There is a perennial truth about vulnerability. True vulnerability. As silly or obvious as it may sound, it never stops feeling vulnerable. You can’t really fake it – not with yourself because when you are vulnerable you feel it.
As Brené Brown has shown beautifully, you can’t teach vulnerability without being vulnerable. Not really. Not with integrity. It is so easy to be the teacher. To be the expert. Maintaining such a persona can be very safe. After all, I am a Senior Fellow at The Meadows. I am author of several books. Blah, blah, blah. That is all of the subterfuge the ego comes up with to keep us disconnected.
The truth is my life fell apart quickly right after I completed the workshop at The Meadows. The same one I just wrote about last week. It was amazing and powerful with amazing vulnerability from all. There was more, however, to the story. What happened is at the core of my work and is absolutely a part of the larger conversation about men, relationships, and trauma.
As it was my first workshop at a place as special as The Meadows is to me I had some anxiety. Was I going to have an impact? Was I going to bring value to these people’s lives? I worked hard to do my own grounding and get support for those feelings of insecurity so I could be present. That said, it was there with me the whole weekend.
I was very focused on creating a safe and tight space for the attendees. I gave everything I had. They knew it, they felt it, and they appreciated it. I focused on my self-care every day with meditation, prayer, grounding exercises, and checking in with others. Nonetheless, I was exhausted. I had dipped deeply into my own vulnerability while honoring the fearless vulnerability of those in attendance. The workshop ended and I said goodbye to the participants thanking them for their trust and their amazing work.
Being exhausted I had nothing left for the two people who mean the most to me: my wife and my daughter. How often is that the case for men? So often we define our value by what we do and who we think we are, giving all of our energy to those endeavors. Without even meaning to we arrive home with an empty tank many times not even realizing it.
This time my wife and daughter had come with me for this trip because it was on a holiday weekend and I really don’t like giving up my weekends because of the toll that travel takes.
My number one message to the attendees: take care of yourselves and be very mindful of “aftershocks” from the work you did. I was paying attention to how I was doing and had I been alone and had time to decompress I would have been able to better transition. But I didn’t. And I was caught very off guard. It is amazing how quickly, when you’re dysregulated and your brain has been trained for anger and reactivity, it can happen. Seemingly out of nowhere but, of course, that is not true. There is a complex process taking place and the more we can slow it down and see it, the easier we can manage it and intervene when we need to. But when we have nothing left in the tank? The bottom line: I was spent and much more vulnerable and raw than I realized.
I wrote the following in my first book A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps in a section I called “All is well.” The quote is from the chapter on Step Two which explores the idea of how we find faith and sense that, despite much of the seeming evidence to the contrary, everything is going to be alright:
Life sometimes feels as though it is falling apart for one very simple reason – because it is. In fact, life is constantly falling apart, and then offering us the opportunity to experience the full depth of what it means to be human. When you are settled with deep faith in the inherent goodness of the Universe, invite your life to fall apart. You will be okay. You will be okay because “All is well”……No matter how your outside life is arranged. No matter how crazy the world seems. No matter how much it seems as though the dark side has won. No matter how you feel. “All is well.”
I hold that truth to be self-evident and that makes a huge difference when your brain is telling you otherwise. When that fight or flight reaction fires, that deep knowledge might just not be accessible because of how tenuous – at best – our connection is to the pre-frontal cortex, the keeper of knowledge. My brain has been programmed to fight for many, many years. Though that wiring is undoubtedly changing it is still there and can still be easily sparked.
There is no question that I acted hurtfully to two of the people I love the most. From a spiritual perspective there has already been a lot of positives to come out of that including me deepening my own work and seeing a therapist again. It also created an amazing space for a new conversation between the three of us for healing with new communication and boundaries.
I may never be the man I aspire to be but I am far from the man that I was. I always say that it is not about doing life perfectly, it is about doing our lives consciously. At the end of the day that is all that we can ask.
There are still spots available for the April 28-30 workshop at The Meadows. You can learn more about it HERE.