I Fell Off the Vulnerability Wagon

 

I never was a drinker or took drugs, though my self-soothing poison of choice may have been just as dangerous: perfectionism. My particular brand of perfectionism was made up of self-righteous overachievement combined with a healthy dose of internal shame and contempt. 

Striving for perfect - or at minimum “best ever” - was a constant state of being for me. Perfection made me feel invincible, as did the resulting validation from a world which honored my efforts. And when things became difficult, I did not reach for alcohol or drugs; instead, I amped up my external performance and my internal flogging. Flawless and selfless on the outside, and indignant and sad on the inside. Desperately trying to control everything, while simultaneously resenting the fact that I had to control everything.

This was my comfortable state...until it would eventually become suffocating.

RIDING THE PERFECTIONISM FERRIS WHEEL

Like many addicts, I would rely on my particular poison to get me through the hard times. And then, inevitably, the tool that I was using to avoid my problem would become my problem. Specifically, I would feel so trapped and lonely by my own external/ internal divide that I would break down - first lashing out at those around me, then at myself, then shutting down, before vowing to do it better the next time. 

Everything is perfect. Everything is great. Everything is fine. Everything sucks, how could you not have noticed? Everything is wrong, and it is all my fault! Everything is pointless. Everything will be okay; I believe in my ability to learn and grow from this.

It was a ferris wheel that I rode for most of my life. The only antidote to this cyclical ride of control, avoidance, and pain: vulnerability. Allowing those close to me to see my flaws and my hurt, naming the fear that was causing my desire to control, and creating space for me to be empathetic to others and myself.

When I developed the courage to name my truth and found a small crew with whom I could be vulnerable, I found that I could keep the desire to pretend and hide at bay. Vulnerability felt like my new drug. And like many with a new and powerful awareness, I became a vulnerability evangelist. I shared my truth, encouraged others to share their truth, and decided to focus my professional life on helping women explore and stand in their truth. 

And yet...old habits die hard. Last night I realized that I fell off the vulnerability wagon. I have, once again, been striving for perfection at the expense of truth. Putting on an external show, while crumbing on the inside. Honestly, it happened so slowly that I didn’t even realize it. It wasn’t until I felt overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness that I realized that I no longer felt known by the people around me.

THE SNEAKY, SLIPPERY SLOPE BACK TO PERFECTIONISM

After a bout of depression, spawned by a difficult year of identity questioning changes, I was able to fight my way through to emerge stronger and more confident in who I was. My reenergized self was attractive to everyone...especially me. After over a year of not recognizing myself, this fierce, energetic, passionate, honest, and loving version of me felt like a huge relief (and a much better fit). I loved this me! And so did those around me (especially those who were with me during the dark times). 

So when I did not feel like the new and improved version of myself on a particular day, I swept it under the rug - no need to get alarmed or share my concerns, it was just a bad day. And then when there were a string of bad days, I decided to keep up the facade - no one wants to be around someone who is complaining. Plus I have so much privilege, it would be ungrateful to complain. Until I realized that I was back on the ferris wheel. Back to perfectionism. Back to pretending. 

The truth is:

  • I am terrified that the work I have chosen to pursue will have a negative financial impact - at least in the short term. I have not modified (or am interested in modifying) my spending habits and am now relying on my savings and my consultant work. I have become increasing concerned, yet too embarrassed to discuss it. 

  • Despite a renewed commitment to my health, resulting in a stronger, thinner body, I have been feeling…blah. I do not feel sexy or desired. 

  • I went from being an enthusiastic parent, to someone who is constantly trying to find reasons to be alone as opposed to being engaged with my daughter. (The deep shame around this truth feels like a weight on my heart.)

  • While I once excelled at and was publicly recognized for my ability manage large-scale projects, balance multiple priorities, navigate back and forth from the big picture to the details seamlessly, and do all of that at an astonishing pace over the course of very long days - I now find myself mentally and physically winded by the mere thought of having to do the dishes, write an email, and speak on the phone all in the same day. 

(Note: It is not lost on me that - like all good cycles - the above items are both the cause and the result of my external/ internal divide.)

This is NOT the person that I want to be. I thought that I was done with her. I thought I was new and improved. 

My unwillingness to accept - or even explore - these feelings has resulted (once again) in me slipping into old habits. Bright, shiny, and downright sanctimonious on the outside, and hyperaware, sad, and self-contemptuous on the inside.

So I will lean on the only antidote that has been proven to work thus far: vulnerability

THE PATH BACK TO vulnerability and AUTHENTICITY

(Deep breath.) I am in the struggle. I know enough to understand that this struggle will pass and that I will be stronger from it; and in this moment it is hard. 

I want to stop spending my energy pretending that all is well, and instead leverage that energy towards making myself well. It will not be easy, and I have done it before. 

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

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