brown makes in her work on vulnerability & shame:
Guilt says “I did something bad.” Shame says “I am bad.”
The knot of pain in my gut softened just a little bit more. These things that I did were not who I was, but simply decisions I made when I didn’t know any better—when numbness was the safer choice over connection. I may have done something that wasn’t lovable, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t worthy of love.
There is still much unwinding that needs to be done of this inner Gordian knot. But I am a patient woman.
And I thank you all for standing so vulnerably with me last Sunday and for teaching me how to soften my heart to love a little bit more.
–Candice, Oakland, CA, USA